Tag Archives: G.K. Chesterton

Anything Worth Doing…

Lord Chesterfield once observed that “whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well.” And to this day, whenever I hear someone repeat that, I feel driven to respond with G.K. Chesterton:  “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”

These are not contradictory statements. They are complementary. But in our efforts to achieve the one, I fear we frequently, and all too deliberately, overlook the other. It’s rather nice to think about something done well. Reflecting on the messy bits beforehand only gives us a headache.

“So pass the aspirin and the beer like a dear chap, won’t you?”

Writers are often guilty of this, especially young writers (and I speak as one of these). Sure, we talk a good game, all about getting our names out there and writing the Next Big Thing. We intend to make a splash. Only instead of picking up the stones and letting fly, we stand slack-jawed on the river bank with our hands in our pockets.

“Not yet,” we say, “not yet. One day, certainly. Just not today.”

So that novel remains unwritten and those notebooks gather dust and ambition is swept under Tomorrow’s rug. We want to spill ink like Bradbury and carve words like Faulkner, but we’re not willing to make fools out of ourselves to get there. We’re not willing to do badly so we can do well.

N.D. Wilson describes this attitude in Death by Living:

My work (entering middle school) clearly did not measure up to the work of C.S. Lewis (or Tolkien). And so I walked away from it, sagely planning to come back to writing later, when my writing would be better (without practice).

Yes. Well. Put it that way and it sounds rather silly, doesn’t it?

Pick up the stones and start throwing. We must write, even when it makes our eyes bleed and our stomachs quiver and our toes curl in revulsion. A lot of it will be dreadful. None of it will be wasted. It’s how we learn. We jump off this cliff and figure out the flying part on the way down.

Chesterfield: “Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well.”
Chesterton: “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”

They say variety is the spice of life. I say paradox is.

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So Long As They Stand Together

“Government grows more elusive every day. But the traditions of humanity support humanity; and the central one is this tradition of Marriage. And the essential of it is that a free man and a free woman choose to found on earth the only voluntary state; the only state which creates and which loves its citizens. So long as these real responsible beings stand together, they can survive all the vast changes, deadlocks, and disappointments which make up mere political history. But if they fail each other, it is as certain as death that ‘the State’ will fail them.”

– G.K. Chesterton, in his essay “Marriage and the Modern Mind”

Thought That Has Been Thought Out

“Philosophy is merely thought that has been thought out. It is often a great bore. But man has no alternative, except between being influenced by thought that has been thought out and being influenced by thought that has not been thought out. The latter is what we commonly call culture and enlightenment today. But man is always influenced by thought of some kind, his own or somebody else’s; that of somebody he trusts or that of somebody he has never heard of, thought at first, second or third hand; thought from exploded legends or unverified rumours; but always something with the shadow of a system of values and a reason for preference. A man does test everything by something. The question here is whether he has ever tested the test.”

– G.K. Chesterton, in his essay “The Revival of Philosophy – Why?”

On Chesterton & Calvinism (From a Lover of Both)

Several weeks ago, a friend of mine expressed interest in my opinion of Chesterton’s thoughts on Calvinism:

Surely you encountered his position while reading Orthodoxy, if not in other places. I would not presume to take every word of his as gospel of course, but if I were Calvinist I would be hesitant to recommend him without a disclaimer, especially considering the influence and effectiveness of his writing. Admittedly I’m somewhat confused by your advocacy of Chesterton (although I obviously encourage it in general).

It’s a good question, and I’ll do my best to answer it as briefly and thoroughly as possible. I suspect there are others who read this blog who may be wondering the same thing.

chesterton1I am indeed aware of Chesterton’s antagonistic attitude toward Calvinism. In Orthodoxy, for example, he asserts that it was Calvinism which drove William Cowper to madness. In Eugenics and Other Evils, he calls Calvinism “immoral” and “the most non-Christian of Christian systems.” How then, as a staunch lover of the historic Reformed faith, can I feel comfortable recommending such works without a booming disclaimer?

It’s very simple, really: as a critic of Calvinism, the Prince of Paradox is a bit of a clown.

Remember the scene in V for Vendetta, where Evey awakes to find the hero fencing with an empty suit of armor? It is all very winsome and dramatic, but of course, it is to battle what O’Doul’s is beer: a complete and utter joke.

A similar thing happens whenever Chesterton takes a swipe at Calvinism: he blusters a lot and tips his nose in the air and generally makes it clear that he doesn’t approve. And then he moves on. He never seriously engages with it mano-a-mano. Perhaps there is an essay somewhere in which he actually plants his foot and does bloody battle to the death over the matter, but in all my reading thus far, I haven’t encountered any such thing.

GKC was never one to dance around the point, so I won’t either: on the subject of Calvinism, the man was hilariously, absurdly wrong. No offense to my dear Reformed Baptist friends, but in the words of Tim Bayly, “Listening to Chesterton on Calvinism is like listening to John Piper (or worse, John MacArthur) on infant baptism.”

Yeah. Hard to take seriously, in other words.

Chesterton’s potshots are so risibly ill-aimed that I am more amused than challenged (let alone concerned) by them. I think it fair to say that Calvinists who know why they are Calvinists will not be knocked out of their position by a bit of rhetorical skylarking.

To Thank Someone

Atheist Bart Ehrman: “I have no-one to express my sense of gratitude to. This is a deep void inside me, a void of wanting someone to thank…”

G.K. Chesterton: “We thank people for birthday presents of cigars and slippers. Can I thank no one for the birthday present of birth?”


Don’t you ever wonder why
In spite of all that’s wrong here
There’s still so much that goes so right
And beauty abounds?

‘Cause sometimes when you walk outside
The air is full of song here
The thunder rolls and the baby sighs
And the rain comes down

And when you see the spring has come
And it warms you like a mother’s kiss
Don’t you want to thank someone?
Don’t you want to thank someone for this?