“You know, friend Beelzebub,” said Mephistopholes, “The rule of three controls all of reality.”
“Yes, Master,” replied his smitten servant.
“Once I plug my machine in,” exclaimed the evil genius, “The world is mine. Text, context and subtext; melody, harmony and rhythm; plot,theme and setting. I can irrevocably own mankind, each individual’s very soul. Any fool can win deliberately evil sadistic people to us. These three switches, however, merely by distorting things, can bring all those well-intentioned characters to us too. Yes, that’s all it takes. Just juggle things around so they don’t understand.”
“There are three chairs here, ladies and gentlemen,” stated the philosopher king. “They provide a space for will, intellect and memory, as well as for text, context and subtext; melody, harmony and rhythm.”
My classmates and I were all quite smitten with our philosophy professor, Michael Soupios. Reality truly is, in so many ways, broken down into threes. This particular lecture of his also quite easily highlights the distinction between the symbol and the thing itself. It’s so nice to have a professor who’s willing to explain things in simple interesting language. Not everyone can understand the overly abstract.
If I were ever to be asked to devise a new zodiac sign for people who were born around my birthday, and to base it upon my character traits, it would have to incorporate my obnoxious sense of humor and imagination, along with all my intellectual interests and my perpetual tendency to be quite exceptionally suspicious and to feel uncomfortable with all things new, and with change. Those are perhaps the most significant properties I possess. People born around the tame time of year as I could be expected to have quite an insanely annoying tendency to bug the hell out of each other, and people in general, with all manner of silly antics. Our sense of the absurd would keep people truly on their toes by necessity. We all should have a tendency to think things through by way of a profoundly intense manner of considering things from the point of view of the conservative intellectual tradition, poring over the collected works of all the great minds who have contributed to western theology, philosophy, history and literature among other disciplines. Someone with a birthday during our time of year would also be known as perhaps a bit too much of a stick in the mud, entirely on unfriendly terms with change, and with a quite inordinate interest in the past. If someone under this sign simply inevitably must face up to change, he would only be capable of accepting it, grudgingly, if it happened quite slowly and incrementally. He’d be a bit on the oddly absent minded side, having a significantly easier time remembering things from decades in the past than from his every day life in the here and now. Assuming he could handle an intense dose of impatience and anxiety he’d be quite a jolly good character. The official symbol for this sign would be the beady-eyed square because we’re all such a bunch of beady-eyed squares, now aren’t we? Of course everyone knows that belief in horoscopes is just an ignorant backwoods superstition but if there were such a thing, that’s what mine would be like.
If I could somehow get my hands on a new time machine, that comes in two models, one for the past and one for the future, and I were forced to choose only one, I should absolutely have to pick the one that visits earlier times. For as far back as I can remember I’ve always been quite smitten with the past. Each individual seems to have some kind of excessive interest in either the past or future, as far as I can tell. Maybe it’s a part of mankind’s curse, to want to retreat to some supposed Garden of Eden of yore, or to some purported eschatological Heaven on earth in the future. Neither of these viewpoints is the least bit legitimate. Having always read very many biographies over the years, I have become insatiably curious about what it must have been like to have been alive during the days of Plato, Aristotle and Socrates, Medieval times and the Renaissance, or Jane Austen’s Regency period in England. Of course, I’ve always been so notoriously curious about the first decade of my own lifetime, the 1960’s. Knowing me I should get quite a kick out of being able to meet all the key figures or that era, especially the Beatles, during their prime. One of my favorite movies of recent years is Woody Allen’s “Midnight In Paris”. In it the protagonist gets to visit both the Jazz Age and La Belle Epoque, and to meet key figures from each era. That would be perfect for me. One thing I’ve noticed about this kind of thing is that virtually no one ever seems to want to go back to a bygone era just to see what the past in general was like. Everyone wants it to be quite a profoundly significant experience, during which he can either meet famous people or live through distinctive milestones. Perhaps someday I shall meet Doug Phillips and Tony Newman from “The Time Tunnel” and they could give me some tips about what to expect.
I’d say that I enjoy both fiction and non-fiction about the same, though for different reasons. Right now I’m reading Longfellow’s poem, “Evangeline” and Jane Austen’s novel, “Sense and Sensibility”. I’m also reading “The Story Of A Soul” by St. Therese of Lisieux. I’ve always been interested in novels and poems because they allow me to travel to other places and time frames. I can permit my imagination to get entirely out of control. A well written novel or poem also can teach interesting lessons about human nature. Dostoyevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov” and Evelyn Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited” are exceptionally good examples of this. One problem with Dostoyevsky, though, is that he tends to be exceptionally didactic. Reading something of his always makes me feel as if it’s written in the form of a thinly disguised theology and philosophy lecture.I’ve always enjoyed seeing how many different symbols I can see in various works of literature. Two of the most famous examples of symbolism in classic western literature are a bookworm character, who reads a story within the story, a convention begun by Cervantes in “Don Quijote”, and travel, begun by St. Augustine of Hippo in his “Confessions”. Among works of non-fiction, I especially enjoy biographies, and classic works of theology and philosophy. By now I’ve read very many biographies of a wide variety of famous people, including writers, politicians, musicians and saints. Although I only have thirteen credits in philosophy, and no college credits in theology, I’ve always had quite a voracious interest in those fields. As a lay Carmelite I’ve read all the Carmelite classics I’ve been able to find. Since I really like to get involved in a good debate about the culture war, reading these kinds of things keeps me well informed.
Officially, true beauty-the kind Plato, Socrates, Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas referred to, is quite an objective concept. John Keats, in his “Ode on A Grecian Urn”, and Emily Dickinson, in her “I Died For Beauty,” wrongly see beauty and truth as synonymous. Of the three transcendentals, beauty, truth and goodness, all are based on an objective standard. but it’s understandable that one could see them from a subjective point of view. I recently read something in an article in Communio Magazine, that said that St. Thomas argued that it was very important to recognize truth’s subjective dimension. In its everyday usage, of course, “beauty”, outside a theology or humanities classroom, is an undeniably subjective concept. As long as that’s understood, it’s quite nice for different individuals and groups to have differing standards of what strikes them as appealing. Since I’ve always been quite obsessively interested in the humanities, this is such an interesting concept for me. Man’s understanding of a rightly ordered relationship among the transcendentals has quite dire consequences morally and ethically. A people who admire and respect ugliness in art will also admire ugliness in life in general. They will see the false as true and the evil as good.
If I were ever to receive the ability to foretell the future, on the condition that each time I use it I shall lose an entire day of my life, I might just as well take advantage of it. Of course considering how intense the consequences of my actions would be I should only be willing to employ it under absolutely the direst of all possible circumstances. Since no one can possibly foretell the day of his death anyway, I should take quite a casual attitude toward that provision of the deal. Exactly how could such a thing possibly be put into practice? It would be understandable if I could say with certitude that I’m going to die on some certain specific day. Then I could simply subtract a day from that and be ready for it. Who could possibly be in charge of calculating such an obscure thing? First and foremost I should have to predict the day of my death. Would that be possible? If that’s not one of the things I could foresee then the rest is just irrelevant. Of course there’s also the question of the moral ramifications of such a thing. Wouldn’t that be cheating? The future is hidden from mankind for a very good reason. Why should I try to tamper with it? All sorts of questions of the true nature of freedom would come into play. Unlike the liberal totalitarians I should very much let reality take its course. Every time someone opens Pandora’s box it leads to nothing but extremely big trouble with irrevocable consequences.
I should like to think that if somewhere over the course of the first few decades of the sixth century, an archaeologist of that era were to stumble upon the remains of my life, and to find my things all entirely intact, he would be able to say that early twenty first century man possessed some exceptionally interesting means of communication and of transportation, and that we were quite the snappy dressers. By then, of course, man may no longer use the same words we do to describe things, so they may not recognize, at first, all the things they find. There’s always the risk that people of the future may be a bit snobby about all they will then have. They will still have to admit, though, that man in the beginning of the twenty first century had all kinds of advantages, about things pertaining to communication, transportation, cleanliness and style. There would also be the matter of all my reading material, most of which is from the world of liberal arts and the humanities. Judging by what someone can find out from only my supply of literature, people will then end up assuming that man during our day was quite seriously interested in things like history, literature, philosophy and theology. They will also have to assume that music made quite a significant kind and degree of difference to people of our day. Everyone knows about my profound interest in many different musical styles. Most significant with me specifically may be my insatiable obsession with the past. People of the future will be forced to get the impression, from the looks of life in my world, that life during our era was significantly steeped in reflection upon bygone times. If someone finds any references to me specifically as an individual, I should expect him to go away pondering the once-upon-a-time world of a literate, articulate square with a penchant for the offbeat.
If I could have the ability to build a magical tunnel by way of which I could secretly travel, at will, to the location of my choice, I should really like to go to Europe. I understand that all the liberals must think I’m so ignorant, racist, yada yada yada, because the Third World doesn’t interest me one bit, but I don’t care what they think. That’s all part of the fun of things for me. Europe has always struck me as being the source of all the very best of the world’s history, literature, theology, philosophy and art among other things. As everyone knows, I’ve always been quite smitten with western culture, including all things European. I could visit Spain, Italy, France, Holland and Ireland, home of many significant Carmelites. There are all sorts of museums I should very much like to see. I could walk in the footsteps of people ranging from Shakespeare and Milton, Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, among others. I realize that while I’m there I shall have to try to figure out how at least to understand a little of each of very many languages, and that the driving will get me quite frustrated. The food, from what I’ve heard, isn’t necessarily anything to brag about either in certain places. Those, however, will be only slight problems compared to all the advantages I could be afforded by way of such easy and convenient access to such an interesting environment.
Fr. Justin Belitz OFM is the founder of the Franciscan Hermitage and author of "Success: Full Living," "Success: Full Thinking," & "Success: Full Relating." His teachings incorporate spirituality, science, and art for personal growth and development.