The staff of Adam's Ale has just returned from their concert tour in Italy but thanks to CK, a regular contributor to this blog we (I) can have one more day to get over jet lag because CK had graciously provided today's blog for just such an event. If you enjoy her writing I highly recommend that you check out the links to more of her writing. Or of you REALY dissagree with what she says, I highly recommend that you check out the links to more of her writing.
A few months ago I asked a friend to read something I wrote defending the teachings of the Catholic Church. An argument ensued that was more about my snotty attitude than the subject at hand, and my friend blew his stack and accused me of being closed-minded and orthodox. He explained (with no sense of irony) that he was open-minded and that is why I was to never again present him with ideas he didn’t like.
I was being a bit of a jerk that day, and I don’t mind if he’s mad at me, but I do mind if my bad example has soured him on the faith. I have no intention of broaching church-y subjects with him unless he invites me, but if I had a chance to defend orthodoxy I would use a story he once told me as a sort of parable:
My friend was vacationing on a Caribbean island. One afternoon, while walking on the beach, he saw an older man in the water far from shore calling for help, clearly on the verge of drowning. My friend is a poor swimmer, so he punched the nearest young man on the beach in the arm and snarled, “Do something!” Fortunately, someone came by on a jet ski and saved the poor old man’s life.
I would ask my friend if he remembered the man he punched on the beach. Perhaps that young man looked out at the old man who was drowning and said to himself, “Eh, is life worth living?” Or perhaps he asked himself, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Perhaps he thought the world is overpopulated and that it is good that a “useless eater” die. Or maybe he was a Darwinian who believed that natural selection was just weeding out a weak man and preventing him from passing on his inferior “bad swimmer” genes that are so detrimental to survival.
With one punch in the arm, my friend wordlessly declared, “Life is worth living! You are your brother’s keeper! Even if the world is overpopulated, murder by neglect is not the answer! Forget Darwin! The lives of old men and bad swimmers are just as sacred as anyone else’s!” My friend is not as ambivalent on these subjects as he supposes. Not only did he demand that this young man accept his orthodoxy, he demanded it on the threat of violence!
My friend and I are both machine designers. He would never dream of building a machine out of butter and telling a customer that it would impose no load on the ground because we designed it to hover. This would be quite an unorthodox, open-minded engineering design, but it would also defy the laws of strength of materials, thermodynamics, and gravity. We know from basic human experience that such a design is doomed to failure.
Just as engineering demands “orthodoxy” to succeed, I have discovered by studying history, science, medicine, and many other subjects, that there is such a thing as truth – that reality demands orthodoxy. There really is a difference between right and wrong and it changes neither between individuals nor with the times, and when we stand by debating open-mindedly as to what that truth is, in the meantime people die (as in the drowning man example).
I have discovered that the Catholic Church just happens to have always been right when it has closed-mindedly warned us against ideas that oppose truth and goodness, as with its opposition to communism (and its ensuing millions of deaths), euthanasia (employed by the Nazis and now getting out of control in the Netherlands), and contraception (and its necessary backup plan, abortion). The Church throughout history has warned us in advance when an “unorthodox” idea is going to lead us down the path of misery and death. This has been the case too consistently for me to call it coincidence. I suppose someone could argue that the Church has just been lucky in her predictions – that sometimes even a blind squirrel finds a nut – but if that is the case, the Church is a magic squirrel.
I think my friend’s real beef is that he thinks orthodoxy is restrictive – that it limits the expanse of logic, inquiry, and creativity and that it leads to a life devoid of pleasure. I, to the contrary, have discovered from experience what Chesterton said so well: "People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy."