Happy Birthday, to Mr. Gilbert Keith Chesterton!
Thanks to the lovely Carol B. of A Living Pencil, who loaned me her personal copy of the book, I have been reading Wisdom and Innocence: A Life of G.K. Chesterton by Joseph Pearce over the last couple of weeks. I’ve been reading about Mr. Chesterton, mostly at bedtime and in small doses, and I haven’t finished the book yet. However, I have collected enough sticky note markers to post something about what caught my eye as I read, and today seems as if it would the appropriate day since Gilbert Keith Chesterton was born on this date, May 29th, in 1876, a hundred and thirty-seven years ago.
(p.79) Chesterton wrote in an article in the Daily News, December, 1903:
“You cannot evade the issue of God: whether you talk about pigs or the binomial theory, you are still talking about Him . . . If Christianity should happen to be true–that is to say, if its God is the real God of the universe–then defending it may mean talking about anything and everything. . . . Zulus, gardening, butchers’ shops, lunatic asylums, housemaids, and the French Revolution–all these things not only may have something to do with the Christian God, but must have something to do with Him if He lives and reigns.”
So true. I try to avoid religious jargon and buzzwords, but I find it difficult to discuss anything without the topic eventually leading back to God and His works in some form or another. As Paul wrote, “For from him and through him and to him are all things.” So, how (or why) would one discuss or think about anything without reference to the One who made and sustains all things?
(p. 213) “One of his secretaries was amazed, when she first started working for him (Chesterton), by his ability to write two articles at once on totally different subjects by dictating one to her while he scribbled away at another himself.”
President James Garfield taught himself to write with both hands. He also knew Latin and Greek. He sometimes would show off and write with both hands at the same time, each in a different language. However, to write on two separate subjects, formulate coherent thoughts and dictate or write them at the same time, seems almost impossible. I wonder if the ever-playful Chesterton was deceiving his secretary into thinking that he was “writing” two articles at once. Maybe he even was deceiving himself. I tell my children all the time that it is impossible to truly “multi-task.” It would be interesting to hear what Chesterton would have to say about the subject.
(p.252) Chesterton on the “underlying pessimism of much modern poetry”: “I will not write any more about these poets, because I do not pretend to be impartial, or even to be good-tempered on the subject. To my thinking, the oppression of the people is a terrible sin; but the depression of the people is a far worse one.”
I agree with Chesterton about modern poetry, indeed most modern (twentieth century and beyond) literature. It’s a question of which came first, depression and degeneration in Western culture which is reflected in the literature, or depression and degeneration in literature which in turn produced at least two, maybe three, generations of depressed, decadent, and sometimes illiterate people. After all, who wants to read about how miserable and corrupt we all are when there is no hope or faith that anything or anyone can fix the mess? (And now I started out discussing modern literature with GKC, and we’re back to God again.)
(p.256) “Through it all he remained totally unaffected by events and as self-effacing as ever. For example, when an enthusiastic reporter asked him which of his works he considered the greatest, he replied instantly, ‘I don’t consider any of my works in the least great.’”
To be able to come up with such an answer”instantly” requires either great humility or great preparation.
(p.295) “Neither was Chesterton embarrassed to be seen laughing at his own jokes. ‘If a man may not laugh at his own jokes,’ he once asked, ‘at whose jokes may he laugh? May not an architect pray in his own cathedral?’”
Again, either humility or a quip waiting to happen.
(p.299) “The aim of life is appreciation; there is no sense in not appreciating things; and there is no sense in having more of them if you have less appreciation of them.”
One could say “joy” (C.S. Lewis) or “enjoying God” (John Piper) instead of appreciation, and mean essentially the same thing. Chesterton seemed to have a gift for gratitude and enjoyment of God’s good gifts.
(p.302) The ignorant pronounce it Frood
To cavil or applaud.
The well-informed pronounce it Froyd,
But I pronounce it Fraud.
No comment necessary.
(p.306) “Most modern histories of mankind begin with the word evolution, and with a rather wordy exposition of evolution . . . There is something slow and soothing and gradual about the word and even about the idea. As a matter of fact, it is not, touching these primary things, a very practical word or a very profitable idea. Nobody can imagine how nothing could turn into something. . . It is really far more logical to start by saying ‘In the beginning God created heaven and earth’ even if you only mean ‘In the beginning some unthinkable power began some unthinkable process.’”
As soon as you admit there is something or someone who is eternal, a Grand Cause or at least Power for the Universe and everything in it, the argument moves to the nature of this Cause or this God. Carl Sagan famously said, “The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” What is this “Cosmos” of Mr. Sagan’s but an impersonal Force that initiates and sustains the universe? We can now discuss whether this impersonal Force or Cosmos makes sense as creator and sustainer and order-er of all that we experience and know to be true and real.
“Nothing comes from nothing–nothing ever could.” ~The Sound Of Music.
And again the God of the Bible makes His appearance, whether we’re discussing evolution or mousetraps or movie musicals. At least, in my thought world, He seems to intrude quite frequently and persistently.
Thank you, GKC, for enriching my thought life today. Thank you, God, for Mr. Chesterton.