As most every high school student of modern American Literature knows by heart: “The fog creeps in on little cat feet.” Whether poet Sandburg was writing only of the fog that occasionally envelopes his beloved Chicago, or of the fog that clouds one’s thinking, or perhaps to both, we can only speculate; for philosophers, theologians, and even politicians have known for ages past that the beclouding of the intellect is most effective when it “comes in on little cat feet.”
In contract, – a daring, blatant lie may be received for a short while, but generally it is soon identified as such and loses its impact on the intellect. However, a tradition, a superstition, or just an attitude can greatly influence our thinking in spite of our disagreement with the principle involved.
Allow me to illustrate: The popular Christmas carol “Joy to the World” with its objectionable first verse (“Let every heart prepare Him room”) has been sung in our Sunday School programs and in our schools for many years. It has been taught by dedicated teachers whose devotion to their students and to the proper teaching of our religious concepts is beyond reproach, by teachers whose sacrifices for the sake of their pupils continue unrewarded and often unappreciated. To suppose that these dedicated teachers were attempting to propagate a false doctrine is unthinkable; yet because this song has been accepted for so long, we had begun to pass it along to the children of the church, although it contains a doctrinal statement contrary to our belief. This song, like certain phrases, e.g. “prater changes things” and concepts, e.g., that any experience in the Christian’s life could be other than blessing, have infiltrated into our thinking so unobtrusively, and have become so firmly entrenched, that we easily and often fail to question their authenticity.
As youths in the more formative ages, we should be even more alert for these creeping fogs of the intellect. First, because we are not collecting the concepts which will be ours throughout our adult life and should by all means, attempt to gather only those worth having. Secondly, the deeper such a mental paralysis has entrenched itself, the more difficult it becomes to rid one’s self of it.
Christ once said, “Be ye as wise as serpents, and a harmless as doves.” The latter is generally accepted, but the former is often glossed over. To be wise as serpents is to be discerning of that which is not obvious, both offensively and defensively. In a word, being wise as a serpent is never being “fogged in.”
Originally Published in:
Vol. 19 No. 1 February 1959