Saturday, June 14, 2008

No Vacuums Allowed

But the fun didn't stop there.

James Woodruff followed Ross Arnold with a brilliant presentation on Chesterton and Pascal - "Not All Mathematicians go Mad". In his talk, Woodruff often referred to Aristotle's principle "Nature abhors a vacuum", a principle Pascal disproved, incurring thereby the wrath of the Jesuits.

Woodruff lives in Worcester, Massachusetts, a town between Springfield and Boston - which reminds me of a vacuum joke. Why is it so windy in Worcester? Because Boston sucks and Springfield blows. Hat tip to the unnamed source who gave me that joke.

In Woodruff's talk, he gave the overall argument of Orthodoxy, a brave thing to do. Woodruff said that Orthodoxy is about the human soul, which is the lock, on the one hand, and Christian doctrine, which is the key, on the other. Chesterton discovered that when you bring these two odd mysteries together, they fit point for point - and Christianity is the key to our lock. This great book is about how GKC discovered that this ancient faith was the only way to hold the paradoxes of our nature together; and that the paradoxes of the Faith were the paradoxes of life and of our deepest natures.

As Woodruff put it, "The God-shaped vacuum of our souls is filled by Christianity, the shape of God."

He said that both Pascal and Chesterton were astounded at "the sheer contingency of the world", which was a part of "The Ethics of Elfland" that Miss Overkamp also noted. Not only is this world glorious, it also need not ever have existed! But Woodruff said that while Chesterton responded to this contingency with joyful gratitude, Pascal found himself more unsettled. It alarmed him that the world was contingent, and his response was, in Woodruff's words, "proto-existentialist". He therefore placed Pascal with the great curmudgeons of the faith, Kierkegaard, Belloc, St. Jerome, those who add "the dash of bitters to the great cocktail known as the communion of saints."

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