Monday, January 10, 2011

What Do You Mean There's Philosophy in A Pius Man?

I'm a simple fellow. Simpleminded, at times. Which is why there are a lot of people who know me and say, “I can't really believe you have a degree in philosophy. You don't spout out gibberish about how the table isn't a table..”

Hegel never looked
this good.
I understand that. I do, really. Try to read Hegel, and you get stuff about consciousness-- which is the key turning point of his entire philosophy-- and you basically get gibberish, since his terms are undefined. (If you are a science fiction fan, look up Minbari theology on Babylon 5, Hegel is the same babble, only without the reincarnation bit). Read Descartes, who basically said that you had to look at every little thing with a highly skeptical eye, and start with what you know for absolute certainty, concluding that the only thing you can ever really know for certain is that “I exist,” the rest is negotiable. (Popularly known as “I think therefore I am.” Does not cover instances of drivers during rush hour, who obviously don't think, but are real enough to get you killed.)

I'm sorry, Mr. Descartes, I'm slow and stupid. If I get hit in the head with a rock, I'm going to think that the rock is real. And that someone threw it at me. And that I will have to hurt someone.

Which is why I am a Thomist.

At which point the audience asks, “A what now?”

Summa Theologica (Complete & Unabridged)Short version: you are a follower of the philosophical thought of Thomas Aquinas. A lot of it is rather basic stuff that starts with, “Something is either A or not A. It cannot be both at the same time.” Tom is alive, or Tom is dead .....  or Tom is a zombie, which makes that neither “A” or “not A,” but B. Possible C.

Thomas Aquinas is basically Aristotle, the Catholic version. He's a little dry, and he's not colorful, but he's very straightforward and to the point. Aquinas works through some very common sense ideas, building up to metaphysical conclusions over many many volumes. It's very neat, very orderly, written by someone who reasoned his way up to his faith. He even tries to use the latest in science at the time …

Yes, Thomas Aquinas was a medieval philosopher, so his science kinda sucks at times. A lot of philosophers have come to the same conclusions while updating the science of Aquinas' day, but if I were to base my faith on the latest science, I'd change my faith every other year. (Right now, I think we're on Newton, revised by Einstein, revised by Quantum physics, should we ever fully understand that.)

However, Thomas Aquinas came up with the idea that “the universe is unlimited, but bounded.”

What the hell does that mean?

Simple: there is nothing outside the universe to limit it, but it only goes so far.

But, Thomas Aquinas was jettisoned five hundred years ago, so who cares … ?

Answer: Albert Einstein, who probably never even heard of Aquinas, came up with the same conclusions. About seven hundred years later. And, apparently, we can see the outer limit of the Big Bang, but there is nothing beyond that, so the universe is bounded … huh. Amazing what you toss away when you just ignore everything between Ancient Rome and the Enlightenment, isn't it?

At the end of the day, I think St. Thomas Aquinas should be the patron saint of Nerds, if we ever get a Pope who's been to a science fiction convention.

We have all sorts of oddballs in the rogues gallery of Catholic Saints. St. Augustine, who had a youth that makes Paris Hilton look like a nun; who later seemed to find no joy in anything but the Divine (sort of like a former smoker who has decided to ban smoking … then go after smokers …).

Then there was St. Francis of Assisi, who found joy in nature, and animals, and other people, and who was generally so happy and perky, he'd probably be a morning person, and who needs that, I ask you …?

But, like I said, this is Thomas Aquinas....

No, Charlton Heston did not play him in the movie. That was Thomas More, England, 1500s. A Man for All Seasons. Given the axe because he wouldn't put King Henry VIII before God.

No, Richard Burton didn't play him in the movie. That was Thomas Beckett, England, 1100s. Beckett.[See the sequel film, A Lion in Winter.] Killed because he wouldn't put King Henry II before God.

This is Thomaso di Aquino. Aquinas. He didn't go out and do things. You couldn't make a movie of his life if you wanted to ... unless you wanted a really boring movie.

When Aquinas said he wanted to go into the seminary, his parents locked him in his room and sent in a hooker to loosen him up. He talked one into converting, and, later on, he chased out a second prostitute with a bit of torch wood that he picked up from the lit fireplace. Depending on who you talked to, he was either built like a linebacker, or built like Friar Tuck (there are theories that he started all of the fat jokes about himself, including that the brothers at his residence cut a crescent into the dining table just to seat his stomach.).

He was a saint who would speed-walk around the monastery to think. Some have described his walking patterns as being akin to a train in motion.  Though he did come up with the moral justification of the Belfast Acquittal (also known as a jail break) -- he reasoned that the job of the guards was to keep the convicts in, it was not the job of the convicts to stay put.

And what does any of this have to do with A Pius Man?

Very simple: there won't be any deep, incomprehensible lines of thought. There is philosophy, theology, and history in the novel … but it is all about as deep as “a rock flew at my head. It is real. Someone threw it, and now I have to hurt them.”

I believe in black and white and shades of gray. It's called being a meliorist – which is a fancy way of saying I believe in black and white and shades of gray … theologically, it breaks down into “see everything, overlook much, improve a little.”

Though there are really no shades of gray in the case of Pius XII – the Pope either knew and did nothing, knew and did something, or didn't know. However, if a Pope who had been the former Secretary of State didn't know what was going on in the world at large, something is wrong somewhere. Shades of gray, removed. At some point, Pope Pius XII knew about the Holocaust.

However, I wouldn't even consider trying to compare Pius XII's actions to those of the other world powers of his day. Why? Because no one did anything about the death camps, and these were world leaders with whole armies. By that standard, Pius XII could have slept through the war and still have done more for refugees in Europe. (The United States, like most British properties at the time, closed its borders to new immigrants from Europe during World War II, so they were a negative)

The book has often been described as slipping in history, theology, and philosophy in between the gunshots. I would hate to have anyone put off by that. My philosophy and theology are tightly intertwined. This novel is not so esoteric that you will go cross-eyed reading it. If you fall asleep reading it, that would probably mean that I fell asleep writing it, and I stayed awake through the whole thing. Honest.

1 comment:

  1. If I understand correctly, the Patron Saint of Nerds is St Gregory the Great; that is, Thomas Aquinas' teacher.


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