Canonize Chesterton? Only if I can be there!

chesterton

The other day, I read this fantastic rundown of Gilbert Keith Chesterton’s writing. I was reminded yet again why I love him so much–if Mark Twain and CS Lewis fell simultaneously into a hay-bailer, you’d get GK in a tight bundle.

Of course the article is also arguing for Chesterton’s elevation to sainthood–being that I’m not a catholic, I can’t really put my eggs in that theological basket, but I’d certainly like to be around the conclave that gets to weigh that one out–because the man’s writing was fantastic–and funny–and cheeky–and well, magic.

And these guys would have to read it all aloud to make their cases–and counter-claims.

Every time I watch some tortured, injured-on-the-front-lines-of-micro-aggressions friend of mine start moralizing with what Francis Schaefer called “feet firmly planted in mid-air,” I think of my favorite of his books: Orthodoxy.

In an essay called The Suicide of Thought, Chesterton said that the new, modern rebel/skeptic/polemic was constantly “undermining his own mines,” since, he has no cohesive worldview, he will inevitably start denouncing the doctrines he previously employed to denounce other ones:

The man of this school goes first to a political meeting, where he complains that savages are treated as if they were beasts; then he takes his hat and umbrella and goes on to a scientific meeting, where he proves that they practically are beasts. In short, the modern revolutionist, being an infinite sceptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mines. In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men. Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything.

I distinctly remember sitting in the inaugural gathering of my History of Western Civilization class many years ago. Seated right in front of me was someone who—based upon the way they had turned their entire body into a socio-political billboard—I could safely assume to be an “anarchist.”  But, taking the pseudo-postmodern-politically-correct route of NOT ASSUMING that a man with a giant, circumscribed “A” on his chest to BE an anarchist, I asked him if he was.

And indeed, he stated to me he was all those things.  While I’m no expert in anarchism (and a quick look at any on-line, definitional take on the matter will show you that—even they have managed to balkanize themselves into denominational factions) I did manage to ask him if “keeping a rigid class schedule, replete with the ridiculous academic expectations of this class” was in any way “conflicting.”

It was not appreciated.  In fact, I doubt he’d appreciate the idea that a philosophical position that CAN schism isn’t really one that is as anarchist as they’d like to be.  How pathetic it must be, to see the resident nihilist charging across the academic quad because they’re late for horticulture classes. 

Meanwhile, Richard Dawkins, the esteemed Dean of the “neo-atheists,” and author of the mind-blowingly successful book, The God Delusion, posits something quite similar in another tome, The River out of Eden:

In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, and other people are going to get lucky; and you won’t find any rhyme or reason to it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good. Nothing but blind pitiless indifference. DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is, and we dance to its music. 

Steal Richard’s car, however, and he will have anything but blind, pitiless indifference towards said dancer.

The minute we try to devalue one of life’s supposed variables is the very minute you argue for a value by which to measure its worthlessness. Currency indexed to sawdust is only worthless because currency exists.

In short, you simply cannot get away from objective truths. I don’t begrudge Richard’s attempts to galvanize his incoherence into some useable worldview, but c’mon. One minute he’s arguing for life’s completely meaningless trajectory—and the next—he’s comparing religious indoctrination to  . . . child abuse?

Okay.  I get it.  Children are valuable.  Precious.  Worthy of a hedge of protection . . . 

 . . . .I mean, you know . . . sacred.

Richard, Richard, Richard.  You better get that analogy out of there quick.  DNA just called.  It said your blind pitilessness if flagging.

It is hard to have patience with people who say, ‘There is no death’ or ‘Death doesn’t matter.’ There is death. And whatever is matters. And whatever happens has consequences, and it and they are irrevocable and irreversible. You might as well say that birth doesn’t matter.”
― C.S. LewisA Grief Observed

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12 Responses to Canonize Chesterton? Only if I can be there!

  1. Ann Ahrens says:

    Love this post. That is all.

  2. Steve says:

    Great post!

    My oldest daughter loves to read Chesterton and I sent her your post.

    Not sure if you’ve encountered Alasdair MacIntyre in your travels. A good friend of mine gave me his book, “After Virtue.” He is kind of a complicated character, and some of his stuff might resonate with you.

    “At the foundation of moral thinking lie beliefs in statements the truth of which no further reason can be given.” ― Alasdair MacIntyre, “After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory”

    This quote might give some deconstructionists atrial fibrillation or a full-blown panic attack. With your penchant for politics, I thought I would send you this other quote by him:

    “…. modern politics cannot be a matter of genuine moral consensus. And it is not. Modern politics is civil war carried on by other means,” ― Alasdair MacIntyre, “After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, Third Edition”

  3. Steve says:

    I’ll let you know when she emails me back. I’m in the same town as her, this weekend, visiting her and her brother at college, and I have seen her precisely once and my son twice. Once you launch them, they spread their wings and fly and that often does not include mom and dad. I’m fine with that, since that is how I raised them. However, I did go to the Abbey of the Genesee and spent some profitable time with the retired abbot, who is 88 years old, and knew Thomas Merton well – at least as well as anyone knew Merton. I have known him for a few years, and I try to spend time with him when I get into the Rochester area. He gives a lecture on Thursday and Saturday nights, which is well worth the time invested in getting there. I’ve been taking notes on his lectures since 2008 when I first started going there.

  4. Helene Cousino says:

    Grand post! Chesterton is one of my favorite authors–the Prince of Paradox rarely disappoints. His comparisons always give me another perspective on a usually too-familiar topic. He is one of the people that I wish I could have met–maybe I will someday :). What a conversation that would be! Also, he walked around London wearing a cape and carrying a sword-stick–how fantastic (in both senses of the word) is that!!

    • Ron Giesecke says:

      Helene,

      Thank you very much! The man has genuinely- enthusiastic fan clubs, as I’m sure you know.

      I came to him via Ravi Zacharias’ constant quoting of him from the RZIM broadcasts. I once, during a Facebook discussion quoted him to a friend of mine who was arguing some nihilistic position. In fact it was the more quoted bit from “the suicide of thought.”

      He came back and said “quoting some old, dead author doesn’t make your point.”

      I said “well, that tosses Darwin, too. Thank God we agree that antiquated literature offers nothing.”

      He defriended me.

      • Helene Cousino says:

        How truly horrifying! Old, dead authors make some of the best points–what is modern thought built upon anyway?! As a bibliomaniac with a special penchant for anything antiquated, I feel that I may have un-friended that person purely out of shock. Anyway, enough of that–I am rather passionate on the subject of books. As was Chesterton. He could not write accurately about his favorite authors; his biases were especially strong in that area, but I forgive him because I cannot be rational on the subject of Dickens either.

        I enjoy your blog, by the way :). I am glad my father sent me the link. I don’t usually comment on blogs, but I may get up my courage and comment occasionally. Chesterton is a topic upon which I cannot be silent.

      • Helene Cousino says:

        How truly horrifying! Old, dead authors make some of the best points–what is modern thought built upon anyway?! As a bibliomaniac with a special penchant for anything antiquated, I feel that I would have un-friended such a person purely out of shock (not that that is a good reaction, but that would probably have been my reaction). Anyway, enough of that–I am rather passionate on the subject of books. As was Chesterton. He could not write accurately about his favorite authors; his biases were especially strong in that area, but I forgive him because I cannot be rational on the subject of Dickens either.

        I enjoy your blog, by the way :). I am glad my father sent me the link. I don’t usually comment on blogs, but I may get up my courage and comment occasionally. Chesterton is a topic upon which I cannot be silent.

      • Ron Giesecke says:

        Clearly you’re cut from the same intellectual cloth you’re father is. He is the one of two commenters on here that are fairly regular. I’d be honored to have someone of your expressive velocity in here!

  5. Steve says:

    I guess the apple did not fall far from the tree!

    I have a good feeling she will outdo me in intellectual and spiritual pursuits. That is the goal of parenting – to have your children exceed what you have done in life, as they chart their own course.

    Btw, Ron, she does not think exactly like me so she would be a good asset to your blog. Maybe you could have her guest blog something about Chesterton, Dickens, Tolkien, or Lewis. She has also read some Flannery O’Conner. She can even weigh in on Kierkegaard.

    I had a feeling she would like your blog.

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