You get into the strangest arguments on the internet . . . and sometimes they really are arguments, that is, “a coherent series of reasons, statements, or facts intended to support or establish a point of view.” Not like what we got into, thankfully just on the fringes.
|"It's satire. I'm not supposed to spell it out."|
Yesterday we came across a rather innocuous article about the writer Evelyn Waugh and what many people consider his best, or at least most noteworthy, work, Brideshead Revisited. We never particularly cared for it, especially in comparison to the same author’s Love Among the Ruins, The Loved One, or anything else with the word “love” in the title, apparently.
Anyway, the author gave as his theme a quote from Flannery O’Connor: “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.” He then gave a link, introducing it by saying, “My latest at Aleteia,” Aleteia being some sort of e-zine specializing in religious subjects, if our quick perusal gave us the right impression.
It was an okay article, nothing earth-shaking, but a nice, quick read. Within minutes of its appearance, however, you’d have thought you stepped into something that you had better scrape off your shoe as fast as possible, then get some bleach . . . and those were just the mild opening salvos carried out by two commentators who evidently had some kind of ax to grind against the author. Maybe he took the last piece of pie at the office party or something.
One of the critics declared, “Vague-booking . . . totally acceptable for signaling to the schismatics-to-be at Aleteia.” The other let loose with, “So what’s the point? The article reads like a set-up or first act that does not develop into anything definitive. ‘Truth is truth.’ We know that. What are you saying?”
|"You might try actually reading the book, old boy."|
We have no idea what “vague-booking” might be, and if you know, please keep it to yourself. Nor do we care what it is from which the folks (?) at “Aleteia” are schismatiking. It was the tone of the comments that annoyed us, and they got much worse, and increasingly sneering and malicious.
Just to show that it is possible to comment on something without attacking it, we weighed in, and had one of the sneering commentators claim that our comments were completely irrelevant to the subject. Be that as it may, here they are, unedited, as we didn’t give in to the temptation to use foul (or fowl) language:
Brideshead Revisited addresses an issue Evelyn Waugh examined many times in his satire, and which also provided a theme for that of Msgr. Robert Hugh Benson, especially in his underrated “mainstream” novels, such as An Average Man: that truth, far from being the malleable instrument favored by socialists, modernists, and New Agers, is in fact true; there are absolutes, and they are not subject to change.
In this and other works, Waugh was in a sense protesting (as he often did more vocally and, in my opinion, more effectively and in a more entertaining fashion in, e.g., the short story “Out of Depth” and the novel The Loved One) what Chesterton in his book on St. Francis of Assisi labeled the invention of a new religion under the name of Christianity, and that Fulton Sheen characterized in God and Intelligence in Modern Philosophy and Religion Without God as putting collective man in the place of God.
|Msgr. Aloysius Taparelli|
Considered by the solidarist Heinrich Rommen to be the result of the shift from the Intellect to the Will (i.e., from reason to faith) as the basis of the natural law, this development was, in fact, the cause of the Catholic Church’s condemnation of socialism beginning with the first social encyclical, Mirari Vos, in 1832, and the reason Msgr. Aloysius Taparelli worked to counter the rapid spread of “religious” or “democratic” socialism by starting to look at Catholic social teaching as a discrete area of study; Taparelli is believed to have been the first to use the term “social justice” in the modern sense in order to oppose socialism more effectively.
Far from being trite, a tautology, or so obvious that it need not be said, the question of whether truth is, in fact, true is one that, like Pontius Pilate at the turning point, has caused modern civilization to come to grief, and one that concerned Waugh greatly, as the ending of Brideshead Revisited demonstrates — an ending that pleased none of the socialists, modernists, and New Agers who commented on it. To trivialize or ridicule the subject, article, author, or publication might not be the most persuasive method of bringing others around to an alternative point of view, or of bringing people to (if the expression may be excused) the truth.