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The Long-Dark Tea Time of the Soul

December 8, 2009 Leave a comment

A couple days ago, my mom found a brand new tea-ball hidden away in an old box.  Since I’d wanted one for awhile, I was pretty excited.  So I dug out my copy Douglas Adam’s Salmon of a Doubt and read the essay he wrote on how to make a good cup of tea (I needed the authentic Britishness).  Well, I read the essay and made the tea- excellent by the way, noticably better than how I’ve made it- but I also stumbled on essay he wrote on P.G. Wodehouse, the British comedic writer.  It’s a great essay, apparently prefacing an edition of Wodehouse’s final novel, which makes the case that Wodehouse’s particular brand of genius puts him in the company of Shakespeare and Milton.  A few nuggets:

What Wodehouse writes is pure word music…he is the greatest musician of the English language.

And:

Like Milton Wodehouse reaches outside his paradise for metaphors that will make it real for his readers…Of course, Wodehouse never burdened himself with justifying the ways of God to Man, but only of making man, for a few hours at a time, inextinguishably happy.

Wodehouse better than Milton?  Well, of course it’s an absurd comparison, but I know which one I’d keep in the balloon, and not just for his company, but for his art.

Finally:

He’s up in the stratosphere of what the human mind can do, above tragedy and strenuous thought, where you will find Bach, Mozart, Einstein, Feynman, and Louis Armstrong, in the realms of pure, creative playfulness.

Heavy praise, indeed.  Now I haven’t read any Wodehouse, though I want to and I’ll probably make time now, so I can’t really comment on his genius.  He’s one of those niche authors whose books all come in $19 hardback editions because, within that niche, price isn’t an object.  Unfortunately, it is an object for me and I don’t much like reading humor books in the store (people give you funny looks if you start rolling on the floor).  But, the essay reminded me of how I’ve thought of G.K. Chesterton- a glorious writer who is woefully underappreciated because he wrote the wrong sort of things.

He’s not a perfect writer.  Adams pooh poohs the criticism that Wodehouse was repetitive, but that’s certainly something that was true of Chesterton.  He had mastered the particular- individual sentences, paragraphs, etc- but as you move outward to page and plot, the writing wears on you a bit.  Rare is the Chesterton book which holds up as a unified whole.  And don’t try to read too much Chesterton in a short period of time- he needs to be doled out like tart cheese.

His fiction has unique difficulties- the people are all just ideas masquerading as characters.  The same ideas, usually.  Still, in that short space- what I’ve called, in honor of him, the “two minute” passage (it takes approximately 2 minutes to read aloud)- when his ideas are at their sharpest, he is a man nearly unmatched in English letters. Is there anything better than this?

But this madness has remained sane. The madness has remained sane when everything else went mad. The madhouse has been a house to which, age after age, men are continually coming back as to a home. That is the riddle that remains; that anything so abrupt and abnormal should still be found a habitable and hospitable thing. I care not if the sceptic says it is a tall story; I cannot see how so toppling a tower could stand so long without foundation. Still less can I see how it could become, as it has become, the home of man. Had it merely appeared and disappeared, it might possibly have been remembered or explained as the last leap of the rage of illusion the ultimate myth of the ultimate mood, in which the mind struck the sky and broke. But the mind did not break. It is the one mind that remains unbroken in the break-up of the world. If it were an error, it seems as if the error could it hardly have lasted a day. If it were a mere ecstasy, it would seem that such an ecstasy could not endure for an hour. It has endured for nearly two thousand years; and the world within it has been more lucid, more level-headed, more reasonable in its hopes, more healthy in it instincts, more humorous and cheerful in the face of fate and death, than all the world outside. For, it was the soul of Christendom that came forth from the incredible Christ, and the soul of it was common sense, Though we dared not look on His face we could look on His fruits; and by His fruits we should know Him. The fruits are solid and the fruitfulness is much more than a metaphor, and nowhere in this sad world are boys happier in apple trees or men in more equal chorus singing as they tread the vine, than under the fixed flash of this instant and intolerant enlightenment, the lightning made eternal as the light.

I don’t know that I’d put Chesterton with Milton or Shakespeare, because I don’t know how much of that seeming limitation was self-imposed, a result of his laser focus to do but one thing: defend the Christian religion to mankind.  Regardless, I think our “literary” pantheon should have a bigger place for writers like Wodehouse and Chesterton, who had geniuses of their own though they didn’t hue to convention.

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A More Coherent Coherence?

October 28, 2009 76 comments

So I originally meant this as a reply to MWS’s insightful comments but it got long and turned out to express what I’d been trying to express from the beginning, so here’s a kind of part 2 which is hopefully a lot more comprehensible.

Part of my thinking- and if you followed Mrs. Peel’s blog, you’d know this post was planned for awhile- has been due to a desire to address a few issues that sometimes trouble me or seem like serious atheist objections.  Namely, I have trouble envisioning, as I said, a world where we’re free, but not free to go wrong.  You can explain the fall with that line, but then how do you explain salvation/heaven/the New Jerusalem.  Like, ok…why doesn’t he fall again?  What’s gone on in the interim to change the situation?

Along those same lines, I’ve always been slightly piqued by the atheist quip about heaven sounding dull.  Part of the reason the whole “fortunate fall” thing has caught on among atheists, and part of the reason, for instance, so many people see Lucifer as the real hero of Paradise Lost despite Milton’s intentions, is because it’s very, very difficult to imagine a meaningful world without conflict.  Extremely difficult.  I mean, almost impossibly difficult.  I’m reading Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling now, and he goes on about being “shattered” by the story of Abraham- well I’ve been nearly shattered in the past by the idea of a world without conflict.  It’s not that I can’t imagine it- I can.  I just sort of see the atheist point.   How do we get there…and like it?

And what I came up with, the more I thought about both of these points, was something like coherence.  Really, I thought about a story.  You know, try writing a story with no conflict.  To illustrate this, I actually planned to write one.  I got somewhere, but then couldn’t continue.  Here’s it is.

A man wakes up, alert but with just enough of the pleasant fugue of coming out of a dream.  He kisses his wife, who smells of lavender.  She tussles his hair fondly.  He gets his morning paper, reads about 6 kittens that are saved from a tree by an awshucks boy scout.  Smiles a bit, and sips his coffee which is strong and rich, with an aesthetically pleasing dollop of cream just vanishing beneath the brown liquid, and tumbling tendrils of heat touching his face.  Kisses his wife goodbye, lavender again; maybe he should save that scent- take the bottle- to see him through the day.

His office isn’t far; he’ll walk.  The morning breeze takes the edge off the coffee, and he’s feeling both warm and snug at once by the time he arrives, with a hint of that pleasant stretching strain that sneaks through your muscles after a walk that isn’t necessary.  The boss greets him at the door; he always does, and really he’s not a boss anyway- they’re collaborators.  The man’s been given authority and responsibility, but doesn’t shoulder the ultimate burden.  Like clockwork, when the clock strikes 5, he’ll head home; no overtime or missed holidays and soccer games.  But, now he’s working.  He has to help a young family get a new home, by convincing the bank they’d make good loan prospects.  They’re sitting there in front of him, smiling beatifically- the little girl tries to hand him a picture.  It’s a house, or something like one- an enormous red roof runs through a crooked blue square.  He’s touched.  The phone comes up- “the Melville’s are very deserving.  You would?  Terrific.”

They all three shake his hand- promising to send him a welcome mat as a reminder- and walk out the door.  Just then, the boss- the collaborator- walks in.  He heard about the deal.  “Really fantastic work!…A raise?  Why certainly!  How does 8% sound?”  8% sounded great.  Just enough to get the house fixed up, but not enough that the man would be tempted to buy a bigger place and stretch their finances.

As he leaves for lunch, he hears about a new cafe about a four minutes from his office building.  The co-worker who tells him comes along.  This co-worker is a fine fellow, with an easy laugh, but a fine sense of distance.  They only have lunch together every so often; a friend, but not a smother.  The cafe is just outside a park, where they can see kids- probably on some kind of recess- playing dodgeball with a fierce competitiveness that dissolves into back-slapping at the first sign of real tension.  They get a seat outside, so they can watch that vitality, adding to the nourishment of the food.  And boy is the food good.  The man gets a small order of chicken franchese- they actually have three sizes of everything, to accommodate your level of hunger- a dish his wife never makes.  It’s just buttery enough, and the lemon and wine have mostly dissolved into the rest of the flavors.

Etc.  And so it goes, ad nauseam, everyday, without any conflicts, however small.  But, even that sample doesn’t do it.  Because I have included conflicts- he has a job, and work.  He gets the satisfaction of completing the job, however easy it happened to be.  And there are rewards.  The raise, for one, which actually does something: he fixes up his house.  Which presumably was unfixed before (a conflict).  I’m not even sure I could write a story that included none of that sort of thing.  But, if I could, I don’t think even competent/interesting writing could stop it from being dull.  And so I wondered.  I was trying to reconcile the fact that “the fall” was really a bad thing, with my intuition that not to have fallen seems like a not natural thing and, in some ways, dull, with the idea that when we get to the “big show” we’ll be in a prelapsarian type of situation and it will really be a good thing, and we’ll really stay there this time.  All while keeping freedom intact.   And so, like I said, I thought of coherence, and I thought of a story.  And I thought…huh, isn’t it odd how, really, there are only two times we can accept a lack of conflict in  a story; at the beginning and at the end?  How we actually seem to demand pristiness for bookends?  How stories just don’t seem to work unless we get one or the other, and usually both?

Which also seems to mirror the Christian story in odd ways.  You get the pristiness in the beginning- people are happy, life seems great, but then not so much.  And it seems as if these mini-falls, the beginning of the conflict, are both inevitable and a kind of punishment for some action.  And the only way you can get to pristiness again- your happy ending- is through this whole process.  At which point, you’re able to feel that the happy ending might stick- that they can keep to the path- because there’s this whole context that wasn’t there before.  You see this in life too- children can do things that seem totally tedious to adults.  They can play with the same blocks for hours on end or watch the same movie repeatedly.  They don’t need conflict.  They CAN create it, obviously- they’re impatient, spoiled, monsters at times.  But, they still have a remarkable level of wonder at things that just don’t fit into what we adults would see as interesting.  And when life’s end approaches- there’s a similar level of patience and content with a conflictless life, though a little more refined for the weathering.  All this bundled up with ideas of innocence and redemption was what I was trying to get at, and didn’t have time to, in that first essay.  Maybe I don’t have it exactly right.  Maybe I minimize the fall “as punishment”.  I don’t know.  That’s just sort of how I’ve come to think of it and, to me, it seems awfully coherent, without being especially rational.

The Power of Coherence

October 25, 2009 12 comments

This essay is a result of many big ideas combining and colliding in the best and worst kind of pyrotechnics my brain is capable of producing.  If it’s a mess, I hope it’s a mess worth making.  Though I can’t hand it off to someone else, maybe I can leave a trace of something worth keeping.  Metaphors, like anything else in a collision, get mixed up.  But, this is my try.

I believe that, with some of the bigger truths, reason only gets you halfway there.  Something else helps you complete the journey.  I’ll, for lack of a better term, label that something “coherence”.  An argument which doesn’t quite bring together deduction or induction, all the way through, can nonetheless fit. I claim that Christianity fits in this way.

If we try to imagine the sort of world that would be necessary were a loving deity to exist, it seems that our world resembles this  ideal world in peculiar ways. Even apparent objections seem to fade away. The “problem of pain”, so difficult to understand, seems much more comprehensible if we look at it in this way. There are essentially two “horns”  to the problem of pain. First, nature, though ordered, is capricious and destructive. Second, man can, and often desires to, do harm. But, when we try to make sense of these two problems- try to make them coherent- we find they’re not problems at all, but necessities. Let us deal with each in turn.


Nature is Capricious and Destructive

What is meant by nature in this context? Lewis defined nature as “the whole show”, but I think in this instance we’re dealing with a fairly specific vision of nature. Nature, here, is simply the process by which change occurs. Carbon matter decays, cells mutate, low pressure areas form over water causing hurricanes, etc.

What is meant by “capricious and destructive”? Surely we don’t call hurricanes destructive because we think bits of ocean ought not fling themselves at high speeds, over great distances. No, we only object to hurricanes- think them a problem for a world with a loving God- because they destroy creatures who’d rather not be destroyed. Cancer is cancerous because it affects us.

Absent us, these things are just processes. Now, in order for anything to happen, there must be a change between states. If it starts “raining” it must have ended “not raining”. This is true even in a world without life, but life adds a special character to the process. When an event happens, and states change, life is impacted. And to be impacted is to be moved.  And if you’re moved, you’re moved away from something.  And as long as you have a sense of preference, you’re capable of preferring the original state.  That’s the start of this argument.  Before, we get to the finish, let’s move on to the second “problem” with pain.

Man Does Harm

In, I think, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis points out that it is essentially impossible to imagine a world in which men were free, but not free to go wrong. An infinitely powerful God could, perhaps, make man a different sort of physical creature, capable of inflicting less damage. We could envision a slug with a brain, squirming around on it’s belly, limited in its choices by a finite form, in the same way we’re limited by a lack of wings or by a defined skeletal structure.

Still, this isn’t very helpful. Surely the objection to the existence of pain can’t be that there is simply “too much” of it. Too much is a relative term. It must have something to relate to. An atheist might well say “Look at those Bangladeshi orphans. They’re born without every advantage. They’re vulnerable to disease, malnutrition, they lack an education system or any way to meaningfully better themselves. How could a loving God allow for such pain?”

Our atheist might well say this, but it wouldn’t get him anywhere. Because what he really means is “Look at these Bangladeshi orphans who have more pain than I do; fewer opportunities, greater grief. How could a loving God not square this away?” The atheist cannot possibly mean that the Bangladeshi’s simply have too much pain, in the abstract. He implies a standard. Absent that standard he’s talking nonsense, akin to the man who says, “that hat is too dark” without any implied “to wear in the sun” or “to match my clothes” or “to satisfy my aesthetic taste”. But, even our sentient slug would exist in a world with such standards.  Even a sentient slug could “go wrong” on this smaller scale.


Therefore, any meaningful objection to pain must be an objection to pain as such. But, of course, any objection to pain as such is an objection to differences. As long you and I are in different situations, and we have different preferences, and we are distinct individuals who’s actions influence our environment, we will be at loggerheads.  If I am taller, you are necessarily shorter.  And in a concrete environment there will certain advantages to my height, and certain advantages to your lack of height.  This will inevitably create pain when we’re competing for scarce resources.

Nor does it seem likely that even an infinitely powerful God could create a free world with infinite resources.  If we view resources as anything from food to spots on a basketball team (which seems like the proper attitude), the difficulty will immediately become plain.  If you want to play for New York Knicks, but can’t make it on the 5 man squad because you’re short, what is God to do?  Perhaps he could create another basketball team, with the same name and history.  Let’s just suppose he could.  But, who will be your teammates?  Your opponents?   The NBA is popular enough, so you might find a few takers in the beginning, but eventually you’ll end up with players without a team, or a team without opponents.

Or is God…drafting people into the NBA?  What if some of these folks want to play in the MLB?  If he’s altering them to prefer basketball then we’re back to a question of free will.  But, let’s suppose that God could manage such a feat; creating an infinite number of basketball teams, with an infinite number of players freely interested in playing the game.  Now what if I want to win?  And what if you want to win?  And what if we’re playing each other?  Can we both win?  Can I both win and lose?  An infinitely powerful God can’t violate the law of non-contradiction anymore than can a finitely powerful human.

Coherence

Logic has taken us this far.  Reason has been our guide.  It must soon leave us, giving way to a more powerful force.  But, before we wave it away, let’s sum up the preceding argument.  First, events in nature imply change.  Insofar as we are free individuals with preferences, we’re capable of resenting this change, and thus feeling pain.  Second, if we have different capabilities, with different ideas, we will have different experiences, which will make us more or less happy relative to each other.  It turns out that the objections to the problem of pain don’t hold up, but perhaps it’s not a problem at all?  Atheism doesn’t, after all, appear to have a “problem of pain”.  Even if we concede that an infinitely powerful, infinitely good God may well need to create a world which can bring about pain, how does this convince us that such a being exists?

But, something odd happens when we look at the claims of Christianity.  What does it tell us about creation or, more specifically, the opening scenes of man?  Genesis 2:17, “But of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die”.  Genesis 2:25, “And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed”.  Genesis 3:5, “For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil”.  Genesis 3:7 “And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons”.  Genesis 3:10, “And he [God] said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself”.  And the beginning part of Genesis 3:11, “And he said, who told thee that thou wast naked?”

Here, we have the famous fall of man.  It’s fascinating and, in some ways, perplexing, but how does it fit into the preceding argument?  In this sequence, Adam starts out free.  God forbids him to eat from the tree, which would be altogether pointless if Adam wasn’t, in fact, capable of doing so.  What did we say about pain?  Why do people experience it?  Because they have preferences and ideas.  But, Adam doesn’t have preferences and ideas.  That’s precisely what he doesn’t have.  That’s what the “knowledge of good and evil” is all about.  He doesn’t know about “the good” and he doesn’t know about “his good”.  He’d be equally content playing basketball or washing dishes.  Nature’s change and flux can’t phase him.

And it seems to me that the first thing Adam and Eve do, after eating of the fruit, emphasizes this.  They hide their nakedness.  They’re ashamed, but not because being naked is inherently evil; rather, by disobeying God and gaining “knowledge”, preference, etc,- they’ve created the idea of evil.  The narrative is perfect and coherent.  It fills gaps that we barely notice. And the rest of it?  The idea that redemption is a journey and, as in a story, the happy ever after needs the context of that journey to make sense; to be satisfying.  It is, confusions and turmoils included, the most powerful and “right” description of how man is and how he ought to be.

Man and Sin

September 29, 2009 11 comments

Have you ever looked at Christian fiction?  Every other book has some girl in a bonnet and some guy wearing an old-fashioned frontier-style hat.  Practically all of the rest involve something super-natural- usually armageddon.  None of them engage secular difficulties on secularism’s turf.  Their themes seem almost childish.  Let me give you an example from the most popular Christian series, the Left Behind series.

Think of Buck Williams, played by Kirk Cameron (I told you he’d be back) in the movie.  What do we know about Buck?  Well, we know he’s an intellectual- he attended Princeton- we know he’s a world reknowned journalist and a senior writer for something bigger than the NYT.  And we know he’s not a Christian.  This point is critical to Buck’s development.  You see, when the rapture happens, Buck starts to doubt his atheism.  He begins to put pieces  (including a miraculous experience he had in Israel) together and finally decides to accept God.  Oh, one more thing we know about the pre-rapture Buck: he’s a virgin.

That’s right: a handsome, successful, famous, non-Christian, 29 year old intellectual is a virgin.  We know this because at one point he has a comical discussion about “experience” with a college student he’s sweet on.   I couldn’t get over this when I read the first book, probably a decade ago.  Even at 12 it seemed preposterous (now it’s almost unfathomable).  What were they trying to pull, I wondered?

Now, older and wiser, I’ve figured it out: they were trying to create their own world, totally detached from the secular world, where the ordinary and the sinful were pretty rare and easily dealt with.   Even the obvious evil in the story fits this mold: Armageddon isn’t exactly an everyday occurrence.   Practically all of modern, conservative Christianity has disappeared into that make-believe world.  Thus the Amish books, and the bonnets and the strapping young lads with suspenders and impeccable manners.  It’s all a retreat.

How did we get here?  Bear with me but I think I have an idea.  Back when Christianity still dominated the intellectual landscape, the Christian novel read a lot differently.  Sinners showed up more often but they played an almost uniform role: they died.  Or they experienced some unthinkable tragedy.  You’d see plots that went something like this “girl is seduced away from virtue and soon afterward she’s…run over by a wagon”.  Do you see?  If you have sex outside of marriage you WILL be run over by a wagon.  This was serious stuff.  The virtuous were very good and the sinners very bad.  This wasn’t, by the way, just a literary thing.  Not a whole lot of people were literate and most of those who were only had time for the Bible.  But, it was a way of telling morality stories- even orally- that passed into the culture.

As society opened up, something happened.  The faithful realized that you didn’t automatically die after pre-marital sex.  They noticed that , you know, the virtuous didn’t always triumph.  And the virtuous didn’t always seem to be the virtuous- some Christians seemed rotten and some “sinners” seemed like basically decent people.  So you get novels like the Scarlett Letter.  Chillingsworth is essentially faithful, but clearly evil.  Hester and Dimmsdale are tormented, but their torment is more about shame of sin than sin itself.  We’re led to feel that, whatever their faults, they’ve basically gotten a raw deal- sin shouldn’t work like that.  So there’s a chipping away of the strictures of morality, but most of the ediface is intact.

Dickens, hardly an especially religious writer, illustrates this conflict and change.  In David Copperfield, the virtuous and patient Agnes prevails and wins David, while the sinful Little Emily ends up “beautiful and drooping” and essentially exiled.  Dickens differs from the prior tradition in that, while the sinful get their desserts, he doesn’t quite call them just.  Little Emily is a tragic, not an evil, figure.  It seems there was no doubt that sin led to “the fall”, but there was some doubt about whether “the fall” made you irredeemable.

Sometime after Dickens, this type of novel almost totally stopped.  People had “tragic flaws” that led to “downfalls” but the arc wasn’t totally explicable in terms of sin.  And the man on the street really knew better at this point.  He wasn’t going to stand for any of that malarkey.  Having realized that sin didn’t work quite as linearly as he’d supposed, he was free from the whole idea.  Oh morality and all that was fine, but basically you just wanted to be a good person.  Anything more serious and you were getting radical.  There’d been an overreach.

Which brings me back to the present (for now).  Where before the Christian writer smote the sinners, now he minimizes them.  Twenty-nine year old, intellectual, handsome, famous guys might be virgins.  In fact, they probably are if God has a plan for them.  Somehow it’ll work itself out.  Again, this is a form of retreat.  But, it’s worth noting- more than worth noting- that there was an alternative to the two traditions- between smiting and false dismissal.  This alternative was exemplified in the novels of Evelyn Waugh.  A few months ago, somebody over at NRO (and I can’t find the quote) claimed that while the love story worked in Brideshead Revisited, the religious plot hadn’t quite come off.  I thought this was incredible and absolutely backwards.

The love story didn’t quite work precisely because the religious plot was so central.  The Brideshead crew just couldn’t live well without God.  The whole second half of the book is based on that gorgeous Chesteron quote:

“Yes,” he said, “I caught him, with an unseen hook and an invisible line which is long enough to let him wander to the ends of the world, and still to bring him back with a twitch upon the thread.”

They’d wandered but they were hooked and knew it.  They’d wandered because they were hooked and couldn’t stand it.  The novel is full of that sort of idea.  Life is glamorous; interesting; occasionally pleasurable.  But, it’s not quite full and they’re never quite satisfied.  Sin isn’t a demonic monster which immediately consumes every last good sensation, but neither is it a pathetic easily vanquished rodent.  Instead, it’s a real temptation which can feed you but never fill you.  Am I crazy to think that this is where we Christians ought to be going?  Am I crazy to think that this is the way it really is?  We should deal with the modern world manfully and acknowledge that sin exists and, while it cuts man off from God’s grace,  it can come out shining like the light.  But, it is not the light and it will never be enough to keep us out of the darkness.  Maybe the wages of sin is death, though a gradual death with many remissions.

Modern Christianity: How to Die More Honorably

September 27, 2009 2 comments

I wanted to start this off with Kirk Cameron’s “pitch” on evolution and Christianity but I’m not about to plunk down 60 dollars for the video upgrade until I know if anyone’s reading.  So I’ll just link the thing and you can go watch it there.  You probably should since I’ll be referencing it at some point.  Let me just say that Kirk Cameron seems like a nice guy and a good Christian.  I’ve always admired his attempts to influence the direction of Growing Pains and make it more family friendly.  But, I think he has made a mistake.  During the late 80’s and early 90’s Cameron was something of a hearthrob.  He had some influence within the culture- the secular culture.  You could imagine a gushing teen girl scrawling: Mrs. Kirk Cameron, Michelle Cameron, Mrs. Michelle Cameron, in the margins of her notebook.  And you could imagine her thinking, “well, if Kirk Cameron’s a Christian, it can’t be all bad”.

But, you can’t imagine her thinking that after his much publicized dust-ups with cast members who weren’t quite Godly enough for him.  You can’t imagine her thinking it after he all-but disappeared from public life following Growing Pains and was written off as one of those “loonies” .   He turned people away and, perhaps more importantly, he took himself out of the conversation.  He started making purely Christian movies and started a ministry which, I’m sure, is nice in its way but…  he was… right… there.   He’d infiltrated the enemy’s camp and, rather than undermine it from within, he was content to rally his own troops for the slaughter.    This is craziness.  This is suicidal.  Yet, this seems to go on in virtually every remaining redoubt of die-hard Christianity.  The modern Christian has an almost fantastical attachment to dying more honorably.

Which brings me back to the video.  Kirk Cameron hates evolution.  Darwin is atheism’s “God” therefore he must be something like the Christian Devil.  Cameron is prepared to see Christianity die on this hill.  He’s prepared, I suspect, to see Christianity die on any hill.  There’s no strategic sense at all.  Each is absolutely vital.   Each is the Charge of the Light Brigade, into the Valley of Death.  But, I think that evolution is the wrong hill to die on, honorably or not, and that this kind of defense is the wrong posture for the modern Christian.  I think that virtually every major Christian thinker and writer, in the beginning half of the 20th century, understood those two truths.  Of evolution Chesterton said:

Evolution is a good example of that modern intelligence which, if it destroys anything, destroys itself. Evolution is either an innocent scientific description of how certain earthly things came about; or, if it is anything more than this, is an attack upon thought itself. If evolution destroys anything, it does not destroy religion but rationalism. If evolution simply means that a positive thing called an ape turned very slowly into a positive thing called a man, then it is stingless for the most orthodox; for a personal God might just as well do things slowly as quickly — especially if, like the Christian God, He were outside time. But if it means anything more, it means that there is no such thing as an ape to change, and no such thing as a man for him to change into. It means that there is no such thing as a thing.

That’s from Orthodoxy.  In The Everlasting Man he went further:

Man is not merely an evolution but rather a revolution. That he has a backbone or other parts upon a similar pattern to birds and fishes is an obvious fact, whatever be the meaning of the fact. But if we attempt to regard him, as it were, as a quadruped standing on his hind legs, we shall find what follows more fantastic and subversive than if he were standing on his head.

To Chesterton, it was the essence of man that mattered- how he got here, yes, but also why we should have expected him to get here at all and what a remarkable thing it was.  What a remarkable thing it still is.  I’m not here to argue for Intelligent Design nor go on a Charles Johnson crusade against “Creationists”.  I don’t think anything of importance, theologically,  hangs on the debate.  But, I will argue that modern Christians are largely fighting the wrong battles, in the wrong way, and on the wrong territory.   For readabiity and suspense I’ll leave off now.  Stop by later to discover what battles we should be fighting, how we ought to fight them, and why Chesterton’s subtle intuitions still matter.  Kirk Cameron will make another cameo.