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.”
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.|