Everything I say three times is true

So I’ll say it again: I don’t advocate confiscating anybody’s gun. I merely think it would be rather handy and sensible if the cops could have a fighting (not infallible) chance of knowing which gun a bullet was fired from in a crime. That’s it. That’s all.

All the slippery slope arguments strike me (as a Catholic) the way arguments by various religious enthusiasts have struck me in the past. It is “dangerous” for the Church to say God is absolutely sovereign (according to Arminians) because this is the first step on the slippery slope to Calvinism. Likewise, it is “dangerous” to say we have real freedom (according some hyper-Calvinist types) because this is the first step on the slippery slope to Arminianism. I am reminded inexorably of Chesterton’s comments about the Church, reeling but erect, performing an endless balancing act through history: neither communist nor laissez faire capitalist, neither Jewish nor pagan, neither exalting Christ’s humanity over his divinity nor his divinity over his humanity, and so forth. It appears to me to (still) be common sense to say that the State does not have the right to take away the private citizen’s right of self-defense, but neither does that right mean that the police should be pointlessly hamstrung in being able to provide for the common defense against, for instance, lunatics on shooting sprees in Maryland by having the means to identifying where bullets came from. This appears to me to clearly be an obvious implication of CCC 2316.

Catholic faith affirms all sorts of dangerous truths which, if taken in isolation, can and have wrought enormous damage. The trick is to not take them in isolation. American conservatives tend to affirm one Catholic truth in this department: the right of self-defense. I don’t deny that right. I simply think that there are other issues to consider as well, and that considering them does not mean the abolition of the other side of the paradox.

Here’s Chesterton saying what I’m struggling to say, better than I can say it:

Last and most important, it is exactly this which explains what is so inexplicable to all the modern critics of the history of Christianity. I mean the monstrous wars about small points of theology, the earthquakes of emotion about a gesture or a word. It was only a matter of an inch; but an inch is everything when you are balancing. The Church could not afford to swerve a hair’s breadth on some things if she was to continue her great and daring experiment of the irregular equilibrium. Once let one idea become less powerful and some other idea would become too powerful. It was no flock of sheep the Christian shepherd was leading, but a herd of bulls and tigers, of terrible ideals and devouring doctrines, each one of them strong enough to turn to a false religion and lay waste the world. Remember that the Church went in specifically for dangerous ideas; she was a lion tamer. The idea of birth through a Holy Spirit, of the death of a divine being, of the forgiveness of sins, or the fulfilment of prophecies, are ideas which, any one can see, need but a touch to turn them into something blasphemous or ferocious. The smallest link was let drop by the artificers of the Mediterranean, and the lion of ancestral pessimism burst his chain in the forgotten forests of the north. Of these theological equalisations I have to speak afterwards. Here it is enough to notice that if some small mistake were made in doctrine, huge blunders might be made in human happiness. A sentence phrased wrong about the nature of symbolism would have broken all the best statues in Europe. A slip in the definitions might stop all the dances; might wither all the Christmas trees or break all the Easter eggs. Doctrines had to be defined within strict limits, even in order that man might enjoy general human liberties. The Church had to be careful, if only that the world might be careless.

This is the thrilling romance of Orthodoxy. People have fallen into a foolish habit of speaking of orthodoxy as something heavy, humdrum, and safe. There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy. It was sanity: and to be sane is more dramatic than to be mad. It was the equilibrium of a man behind madly rushing horses, seeming to stoop this way and to sway that, yet in every attitude having the grace of statuary and the accuracy of arithmetic. The Church in its early days went fierce and fast with any warhorse; yet it is utterly unhistoric to say that she merely went mad along one idea, like a vulgar fanaticism. She swerved to left and right, so exactly as to avoid enormous obstacles. She left on one hand the huge bulk of Arianism, buttressed by all the worldly powers to make Christianity too worldly. The next instant she was swerving to avoid an orientalism, which would have made it too unworldly. The orthodox Church never took the tame course or accepted the conventions; the orthodox Church was never respectable. It would have been easier to have accepted the earthly power of the Arians. It would have been easy, in the Calvinistic seventeenth century, to fall into the bottomless pit of predestination. It is easy to be a madman: it is easy to be a heretic. It is always easy to let the age have its head; the difficult thing is to keep one’s own. It is always easy to be a modernist; as it is easy to be a snob. To have fallen into any of those open traps of error and exaggeration which fashion after fashion and sect after sect set along the historic path of Christendom — that would indeed have been simple. It is always simple to fall; there are an infinity of angles at which one falls, only one at which one stands. To have fallen into any one of the fads from Gnosticism to Christian Science would indeed have been obvious and tame. But to have avoided them all has been one whirling adventure; and in my vision the heavenly chariot flies thundering through the ages, the dull heresies sprawling and prostrate, the wild truth reeling but erect.


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