Tearing Down the Lamp-Posts

It has become fashionable in both academic and popular circles to disparage what have been the hallmarks of classic orthodoxy. Especially criticized these days are the notions of doctrine and especially a propositional approach to doctrine. In fact, it is a hallmark of post-conservative theology to lay claim to an emphasis on “transformation over information,” as if the two were not inherently connected to one another. I am fairly convinced that much of this is a product of chronological snobbery, and the belief that we have in our time figured out what others in previous ages were too dim to understand. While there is much I would like to say about this, I’m going to instead let G. K Chesterton do the talking, as he addressed similar issues over a century ago, in his text, “Heretics.” Here’s what he said:

“Suppose a great commotion arises in the street about something, let us say a lamp-post, which many influential persons desire to pull down. A grey-clad monk, who is the spirit of the Middle Ages, is approached on the matter and begins to say, in the arid manner of the Schoolmen, “Let us first consider, my brethren, the value of Light. If Light be in itself good–” At this point he is somewhat excusably knocked down. All the people make a rush for the lamp-post, the lamp-post is down in ten minutes, and they all go about congratulating each other on their unmedieval practicality. But as things go on they do not work out so easily. Some people have pulled the lamp-post down because they wanted the electric light; some because they wanted the old iron; some because they wanted darkness, because their deeds were evil. Some thought it not enough of a lamp-post, some too much; some acted because they wanted to smash municipal machinery; some because they wanted to smash something. And there is war in the night, no man knowing whom he strikes. So, gradually and inevitably, to-day, to-morrow, or the next day, there comes back the conviction that the monk was right after all, and that all depends on what is the philosophy of Light. Only what we might have discussed under the gas-lamp, we now must discuss in the dark.”

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