Saturday, April 25, 2009

Chesterton at Random

There's an old Christian tradition of when looking for advice or incite just randomly opening the Bible and reading the first passage that strikes your eye.

St. Francis of Assisi - I've just finished rereading Chesterton's delightful book about him - was said to have done that.

I have also done it, not only with the Bible, but also with writers I like. Chesterton is, of course, one of those writers.

Last night I grabbed a volume of the Chesterton's Collected Works - The Illustrated London News 1917-1919 - off the bookcase and popped it open. Here's the passage that his my eye:

"One preliminary point seems to me quite clear. If we are to make any attempt to tolerate all men, we must give up all attempt to tolerate all opinions." - "On `Maltheory'" April 28, 1917

I thought about our own culture - a culture that seems to be taking the opposite tack: Tolerating all opinions, but but not tolerating all people. But when you tolerate all opinions, then those opinions lose meaning - opinion itself loses meaning. We devolve into the realm of rationalizing - if rationalize is an appropriate word when we are abandoning thought - that all actions should be based on feelings. It becomes very much like trying to steer a boat without a rudder - and given our increasing rejection of faith, without sails to catch any wind. We wallow in the doldrums.

Another one of Chesterton's point in the essay is that it is easy to fall into absolutist opinions on issues, and along the way demonizing the other side. Yes, deplore what he does, but not him - "The assertion that the man is possessed of a devil is the only way of avoiding the assertion that he is a devil."

Is Obama a demon? Is Dick Cheney a demon? Is the pro-lifer a demon? The pro-choicer? The Republican? The Democrat? The bishop who does not promote and express the faith in the way we think is right? That rude clerk at the store? The college trustee who messes up our conference?

When we demonize people rather than point to the demonic in their actions, then we lose the ability to tolerate others. If we can no longer tolerate them, them even extreme responses toward them can, in some minds, become tolerable.

The world itself might begin to seem intolerable - and that would be intolerable.


God Almighty said...


Is Cheney a demon?

You bet. With no understanding of the truth nor Humanity. He puts "country" above everything else, which is nationalism at it's worse.
Don't be afraid to condemn when it is deserved.

Peace. Out.

A Secular Franciscan said...

I could describe a person's actions as demonic, certainly, but I would never presume to call a person a demon.