COVID-19 and the assault on the romance of reason and truth. Why we need a resurrection.
Dr. Francis Christian's speech delivered at the "Free Speech in Medicine" Conference 2022, Baddeck, Nova Scotia
Julie and Chris Milburn, distinguished speakers, ladies and gentlemen, my dear friends -
When the poet John Keats wrote in his poem, “Endymion” that beauty was truth and truth, beauty, he was also pointing out to mankind the ability of beauty to be realized in the pursuit of truth.
Francis Christian’s Essays is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Not for personal gain or profit have mathematicians from those of ancient India, ancient Greece or ancient Iraq described to us the ecstasies of the discovery of the secrets of the universe displayed at last to them in numbers.
Many of their solutions to the mysteries of the universe were presented to us in poetry or rhetorical drama and they must have believed then, that truth that defies time cannot be clothed in anything but the grandest, most sublime speech known to man.
Their uncovering of truth was to them a glimpse into the glory of God Himself and they realized as generations of poets and mathematicians have since discovered that the heights of scientific and mathematical discovery and the ecstasies of poetic consummation are both linked and locked together in embrace of the eternal quest for beauty and truth - truth and beauty.
Much later, that greatest of all scientists, Sir Isaac Newton dared to chart the passage of the planets and the stars, the forces that move both our earthly and our heavenly bodies and the great predictive power of the calculus. Scarcely can it still be believed that in the words of the Irish poet, Oliver Goldsmith, “one small head, could carry all he knew.”
Newton himself would have recoiled from being identified in succeeding decades and centuries as the originator, the driving force that inspired the soldiers of the period in mankind’s recent history known as the “Enlightenment.”
Newton’s ability to explain in rational terms the hitherto hidden mysteries of the universe may well have inspired Voltaire and Locke and David Hume - but Newton himself had realized that even his very advanced mathematics and physics could only be invested with meaning if it was yoked together with mankind’s restless search for truth.
This greatest of all scientists who also wrote extensive papers and books on the Bible and its prophecies would in fact devote an equal or greater part of his creative life to studying the greater mind, the God, the great Designer Who he acknowledged as the originator and sustainer of all life and physical phenomena. To him, God acts in “the creating, preserving, and governing of all things according to his good will and pleasure''
Our modern world does in fact owe much to those who came after Newton, the philosophers of the Enlightenment who falsely claim him as a sort of patron saint.
Their claim that everything in the universe can be rationally explained and that mankind had no need of a greater Power with which to contend led to the immediate unleashing of the reign of terror and the French Revolution and in more recent times, to the doctrines of communism and the horrors of the gulag.
The doctrines of pure reason and rationalism were badly in need of a grand rescue by truth - and this came in a majestic wave that washed first upon the shores of Britain, France, Germany and Russia and then throughout all the nations of the world.
The age of Romanticism, the movement in the arts that militated against a purely rational idea of the world, reclaimed for mankind the sense of the inexpressible, the ecstatic utterances of the sages that often spoke of an encounter with the living God, who was also the God of reason, the God of the rational and the God of truth itself.
The romantic poets and artists thus rescued reason from its own destruction and redefined reason as a vital, consequential and inseparable part, but only a part of the search for transcendent, unlimited truth and spiritual rebirth.
It is therefore not an accident at all that the brilliant, inventive, Victorian age followed close upon the heels of the grand start of the romantic era.
The bringing together of the arts and the sciences, the intangible with the definable, the eternal with the temporal, was chiefly responsible for the remarkable creativity of the Victorians.
Regardless of the very mixed record of Queen Victoria the monarch and the undoubted sins and atrocities of empire, the Victorians themselves were not perfect, but still very remarkable people. Unequalled in its creative inventiveness perhaps in any other period of history, this was the age that gave us electricity, the steam engine, locomotives, anesthesia, antisepsis, the postage stamp, the bicycle, the Christmas card and the typewriter. It also gave us Tennyson, Browning, Dickens, Trollope, George Eliot, Macaulay and Carlisle.
Democracy and democratic traditions as we understand them today owe very little to ancient Greece and the peerless age of Pericles compared to the Victorians and their inventive, restless and constantly striving spirit.
Oliver Cromwell’s momentous proclamation of the supremacy of parliament and the end of the supposed divine right of Kings to rule had to wait another two hundred years before the far reaching democratic reforms of the Victorians achieved for mankind a model of democracy that lasts to this day - just!
Of course, Abraham Lincoln himself also lived in the Victorian era, although his government for the people, all the people took shape a continent and an ocean away from the British Isles.
But the modern parliamentary model we celebrate (or should we say celebrated) in Canada, in India, in Australia was a miraculous Victorian achievement and it was during the Victorian era that the “landed gentry” in Britain finally lost their disproportionate power to rule the masses.
Such ideas as the necessary independence of the judiciary and the executive being independent of the legislature and each arm of government having to be independent of each other in order to lay claim to a credible democracy - are essentially Victorian achievements. It was a demonstration of the remarkable ability of the Victorians to take ideas and ideals on board and act vigorously on them, achieving practical results for all of us.
The press, never completely free, realized and articulated the idea of a free and independent press because of the Victorian idea of truth not being the preserve of any of the branches of government. And the tradition of exposing the scandals and corruptions of those in power is also largely a product of the Victorian age.
The Victorians had rediscovered the secret of the Arab, Greek and Indian mathematicians and of Newton himself - the chaotic, violent and turbulent, rational age of reason and the enlightenment had yielded to the romantic rebellion against reason alone. And the Victorians were now enjoying the products of this consummation of reason with truth. Most of the brilliant men and women of the Victorian age were also very devout in their devotion to God and to His plan for the universe.
And of course this incomplete list of discoveries and great poets and authors and statesmen of the Victorian era only includes the geographical British Isles. But the spirit of the age was also in France and Germany and in its colonies. If the luminaries of these other nations in the Victorian era were to be included, the list would literally run into several pages.
A bloody interlude followed when we were thrown violently back to the immediate aftermath of the Enlightenment. First communism from the left and then Naziism for the right invented for their followers a new version of a new age of rationalism where it became possible to define the enemy in rational terms as the bourgeois land owner or the Slav or the Jew. In keeping with the Enlightenment’s own ideal of rational, scientific progress, the Marxists defined their ideology as scientific socialism, the Nazis, as scientific racism. No claim to transcendent truth was made and a new Enlightenment began to enslave new generations of people unaware of the excesses and terrors of the old Enlightenment.
Fortunately for mankind, this new rationalism, devoid of belief in transcendent truth was opposed by an essentially Victorian sense of civilizational ideals that had taken hold of many nations including the USA, Canada, India, Britain and many African and South American nations.
These nations opposed very effectively the tyranny of this new, twentieth century vision which conjured up a new enlightenment utopia based on a new rationalism devoid of truth. It was of course no more than the old enlightenment in new clothes and the twentieth century was witness to a glorious struggle between the then Soviet Union, communist China and their disciple nations on the one side - and the rest of the world, led by the West on the other.
It was into this hopeful world of noble struggle that I was born, by the Grace of God, in one of the nations that opposed the new enlightenment tyranny of communism.
I was writing poetry from when I was 12 years old - and I considered very seriously the possibility of life as a poet. Although my father was a surgeon and tried to warn me against the grinding poverty that would follow my desire to devote my life to poetry, the idealistic and what I considered “pure” life of the poet was very attractive to me indeed, as a 17 year old finishing high school.
I decided to take up medicine as a career because I realized that in it there was the ability to bring reason and truth together. In the myriad experiences of mankind and its hopes, its fears and its sufferings, the narrative meat and bones of the writer could be realized in a manner possible in few other professions. I realized I could be both a poet and a physician.
The methods of science were beautiful to me in the way that they must have been to the Victorians and their successors and I saw that my own faith in a living God could inform and guide all that I did in both poetry and science. Transcendent truth and hard, verifiable science became inseparable in my life and learning, as it would have been to the Victorians.
Later, I was attracted to surgery and its arduous training requirements because I correctly perceived the art and craft of the surgeon as being complimentary in a practical, immediate way with the science learned in the books and in the laboratories and clinics. I had observed my father operating and discerned in the movement of his hands and fingers an artistic reality that clothed and enhanced like a certain magic, the scientific task of a surgeon.
Nor was I alone in this joyous quest for truth, this romantic vision of reason and truth journeying hand in hand through a scientific and medical world waiting to give up its secrets.
All of you are here, in this Conference because, like me, you were following in the footsteps of our Victorian forebears. We may not wear Victorian clothes or believe in their ideas on sex, but the torch they lit had still burned bright when you set out on your individual life journeys in your unique, individual worlds.
We were idealistic, convinced that by the Grace of God, we will be able to make a better world for ourselves and our children.
At the time I entered medical training however, I did not know about the infiltration of the academy by the postmodernists with their temporal, pliable, variable versions of truth.
But unmistakably and efficiently, our universities and schools had been infiltrated by the disciples of Foucault, Derrida and Jacques Lacan as well as those of the Frankfurt school. This take over of the academy that started in the post second world war world, was all but fully complete by the turn of the century.
In the relatively short space of just over half a century, the postmodernists had succeeded in displacing the romantic and Victorian reality of transcendent truth that lies beyond ourselves and replacing it with a localized, humanized version of individual “truth” that was supposed to be the only truth possible to a particular group of people at a particular point in time. The idea of universal, transcendent truth was sacrificed at the altar of relative and localized versions of multiple “truths.” And thus was born the derisive phrase used by the present dispensation of postmodernists - “but this is my truth.”
Once it became possible to define their own version of truth, it became possible also, to bend the scientific method itself to serve this version of truth. The rational methods of the enlightenment were appropriated to serve this postmodern vision of the world in which universal truth was replaced by localized, pliable versions of truth.
But since numbers and data and mathematics and the scientific method serve the grand reality of transcendent and universal truth alone, there have been periodic and vigorous debates and battles that we, the new Victorians of the twentieth century have waged with the postmodernists, in an attempt to wrest from the captive cages of these new barbarians, the universal truth of real data leading to real conclusions in the real world.
The fact that numbers and data do not lie has been a persistent problem for the postmodern academy - and this is why the more mathematical disciplines like engineering and mathematics remain relatively uncorrupted by such ridiculous and pernicious ideologies as “toxic masculinity,” and “take your pick” transgenderism.
During the covid-19 era, in keeping with the well established postmodern construct of pliable and moveable ideas of truth, physicians, politicians and the public kept believing the latest version of officially defined narrative as “truth.” There was no need for verification, since the particular endpoint of truth defined by the officials who ran the pandemic was the version of truth for that time, that could not be challenged.
To a degree, this does explain the repeated and wanton disregard for the data by the public and by physicians and politicians. Whenever the numbers just didn’t add up, they ceased counting - and fell back to their localized, pliable version of the narrative that was acceptable as truth.
Since this locally manufactured version of truth is not backed by reality and transcendent truth, a totalitarian tyranny marches in lockstep with the academy and enforces its alchemy with an iron hand.
The math and the numbers have stubbornly contradicted manufactured narratives of covid-19 truth, but this has not deterred those who have graduated from our universities and schools and are the disciples of Derrida and Foucault. They continue to believe that their individual version of truth must be valid, since that is “their” truth.
I have some sympathy for the term “mass formation” that has been used by Mattias Desmet to describe the apparent flight from both reason and truth by vast sections of our society in the last two years. But I hope have demonstrated to you convincingly, that this is not a new phenomenon that started during the covid era. The takeover of our universities, was essentially complete more than twenty years ago. The graduates and disciples of these schools of postmodernism have been teaching not only our medical students and physicians, but also our elementary and high school students and at least two generations of students in every discipline in our universities.
The progenitors of the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century wrote about their belief in the ability of reason and rational inquiry alone, in the absence of transcendent truth to come to the rescue of mankind’s many problems. We have already seen that this worshipping at the altar of man’s rational abilities alone has brought totalitarian misery upon mankind both in its immediate aftermath and in its new incarnations of marxism and naziism in the twentieth century.
The postmodernists believe neither in reason nor in transcendent truth. Instead they create their own convenient version of truth and then either ignore reason and science altogether or make feverish attempts to fit the math to their latest flavour of truth. The result has been the death of both transcendent truth and reason and humanity now finds itself tossed about in a new and hostile, stormy sea with no harbour in sight. Our present plight is unprecedented and the destruction of all we hold dear seems nigh.
How must the angels weep for mankind now and how their songs of mourning rise to the Author of all truth who has commissioned mankind to use both reason and transcendent truth to uncover the secrets of the Universe!
We too, have with the angels wept and felt our depths of despair matched only by outrage at the wanton disregard for data, the tyranny of totalitarianism masquerading as science and the continuously shifting departures from reason and truth. It has been both an intellectual and a spiritual tragedy of gigantic proportions.
I started this speech with the English romanic poet John Keats’ immortal claim that “beauty is truth, truth beauty.”
Just three years ago, in 2019, there was a celebration of the 200th anniversary of the great odes of Keats.
In the history of literature in the English language, Keats’ odes are acknowledged as the greatest and most sublime body of work, next perhaps only to Shakespeare.
Many of you will be familiar with the Ode To A Nightingale:
“Thou wast not born for death, immortal bird,
No hungry generations tread thee down,
The voice I hear this passing night,
Was heard in ancient days by emperor and clown -“
Some of you will know the Ode To A Grecian Urn from which I quote: Gazing at an urn in the British Museum and the beautiful figures drawn into it, Keats writes:
Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!
There are a total of six odes. All were written in the Spring and Summer of 1819.
The previous winter, John Keats’ brother Tom had died in his arms from tuberculosis. Also in 1818, his poetry had been savaged by the critics who believed a commoner, a Cockney commoner at that - had no right to write poetry.
Keats was a surgeon himself and had passed all his exams with ease - and soon afterwards had decided to abandon surgery for poetry.
His medical training had prepared him to recognize the signs of tuberculosis in himself in 1818, soon after he and his friend Charles Brown undertook a walking tour of Scotland. Later, he would tell Brown one morning upon awakening and finding he had coughed up a little blood, bright red against the white of his pillow:
“I know the colour of that blood - it is arterial blood; that drop of blood is my death warrant. I must die.”
In the year of the great odes, Keats had fallen achingly in love with his neighbour, Fanny Brawne - and knew he could not marry her both because he was penniless and dependant on friends and more importantly because he knew he would die of tuberculosis quite soon.
All this was in 1818 and the early months of 1819.
And then, in the spring and summer of 1819 came the great odes - and Keats inauguration into the order of immortal poets.
In a long letter to his brother George who had emigrated to American, John Keats wrote, “Do you not see how necessary a World of Pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a Soul? A Place where the heart must feel and suffer in a thousand divers ways!”
There is a difference, ladies and gentlemen, between the bearing of suffering and the using of suffering.
The one is passive, submissive - even heroic.
The other is both active and sublimative - and triumphant.
The “absurd hero” in Albert Camu’s “Myth of Sisyphus” keeps pushing a heavy stone up a hill - and when almost at the summit, the stone rolls back - and Sisyphus starts over again, rolling the stone uphill - and again - and again-
To Camus, Sisyphus’ act of submission to suffering and to the futile task of rolling the stone uphill is completely absurd - and yet heroic and brave. Hence his “absurd hero.”
In complete contrast to Camu’s absurd hero and the heroic bearing of suffering is the greatest example of all in the use of suffering - an historical event that has inspired the greatest artists and poets.
Why has the crucifixion of Jesus inspired generations of artists from the renaissance to the twentieth century? From Raphael’s “Crucifixion” that greets you as step into the National Gallery in England, to Peter Paul Rubens and to Salvador Dali.
The crucifixion was used by Jesus to fulfill His purposes for mankind.
He turned the very worst thing that could happen to a person, the crucifixion - and turned it into the very best thing that could happen for humanity, the Resurrection.
Amongst numerous other masterpieces by the greatest and most celebrated artists, Ruben’s Resurrection, Carvaggio’s Resurrection and Michelangelo’s marble sculpture of the Risen Christ, all show the triumph of God, the triumph of eternal Love that will not let us go.
And the using of suffering to achieve eternally significant goals.
Our faith in humanity may have suffered, we may have suffered from losing livelihoods, losing friends and losing contact with colleagues and even family members who started treating us like the lepers were treated in Jesus’ day. They all must have forgotten that Jesus kept company with lepers, with the sick, the broken hearted, the captive, the bruised and the blind.
Many of us have suffered from isolation and loneliness - and the experience of the brutal police crackdown on our people during Trudeau’s emergency was disturbing and traumatic to those of us who had believed in a kinder, gentler Canada.
Some of us have suffered from not being able to travel to see a loved one. From knowing that there is no data that supports any restriction and having to submit to injustice and nonsensical mandates nonetheless.
And we may have suffered from being ridiculed, persecuted and punished for standing up for science and truth.
But there can and must be a resurrection.
We can use, not bear, but use suffering to achieve a higher, a nobler and an eternal purpose for ourselves and those around us.
Our sufferings will then not have been in vain.
The urgent call for us is to resurrect both science and truth to its rightful place in the affairs of societies and nations.
The Cross and the Resurrection remind us that suffering can be redemptive and triumphant.
It also reminds us that transcendent truth is indestructible, since it issues forth from He who is the Truth, Who used suffering and turned apparent utter defeat into the greatest possible triumph.
We are already winning.
The work you have been doing has been having consequential and momentous benefits for humanity.
Mask mandates are on self-destruct mode.
Lockdowns will probably never be acceptable again.
Our children are meeting each other and playing together and and meeting and dating other children again.
The latest statistics I read showed that in the last 6 months 83%, yes 83% of Canadians had not taken any kind of covid injection - 1st, 2nd, booster, any shot.
And since the corporate totalitarian tyranny under which we live authorized the unsafe and ineffective covid vaccine to our under 4 year old children in Canada - just 1% of these children have been injected.
The work we have been doing is bearing fruit.
We must never lose hope.
No tyranny lasts forever and every tyranny has a defined lifespan.
For us who have grieved and lamented the death of the beautiful union of reason and transcendent truth, a resurrection of both reason and truth is imperative for the future of mankind’s little planet.
My friends, the body of reason and truth we believed to be dead is stirring.
A resurrection cannot be far off.
For all our sakes it cannot happen too soon.
Francis Christian’s Essays is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.