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    Book Club: Sayers’ The Mind of the Maker{Chapter 1}

    October 30, 2012 by Brandy Vencel
    I must admit at the outset that I haven’t read much Sayers and so I spent much of this initial reading {I read the preface, also} adjusting to her writing style. I like it, for what it’s worth. Cindy called her the “undercover Chesterton” and I can’t say I disagree.

    Sayers wrote this over seventy years ago, and yet her points are still applicable {a sure sign of a good book}. In this chapter, she discusses our two definitions of the word “law” and the idea that these two definitions allow us to equivocate on the term when we are conversing, which muddies the waters quite a bit.

    [The word “law”] may describe an arbitrary regulation made by human consent in particular circumstance for a particular purpose, and capable of being promulgated, enforced, suspended, altered, or rescinded without interference with the general scheme of the universe.


    In its other use, the word “law” is employed to designate a generalized statement of observed fact of one sort or another.

    I have seen this at work when trying to talk to someone else about the laws of economics. Asserting, for example, the “government does not create jobs” can get a person in hot water if done in the wrong crowd, the crowd which truly believes that this assertion is an opinion. Of course, if we have the patience to explain how government works, and where its money comes from, sometimes the lightbulbs can come on and the factual nature of the assertion becomes self-evident.

    What I find fascinating is the idea that facts can cause controversy. Can you imagine a world in which people were scandalized by the laws of thermodynamics? In which citizens were morally outraged when a man mildly stated that energy is neither created nor destroyed but merely changes forms?

    We laugh at this, but I think we see this all the time. I see this in California politics constantly, for example. If I say that our state simply cannot afford something, it is likely that someone can retort that I hate teachers, firemen, policemen, children, farmers, or oil companies, depending on the issue. I actually argued with a member of the California Teacher’s Association on the phone {much to my husband’s chagrin}, asking him whether he was aware that we were practically bankrupt.

    The law of a finite supply of money {for states, who cannot print their money like the federal government does…at its own peril, and ours as well} is a reality not an opinion. This world of credit, I suppose, makes it seem otherwise, but the fact remains that it is Double-Plus Ungood when a state runs out of money, just as it is so when a family runs out of money.

    These statements do not rest on human consent; they are either true or false.

    I love Sayers for saying this. I’ve gotten myself into trouble more than once for talking at the general level while offending someone who considered themselves {and very well might have been, I should add} an exception. The problem is that we cannot reason from the exceptions to discover the norm, and it is not for the exceptions to take offense at the norm, either.

    Norms aren’t exactly moral laws, but I saw a parallel here. Years ago, I used the example of the deaf-mute parents of a hearing, speaking child. While the norm–the moral norm–is that parents ought to raise their own children, I was sure then, and am sure now, that we ought not to be outraged when the parents delegate their authority and have the child raised for a time by an uncle who sees and hears. We all understand that exceptions exist in reality. Parents die and children become orphans and the norms here can never be respected, for death is no respecter of persons, I suppose.

    So what is my point? I don’t pretend to know where Sayers is going, but I was struck by the thought that we live in a culture where people are offended by norms and laws. In today’s world, it isn’t enough that we all agree that the child probably would do better when raised by his uncle. No, in today’s world the parents would go out and lobby for the removal of the norm–they would see the assertion that parents ought to raise their own children as arbitrary, and to repeat this notion is to “judge” them.

    In the old world, the parents would simply grieve over their lack, and the unnatural but necessary separation from their son. Do you see the difference?

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  • Reply Cindy Marsch November 2, 2012 at 3:09 am

    I really like your application to politics here, and Cindy’s example of the breast-is-best truth coming up against the reasons a particular child might need formula instead works very nicely with your example of the hearing and speaking child of deaf-mute parents. Well done.

  • Reply Ordo-Amoris October 31, 2012 at 5:53 pm

    It really is very tricky to talk about these things and yet I do think it is important that we try for truth’s sake. It is certainly good for society for a few people to remind us that we don’t have to live beyond our means and that someone has to pay.

    To me Sayers is a gem. Like C.S. Lewis, I enjoy reading her books even when I don’t understand them.

    • Reply Brandy @ Afterthoughts November 2, 2012 at 10:05 pm

      C.S. Lewis didn’t understand Sayers’ books? What hope is there for me?

      Just kidding. 🙂

      I told a friend of mine we were reading this, and she became dreamy-eyed. Apparently this is her favorite book and she never told me. She’s read it over and over. I consider her my cheat sheet now. 🙂

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