Adventurous Chesterton and Irrational Vulcans

(Picture above by Daniel Adel)

As an adult, I have very fond memories of my father fan-girling over weekly episodes of the Star Trek series. Every week, after a long day’s work, I would lay on his bed as he rolled down his business socks, tossed them in my face– a tradition I can only hope to pass on to my children–and tuned in to watch Captain Kirk, Dr. Spock, and the rest of the Enterprise traverse the farthest reaches of space to save the day against the most malevolent forces of the universe. Despite my fading fascination with the show –I’m partial to purple lightsabers–one character has remained so enigmatic to me that he has become in my mind, the paragon of an irrational man. I’m talking here about Leonard Nimoy’s Dr. Spock.

“Many Millennia ago” the Vulcans were able to recognize their extreme inclination towards death and destruction and sought to purify themselves of the emotions which compelled them to do so. Their solution was to adopt a kind of stoicism that they felt purged them of their worst compulsions. In place of the rich religious fabric that they had crafted over thousands of years, the Vulcans adopted an empiricism so dogmatic that it made David Hume look like Gene Wilder’s Willy Wonka. From that point forward the Vulcans became a people so committed to logic and empiricism that even Dr. Spock, who is half-human, is mostly incapable of understanding sarcasm, euphemisms, or even figurative speech. Check this out if you don’t understand what I mean…

Dr. Spock was never compromised and never showed an ounce of fear, even in the face of an angered Captain Kirk. Growing up I idolized that way of being. That is until I read G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy.

Chesterton’s basic idea is that a lunatic is not the one who is driven by all sorts of irrational passions and believes in things that he cannot verify empirically. Quite the contrary. The lunatic is the one who believes so dogmatically in what he can verify empirically that he cuts himself off from the world as it actually may be outside of himself.  As he puts it “The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.” Suppose a man was crazy enough to believe that the government had replaced all of his family and friends with look-alikes. “we promise you. We are not government look-alikes!” the family might implore. “Well, that is EXACTLY what government look-alikes would say if they were trying to convince me otherwise!” The man has committed himself to his mistress reason so whole-heartedly that he is forced to reject the very affections/relations that would disabuse him of his delusions. He is so committed to his unfalsifiable empiricism that he cannot be captivated by the beauty of the gesture offered by his family members. Much like Dr. Spock he is incapable of chuckling at the beautiful paradoxes in our speech patterns, and actions. He is incapable of internalizing the incomprehensible depths to which his family members’ hearts must sink at the sight of their loved one in such a condition.

The modern worldview is much like the Vulcan. If it cannot see the transcendent, hear it, manipulate it, or bring it into submission, then it will be damned if does not stand in complete rejection of it. Modernity much like the lunatic asylum is filled with people who believe in themselves very strongly.

So what do I propose as a remedy to modernity’s reduction of life? To the radical empiricist, with Chesterton, I propose the adventure of love and imagination. It is not the cold and dispassionate man who becomes an expert in the field. It is the man whose love for the subject compels him to cast himself into the deep. Good music is not made by the dispassionate technician looking to make a quick buck. Good music is made by the one who has fallen head-over-heels in love with music. Great marriages are not maintained when the tired spouses technically do what their spouses ask. Marriages flourish when the spouses recognize and seek to be enraptured by the incomprehensible beauty that is their significant other. Monumental scientific discoveries are not found because an unbiased scientist ran an experiment. No. Something she observed so excited, delighted, and confounded her that she could not rest until she solved that tiny piece of the cosmos. The crucifixes which hang on our walls are not signs of an indifferent transaction between the Father and Son. To look at a crucifix is to see that the Word saw something so desirable in each of us that he would rather have emptied himself of his very godliness than imagine an eternity without us.

Chesterton was right. The dirty secret that the hyper-rational never want to admit is that actively choosing to submit ourselves to a love greater than us–a seemingly irrational move–makes us incredibly sane. Until we allow ourselves the adventure of being enraptured by the true, the good, and the beautiful, we may live long, but we certainly will not prosper.

Let us pray for the grace to be surprised by the incomprehensible beauty that God is, that it might inspire us to continue to give it The Ol’ Catholic Try