A thought-provoking read on Chesterton by Tod Worner appears at the Patheos portal this week. Worner discusses the perils – indeed, the diabolism – that Chesterton recognized in defiant error, especially concerning morality (read the whole thing there):
Sin is wicked, but when recognized as sin, man can repent, seek and receive redemption. But if the worldview fails to recognize sin for what it is, or worse, celebrates the sin as some form of grotesque virtue, repentance is not sought and redemption is lost. Even more concerning, this worldview does not limit itself to a solitary sin which hurts the perpetrator alone. Instead, it eagerly embraces and encourages a multitude of other sins which visit their wicked results upon others.
The notion of error as serious threat has been weaving its way through much of my own thought lately. I believe it is a central theme to Orthodoxy (in particular to Chapter 3, The Suicide of Thought), and to the supposed assertion Chesterton made from his deathbed:
“The issue is now quite clear. It is between light and darkness and every one must choose his side.”
Along the path of my own conversion, it has been at times excruciatingly clear that an error in philosophy is really at the heart of so many breakdowns, whether on an individual or an institutional / cultural level. One particular epiphany came thanks to a book about Gnosticism and the New Age, the philosophy I’d been unconsciously swimming in since my youth.
Indeed, it was the very term, gnosticism, which crystallized and put boundaries around an error which had previously run rampant in my mind and life – in part because I had no definition for it. It was unbound and unconsidered. But given a name – a word – I suddenly realized most palpably what I was already in the process of escaping from, and why Abraham, the man, had blown open the doors of my imagination in such a staggering manner.
Which brings me to the issue of language. Is there a more fundamental, basic error than naming a thing with the wrong term? (Especially its opposite?) To assert that Sin = Virtue (the diabolical un-doing about which Chesterton speaks, above) is to revoke meaning, to refute the cosmos.
Take, as another example, this mathematical analogy: 2 + 2 = 7. Or a visual one: Red = Blue. Now, anyone capable of reading this essay recognizes the absurdity of these false statements, but have we considered the cosmological vacuum that results when absurdity trumps reality?
For the person who persists in the error that Red = Blue, we could say a fundamental problem dictates his vision of color. Perhaps he is colorblind. Perhaps his error is bound and limited to the realm of perceived color. If so, mercifully, he can function in reality even as he lacks the ability to distinguish red from blue. But what if his error extends to the assertion, not simply that he can’t tell the difference between Red and Blue? The man who stakes reality on the claim that THERE IS NO DIFFERENCE re-writes his (and others’) reality. He is no longer operating merely with a deficit of truth, or a blind spot, but is assaulting reality.
Chesterton is correct: This error now becomes diabolical in nature.
To use the proper word(s) for the proper thing(s) is to speak of and in reality, to speak in Truth. So language, then, is one of the starting points (perhaps THE starting point) of our human ordering of and cooperation with reality.
I will endeavor, in my next entry, to dig deeper into the nature of language, naming, Truth, and Being.
Until then, resist the Gnostocracy* and read more Chesterton!
*Thomas Bertonneau’s word