Sunday, July 15, 2012

On Arguments (and how we Consume Them)

My friends,

Life's experiences teach us many lessons that we should apply to our interior as well. Take, for example, eating. When we eat sweet things like candies and cakes it is no doubt that they are pleasant and readily consumable. But it is also obvious that if we subsist on these things we will become fat, lethargic, and unable to eat more bitter things because we are accustomed to sweetness. In like manner, when we eat only bitter foods and coarse meals we are often unable to distinguish tastes—either because it is too bland or because the intensity of sweetness is now too strong for us.

How similar is this to our intellects! When we indulge ourselves on easy arguments, arguments that are readily consumable and require little more than our assent (because we agree with them already) we become intellectually lazy, tired, and unwilling to work on more difficult things. These arguments are sweet to us because they support us, but when we consume too much of them we have little taste for anything else. Likewise, when we only concern ourselves with arguments about concrete things, pessimistic things, and arguments against our opponents we similarly lose our taste for lighter and sweeter arguments. We become cold to ourselves and, as the adage goes, "we are what we eat." Engage too much in one thing and you become a product of that thing and no longer a disciple. Many see no problem in this and these are precisely the people who will become sick but not see a doctor.

When we indulge ourselves in intellectual heavy-lifting we become intellectual "jocks," as it were. We are unable to enjoy nuance, diversity, and mystery. When we gorge ourselves on poetry, sweet and easy words, and arguments that we merely need to nod our heads at we never truly appreciate hard work, order, structure, and the truth.

The former deadens us to point where we confidently say "I know I'm right." The latter deadens us to the point where we confidently say "We could never know." But indeed, there is nuance in order, diversity in structures, and mystery with truth.

Thus, for me, the Catholic Church has been a good doctor. Indeed, the Eucharist has been even better food. The simplicity of bread and the sweetness of wine is our daily food and contemplation. Yes, the coarseness of the Body and the smoothness of the Blood is real food that is consumed and is our challenge—take and eat, take and drink; this is my Body and Blood. More than this she has prescribed good diets that are full of poetry, literature, philosophy, theology, and science. She has also prohibited certain foods as detrimental to both my spirit and my intellect. Her pronouncements are challenging and require a great deal of effort, but she also gives wisdom and advice which is sweet and consoling. The result of strenuous activity is energy and fitness, the result of leisure and contemplation is joy and gratitude.

Sometimes a cup of black coffee and a piece of sweet cake make for a favorable combination, since neither will overcome the other but make one enjoy both all the more.