Saturday, May 19, 2018

Review of Thomas Howard's Chance or the Dance

A garden of delight is the little book (136 pages) titled “Chance or the Dance, A Critique of ModernSecularism,” by Thomas Howard. Although the topic is serious, the writing is Lewis-like, almost whimsical, and very enjoyable.

The thesis of the author is that a new myth (“if you can’t measure it, it does not exist”) has replaced the old myth (angels, demons, gods, heaven, hell); and with that changing of myth has come a necessary alteration of significance. Under the old myth, everything means everything: the patterns and rhythms and images of everyday humdrum existence all point to an Ultimate Reality—they all mean something. Conversely, under the new myth nothing means anything: everything is the product of random chance, the fortuitous collocation of molecules and atoms and therefore the very concept of meaning or significance is an impossibility.

The book is not a philosophical tome by any means – the writer eschews jargon and uses garden-variety experiences and objects (wherein is the whimsy) – lunch, acorns, soup cans, dishrags – to assert his argument (lurking behind it all I sense he is drawing allusions to Plato’s forms). But it’s not a book to exhaust the reader with mental gymnastics – his points are simple. He also draws richly from the world of art, literature, movies, poetry, etc, to make his case.

Do not be fooled: this is not a book for skimming. He builds the wall of his argument a brick at a time and if you skim you’ll wind up missing bricks here and there. Pay close attention to the first two chapters where he lays out his ideas of the old/new myths, the notion of form and content, and imaging/imagination. These are matters Howard uses constantly throughout the book, and you’ll want to note well what he means by them.

Like Lewis, Tolkien, and Chesterton, Howard comes from the tradition of Anglo-Catholic philosopher/writers. If there’s a bone I have to pick with this excellent and clear-minded tradition it is the exaltation of reason to an excessive height, often putting God at the wrong end of the microscope and making Him the object upon which we exercise our rationality, rather than seeing God as the author of a rationality to which He himself is not subject. This tradition often overlooks the darkness which sin has imposed on our ability to think rationally. In any case, you’ll enjoy Howard’s exquisitely precise argument that comes wrapped in the clothes of everyday life.

Howard only intimates but does not state the ultimate point of his book. He suggests rather than proclaims. As a reader who knows the Ultimate Reality behind the images, I found this to be a little frustrating, something like listening to a truncated rendition of a glorious piece of music. The conductor, coming to the finale of a bravura performance of a gorgeous symphony, waves the orchestra to silence and neglects the the final page. The music hangs in the air, begging for its crescendo. But that is just the sort of subtlety that defines all the pages of this little volume—Howard leaves the reader to connect the final, obvious dots. Perhaps, in the end, that is part of its appeal.

That resolution does come (in the edition that I read) in the afterword by Tyler Blanski. One might accuse Blanski of stating the obvious, but in four pages he does it well. Many readers of this book might be muddling about in darkness. Connecting the lines to the final dots might be asking too much. Blanski marks the path clearly for those wearing the opaque glasses of secularism.

Five stars to Howard’s Chance or the Dance; it is a relentlessly more powerful apologetic than citing facts, figures, and statistics.

No comments:

Post a Comment