—Says Arnold Lunn
Clearing A Way Through The Jungle Of Modern Nonsense
The following vigorous defence of controversy as a weapon with which to convert the world is taken from a private letter from Arnold Lunn to The Editor of the Catholic Herald. Mr. Lunn is willing that the passages here quoted should be published.
I am passionately convinced that we need more controversy rather than less, and that it is dangerous to write anything which suggests a belittlement of reasoned approach to the Church.
" Your dialectics," writes a Protestant who is very dear to me, "only irritate people." And hc assumes that this fact is in itself a final argument against dialectics. He forgets that St. Paul, that great dialectician irritated people so much that they crucified him. Truth often irritates people who suspect that it is true and who have no wish to be convinced of error. The Church is the supreme irritant. That is why the Church provokes this intense hatred. Methodists irritate very few people. Angli
cans irritate very few people. Nobody could hate a Baptist. Hatred is indeed one of the signs by which the Church can be recognised and hatred is the reaction of those who have been irritated by truth.
Personal Experience Let me in support of my faith in dialectics borrow the great Protestant appeal to personal experience. As a boy I had a great sreverence for Leslie Stephen and adored his glorious book, The Playground of Europe. Having read L. S. the mountaineer, I proceeded to read L. S. the agnostic. As I was entirely unarmoured with any arguments for the Faith, I became an agnostic. Had I known then as I know now, how strong is the argument for the Resurrection, I should have lost my faith.
Some years later a very brilliant barrister said to me, " I am not a Christian, but if I had to choose between two briefs, the first to defend and the second to attack the Resurrection. I choose the former. It is impossible to produce a convincing alternative to the Christian explanation of the undoubted fact that the body of Jesus disappeared from the tomb.
Now that one small specimen of dialectics did more to make me a Christian than anything which I heard from the pulpit or elsewhere during my youth.
" Within That City" I don't think that this last book of mine would have made the least impression on me had I read it in the twenties. I may be wrong, but I remember how tremendously I mistrusted the appeal to religious experience. Also I suppose that I must always have felt that need for God, which every creature does feel, and as a result, I distrusted any argument which seemed to meet my needs half way. A kind of puritanism as I have tried to show in my book.
Then I stumbled on Salmon's Introduction to the New Testament and was im pressed by the intellectual integrity of his argument as I have been shocked by what I believed to be the evasive and self deceptive tactics of Christians who put their shirt on their own individual personal experience. I know now, of course, that what I mistook for intellectual dishonesty is nothing of the kind. There is a certain type of Intuitionist who believes with a hundred per cent. conviction in the infallibility of his own personal view of the Universe, but I've never managed to be my own Pope.
I was not " playing with ideas " in my controversies with Fr. Knox and Joad. Far from it. By that time I knew that I could never be anything but a Catholic, since no other form of Christianity can be logically defended and I was no less determined not to become a Catholic excepting along the road of reason. With my youthful fear of auto-suggestion ever before me, I scrupulously refrained from trying to say any prayers until I had made up my mind and
asked to be received. I defended the Catholic case against Joad and determined that if my own defence satisfied me I would become a Catholic.
Worth While to Obtain One Convert
And now as to the value, which you
dispute. of this kind of controversy. In the first place let us get our criterion right. • The controveraialist 'like Nature must be content to sow a thousand seeds and is lutky if one' bears fruit. These controversialist books may irritate A. B, and C, may incense D, E and F but if one book makes ,one convert it's worth writing.
Now you are familiar with the Catholic
case, but most people at (including
most Catholics.) Nine 'young men and women to-day believe that science has smashed the Church and that a competent scientist could chase a Catholic round the ring in the first round and knock him over the ropes. The Catholic reading my controversy with Haldane may feel that H. ought to have been knocked out of the ring, and would have been had I been more competent. But that is not the effect produced on the average non-Catholic. Let me give you a concrete case. One of the cleverest women I have ever met read those letters in manuscript. She was a sceptic when she began and was most incensed with H. for not finishing me off in one round. Then she began to pay me compliments. So I said to her, " Thank you for your kind words but suppose for the moment you allow me to insinuate a doubt, a doubt of the truth of Haldane's case and the competence of Lunn's defence. Is it not just possible that Lunn may have such a good case that even his handling of it can't ruin the case. Aren't you being unfair to H. and much too complimentary to Lunn?"
Well, that was long ago and to-day that young woman is a Catholic. And I know from letters that a great many Catholics have regained their faith and others have become Catholics as a result of reading these books. Do not misunderstand me. I am not claiming to have converted anybody. All that the controversialist does is to cleave a way with an axe through the jungle of modern nonsense and give people who like sunshine a chance to see the sun. That's all. Our work is negative. We just remove barriers. But its useful work for all that.
Public and Private Warfare
think the whole difference between my point of view and the point of view expressed in the Catholic Herald review of my book might be summed up as a difference between public war and private duel.
In a duel one is offered the choice of weapons, pistol or sword. In public war one uses guns, machine guns, aeroplanes, bombs, trench mortars and rifles.
In our effort to convert the world with which we are at war we are not restricted to the choice between dialectics and the argument from personal experience, or the argument of the good life.
Even the saint is no less effective as a saint if he can also handle the dialectical weapon as St. Thomas Aquinas could. Those who belittle controversy and dialectics belittle by implication St. Paul and St. Peter and St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Thomas Moore and Newman no less than Luther and Calvin and Wesley. Dialectics annoys some people and.. converts others. (I began by being irritated by Catholic dialectics and ended by being converted.) Let us use all weapons It seems to me as idle to weigh dialectics against the description of personal experience as to argue whether a trench mortar is better than a siege gun. The siege gun can't " convert " the man in the trench or the trench mortar convert the fortress.
Notre Dame University, Notre Dame, Indiana.