Part of my Orthodoxy blogging – Find the entire series here
We go from fairy tales last week to patriotism this week. It’s a different kind of patriotism, though.
[O]ur attitude towards life can be better expressed in terms of a kind of military loyalty than in terms of criticism and approval. My acceptance of the universe is not optimism, it is more like patriotism. It is a matter of primary loyalty. The world is not a lodging-house at Brighton, which we are to leave because it is miserable. It is the fortress of our family, with the flag flying on the turret, and the more miserable it is the less we should leave it. The point is not that this world is too sad to love or too glad not to love; the point is that when you do love a thing, its gladness is a reason for loving it, and its sadness is a reason for loving it more.
This is the kind of upside-down logic that resonates with me all through Chesterton’s writings.
At first, this doesn’t seem to make sense. We do love life because it’s good, but love it more because it’s not good? Really?
[D]ecoration is not given to hide horrible things: but to decorate things already adorable. … People first paid honor to a spot and afterwards gained glory for it. Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they loved her.
It is the love of a thing–a place, in this case–that makes it great. Does this mean the thing cannot be great on its own? Or is Chesterton saying, instead, that we tap into the greatness and make it more by our love? I think, maybe, both.
Chesterton continues by exploring the person he calls the pessimist, who he describes as an anti-patriot or the candid friend.
I venture to say that what is bad in the candid friend is simply that he is not candid. He is keeping something back–his own gloomy pleasure in saying unpleasant things. He has a secret desire to hurt, not merely to help. This is certainly, I think, what makes a certain sort of anti-patriot irritating to healthy citizens.
I read this and had to reread it. Because I see myself in those lines, in that description.
How many times have I been this person? How often do I take that “gloomy pleasure in saying unpleasant things,” whether to my children or to the lady at the store checkout?
The evil of the pessimist is, then, not that he chastises gods and men, but that he does not love what he chastises–he has not this primary and supernatural loyalty to things.
This speaks to me, right now, about the need for me to let go and give so much of what I don’t love to God. If God is love, then He can surely help me in this area. If I truly love, then I’m not being a pessimist when I chastise. But–and this is a caution to me, and especially because of the snarky, sarcastic, mouthy voice that lives in my head–love is best represented by the crucifix, by the dying to self and the embracing of suffering that Jesus shows me.
Love is not blind; that is the last thing that it is. Love is bound; and the more it is bound the less it is blind. …
Before any cosmic act of reform we must have a cosmic oath of allegiance. A man must be interested in life, then he could be disinterested in his views of it. “My son give me thy heart”: the heart must be fixed on the right thing: the moment we have a fixed heart we have a free hand. …
[W]hat we need is not the cold acceptance of the world as a compromise, but some way in which we can heartily hate and heartily love it. We do not want joy and anger to neutralize each other and produce a surly contentment; we want a fiercer delight and a fiercer discontent. We have to feel the universe at once as an ogre’s castle, to be stormed, and yet as our own cottage, to which we can return at evening.
We don’t want boredom. Lukewarmness is, if I’m understanding this correctly, the true evil.
[W]e demand not strength enough to get on with it, but strength enough to get it on. Can he hate it enough to change it, and yet love it enough to think it worth changing? Can he look up at its colossal good without once feeling acquiescence? Can he look up at its colossal evil without once feeling despair? Can he, in short, be at once not only a pessimist and an optimist, but a fanatical pessimist and a fanatical optimist? Is he enough of a pagan to die for the world, and enough of a Christian to die to it? In this combination, I maintain, it is the rational optimist who fails, the irrational optimist who succeeds. He is ready to smash the whole universe for the sake of itself.
And this, I think, is at least one part of why the 40 Days for Life campaign is so successful in converting hearts and minds.
There’s a lot more to this chapter, but the essence of it, for me, had to do with these points.
What struck you? Were you inspired, motivated, confused? Share in the comments!