Reductionism Gently Reduced

A note from Robert Royal: Several readers have written in to resolve my perplexity over why someone donated $365.25 during our current fundraising campaign. They argue – rightly, I think – that the intention was to cover the extra hours that result, every four years, in a leap year. We’ve even received a handful of additional $365.25s from readers of conviction putting their money where their mouths are. A former colleague, a nuclear engineer, however, complicates matters by observing that, scientifically speaking, the precise amount should be $365.2422.  I don’t think our donation processing program will like that. But where else can you read such cutting-edge thought, even about donations? Whatever amount you may choose to donate in support of our next year, now’s the time. There are about two weeks until our fifteenth anniversary on June 2. Let’s get this done well before then – and put TCT on track to continue for many years to come.   

Materialism is not as shallow as its exponents declare. Matter is, after all, miraculous, as we discover near the edges of science, and yesterday, in the Ascension. We were invited to contemplate the extraordinary fate of matter, resurrected and now assumed, “bodily,” into Heaven. For that is the only possible interpretation of the event that completed the Easter season.

We can take it, or leave Christianity altogether, as modern Western man has been doing. For instead of the Ascension, he believes in the Reduction, in which everything that happens has a plain, material explanation, and our faith in bigness cannot be disturbed.

For we have noticed that persons do not ascend, after they have not been resurrected. This was what the near contemporaries of Christ also concluded, when the religious claims were made in their presence. Then as now, one would have to be a member of a tiny minority to believe it; the numbers were small.

Then as now, the public is warned not to go against “science.” For science — computer screens, solar arrays, spinning windmills — is obvious. And what is not obvious is not science. The world just happened and everything in it evolved, except for those things that seem not to.

Already, in much of the world, the persecution of people for going against science — as the majority of powerful people define it — makes the question much simpler than it might have been, had anyone had to think for himself. You follow the science. Or else.

Science, as popularly defined, tells people not to pay attention. It takes things that might seem remarkable, and explains them away. For everything can be simply explained. We are reassured that everything is boring, and that by asking questions, and seeking answers, we are wasting our time. Worse, we are wasting the time of others, including the experts, who decide what science is.

Scientists are important people. One mustn’t waste their time.

Attention, curiously, is a moral (not scientific) act. It reflects moral character, and it changes the world, from the glibness I have been, as usual, protesting, to the interesting, the paradoxical, the amazing, and the profound. It is the means whereby we discover beauty — right here, in the middle of this world, where it wasn’t expected to be.

But we are living in a left-brained democracy, in which decisions are made for everyone, as they were throughout the Batflu crisis, in which we had to do stupid things, like wearing masks, and taking untested vaccinations. Huge bureaucracies decided such things, and continue to decide for us, on the “one size fits all” principle — that suits, for instance, Big Pharma and the inmates of laboratories.


William James, the celebrated philosopher of pragmatism, sounded an American trumpet  against this tyranny, more than a century ago, in a letter to one of Boston’s leading busy-bodies, Mrs. Henry Whitman:

As for me, my bed is made. I am against bigness and greatness in all their forms, and with the invisible molecular moral forces that work from individual to individual, stealing in through the crannies of the world. . . .The bigger the unit you deal with, the hollower, the more brutal, the more mendacious is the life displayed. So I am against all big organizations as such, national ones first and foremost; against all big successes and big results; and in favor of the eternal forces of truth which always work in the individual and immediately unsuccessful way.

I like this formulation, because it is nearly perfect, accounting even for the catastrophes of the Catholic Church (in her administrative immensity). She is big, and when she is not being Christian, she aspires to be bigger. Yet she only succeeds in making herself smaller, by eschewing orthodoxy and martyrdoms, and promoting safety. But when she aspires to be small, she grows.

She expands by one soul at a time, except in those anomalous moments when whole tribes and nations are suddenly redeemed.

But this success, or rather salvation, is in form quite unworldly: by the conversion of souls in their access of faith. No other large bureaucracy works in this manner, or can even attempt to work, absent the tactics of compulsion. When the Church has tried this, she begins to lose the loyalty of her subjects, who are free men. They watch her devolving into a worldly political force, as boring as all the other worldly political forces.

The Church deteriorates, as it is doing today, when it becomes in effect an administrative bureaucracy, and men cling to it only for the sake of their careers. It becomes a Church that actually discourages martyrdom (“witnessing”), and like all political and “materialist” agencies it makes its mission health, comfort, and convenience. For these are the things of this world, which never did require heavenly promotion.

They are all too obvious. Christ did not teach us to shower, or to watch the carbs. People of vastly different views can discover these fine habits for themselves, and mothers can advise their children, if they like them, how to flourish — without the need for divine instruction, or even for a bureaucracy, although vast bureaucracy is supplied.

We wash our hands and brush our teeth thanks to mothers, who guess what is safe by tradition and by what they hear in the world. They get some things right, some things wrong, varying in every instance but, on balance, most children survive. But public health authorities, by the rule of compulsion, are uniquely capable of getting everything wrong, and imposing it on millions. They are big, after all.

In real science, and real life, what is least expected is likeliest to happen, in the moment when everyone expects something dull. The truth, being surprising, is generally small.

“And while they were beholding him going up to heaven, two men stood by them, in white; and said: Ye men of Galilee, why stand you looking up to heaven?”

*Image: The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Paolo Moranda Cavazzola, 1520 [Museo di Castelvecchio
Verona, Italy]. Thomas touches the wound in Christ’s side. Pentecost is seen on the viewer’s right and the Ascension on the left.

You may also enjoy:

Romano Guardini’s That First Ascension Day

James V. Schall, S.J.’s After the Ascension

David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist in Canadian newspapers. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at: