Pains of Fascination

As a child the tree of the knowledge of good and evil seemed to me to be something tangible.  I could imagine the apples, the bark, the leaves, all there immersed in tantalizing, dishonest grandeur.  But, the tree of life, when I finally paid attention to it, seemed illusive.  It was as a memory, a thing unattainable but majestic, only to be glimpsed at through the lens of legend.

At the beginning of history man chose knowledge over life.  In so doing, we despised both wisdom and instruction.  The jealousy of God shown on terrific display in the tragedy of consequences that followed thereafter.  A cursed, vengeful mankind thus drudged on toward the darkling plain of modernity — it is true what they say, that “the rebellious dwell in a dry land.”  Nothing less than an angelic guard of dreadful, mysterious winged creatures as cunning as a man, as fierce as a lion, as strong as an ox, and as swift as an eagle, charged with the possession of a flaming sword which turns every way, was dramatic enough to “keep the way of the tree of life.”  But oh to know a thing!  With what fear and trembling do I open a book or listen to a story.

The desire to gain understanding is an appetite that matures with time, I think.  There is an age at which a paradox wedges its way into the soul of every man.  As knowledge is the joy of old age, ignorance is the joy of childhood.  And how I reveled in innocence as a child.

Of course, inherent in innocence is the potential for surprise.  Inevitably wonder elevates to a climax where one desires to know things more than to accept them.  But, before that point, the point at which a man stands up, childhood sits there, defiant.

As I grew up I learned how to know things.   The veil of inexperience slowly but surely faded away and the stain of a worldview was left.  I came to understand both the goodness of knowledge and its curses; the pains of fascination.

I often day-dream about owning a small house in the woods without a computer or television and painting or writing all day.  Analyzing the politics of today, or even thinking about it, is tiresome.  Following politics is a hobby of mine, and I enjoy it.  But sometimes I get quite frustrated.  Mostly it is because analyzing day to day or week to week political situations necessitates reporting on and digesting the peripheral.  In other words, it is many times pragmatic in its perspective.

A memorable G. K. Chesterton quote touches on this problem (FYI my next post will be a review of Chesterton’s essay “The Maniac,” the second chapter to that must-read, Orthodoxy).  Chesterton writes, “The man who begins to think without the proper first principles goes mad; he begins to think at the wrong end.”  That is precisely what seems to happen far too often in political discussion.  I get tired of arguing over pedantic facts.  Perhaps that is why I do not think I can ever make a good journalist, because the details of a story often bore me.  I don’t care much about the ins and outs of certain issues.  They are many times too simple for me to care.

Understanding is grand.  The getting of it a strain.  First principles are worth contemplating before accepting the premise of the latest Washington quarrel and digging through the minutia of  partisan talking points.  “The excellency of knowledges is, that wisdom giveth life to them that have it.”  Do not enter into the battlefield of ideas before first arming yourself with the greatest of first principles: wisdom; the marriage of life and knowledge.

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