I found Thomas Howard’s book Chance or the Dance because I’d read Eugene Warren’s poem Christographia XIV. Warren used the phrase Chance or the Dance and I thought it would be a good title for a book I’ve written and am just beginning to market, examining evidence (existence, intuition, yearning, significance, and so on) according to both theism and naturalism. Alas, Howard had used the title, and for a book that appeared to have a similar theme. I was intrigued with the blurbs I read, so I ordered it.
My first impression was that this book was just awesome. I copied the first chapter to share with my children. Then the impression stayed with me to the end. Another impression was that the book was recently published. It was new to me, after all, and the copy I ordered was new, so I took this as being a poetic addition to the sometimes-strident discourse on this subject in recent years. After I finished, for grins I went on goodreads to see what others said about it, and then saw it was first published in 1969. I’m pretty sure Mr. Howard wrote this today and then hopped a time machine to get it published earlier.
Howard juxtaposes naturalism and theism (without using those words) this way:
“The myth sovereign in the old age was that everything means everything. The myth sovereign in the new is that nothing means anything.”
Howard convincingly shows how things we do and say point to something beyond the thing-in-itself; that our imagination involves “casting about for correspondences from other regions of existence.” We engage in ceremony throughout life, and most especially at the end of it. Why? What does it portend? In the current age, absolute autonomy seems to be the only value. But isn’t it true that real freedoms lie at “the far end,” or as a result of, self-denial?
The consequences of the pointlessness of the new sovereign myth is nowhere more clear than with respect to our attitudes about sex.
“The image of the male suggested the fountainhead of life with its sources springing from strength; the image of the female suggested the fecund matrix in which that life took nourishment and form. Here myth and biology are indistinguishable.”
“At the very origin of man himself, the god (masculine) comes to the earth (feminine), and into the image which he forms from the stuff of her body he breathes the breath of life. And in the supreme instance of all, when it is time for him to appear among men, the Incarnate does not issue straight from the godhead but rather from the fecund visitation of the Holy Ghost upon the body of the Virgin Lady.”
On the subject of sex, you’ll no longer find anyone saying anything so obvious, I fear. Here’s the diagnosis:
“It comes around . . . to a matter of the old myth and the new. Somehow the new, in the name of autonomy and freedom, has managed to place burdens on the human spirit too heavy to be borne. They seem to weigh us down more than the fears of goblins and hell weighed our fathers down. It may be the burden of knowledge. Or it may be the burden of freedom: What in heaven’s name shall we do with ourselves? Whatever it is, it has produced a bloody century, a suicidal century, a disenchanted century, a century requiring the services of healers wholly unknown to our fathers, namely, psychiatrists.”
To be authentically human means to recognize that
“things are not random; they are, finally, glorious, and the diagram of this glory appears everywhere and on all levels . . . .”
We see it all
“either as a pointless jumble of phenomena, or as the diagram of glory – as grinding tediously toward entropy, or as dancing toward the Dance.”