Nine years as chaplain of an 800 bed state mental hospital taught me that one can be mentally ill and highly intelligent. Talking with the patients often was more interesting than talking with their psychiatrists. Mad men are not mindless. They just do not distinguish between delusion and fact. Chesterton summed this up by aphorism: “The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.” This explains why it is often hard to distinguish university faculties from mental wards, save for the latter being kept under lock and key. Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, and their paladin in malice Chairman Mao, were intelligent men who vandalized the attics of culture because they absorbed some vestige of that culture and thought it was rational to hate it.
Thus it is to a lesser degree with those who now advertise themselves as the cultural elite. That can be a noxious conceit, made worse by the perfume of popularity. At a recent conference, I was introduced as a “public thinker.” It was meant as a compliment, but I demurred, replying that the term is vague and, from my own experience, the only “public thinkers” I know are those poor souls I frequently see on the New York City subway talking to themselves. Public thinkers such as politicians and members of the media who comment on them are the first generation of our society to have been badly schooled without being aware of the fact. I do not deny that many of them may be intelligent but their mental acuity was disserved in the post-World War II generation by an ignorance of history. Napoleon had the same problem, which is why Talleyrand lamented that a man so highly intelligent had been so poorly educated.
Public thinkers have been usurped by practical atheists who are politely styled “secularists.” Essentially, the secularist is not without religion: rather, he has made a religion of politics and wealth, and rejects any religion that worships anything else. Now, to be secular is unavoidable for anyone who resides on this planet, except for astronauts and even they have to come back down to earth. But secularism distorts secularity, just as racism makes a cult of race. The secularist makes a religion of irreligion, and is different from the saints who are “in this world but not of it” because the secularist is of the world but not rationally in it. This explains why the secularist’s solutions to the world’s ills are so destructive. The secularist is isolated from what is unworldly and thus lacks the perspective that adequately measures things of this world. In contrast, Saint Paul was a most worldly wise man and, not least of all because he knew of a “third heaven” where a man, possibly himself, “heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter” (2 Cor. 12:4).
The contemporary attacks on Christianity, moral and political, are redolent of the Decian persecutions, and yet an instinct of much of the secularist media is reluctance to report, let alone condemn beyond formulaic protocols, the beheading of Christian infants, the crucifixion of Christian teenagers, the practical genocide of Christian communities almost as old as Pentecost, and the destruction to date of 168 churches in the Middle East. Very simply, this rhetorical paralysis betrays a disdain for Judaeo-Christian civilization and its exaltation of man in the image of God with the moral demands which accrue to that. Their operative philosophy, characteristic of those who are empirically bright but morally dim, is that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” There is, for instance, the alliance of the inimical Pharisees and Herodians to entrap Jesus (Matt. 22:15-16). That is the logic of the asylum where very smart people are also very mad. For Christ the Living Truth, it is worse than clinical insanity: it is, using his dread word, hypocrisy.
Many European sophisticates, such as the “Cliveden Set,” promoted the Nazis. Even some prominent Jewish voters and other minorities supported them, until the Nuremburg Racial Laws of 1935. This was so because the Nazis were seen as a foil to the Bolsheviks and a means to social reconstruction. Conversely, many Western democrats over cocktails supported the Stalinists because they were perceived as the antidote to the Nazis. The U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union, Joseph Davies, 1936-1938, wrote a book Mission to Moscow that whitewashed the blood on the walls of Stalin’s purges. In 1943, with the active cooperation of President Roosevelt, Warner Brothers made it into a film that was hailed in the New York Times by Bosley Crowther as a splendid achievement, praising the ambassador’s “Acute understanding of the Soviet system.” If the Nazis seemed an antidote to the Bolsheviks and vice versa, those unleashed bacilli nearly destroyed the world. Satan is a dangerous vaccine.
Secularists play down Islamist atrocities because they seek to eradicate the graceful moral structure that can turn brutes into saints. Heinous acts are sometimes dismissed as “workplace violence.” There even are those in high places who pretend that Islamic militants are not Islamic and foster the delusion that false gods will not demand sacrifices on their altars. These elites are like Ambassador Davies who said, “Communism holds no serious threat to the United States.” Naïve religious leaders who live off the goodwill of good people, will even say that Christians and those who oppose them share a common humane ethos, a similar concept of human rights, an embrace of pluralism, and a distinction between political and spiritual realms. Secularists who imagine good and evil as abstractions, do not consider the possibility that hatred of the holy will take its toll in reality. By ignoring the carnage committed by the twentieth century’s atheistic systems, they fit the definition of madness as the repetition of the same mistake in the expectation of a different result.
That mad kind of intelligence is offended by the precocious audacity of Winston Churchill writing in The River War at the age of twenty-five: “were it not that Christianity is sheltered in the strong arms of science, the science against which it [Islam] has vainly struggled, the civilization of modern Europe might fall, as fell the civilization of ancient Rome.” For the secularist whose religious crusade against religion does not understand the world or its history, prophecy is the only heresy, and his single defense against false prophets is feigned detachment. Indifference is the fanaticism of the faint of heart. By not taking spiritual combat seriously, and by seeking an impossible compromise with the opposite of what is good, human wars cannot be avoided. There are different kinds of war, and only prudence tempers both pugnacity and pacifism. James Russell Lowell opposed the Mexican War and approved the Civil War, but with a sane intelligence: “Compromise makes a good umbrella, but a poor roof; it is temporary expedient, often wise in party politics, almost sure to be unwise in statesmanship.”
If some unruly Presbyterians had flown airplanes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, secularist observers would have eagerly been searching Calvin’s “Institutes” to find the roots of such misanthropy. Instead, in our present circumstance, confronting the abuse of truth and reason by the enemy of their enemy, secularists would rather sink into denial, like Ambassador Davies telling his wife, Marjorie Merriweather Post, that the gunshots coming from the Lubyanka Prison were just the sound of street repairmen. To deny the ultimate truth of Christ, who suffered for others in an inversion of the habit of carnal men to make others suffer, is to deny the economy of salvation itself. The Qu’ran (Sura 4: 157-158) says of Jesus, “they killed him not.” St. Paul says, “For many walk, of whom I have told you often (and now tell you weeping), that they are enemies of the cross of Christ” (Phil. 3:18).
Editor’s note: The image above is a still picturing Anthony Perkins as the character Norman Bates from the classic 1960 film “Psycho” directed by Alfred Hitchcock.