Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Chesterton 3/ The most practical and important thing about a man is still his view of the universe.

Examples are scarcely needed of this total levity on the subject of cosmic philosophy...  This was certainly not the idea of those who introduced our freedom.  When the old Liberals removed the gags from all the heresies, their idea was that religious and philosophical discoveries might thus be made.  Their view was that cosmic truth was so important that every one ought to bear independent testimony.  The modern idea is that cosmic truth is so unimportant that it cannot matter what any one says.  The former freed inquiry as men loose a noble hound;  the latter frees inquiry as man fling back into the sea a fish unfit for eating.  Never has there been so little discussion about the nature of men as now, when, for the first time, any one can discuss it.  The old restriction meant that only the orthodox were allowed to discuss religion.  Modern liberty means that nobody is allowed to discuss it.  Good taste, the last and vilest of human superstitions, has succeeded in silencing us where all the rest have failed.  Sixty years ago it was bad taste to be an avowed atheist.  Then came the Bradlughites, the last religious men, the last men who cared about God;  but they could not alter it.  It is still bad taste to be an avowed atheist.  But their agony has achieved just this--that now it is equally bad taste to be an avowed Christian.  Emancipation has only locked the saint in the same tower of silence as the heresiarch.  Then we talk about Lord Anglesey and the weather, and call it the complete liberty of all the creeds.
But there are some people, nevertheless--and I am one of them--who think that the most practical and important thing about a man is still his view of the universe.  We think that for a landlady considering a lodger, it is important to know his income, but still more important to know his philosophy.  We think that for a general about to fight an enemy, it is important to know the enemy's numbers, but still more important to know the enemy's philosophy...  In the fifteenth century men cross-examined and tormented a man because he preached some immoral attitude;  in the nineteenth century we feted and flattered Oscar Wilde because he preached such an attitude, and then broke his heart in penal servitude because he carried it out.  It may be a question which of the two methods was the more cruel;  there can be no kind of question which was the more ludicrous.  The age of the Inquisition has not at least the disgrace of having produced a society which made an idol of the very same man for preaching he very same things which it made him a convict for practicing.   (Heretics.  Introductory Remarks)

We have not got very far into the book, but I find the introductory remarks very powerful.

We have ceased taking interest in a man or woman's general outlook on life.  As a society, Chesterton must mean, because, certainly, many of us still take such things into consideration.  For example, I would have never considered marrying a man without a solid church association.  Or, on the other hand, we have made business deals with individuals of different world views and lived to regret this most bitterly.  It turned out that their philosophy had much more to do with how things would turn out than we would have dreamed.  Or there are some people who love to entertain, do arts and write a poetry.  It starts out fun.  When they are on their first beer or glass of wine everyone is thinking well, and the curses are few and far between;  it looks quite sociable.  But the drinking keeps going on, and the conversation, art and poetry degrades. I do not understand how they consider this a positive development of the get-together.  It starts out enjoyable enough, and then when partying is the sole objective, the fun goes right out of it.  It really does, but they don't seem to perceive it as such.  It seems like a different philosophy of social gathering.

Anyhow, this might connect us to Oscar Wilde.  He supposedly died a Catholic convert on his death bed, as I read in "Literary Converts".  I think he is known for pleasure-seeking (I have not read him, at all) and ended up dying somewhat early and destitute.  They also put him in prison.  Apparently he met a sad but Catholic end.    It would indeed be debatable if he had been better off being censured by the Inquisition earlier on.  I believe Chesterton has his tongue somewhat in cheek, but he raises a question.  What is this liberty for?  What is it we are seeking?  Oscar Wilde can't be the example we are trying to follow.

I meet people who are very much dedicated to being gracious.  They are a true salve to my soul.  You meet them here or there, or you  are able to have them as long term friends, if you are blessed so.  We can have a heart to heart discussion, very honest, and I know that they will still love me and be the kindest they can possibly be under the circumstances.  It makes all the difference.  These are the people you can cry with and let it all hang out.  This is what they mean when they say that we want to have and cultivate the mind of Christ.  Graces is at the very bottom of it.  We can always try over.  Underneath are the everlasting arms. (Thanks be to God.)   Chesterton seems very gracious, too, even while sounding quite boisterous.  It is not a contradiction.  Someone can be boisterously gracious.  We see it displayed, here. I like him.

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