Twelfth Night: no surrender

“A lie gets halfway round the world before the truth even gets its pants on,” or something like that, as Mark Twain is supposed to have said, though if he did, it was hardly original. The attribution has circumnavigated the planet many times, without the correction ever catching up. But the falsehood can be proved. Jonathan Swift in the Examiner (1710): “Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it.” That in itself gets us closer to Adam, but from Swift’s tone I would guess that he had found the proverb elsewhere. He (and Shakespeare, incidentally) liked to pick sayings off the street, like spilt farthings; save them and then, put them to good use. Often the genius is more editor than writer. (Alexander Pope almost specialized in this insight.)

And let me add, from my shallow reading of history, that the tortoise does not necessarily outrun the hare. Or when he does, no one is still watching.

I think I wrote once, at dribbling length, about the Flat Earth. The joke there was, that no one believed the Earth to be flat — at least, no one with a modicum of education — through all the centuries until 1828. That was when Washington Irving’s quite fictional biography of Christopher Columbus was published. It has a scene wherein Catholic bigots challenge Columbus’s assumption that the world is spherical, claiming scriptural authority to refute him. But the sphericity of the Earth was never in question, when he was planning his voyages. Instead, the issue was, the Earth’s diameter. (Columbus miscalculated by assuming that Arabic miles were the same as Italian; among other little oversights. He knew the sphere was large; just not how large.)

In fact, scripture presents our planet as round, and Isaiah describes it hanging in space. Irving’s playful (and genuinely bigoted) account is thus double nonsense. But shameless Darwinists bought into the story, to smear opponents of their “progressive” (and unproveable) evolutionary theory; and ever since, the progressive types have been using the “Flat Earth” as a mud-ball. Meanwhile, American fundamentalists, not to be outdone, provided much-needed credibility to the slur, by buying into the Flat Earth themselves, and standing up for it courageously. (God bless them: fundamentalists can be coached to believe all sorts of things are in the Bible, that ain’t.)

Sometimes, in moments of desolation, and sometimes in moments of elation, I think of our world in the manner of Isaiah — but with lies buzzing round it like flies around a dung ball. You can’t kill them all. They’ll still be there after global cooling.

The piece I wrote today for the Thing (here), touches on this matter: of public stupidity and its relation to sin; of public beliefs that are bass ackwards; and ever promoted by the malign, for purposes they will never fully understand.

The truth is that there are many lies, and that they assemble themselves in buzzing constellations, that disperse then regather after the wind blows through. Till the world ends, they will never be permanently blown away. New generations of the grossly ignorant arise to replace the fallen; yet within each soul, falsehoods can be corrected only one at a time.

Listening to Rome today, one might easily form the (wrong) impression that the Church has given up on lie-swatting. It is as if she admits the task is hopeless; that she must now make her compromise with the falsehoods of this world, through the magic of “accompaniment” and “discernment.” But as Christ is her Founder, she is not entitled to do so: not with every living soul at stake, and every single one to be fought for.

In a world full of lies, long and always full of lies, it is the function of the Church to remind what the Truth is. And to do so even if the masses are indifferent, or mock her as they once mocked Christ. It is to shine the disinfecting Sun on sin and error. For us, the task is complementary. It is to seek that Truth, and to apply it.