Old Thunder: A Retrospective on Hilaire Belloc

(The following piece, if memory serves, was submitted and published by Carl Sundell a year or two ago, but I can find no record of it in our search engine. So here it is, a delightful and informative meditation on the great Hilaire Belloc, on the sesquicentennial of his birth on this day, in 1870). Editor

Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953) was arguably the most famous Catholic writer during the first half of the 20th century. In youth he flirted with apostasy, but later recovered and waxed more Catholic than ever. Tagged with the nickname Old Thunder, Belloc perhaps made more enemies than friends among the cultural elites of his day.  His prophetic insights were phenomenal. Author of 150 books, his prose was terse and often blunt, unlike that of the more rambling and amiable Chesterton, as the following quotes suggest.

Every major question in history is a religious question. It has more effect in molding life than nationalism or a common language.”

“All men have an instinct for conflict, at least all healthy men.”

“If I could make the community happier by breaking the law of God, I would not do it; further, if I would make the community miserable by keeping the law of God, I would make it so miserable it would wish it had never been born.”

“The moment a man talks to his fellows he begins to lie.”

“Of all fatiguing, futile, empty trades, the worst, I suppose, is writing about writing.”

“The Church itself was regarded (and will continue to be regarded by its adherents) as immortal, but its administration is subject to perpetual threat of mortality, that is, of corruption and weakness tending to extinction.”

This last quote brings to mind the monumental struggles within the Church today to reshape and liberalize Catholic theology, which doubtless will produce the same movement toward extinction witnessed in liberal Protestant Churches today.

Unlike Chesterton, who now has various societies and journals dedicated to preserving the memory of his genius, Belloc regrettably has slipped into neglect. Perhaps he feared as much in a short verse he wrote about himself: “When I am dead, I hope it may be said / His sins were scarlet, but his books were read.” Though he wrote several immensely popular books for the audience of his day (among them The Crusades, The Great Heresies, The Path to Rome, The Servile State, Characters of the Reformation and Cautionary Tales for Children,) Belloc never wrote a book by which future generations of readers could instantly identify him; he was ever a classicist in search of a classic. To appreciate him for his renowned intelligence and wit regarding a variety of topics, one may consult The Essential Belloc, a Prophet for Our Times. For now, we may glean and caress a few nuggets that are found in Essays of a Catholic, a 1931 volume that contains some of the best of Belloc, including such provocative titles as “The Approach to the Skeptic,” “Science As the Enemy of Truth,” and “The New Paganism.”

The New Paganism

In “The New Paganism” Belloc’s predictive insights are once again on display. “Our civilization developed as a Catholic civilization. It developed and matured as a Catholic thing. With the loss of the Faith it will slip back not only into Paganism, but into barbarism…. It will find gods to worship, but they will be evil gods as were those of the older savage Paganism before it began its advance towards Catholicism.” Belloc then invokes a well known principle of nature, the principle of entropy. If a living organism is refusing the life-giving elements within it, it will pass through an unpleasant “phase of corruption,” such as we can easily see in the decline of church attendance and the number of Catholics (and some Catholic clergy) who question or even openly deny the traditional doctrines of the Church.

The New Paganism is developing in two different ways, according to Belloc. In the Catholic countries the new Paganism is more or less resisted, even when the government seems not to be supportive of traditional Catholic values. Catholic morality is more strict than pagan morality.  “Of course, no society could exist in which there were not a great number of restrictions, but the restrictions imposed by Christian morals were severe and numerous, and most of them are meaningless to those who have abandoned Christian doctrine, because morals are the fruit of doctrine.” Since the sensuality of pagan morality satisfies the lower appetites in a way that Catholic doctrine will not, wherever the New Paganism takes hold and gratification of the senses is promoted there will be a revolution in values, both moral and political.

As Protestantism grew and fragmented itself into hundreds of sects, one by one the “life-giving elements” that nourished the old Catholic Church were abandoned by the Protestants and the phases of corruption began. In the very first phases Rationalism denied the mysteries and Deism denied the divinity of Christ; such movements would have been impossible under the medieval sway of the united Catholic Church. Later, of course, Protestantism would become increasingly liberal and relativistic, so that galloping moral and doctrinal entropy would be inevitable. As Protestantism increasingly moves away from its Catholic roots, a license in act and a necessarily more extended license in speech are therefore the mark of the New Paganism.” If Belloc lived in our time, he could see a license for obscene acts and speech fully on display far beyond what he could have imagined in 1931.

An added aspect of the New Paganism is the determinism, otherwise called fatalism, that hangs like a dark cloud over human free will. The first thrust in this direction came from Calvin the Protestant, but the advance of the sciences gave fatalism an extra push, so that not only are men not free, but they are doomed to what the atheist Jean Paul Sartre centuries later would call a “dreadful freedom” that results in existential despair. There is no such things as divine grace to salvage the human condition because there is no Divinity to grant such grace. We are, as the poet Houseman put it, “alone and afraid in a world I never made.” According to Belloc, this fatalism is rooted in the desire “to be rid of responsibility.” Not just to be rid of responsibility, but to be rid of right and wrong so that we cannot be held accountable for our virtues or our vices. Thus, even logic, or right reasoning, is held to be of no great worth since we are predestined to reason either rightly or wrongly; so that, as Belloc puts it, logic itself must “connote something absurd and empty.”

Yet, since nature does abhor a vacuum, the New Pagans must build up a society of their own that will be dominated by new laws and new organizations. Many of these laws will, ironically, be restrictive (the New Pagans, it should be remembered, were against the restrictive laws of Christianity). The New Paganism “has already, in certain provinces [the Calvinist canton of Vaud in Switzerland is an example], enacted what is called ‘the sterilization of the unfit’ as a positive law. It has not yet enacted, though it has already proposed and will certainly in time enact, legislation for the restriction of births. Not only in these, but in many other departments of life, one after another, will this fateful network spread and bind those subject to it under a compulsion which cannot be escaped.” To update Belloc’s prediction, we already know of mandates politically imposed by the New Pagans of our time in such matters as requiring Christian employers to pay for birth control insurance, or Christian bakers to provide cakes for same-sex weddings, or Catholic taxpayers to fund abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood.

The New Pagans, Belloc insists, may not overtly attack religion, but will seek to minimize its effects on the body politic. “And here I have, as on so many other points, a quarrel with those moderns who will make of religion an individual thing … telling us that its object being personal holiness and the salvation of the individual soul, it can have no concern with politics.” In this Belloc was certainly ahead of his time. Until 1954 in the United States, clergy enjoyed the First Amendment right of free speech along with the rest of society. But then Senator Lyndon B. Johnson introduced the Johnson Amendment to the Internal Revenue Service which, without discussion or debate, adopted the amendment, the effect of which was to deny clergy the right to endorse or oppose from the pulpit any candidate for public office. The silence of the clergy was purchased by the threat of removing tax-exempt status for churches that refused to submit to the Johnson Amendment. That silence purchased gave great advantage to the New Pagans, who in the past six decades have made considerable progress, without much opposition from the altar, imposing neo-pagan morality on society and society’s laws from abortion-on-demand to same-sex marriage.

Belloc saw a significant difference between the Old Pagans and the New Pagans. “There is a general knowledge that men were once free from the burden of Christian duty, and a widespread belief that when men were free from it, life was better because it was more rational and directed to things which they could all be sure of and test for themselves, such as the health of the body and physical comforts and pleasant surroundings, and the rest. To direct life again to these objects, making man once more sufficient to himself and treating temporal good as the supreme good, is the note of the New Paganism.” But this idea is disastrously wrong-headed, Belloc notes. The New Paganism will be far more dangerous than the Old. The Old Pagans at least revered their gods and the traditions of the past. The New Pagans revere nothing; not the past, not even reason and beauty are revered as the Old Pagans revered them. Certainly the wisdom of Catholicism acquired over two thousand years will be dismissed by the New Pagans as a colossal human mistake. Rather, the New Pagans revere nothing so much as the subjective solipsism that informs all their knowledge and experience. The New Paganism “presents with pride music that is discordant, building that is repellent, pictures that are a mere chaos, and it ridicules the logical process, so that, as I have said, it has made of the very word ‘logical’ a sort of sneer…. The New Paganism delights in superficiality, and conceives that it is rid of the evil as well as the good in what it believes to have been superstitions and illusions. “There it is quite wrong, and upon that note I will end. Men do not live long without gods; but when the gods of the New Paganism come they will not be merely insufficient, as were the gods of Greece, nor merely false; they will be evil. One might put it in a sentence, and say that the New Paganism, foolishly expecting satisfaction, will fall, before it knows where it is, into Satanism.” Demonstrating once again Belloc’s prophetic insights, it therefore should come as no surprise that the Church of Satan was founded in 1966 by Anton Szandor LaVey and by the admission of its own members consists mainly of “skeptical atheists.”

The Approach to the Skeptic

In “The Approach to the Skeptic,” Belloc allows the validity of intelligent, as opposed to “stupid,” skepticism. Intelligent skepticism is merely the mind’s natural gravitation toward doubting the truth of anything that does not seem at first likely to be true. Thus the apostle Thomas denies at first the Resurrection and demands proof. Belloc argues that we must respect this kind of skepticism, and respect even more so the skepticism of those who have not learned by faith to suspend their disbelief. “…  a great number of Catholic truths and the Catholic system as a whole, based as it is upon Mysteries and particularly upon the supreme Mystery of the Incarnation, cannot be accepted as a matter of course by those to whom it is unfamiliar. To expect them to do so—–even to expect them not to be hostile—–is much more unnatural on the part of one who believes than is the Skepticism of one who does not.” It is therefore right and just that the one who believes should approach the unbeliever with sympathy for his inability to believe.

Yet there is what Belloc calls a “Skepticism of the Stupid.” This kind of skepticism is possessed by those who are willing to say that anything they cannot understand cannot possibly be true. This kind of skepticism has a built-in sense of omniscience, or of universal knowledge. When such a skeptic says it stands to reason that such and such cannot be so, it assumes more than it can prove. “For instance, if a man tells you it ‘stands to reason’ that a just God could not allow men to lose their souls, he suffers from the Skepticism of the Stupid.” But it is very possible to combat stupid skepticism. To do this it is necessary for the Catholic to go through three different stages of persuading people to abandon stupid skepticism. The first of these stages is making clear what the Catholic system is. The second is the postulating of mystery. The third is proving the divine authority of the Church.

(1) What the Catholic System Is

In order to converse meaningfully with anyone who is skeptical of your views, it is first necessary that this anyone has an open mind and is willing to understand your views once they are fully explained and made convincing. This would be so whether you are discussing religion or biology or physics. For example, if someone regards the humanities as useless because they deal with mostly Greek and Latin classics, which are dead subjects of interest to the modern world, there is no way you could address such stupid skepticism. There is no way you could prove to the person who has a closed mind that what you have learned from the humanities is to study and grasp truth and beauty in ways that are above the capacity of the untutored skeptic. “So it is with the much greater business of the Faith. You must introduce the Person. For you must remember that in the first place the intelligent skeptic whom we approach does not, as a rule, know the full body of Catholic doctrines; and in the second place, he usually regards those which he does know [even if he is familiar with a great number] as disconnected statements not belonging to one Being, not forming a unity, not a living system spreading from a single root and inspired by a single essence, but a bundle of dead sticks.” It follows that for the skeptic to begin to understand he must see that the Church stands for a holistic Thing that eminently serves the human need for answers; answers that satisfy and serve the very sane human need to understand our place in all of Creation, and how we are to be made happy and given hope in that understanding.

(2)  Postulating the Mystery

The skeptic must understand the role of mystery in the Faith, for example, the central Mysteries of the Trinity and the Incarnation, which baffle believers and unbelievers alike. Mysteries, of course, abound in all aspects of our consciousness. Even for the infidel it has to be a mystery as to where the universe came from, since science can now demonstrate that it once upon a time did not exist. Submitting to this mystery is certainly something the scientist will allow himself. As the age old question of philosophy puts it, Why is there something rather than nothing? There is no answer. “Or again, the self-defined trinity of space, time and motion must be in one aspect static; in another aspect it is known not to be so. Or again, the mystery of personality—–what is the principle of continuity therein? Is it sane to deny the oneness of personality? No. Is it sane to deny that personality is successive, perpetually disappearing into the past? No. Then what is it? And so through an indefinitely long list—–all the vistas upon which the mind dwells, reaching no horizon.” The scientist does not mock the mysteries of science, even if in the next breath he might mock the mysteries of religion. And so, postulating the existence of mysteries is essential to all skeptic, the stupid and the intelligent.

(3) Proof of Divine Authority

Whatever proof the skeptic demands of divine authority for the Church he should examine through various methods or types of proof. Not all truths to be proven require the same methodology for their proof, such as induction or deduction or measurement or observation, which are the methods that dominate in the world of human knowledge. Belloc points to other methodologies. “Would you prove that the music of Mozart more charms the ear than the siren of a steamboat, you would appeal to repeated experience of the two sounds; in morals you would appeal to the moral sense; in beauty to the aesthetic; as in physical science to measurement, coupled with the postulate that things happening repeatedly in the same fashion presumably follow a process normally invariable. In every case your proof must vary with the nature of the thesis to be proved.” It is therefore unreasonable to suppose that the proof the skeptic requires for the existence of God should be the same kind of proof that mathematics would require for a theorem.

The main argument for God and the human soul has to be bound up with some notion of holiness. But holiness is not a concept amenable to scientific or mathematical proof. In a final burst of bountiful logic, Belloc offers the last piece of evidence for the divine source of our faith.

If there be Holiness on earth, what institution is Holy? One only: The Faith. The Faith is witness to itself. It is a proof by taste. If the quality be perceived, it is unmistakable; conviction follows. If it be not perceived, there is no other avenue. For the sense is of grace; the acceptation an act of the will. The Faith, I say, is witness to itself. The Faith convinces of its truth by its holiness; is its own witness to its own holiness, whereby also it is known. There is much more: there is its consonance with external and historical reality upon every side; there is personal experience, gained by living it, of its consonance with reality in daily detail, of its wisdom in judgment, of its harmonies where human character and the effect of action are concerned; of its perfect proportions, which are such that all within that system is in tune with all, and each part with the whole. And there is further this: that the Faith is unique; it is not one among many kinds of similar things, It is not a religion amongst many religions. It is like the I AM of Holy Writ, from which it also proceeds. All that. All that. I do not say that you will thus convince; but I say it is by this progression that the intelligent skeptic, our only worthy opponent, can at last be brought into the household. First to know where the House is: then to be shown that the gates are open. Then to find himself in the House. And what other roof is there in this world?”

Science As the Enemy of Truth

In “Science As the Enemy of Truth” Belloc wrestles with a  theme that has dominated western civilization since long before Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution drew a line in the sand and dared religion to cross it. But, Belloc maintains, the line in the sand was never necessary because the truths of science can never contradict the truths of religion. Even so, the past two centuries have proven there exists a perverse strain of thought that would drive a wedge between religion and science. It follows that the sentence “Science is the enemy of truth” is nonsensical. Science is in fact a slave to truth. It is so much a slave to truth that every generation or two what scientists had proclaimed as true is tossed aside for some new doctrine that refutes the old one. This is not just an occasional phenomenon, but one that is inherent in the scientific method. The “truths” of science are always ephemeral, whereas the truths of religion are eternal. Only a religion that contradicts its doctrines every so often can be said to be more like a science than a religion. But if science is not the enemy of truth, the modern scientific spirit can become the enemy of truth, Belloc declares.

The modern scientific spirit as applied to daily practice, to life, and to letters, and, above all, to religion, is the enemy of truth. This is my thesis, and very important it is. The Modern Scientific Spirit being the enemy of truth, is the enemy of right living and of human happiness, and if it is not tackled, humbled and set right, will lead us to misery.”

One example of the modern scientific spirit leading us to misery is the false application of the laws of nature to the laws of the spirit. A prime example of this is the attempt to deduce that physical laws of causality are deterministic, and therefore the spiritual laws of our human nature are deterministic as well. We are all doomed to be as we are if our spirit cannot escape the causal chain that matter cannot escape. Free will is thus denied by denying that spirit is anything more than an amorphous conglomeration of molecules. Another example would be the denial of miracles.

“They [scientists] did not gradually come to disbelieve in the possibility of miracle because they had proved it impossible by experiment. They disbelieved in it already, before they began experimenting, and were confirmed in their disbelief by observing, with owlish wisdom, that miracles did not commonly take place in the routine of physical cause and effect.”

But that is, of course, precisely what a miracle is supposed to be, a rare physical event that radically alters the natural order. And there is rather definitely the implied deduction made, using the spirit of the scientific method, that God cannot interfere with the order of the very Nature he created. This surely proves a certain innate arrogance possessed by those who insist on the inviolable laws of nature without the possibility of miraculously engineered exceptions by the Creator of those laws.

In the following passage Belloc makes his case that just as religion is based on faith, so is science.

“The postulate that physical cause and effect must follow the same process in any place and at any time runs through the whole of modern scientific assertion. It is reasonable enough, but neither is it self-evident nor is demonstration attempted. It is admitted, of course, that all proof must have its postulates. You always come back at last to something which must be held and cannot be proved. But even so, you can and should give reasons why you hold it, although those reasons are not of the nature either of experimental or deductive proof. But nine times out of ten your Modern Scientist puts forward his postulates, by implication at least, in circular fashion, basing them upon the conclusions drawn from them. For instance, he postulates that light behaves outside this world as it behaves here. But his confidence is based upon experiment made here. The least he could do would be to say: “I postulate—–for I cannot prove it—–that light follows the same laws under non-terrestrial conditions as it follows under these conditions—–where alone I experience it.”

But he hardly ever does that. Huxley was great enough to do it, but Huxley was exceptional. The run of modern Scientific writing takes its form of faith for granted and does not even know that it is a faith.”

On Admiring the Scientific Spirit

There are, for Belloc, any number of reasons why we should not admire, as well as why we should admire, the modern scientific spirit. Perhaps the first reason is the assumption that scholarship is greater than virtue. This is not to say that the scientific spirit fosters dangerous morals, but rather to say that virtue is not even the subject of science, and therefore the advance of science cannot be assumed to be always for good and might well be sometimes for evil if scientists are not interested in morality, and are more interested in what they can do rather than what they ought to do. One of those evils might be the attempt to reduce religion to a matter of fantastic wish fulfillment based on priest-craft and Mumbo-Jumbo. The scientist can become enamored of his much vaunted “superior information business,” and so he might think of religion, because it fuses faith with logic, as inferior to science. Then there is the supreme irony of the scientist undercutting his own logic when he assails the mysteries of religion.

The Scientist will be forever showing us that things are not what they seem, expatiating upon the astonishing character of Scientific achievement. Thus, I read in a book which has sold by scores of thousands under the name of a chief scientific authority in the department of physics, that the hypothetical “electron” is ‘at once everywhere and nowhere’—–and this nonsense is swallowed whole by people who smile at the mystery of the Trinity.”

If there is a lamentable tone of mind in the modern scientific spirit, Belloc asks, what are the causes  of it? What most seems to aggravate Belloc is the pure mechanics of the modern scientific spirit. Everything must be reduced to numbers and predictable repetition. It is this same technique of scientific research, when applied to Scriptures, that applied too mercilessly finds (or rather invents) several authors of a certain book in the Bible instead of one, thus casting doubt upon the authentic authorship of that book altogether. The reason for this is that the Bible researcher finds differences in the text from one passage to another that suggest several minds at work on the text. But, as Belloc notes, this is preposterous. Any author will shift the emphasis of his style depending on his mood or on the lapse of time between entries into his book. Authors not only deliberately change their style, they mature in their intellectual and artistic sensibilities, so that passages from a Biblical book written weeks or months or years apart will naturally show differences in style by a single author.

When applied to pure science, the same persistent attitude displays itself. The physicist (as well as any ordinary citizen with an ounce of sense) knows that every time you throw a rock into the air it will fall to the ground. The “cocksuredness” of this observation is dubbed by scientists the law of gravity, and it is announced with a hint of pompous scientific infallibility that this law is inviolable. But that has not prevented anyone from believing that perhaps someday, by the imposition of an extraordinary force upon matter-in-motion, the rock may not fall. And sure enough, since Belloc’s time rockets have been thrown at the moon that did not immediately fall to earth. Thus, an inviolable law of nature came to be violated by the extraordinary power of the human intellect that willed a rocket to rise into the air and stay there just as long as someone wished it to stay. Given this contradiction of the tyrannical power of gravity to command obedience, why should not death itself be miraculously overcome by the command of the One who said, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” (John 2:19)

Arrogance of the Scientific Method

Next, Belloc attacks the curiously illogical notion produced by the modern scientific spirit, which is “… the exclusion from consciousness of all that is not measurable by known and divisible units; because the scientific method can only deal with results recorded in known and divisible units.” Thus the scientist is trapped by his own conviction into believing that any intellectual methodology that goes beyond the “divisible unit” must be contrary to truth, must be imaginary, must be delusional. This seems to rule out any reality which humans for many thousands of years have entertained; such as the reality of a world beyond the present one; such as the reality of a world in which final justice and final peace can be made to prevail because a hopeful and convincing hint of them exists in the present one. This arrogance toward any intellectual discipline that is not precisely scientific produces the scientist who, having achieved fame and notoriety for his work, is pleased to go about pontificating on matters of which he has neither interest nor expertise.

But being famous, his opinion will be reverently sought on a host of matters where it is worthless and especially on the nature of the universe, of morals, of society, where he has no sort of standing; and here he will challenge, in his innocence, such giants as Aquinas whom he has never read.”

This last quote from Belloc seems to anticipate the essays written about this time by Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, and Bertrand Russell, in which they used their fame to advance their philosophical opinions on subjects outside their areas of expertise. The simple truth of the matter, Belloc concludes,  is that, “It [scientific prestige] exercises an authority over men through the awe and admiration in which they stand of it.”

Confusing Science with Modern Scientific Spirit

Yes, Belloc notes, modern scientists have achieved startling breakthroughs which have produced the “awe and admiration” they deserve. The modern scientist has in many instances achieved the status of “the hero who slays dragons.” The appearance of the airplane and the automobile and the wireless radio had done much to transform the pace of living. Unfortunately, the prestige for science that was a natural product of these breakthroughs was transferred to those scientists who sometimes propagated a false and all too often anti-religious philosophy. Summoning his considerable literary powers, Belloc flatly states the dilemma produced by the modern scientific spirit.

That the harm done through false action upon the soul is greater than the advantage obtained through the new material good must be admitted by anyone who has the elementary sense to observe that we only feel happiness or unhappiness through the soul.
Thus, to transport the human body rapidly from one place to another cannot be good in itself; it is only a good insofar as it satisfies what may be called, in the largest sense, a spiritual need: that is, insofar as it fulfills the desire of a living soul. But if the same men who by research and accumulation of practice have made it possible thus to transport the body rapidly are by a false philosophy tending to make men’s lives ugly, miserable, evil and untrue, then they will only transport unhappiness; and unhappiness transported quickly is not better but worse than happiness transported slowly.”

Yet again, Belloc asks, are the material goods produced by science so wonderful as at first glance they seem to be? The faster transports leave in their wake noise and environmental pollution never before known. They likewise produce a mechanization of factory work that dehumanizes the worker because he becomes a mere cog in the new machinery of production. Moreover, this new machinery becomes dedicated, sooner or later, to producing such weapons of vast destruction that the world has never known, and that it would be far better off if it had never known (fourteen years after this insight he would have been able to point to the atomic bombs dropped in Japan as an evil consequence of scientific efficiency for its own sake). And finally, the new scientific technologies are likely to dedicate themselves eventually to “wage open and direct war against true religion, as it has for so long waged covert and indirect war against it.” Anyone who is a sincere and astute observer of the modern scene can see with what relish the scientific establishment today, united with well funded government and corporate entities, and with academic institutions, has campaigned with the powerful propaganda of the communications industry (including television and the Internet) to reduce and sabotage wherever possible the influence of the Catholic Church in the modern world.

Answering Scientism

How, Belloc asks, are we to answer the assaults on religion by the worshippers of scientism? As in the past history of the world, whenever the world goes wrong and intelligent men are there to see that happening, there has always been at least one great weapon available to change the course of events: ridicule.

Our weapon against the Modern Scientific Spirit is ridicule—–persistent, active, untiring; and never was there an easier target for the exercise of that salutary spiritual activity. The Modern Scientific Spirit is patently open to attack by laughter from a hundred points, both in its theory and in its practice, and above all in the pretensions of its priesthood, high and low. Its muddle-headedness lies open to the simplest analysis. Its self-contradictions can be tabulated by the score and are being added to daily. Its stupidity can be goaded, its pompous habit of baseless assertion exposed, its hideous creations in apparatus pilloried; there is not an aspect of it which does not lend itself to our shafts or which has any shield except obscurantism. It has no defense against the attack of ridicule save continued and loud self-praise, reiteration, and perhaps [with the baser parts of society] clumsy appeals to lethargy.”

Now of course the defense against ridicule is predictable. Where logic is well employed to defeat the dehumanizing aspects of the modern scientific spirit, the advocates of that spirit will cleverly reply, “Do not listen to this, it is only logic chopping. You would not bother with such a flimsy highbrow thing as logic, would you?” Or those same advocates will shout at the top of their lungs that well-deserved ridicule is just another medieval attack on Science itself. But, Belloc assures us, it is no attack on science to point out the various ways that the new scientific spirit has diminished the authentic and noble right of science not to be used as a tool for bashing religion.

Belloc concludes his essay by insisting that the ridicule of the new scientific spirit must be persistent and long-lasting to have its desired effect. There is no legitimate defense against justified ridicule.

The accusation that an attack upon these evils is an attack upon the immemorial human glory called Science must necessarily have some effect, and an effect widespread in proportion to the stupidity of those for whose benefit the accusation is made. Let that be no check to the efforts of those who have already begun, by ridicule, to break up the foundations of the maleficent structure. It is only a matter of pertinacity and time. Ill fashion always yields at last to the comic spirit, if that spirit be maintained. Laughter has already shaken those walls and, prolonged, will make them crumble.”

G.K. Chesterton on Belloc

For several years a feisty member of the British parliament, Belloc throughout his life enjoyed being at the center of controversy and acquitted himself well during public debates with the foremost wits of his day including George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, and Ramsay MacDonald. Perhaps most famous of his prophecies, referenced in several volumes of his writings, was the rise once again of Islam as a profound threat to the West and to Christianity, which threat was concisely stated as follows.

[Islam] still converts pagan savages wholesale. . . .No fragment of Islam ever abandons its sacred book, its code of morality, its organized system of prayer, its code of morals, its simple doctrine. In view of this, anyone with a knowledge of history is bound to ask himself whether we shall not see in the future a rival of Mohammedan political power, and the renewal of the old pressure of Islam on Christendom.”

Belloc died at the age of 83, having suffered burns and shock when he fell into his fireplace while adding a log. The best eulogy that could have been written for him might be the remarks his devoted friend Chesterton had uttered nearly four decades earlier.

When I first met Belloc he remarked to the friend who introduced us that he was in low spirits. His low spirits were and are much more uproarious and enlivening than anybody else’s high spirits. He talked into the night; and left behind in it a glowing track of good things. When I have said that I mean things that are good, and certainly not merely bon mots, I have said all that can be said in the most serious aspect about the man who has made the greatest fight for the good things of all the men of my time.

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Carl Sundell is Emeritus Professor of English and Humanities at Quinsigamond Community College in Worcester, Massachusetts. The author of several books including The Intellectual and the Gunman, Four Presidents, and Shaw versus Chesterton, he has published various articles in New Oxford Review and Catholic Insight. He currently resides in Lubbock, Texas where he is developing a book of short essays for students of Catholic apologetics