Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Knight and the Miller

“Those who look for God only in nature, or judge the universe from what they see in the jungle, are liable to debase even religion, as we have already noted, and are themselves in danger of coming to grievous harm.”

–Herbert Butterfield

As the pilgrims in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales journey to Canterbury, “the Holy Blissful martyr there to seek,” the Knight tells a tale of courtly love and chivalry in which two knights vie for the hand of a fair lady. When the Knight finishes his tale, the coarse Miller tells a vulgar tale of uncourtly lust, and having told the tale, thinks he has soundly refuted the Knight’s excessively ethereal view of life and love. But where the Knight erred slightly while being essentially correct in his idealization of the young lovers, the Miller erred grievously by completely submerging his characters in the world of gross animal nature.

I see in the conflict between the Knight and the Miller the conflict between Christianity and science. Yes, I know there have been scientists who were Christians and that the Church has stoutly maintained throughout the centuries there is no ultimate conflict between science and religion, but one can’t help noting it is the scientific view of life that leaves man submerged in the Miller’s world of gross animal nature. Every scientific “advance” seems to have done damage to the faith. Newton’s Principia in 1687 was more damaging than the Reformation or the Renaissance, just as Darwin’s theory of evolution was the real driving force of Marxism.

I grew up in a world that accepted the scientific worldview as a given. Christianity’s place in the scientific world was a minor one. It was conceded by a large part of the psychological branch of the scientific community that some type of religious orientation, if not too unscientific and too anti-social, was helpful in maintaining one’s emotional well-being, but as a way of explaining man’s place in the universe, religion – and Christianity in particular – was seen as irrelevant and, in some instances, as harmful.

The Christian has a great disadvantage when facing the scientist, because the empirical is always what is most visible. “Show me the soul in a dead body or show me something other than animals copulating in the marriage bond,” the scientist proclaims. And the modern Christian’s answer, if he answers at all, always sounds so timid and frightened.

I would suggest that the scientific worldview, the Miller’s worldview, has prevailed because Christians, following their leaders, have ceased to look on God as a personal, historical God. That archfiend Bernard Shaw, when writing about the new religion he was handing down to the great unwashed in Back to Methuselah: A Metabiological Pentateuch, insisted that it had to be metabiological rather than metahistorical, because modern man would not accept a personal God who had entered historical time as their God. So he created a mythical figure, Lilith, as the new Goddess. Yes, it’s back to the Greeks, for whom God is outside of historical time and is impersonal: “May the Force be with you.” This modern obsession with studying man as if he were an animal only (and I hold with George MacDonald that no animal is animal only) is rooted in Aristotelian dissection-philosophy, and it is false. Man should not be studied as a specimen, as a product of nature, he must be viewed as a personality.

The scientific worldview prevails only because we have let it prevail. It is not the final word. One white moment in any of our lives when stored in the heart rather than studied in the classroom, or one honest reading of any Christian writer of the 19th century is enough to shatter the false science of the Millers of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Our lives are true stories told by a personal God who has placed himself at the center of each story. When we close the storybook and seek to find ourselves and God in the science lab, we become biological specimens instead of individual personalities linked to a personal God.

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