Friday, June 30, 2006

Gord Wilson on the Chesterton Conference

I received an email yesterday from Gord Wilson. We met at the Chesterton Conference in St. Paul, where we enjoyed a good conversation during the concluding banquet. Gord has posted conference notes on his website; there are short summaries of all the talks, pictures of some of the presenters, and even a picture of a nice couple from Texas (hee hee!).

Gord writes: "The banquet was a lot like GKC's view of the Inn, replete with music, jokes, a catered feast, wine and bon homie. There was also a contest for clerihews, that odd limerick-like form invented by GK and E. Bentley and taking the form AABB. Each evening we night people stayed up nearly all night drinking beer and smoking cigars, hopefully observing GK's dictum, that 'we should thank God for beer and burgundy by not drinking too much of them.' One night I jumped into a great talk with Joseph Pearce and Carl Olson on punk rock and gospel rock, one of my favorite topics. There was also iced tea and homemade wine provided in the daylight hours, along with crackers and cheese. I very much enjoyed the New York contingent who not only seemed to supply an infinite amount of beer but put on a midnight barbeque with dogs on the grill. As GK probably wouldn't say, jolly good show!"

You can read all of Gord's review here.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

C.S. Lewis, GKC, and fairy tales

The fairy tale is a form of literature both Chesterton and C. S. Lewis enjoyed and wrote.

Lewis’ fairy tale series – The Chronicles of Narnia – is, of course, the best known of their works in this field.

In his learned way, he also wrote about fairy tales, providing scholarly analysis.

Chesterton’s comments were no less insightful, but perhaps more easily graspable.

Academic vs. journalist.

I’ll briefly deal with Lewis first.

With a title that says it all, Lewis wrote an essay called “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s To Be Said.”

Gee, the essay itself almost seems anticlimactic!

In the essay (which can be found in Of Other Worlds), Lewis begins by quoting Tasso’s comments that poets “ought `to please and instruct.’” (As I said, Lewis is the scholarly academic.)

He says that good writing (including his own), should be both “pleasing” and “instructing.”

“If only one of these is present, then, so far as I am concerned, the book will not be written. If the first is lacking, it can’t; if the second is lacking, it shouldn’t.”

He points out that children’s literature should not be written with purely pedantic purpose and in a calculated way. As far as his writing for children goes, he says such a notion is “pure moonshines” and notes “I couldn’t write in that way at all.”

He says his own children’s fiction begins with images (Narnia started with an image of a faun carrying an umbrella and parcels in a snowy wood), and that the story takes form around the image, a process he calls “bubbling.”

As for the Christian nature of the Narnia stories, he says he didn’t set out to write Christian stories: “At first there wasn’t anything Christian about them; that element pushed itself in of its own accord.”

Of course, that is only natural as Lewis was a Christian, and that faith formed his thinking. Thus what came out on paper had to grow out of that way of thinking.

As the stories began to take shape, they became fairy tales.

“As these images sorted themselves into events (i.e., became a story) they seemed to demand no love interest and no close psychology. But the Form which excludes these things is the fairy tale.”

He said he fell in love with the “Form” of the fairy tale because of “its brevity, its severe restraints on description, its flexible traditionalism, its inflexible hostility to all analysis, digression, reflections and `gas’.”

The fairy tale form allowed him to present the Christian faith without all the religious trappings (“lowered voices”) that can help to “freeze feelings.” Paradoxically, through the use of fantasy, the elements of faith can become more real.

“But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday school association, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency?”

Which explains his Narnia tales. As for fairy tales (and fantasy) in general:

"At all ages, if [fantasy and myth] is used well by the author and meets the right reader, it has the same power: to generalize while remaining concrete, to present in palpable form not concepts or even experiences but whole classes of experience, and to throw off irrelevancies. But at its best it can do more; it can give us experiences we have never had and thus, instead of 'commenting on life,' can add to it."

I dare say Lewis’ fairy tales have added to many people’s lives.

(Chesterton will be covered in a post this weekend.)

He died a hero

This is the sort of story that gets bandied about a lot in tall tales and urban legends, not to mention books and movies, and it is, as such, something of a delight to discover that it is true, in this case, and impressive to a magnitude that I can not adequately express.
Waldemar Kaminski, who quietly ran a food stand in Broadway Market for more than 50 years, has been revealed to be a self-made millionaire and philanthropist who anonymously gave millions to Buffalo charities and neighbors in need.

He died at home Wednesday night from complications of a long illness. He was 88.

It seems that Mr. (the honorific hardly seems enough) Kaminski had been investing his meager profits in the stock market for decades, reaping modest dividends, and then investing again. This slow but steady process resulted in some enormous capital, when all was said and done. $1,000,000 went towards endowing a pediatric chair at the Roswell Park Alliance Foundation. Another $1,000,000 went towards building a small but lovely park. He also donated extensively to the Salvation Army, the Father Baker Home, and Hilbert College, among others.

And it doesn't stop there. Dozens of people who knew him personally, and could always count on him for help. Hundreds who never met him, but reaped the benefits of his philanthropy. Through it all, Mr. Kaminski toiled merrily along in obscurity, feeling even that the simple and pleasant life he lived was too extravagant to be just.

For he was one who would not, as the saying goes, "look a gift universe in the mouth." His time was spent in fishing, kite-flying and horseplay with his youthful relatives. To simply see people, and the world, and to feel the happiness that can be found therein, was to Mr. Kaminski a gift beyond gratitude. We know this feeling; we have felt it. Chesterton felt it, too.

Hail and farewell, then, to Waldemar Kaminski; requiescat in pace.

[Cross-posted from A Gentle Fuss]

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The New Gods concluded

Rod Bennet offers up the fifth and final part of his look at the new mythology of man.
The paganism of St. Justin’s day was soon supplanted by Christendom—a culture steeped in the Bible. From the Middle Ages to about the beginning of the 20th century, the Bible reigned as the central epic of our culture. We might say that Mythmaking was superceded by the blinding presence of myth-become-fact. But by the turn of the 20th century the Bible had lost this role—the re-paganization of the West had begun. And it’s this re-paganization of our people that has led to the recreation of mythology and it’s return to a central role in the lives of our young people.

Now, undoubtedly it would have been better if this hadn’t happened. But that isn’t the point right now—that ship has sailed. The need for a St. Justin has returned.

Facts and Truth

Dicit ei Pilatus quid est veritas (Jn 18:38)

Alan's post of last Thursday, Still wearing my ID bracelet, sparked some good comments. In the combox, “Chestertonian” mentioned a favorite story of mine: Tolkien's creation myth in The Silmarillion. Tolkien, a man considered here to be a friend of GKC, loved truth, and he loved myth as an expression of truth. The word myth seems to be defined as “a delightful lie” in the mind of many, but it should not have this connotation.

Joseph Pearce, biographer of both Chesterton and Tolkien, was interviewed by James Person for The University Bookman (Fall 2004, link); in the interview Pearce says “What I call Tolkien’s philosophy of myth is the fact that mythology is the only means of expressing adequately metaphysical truth—because truth is metaphysical, facts are physical. Now, let’s go back a step for a moment: G. K. Chesterton wrote, 'Not facts first, truth first.' This is the key thing, because we need to differentiate between facts and truth. Facts in the sense that Tolkien and Chesterton were referring to them are physical realities. Truth is the metaphysical realities that inform the facts.”

John Paul II made a similar point when talking about Biblical interpretation. In an October 1981 address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences he said: “The Bible itself speaks to us of the origin of the universe and its make-up, not in order to provide us with a scientific treatise, but in order to state the correct relationships of man with God and with the universe. Sacred Scripture wishes simply to declare that the world was created by God, and in order to teach this truth it expresses itself in the terms of the cosmology in use at the time of the writer. The Sacred Book likewise wishes to tell men that the world was not created as the seat of the gods, as was taught by other cosmogonies and cosmologies, but was rather created for the service of man and the glory of God. Any other teaching about the origin and make-up of the universe is alien to the intentions of the Bible, which does not wish to teach how heaven was made but how one goes to heaven.” (link)

“Not facts first, truth first.”

I don't know from where this exact quote comes, or even if Chesterton wrote it that way; but it is certainly a good synthesis of what Chesterton wrote. A fact, or a collection of facts, is not the whole truth. Chesterton's interest was in pointing towards the whole truth. In so many things he wrote Gilbert was helping his readers to overcome misconceptions of facts and truths. In his fiction: “'Facts,' murmured Basil, like one mentioning some strange, far-off animals, 'how facts obscure the truth.'” (The Club of Queer Trades); in his philosophy: “I am concerned with a certain way of looking at life, which was created in me by the fairy tales, but has since been meekly ratified by the mere facts.” (Orthodoxy); and especially in his biography St. Thomas Aquinas when Chesterton wrote that St. Thomas “was willing to allow the one truth to be approached by two paths, precisely because he was sure there was only one truth.”

St. Thomas was ready to fight for the doctrine that the Faith and scientific study would not yield two opposing 'truths' (whatever that could even mean); Chesterton thrills us this with the sentence: “So, in his last battle and for the first time, he fought as with a battle-axe.”

The Dumb Ox went off to war, to fight for the Truth, and it seems the battle never ends.

(Nikolay Gay. "Quod Est Veritas?" Christ and Pilate. 1890. Oil on canvas. The Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia. link)

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Feeding the hunger

To add to Furor’s post (below) on the new mythology, Mark Shea has put it very succinctly.
“With the new Superman flick coming out, the fun thing is watching the way in which various folk in our culture, both Christian and non-Christian, approach the obvious Christian parallels in this and other stories.One thing that strikes me is how often a secular film gets praised for drawing from Jewish and Christian roots, while religious films get damned for drawing from those same roots. If you ransack a religious tradition for its symbolism, you are a masterful, allusive and profound storyteller. If you “believe” the things symbolized in that tradition, you are a flat-footed Neanderthal with an Agenda. This suggests to me that our culture hungers for Reality, but simply cannot handle too much of it. Our eyes can bear to look at images of Christ, but not to stare into the full Radiance of He Himself.”

The New Mythology

Rod Bennett of Tremendous Trifles has been posting a series of essays about the "new mythology" of the modern world; Superman, Star Wars, and so forth. Firmly grounded in the present, yet reaching back to the age even before the coming of Christ, it's an analysis well worth your time to read. As an added bonus, Chesterton is quoted with some creditable frequency.

It’s strange but true: Just about every aspect of Our Lord’s life and character is foreshadowed, in some way, in the myths and legends of pre-Christian paganism. This fact was very obvious to people of the 2nd and 3rd centuries. So obvious, in fact, that the pagans often used it as an argument against the Faith! The Christians, after all, spoke of Jesus as a real man, who lived in a certain city, in a certain country, not much more than one long lifetime earlier. And yet it seemed clear to the pagans, that their Christ was just one more example of the typical mythological avatar—just another Icarus or Heracles. Just one more “Corn King”—who dies and rises again, bearing much fruit. And Christ’s teachings seemed to them to echo, at times, the ethics of Zeno or Epictetus.

Well, this is where St. Justin came in…

Be sure to check it out.

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

There's also a quote Rod mentions from the young C.S. Lewis which shall be shockingly familiar to those of you have had any dealings with "young atheists:"
“You know, I think, that I believe in no religion. There is absolutely no proof for any of them, and from a philosophical standpoint Christianity is not even the best. All religions, that is, all mythologies to give them their proper name, are merely man's own invention‑Christ as much as Loki. Primitive man found himself surrounded by all sorts of terrible things he didn't understand...thus religion, that is to say mythology grew up.”
We all know how that turned out, of course, but it's still neat to see such a common and silly position expressed thusly by such a man as he.

Summer reading

Like so many people, I first encountered Chesterton through his Father Brown mysteries.

Although I have gone on to read a number of other works by him – including more Father Brown tales – I have not read any of his other short fiction.

Thanks to Ignatius Press, I intend to remedy that situation this summer - and to drag you along.

Volume XIV of The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton is Short Stories, Fairy Tales, Mystery Stories – Illustrations.

As a bonus, it includes some Father Brown stories, two of which had been “lost.”

The collection includes a number of stories that had been published in various periodicals but not collected previously. The editors note that some of the stories had been published in English editions, but not American editions, and vice versa. The collection also includes stories from his notebooks and some juvenilia.

The stories are dated (where possible) and arranged in chronological order in each of the three sections - "A Potpourri of Tales," "Juvenilia," and "What Might Have Been" (complete stories and fragments from the notebooks).

Over the summer, I will work my way through the stories, then report back periodically with comments and reviews.

Just don't step on his tail

Hearing so much about the Chesterton conference made me sorry I missed it, especially not seeing The Surprise performed. Theatre you see is one of my passions. So here is a story about a play from one of Gilbert’s friends (sort of) that I was evolved with.

One of my paying gigs is that of theatre director/designer at my local community college (small pay-big fun so it balances out). When I first took the job there was only person on campus in charge of the performing arts and she told me I could do any play I wanted, as long as it was not R rated and that I was not to exceed the $500.00 dollar budget and it had to be one that would help build a repeat audience. She handed me a catalog of plays. By the time I got home I knew it had to be a comedy. I opened to that section of the catalog, at random, and at the top of the page was SCREWTAPE a play by James Forsyth based on C. S. Lewis “The Screwtape Letters”. My search was done.

Forsyth had managed to transform the decidedly one way dialog of the SCREWTAPE LETTERS in to a well fleshed out theatrical presentation. Instead of letters, Screwtape ‘came up’ with Wormwood to act as a personal coach. These guys are portrayed as a classic two person comedy act in the Laurel & Hardy mold. When Slumtrimpet enters they become more like the Marx Brothers. These three interact, unseen, by the “patients” providing two plays at the same time or rather being able to see the supernatural influence the natural all working to get Mike to ‘hell’s dinning table’.

Word of warning here: as one reviewer said "purest fans of C.S. Lewis' brilliant, witty "The Screwtape Letters" - 31 epistles of seductive advice from an avuncular old-timer to his naive relative - will likely be disappointed. James Forsyth's 1972 play departs from the original, failing to capture the subtleties of the Lewis satire, a masterpiece of reverse theology." (Aside from that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?) But hey, if it followed the book exactly the show would run over 15 hours. Remember it had to fit the dramatic format and it does that very well combining the satire and slap-stick of the original while not losing the point and providing the trials of the patient as something we can care about. Some of the English idioms had to be Americanized and Forsyth did make a few errors in theology at the end but that was easily fixed.

Warning number 2: The devil can not stand to be mocked and he started trying to stop this play shortly after it was cast. Several professors started that church/state nonsense. I had to speak to the Dean and simply asked him, “Would it be alright if I were to do “Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat or Godspell (yuck)? He said “Yes”, and I said “Then why are we talking?” “Good point” he said, (he was on my side anyway because he loves C. S. Lewis. He just needed a talking point).Things also started happening to my cast. The leading Lady bowed out after the first rehearsal saying that she was sorry but she had fought the devil before and lost and was not strong enough to do it again on purpose. I kissed her on the head and bid her farewell. She was replaced. Next, the cast started getting flat tires on the way to rehearsals, and there were two minor fender benders. I taught the cast St. Michael’s prayer (don’t tell the Dean) and that nonsense stopped. A week before we were to open a cast member quit. I replaced that one with a friend that I knew could memorize the part and pull it off in time. I have never gone through that many cast changes and “accidents” with any other play I have done.

It made me understand why Lewis did not write a sequel. Being that close to the devil is a sticky ugly place to be. The distance between the rehearsal hall and my home is exactly the time it takes to say one Rosary. I did that every night just to feel clean again. I taught two other actors that prayer as well.

For those of you that have been involved with theatre you might recall that sort of thing happens with another play all the time, Shakespeare’s tale of the Scottish King. Theatre people don’t even say the name especially backstage. It has the same effect as saying Voldemort, because the dark arts are in that play too.

All said and done, the play came off as a success. We tripled the previous attendance record. A local convent came – all seven of them and they gave us praise. They even liked pre-curtain song, Bob Dylan's Gotta Serve Somebody.

I have noticed that there are now several theatrical versions of Screwtape out there along with Forsyth’s and his show is getting mounted more now than when it first came out. Keep an eye peeled at the theatres in your area or suggest it to one of them.

Chesterton told us “Nothing succeeds like failure” and Gerald Nachman tells us “Nothing fails like success.” In my case the latter is true. The other production I did last year was The Diviners by Jim Leonard. Not as successful as Screwtape but we hit another box office record. I began looking at the Chesterton plays for this year but that is now on hold. With those successes the performing arts department was taken over by the English Lit dept. a committee will pick the plays with no input from me, “Thank you very much”. A committee is a group of people who know nothing and get together to decide nothing can be done. But I'm not bitter.

Here is my number one pet peeve with English Literature programs: Play scripts are not literature. It’s like teaching about sculpture in a music class because if you hit a sculpture with a mallet it makes a sound. The only similarity between a book and a script is that they both have words on a page. They can not be read as literature. They can not be analyzed, critiqued, enjoyed nor appreciated as literature. A script was written to be preformed not read. A script is at best one third of a completed work - you need actors and a director to fully bring it to life. This is why so many kids hate Shakespeare; they are forced to read it in English class, and rarely, if ever, seeing a production.
A good piece of literature you reread and enjoy the visit but it will give no new surprises on the second reading for the characters are locked into your brain as you have painted them like visiting a very old and dear friend. A play on the other hand can be seen several different times by different troops, the words will remain the same, but nothing else will. Some of the versions you will not like others will astound you. I read a script six times before the first rehearsal in order to figure out how it will look and play out. And yet every time one of the actors will do a certain reading or bit of business I had not thought of and it will be perfect. Theatre is a collaborative art but not a democracy.

On those occasions I have allowed my scripts to be mounted by other directors I am always surprised at the interpretation (as I’m sure Forsyth would have been with mine) sometimes positive sometimes not. That is the beauty of the beast.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Maisie Ward on Gilbert and Woman

Just as a brief follow-up to the last post before I leave for work, here's a noteworthy paragraph from Maisie Ward's Gilbert Keith Chesterton, from the chapter, "Silver Wedding:"
His views concerning the sexes were equally at variance with those of Shaw and of most of the moderns. He was quite frankly the old-fashioned man and Frances was the old-fashioned woman. They both agreed that there is one side of life that belongs to man - the side of endless cigars smoked over endless discussions about the universe. He often said that the important thing for a country was that the men should be manly, the women womanly: the thing he hated was the modern hybrid: the woman who gate-crashes the male side of life: no one, he had said later in a letter of his engagement time, "takes such a fierce pleasure as I do in things being themselves." And both he and Frances found amusement in that "eternal equality" which Gilbert saw in the sexes so long as they kept their eternal separateness. If everything, he said, is trying to be red, some things are redder than others, but there is an eternal and unalterable equality between red and green.
The clarity of that last line is particularly striking to me, and it is one of the very few sections of text I have ever underlined in a book.

GKC: President of the Woman-Hater's Club?

To hear modern thought say it, the answer would be a resounding "yes." After all, here are some of the things he steadfastly refused to affirm:

1. A woman's "right to choose"
2. A woman's duty to work in the corporate world out of spite
3. A woman's right to disdain children, and spend as little time with her own as she can manage
4. A woman's right to be snarky and disrespectful to her husband, while he himself is of course required to treat her like a delicate pagan goddess lest she file for divorce
5. A woman's duty to rebel against any traditional conceptions of womanhood that may still, incredibly, exist

All this, and more, he did not affirm. The world we live in today has brought us to the point where it is not merely enough to "live and let live" with disagreement in principles; either you explicitly promote the agendas listed above, or you are cast off into the outer darkness.

Alan wrote on Saturday of the various ways in which "women's liberation" has come back to enslave women in even worse ways than they felt they were enslaved before. The "supply" of women will decrease as the years go by. That is a fact. The sexual desires of men will not. This is a fact. The idea of women walking around like ancient Arabian god-queens, draped in finery and with mute masculine harems in tow, is a fallacy both in terms of optimism and ethic. If we must refute its optimism, we could suggest observation of how a group of men long in prison reacts to the presence of almost any woman at all. For indeed, this is the mentality that will grow, in the long term, in such men as remain. If we must refute its ethic, we should turn to the likelihood (and it is a strong one) that a decrease in the number of women would lead, if anything, to a resolute strengthening of those women's radical feminist ideals, becoming as they would be a small elite. They would, in essence, rule the world; and it is worth considering the possibility that they would have, rather than harems, no men at all. Radical feminists aren't known for their extravagant promiscuity, whatever their faults may be, and it's unreasonable to think that they would suddenly dole themselves out to a succession of men if they are generally disdainful of even one.

So it is not even a tarnished utopia to which we can look forward, and this generation is steaming full ahead into Moloch and Astarte's waiting arms. The old gods never die; they merely abide. Yahweh knew this, and He knows it still. With every child modern woman commits unto the furnace of convenience or "personal choice;" with every day modern woman crushes her soul and hardens her heart in the corporate world; with every marriage she disolves "without fault," another offering is laid at the foot of the great idol. In a mad rush to defend their honour, many women have forsaken their dignity and their value. It is an instructive and not unrelated truth that both "dignity" and "value" have been dismissed as vacuous fictions by post-modern thought.

Gilbert spoke grandly on all of this and more, most notably in What's Wrong with the World, but also elsewhere. His strongest and most bewildered comments were reserved for those who trumpetted the coming of "equality between the sexes." Such an event, taken to the conclusion its proponents demanded, would be disastrous; and we have seen that it has been disastrous. It is a not a true equality, measuring similarities and differences alike, and coming to a common equation. It is an equality born of the death of distinction. It creates a world in which women try to be hard and manly, and fail everyone; in which men try to be sassy and feminine, and die a little inside with every passing day. Gilbert took great pleasure in "things being themselves," for they're simply no good at being anything else. The results, says he, are ominous:
Men are beginning to revolt, we are told, against the old tribal custom of desiring fatherhood. The male is casting off the shackles of being a creator and a man. When all are sexless there will be equality. There will be no women and no men. There will be but a fraternity, free and equal. The only consoling thought is that it will endure but for one generation.
I do not see in all this a hatred of women, but rather a fierce and almost desperate love for them, motivated in equal parts by duty, reason, compassion and - what is more - the imminent prospect of loss. I can not be accused of being a "church hater" for crying out against seeing my church turned into a brothel. It is no slander on my country if I should implore her to stay true to the principles upon which she was founded.

It is a sad state of affairs, and I can not close on a happy note.

More on the Young Chestertonian Front

While reading coverage of the recent Chesterton Conference over at the blog of the American Chesterton Society, I noticed some references to a gentleman by the name of John who was apparently a blogger himself, and who had made the trip to the Conference with great delight. Following a link provided, I found myself at his own effort, This Red Rock (an Eliot reference, of course), whereupon he has set forth a number of interesting things.

Most notable, from our point of view, is the poetry. John seems to be a firm proponent of the sonnet, and has some considerable skill in the field. His most recent post is a lengthy series of the things, dedicated to the Carmelite Order, and it is simply wonderful to behold.

You can also find plenty of stuff about ChesterCon, economics, and his prodigous summer reading list (plenty of Chesterton and Dickens). He seems to have started posting regularly again since the advent of the Conference, and hopefully this trend will continue. Be sure to stop by and take a look. More encouragement means more posting, after all.


This is just a note to say that there will be something more put up by me (and possibly even by others of our number) later today, so be sure to check back in the evening.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Woman Haters Club

When we finished building the tree house in our yard the first thing my son did was continue the age old tradition of forming a club with his buddies and the first thing they did was hang a sign, “NO GIRLS ALLOWED”. This was ostensibly to keep their sisters out. A small battle ensued, my wife negotiated the peace and all was fine - mostly. That club has now grown worldwide unfortunately it is now the women hanging up the same sign. There is a massive and growing imbalance between the number of men and women in China, India, and other Asian nations resulting from sex-selective abortion. It’s a kind of eugenics Margaret Sanger never saw coming. She once said, "More Children for the Fit. Less for the Unfit." She made it clear whom she considered unfit: "Hebrews, Slavs, Catholics, and Negroes." Now it seams that woman are unfit to live as well, you know, when given the choice.

What do people in modernizing cultures do when they take reproduction out of the hands of God and put it under self-conscious control? In much of Asia, the answer has turned out to be that they have sons. For those conditioned by U.S. abortion politics to think of reproductive choice as always and entirely pro-woman, this is a disconcerting irony, (and I am by far not the first to point this out) One expert has estimated that up to 200 million women are missing from the world because of the kill-the-girls phenomenon, leaving about 200 million men and boys unable to marry over the next 20 years—and growing. With this imbalance: What will be the plot lines of future love stories? Will women be allowed to have more than one husband at the same time? When I lost my first girl friend my dad said, “Don’t worry there are plenty of fish in the sea.” what will future dads say? Will this imbalance make the issue of homosexual marriage moot?

Yet no one is suggesting, to paraphrase Joseph A. D'Agostino, “…any of the genuine, time-tested remedies for this socially destabilizing problem. No one in a political leadership role is suggesting (in public anyway) a cultural return to the celebration of large families nor reducing the massive taxes that have prompted so many people worldwide to limit their family sizes. They don’t even suggest the abolition of China’s coercive one-child-per-family population quota. And never, never would it occur to the progressive mind to suggest encouragement for, and government policies to enable, more women to be homemakers, who tend to have more children than working mothers.”

There is an interesting new field opening up called “The New Biopolitics,” It is based on demographics linked to which country will run out of people first, the last one with the most babies wins. They will be the new world power. (see Jedediah Purdy article) The western narcissist and feminist (the latter is a subset of the former) attitudes being exported world wide is, quite literally, exterminating the Western world. Most of Europe’s birth rate is below replacement level, America is a close second. The only demographic that has a growing birth rate is the Moslem countries. Belloc said in The Great Heresies; “And for my part I cannot but believe that a main unexpected thing of the future is the return of Islam. Since religion is at the root of all political movements and changes and since we have here a very great religion physically paralyzed but morally intensely alive, we are in the presence of an unstable equilibrium which cannot remain permanently unstable.”

Even the UN sees the problem of low birth rates but they are not telling people have more babies they proposes the opposite: A massive feministization campaign.They talk about a strategy for women's empowerment: “Access to family planning,” “job training,” “an exit option from the family”: All these will export to Asia the suicidal birthrates plaguing Europeans and Americans. In fact, anti-family careerist attitudes are already taking hold. Even India’s fertility rate has been falling fast and will be under replacement rate, and thus into suicidal territory, within 20 years or so, according to the United Nations. The problem they believe will be solved with science both the technical and political kind.

From Lecture XXXVI, Eugenics and Other Evils by Dale Ahlquist; “Eugenics is also about the tyranny of science. Forget the tired old argument about religion persecuting science. Chesterton points out the obvious fact that in the modern world, it is the quite the other way around; “The thing that really is trying to tyrannize through government is Science. The thing that really does use the secular arm is Science. And the creed that really is levying tithes and capturing schools, the creed that really is enforced by fine and imprisonment, the creed that really is proclaimed not in sermons but in statutes, and spread not by pilgrims but by policemen - that creed is the great but disputed system of thought which began with Evolution and has ended in Eugenics. Materialism is really our established Church; for the Government will really help it to persecute its heretics.”

I remember, during the height of the ecology movement, a popular T-shirt that read ‘Save the world – plant a tree’. Maybe we should all get T-shirts that say ‘Save the world – get married have babies’.

Friday, June 23, 2006

The Detection Club

Jane Dickinson reviews The Detection Collection, the latest anthology from Britain's Detection Club, in today's Rocky Mountain News:
There's a select club in the mystery world, with membership limited to the great names of British crime writing. Founded by Golden Age greats like Dorothy Sayers and G.K. Chesterton (its first president), the Detection Club now counts luminaries such as P.D. James and H.R.F. Keating among its ranks as it celebrates its 75th year of murder most foul.

According to an afterword in this anthology of short stories by present-day members, it's principally a dining club with traditions that each era reshapes to its own image. The originators required that members had published two detective novels "of admitted merit." They also had a few rules that modern-day writers would do well to heed: those who were chosen had to forego the use in their stories of "Divine Revelation, Feminine Intuition, Mumbo Jumbo, Jiggery Pokery" to solve crimes, while agreeing to use only in moderation "Conspiracies, Death-Rays, Ghosts. . . Trap-Doors. . . Super Criminals and Lunatics."
you can find the rest of the review here

A curious drinking song for your weekend

Here's something light for a Friday. Those of you who have read Belloc's The Four Men should recognise it easily, and those of you who have not should go out and read Belloc's The Four Men. What the song lacks in historical and theological accuracy it makes up for with singability and bewilderment.
Song of the Pelagian Heresy for the Strengthening of Men's Backs and the very Robust Out-thrusting of Doubtful Doctrine and the Uncertain Intellectual

Pelagius lived in Kardanoel,
And taught a doctrine there,
How whether you went to Heaven or Hell,
It was your own affair.
How, whether you found eternal joy
Or sunk forever to burn,
It had nothing to do with the Church, my boy,
But was your own concern.

Oh, he didn't believe in Adam and Eve,
He put no faith therein!
His doubts began with the fall of man,
And he laughed at original sin!

(With my row-ti-tow, ti-oodly-ow,
He laughed at original sin!)

Whereat the Bishop of old Auxerre
(Germanus was his name),
He tore great handfuls out of his hair,
And he called Pelagius Shame:
And then with his stout Episcopal Staff
So thoroughly thwacked and banged
The heretics all, both short and tall,
They rather had been hanged.

Oh, he thwacked them hard, and he banged them long
Upon each and all occasions,
Till they bellowed in chorus, loud and strong,
Their orthodox persuasions!

(With my row-ti-tow, ti-oodly-ow,
Their orthodox persua-a-a-sions!)

Now the Faith is old and the Devil is bold,
Exceedingly bold indeed;
And the masses of doubt that are floating about
Would smother a mortal creed.
But we that sit in a sturdy youth,
And still can drink strong ale,
Oh - let us put it away to infallible truth,
Which always shall prevail!

And thank the Lord for the temporal sword,
And howling heretics too;
And whatever good things our Christendom brings,
But especially barley brew!

(With my row-ti-tow, ti-oodly-ow,
Especially barley brew!)
So, see if you can't drown out the TV at the bar with this one tonight. Far from simply being a pleasant thing to do, you will give the other patrons something they will remember for the rest of their lives, for good or ill.

Still in the Clouds

This is my first post back here since attending the conference last weekend. It was a great experience on so many levels.

I finally met a number of people whom Ive known only through writing or email. Something which struck me was the social levity and upbeat tone of the entire gathering. One would expect that people who come together through their admiration of old books to not be so jovial. Over the course of a lunch strangers often became friends. The presenters and speakers this year included some people with substantial credentials and the same spirit of camaraderie can be extended to them. Whatever accusations of elitism are leveled at "conservatives", I noticed how the speakers casually interacted with conference attendees. I thought it a very rare thing to be able to converse with people of that level in such a setting.

I ramble, this is an event that more people should attend.
I only bought a few books. Got the Chesterton Sherlock Holmes Ive been trying to get for years, I re-purchased Pieper's Leisure, the Basis of Culture( I kept my old one in the garage to read when I took the dog out, lost it when I cleaned out the garage --lost the book, not the dog), also picked up a couple books on the Jesuits in China, and a couple travelogue books by Arbp Sheen.

Have a great weekend.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Still wearing my ID bracelet

Nancy C. Brown, on her great blog about the Chesterton conference, mentioned; “Father Jaki had a small group session on Intelligent Design…Well, Father is very blunt, and he even told us that the bible can't be so correct, which caused people to walk out of the room, because the bible says in Genesis Chapter one that the plants were created before the sun, which we know can't happen.”

That reminded me of a story I wrote for Our Sunday Visitor’s Catholic Answers. It was not an ID piece but an apologetics dialog. This is not the space to publish the whole story but here is an excerpt concerning the third day (plants before the sun). Just another thought to kick around.
Then she asked with a pointed finger, thinking she had me, “But what about the plants without the sun?”
“Yes, that’s a tricky one.” I admitted and went on to explain, “Some call it the day of adornment. The problem I have with that is one does not adorn before the work is done. God said: ‘…Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.’ And it was so. God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. And God said, ‘Let the earth put forth vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, upon the earth. And it was so.’”

“As for the plants without the sun again this is not a problem, because there was light, His first command was "Let there be light"; and there was light. Not as we know light but light none-the-less. If we can thrive in His light surly plants can. So, on this third day there are two things going on here. God is creating the armature, Earth, in which to build his image, and the media, clay, in which to form his magnum opus, Man, ‘…then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground,’. Aside from his physical structure there are other things needed to make man, to keep him going, man needed hope. I see this third day as the first promise of the coming of His Son and the truth of His church that will stand forever. It is not the fruit trees that are important, it is the seed. Since the first readers had an agricultural mindset, they would understand this day as one of hope, of bounty to come, and the promise of salvation. The image of the symbolism of the seed is used throughout both Testaments. The word seed is mentioned more than a dozen times in Genesis alone, from the seed of the land and harvest to the seed between the woman and the serpent and to the seed of Abram. The short sighted ask for food, the intelligent ask for seed, ‘… and give us seed so that we may live and not die, and that the land may not become desolate.’ ”

Ignatius Friends

The new Ignatius Press catalogue is out. Its new books section is packed with GKC and Friend stuff:

The Autobiography of G.K. Chesterton,
Common Sense 101 (Ahlquist's new GKC book),
Narnia & Beyond: A Guide to the Fiction of C.S. Lewis, by Thomas Howard (reprint, I think)
C.S. Lewis: The Man Who Created Narnia, by Michael Coren (a reprint, I think)
Beyond the Wardrobe: The Official Guide to Narnia
Narnia: Official Illustrated Movie Companion
Dynamics of World History, by Christopher Dawson (an ISI Books product)
Shakespeare the Papist, by diehard Chestertonian Peter Milward (a Sapientia Press product)

If you don't get Ignatius Press' catalogue, order one.

Chesterton and the young

One of the things I like to do is to search at random online for mentions of G.K Chesterton.

In a number of search engines like Google, Yahoo and Technorati, he shows up frequently – sometimes as officials sites dedicated to him or mentioning him, mostly as cited quotations.

But sometimes people write more in depth about him, quoting him at length, discussing his ideas, citing books of his they are reading (Orthodoxy seems to be showing up quite a bit lately).

I recently came across this entry by Stephanie in her MySpace blog:

G. K. Chesterton is one of my most favorite authors. It takes patience to read Chesterton because he writes in this long-winded Britishy speak and can drown you in minute details. But, in one of his books, he argues that the nature of the human is closer to the nature of God than to the nature of the animal. Chesterton doesn't base his theory on intelligence. He bases it on the fact that we humans have IMAGINATION. We express ourselves through poetry, stories, artwork, dance, song, and the like.

I think that's beautiful and true.

You can teach a dog to roll over, a parrot to speak, and marvel over the intelligence of the worker ant, but when is the last time a cat painted the Sistine Chapel? So, I say, the more CREATIVE I am the closer I am to God. Ahhh! That makes me even happier to be an artist!

Nice. I chuckled at the mention that he writes in “long-winded Britishy speak.” But her point about imagination is a good one.

A lot of young people are discovering Chesterton. That gives me hope for them – and the future.

In the Catholic world, there is even a youth-oriented Chesterton blog just begun on June 19 – Chesterteens.

Created by Ria, gilbertgirl and Margaret, they describe it as “an unofficial society for teenage Chesterton fanatics.”

In her first entry, Ria wrote, “I hope that I will soon be joined by other Chesterton loving teens This is going to be fun!!!!!”

I certainly hope so. Chesterton can be a lot of fun - even in a "long-winded Britshy speak" way.

Check them out and encourage them. So many blogs start out with grand ideas, then fade as reality (and life) intrude. I hope this is one that will succeed.

This post is brought to you by the word "bigot" ...

Fr. Sean Major-Campbell from the Cayman Islands teaches vocabulary today (with a little help from GKC):
The first word is 'bigot'. It sounds almost like the biblical 'begat'. However these are two different words in spelling and meanings.

A bigot may begat. Conversely many bigots have been begat. A bigot is one whose prejudice is sustained by intolerance for differing views. It does not matter whether the different view is informed by reason, logic, and possibly reality.

Prejudice is for some, a life source. It gives sustenance to nonsense, and it provides bliss for the ignorant. G.K. Chesterton suggests that, "bigotry may be roughly defined as the anger of men who have no opinions."

** don't forget Furor's Chesterton Experiment **

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A Chesterton Experiment

Before doing this exercise, please be sure to read Alan's article for the day, which appears just below this one on the screen.



I'm posting this today because I've noticed that our traffic has grown significantly since the great Chesterton Express rolled into the station, and I think it would be a good idea to make sure that there's more content than usual around here at key points during the week. Wednesday - "humpday" - is one such time. Weekends are another, but we'll address that in times to come.

So, I was reading an old article by Mark Shea lampooning revisionist biblicism and modernity, and found myself thereafter wondering just what I would do if Gilbert suddenly walked through my front door. What would it mean for the world? For me? For history? It's an enormous concept.

So, in lightning fashion, I distilled the essence of this universe-spanning conundrum into a five-point questionnaire. My own answers will be provided below, but I invite any who are interested to respond in the combox with their own ideas.

If you could spend a day with Gilbert, here and now...

1. What would be the first thing you'd say to him on his arrival? What would you talk about thereafter?

2. You need some way to pass the morning before lunchtime; what do you do?

3. What media would you attempt to expose him to in the time you had? Or would you?

4. It's time for dinner; where do you do about it? What do you have?

5. What would be your valediction when the time comes to part?

My own answers to these are:

1. The first thing I would say would be, "Oh God! The surprise!" The time spent thereafter would be devoted to just seeing what he's been up to, what has occasioned his presence, that sort of thing. More intense and self-serving questions can wait for the afternoon.

2. As is traditional (or at least expected), the time before lunch would be spent on a light walk around town to expose Gilbert to the modern feeling, and it, likewise, to him. This could be an occasion for glee as well as sadness, on both our parts, so I should be sure to direct us to a bar for lunch. I would make certain to take him to St. Peter's Cathedral Basilica, in the heart of downtown London (Ontario; it's where I live), to show him that though the main streets may be lost, some medieval virtues live on.

3. I should like to take him to the movies, just for the sheer absurd novelty of the thing, but I don't know if I could bring myself to do it. There are certainly films that I would pay great sums to hear his commentary upon, but the agony of choice here has paralysed me. Let us settle upon showing him What Dreams May Come, then, which in both ethos and delivery has much that he would find familiar, or even pleasant. I would also be certain to demonstrate the Internet to him, and see what he thinks of blogging.

4. The dinner arrangements are something that I simply can not crack. I am no great cook, for my own part, but I feel it would be almost unacceptable to take Gilbert out to a restaurant. In any case, something would certainly be done, and it would certainly involve meat and beer, in the old high way. His opinion on pizza could also be sought.

5. As much as I should like to deliver an oratory of parting that would shake the world, only a simple "thank you" would be appropriate. What else, indeed, can be said?

So, there you go. As I say, be sure to reply to this below with your own ideas. Even if you don't, however, this is still something to meditate upon.

abstinence makes the heart grow fonder

In Chesterton’s book on St. Thomas Aquinas he stated in an explanation of deductive reasoning: “… anybody in his five wits, would of course agree that the conclusion could only be true if the premises were true; and that the more true premises there were the better.” This came back to my mind as I was reading the latest brouhaha on the web about Dawn Eden’s new book The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On.
This book has yet to hit the stores but she went and blog published an excerpt that got the “lattes-and-latex lads and lassies” in an uproar.

Dawn begins with the premise that sex is sacred. She also backs up her premise with Scientific and Sociology studies. Dawn’s premise will lead to the conclusion that all life is sacred. We can come close to true fulfillment by sharing that sacredness in the sacrament of matrimony yet it can not truly be realized this side of the great divide. Life is an exciting adventure.

Her opponents do not begin with a falsehood they begin where all heresies begin with something close to the truth. They begin with sex is good. They back that up with feelings and moods as well as animal biology. Their conclusion ends with life is a commodity. And that achieving sexual pleasure is the end in itself and the only sin is to sleep alone. Life is the hunt.

As St. Thomas points out “A mistake in the beginning is a mistake indeed.”

Chesterton again: “If things deceive us, it is by being more real than they seem. As ends in themselves they always deceive us; but as things tending to a greater end, they are even more real than we think them. If they seem to have a relative unreality (so to speak) it is because they are potential and not actual; they are unfulfilled, like packets of seeds or boxes of fireworks. They have it in them to be more real than they are. And there is an upper world of what the Schoolman called Fruition, or Fulfillment, in which all this relative relativity becomes actuality; in which the trees burst into flower or the rockets into flame.”

I hope Dawn’s book gets a wide reading. Her work along with the work of Jason and Crystalina Evert will help restore sanity for she and they did not make a mistake in the beginning. Where as the “condoms-and-Cosmo coalition” most certainly did.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Conference Review

Last Thursday morning my wife and I left Texas, leaving our children with grandpa and grandma, and headed for St Paul, MN, for our first American Chesterton Society conference. After our cabby took the "long way" from the airport to the St Thomas campus, earning himself at least an extra $17 (read as: one less book that I could buy), we arrived on the wrong side of campus. A kind college student directed us towards the opposite corner of the campus and we set off to join the conference.

After getting checked in and dropping off our luggage we went down to see the action and immediately started recognizing faces: hey there's Fr Jaki! and there's Dale Ahlquist! and there's Joseph Pearce! and look, there's a guy tapping a keg! Nathan Allen graciously provided his homebrew for the conference, brewed under the patronage of Our Lady of Walsingham; I was blessed with the opportunity to drink some of it while visiting with Nathan and with Joseph Pearce, and to talk about important things (like beer). And there was Stilton cheese and homemade wine.

The conference allowed me to put faces with a few names that I see online or in print. Many more writers were in attendance than I was able to meet, but a few people I met whose names you might recognise are: Kyro Lantsberger, Gilbert Magazine columnist (The Battle With the Dragon) and one of the gang here at Chesterton & Friends; David Beresford, Gilbert Magazine columnist (The Flying Inn) of mushroom and mustard fame; Peter Floriani, Dr Thursday of GKC's Favourite, a man of enormous laughter (hee hee!); Nancy Brown, Gilbert Magazine columnist (The Flying Stars) and blogger at TBOTACS; Sean Dailey, editor of Gilbert Magazine, who comments here and there as Chestertonian; and Ted Olsen, of "Four Man Feast" fame, who gave me some tips on cooking the bacon and eggs just right.

A beautiful component of the conference were the book sellers. It was distributivism in practice as the small dealers of books set up their tables for business. Each vendor had his own flavor; I spent most of my book-browsing time in ecstasy at the Notting Hill Books table, which had a beautiful ChesterBelloc section containing many first editions. Gier Hasnes, Norwegian bibliographer of Jilbert [sic], said it succinctly when he asked during his presentation "Don't you want to run out there to the book tables and buy everything before anybody else can get to it?" My wife attended the conference with me possibly for this very reason: to temper my book purchasing. I did manage to take home a very fine hardback of Belloc's The Servile State, and a reading copy of Cruise of the Nona.

Nancy Brown, over at TBOTACS (TEE-bo-tacks ... I made that up; it's not official), made several posts during the conference about the various talks (which were all very well done -- both the talks and Nancy's posts). I won't do the same (but I will say that in The Surprise Dale Ahlquist played a drunk quite well). Instead of telling you about the conference I'll mention a little about the small area of St Paul that I visited. Just prior to the conference I read GKC's Charles Dickens, and this book mentions travel and noticing the "common" things that are different -- not the extravagant things that one might visit but the everyday things. So my senses were a little more attuned to noticing the little things of the St Thomas campus and of the little area of St Paul that I explored. Many things were, to me, surprisingly the same as home. I went North expecting cooler, dryer weather; but was greeted with a warm and humid day that make me think I was still back in Texas. And as I walked across the St Thomas campus there was the ridiculous artwork typical of an university campus. I expected something different and it was surprisingly, almost shockingly, the same. Everybody can notice the odd taste of tap water when visiting a place away from home. Here was something different; each time I took a sip of water it was a surprise, like the man of "artistic temperament" who drank from his water bottle and was surprised to find it filled with wine. Then there was the afternoon I took off for a jog along the Mississippi River Blvd path: a perfect asphalt trail along the river that the locals can take for granted, but I was able to appreciate it. Alongside the asphalt there typically was the dirt path which I and Mr Belloc prefer; in the gutter of the road I passed a dead beaver, victim of a passing car, and I smiled as I noticed that it was not the armadillo typical of Texas roads. The houses along this way were certainly something to look at: a kind of cottage style that were built in the early 1900s; in their yards, when a tree was cut down they were not removed or left as a stump, but instead they were cut six feet tall and carved into sculpture. And then there was the Ford Street bridge over the Mississippi River that I jogged: something used constantly by the locals in cars, but that I could experience as I rather slowly passed across it.

Our stay in St Paul ended with a 6:00 AM ride to the airport with Carl Olson, which was graciously given to us by John & Luba Hickey.

We hope to be back again in 2007.

The Book of Hope

William Bennett quotes Chesterton in his most recent book America: The Last Best Hope:
No small part of the denunciation of Columbus and his successors in our times is an update of the leyenda negra — the Black Legend — that Protestant countries applied to the Catholic Spaniards. As the gifted writer G. K. Chesterton put it, many of the English histories of Spanish exploration and conquest reflected “the desire of the white man to despise the Red Indian and the flatly contradictory desire of the Englishman to despise the Spaniard for despising the Red Indian.”

GKC Maiden

In 1985 the heavy-metal rock band Iron Maiden released an album with the cheerful title, Live after Death. One of the songs included therein bears the title "Revelations"; and barely decipherable there, amid the successive detonations of electric guitar, someone is singing the words of Chesterton's famous 1905 Christian hymn, "Oh God of Earth and Altar."

We don't know whether GKC rolled over in his grave or smiled.

Monday, June 19, 2006

More on Christian Periodicals

This is just a follow-up to Alan's recent post about some of the options that Christians have today with regard to magazines, journals and the like. In addition to the St. Linus Review and Hereditas Magazine, here are ten more offerings you might wish to check out.

Touchstone Magazine - This "journal of mere Christianity" is my favourite of the current crop for a number of reasons. First, the sheer variety of material they cover is excellent. The magazine's raison d'etre is to look at culture in a way that is informed by Christianity, and as such, anything is fair game (with reasonable exceptions). Looking at a back issue I've got here, I can see articles about the overpopulation scare, the problems of television, gender-inclusive mutilation of hymns, a light analysis of Jane Austen, the minority Suriani Christians of Turkey, and one of Mike Aquilina's wonderful patristics pieces. If there's nothing in there that tickles your fancy, or if even the variety of it doesn't, well... I don't know what to say. Anyway, Touchstone is broadly ecumenical, and offers a platform for Christians of all denominations and platforms. I recommend this one heartily.

First Things - This one operates along much the same guidelines as Touchstone does, but with a more overtly political and editorial tone. It's certainly worth checking out, and their website is updated with a truly impressive amount of content on a regular basis.

Christianity Today - A more generally protestant magazine, it nevertheless carries a tremendous amount of information about all sorts of things. I've been particularly impressed with their ability to carry entertaining stories with the same frequency as they do serious and thoughtful ones. And, much as with Touchstone, the topics are as wide as they are interesting.

Dappled Things Magazine - This magazine, with a name from a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem, is a newcomer to the field, and focuses on young Catholic writers, and the issues that concern them. What's more, they offer a truly wonderful selection of poetry and short fiction. They're still trying to get off the ground, so why not head over there and lend your support?

Crisis Magazine - Catholic. Conservative. American. This is some excellent reading, and is absolutely worth your time. Their website boasts an extensive archive of past content, and the magazine itself features regular columns from Maureen Martin, Fr. James Schall and Sen. Rick Santorum. Go for it.

The St. Austin Review - Besides being great fun to read, it is worth noting that the St. Austin Review has some of the most beautiful covers of any magazine going. Apart from that, however, I can tell you that this periodical has a decidedly artistic feel to it, and is often concerned with matters literary and paint-spattered.

Our Sunday Visitor - Offers a wide variety of products and services, including a number of small magazines, books, and a weekly newspaper. I don't have much experience with them, but I've heard good things.

The National Catholic Register - The gold standard of Catholic newspapers. Just go there and check it out; you will not be disappointed. I'm not just saying that because Eric works for them, either. Note: Not to be confused with the National Catholic Reporter, which I'm told can be Problematic in its approaches to some things.

Envoy Magazine - This magazine is devoted to apologetics and, well, arguing with people. That might not be everyone's thing, but you can usually find some good interviews and analyses there.

Gilbert Magazine - Naturally.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Literary Endeavors

One of things that made Chesterton’s time unique was the fact that what he and other Christians wrote about found so many venues of publication. Can you imagine any mainstream publication today publishing their essays? They had many places to work out their view points and style. Literary magazines were also many and varied. True, the web has that availability but there is no admission charge and anyone who has a key board is now a writer.

Today there are few Literary magazines and fewer still for Catholic Christian writers. Magazines are important because they are tangible - you can fold them, put them in your pocket, read whenever or wherever, underline them, cut them out, pass them along or save them. Yes, I know with a few button pushes and PDAs you can do that with the web too but what you do not have with the web is the intimate relationship of touch and smell. As with love, works on paper come to you through all your senses.

I mention all this because we need to support the efforts of those working to put out Literary magazines especially of those of a Christian nature. Here are two:

St. Linus Review. published by William Ferguson. He tells us, this magazine is a place to “Explore the world through the writing of Catholics who see the Faith as an endless inspiration and orthodoxy as the artist's liberator.” St. Linus Review is a semi-annual magazine of poetry, short prose, book reviews and art by orthodox Catholics.

No, really, it’s not just because they publish my stuff it’s a good deal.

The other magazine worthy of note is the young upstart Hereditas Magazine. Its fifth issue is now complete. For us Chestreton Fans the Editor, Colleen Drippe’, tells us, “We have also been so fortunate as to secure two different pieces on that, er, massive subject, Gilbert Chesterton. Allison Thornton, a student of Regina Coeli Online Academy has provided us with an excellent study of Chesterton’s “Ballad of the White Horse”, and Kathy Gavlas (author of “Eagle Mountain”) has written a short piece on Father Brown. So dig in. Read for the Glory of God. It’s lots better than watching television.”

Here is the cover art:

This portrait of G. K. Chesterton, charcoal/pastel on paper, was done especially for Hereditas summer 2006 issue by Joseph Drippe'.

Again it’s not just because I had a small hand in giving birth to this mag and they have used some of my art and writing, Honestly.

Get your subscriptions today- supporting these efforts could bring forth great fruit.

Thursday, June 15, 2006


I am very impressed with the response to our life of GKC series. Some very powerful words were written on equally strong themes.

The timing of this was wonderful in that tonight begins the ACS's Chesterton Conference at the University of St. Thomas. Dale Ahlquist has assembled such lumenaries as Fr. Stanley Jaki, Carl Olson, and Joseph Pearce for this event.

I have to leave early tonight, but I plan on updating all of you through here on this first rate event.

As many of you may have noticed, for as much as Chesterton's defenses of traditional Christianity represent the best ink on paper in this area, I have a great affection for Chesterton the mystery writer. For years, I have had Chesterton's Sherlock Holmes - compliation of essays and GKC drawings of stories from Holmsian canon-- on Christmas wish lists, birthday hint lists, father's day options, etc. I guess I have to just go and buy it myself.

Parting on that theme, I leave an imperfect Clerihew,

Poor Kyro,
is out of luck
trying to get the GKC book on Sherlock.
Have a great weekend.

Reasons to live - GKC style

After the last few weeks of dwelling on GKC’s life, I thought it would be amusing to read one of his reflections on “death” (or at least putting it off!).

A Ballade of Suicide

The gallows in my garden, people say,
Is new and neat and adequately tall;
I tie the noose on in a knowing way
As one that knots his necktie for a ball;
But just as all the neighbours--on the wall—
Are drawing a long breath to shout "Hurray!"
The strangest whim has seized me. . . . After all
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

To-morrow is the time I get my pay—
My uncle's sword is hanging in the hall—
I see a little cloud all pink and grey—
Perhaps the rector's mother will not call—
I fancy that I heard from Mr. Gall
That mushrooms could be cooked another way—
I never read the works of Juvenal—
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

The world will have another washing-day;
The decadents decay; the pedants pall;
And H.G. Wells has found that children play,
And Bernard Shaw discovered that they squall,
Rationalists are growing rational—
And through thick woods one finds a stream astray
So secret that the very sky seems small—
I think I will not hang myself to-day.


Prince, I can hear the trumpet of Germinal,
The tumbrils toiling up the terrible way;
Even to-day your royal head may fall,
I think I will not hang myself to-day.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Art like morality...

The art world has many lines of demarcation, and boundaries as if it were a real kingdom. It did once have royalty but those days are gone. However, it is still a world of battling warlords trying to carve out their little serfdoms, write their manifestos or burn the manifestos of others. Each is positive what they do is right and all else is weak. Nobody knows who rules or who makes up the rules only that there are rules. For the past 100 years or so they are still battling on whether or not photography is art. When does craft cross the line into art? Who gave the guy at the Times the authority to decide what great art is and what is not but more importantly why does anyone listen? It is like Chesterton’s description of the medieval period, “It was not a war of nations; but it was a rather widespread family quarrel.”
Everyone who picks up a brush, pencil or chisel and stands alone before a blank paper or hunk of rock is in the same sibling band. Or it is as in the metaphysical question GKC posed, “Are things so different that they can never be classified; or so unified that they can never be classified?” In aesthetics the answer is; Composition: make exist all together as one. Although Chesterton was not one to talk much about aesthesis I co-opted this GKC quote, “The wedding of Man with God and therefore with nature.” as a better definition of composition.

Elie Faure, a most respected art historian, was trained in medicine. He brought his scientific knowledge to bear in his study of the history of art, (best known is his History of Art (5 vol., 1909–21; tr. by Walter Pach, 1937)). As a scientist he could not help but to put things in classifications and sub categories. And as a scientist his writing definitely lacks soul. And most of his work is clueless as to how an artist thinks and works. He had nothing good to say about either Chesterton’s art or Gilbert’s opinion of modern art, (Time magazine March 1923).

“Once men sang together round a table in chorus; now one man sings alone, for the absurd reason that he can sing better. If scientific civilization goes on . . . only one man will laugh, because he can laugh better than the rest.” (GKC) a quote taken from The Humble Artist a review of Thomas Peters The Christian Imagination:G. K. Chesterton on the Arts By Eric J. Scheske

Faure and other “respected” art historians are like visitors reporting back from a strange planet, since they are unable to speak the language they can only comment on the appearance of things as if that were it’s most important aspect. Chesterton lives on that strange planet. The art historian will talk on and on about the process of seeing where Chesterton would talk about the joy of sight.

Chesterton was first trained as an artist, an illustrator in particular and thus that has been his classification. Illustrators have never been given their rightful place at the table. They are always looking in from the street like N.C. Wyeth and Norman Rockwell to mention a few of the famous examples. The higher up self proclaimed Grand Puba’s in the art world look down on illustrators for two reasons: the first is that their work is a visualization of someone else’s thought and the second is that they can make a living at doing it. This line of thought when carried through makes Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel trite because it is after all just an illustration of the Bible and one in which he was well paid.

In 1892, at the age of eighteen, Chesterton left St. Paul's School. His drawings showed so much talent that it was decided that he should go, not to Oxford, but to the Slade School of Art. It was here that he was asked to write an art criticism paper. The rest as they say is history. It soon became clear that writing, not drawing, was Chesterton's primary talent and unique style. Style can neither be predicted nor imposed it grows organically out of any given epoch reflecting the needs, wants and desires of that epoch. And when the thin core of truth is tapped for all to drink from it transcends that epoch, this is what a genius does.

On modern art Chesterton said: "It was the whole point of Whistler and his school that they produced the picture without troubling about the meaning. We may say it is the point of Picasso and the rest to paint the meaning without troubling about the picture."

Elie Faure says: "Picasso was undoubtedly a great criminal, in the sense that he is largely responsible for the muddle which painting has got into latterly. It is from him chiefly that the younger artists have taken the notion of looking within themselves to interpret the outer world, instead of, like their elders, looking at the outside world to realize themselves. Because oftentimes they are unable to distinguish much of anything within themselves, you know what happens (They get themselves called crazy). That is Picasso's crime."

This is not the space to get into the merits of Picasso but I will say this about him that he became aware of his crime. He saw that young artists were abandoning the pursuit of truth to bow to novelty. Picasso stopped giving sound bites to the media because how they were twisted to the fit the mess others were making. Primarily among them is the notion that if you know what end of the pencil makes a mark you are an artist. This mess, this loss of the reality of absolute universal truth, has led to our current Dark Age of art.

Chesterton prophesized this new Dark Age of art when he discussed the artists of the "newer schools," for whom he sees little hope—“unless the rest of the world goes mad as well. The rest of the world has gone mad.” No, not a new Dark Age but a real Dark Age for the first was not dark at all it was filled with lightness and buoyancy of spirit, (as Chesterton explains in his books on Saints Francis and Aquinas). Why they call it the Dark Age is because it did not have gadgets. Now we have buckets full of gadgets but the world now is very dark and heavy in spirit. We have hardened our hearts. “The swiftest things are the softest things. A bird is active because a bird is soft. A stone is helpless because a stone is hard. The stone by its own nature go downwards, because hardness is weakness. The bird can of its nature go upwards, because fragility is force.” (GKC) Art today has definitely lost its force.

Chesterton’s art is soft and fragile in force. His line is simple and direct. Not unlike the early work of Aubrey Beardsley, like this one:

Beardsley was also an illustrator that I am sure Chesterton was aware. Beardsley’s work became popular and crossed the border of illustrator to “artist” on the weight of his Erotic art. . It was 'shocking' after all.

Chesterton refused to go there. He did not have to. And he wrote much on the debasement of spirit. "The new school of art and thought does indeed wear an air of audacity, and breaks out everywhere into blasphemies, as if it required any courage to say a blasphemy. There is only one thing that it requires real courage to say, and that is a truism."

Another polite stab critics make of Chesterton’s art is they call them “sketches” as if his renderings were not a complete thought. Here is a Picasso quote that I think Chesterton would agree with. “I need long idle hours of meditation. It is then that I work most. I let my mind float like a boat on a current until it gets caught on something. It gets precise.”
Picasso’s Femme et enfant:

This process is well laid out in Orthodoxy. Chesterton’s writing and his art has precision.

The art he did for Belloc’s writings, The Postmaster General in particular, are enjoyable on several levels, first because they are works done for a friend so there is love in them but they are also works of simple and direct line. Line done with strength, power with out doubt, but mostly they contain a sense of mirth and joy that can not easily be found in the work of his contemporaries.

I wonder sometimes what would have happened if Chesterton was introduced to sculpture before writing? I think he would have pursued it because Gilbert was one of those rare individuals that had the ability to think in three dimensions. Then again I’m glad he was asked to write that paper and not to pick up a chisel.

On my sandwich board I wrote ‘Art never hurt anybody” on the other hand words have been know to start revolutions. Chesterton’s words are the fuel for the Christian revolution that will lead us out of this Dark Age.

The death of the man who lived

Today, on June 14th, we come at last to the most dolorous end of the journey that was Gilbert Chesterton's life.

Throughout the course of this venture we have seen him in all his glory, and, what is more from a Christian perspective, his shortcomings as well. We have seen him with his God; we have seen him with his People; we have seen him with his Wife. The three most definitive aspects of Gilbert's life were relationships, and in this we can see even the phantom of advice.

The last days were marked by hardship, but also by triumph. Most importantly for his fans, Gilbert finally completed his infamous Autobiography in 1936, the very year of his passing. It is fortunate indeed for us that this analysis of his own life and times should sneak in, as it were, under the wire. But there is a somber aspect to it. Could it be that, having offered up the tale of his life as he saw it, from start to finish, Gilbert came to feel that there were no more chapters left to write? Was the book as much a valediction as it was a summary of all that had passed?

Whatever the case may be, the Autobiography was the last book he was to write, though one would not know it by reading the thing. There is in that text all of the lively energy of a man of thirty (who has lived, it must be granted, somewhat more broadly than most), and it was taken by those who did not know him well that he remained as spritely as ever he was, faculties blazing and heart burning, ready to lead them even further down the road to roundabout in the years that were to come.

But those who knew him best - and by dint of this knowledge were around him frequently - knew that all was not well. Gilbert lived up to the curse of the most powerful intellectuals: an immortal mind trapped in frail, unsuitable flesh. Thomas Aquinas was similarly afflicted; so too, we might say, is Stephen Hawking. Gilbert was always a big man, as you will recall, but his wondrous bigness was fast becoming too much for a man of his age and health to handle. There had already been serious concerns about the ability of his heart to sustain his form, and his feet to move it about; both of these worries now bore miserable fruit.

More tragic still, his latter days - that time of life often called "the second childhood" - were spent in the shadow of the evident moral collapse with regard to Abyssinia of the Italy he had so loved, as well as the rise of Hitler and all of the evils that would attend that name. His friends and colleagues at his magazine, G.K.'S Weekly, did him no favours with their constant infighting about such looming circumstances, and their constant demands that he arbitrate their disputes added heavily to the burdens he already bore. In a time when a man should be at peace, in reflection on all the good that has come to him, it is poor meat indeed for him to be rather assailed, provoked and dismayed by even those closest to him.

1936 was spent in quietude, broken only by a brief tour of France in an attempt to cheer Gilbert up. The voyage certainly lifted his spirits, but did little to restore his health.

The last days found him confined to his home, frequently to bed. The strain of his constant writing and dictating had led to severe fatigue, and he was frequently found asleep at his desk. Fr. Vincent McNabb was at last summoned, and stood by with Frances when the end was upon Gilbert. There are many stories about these final hours, and all of them are touching. Fr. Vincent kissed Gilbert's writing pen, which lay on a nearby table, never to inscribe again. He also intoned the Dominican Salve Regina over Gilbert's prostrate form, an act that Maisie Ward calls a fitting tribute to "the biographer of St. Thomas."

Reports on Gilbert's last words vary, and I confess that I can find no definitive answer as to what they were. The two competing traditions are both of things that were certainly said by him in those final hours, but I do not know which came first, or which came after. The most likely candidate is his light awakening from his final lapse, turning to Frances and saying, "hello, my darling," and turning to his secretary, Dorothy Collins - for whom both he and Frances felt an almost parental affection - and saying, "hello, my dear."

Maisie Ward's biography suggests, alternatively, that the last from those lips was almost a warning: "The issue is quite clear now. It is between light and darkness and every one must choose his side."

For the man who said so much, in so many paradoxes, it is perhaps fitting that there be some ambiguity as to his last testament on this Earth. Whatever his pronouncement was, however, Gilbert Keith Chesterton passed on June 14th, 1936; a Sunday. The funeral was held in Beaconsfield, at the little church that Gilbert and Frances had so generously helped bring into being. Mourners arrived from all over England, Europe, and the United States. The procession passed in a ramshackle way through the small village, passing the local bars and barber shops that were Gilbert's haunts during his long and pleasant time in town.

He was laid to rest in the churchyard; the spot was marked by a monument produced by Eric Gill, a friend of the Chestertons'. Two years later, Frances followed Gilbert to his rest; Dorothy Collins would live on in Beaconsfield until 1988, when she too went to meet her maker. The two are interred at Gilbert's side.

What can be said about Gilbert Chesterton that has not been said already? The time that my colleagues and I have spent in describing his life to you has been, in many ways, a labour of love. A diversity of interests has given us all our own styles and successes, but our unified admiration for Gilbert has brought us together here and now. In him we have found much more than a great man of letters, a gifted apologist and a man consumed by love. We have found almost the friend we never knew.

This unbridgeable gap between us and him is something that we must bear, and is in itself almost an example of tragedy. Gilbert once wrote, in one of my favourite of his essays, that "if ever there was a woman who was manifestly meant, destined, created, and as it were crying aloud to be carried off by Don John of Austria, or some such person, it was Mary Queen of Scots." The two never met, however, and a similar gloom afflicts us now. If ever there were an age that was manifestly designed, as it were, to be put right by Gilbert Chesterton, it is this one.

And we have met him, make no mistake; but he has travelled beyond the silent sea, where we can not follow. And if we did, we should not return.

So I say to you, my friends: raise your glass tonight, wherever you are, in field or forest, concrete womb or wide-open sky. Raise your glass in tribute to Gilbert, and in tribute to the majesty of God's creation. Gilbert was not the new Adam; that position has been taken, and his successor has done him credit. However, there may be something in him being the new Abel.

So burn, then, solemn and reminscent eyes, as you behold what has been wrought by the century that followed in his stead with all of the envy and ravages of Cain.


Tributes and condolences at the time of his death

The Archbishop of Westminster

Edmund Clerihew Bentley
Robert Lynd, of the News Chronicle
Hilaire Belloc
Fr. Vincent McNabb
J.K. Prothero (Mrs. Cecil Chesterton)
W. R. Titterton
Walter de la Mare
Pope Pius XI


And so concludes our extended look at the life of Gilbert Keith Chesterton, a gentleman of great sense. We invite you to offer up comments about him and his legacy in the combox below, as well as thoughts about this venture in general, or, really, anything you'd like to say at all. If you've been following along, we want to hear from you!

On behalf of Eric, Lee, Alan, Kyro, Joe and myself, I will close by thanking you for reading, and offering up hopes that we will continue to enjoy your custom in the future.