Tag Archives: G. K. Chesterton

A Portrait Of Insanity

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Consider the following excerpts from Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton:

The madman’s explanation of a thing is always complete, and often in a purely rational sense satisfactory. 

Now, speaking quite externally and empirically, we may say that the strongest and most unmistakable MARK of madness is this combination between a logical completeness and a spiritual contraction.

Such is the madman of experience; he is commonly a reasoner, frequently a successful reasoner. 

The madman is the man who has lost everything excepts his reason. 

Thanos, the brainchild of Jim Starlin in the Marvel comics and in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, is the personification of these ideas about madness. He is a nuanced madman: cruel with a twisted sense of compassion, a logical thinker who reaches intellectually compelling yet abhorrent conclusions. He is not irrational; he is rational – make that super rational. This was demonstrated in Avengers: Infinity War (2018 from Disney Marvel, directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo), and it was perhaps the aspect of the movie with which I was most impressed.

I have often heard the phrase, “that’s subjective,” stated to refute opinions and arguments. The simplistic implication of this is that objective thinking is right and that subjective thinking is wrong. This is misleading. Taken alone, each of them is wrong. Objectivity places some very necessary constraints on subjectivity while subjectivity informs objectivity. Objectivity relies on logic, and the potential weakness of logic is that it must be based on a premise. If the premise is wrong, logic, even perfect logic, built upon this foundation can produce atrocities.

Hitler and his minions demonstrated this with their Final Solution. The Holocaust was the creative, logical product of one of the most advanced scientific civilizations of its time. The destruction by Thanos of 50 percent of an interplanetary population is a final solution writ large. The justification: overpopulation, suffering, and ecological imbalance (solved very logically by mercy killing on an incomprehensible scale). A big picture which ignores individuals is the product of ignorant objectivity uninformed by a subjective understanding of the worth of an individual. Such numerical morality plagues policy making in real life as well as in fantasy.

Subjectivity informs the premise on which logic is based, and to ignore this is madness. I look forward to this week’s release of  Avengers: Endgame.

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Science Fiction and the Soul

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It’s no great secret that science fiction often reflects cultural beliefs at a given time. A good example of this is Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956 Walter Wanger Pictures, Inc.; directed by Don Siegel) based on a book of the same title by Jack Finney. I prefer the book to the movie, but I like both. The 1978 version (MGM; directed by Philip Kaufman) with Donald Sutherland put more of an emphasis on the horror aspect, and this covered up the theme I am emphasizing in this post.

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Without giving much away, the plot is centered around alien pods which have the remarkable ability to copy any life form that holds still long enough for them to reproduce its molecular structure. For a human, this means that he or she has to be asleep near one of the pods. The original disintegrates and is replaced by the copy. The “pod people” aggressively try to place pods next to other unreplicated human beings. It has been claimed that this movie is a veiled reference to the Red Scare of the 1950s, but that isn’t what I want to discuss, either.

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The theme that most intrigued when I read the book as a teenager is the one that resonates with me now as an older adult: the existence of a nonmaterial soul. While the book and subsequent movies are in no way religious, the theme is still there. It is chillingly emphasized in the book in various ways. The one that stands out most in my memory is a scene in which the narrator overhears a conversation between some neighbors/pod people. Their exchange is mechanically sterile with some degree of intellect present but almost no emotion. It is apparent that something human, something which is not physical, is missing.

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The most heart-grabbing example in the 1956 movie occurs when the girlfriend (played by Dana Wynter) of the town doctor (played by Kevin McCarthy) falls asleep while they are hiding in a cave.

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The scene where he realizes he is kissing a mere shell when he tries to rouse her is perhaps the emotional peak of the movie.

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Alright, I gave it away, but it’s old. Watch it, anyway. It’s worth the time. The point I’m making is that there was a more widespread belief in a nonmaterial, human soul in the 1950s than there is at present.

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Contrast this with the approach taken in Oblivion (2013 Universal Pictures; directed by Joseph Kosinski). In this, clones that have had different experiences are capable of sharing the memories of the original human after which they are patterned. This reflects the more current opinion that mind is body, a pattern of electrochemical activity moving through evolved neural circuitry.

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Is the brain the source of what we call the soul, or is it a transmitter? The materialist explanation is simpler, but does that make it true? If one smashes a phone, does that mean that nobody was on the other end? It strikes me that evidence against the existence of a nonmaterial soul is based on examining the smashed phone. I leave with this quote from What’s Wrong With the World by G. K. Chesterton.

No man could say how his animal dread of the end was mixed up with mystical traditions touching morals and religion. It is exactly because these things are animal, but not quite animal, that the dance of all the difficulties begins. The materialists analyze the easy part, deny the hard part and go home to their tea.


A Sense Of Story

In his book, The Everlasting Man, G. K. Chesterton makes the statement that although philosophers examine patterns when analyzing reality, Christianity is a story. I will add that so are all of the major myths from various cultures. Later in that same book, there is perhaps the most interesting and unique discussion about comparative religion which I have ever read. Whether you believe them or not, Christianity, Judaism, Greek mythology, Roman mythology, and Norse mythology (not to mention too many additional myths and religions to include in this post) are stories, and they address a fundamental need of the human condition. I remember being a college student in the 1970s. It was a time when these things could be discussed more freely than they are today. People weren’t nearly as prickly when challenged by ideas with which they disagreed.

The Ascension by Benjamin West, 1801

Returning back to my opening statement, the recognition and analysis of patterns is extremely useful to the understanding of how nature works. My formal training in molecular biology taught me to do just that. Without the context of a story, however, patterns become disembodied, bland, and hollow. A widespread problem in modern society is the awareness that our weeks are like sentences which lack punctuation, especially that period or exclamation point at the end. Too often, it seems that nothing significant happens, something that adds definition to our existence. This extends into the fear that our lives have no story line and no underlying theme. Social approval only goes so far in filling this need. We long, often while resisting it, for a sense of belonging to something greater than individuals or groups.

Gods of Olympus, 1534-35 Giulion Romano
Gods of Olympus (1534-1535) by Giulio Romano

I’ve often wondered if this at least partly underlies our cultural fascination with fantasy, science fiction, or even horror. Especially in the case of the latter, do we jangle our nerves so that we will at least feel something? Lest you think I’m being overly critical, please understand that I love various literary and cinematic works of fantasy, science fiction, and mythology. The exercise of our imaginations can be extremely beneficial when it encourages us to conceive better things.

The Muse (1895) by Gabriel de Cool

May I suggest also taking a look at the hard stuff? Read the great works of epic and mythical poetry, including The Iliad, The Odyssey, Beowulf, The Divine Comedy, and The Poetic Edda. While you’re at it, you could certainly do a lot worse than reading works like, Confessions and The City of God by Augustine, The Bible, and the works of Plato and Aristotle. You won’t understand or agree with everything you read. I certainly didn’t, but I learned not only something of their content but also the pleasure of engaging in deep thinking. The driving can be difficult, but the ride is worth it.

Mercury and a Sleeping Herdsman by Peter Paul Rubens

We are by nature rebellious, so let’s rebel and begin to fill the hollow universe that has been left to us by materialistic thinking. I must add one more thing before closing. Learning is not enough by itself. Our lives become better stories when we apply what we learn by doing something, by adding quality to ourselves and our communities.

The Modern Pantheon: Loki

From Thor: The Dark World (
“Marvel’s Thor: The Dark World” (2013, directed by Alan Taylor)
Loki (Tom Hiddleston)
Ph: Film Frame
© 2013 MVLFFLLC. TM & © 2013 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.

Loki (played magnificently by Tom Hiddleston) is a god. Just ask him:

The above scene from The Avengers (2012, directed by Joss Whedon), in which Loki’s argument is rendered moot by the Hulk, reminds me of a passage from the second chapter of Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton (perhaps my favorite author).

“So you are the Creator and Redeemer of the world: but what a small world it must be! What a little heaven you must inhabit, with angels no bigger than butterflies! How sad it must be to be God; and an inadequate God! Is there really no life fuller and no love more marvellous than yours; and is it really in your small and painful pity that all flesh must put its faith? How much happier you would be, how much more of you there would be, if the hammer of a higher God could smash your small cosmos, scattering the stars like spangles, and leave you in the open, free like other men to look up as well as down!”

This kind of ambition – to dominate, to subjugate, to exalt oneself above others – is madness. By human standards, it may even be seen as an entirely reasonable madness. Chesterton again:

The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything but his reason.

And the cure?

I mean that if you or I were dealing with a mind that is growing morbid, we should be chiefly concerned not so much to give it arguments as to give it air, to convince it that there was something cleaner and cooler outside the suffocation of a single argument.

In various ways, I suppose we are all mad, that we all consider ourselves gods. Time to breathe, Loki. Otherwise, yourself is all you get.

Liebster Award Nomination

I need to insert this between posts for my Modern Pantheon series so that I may thank Kgothatjo Magolego (KG’s MOVIE RANTS) for nominating me for a Liebster Award. I understand that this is an honor, and I am happy to play along. Here is the information he sent me:


Liebster Award Nomination


I’d like to thank Hammy Reviews for nominating me for this award, please do check out his blog by clicking here. I’d see blogs I was following, writing about receiving these awards and wondering if I’d ever get one. So this is really a honour. I’d also like to thank everyone who reads my blog and chimes in with a comment or a like. I might forget to reply to a comment once and a while but I appreciate your presence.

The Rules:

  1. Acknowledge the blog that nominated you and display the award.
  2. Answer 11 questions that the blogger gives you.
  3. Give 11 random facts about yourself.
  4. Nominate 5-11 blogs you think are deserving of the award that have less than 200 followers (decided to keep it strictly WordPress blogs cause I can’t tell how many followers bloggers on other servers have).
  5. Let the blogs know you have nominated them.
  6. Give them 11 questions to answer

*See above for my acknowledgement of KG’s Movie Rants.

Here are my answers to Kgothatjo’s questions:

Your most embarrassing moment?

I think that would have to be high school basketball practice when I guarded a teammate. Everyone in the gym was laughing, and there was no way to hide or get out of it.

Favourite movie and why?

This is impossible for me to answer. I’m suffering from choice anxiety here, so I’ll narrow it down to my favorite monster movie: The Water Horse. It’s a charming location and period piece, and I thought the child characters were adorable. Plus, the special effects were convincingly good.

Marry, kill, sleep with: Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Tom Hiddleston?

I’ll have to be a bit of a buzz kill. I wouldn’t marry any of them because I am already married to my wife of 36 years, and she is the love of my life. I would not kill any of them, either, since I’m a Christian, and – well – that’s just plain bad. I’m also afraid sleeping with any of them is out of the question since I’m a dedicated heterosexual and have promised my wife that I will never sleep with anyone but her. I would like to have a conversation with Tom Hiddleston. My son-in-law, Michael Greenholt, helped animate Tinker Bell: The Pirate Fairy, for which Tom provided some vocal work. Mike said that this excellent actor is an interesting, gracious, and pleasantly mannered gentleman, so even Loki can’t be all bad.

Last thing that made you laugh uncontrollably?

This happens fairly often, so I can’t pin down a specific memory. I’m sure, however, that it would have been at an extended family gathering. My brothers are hilarious, and this generally happens late at night when things seem funnier.

Favourite childhood memory?

There have been so many, that it’s difficult to pick just one. One that just came to mind is when my grandfather took one of my brothers and I fishing on a permanent pier in Lake Michigan. He fell asleep on the pier, and my father took a picture of us with our unconscious Doccie. I still have that photograph framed and hanging on the wall, and it is a treasured possession.

Favourite song at the moment?

This is another hard one. It depends on the mood, so right now I’ll say Dock of the Bay as sung by Otis Redding. I play the electric bass for a hobby, and Duck Dunn’s elegant countermelody on that song might be one of the best ever recorded in popular music.

If you could be any fictional character who would it be and why?

I’m more comfortable inventing characters than pretending to be one, but I’ll pick Innocent Smith from Man Alive by G. K. Chesterton.  He reminds me of another one of my brothers, and I responded to his off-the-wall spontaneity. He enlivened the other characters around him and improved their lives. I’d like to do that, too. Favorite quote by this character: “The puppy struggles.” Read this odd story for yourselves to get the context.

Do you have any unusual talents?

I’m not completely sure. I have a very active imagination, and I have been fairly good (but not great) at a number of things throughout my life. I’ve had my athletic phase, my musical phase, and my scientific phase. I am currently in my teaching phase, and I hope to enter more fully into my writing phase when I retire.

What’s your blogging process?

Creativity is a deep well that nobody truly understands. Things in which I am interested reach critical mass until I feel compelled to write about them. That’s all I can think of to say. My mind abhors a vacuum.

Do you put your ketchup over your fries or on the side?

I used to put it on the side and dip my fries. I am now much too health-conscious to eat that kind of food. My father died prematurely of a heart attack, and it is my sincere desire not to follow in his steps.

What’s your vision for your blog?

  1. I snore, but that’s okay because so does my wife. She’s awesome.
  2. My favorite color as a child was forest green.
  3. I always had German chocolate cake for my birthday when I was growing up. My mother baked it for me.
  4. I love well-made monster movies, and I own several. It has to be realistic, doggone it.
  5. I am a fanciful personality who had to learn to be disciplined, thorough, and logical.
  6. If my teachers hadn’t forced me to read, I would have missed out on a lifetime pleasure, and I wouldn’t have developed a passion for writing. My days of skimming and faking the book report are over.
  7. I was an excellent crammer in college. This, of course, is not the same thing as learning.
  8. My favorite authors are G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, John Steinbeck, and Thorton Wilder.
  9. My favorite book by Wilder is Theophilus North, which was written very near to the end of his life. The main character is a good smart aleck.
  10. I am drawn to a good smart aleck.
  11. I speak fluent jackass. My wife will attest to this.

I would like to nominate these bloggers for a Liebster Award:

  1. The Animated Life
  2. Gabbing Geek
  3. Enette’s World
  4. Kinnerstern
  5. Wyrmflight

*Please see the rules of acceptance near the top of this post.

Here are my 11 questions for you to answer:

  1. What do you find yourself thinking about when you don’t have to?
  2. What do you love even when you fail at it?
  3. What do you hate even when you succeed at it?
  4. In your perfect universe, who are you, and what are you doing?
  5. What do you prefer to write about and why?
  6. Invent a motto for living. You needn’t be serious.
  7. You have to spend three months vacationing by yourself. How would you best use that time?
  8. The world would be a better place if everyone would just…
  9. What is a creative project for which you wish you had enough time?
  10. If you had an income of a million dollars a year, how much would you need to live on, and what would you do with the rest?
  11. Of all the announced releases for future movies, which one do you look forward to seeing the most?