Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Real Things

A quote for you, from a book I’m reading at the moment:

“With them (…) was a power mightier than any, the power that in its highest form does indeed make the world go round; the one power in the world that is above fortune, above death, above the creeds, or, shall we say, behind them.  For with them was love in its highest form, the loves that gives and does not ask, and being denied, loves.  In their clear moments men know that this love is the only real thing in the world; and a thousand times more substantial, more existent, than the objects we grasp and see.”

This is not, as you might assume, from Unspoken Sermons, by George Macdonald, which I mentioned in my last post.  It is from The Abbess of Vlaye, by Stanley J. Weyman, a historical swashbuckler set in sixteenth century France.  Stanley Weyman was writing in the 1890s and 1900s, and his works are similar in tone and content to Alexandre Dumas but unlike him, and quite inexplicably, Weyman is now almost completely unknown.  It might be that his heroes and heroines are somewhat nobler and more wholesome than Dumas’ more roisterous protagonists, and thus excite less interest, but although I’m a huge Dumas fan, and would class The Count of Monte Cristo amongst my favourite books (and which includes, at the very end, a wonderful quote about hope), I think on the whole, I prefer Weyman.  Weyman’s A Gentleman of France instantly catapulted itself into my top 10 books list as soon as I read it, and his Under the Red Robe is also excellent.  Because Weyman’s works are now out of copyright, they can be downloaded for free from the wonderful Project Gutenberg, where I’ve acquired all mine, and I highly recommend them if you’re into books full of duels, chases, narrow escapes, true love, giants (Wait, no, that’s The Princess Bride.  There aren’t any giants) and cameos from Persons of Historical Significance.

Anyway, enough literary criticism.  The reason I quoted the above is because it resonates with me in much the same way as the C S Lewis quote which adorns the top of this page.  The idea that the important things, the real things, aren’t the ones that, in Weyman’s words “we can grasp and see”.  It’s a view that some people find hard.  “I only believe what I can see” is a phrase that I’ve heard a great many times.  Presumably these people are agnostic about the backs of their own heads, but there you are.

I am, if not an ardent, then at least a confirmed monarchist, and when discussions on the monarchy occur, they often end up coming down to money.  It commonly ends up in a debate over whether the royal family brings in more in tourism than they use in public money, but to me this misses the point.  The importance of the monarchy isn’t a material one.  Ignoring the excellent work they do in terms of diplomacy and international PR, their value to me is much harder to define, much less straight forward, but all the more important.  It’s about tradition and history, pomp and circumstance, about magnificence and dignity and continuation.  There are a great many bland republics about, but only one British Monarchy.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m no advocate of absolute monarchy, but I definitely feel that with our parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy, we have the best of both worlds.

Likewise my feelings towards religion; towards love, faith, hope, grace, forgiveness, goodness.  We are told that these are all merely evolutionary adaptations that increase social cohesion and group survivability, that love is merely ‘chemical brainwashing’, forcing individuals to stay together against their will, for the sake of raising young, that even the very concepts of goodness and justice are nothing more than nature’s way of tricking us into being nice, with the sole aim of increasing the likelihood of passing on our genes.  That may well be true.  It could well be that the concepts that we hold dear are things that we have invented, things we’ve dreamed, things which we cannot weigh or measure or touch or show when sceptics demand that we give them ‘proof’ or else admit that our beliefs are fantasies and fairy-tales; unconditional, disinterested love, perfect forgiveness, faith in the face of doubt, hope in the absence of any cause to hope, Grace that deserves the capitalisation, not as the result of firing neurons and sloshing hormones, but independent, free, objective and absolute.

If these aren’t real, and I don’t believe for a second that they’re not, then reality seems pretty rubbish really, and we have found a much better one.

I seem to be throwing a lot of quotations around at the moment, but just one more for the materialists, sceptics and ‘realists’, this from the great Baron Munchausen:

Your reality, sir, is lies and balderdash, and I am delighted to say I have no grasp of it whatsoever!”

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