There are two options that explain what's going on here at the University of St. Thomas. Dale explained them to me thus: either the college doesn't know what sort of conference they have and so in their lack of care they're making things very difficult for us; or the college knows exactly what sort of conference they have and are very carefully making things very difficult for us.
We begin with the fact that you can't find any mention of the Chesterton conference anywhere. There are many signs directing people to the hall where the talks are being given, but the signs say ENDANGERED CHILDREN'S CONFERENCE. Beyond that, there's no non-sanctioned wine, mead or ale allowed, and even the juice machine at dinner was dispensing water instead of lemonade or fruit punch. I am not making any of this up.
It also seems hard for the university to get climate control quite right. At 45 degrees north latitude you wouldn't think it would be hard to keep buildings cool, but apparently it is.
Anyway, in the midst of this apathy or persecution, in this midst of this modern heartlessness and mindlessness, there remains the miracle of hundreds of people coming from all over the world to celebrate a man whose writings are lighting bolts and whose understanding of what's wrong with the world is equalled only by his love for Our Lord and His Church. We have here again Joseph Pearce, originally from England, Geir Hasnes, still from Norway, and tonight I met a very nice man, soon to be a deacon, who came to the conference all the way from near Anchorage, Alaska!
Our Acting Czar, Dale Ahlquist, gave a typically engaging opening speech, an Introduction in Defence of Everything Else, and in typical Ahlquist manner he pointed out that Chesterton not only writes about everything, he also writes about everything else - that is to say he explains not only this world but also that which is beyond this world. Some highlights of Dale's talk:
"Welcome to the Endagered Children's Conference."
"I'm getting ahead of myself. Which is not typical for me. I'm usually beside myself."
"The ultimate destination of any journey is home. And when Chesterton discovered Romance, he disovered not only Rome, but also a greater home than he had imagined."
"The axiom that Chesterton discovered in struggling with his depression, the truth that the whole book springs from is - existence is better than non-existence. While this appears obvious, for Chesterton Orthodoxy was his 'elephantine adventures in pursuit of the obvious'. That's a great adjective - elephantine. You don't hear that adjective much. I expect every one of you to use it at least once during this conference."
"Bad theology eventually leads to madness. Good theology is the basis of sanity."
"Orthodoxy is a perfect piece of rhetoric, a statue that can be approached from any direction."
"When the One Thing is right, everything else falls into place - and thus everything else can be defended. But we have not chosen that One Thing. We are Martha; we have chosen the lesser good - political causes, social issues, gender issues - in choosing the wrong thing we risk losing everything. Defend the right thing and you can defend everything else."
"Why don't critics of big business apply that same criticism to government - and vice versa? Our big business is insane, our government is Caesar on Steroids."
"Insurance companies are in control of our daily lives. That's why the biggest buildings in the major cities are offices of insurance companies. When we see life in terms of profit or liability, then people are viewed not as people but as things to be used."
"Shouting at an insane world is not nearly as effective as laughing at it."
And meanwhile the madness rages just outside the lecture hall.
Dale's talk was followed by that of futurist David Zach, who spoke with lots of aplom and used all sorts of Power Point slides and pictures. In fact, his use of audio visual aids was elephantine. The crowd found David entertaining and he even charmed some giggling teenage groupies who fluttered about him for his autograph and pictures afterwards.
My son and I were far too tired to visit the Official Area of Alcohol at the end of the evening. Tellingly, the area is marked off by police tape. I swear I am not making that - nor any of this - up.
More tomorrow. We may not catch and review every speech, but my son wants to catch the one on Nietzche, and everybody wants to see Joseph Pearce on "Chesterton and Shakespeare" and I happen to know from an inside source that Geir Hasnes' talk on Saturday morning will be a profound and personal pro-life speech in defence of his own life - and everything else.
Thanks to Nancy, blogmistress for the Society, who has encouraged me to post and who helped straighten out in my mind yellow journalism from just being yellow, and of course we all miss Dr. Thursday, who must know that my son is crestfallen. But this is not a place to be crestfallen - unless you're a student or administrator at the university.
But we don't go here, do we? We go to Chesterton University, which is as big as the cosmos itself. And everything else.