Tag Archives: G.K. Chesterton

The Profound Unnaturalness of Sin

Sin is profoundly unnatural. It is the intruder, it is the defiler; it is the fox in the henhouse and the leaven in the bread. But in the event that these illustrations simply aren’t “doing it” for you, I turn the floor over to Arthur Machen. His classic fantasy-horror story The White People opens with a striking reminder of just how unnatural sin really is:

“And what is sin?” said Cotgrave.

“I think I must reply to your question by another. What would your feelings be, seriously, if your cat or your dog began to talk to you, and to dispute with you in human accents? You would be overwhelmed with horror. I am sure of it. And if the roses in your garden sang a weird song, you would go mad. And suppose the stones in the road began to swell and grow before your eyes, and if the pebble that you noticed at night had shot out stony blossoms in the morning?

“Well, these examples may give you some notion of what sin really is.”

As Chesterton would say, this is a white world with black spots, not the other way around. Let us never forget it. There will come a day when it will be made completely white again.

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A Chestertonian Valentine’s Day

From the essay “A Defense of Rash Vows”

The revolt against vows has been carried in our day even to the extent of a revolt against the typical vow of marriage. It is most amusing to listen to the opponents of marriage on this subject. They appear to imagine that the ideal of constancy was a yoke mysteriously imposed on mankind by the devil, instead of being, as it is, a yoke consistently imposed by all lovers on themselves. They have invented a phrase, a phrase that is a black and white contradiction in two words – ‘free-love’ – as if a lover ever had been, or ever could be, free. It is the nature of love to bind itself, and the institution of marriage merely paid the average man the compliment of taking him at his word. Modern sages offer to the lover, with an ill-flavoured grin, the largest liberties and the fullest irresponsibility; but they do not respect him as the old Church respected him; they do not write his oath upon the heavens, as the record of his highest moment. They give him every liberty except the liberty to sell his liberty, which is the only one that he wants.

From the essay “Two Stubborn Pieces of Iron”

Very few people ever state properly the strong argument in favor of marrying for love or against marrying for money. The argument is not that all lovers are heroes and heroines, nor is it that all dukes are profligates or all millionaires cads. The argument is this, that the differences between a man and a woman are at the best so obstinate and exasperating that they practically cannot be got over unless there is an atmosphere of exaggerated tenderness and mutual interest. To put the matter in one metaphor, the sexes are two stubborn pieces of iron; if they are to be welded together, it must be while they are red-hot. Every woman has to find out that her husband is a selfish beast, because every man is a selfish beast by the standard of a woman. But let her find out the beast while they are both still in the story of ‘Beauty and the Beast.’ Every man has to find out that his wife is cross – that is to say, sensitive to the point of madness: for every woman is mad by the masculine standard. But let him find out that she is mad while her madness is more worth considering than anybody else’s sanity.

Hubris, Fences, and Fools

It’s good to pause every now and then to appreciate the genius of a great essayist. And Dr. Theodore Dalrymple is a great essayist. This, from the preface to Our Culture, What’s Left of It:

… critics of social institutions and traditions, including writers of imaginative literature, should always be aware that civilization needs conservation at least as much as it needs change, and that immoderate criticism, or criticism from the standpoint of utopian first principals, is capable of doing much – indeed devastating – harm. No man is so brilliant that he can work out everything for himself, so that the wisdom of ages has nothing useful to tell him. To imagine otherwise is to indulge in the most egotistical of hubris.

Another great essayist? G.K. Chesterton. This, from “The Drift from Domesticity”:

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principal; a principal which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, ‘I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.’ To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: ‘If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.’

This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody.  And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious. There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease. But the truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, or that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which are no longer served. But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has somehow sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion.

Connections. One of the greatest joys to be had in reading.

In Which Chesterton and Phil Robertson Mix

So much ink has already been spilled about Duck Dynasty and A&E that spilling a drop more could very well result in some kind of cosmic implosion. Besides, by most internet standards, I’m inexcusably late to the party – the guest everyone sniffs at, as they wonder why he bothered showing up at all.

But what the heck. I’m going to show up and spill ink anyway.

Chesterton observed that “when somebody wishes to wage a social war against what all normal people have regarded as a social decency, the very first thing he does is to find some artificial term that shall sound relatively decent.” Hence in the war on marriage, we find ourselves confronted with an ever evolving Lexicon of Politically Correct Newspeak, jam-packed with nice-sounding words and phrases for that which is utterly disgusting.

As a culture, we wolf this sort of thing down. Why? Because the aberrancy of sin is always easier to countenance under a thick layer of psuedonymous goop. Sodomy is no exception. We’d rather not think about what the homosexual act actually involves, so we avoid anything that might remind us of it, even accidentally. We go out of our way to tippytoe. And when everybody tippytoes, the man who puts his foot down is promptly knifed in the back (most often by the purveyors of tolerance).

Phil Robertson put his foot down, and everyone heard the crunch. To hell with the eggshells. To hell with the Keepers Thereof. All our carefully-manicured genteelism – all the euphemisms we put in place to protect ourselves from what is – all of that just took a load of birdshot in the hindquarters, and the shooter was a redneck from Louisiana.

I tip my hat to you, sir.

“Gloria in Profundis”

There has fallen on earth for a token
A god too great for the sky.
He has burst out of all things and broken
The bounds of eternity:
Into time and the terminal land
He has strayed like a thief or a lover,
For the wine of the world brims over,
Its splendour is split on the sand.

Who is proud when the heavens are humble,
Who mounts if the mountains fall,
If the fixed stars topple and tumble
And a deluge of love drowns all –
Who rears up his head for a crown,
Who holds up his will for a warrant,
Who strives with the starry torrent,
When all that is good goes down?

For in dread of such falling and failing
The fallen angels fell
Inverted in insolence, scaling
The hanging mountain of hell:
But unmeasured of plummet and rod
Too deep for their sight to scan,
Outrushing the fall of man
Is the height of the fall of God.

Glory to God in the Lowest
The spout of the stars in spate –
Where thunderbolt thinks to be slowest
And the lightning fears to be late:
As men dive for sunken gem
Pursuing, we hunt and hound it,
The fallen star has found it
In the cavern of Bethlehem.

– G.K. Chesterton