Saturday, June 15, 2019

Persevering Assertions

Now, here we have incidentally suggested to us an important truth, which, obvious as it is, may give rise to some profitable reflections; viz., that the world overcomes us, not merely by appealing to our reason, or by exciting our passions, but by imposing on our imagination. So much do the systems of men swerve from the Truth as set forth in Scripture, that their very presence becomes a standing fact against Scripture, even when our reason condemns them, by their persevering assertions, and they gradually overcome those who set out by contradicting them. In all cases, what is often and unhesitatingly asserted, at length finds credit with the mass of mankind; and so it happens, in this instance, that, admitting as we do from the first, that the world is one of our three chief enemies, maintaining, rather than merely granting, that the outward face of things speaks a different language from the word of God; yet, when we come to act in the world, we find this very thing a trial, not merely of our obedience, but even of our faith; that is, the mere fact that the world turns out to be what we began by actually confessing concerning it.

John Henry Newman, "Contest Between Faith and Sight", Oxford University Sermons. This sermon from Newman's Anglican period is worth reading for anyone who deals with Christian youth in any way. There has been some recent discussion among the American bishops of why Millenials have tended to leave the Church. Answers of various kinds have been given, most reasonable enough within their limits, but the fundamental answer in every generation to this kind of question is the one Newman gives in this essay. The flesh appeals to our cravings; the devil appeals to our pride; but the world just repeats itself, and repeats itself, and repeats itself, like some idiot machine, not just in words but in what it rewards and how it rewards it, in the assumptions that are made in even everyday things, wheedling itself into any space open to it because of our ignorance until we are in the trouble mentioned by Newman later, "of trusting the world, because it speaks boldly, and thinking that evil must be acquiesced in, because it exists".

And argument doesn't help all that much, because while you can argue with this person or that, you can't argue against repetition that continues endlessly regardless of what you say, so that it becomes just part of how people imagine the world. All you can do with respect to that is insist on the opposite, in word and example, as much as you can.

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