The problem is that finding the time to do it well has been more of a challenge than I anticipated – given that, and the serious issues in the news at the moment, I’m kind of avoiding finishing it.
So instead, today I’m posting some weekend G.K Chesterton lite.
For an academic, he appears free of the quest to be liked, shared or even celebrated. Not being one to take himself too seriously, Chesterton is a reminder that serious reflection in life involves laughter, not just clinical-objective observation. More than this, he understood that the space and time we allow for laughter in our relationships is often way too small. Often, it is something temporary, lost to the impact of distraction; a casualty of circumstance.
He wasn’t fond of what he calls ’intellectual fog’[i]. (A term of his that I’m fond of, and one that pretty much describes the dangers of academic arrogance[ii]. This means anything that sucks the beauty and benefit out of reading, involving the form, content and unreasonable criticisms/suspicions applied to a text – e.g.: ad hominem, reductio ad absurdum et.al).
Most of us would agree on this point: that copious amounts of data (images) being fed through our technologically intertwined lives can weigh us down.
When this happens we should be careful to not let the intellectual fog ‘creep up the street; and put out lamp after lamp.’[iii]
In order to do this, when the time comes, we might aim at being more generous with our laughter. With the full understanding that just as the tears and sighs of broken hearts can move grief up through our lungs right towards the ears of God. Tears can also be the result of our hearts being reoriented towards joy.
In the light of Chesterton’s ability to see past his own ego and that of his peers and by employing such things as humour to do so, he, in my view, avoids being neatly packaged into any box of anti-intellectualism.
Perhaps when critics of Chesterton talk about him in this context, they might actually be missing the dry humour in some of Chesterton’s criticism of unnecessary over-sophistication.
‘I was sharply reminded that I had entered Babylon, and left England behind. The waiter brought me cheese, indeed, but cheese cut up into contemptibly small pieces; and it is the awful fact that, instead of Christian bread, he brought me biscuits.
Biscuits–to one who had eaten the cheese of four great countrysides! Biscuits–to one who had proved anew for himself the sanctity of the ancient wedding between cheese and bread! I addressed the waiter in warm and moving terms.
I asked him who he was that he should put asunder those whom Humanity had joined. I asked him if he did not feel, as an artist, that a solid but yielding substance like cheese went naturally with a solid, yielding substance like bread; to eat it off biscuits is like eating it off slates.
I asked him if, when he said his prayers, he was so supercilious as to pray for his daily biscuits. He gave me generally to understand that he was only obeying a custom of Modern Society. I have therefore resolved to raise my voice, not against the waiter, but against Modern Society, for this huge and unparalleled modern wrong.[iv]’
This weekend why not take a deep breath, exhale gently, and with me, consider the reasons why the world needs to constantly be reminded of Barth’s admonition that:
‘Those who cannot sigh with others and laugh a little about themselves are warmongers[v]’
[i] Chesterton, G.K 1910, Alarms and Discussions: ‘Cheese’ Kindle Ed.441-448(‘Alarms and Discursions’ 1910, Kindle Ed. 441-448)
[ii] Chesterton, G. K. The Essential G. K. Chesterton Collection (400+ works) (Illustrated) (Kindle Ed. 2009 Loc. 7613-7614)
[iii] Ibid, ‘Science and art without morality are not dangerous in the sense commonly supposed. They are not dangerous like a fire, but dangerous like a fog. A fire is dangerous in its brightness; a fog in its dullness’
[iv] Chesterton, G. K. What I saw in America. Prohibition in Fact and Fancy: The Essential G. K. Chesterton Collection (400+ works) (Illustrated) (Kindle Ed. 2009. Locations 68335-68336)
[v] Barth, K. 1961 der götze wackelt (The Idol Wobbles – exact translation T.B.C) Insights, (Selected by Ebherhard Busch, 2009) Westminster John Knox Press p.12
(h/t to Ben @ Faith & Theology, where I first read about Chesterton’s ‘Alarms and Discursions’)
Image credit: ‘Lighting Decor’, Courtesy of FeelArt