Friday, April 11, 2014

Chesterton / Heretics 1 / Definitions

Ok, as time permits, I do want to re-read G.K. Chesterton, quote him some and ponder what he is saying.

--I rarely re-read books (except for the basics) and re-watch movies, but Chesterton gave me such great belly laughs along with good insights, all in his inimitable fantastic English style, that I consider him worth a second look.  The fact that he is deconstructing 19th century philosophy and evil things such as Eugenics, Marxism and so on, of course, factors hugely, here.

So, let's put some more work into it.

Nothing more strangely indicates an enormous and silent evil of modern society than the extraordinary use which is made nowadays of the word "orthodox."  In former days the heretic was proud of not being a heretic.  It was the kingdoms of the world and the police and the judges who were heretics.  He was orthodox.  He had no pride in having rebelled against them;  they had rebelled against him.  The armies with their cruel security, the kings with their cold faces, the decorous processes of State, the reasonable processes of law--all these like sheep had gone astray.  The man was proud of being orthodox, was proud of being right.  If he stood alone in a howling wilderness he was more than a man;  he was a church.  He was the center of the universe;  it was round him that the stars swung.  All the tortures torn out of forgotten hells could not make him admit that he was heretical.  But a few modern phrases have made him boast of it.  He says, with a conscious laugh, "I suppose I am very heretical," and looks round for applause.  The word "heresy" not only means no longer being wrong;  it practically means being clear-headed and courageous.  The word "orthodoxy" not only no longer means being right;  it practically means being wrong.  All this can mean one thing, and one thing only.  It means that people care less for whether they are philosophically right.  For obviously a man ought to confess himself crazy before he confesses himself heretical.  The Bohemian, with a red tie, ought to pique himself on his orthodoxy.  The dynamiter, laying a bomb, ought to feel that, what-ever else he is, at least he is orthodox.  

(Heretics, introductory comments.)

This opening already gives me such pleasure, that I, for once, am interested in "process" skills.  What did he do here?

He is giving the most basic of all introductions, an exploration of what terms mean, or used to mean.  I remember beginning essays that way in High School.  As he does in many places, he shows how things have been turned upside down.  It always makes you wonder how he can be seemingly the only person who has figured this out or can really show it clearly.

The matter in fact is so preposterous, that one must practically slap one's forehead with the goofy-ness of it all. A man used to be proud of being right and stake his life on it.  Now a man is proud of being "heretical", and does not seem to care whether he is right or wrong, as long as he is dynamiting something.

Of course, it entertains, how Chesterton moves from the kingdoms of the world, the state, the king, the decorous, to the howling wilderness, to the center of the universe, and the swinging stars.  It is beautiful and exciting.  We are with the rebel and his cause.  Indeed, there are weighty matters for which one may stand up and fight.

Contrast this person with the modern "heretic", who is basically looking for applause, or maybe chicks, or who knows what, for being a bad boy. He really looks shabby and tawdry by comparison, in the end. You want to dynamite but for what purpose?  Does it matter if you are right or wrong?

This is really, really good stuff.

For example, when we talk about Luther, we see that he was labeled a "heretic" and excommunicated by the Roman church.  Hence the movement was termed "Lutheran", to signify its heretical-ness.  But the objective of Luther and every Lutheran has ever only been to be "orthodox" and "catholic."  He stood and could do no other.  The people moved with him because he was right.  The time was right.  And a movement born in the monastery and the university resonated with the famous average citizen.   The stars swung around him.  And a heresy it was not that spread like wild-fire.

So much for today.

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