Thursday, March 24, 2022

A Reflection on Andy Rooney and Chesterton


I’ve been reading a collection of short essays by the late Andy Rooney. Anyone familiar with his short commentaries for years on 60 Minutes will find these essays true to form.

I always enjoyed his commentaries. Yes, he was frequently cranky and a bit of a curmudgeon, but so am I.

When I think of the two men, I can imagine Rooney yelling at the kids to get off his lawn, while Chesterton would amble out and join in whatever game the young folks were playing.

As I read, I was suddenly reminded of the essays of G.K. Chesterton. No, not that Chesteron was cranky or a curmudgeon. He was passionate about issues and ideas, but he never showed in his writing the suggestion of anger that underlies some of Rooney’s. And their writing styles are very different. Colloquial language has changed over the years, and Rooney’s writing appeals more to a contemporary American audience demanding short sentences and simplified language. Rooney’s essays are also short when compared with Chesterton’’s. Again, shortness is more the style of contemporary Americans who are more used to sound bytes than sound explanations. Indeed, some of Rooney’s essays seem to end abruptly, almost at a point where Chesterton would just be warming up. And consequently, Rooney’s essays, while they often make valid points, don’t go far enough, certainly not to the depth of thought and insight a Chesterton essay offers..

But there were some things in Rooney’s essays that did remind me of Cheterton’s.

Rooney, like Chesterton, viewed himself as primarily a journalist.

While Rooney could be cranky with an edge of anger, he never seemed mean-spirited, even in criticizing others. In that, he was like Chesterton, who often made good friends of his foes.

The essays also tend to be very personal in nature - much as were so many of Chesterton’s. In the middle of a discussion of some international subject Rooney will suddenly insert a personal experience or memory inspired by the subject at hand.

But what struck me as most similar is that Rooney, like Chesterton, writes about everything, even commonplace seemingly trivial things. He does not necessarily celebrate them as Chesterton does, but he certainly is aware of them in a way most of us are too busy or oblivious to do so. In this particular collection, Rooney expounds on going to the dump, cookies, music, the Super Bowl, newspapers, cooking, semicolons, baseball, cars, and more. I don’t know if he ever wrote about things he found in his pocket, but you never know.

And as he writes about all these seemingly trivial things he often uses them as starting points to ruminate about the world and human nature. Indeed, as happens in some Chesterton essays, when you get to the end you have almost forgotten what he was originally talking about.

Of course, unlike Chesterton, he tended to focus on the negative, If, for example, both men ate a breakfast cereal, Chesterton would probably celebrate the creativity that went into making that cereal and use that as a jumping off point to expound on human creativity in general, while Rooney would more likely wonder about the chemicals and additives in the cereal and the possible negative effects of eating that cereal on his waistline.

I like both writers. I enjoy reading both. But I also recognize that while the essays of Rooney are of their time, the essays of Chesterton are timeless.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

G.K. Chesterton Became Catholic 100 Years Ago, Drawn in by Jerusalem and Our Lady

"On July 30, 1922, at the Railway Hotel, in Beaconsfield, England, G.K. Chesterton became a Catholic. In the absence of a local Catholic church, the Railway Hotel’s Irish landlady had allowed the ballroom to be converted into a makeshift chapel. It was there, beneath a corrugated-iron roof and surrounded by bare wooden walls, the 48-year-old writer entered into full communion with the Church.

What were the reasons for Chesterton taking this step?

And, given his thought and writings on Christianity for many years, why had it taken him so long? ..."

Monday, March 14, 2022

Tom Baker Clerihew

As an actor, Tom Baker
was more of a character than a heart-breaker.
But I think his Doctor is worthy of a clerihew,
even though at mention of his name some folks just say, Who?"

Robert Burns Clerihew

Robert Burns
hid behind some ferns.
He feared that he might be shot
by the husband of an auld acquaintance he forgot.

Thursday, March 03, 2022

Judgment for Planned Parenthood

 “God Himself will not help us ignore evil, but only to defy and to defeat it.” 

I was recently watching Judgment at Nuremberg. If you have never seen it, it's a powerful film with some fine performance. Indeed, Maximilian Schell won the Academy Award for Best Actor. Interestingly, after finishing this move he portrayed Saint Joseph of Cupertino in The Reluctant Saint. Saint Joseph was not a bright light - and I couldn't help but wonder if Schell was inspired in any way by the nominated (as Best Supporting Actor) portrayal of a developmentally limited man by Montgomery Clift in Judgment at Nuremberg.

The movie raises  number of moral issues, including the culpability of government officials who did nothing to oppose the growing evil - and indeed were often complicit in it. The four judges on trial in the movie all had "rational" explanations for their crimes, including that they were willing to sacrifice people for the good of the nation.

The movie also addressed the issue of people who say they did not know the evil that was going on.

That ignorance may have been due to a number of causes.

Some people might  have been genuinely ill-informed, isolated, impoverished, caught up in mere survival, or mentally challenged that they really did not know. I have sympathy for them.

Others are harder to excuse.

Some people were lazy and relied on others to keep them "informed."

Some people deliberately tried to avoid becoming informed.

Some people were aware - partly, or wholly - but chose denial.

Some people were aware - partly or wholly - but chose to lie.

Some people were aware - partly or wholly - but were too afraid of potential repercussions to do anything. 

Some people simply didn't care.

The degree of quilt varied. Certainly the men on trial in the movie deserved to be sentence to prison. But the people of Germany - indeed, of the world - who allowed this evil to occur were not exempt from blame. 

As the Chesterton quotation that begins this post suggests, God is not on the side of those who ignore evil - for whatever reason. We are called to recognize and reject evil, not to wallow in ignorance. Indeed, as he observed, “We cannot be vague about what we believe in, what we are willing to fight for, and to die for.”

The movie and the cooperation with evil of so many people reminded me of the evil of abortion in our country. Some people have been directly involved in the killing of more than 60 million babies. Some allowed it to continue through elections, their refusal to acknowledge what organizations like Planned Parenthood really do, and by their failure to act to change the culture and the laws.

Too often they plead that they did not or do not know. Too often, they do nothing to become informed. And they allow the supporters of abortion to justify it because it is supposedly better in some way for individuals, society, the economy, and so on. Some call it a right, or a good thing.

It's like a 1984 twisting of language. 

We are seeing what Chesterton noted: “Men do not differ much about what things they will call evils; they differ enormously about what evils they will call excusable.”

Although some involved with abortion have faced charges for related crimes, it is unlikely that others will face a tribunal like that depicted in the movie for the crime of abortion itself. After all, as those accused in the film could legitimately contend about what they did, while it may be a crime against humanity, it is legal. 

And those who plead ignorance will not be confronted with the evil they tried to ignore.

At least not in this life.

For in the end, there will be a Final Tribunal that with render a Final Judgment.