Archives For G.K Chesterton

ID-10075802G.K Chesterton and educational expert Parker J. Palmer might seem like unlikely conversation partners. However, the former draws lines that help frame the concerns of the latter.

As Palmer views it, the ire against subjectivism permeates our world. This, largely, academic angst, favours the glowing promise it sees in objectivism. The problem, according to Palmer, is that objectivism by itself fails. This is because objectivism enforces detachment over and against subjective intimacy.

Palmer lays out his point clearly and with bite: objectivism is objectivity gone mad; ‘no scientist knows the world merely by holding it at arm’s length’ (Palmer, p.55) [i].

Yes. ‘Objectivism set out to put truth on firmer ground than the whims of princes and priests, and for that we can be grateful. But history is full of ironies, and one of them is the way objectivism has bred new versions of the same evils it tried to correct. Two examples come to mind: the rise of modern dictatorships and the character [capacity to kill at great remove] of modern warfare’ (Ibid, pp.53 & 54)

Chesterton’s frame around this is in his discussion on the difference between the globe-trotter and the peasant.

‘He [the globetrotter] is always breathing, an air of locality. London is a place, to be compared to Chicago; Chicago is a place, to be compared to Timbuctoo. But Timbuctoo is not a place, since there, at least, live men who regard it as the universe, and breathe, not an air of locality, but the winds of the world. The man in the saloon steamer has seen all the races of men, and he is thinking of the things that divide men— diet, dress, decorum, rings in the nose as in Africa, or in the ears as in Europe, blue paint among the ancients, or red paint among the modern Britons.’ (Heretics)[ii]

The peasant however,

‘Has seen nothing at all; but he is thinking of the things that unite men— hunger and babies, and the beauty of women, and the promise or menace of the sky.’[iii]

Chesterton paints a picture of those who have become obsessed with empirical perfectionism; those who have lost touch with their subject, ergo, also themselves and a sense of reality. What follows is Chesterton’s solemn prediction that in due time there will be an ‘inevitable war between the microscopic and the telescopic.’[iv]

It might be that the war Chesterton foresees is a battle between progressives and conservatives; one side a stranger to the other, detached from relationship; no longer respectful opponents, but the bitterest of enemies.

It’s here that Chesterton’s connection to Palmer’s objections stands out:

‘The rolling stone rolls echoing from rock to rock; but the rolling stone is dead. The moss is silent because the moss is alive.’[v]

The difference between the moss and the rolling stone is that one is alive, the other isn’t.

Which side of politics is determined to be the rolling stone or the moss is a matter for debate. It seems evident enough, though, that progressive ideology and its servants appear to be more akin to the rolling stone.

‘It is inspiriting without doubt to whizz in a motor-car round the earth, to feel Arabia as a whirl of sand or China as a flash of rice-fields. But Arabia is not a whirl of sand and China is not a flash of rice-fields. They are ancient civilizations with strange virtues buried like treasures. If we wish to understand them it must not be as tourists or inquirers, it must be with the loyalty of children and the great patience of poets. To conquer these places is to lose them. [vi]

In other words, it’s equal with losing an appreciation for the music and mystery of the forest. Replacing it with a stoic view of the forest; its inhabitants, now catalogued, tagged and dissected, have been rendered lifeless.

The forest effectively conquered, is, as Chesterton said, the forest effectively lost.

Palmer’s and Chesterton’s themes are linked by their challenge to the worship of objectivism and blind allegiance to subjectivism. They focus attention on the dangers of preferencing one over the other.

As Palmer notes:

‘’A good case can be made that objectivism, which intended to free people from the clutches of arbitrary power, has sometimes conspired with other forces to deliver modern people into the clutches of totalitarianism. As people became convinced that objective answers to all questions were possible – and as specialists emerged who were glad to give those answers – people began to distrust their own knowledge and turn to authorities for truth. Thus the stage was set for “authorities” with a political agenda to seize power at moments of social vulnerability’ (Palmer, pp.53-54)

This is Palmer’s objection to absolute objectivity.

It gets especially relevant when raised up against slander and malicious selectivity. A selectivity that has no regard for the double standard it just created or endorsed. As long as it gets what it wants and appears morally superior by doing it.

Such as, the abuse hurled at Christians, who vote against gay marriage with a reasoned and loving “no,” and yet are berated as extremists, hater’s et.al. The double standard goes unnoticed. Christians almost every day have to tolerate the intolerant misuse of the name, Jesus Christ, in a large part of the workplace, society, and the entertainment that society sells.

Those seeking balance are quickly shamed into silence. For the progressives nothing but total, blind loyalty is accepted; all disagreement is unwelcome and usually punished. The irony is that such intolerance is of little consequence to those who pride themselves on their own stand against intolerance.

As for historical examples: consider Trotsky’s exile and later execution. Alongside Stalin’s photo shopped rewrite of Russian history, which sought to erase Trotsky in order to seal Stalin’s authority.

Both sides of the political spectrum are open to the temptation of overemphasising subjectivity or objectivity. I’m not arguing that they don’t. What I am suggesting is that Chesterton and Palmer both identify a problem when servitude to progressive ideology becomes, win-at-any-cost. Here we find the rumblings of protest against a total reliance on ‘hard science’ and the disempowering of that which is called ‘soft science.’ (Palmer, p.54)

For academics an ‘overemphasis on objectivity is engrained in technique and method.’ (Palmer)

In contrast, for non-academics, the imbalance between the objective and subjective leans more towards an overemphasis on the subjective.

Even so, the modernist ire against subjectivism favours the glowing promise they see in objectivism. Consequently, it’s impacting every part of our post-everything milieu.

Among the more recent and raw examples includes the industrial scale slaughter of unborn babies. The sole objective view justifies the violent removal of a baby from the mother’s womb. It does this by hiding facts and redefining the language, in order to further detach citizens from the truth and its reality.

If Palmer is right about the dangers of an overemphasis on objectivity, then there needs to be a balance; as in a speech that has balanced Aristotle’s logos, ethos and pathos. We are less likely to get lost, be convoluted or seem lifeless. Without this balance, we will remain worn down, detached and divided. Finding ourselves looking down the barrel towards Chesterton’s war between the telescopists and the microscopists, where through coercion rather than persuasive, reasoned debate, we are enslaved to human ideas and insecurity. Sentenced to constantly second guess ourselves and reject truths that have been proven trustworthy. This impact on our thinking affects how we vote, what we learn, who we listen to and ultimately, who we will serve.


Sources:

[i] Palmer, P.J. 1998 The Courage to Teach: “A Culture Of Fear” Jossey-Bass

[ii] Chesterton, G.K. 1905 Heretics, Catholic Way Publishing

[iii] Ibid. p.24

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid.

Image courtesy of Rawich at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

IMG_3628At a recent family event, the person I was talking with deliberately identified themselves as a “progressive”.

It seemed odd to me that this person felt the need to qualify their ideological position. Based on his choice of words and a few popular socio-political slogans dropped in between them, his position was clear enough.

It’s how things are. Although there was polite disagreement, I didn’t fall in line with the controlling socio-political narrative. Consequently, I was treated as dim-witted and ignorant.

I even attempted to shift topics, mentioning that my father had passed away in March, but that was only met with silence and indifference.

I wasn’t hurt or at all that surprised. In other non-face to face conversations a lack of respect and sense of superiority has always tainted his participation in our conversations. In this instance, however, he came across as arrogant. Even if he was making a strong effort to conceal contempt for my questions and tentative conclusions, it was clear that my educated theological position was considered unscientific and therefore, illegitimate; of no value.

I was curious about why he was comfortable with dismissing my theologically trained position, and yet confident about his own knowledge of theology; mostly sentimental fragments of information, drawn from his youthful association with a church .

I walked away with the strong impression that he was uninterested in my position. He appeared hypocritical and prejudiced against anything a thinking Christian might have to say or offer.

This is nothing new. It’s a bit like what G.K Chesterton experienced at the turn of the 19th and 20th Centuries.

Experiences which lead him to write observations like this:

 ‘In the Catholic twelfth century, in the philosophic eighteenth century, the direction may have been a good or a bad one, men may have differed more or less about how far they went, and in what direction, but about the direction they did in the main agree, and consequently they had the genuine sensation of progress. But it is precisely about the direction that we disagree. Whether the future excellence lies in more law or less law, in more liberty or less liberty; whether property will be finally concentrated or finally cut up; whether sexual passion will reach its sanest in an almost virgin intellectualism or in a full animal freedom; whether we should love everybody with Tolstoy, or spare nobody with Nietzsche;— these are the things about which we are actually fighting most.’ (Heretics, 1901, pp.15-17)[i]

Chesterton falls into three categories. Insightfully relevant: elements readers cannot help but agree with. Intensely relevant: the wordy elements that unsettle even the most devoted of his fans. Irritatingly relevant: elements that make a whole lot of sense, but would be cast aside because they speak too loudly against certain predominant socio-political agendas.

Reading Chesterton is a lot like reading Jean Bethke Elshtain, Albert Camus, Hannah Arendt, or the anti-Nazi theologians Karl Barth or Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Their works are better savoured, than rapidly devoured.

They’re part of a movement and a counter-movement. Each unsettling us as we are directed in heart, thought and attitude towards something not of this world – pointing us to the God who, in the world through covenant and Jesus Christ, speaks to humanity from outside humanity. Humanity can never speak this Word to itself or by itself. It can only speak God’s Word in reference to where, when, how, who and what, God has first chosen to speak it. God’s Word; His grace and law comes to us – encounters us. It’s possible to say that genuine progress is framed and protected by law, but brought to life by grace.

Like conservatives, progressives don’t own the concepts of progress, tolerance, emancipation, compassion, enlightenment, grace or even charity. No creature, without the Creator, can truly claim them, or truly offer them, without eventually perverting progress, turning it into a lordless and tyrannical task-master instead of a servant.

As Chesterton said,

 ‘Progress, properly understood, has, indeed, a most dignified and legitimate meaning. But as used in opposition to precise moral ideals, it is ludicrous. So far from it being the truth that the ideal of progress is to be set against that of ethical or religious finality, the reverse is the truth. Nobody has any business to use the word “progress” unless he has a definite creed and a cast-iron code of morals. Nobody can be progressive without being doctrinal. For progress by its very name indicates a direction; and the moment we are in the least doubtful about the direction, we become in the same degree doubtful about the progress. Never perhaps since the beginning of the world has there been an age that had less right to use the word “progress” than we […] It is not merely true that the age which has settled least what is progress is this “progressive” age. It is, moreover, true that the people who have settled least what progress is, are the most “progressive” people in it. The ordinary mass, the men who have never troubled about progress, might be trusted perhaps to progress.’ (ibid)

In sum, you don’t have to be a progressive, to be for progress.


Notes:

[i] Chesterton. G.K. 1901, Heretics Catholic Way Publishing. Kindle Ed. (pp, 15-17).

 

Chesterton is almost always good Winter reading:

Sometimes the best business of an age is to resist some alien invasion; sometimes to preach practical self-control in a world too self-indulgent and diffused; sometimes to prevent the growth in the State of great new private enterprises that would poison or oppress it. Above all it may sometimes happen that the highest task of a thinking citizen may be do the exact opposite of the work which the Radicals had to do. It may be his highest duty to cling on to every scrap of the past that he can find, if he feels that the ground is giving way beneath him and sinking into mere savagery and forgetfulness of all human culture.’ [i]
– (G.K Chesterton, 1911 Charles Dickens: Appreciations and Criticisms )

Simplicity

 


Source:

[i] Chesterton, G. K. 1911 Charles Dickens: Appreciations and Criticisms: Child’s History of England Waxkeep Publishing Kindle Ed.

 

Self doubt and/or limitations inherited from an abusive past do not mean that you are incapable of meeting resources and ability, with ambition.

‘An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered’ [i]

“I tried to find religion…”

When I reached out, they just cut and ran. No money, only ashes; no status, only trouble; a no-name from a fatherless family tree.

Nothing they could leach from. Deemed ungifted; nothing they could market from.

So they shut the doors, turned the lights out and pretended not to know.

I tried to find religion…

Instead…God found me.

‘My imperfect prayer,
our unkempt words,
our wandering hearts,
our broken selves,
our arrogant thoughts,  
our noiseless words,
my eyes are toward you,
O God, my Lord; in you I seek refuge; leave us not defenceless
and…
may we pass safely by’
(Psalm 141 paraphrased)


Source

[i] Chesterton, G.K. All Things Considered, ‘On Running After One’s Hat’ Kindle Ed. p.41

Song: We As Human {featuring Lacey Sturm}, ‘Take the Bullets Away’