Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Maniac

G.K. Chesterton would have been 140 years old on May 29. Although he passed on a bit short of that mark (June 14, 1936), even the most resolute atheist would admit that he lives on through all his writings. There are quite a few things lurking in this blog inspired by Chesterton. Sadly, I’ve only read one of his books from cover to cover (so far), but it’s a classic; it’s Orthodoxy.

Orthodoxy means “right teaching”, which is the opposite of what we have today where we act as if there is no “right” and no “teaching”, but we do find plenty of heresy or heterodoxy, which means “other teaching”. Chapter II of Orthodoxy is entitled The Maniac and it begins with a popular other teaching we often hear today. It’s the individualistic philosophy that a person will get along fine in life if he just believes in himself. There is nothing wrong with self-confidence, but could we not write “He Believed in Himself” over the grave of every famous tyrant in history? Could we not find criminals, oppressors and terrorists today who believe in themselves? Could we not find people in insane asylums who believe in themselves?

Anyone can believe in himself, and in a culture that denies objective truth all opinions become equally valid, even the opinion of a maniac. In this environment basic terms cannot be defined because the definitions are relative, and having well defined terms is a first step in logic. So reasoning with a maniac about what “believe in yourself” really means can be the catalyst for an endless game of “point-counterpoint”.

“A madman is not someone who has lost his reason but someone who has lost everything but his reason”
 – G.K. Chesterton
  • If you have children you may be familiar with “point-counterpoint”. Once, my son was bothering my oldest daughter by touching her. I said, “Stop touching her.” He said, “I did not touch her.” I replied, “I just saw you!” He said, “I touched her shirt, not her.” Of course, my daughter just happened to be wearing the shirt he was touching. From here we could have gotten into an insane discussion (or demonstration) about what would constitute touching someone, but I wasn’t in the mood for games.
  • This need not be only a game for children. I’m reminded of the trouble former President Bill Clinton got into in the late 90’s with a certain female intern which caused him to say, "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is."
  • One might think it easy to be clear about such simple words as “touching” and “is”, but maniacs can be great reasoners. Imagine someone suffering from paranoia says to you, “Everyone wants to kill me.” You respond, “I don’t want to kill you." The person answers, “Of course you would say that to keep your evil plan a secret.” There is logic there. The explanation covers the facts.

“If you argue with a madman, it is extremely probable that you will get the worst of it; for in many ways his mind moves all the quicker for not being delayed by the things that go with good judgment.”
G.K. Chesterton
The above examples may seem humorous, but the consequences are no laughing matter when the maniac engages the very basics of life, family and what it means to be human. When does human life begin? Both science and faith point to the moment of conception, but the maniac will look elsewhere. What is marriage? Whatever we want it to be? If it can mean anything, then it means nothing, so we demand some kind of definition via laws and definitions always require limits. How do we know if the limits are right or wrong? Cultural consensus becomes the infallible guarantee that all is well with whatever opinion the majority has. The underlying problem is that we demand laws, limits and morals without God. It’s like demanding electricity and then denying the existence of a generator.
A clever analogy between the sun and the moon was given at the end of the chapter to compare reason grounded in God (orthodoxy) vs. reason grounded in man (heterodoxy). God is our ultimate source of reason just like the sun is our ultimate source of energy. The sun provides both light and heat, but it is impossible to look at it directly. We call its shape round, but as we wince at it and try to trace out its exact shape with our eyes, we can’t do it. It’s too much for us. It’s both shining and shapeless. Like a mystery, we can’t define it perfectly.
Whatever light we receive from the moon is secondary light that ultimately comes from the sun, although one might think at first glance that moonlight has nothing to do with sunlight. The moon reflects light off of a dead world and gives no warmth, but at the same time the moon is quite reasonable. Its circular shape is clear and unmistakable.
“The moon is the mother of lunatics and has given to them all her name.”
– G.K. Chesterton
So how can one finally reason with the maniac? Other than presenting orthodoxy and insisting upon well-defined terms and premises (both stated & assumed), I really don’t know. At times it seems to be more about casting out demons than debating philosophies and facts. As far as a final solution, I’ll need to think about it and get back to you.

I’ll just sit here until I figure all this out.



  1. Excellent piece.

    Sadly, I know more maniacs who are orthodox and insist upon well-defined terms and premises, than secular ones. OCD Pedants to the point that 'the objects' of their razor-sharp minds cease to be persons but things to be sliced up, then finished off with a vulgar flourish of their intellectual sabre dripping with schadenfreude.

    As far as a 'final solution', as you call it, I'll watch this space with interest as you guys are a voice of calm reason in a blogsphere of maniacs! :)

    1. Thanks Anonymous!

      Once a person becomes an object to us we use them. It’s one of the traps of engaging in an argument. I believe it was St. JP2 that said the opposite of love is not hate…it’s “use”.

    2. enjoying your blog, good insight. I always take a moment to reflect when someone uses the conscience is king argument about justifying either an action or belief. An unlearned conscience can be a very dangerous weapon, look at the entire western world for example. Lee

    3. Thanks Lee. I'll be sure to check out your blog!

  2. Hello my brothers and sisters,

    I have recently started to author a blog called . I am a Marian Catechist in formation, and part of my formation process involves an active participation in catechetical instruction. I am in my second year of advanced catechetics through the Marian Catechist Apostolate in Lacrosse Wisconsin. Our founder is Servant of God Father John Hardon, and our current Director is His Eminence Cardinal Raymond Burke, Prefect of the Apostolic Signatura. I am trying to provide a blog site that is less geared towards another opinion, and more focussed on what The Catholic Church truly teaches. I will provide short, but thorough catechesis on all subjects Catholic, starting with The Apostles Creed. Working through all twelve articles in a systematic, ordered way. All material is available for reprint, to be copied, forwarded or used in anyway to help advance The Truth of The Church, please just give a mention if doing so. I welcome questions and comments also. Also part of my Catechetical activities are facilitating Holy Scripture study on Saturday nights at our families local Parish in Ontario Canada. So, it is not all Doctrine, I also study Holy Scripture. I believe it is essential today for Catholics to be very familiar with The Holy Bible as well as the timeless teachings of The Church. Last of all, my name is Lee Bastings, and all I hope for is the salvation of souls and conversion of sinners, myself included. May Jesus and His Holy Immaculate Mother, Bless us all.

    in JMJ,


    ps please pray for Our Holy Father Pope Francis and Priests everywhere

  3. When some Catholics maintain that their consciences are paramount, and therefore they can ignore church teaching, I tell them "Hitler followed his conscience".
    After deep reflection over many years, Hitler came to the conclusion that he should start world wars and murder every Jew he could get his hands on. He thought this was a good thing, and that he was doing this on behalf of others in order to bring forth a new, better world.

    It gets the point across.

    1. It's a good point, but I think it eventually leads to arguments of "consent". If my conscience tells me it's right, and I'm not hurting anyone else, and other parties involve are consensual, then it's all oh-key-doe-key.