Wednesday, September 21, 2011

It's elementary, my dear Watson!

I don't know what's gotten into me, but recently I've been hooked on Sherlock Holmes stories.  No, I haven't seen the Robert Downey, Jr. movie, I've been reading the original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories.  They're short, entertaining, and well written.

Without having ever read one of Holmes' adventures (almost always written from his companion's, Dr. Watson's, point of view) I always figured that they were just great detective stories.  A murder case or some other sinister plot is presented to Holmes, and then with some investigating he cracks the case, always exclaiming, "It's elementary, my dear Watson!"  I'm glad to say that the stories are much better than that.

Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes
Holmes has honed two very specific faculties.  First, he is a great observer.  Throughout the stories, he notices irregularities in handwriting, the slightest facial expressions, or the smallest shreds of evidence.  Then, from his observations he makes great deductions that often surprise his companions and cracks the case.  (At one point, Holmes is able to tell Watson exactly what Watson had done that entire day just by looking at the dirt on his shoes!)

Although I find these stories fascinating and delightful, I do have one critique: Sherlock Holmes is the height of Enlightenment thought.  Holmes is always in search of data; he wants facts, dates, times, faces, descriptions.  He pieces all of these disparate clues together into one cohesive narrative that solves the mystery.  This reeks of Enlightenment thought: if we could simply gather all of the observable facts, then we could solve anything that comes our way!

There is something decidedly unchristian in this mindset.  It reduces all of the universe, and indeed humanity itself, into a mere objects of observation.  If we take this mindset to its conclusion, we never love one another, we simply observe and make judgments about one another.  Holmes falls prey to this tragic end; he never marries because he is too cold, too observant, too filled with logic and reason that he never allows room for emotion or passion.  (At one point, Watson marries a fine young woman, only for Holmes to retort that he, Holmes, allows no room for such nonsense in his life.)

The universe - trees, stars, animals, rocks, people - are not just here to be observed.  Everything that God has created is to be enjoyed, to be loved; we are to emotionally participate in all of this beauty, not stare at it and make crude judgments.  Our cry is not, "It's elementary!"  Our cry is, "How beautiful is God's handiwork!"  


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