A year or so ago I read Arthur Herman’s The Cave and the Light, a mind-blowing book about how capital “H” History can be understood as an oscillating tension between the Platonic and Aristotelian understanding of the world. Sounds thrilling I know, but it’s a gripping biography of ideas played out across centuries and continents.
For Plato, this world is a shadowy reflection of a higher truth. The philosopher’s objective is to scratch his or her way out of the cave and bask in the unadulterated light beyond. Then along comes Plato’s greatest student who observes a few peculiarities of the mortal world and embraces the inherent goodness of the cave itself. For Aristotle, a more perfect understanding of the cave is the path to Wisdom. To put it crudely, Plato looks up, Aristotle looks around.
This is a gross simplification, but I am still shocked at how many disagreements can be reduced to a variation on this theme.
Despite my best efforts to embrace this world like a good little Aristotelian, I remain, at my core, a Platonist. I long for the transcendence of the glorious reality of which this life is a second order approximation at best. I do not despise the flesh as some neoplatonists and later Christian Platonists would. But I’ve always loved the sentiment best described by the boy who never grew up: “To die would be an awfully big adventure!”
The Lord has the magnificent ability to make “all things work together for good to them that love God” (Romans 8:28). This is far more than adding sugar to life-given lemons. This is taking the despicable actions of jealous older brothers selling Joseph into slavery and using it as the means of saving the whole House of Israel. This is taking items and events intended as mockery and sedition and using them as symbols of His power and deliverance. Fig leaves, nails, crosses, torn flesh, spilled blood. All things meant to lead to the Fall of Man or the death of a God, transformed into sacred tokens.
In this way suffering, regardless of the cause, can be used to accomplish God’s work for our own salvation. The Lord can make us, sinful and wretched, into saints in the same magnificent manner that He makes sacred what Satan would have used to thwart the Lord’s work of salvation.
It’s unlikely that any of you noticed, but I haven’t been around these parts in…what’s today? About two years. The abundance of blustery hot air that fogs the internet caused me to question whether it was worth the emotional investment required to contribute something more than an occasional quote. Besides, my earlier efforts were greatly filtered. My favorite thoughts were kept safe on ink-stained paper in a drawer beside my bed. Only the least personal, and quite frankly the most cynical musings ended up online. And if you can’t be brilliant, you have to be willing to be personal; otherwise the effort only contributes to the noise of digitally accumulated clutter.
So I’m going to try this again. I will not promise regularity but in exchange I promise to do my part to minimize the growth of clutter and not post for posting’s sake. If by some chance my perspective helps some soul have a brighter day or see things in a new way then I will be satisfied that yes, it is worth the effort.
Here are a few G.K. Chesterton quotes I rather enjoyed courtesy of Anderson Layman’s blog:
“Fairy tales are more than true — not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”
“Briefly, you can only find truth with logic if you have already found truth without it.”
“Life is not an illogicality; yet it is a trap for logicians. It looks just a little more mathematical and regular than it is; its exactitude is obvious, but its inexactitude is hidden; its wildness lies in wait.”
“There is a road from the eye to the heart that does not go through the intellect. Men do not quarrel about the meaning of sunsets; they never dispute that the hawthorn says the best and wittiest thing about the spring.”
Treat yourself to a healthful dose of horror flicks; apparently they’re good for burning off a chocolate bar or two.
A decent article from City Journal:
Today, some religious fundamentalists continue to rail against Mormons, while coastal sophisticates scoff at their earnest approach to life, religion, and family. Yet the methodical Mormon way, which stresses education, ambition, and charitable giving, has succeeded in ways equaled by few religious groups.
Read the rest.
You know how every post-debate analysis is incomplete without someone saying, “if you were listening to the debate on the radio…” and you wonder, “who listens to debates on the radio?” Well, I actually did. Last night I listened to the vice-presidential debate while driving from Charlottesville to DC to visit my brother and his family.
When I pulled up to their Romney-clad home I was surprised to find out that they were not watching the debate. They weren’t missing much, I said. My layman’s analysis was that Biden was narrowly winning, and while Ryan scored some pretty good points, Biden spoke with his characteristic enthusiasm and passion. He was a little overbearing and disruptive at times, but not inordinately so.
My mildly political wife, on the other hand, witnessed the debate with less antediluvian technology and said Biden’s smirk and demeanor were bizarre and that he came across as abrasive and condescending.
This seems to sum up most of what’s being bandied about on the interweb.
I have very mixed emotions about a remake of a movie that was so much more than an action thriller when it came out.
There’s no getting around it; we perceive the world through filters that help us efficiently process new information. Though flawed they are remarkable useful. We’re not limited to a single filter either, and much like an experienced photographer we can choose the most appropriate filter for a given situation. But more likely than not we have a trusty, everyday, point-and-shoot version. Sometimes it’s off kilter, but we capture some semblance of the moment. When deciding which primary filter to use, a little self-awareness goes a long way; it should be intentionally chosen and aligned with our greatest priorities.
I recently read about a group of LDS Democrats who met (congregated?) at the Democratic National Convention this past week to affirm that their political positions are consistent with their religious convictions. It is understandable that Mormon Democrats would feel obliged to show solidarity during this particular election cycle, and I applaud their efforts. But politically active Mormons on either side of the political spectrum should be careful of their choice of primary filter. Are we disciples of Christ filtering the political world through a spiritual lens or a political animal using our religion to justify our politics?
To hold a philosophy, political or otherwise, that is consistent with scripture is demonstrably insufficient. Though it’s unlikely that either party has a platform perfectly consistent with every Gospel principle, most of what’s contained in each of the recently published party platforms could be defended on scriptural grounds. It doesn’t make someone evil, stupid, or heartless to accept an opposing platform.
If your greatest priorities are political, by all means choose a political filter. But own it. Don’t preach Gospel principles from a political podium to persuade me to your cause. Be open to the fact that someone else might be doctrinally comfortable in a different political camp.
My dad used to say, “don’t let ideology trump theology.” Not bad advice. We’d avoid a lot of contention if followed.