Chesterton, Hitchens, and Joy

“We cannot enjoy thoroughly even a pas-de-quatre at a subscription dance unless we believe that the stars are dancing to the same tune.” ~ G.K. Chesterton, Heretics

An acquaintance once compared Christopher Hitchens, one of the most famous foes of the Faith, to G.K. Chesterton, one of the greatest defenders of it. Hitchens claimed that he wasn’t so much of an atheist as he was an anti-theist, famously pronouncing that religion poisons everything. In contrast, Chesterton wrote that the more he considered Christianity, the more he “found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild.”[1] Still, in this person’s mind, the two were similar: both were wizards with words who enjoyed witty banter, complex prose, big ideas, and strong drink. Both were also journalists and sharp cultural critics.

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C.S. Lewis on Praising God

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“Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And all that is within me, bless His holy name.” ~Psalm 103

In his book, Reflections on the Psalms, Lewis writes that during his journey towards the Christian faith, and even for some time after he arrived, he “found a stumbling block in the demand so clamorously made by all religious people that we should ‘praise’ God; still more in the suggestion that God Himself demanded it.”[1] He writes that the obligation we had to honor God – to attend church where His praises are sung and do our best to join in – seemed to border on ludicrous for a God who also tells us that He needs nothing. From a human perspective, this made God seem petty to Lewis. Why did He demand this perpetual compliment, approval, and honor?

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“The Angry Street”

Capture

“Remember always there is one thing that cannot be endured by anybody or anything. That one unendurable thing is to be overworked and also neglected.”

“The Angry Street”

by G. K. Chesterton

“I cannot remember whether this tale is true or not. If I read it through very carefully I have a suspicion that I should come to the conclusion that it is not. But, unfortunately, I cannot read it through very carefully because, you see, it is not written yet. The image and idea of it clung to me through a great part of my boyhood; I may have dreamt it before I could talk; or told it to myself before I could read; or read it before I could remember. On the whole, however, I am certain that I did not read it. For children have very clear memories about things like that; and of the books of which I was really fond I can still remember not only the shape and bulk and binding, but even the position of the printed words on many of the pages. On the whole, I incline to the opinion that it happened to me before I was born.

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Mere Existence

G.K. Chesterton from his autobiography:

“… I invented a rudimentary and makeshift mystical theory of my own. It was substantially this; that even mere existence, reduced to its most primary limits, was extraordinary enough to be exciting. Anything was magnificent as compared with nothing… At the backs of our brains, so to speak, there was a forgotten blaze or burst of astonishment at our own existence. The object of the artistic and spiritual life was to dig for this submerged sunrise of wonder; so that a man sitting in a chair might suddenly understand that he was actually alive, and be happy…

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Dull as Ditchwater

Euglena rostrifera (Protozoan) from https://www.microscopyu.com/galleries/dic-phase-contrast/pond-life

“If I were to ask myself where and when I have been happiest, I could of course give the obvious answers, as true of me as of everybody else; at some dance or feast of the romantic time of life; at some juvenile triumph of debate; at some sight of beautiful things in strange lands. But it is much more important to remember that I have been intensely and imaginatively happy in the queerest because the quietest places. I have been filled with life from within in a cold waiting-room in a deserted railway junction. I have been completely alive sitting on an iron seat under an ugly lamp-post at a third-rate watering place. In short, I have experienced the mere excitement of existence in places that would commonly be called as dull as ditch-water. And by the way, is ditch-water dull? Naturalists with microscopes have told me that it teems with quiet fun. Even that proverbial phrase will prove that we cannot always trust what is proverbial, when it professes to describe what is prosaic. I doubt whether the fifteen gushing fountains to be found in your ornamental garden contain creatures so amusing as those the miscroscope reveals; like the profiles of politicians in caricature. And that is only one example out of a thousand, of the things in daily life we call dull that are not really so dull after all. And I am confident that there is no future for the modern world, unless it can understand that it has not merely to seek what is more and more exciting, but rather the yet more exciting business of discovering the excitement in things that are called dull.”

~G.K. Chesterton, “What is Right With the World” from The Apostle and the Wild Ducks