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The Insane Materialist

The Maniac by Charles Bell
The Maniac by Charles Bell

The materialist mentioned below is the equivalent of the evolutionary scientist or any who believe that the physical world is all there is. While the determinism is naturalistic determinism which has enjoyed a rebirth of interest in certain circles of late.

Shall I tell you where the men are who believe most in themselves? The men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums.

That drunken poet from whom you would not take a dreary tragedy, he believed in himself. That elderly minister with an epic from whom you were hiding in a back room, he believed in himself. If you consulted your business experience instead of your ugly individualistic philosophy, you would know that believing in himself is one of the commonest signs of a rotter (degenerate). Actors who can’t act believe in themselves; and debtors who won’t pay.

Complete self-confidence isn’t merely a sin; complete self-confidence is a weakness.Believing utterly in one’s self is a hysterical and superstitious belief.

Poets are commonly spoken of as psychologically unreliable; and generally there is a vague association between wreathing laurels in your hair and sticking straws in it.

Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets don’t go mad, but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers do; but creative artists very seldom. I am not in any sense attacking logic. I am only saying that this danger does lie in logic, not in imagination.

The general fact is simple. Poetry is sane because it floats easily in an infinite sea; reason seeks to cross the infinite sea, and so make it finite.

The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.

And if great reasoners are often maniacal, it is equally true that maniacs are commonly great reasoners.

(Some have) said that free will was lunacy because it meant causeless actions, and the actions of a lunatic would be causeless. I do not dwell here upon the disastrous lapse in determinist logic. Obviously if any actions, even a lunatic’s, can be causeless, determinism is done for. If the chain of causation can be broken for a madman, it can be broken for a man.

The last thing that can be said of a lunatic is that his actions are causeless.

It is the happy man who does the useless things. It is exactly such careless and causeless actions that the madman could never understand, for the madman (like the determinist) generally sees too much cause in everything. He would think that the lopping of the grass was an attack on private property. He would think that the kicking of the heels was a signal to an accomplice. If the madman could for an instant become careless, he would become sane.

The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.

The madman’s explanation of a thing is always complete, and often in a purely rational sense satisfactory. If not conclusive, it is at least unanswerable. If a man says that he is Jesus Christ, it is no answer to tell him the world denies his divinity; for the world denied Christ’s.

Nevertheless he is wrong. But if we attempt to trace his error in exact terms, we shall not find it quite so easy as we had supposed. Perhaps the nearest we can get to expressing it is to say this: that his mind moves in a perfect but narrow circle. A small circle is quite as infinite as a large circle; but, though it is quite as infinite, it is not so large. In the same way the insane explanation is quite as complete as the sane one, but it is not so large.

There is such a thing as a narrow universality; there is such a thing as a small and cramped eternity; you see it in many modern religions. The lunatic’s theory explains a large number of things, but it does not explain them in a large way.

(Speaking again of the lunatic who sees conspiracy where others are carefree and careless). Suppose we grant the details; perhaps when the man on the street did not seem to see you it was only his cunning; perhaps when the policeman asked you your name it was only because he knew it already. But how much happier would you be if only you knew that these people cared nothing about you! How much larger your life would be if your self could become smaller in it.

How much happier your would be, how much more of you there would be, if the hammer of a higher God could smash your small cosmos, scattering the stars like spangles, and leave you in the open, free like other men to look up as well as down!

Contemplate some able and sincere materialist. He understands everything, and everything does not appear worth understanding. His cosmos may be complete in every rivet and cogwheel, but still his cosmos is smaller than our world. Somehow his scheme, like the lucid scheme of the madman, seems unconscious of the alien energies and the large indifference of the earth; it is not thinking of the real things of the earth, of fighting peoples or proud mothers, or first love or fear upon the sea. The earth is so very large, and the cosmos is so very small. The cosmos is about the smallest hole that a man can hide his head in.

For we must remember that the materialist philosophy is certainly more limiting than any religion. (While no idea cannot be broader than itself, eg, you are not allowed to believe in something that makes your idea false). But as it happens, there is a very special sense in which materialism has more restrictions than spiritualism. The materialist thinks me a slave because I am not allowed to believe in determinism. I think the materialist a slave because he is not allowed to believe in fairies. The Christian is quite free to believe that there is a considerable amount of settled order and inevitable development in the universe. The materialist is sure that history has been simple and solely a chain of causation, just as the (madman) is quite sure he is simply and solely a chicken. Materialists and madmen never has doubts.

From G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, Chapter two, The Maniac.