Thomas Howard, “Chance or the Dance?: A Critique of Modern Secularism”

I got this book after reading a glowing recommendation for it by Eric Metaxas, who has written a foreword for it in a new edition just published (I wasn’t able to get that version on interlibrary loan, alas).  Metaxas compares the book to C.S. Lewis’s work, and author Thomas Howard himself most graciously includes Lewis in his acknowledgments (along with Charles Williams, J.R.R. Tolkien, and T.S. Eliot).  The book was first published in 1969, and it’s clear that it’s being written at least partly in reaction to the radicalism of that decade.  It’s a short book, only 150 pages and with no footnotes, endnotes, bibliography, or index.

I’m not sure that I’d rank it with Lewis et al., but it’s certainly worth reading, well-written and thoughtful.  I think that this paragraph at the end of the book’s first chapter (page 20) is a fair summary:

   In any case, there is the situation: the old myth saw the world as image; the new sees it as a chance concatenation of physical events. This book is an attempt to describe how our experience might look if we looked at it once more under the terms of the old myth. Or, put another way, to observe some of the regions in which, probably unaware, we keep the old myth alive by acting as though it were at least useful in organizing our experience. In the way we handle experience, from ordinary conversation to social custom to poetry, painting, ceremony, sex, and ritual, we do obeisance to the old myth. Whether that obeisance is fanciful and superstitious or is an authentic index of the way things are is, of course, the big question. The modern world supposes that it is the former. This book supposes that it is the latter. God (or somebody) will have to let us know which is the case.

I don’t know, by the way, if there is any connection between “image” as used in this book and C.S. Lewis’s book, The Discarded Image:  An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature, which had been published five years earlier, in 1964.

The long paragraph that begins on page 144 with, “The old myth would have seen the given,” is also a good distillation; you can read it at this link:

And my elaboration:  Your life is already under way and, as humdrum as it may sometimes seem and be, you should search for its meeting, embrace it, and live your life as God would want you to.  That meaning can be found, at least in part, by analogizing what seem to be mundane and prosaic experiences with more exalted ones.  You should be looking for those analogies, rather than reducing everything to atoms colliding with other atoms, which is the modern secular project.

By the way:  Compare this sentence (page 30), “The imagination, on the other hand, handles things not by boring into them but by casting about for correspondences from other regions of experience,” with this sentence from Walker Percy’s The Message in the Bottle, “The mind is off on its favorite project, a casting about for analogies and connections” (page 81).