“Alice came to a fork in the road. ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked.
‘Where do you want to go?’ responded the Cheshire Cat.
‘I don’t know,’ Alice answered.
‘Then,’ said the Cat, ‘it doesn’t matter’.”
— Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland
A long time ago, my dad told all of us in the car to beware of the menace of the herd. My dad happened to be a blue-collar philosopher, if not a prophet, though I didn’t realize it at the time.
The common wisdom, what the smart set is apt to tell us, is that religious believers don’t think, don’t question, don’t challenge. Believers are the herd in the worst sense, a herd of stupid, blind sheep. But how often is rigorous reason applied to this assertion, an assertion that is now conventional wisdom, an assertion that troubles and intimidates many believers?
A black hole is defined by physicists as a region of space-time from which gravity prevents anything, including light, from escaping, a speck of space containing unimaginable mass. The smart set and their disciples are certain (one might say, they have faith) that black holes exist, but try to find a smart setter who understands and can delineate the quantum physics that underlies this concept.
Evolution is defined as the change in the inherited characteristics of biological populations over successive generations. The smart set and their disciples are certain (one might say, they have faith) that evolution is occurring, but try to find a smart setter who understands the genetics and biochemistry that underlie evolutionary processes.
And then there’s string theory. Particles that are waves and waves that are particles. Dimensions exceeding those we can measure. Fundamental particles. The smart set accepts all of it because science proclaims it, but is clueless as to the theoretical physics and mathematics that predict these phenomena.
That’s not to say that black holes, as understood by modern science, don’t exist, or that an evolutionary process isn’t contributing to change in species, or that string theory is a wayward explanation of reality, but only to point out that many put faith in scientific concepts they cannot themselves comprehend. In this sense, they are no different than the “herd of religious believers” they so often ridicule.
As it happens, society accepts almost anything the smart set is selling, without thinking, without questioning, without challenge, and this isn’t new. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies exposed America and England’s early 20th century smart set. In the first half of the 20th century, many prominent Americans advocated eugenics (abortion, sterilization, euthanasia) to “improve and advance” society, but after the Nazis gave this “noble science” a bad name, and smart setters had to be more discrete. The smart set in the 1940s and ‘50s lauded Soviet Marxism, dismissed George Orwell and Boris Pasternak as cranks. The smart set in the 1960s and ‘70s told us that indiscriminate sex was harmless and victimless, snickered at those who were faithful in their marriages. Ronald Reagan, who called the Soviet Union an “evil empire” and John Paul II’s Faith and Reason and The Splendor of Truth, were anathema to the 1980s and ‘90s smart set. More recently, the smart set has put an intellectual bulls-eye on scientists/bioethicists like Dr. Leon Kass, who dare to challenge the assertion that absolutely everything about human life can be explained in materialistic terms.
Many in the smart set still admire Mao Zedong, Lenin, and Castro, caudillos that presided over the executions of too many to count. And why? Because the smart set that many in society look to for enlightenment—film stars, authors, artists, academics, and politicians—inform us that these are men to be admired; no need to investigate brutal pasts. Perhaps the thousands or millions who were murdered by these men deserved to die.
Why think for oneself when the smart set can do our thinking for us?
Abortion? The smart set tells us it’s about choosing to eliminate tissue, but is it rational that a woman’s “choice” determines whether a fetus receives heroic medical attention, or is treated as a mere lump of tissue? Same-sex marriage? The smart set tells us it’s about compassion and equal rights, but what about the right of a child to have a mother and a father? Sex? The smart set tells us it’s a matter of stimulation and physical pleasure, but what of the well documented psychological and physical wounds that serial and indiscriminate sex produce?
The menace of the herd. Do we want to think for ourselves, or are we swayed by the glitterati, superficial puffs of smoke signifying nothing?
Here’s the problem with the multitude that is swayed by the smart set. Jonathan Swift said, “It is useless to attempt to reason a man out of a thing he was never reasoned into.” Society has delegated its reasoning, generation after generation, to an unreliable smart set.
The ability to reason is a gift of God, cultivated with hard work and a willingness to compare the narrative to the facts. Believers have no cause to be timid when it comes to confronting the fallacies purveyed by the smart set. Revelation is on our side, but so are reason, history, and human experience. Like G. K. Chesterton, we should be happy warriors and like Edith Stein, we should relentlessly pursue the True, the Good, and the Beautiful. Our star-struck culture needs help. Let’s be about it…now!