The Pendulum And The Pit

A pendulum can suggest different things. In Edgar Allen Poe’s grisly tale The Pit And The Pendulum, it’s the horror from the next sweep across your imprisoned body. In Hallmark’s birthday cards, it’s more the pleasant tick of another year. Either way, by its very nature pendulums involve two very extreme points along which it swings from one to the other.

Which describes much of life. You and I lurching from one extreme to another. Everyone preaches moderation; everyone practices extremes. Passionate love followed by terrible hatred…cheers that sour into jeers….putting heroes on pedestals only to quickly knock them off…belief in this and then quite suddenly in that. We are not by nature a very moderate species.

One example.

At one time the Medieval Church chained Bibles to the cathedral walls so believers could not take them home. It was best to have the trained clergy teacher the un-trained masses. With the Protestant Reformation and the printing press in the 16th C, all that began to change. The pendulum of events now swung to an entirely opposite extreme. Now everyone could own a Bible, and as Luther preached everyone-was-his-own-priest.

By our century the pendulum of events has swung ever more sharply. Behold today’s remarkable Wikiepedia…! It proudly calls itself the “free encyclopedia.” I worked for the old Encyclopedia Britannica. Here was the approved fountainhead of all information penned by the finest experts in every field. Here was the fixed focus of all knowledge. Here was something every family hoped to own.

No longer. Today we have Wikipedia — an on-line source which is so free and open that it invites anyone with anything useful to say about a subject to say it. Right then. Right there. A lot less staid and stodgy then those old once-for-a-lifetime Britannica sets. At the same, a lot less firm and fixed, for the information can literally change as you study it. Whatta world…!

Once again, from one extreme to the other. Will the pendulum of life ever cease? Not likely. Is it always a good thing? Who knows anymore what’s “good?” Look it up. If you want, add your own definition.

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  • "Who knows anymore what's "good?" " .... I would venture that question would normally draw a rapid response from persons in a 'pre-internet' social circle .... but alas we reside in the age of 'Google & Wikipedia' - we have seen the rise of expressions like "Computer Literacy" .... yet have witnessed so many peoples profound illiteracy brought to light by the advent of the computer ..... and we have an abundance of information (past all manner of reason) at our fingertips .... and yet we have no truly 'sound' answers .... for we live [as you oft seem to remind us Jack] ... In an era of abundant information but diminishing learning ... "Never was so little known about so much by so many" ..... Sigh!
    PS: For me 'Good' is summed up in seeing 'Love and Compassion' combined with that uncommon element 'Common Sense' ....

  • Geezer ~ I share your sigh...for all our culture's enormous progress forward we've left some worthy prizes behind...the more traditional social and ethical values of earlier more selfless generations...nothing's wrong with progress, but maybe in our haste we've paid too high a I think the "price" we're talking about is having too quickly relinquished the old beliefs in absolutes for the new beliefs in relativism...if everything is just as good as everything else, then is there anything left to stand for, fight for, live for...???

  • The Bibles were chained to the church walls to prevent their loss or theft. They could be read in church, assuming the faithful were literate.

  • Aquinas ~ Technically true, but in reality the Church considered all the congregation illiterate. Not only in reading, but surely in Biblical interpretation. And they were right! Only it did get in the way of the masses using their Bibles. Since Vatican II, the Church has encouraged the laity to read the Bible more. But thanks for pointing that out...

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