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CLXXXXII

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

 Plato started a lot of conversations that he couldn’t finish.  He was trying to find the universal and the absolute by looking in the wrong place.  He sought well, but the final answer was beyond his grasp.  But he sets the questions up better than anyone.  What if there was someone who could come into Plato’s Cave from the outside world of the sun?   What then?

Plato

REFLECTIONS FROM PLATO’S CAVE

The fleeting shadows flow across the wall;

That’s all we know.  We think they may arise

Outside our minds, and bring before our eyes

Some glimpse of Truth–but by the time they fall

To us, a faint and hieroglyphic scrawl

Is all that’s left.  We try to analyze,

Deduce from patterns what the shapes disguise–

They’re hard to catch and harder to recall.

 

We think reflections of Reality

Are cast by Sunlight shining–how we crave

To turn and look–but still we strive in vain.

No merely mortal man will ever see

Whether the Door behind us in the Cave

Is there, so firmly Fate has bound our chain.

 

So many years we strove against the chain

That gradually some gave up, and hope was dead.

“There is no Door; there is no Cave,” they said,

“No explanation, nothing to explain.

It’s just a game you play inside your brain:

All the poetry you’ve ever read

Makes chemical reactions in your head;

That’s all that Pleasure is, and also Pain.”

 

What of the Beautiful, the True, the Good?

“They’re all illusions; they are all the same,

Sounds upon the wind, an empty name,

And that is all that can be understood.”

But then the rule that says that nothing’s true

Must be applied to their denial too!

 

So hope could not completely be denied.

Yet still the shadows flicker on the wall,

And we’re not certain what they mean at all

In spite of every theory we have tried.

If only one of us could get outside

Into the Light that fills that vaster hall

And not go blind, but come back and recall

For us the land where the True Shapes abide!

 

If only–but the ancient Grecian knew

No way that it could be.  It seemed absurd

To hope or to despair.  So still the True

Was but in shadows seen, in echoes heard–

Until the birth of a barbaric Jew

Who was in the Beginning; was the Word.

The Word

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.  And look for Williams’ very latest book, Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis, from Square Halo Books!

Donald T. Williams, PhD

CLXXVII

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

There are no true paradoxes in Christianity because the God of the Bible is a God who cannot lie.  Therefore, no real contradiction can be so about Him (or anything He made).  But the richness and the depths of Christian truth are shown by the number of seemingly incompatible realities it manages to pull together into a harmony greater than the sum of its parts.

 

CONJUNCTION

At the fulcrum of the Cross

A host of concepts meet:

The Profit hidden in the Loss,

The Victory in Defeat.

Christ's Entry into Jerusalem by Hippolyte Flandrin c. 1842

The Acceptance, the Rejection;

The Worship and the Jeers;

The Freedom in Election,

The Ecstasy in Tears.

Crucifixion-Glass

The Mercy and the Justice;

The Human, the Divine;

Pilate;  Judas;  Jesus–

The broken Bread, the Wine.

LambVictor

 

The Maker of Orion,

The Victim of the Scam;

The Meekness of the Lion,

The glory of the Lamb.

aslan narnia snow winter

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.  And look for Williams’ very latest book, Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis, from Square Halo Books!

Donald T. Williams, PhD

Book-CSLTheology-Cover

CLXVII

Wordsworth wrote an endless poem in blank verse on” the growth of a poet’s mind.”  I shall attempt a more modest feat for a more distracted age: a blog, “Things which a Lifetime of Trying to Be a Poet has Taught Me.”

The theological phrase “the noetic effects of sin” refers to the impact sin has had upon the mind.

The Essence of Sin

The Essence of Sin

THE NOETIC EFFECTS OF SIN

It was too much of reason to expect

The world’s foundations to be excavated

By efforts of unaided intellect.

Finite mentalities could not reflect

Ideas so infinite and elevated;

It was too much of reason to expect.

Still less would so far fallen minds elect

The Truth; it never could be venerated

By efforts of unaided intellect.

Still, their attempts could by no means be checked;

But though they strove and studied and debated,

It was too much of reason to expect.

Each time they thought they knew, their thoughts were wrecked;

Once more the subtle Quarry had evaded

The efforts of unaided intellect.

So why then would so few of them inspect

What in the Bible God himself had stated?

It was too much of reason to expect

From efforts of unaided intellect.

 

Remember: for more poetry like this, go to https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/ and order Stars Through the Clouds! Also look for Inklings of Reality and Reflections from Plato’s Cave, Williams’ newest books from Lantern Hollow Press: Evangelical essays in pursuit of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty.  And look for Williams’ very latest book, Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis, from Square Halo Books!

Donald T. Williams, PhD

Book-CSLTheology-Cover

LESSONS FROM BULGARIA

Visiting Bulgaria this summer was an education in the legacy of communism, which brings death and oppression wherever it gains a foothold. Francis Schaeffer analyzed it well in HOW SHOULD WE THEN LIVE. Communism has to bring oppression because it imposes an economic regime that is not rooted in reality and destroys natural incentives.  The only way you can achieve an artificial equality of economic result is by force—and those wielding the force will not participate in the forced equality.  Power tends to corrupt, and the absolute power required for the dictatorship, not of the proletariat but of the self-appointed elite acting in their name, corrupts absolutely.  These outcomes are not avoidable; they are coded into the DNA of the system by its very nature, and not all the good intentions in the world can avoid them.

Cathedral in Sofia

Cathedral in Sofia

The results in Bulgaria were unmistakable. What was built before the communist regime was villages that looked like English country villages from the Cotswolds, only with red-tile roofs rather than thatch, and cities that looked like European elegance–central Sofia could be Vienna, with Romanesque Orthodox churches instead of Gothic Catholic ones.  These are both environments in which human beings could live with dignity.  What was built during communism was universally ugly and dehumanizing:  Orwellian factories (empty) and worse than Orwellian high rises (crammed full), sprouting like a cancer on the outskirts of the cities. The contrast was stark.  The photos below were taken when those buildings were new.  They were bad enough then.  Imagine them covered over now by a half century of grime and neglect.

Communist Neighborhood

Communist Neighborhood

What was left behind after the Marxist regime fell was cynicism. I was surprised when the Evangelical pastors in Sofia asked me to talk on PostModernism, thinking it a Western problem. No, they said, they had their own version of it, a result of people knowing they had been systematically lied to by the communist government for two generations. The resulting cynicism about truth has opened the people to a philosophy that denies determinative meaning to texts. The genesis of their cynicism about meaning is different from ours, but the results are the same.  Preaching the Good News that personal Truth has entered our history becomes harder when there is no concept of truth; discipling Christian converts into the meaning of the Text which records that revelation becomes harder when there is no concept of objective meaning. It is what Schaeffer described as the loss of “true truth,” now on the steroids provided by Post-Modern “theory.”

CommunistBuildings4

It is no coincidence that Post-Modern scholars often also tend to be Marxists. Both systems have no place for any objective truth to which their results must be submitted; both subordinate truth to their social agendas, which become self-justifying. Evil supports evil and attracts it. The connection was hard to miss in that former Soviet satellite. And the damage takes generations to heal.

Preaching in Varna

Dr. Williams Preaching in Varna, Bulgaria

Have no truck then with these two allied philosophies and yield them no quarter! They are both straight from the Pit.

A book that fights back against the encroaching darkness.

A book that fights back against the encroaching darkness.  Order from the Lantern Hollow Press estore, https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/!

POSTMODERN “THEORY” SELF-DECONSTRUCTS

POSTMODERN “THEORY” SELF-DECONSTRUCTS
(With a Little Help from an Old Western Scholar)

NOTE: The following dialog is based on a debate I actually had with a Post-Modernist friend who will remain nameless. I say this so you will know that the antagonist is not a straw man constructed by me but an actual Post-Modernist. Other than giving myself the last word (because I can—Foucalt is not completely wrong), I have not appreciably altered the dialog. This is the kind of discussion I actually have from time to time.

SCHOLASTICUS VETUS OCCIDENTALIS: How is it that thinkers like Jaques Derrida have become such venerated gurus in graduate English programs? Derrida couldn’t have written an intelligible sentence if his life had depended on it. He makes banal, juvenile relativism sound profound by cloaking it in jargon. And he did not even take his own ideas seriously: He proclaimed the “death of the author” in books that had his name on the spine! I can’t see why he deserves any respect at all.

Derrida

Derrida

POST MODERNICUS: I think you fail to understand how a scholar like Derrida asserts what he asserts. The message of his texts is not just what is written, but also how it is written. The reason his books are complex is because, were he to simply and clearly assert the point he wanted to make, he would destroy his own point.

SCHOLASTICUS VETUS OCCIDENTALIS: Exactly. Though I think he does it quite effectively either way.

POST MODERNICUS: Besides, jargon dependence is not necessarily a sign of unclear thinking. Sometimes, you’re trying to say something that simply cannot be said using ordinary language. Do you demand that physicists use ordinary language? Then why demand it of philosophers?

SCHOLASTICUS VETUS OCCIDENTALIS: Technical language and jargon are not the same thing. The former exists for the sake of efficiency, the latter to obscure the fact that the content is non-existent, muddy, or fatuous. What was Derrida saying except that we can’t say anything? The only way to hide the fact that it is sheer self-contradictory nonsense is to hide its emptiness under jargon.

Do these books have authors?

Do these books have authors?

POST MODERNICUS: But there is a difference between the nonsense that a poor freshman writer might hand in and the nonsense of a thinker like Derrida (or an author like James Joyce) puts out.

SCHOLASTICUS VETUS OCCIDENTALIS: Yes, there is a difference. Derrida’s obscurity was intentional, and the freshman’s is not. Which simply means that Derrida had less excuse.

POST MODERNICUS: But Derridean nonsense is nonsense that makes sense — it expresses meaning in the fact that it is nonsense. It demonstrates the emptiness of logocentricity by its very being. For example, there are at least three good ways to interpret Derrida’s book Spurs. Why? Not because he is incapable of writing clearly, but because the book is meant to express the notion that a text can have more than one viable interpretation.

SCHOLASTICUS VETUS OCCIDENTALIS: Of course a text that is deliberately written to be incomprehensible and indeterminate can mean anything. What does this prove? How does it show that any text can mean anything? How does it advance knowledge or understanding? It’s just a silly game, and a rather tedious and tiresome one at that. Why dignify it by calling it scholarship or philosophy? I still have been shown no compelling reason to do so. To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, “I am so dense, the things that Critics see / Are obstinately invisible to me.”

Do these books have meaning?

Do these books have meaning?

POST MODERNICUS: Do you not agree with Derrida that we cannot have a God’s-eye view of the world?

SCHOLASTICUS VETUS OCCIDENTALIS: No. I don’t. Contrary to Derrida, a God’s-eye view does exist. God has it, and he has shared at least parts of it with us. He did so definitively in Christ and Scripture, but also in Reason and Conscience. Again, it depends what you mean by “God’s-eye view.” When God contemplates the fact that 2 + 2 = 4, or the Law of Non-Contradiction (as in C. S. Lewis’s book Miracles), or the Law of Decent Behaviour (from Mere Christianity), he no doubt sees many more ramifications of these truths than I do. But we are contemplating the same thing; their content is no different for Him than it is for me. And, because these are things founded in his Mind, they are Reality, just as hard and unyielding as the bullet-like raindrops of Lewis’s The Great Divorce.

POST MODERNICUS: If truth comes only from Christ and scripture, do atheists then have no true beliefs?

SCHOLASTICUS VETUS OCCIDENTALIS: I never said “only.” Christ and Scripture are in my view the authoritative and trustworthy guides to Truth, but Scripture is not exhaustive of Truth. As Lewis said, “when the Bible tells you to feed the hungry, it doesn’t give you lessons in cookery.” Even Derrida has some true beliefs, though he does his best to suppress them.

POST MODERNICUS: I have no view of truth. I think I sometimes say true things, and that God knows all true things, but I don’t know what truth is. And neither, I would claim, does anyone else.

SCHOLASTICUS VETUS OCCIDENTALIS: Are these statements true? How do you know? If the last two are true, then you cannot know that they are. But, then, if you are not asserting that they are true, this discussion becomes impossible, a game too trivial to be played—like reading Derrida!

Is there any truth here?  Can we discern it?

Is there any truth here? Can we discern it?

POST MODERNICUS: And what do you and C. S. Lewis mean by “reason is the organ which perceives truth”? You mean we just “see” what is true?”

SCHOLASTICUS VETUS OCCIDENTALIS: Sometimes, as with First Principles. People who try to deny them can do so only by affirming them in spite of themselves. You either see this or you don’t. Once you have seen it, it is forever after self-evident and undeniable. And the only way it can be denied is through a kind of really despicable intellectual dishonesty.

POST MODERNICUS: That doesn’t seem right. Honest and intelligent people often differ about just what the truth is. So there must be more to it than that.

SCHOLASTICUS VETUS OCCIDENTALIS: Yes, there is more to it, but not less. I did not claim that all truth can be seen that clearly; only certain basic truths. But they are enough to cut us off from total skepticism and to serve as a foundation for other truths. The fact that people disagree about those other truths does not keep even non-self-evident truths from being either true or knowable. Truth is determined by evidence and reason, not by opinion polls.

LibraryTrinityDublin2

Can these authors communicate with us, or are they forever inaccessible, trapped behind their language and situation?

I think it ultimately boils down to a choice offered us by Milton’s Satan (the first Post-Modernist), who claimed that “The mind is its own place, and in itself / Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” He was claiming the right to create his own values, his own meaning, and his own view of truth in his own mind, because there is no objective reality, no Author, to which or whom he was willing to submit. Derrida is in my mind simply his most sophisticated and consistent disciple to date. Lewis was the great champion of the other choice: the mind, like everything else in the created world, is God’s place, and can therefore only find fulfillment when, instead of insisting on the right to create its own meaning/truth/values, it submits to His.*

The Satanic/Derridean way of seeing things increasingly dominates the intellectual landscape. But C. S. Lewis’s writings still incarnate the older view on almost every page. Lewis was wrong about one thing, though: he was not the last Dinosaur. I am but a tiny lizard to his T Rex, but at least I am here (and I am not alone). One of Flannery O’Connor’s characters is told, “People have quit doing that.” His response is my motto: “They ain’t quit doing it as long as I’m doing it.”

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*See my article “’The Mind is its Own Place’: Satan’s Philosophy and the (Post)Modern Dilemma,” Proceedings of the Georgia Philological Association 2 (December 2007): 20-34. A shorter, more popular version of the same material was published as “Devil Talk: Milton’s Post-Modern Satan and his Disciples,” Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity 21:7 (September, 2008): 24-27. And the original article has been reprinted as a chapter in Reflections from Plato’s Cave: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2012). It can be ordered at https://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/