John Ralston Saul, Voltaire's Bastards :

The Dictatorship of Reason in the West, 1992, Toronto: Penguin Books, Canada, 1993.

A gadfly review by Bob Brow.

Here is massive proof (640 readable pages) that experts and technocrats (-techne- technique + -kratos- power) run our world and do it very badly. They are the hermetically isolated elite who live by processing information.

This is a Jesuit type of priesthood who are highly trained in creating logical systems which have nothing much to do with the realities they profess to manipulate. Their obsession is with details, with the accumulation of facts (p. 23). And only those who are admitted to the fraternity (mainly men) are allowed to practice the craft.

Experts are people who insulate themselves from the nitty gritty lives of ordinary people. By snowing us with information that we cannot digest or question, and by maintaining rigid secrecy concerning the outcome of their massive mistakes we are cowed into submission.

This dismal situation is illustrated from economics (MBAs), politics (Harvard), warfare (Pentagon), and academia. Even the fields of literature and the arts have succumbed to processing by experts. By the end of the book I realized that in theology this tyranny is as pernicious as everywhere else. How much of the vast output of high priced theological books and commentaries is ever used by preachers and pastors, or has any relevance to the life of church going Christians?

Frankly I would never have bothered with such a book if I hadn't heard that John Saul had recently got married to Adrienne Clarkson in the Anglican church of St. Mary Magdalene, Toronto. This was properly required so she could take up her duties as Governor General of Canada.

I picked up the paperback in the rectory of St. John's Episcopal Church, Massena, New York, the night before preaching on the Feast of Christ the King, Nov. 21, 1999. In three wonderful hours Voltaire's Bastards clarified the meaning of a mass of information which had made me uneasy but never made sense before.

How do we escape from the grip of the experts who decide for us so disastrously? The wisest of ancient kings used to employ a fool (jester) to make fun of such nonsense. Let us hope that John Saul is able to do just that in the pomp and ceremony of his wife's visits to represent the Queen in every part of Canada. What our American neighbors could do to ridicule their experts, I cannot imagine.

But Paul the Apostle had the right idea about making fools of the wisdom of this world. "For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided through the foolishness of our proclamation to save those who believe" (1 Corinthians 1:19-21). Which means that the Messiah has hired ordinary preachers in every place to be the fools (jesters) for His kingdom (1 Corinthians 4:10).

The other day I saw a bumper sticker SUBVERT THE EXISTING PARADIGM. At first I thought the owner was a kook. But now I can see that my job as a preacher is to subvert the tyranny of technocrats and experts. I like that.

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