Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Wisdom from G.K. Chesterton

“When the old Liberals removed the gags from all the heresies, their idea was that religious and philosophical discoveries might thus be made. Their view was that cosmic truth was so important that every one ought to bear independent testimony. The modern idea is that cosmic truth is so unimportant that it cannot matter what one says. The former freed inquiry as men loose a noble hound; the latter frees inquiry as men fling back into the sea a fish unfit for eating. Never has there been so little discussion about the nature of men as now, when, for the first time, any one can discuss it. The old restriction meant that only the orthodox were allowed to discuss religion. Modern liberty means that nobody is allowed to discuss it.”
                                                                            G. K. Chesterton, Heretics
The above was written in 1904 or 1905; it is as apt today as it was back then, or more so. It seems today that anyone can say anything and expect no consequences. But there are consequences and they are becoming more evident every day.

For the past many years, I would say since the time of the Viet Nam war, political and social dialogue in this county has become more polarized and it seems the point of the debate has become “winning,” not seeking the good of the country. Much less has it been seeking the good. Statements of all kinds, on both “sides” have become more extreme with each passing year. The consequence is that we are getting to the point that no one trusts anything anyone else says. It is becoming impossible to function as a society. This is a severe consequence.

The community envisioned by Benedict is one built on trust. The Rule says, in Chapter 4,

Let the brethren give their advice
with all the deference required by humility,
and not presume stubbornly to defend their opinions; 
but let the decision rather depend on the Abbot's judgment, 
and all submit to whatever he shall decide for their welfare.

I wish the wisdom of the 6th century, or even the early 20th century, were more prevalent today.

Even though this may seem a completely un-democratic environment, the passage shows that the basis of the monastic community is a mutual trust that each member of the community will seek the good of the entire community. The monks “shall not presume stubbornly to defend their opinions.” The goal isn’t to win, it’s to seek the good.

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