Thursday, August 03, 2006

Wouldn't It Be Neat... (a significantly rambling post)

if someone had a database of famous people in which you could easily discover, compare and contrast what their educational backgrounds were? Maybe even their favorite books too.

I was thinking about this last night (actually VERY early this morning) when I was thinking about C.S. Lewis' classical background and how that might have impacted his writings. My train of thought brought me somehow to the idea of great men (in the general sense of mankind, not restricted to masculine of course) and how they might think of themselves. Truly great men certainly don't describe themselves as great and probably don't even think of themselves as great. C.S. Lewis wouldn't have said - "I have a classical background and look at how great I am - that's what you should give your children." Maybe he would have spoken in a reflective way about how he thought he benefited from that. It's a substantially different thing.

Which brings me back to Chesterton again. I'm continually in awe, not just of his wisdom but of that combination with his incredible humility. The humility, it seems to me, shows up especially in his attitude toward other people. You never get the sense that he feels himself superior to others for this or that reason or that he's "putting them down" even when he has some fun with some of their ideas. There is an amazing amount of respect and appreciation for what is good in that person and for their dignity as a human being.

Another reason I was thinking about this was that Ria was talking about blogging about a sign outside a local "church" proclaiming the topic for the next service as "Beware of Dogma". The conversation was interesting, though, as we explored the distinctions between a) making fun of people or acting superior with b) criticizing or even finding humor in their ideas. I don't know exactly how to explain or define that difference but I've seen it and I know that it exists. I guess it's mostly about our attitude towards other people. (On a side note: When a church advertises a sermon that is clearly meant to criticize the beliefs of others, they do leave themselves particularly open to criticism.)

It reminds me of a conversation about a conversation I had with a friend of mine in college. He had been talking with another student about courtesies we use in our speech with others. This other student thought that if someone owed you something, it wasn't appropriate to say thank you when they gave it to you (I don't remember the precise argument made). My friend and I disagreed, though (as does society in general, from what I've seen), and we decided that it had something to do with the dignity of the other person. I'd like to think about this concept more.

It seems to me that some of Chesterton's respect for other people came from his deep appreciation of the wonders of the world and God's creation that we so often take for granted. He (Chesterton) seems to be arguing in the Everlasting Man that it is partly this sense of wonder that makes books like The Iliad (and I think The Phantom Tollbooth too) worthwhile. Personifications of nature and concepts can give us a better understanding and appreciation of what they mean (in the Phantom Tollbooth, you have characters like the "Threadbare Excuse" while Homer gives us personifications of Anger and Hate - of course not all of the personifications are evil - I'm still in awe of the river in the Iliad that rises in protest to attack Achilleus for an evil deed). Here's Chesterton's actual quote:

"The point is that the personality perfects the water with significance. Father Christmas is not an allegory of snow and holly; he is not merely the stuff called snow afterwards artificially given a human form, like a snow man. He is something that gives a new meaning to the white world and the evergreens; so that snow itelf seems to be warm rather than cold."

Wouldn't the world be a better place if people like this were able to look at the world in a different way - a way in which they could look with awe and wonder at a sunset or a starry sky or the face of child? I think that really is a childlike way of looking at the world - in the same way that Jesus talks about us becoming "like little children".

As a side-note to the above linked article (about a woman who freely admits to being bored by her children): I don't know any adults who find their children a total joy 24/7 and I hate it when people argue from some imaginary extreme (a.k.a. a "straw man argument"). We're fallen and jaded and we have to remind ourselves to look at the world in the right way. Like love and joy, it's not something that just comes to us and remains; it's something that we choose for ourselves.

By the way, in case you missed it last time, I really like this quote from Chesterton on great men.


Enbrethiliel said...


I'm actually finding it very hard to see personifications in the Iliad. To me, all the characters are really characters. :S

What I focus on are the big questions that Homer is asking--which are the same questions that we still ask today. If you don't mind my impudence (my hubris?), I'd like to link another post I 'blogged about the Iliad:

More on Quoting the Iliad and Dying

PS--About that "Beware of Dogma" sign: Wasn't it Uncle Gilbert who wisely observed that a teacher who isn't dogmatic is a teacher who is not teaching? :)

Love2Learn Mom said...

No - I love it when people point to pertinent posts and I love your thoughts on the Iliad. I'm such a beginner in appreciating it and yet I had to send it in yesterday for what it was worth.

The personifications I saw in the Iliad tended to be somewhat minor (but still interesting). Like Zeus sending Anger and Hate to stir up war among the Achaians (or something along those lines). I think they struck me especially after having just reread the Phantom Tollbooth and being so fascinated with demons like the "Threadbare Excuse".

Enbrethiliel said...


Now I see why the Iliad reminds you so much of The Phantom Tollbooth! The first chapters of Juster's novel aren't very epic; but I can see why Milo and Tock's last flight from all those demons (if I remember that episode correctly) would seem akin to scenes from Homer.

I'm trying to reread it again myself, by the way, but I can't seem to find the time! Last night I couldn't make it past Dictionopolis before falling asleep. Yet I can't read it during the day because I keep it on my bedside shelf, while I carry Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped in my bookbag. :P