"What is this babbler trying to say?" Acts 17:18

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Confessions of a Twentieth-Century Pilgrim

I finally found another one! What am I talking about? I'm talking about the Malcolm Muggeridge book that I found at the public library bookstore. I only buy used books, which is a good way of cultivating patience since the delay could be a few years (assuming I don't use Amazon, in which case the delay is only a few days). But the delayed gratification this time was worth it. I had never even heard of Muggeridge's Confessions of a Twentieth-Century Pilgrim before pulling it down in trembling excitement, my gasp of pleasure sounding loud among the silent shelves.

Muggeridge's autobiographical Confessions was at times merely a collection of quotes, at times a strangely impersonal narrative of his life, at other times a heartfelt cry of prayer. But at all times it was fascinating to read. Opening on the scene of his induction into the Catholic church at an advanced age, the author then turns a backwards glance on the stages of his life that had brought him to that moment. The boy, the teacher, the journalist, the soldier are some of the parts that the Englishman Muggeridge played on a variety of continents and in a variety of countries. While some could fault the almost desultory quotes from Augustine, Solzhenitsen, Simone Weil, among many, and Muggeridge's own philosophical reflections for breaking up the flow of the biography, they were my favorite part. I can't resist copying some of these reflections.
"the pursuit of knowledge without reference to truth which alone gives knowledge its validity" (51).
"The other true purpose of school studies--education--is to inculcate humility--not just a virtue, but the condition of virtue. From this point of view, it is perhaps even more useful to contemplate our stupidity than our sin." --Simone Weil (52).
"In great wealth, great poverty; in health sickness; in numbers, deception. Gorging, left hungry; sedated, left restless... So we press on through the valley of abundance that leads to the wasteland of satiety, passing through the gardens of fantasy; seeking happiness ever more ardently, and finding despair ever more surely" (64).
"Darwinian evolution, a very rickety hypothesis based on some old bones or a tooth discovered in Kenya or Nanking, and infiltrating all the different disciplines of learning, and making an ultimate nonsense of them all" (76).

"Of course, she enjoys the inestimable advantage of never looking at TV, listening to radio or reading the newspapers, and so has a clear notion of what is really going on in the world; the siren-voice of the consensus does not reach her" (136).
Why did Muggeridge become a Catholic? In part at least, "it was the Catholic Church's firm stand against contraception and abortion which finally made me decide to become a Catholic" (140).

Throughout his book there is one recurrent theme, somewhat contradictory to the idea of an autobiography: the theme of humility.
"He set a window in the tiny dark dungeon of the ego in which we all languish, letting in a light, providing a vista, and offering a way of release from the servitude of the flesh and the fury of the will into what St Paul called 'the glorious liberty of the children of God'" (131).
"God, humble my pride, extinguish the last stirrings of my Ego, obliterate whatever remains of worldly ambition and carnality, and help me to serve only Thy purposes, to speak and write only Thy words, to think only Thy thoughts, to have no other prayer than 'Thy will be done'" (75).
And that's a pretty good thought to end with.

Malcolm Muggeridge, Confessions of a Twentieth-Century Pilgrim. San Francisco, Harper and Row Publishers. 1988. Originally: Conversion, A Spiritual Journey

No comments: