Thursday, May 29, 2014

Happy 140th Birthday, G.K. Chesterton

I think it's probably a fair bet to say that no author has taught me more than G.K. Chesterton. On the other hand, the author who has taught me least would have to be, yep, G.K. Chesterton. It's an appropriate paradox.

Chesterton lived and breathed on paradox. His ability to enlighten me on matters spiritual is nearly immeasurable, but there's the rub: he may only enlighten those things which one already knows, which already lurk in the mind and form the basis of his favorite virtue: common sense. No other author has such a talent for revealing to me the truths that are, or should be, immediately evident.

This is, in fact, the premise of one of his greatest books: Orthodoxy. In it, he voiced many of the questions that plagued him as a young seeker.

"How can we contrive to be at once astonished at the world and yet at home in it?" 
"Why should ANYTHING go right; even observation and deduction? Why should not good logic be as misleading as bad logic? They are both movements in the brain of a bewildered ape?" 
"Can [one] hate [the world] enough to change it, and yet love it enough to think it worth changing?"

And yet, when he had marshaled his Answers to the Big Questions through reason, metaphysics, and common sense, he found:

"I tried to be some ten minutes in advance of the truth. And I found that I was eighteen hundred years behind it....When I fancied that I stood alone I was really in the ridiculous position of being backed up by all Christendom. It may be, Heaven forgive me, that I did try to be original; but I only succeeded in inventing all by myself an inferior copy of the existing traditions of civilized religion."
Thus came into being his autobiography of faith: Orthodoxy, which is much funnier, wittier, and entertaining than the title implies. Through this and other works, he managed to influence a huge chunk of famous writers and notables throughout the 20th Century: everyone from C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Gandhi, and George Bernard Shaw to Ronald Reagan, Rich Mullins, Alfred Hitchcock, and Mumford and Sons. That's merely a small portion of the list.

But that's enough from me. It's GKC's 140th Birthday today, so let's unleash the quotes:

The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man.
Misers get up early in the morning; and burglars, I am informed, get up the night before.
    Chesterton and Bernard Shaw once starred in a silent cowboy film
    Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.

    Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all.

    They said that I should lose my ideals and begin to believe in the methods of practical politicians. Now, I have not lost my ideals in the least; my faith in fundamentals is exactly what it always was. What I have lost is my childlike faith in practical politics.

    “The fierce poet of the Middle Ages wrote, "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here," over the gates of the lower world. The emancipated poets of to-day have written it over the gates of this world. But if we are to understand the story which follows, we must erase that apocalyptic writing, if only for an hour. We must recreate the faith of our fathers, if only as an artistic atmosphere. If, then, you are a pessimist, in reading this story, forego for a little the pleasures of pessimism. Dream for one mad moment that the grass is green. Unlearn that sinister learning that you think is so clear, deny that deadly knowledge that you think you know. Surrender the very flower of your culture, give up the very jewel of your pride, abandon hopelessness, all ye who enter here.” 
    Gilbert Keith Chesterton 1912A personal favorite:
    Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.

    These are the days when the Christian is expected to praise every creed except his own. 

    The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.
    This is a mere taste of the fun that is G.K. Chesterton. Get ye to Project Gutenberg and accrue some free books!


      1 comment:

      1. Incredible post, Longish! Your deserved love of Chesterson is evident. This has to be one of your best yet. I loved the quote about "all ye who enter here". That should be more widely known--and fully deserving of my memorization. I'd love to be able to have it over my, if I can find room....

        Thanks so much for the link! I bookmarked it. Very excited.


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