Through a Glass, Darkly

View from the Bandon Lighthouse, Bandon, Oregon

“Life is much more successfully looked at from a single window, after all,” F. Scott Fitzgerald’s charming narrator mused in the opening chapter of The Great Gatsby. Living, as we do, in a culture that praises open-ended, anti-judgmental relativity that line has always intrigued me – I suppose because it has the ring of truth to it. When you set it next to “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes unto the Father except by me,” (John 14:6) Nick Carraway’s line takes on more significance.

If we are to be suave, sophisticated and oh-so-open-minded, and Fitzgerald was certainly suave and sophisticated, then what’s with the single window? I suppose in the context of the novel Fitzgerald was just reassuring his readers that Nick was going to tell us the truth – a worthy goal, but the statement is far more important than that. He has opened the door (pardon the pun) to a huge question: is being broad-minded, open to every idea that saunters down the pike, really the end-all of ideas? Jesus Christ evidently didn’t think so.

Picture yourself in a mansion on a hill or on a seacoast. I think I’ll picture The Breakers, the Vanderbilt’s 70-room “cottage” in Newport, Rhode Island (It was in those Newport mansions that the first movie of Gatsby was filmed.). From the windows of that house I could look out toward the Atlantic, or look back toward Newport and the neighboring mansions. From some windows I could see the Vanderbilt’s children’s magical little playhouse tucked away in one corner of the estate. But I can’t see all of these vistas at once.

Or I could picture myself in the spaceship house that’s perched on one of the foothills outside of Denver. The silver saucer-shaped home rotates; if you stand at one window long enough, you’ll see the views in all directions, but you’ll only see one view at a time. That’s our limitation as humans; space and time form our boundaries.

Fine, fine. What does that have to do with open-mindedness? Just this: open-mindedness as it’s promoted today is a false concept. We can only hold one view at any one given time – I can choose a window – say one that allows me to gaze out across the lawn toward the ocean – and you can text me to come see the marvelous view to the north, and I can pop into your room and take a look and agree that the playhouse is attractive, and still decide I prefer watching the waves, waiting for the ship to come in. Does that make me a narrow-minded bigot?  It does by today’s standards (using the term standards loosely).

What are those standards? Today a person is a narrow-minded hypocrite if he adheres to the ideas of right and wrong, good and evil, truth or lies. He is of questionable intellectual prowess if he prizes thought over emotion – in fact he is suspect if he even sees that there’s a difference. He can’t be on the right track if he fails to comprehend that the 21st century, just because it is the 21st century, is the Age of Aquarius and mankind has reached his evolutionary peak and can now quit following the rules. Anyone not looking out this window gets ridiculed – and yet this window is just another window – and a rather narrow, heavily leaded one at that.

But can we never change windows? Of course. And we should, but only when the evidence demands it. Remember Thomas, the skeptical disciple? “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25) Was he narrow-minded? He had, just 3 days prior, seen Jesus taken down off the cross, so badly beaten that He was unrecognizable as human. That was the window Thomas was still looking through; he must have thought his colleagues delusional. Was he being provincial and pig-headed, or was he merely wishing not to jump to unwarranted wishful thinking? We can actually answer that question by observing what he did when 8 days later Jesus appeared in Thomas’s presence; when the window suddenly opened and the evidence was before him, Thomas took one look and said, “My Lord and my God.” When faced with the evidence he let go of his preconceived notion that Jesus was dead; he moved to the next window.

Which is something true thinkers must be ready to do – change windows, change entire rooms when the facts demand we do so, but true thought doesn’t demand that we race around the house taking quick, shallow peeks out of every window we can find in a continuous, brainless scurry, concluding (in spite of our determination not to conclude anything) that all religions are the same, or all ideas are wrong, or that we can never really know anything. Of course we can’t if we’re not willing to really investigate. We needn’t be fearful of stopping to purposefully examine the view from other windows; I find so many folks today in that quandary, wanting to argue against what I see out my window without taking the time to look for themselves. They’ve heard rumors about the view from here, but have been afraid to read the books, listen to the arguments, actually examine the evidence.

Partly this comes from an assumption that an old window is, by dint of its advanced age, a defective window. This allows for afflatus to swell the chest – a heady thing it is to walk by the much-venerated antique glass, lift the chin and spout some phrase like “living, breathing document” in a superior tone of voice. Actually, an idea, because of its non-material status, has no age. In fact, philosophically speaking, all ideas are old. The Roman emperors were mollifying the masses with bread and circuses long before Karl Marx was stinking up his parents’ house and writing drivel; people have been worshiping gods who looked and acted like recalcitrant humans millennia before Humanism became the state religion. I get a kick out of some of the young people I talk with – bright, lovely, well-educated (in the 21st century sense of the word) – who think that Christian, conservative ideas are the ones out of touch with the world as it is today. Little do they seem to understand that it is the ideas they’ve been saturated with, the Darwinian, existential, socialistic ideas that are everywhere being demonstrated to be false. Those ideas need questioning; new evidence bursts onto the scene daily, but the Progressive cant is held sacrosanct.

I’ve spent my life looking through different windows and I now stand at one that I find truly amazing. The longer I look through this window the more light it lets in, the wider the view, the clearer the vistas. I’m still looking with my human eyes, so I I’m misunderstanding some of the things I see, but I have faith that eventually the Son will illuminate and clarify all.

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. And now abides faith, hope, and love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1st Corinthians 13:12-13