Conceit and Caricature
1 week ago
I WAS reflecting in the course of the recent feast of Christmas (which, like other feasts, is preceded by a fast) that the combination is still a puzzle to many. The Modernist, or man who boasts of being modern, is generally rather like a man who overeats himself so much on Christmas Eve that he has no appetite on Christmas Day. It is called being In Advance of the Times; and is incumbent upon all who are progressive, prophetic, futuristic and generally looking towards what Mr. Belloc calls the Great Rosy Dawn: a dawn which generally looks a good deal rosier the night before than it does the morning after.-- G.K. Chesterton, The Thing, "The Feasts and the Ascetic"
-- G.K. Chesterton, from The Wild Knight, 1900The Christ-child lay on Mary's lap,
His hair was like a light.
(O weary, weary were the world,
But here is all aright.)
The Christ-child lay on Mary's breast,
His hair was like a star.
(O stern and cunning are the kings,
But here the true hearts are.)
The Christ-child lay on Mary's heart,
His hair was like a fire.
(O weary, weary is the world,
But here the world's desire.)
The Christ-child stood at Mary's knee,
His hair was like a crown.
And all the flowers looked up at Him,
And all the stars looked down.
I do not think that I myself was ever very much worried about Santa Claus, or that alleged dreadful whisper of the little boy that Father Christmas "is only your father." Perhaps the word "only" would strike all children as the mot juste.-- G.K. Chesterton, Autobiography
Economic freedom allows for independent sources of wealth to counterbalance political power and to nourish a pluralistic society. When the state owns or exerts undue control over banking, credit, telecommunications, or newsprint, for example, it controls not only economic activity, but expression as well. It has taken the world far too long to recognize the truth in the statement of early 20th-century writer Hilaire Belloc that "the control of the production of wealth is the control of human life itself."(eJournal USA: Issues of Democracy. Dec 2005. link)
Something in the Christmas season rightly tempts us to such sentimental gilding, just as something in the Christmas season tempts us—awk!—to the chaotic chiasmus of this kind of fake-Chestertonian prose, every sentence an aphorism eased along by alliteration’s artful aid, until the words clot up in a giant Christmas pudding that subsides with a half-baked sigh as it cools upon the table. “I’m sick of Chesterton,” F. Scott Fitzgerald has Amory Blaine complain in This Side of Paradise. From January to November, the style of G.K. Chesterton may go down easy. But around Christmas, while the streets jingle with Salvation Army bells and the elevators jangle with Muzaked carols, it’s just too much. Just too much.
... recurring moments of joy and the sustained impact of George MacDonald's Phantastes, which Lewis said "baptized" his imagination, convinced him that there was in reality something to be sought and found.
... Lewis's Oxford friend Owen Barfield convinced him that if physical reality is all there is, thought itself (being a mere byproduct of matter) would lack validity and significance. To maintain his [W.T.] Kirkpatrick-inspired quest for a rational account of reality, Lewis saw that he must believe, as he later expressed in Miracles, that "reason is something more than cerebral bio-chemistry."
... in the mid-1920s, through the impact of friends and of G.K. Chesterton's The Everlasting Man (1926), he found himself thinking that "Christianity was very sensible apart from its Christianity."
... Certainty about the Incarnation came two ... after a late-night talk with J.R.R. Tolkien gave him the idea that the pagan dying-and-rising-god myths were "good dreams" given by God to prepare the ground for myth to become fact in Jesus of Nazareth.
Come snow! where fly, by some strange law,
hard snowballs -- without noise --
through streets untenanted, except
by good unconscious boys.
The first thing [Belloc] attacks in Wells's [Outline of History] is the beginning, which treats of the origin of life. Belloc describes Natural Selection, the theory to which Wells held, as "dead."
The "well-educated" modern reader will smile at this out-of-touch crank...but I wonder what this reader would think if he ever got to the appendix, where Belloc quotes several eminent scientific contemporaries, saying quite clearly that Natural Selection was an inadequate explanation for evolution. Belloc may have been wrong, but it was not a matter of "him and William Jennings Bryan" vs. "Science". There seemed to be a great deal of "science" on his end of things; just what on earth was happening back then, anyway? We can be sure that if there ever was some academic reaction against Darwinism during which it became unfashionable, the Darwinian propagandists have smoothed over this little bump in Progress. Or did it never happen? Was every one of those professors Belloc quoted simply a crank? I have my doubts.
We had talked for about half an hour about politics and God; for men always talk about the most important things to total strangers. It is because in the total stranger we perceive man himself; the image of God is not disguised by resemblances to an uncle or doubts of the wisdom of a moustache.This sounds a bit like blogging, does it not?
Malcolm Muggeridge's Christian conversion and late-life reception into the Catholic Church -- his "media discovery" of Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and related events -- were iconic for a generation of believing Christians, of all denominations, throughout the English-speaking world and beyond. Yet how many know who led that notorious stray sheep into the Catholic fold? It was his son, John, and John's wife, Anne -- whose own husband had been her most remarkable convert.
I could assemble a chorus-line of people to affirm that John was the kindest, sweetest, most decent human being ever. I heard several argue that he was a saint -- long before we were ever grieving. But the John I knew, and well, was no saint by natural disposition. He so much loved the world, and everything that was beautifully small; but he was equipped with no more than the standard human conscience. What made him "unnatural," as it were, was the recklessness with which he acknowledged Christ.
Recently, in these columns, I've been touching on the old political puzzle of "church and state." But while meditating on the life of John Muggeridge, as I have been doing inevitably since watching him die, a key to this relation has come home to me. It is that, in church and state alike, there must be an overarching appreciation of the importance of personal holiness. Without this, we have a dog's life, and there is nothing for church nor state to cherish.