"Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly." – G. K. Chesterton

Posts tagged ‘Christianity’

Yet more Chesterton on Chesterton

I have often had a fancy for writing a romance about an English yachtsman who slightly miscalculated his course and discovered England under the impression that it was a new island in the South Seas. I always find, however, that I am either too busy or too lazy to write this fine work, so I may as well give it away for the purposes of philosophical illustration. There will probably be a general impression that the man who landed (armed to the teeth and talking by signs) to plant the British flag on that barbaric temple which turned out to be the Pavilion at Brighton, felt rather a fool. I am not here concerned to deny that he looked a fool. But if you imagine that he felt a fool, or at any rate that the sense of folly was his sole or his dominant emotion, then you have not studied with sufficient delicacy the rich romantic nature of the hero of this tale. His mistake was really a most enviable mistake; and he knew it, if he was the man I take him for. What could be more delightful than to have in the same few minutes all the fascinating terrors of going abroad combined with all the humane security of coming home again? What could be better than to have all the fun of discovering South Africa without the disgusting necessity of landing there? What could be more glorious than to brace one’s self up to discover New South Wales and then realize, with a gush of happy tears, that it was really old South Wales. This at least seems to me the main problem for philosophers, and is in a manner the main problem of this book. How can we contrive to be at once astonished at the world and yet at home in it? How can this queer cosmic town, with its many-legged citizens, with its monstrous and ancient lamps, how can this world give us at once the fascination of a strange town and the comfort and honour of being our own town?

To show that a faith or a philosophy is true from every standpoint would be too big an undertaking even for a much bigger book than this; it is necessary to follow one path of argument; and this is the path that I here propose to follow. I wish to set forth my faith as particularly answering this double spiritual need, the need for that mixture of the familiar and the unfamiliar which Christendom has rightly named romance. For the very word “romance” has in it the mystery and ancient meaning of Rome. Any one setting out to dispute anything ought always to begin by saying what he does not dispute. Beyond stating what he proposes to prove he should always state what he does not propose to prove. The thing I do not propose to prove, the thing I propose to take as common ground between myself and any average reader, is this desirability of an active and imaginative life, picturesque and full of a poetical curiosity, a life such as western man at any rate always seems to have desired. If a man says that extinction is better than existence or blank existence better than variety and adventure, then he is not one of the ordinary people to whom I am talking. If a man prefers nothing I can give him nothing. But nearly all people I have ever met in this western society in which I live would agree to the general proposition that we need this life of practical romance; the combination of something that is strange with something that is secure. We need so to view the world as to combine an idea of wonder and an idea of welcome. We need to be happy in this wonderland without once being merely comfortable. It is THIS achievement of my creed that I shall chiefly pursue in these pages.

But I have a peculiar reason for mentioning the man in a yacht, who discovered England. For I am that man in a yacht. I discovered England. I do not see how this book can avoid being egotistical; and I do not quite see (to tell the truth) how it can avoid being dull. Dulness will, however, free me from the charge which I most lament; the charge of being flippant. Mere light sophistry is the thing that I happen to despise most of all things, and it is perhaps a wholesome fact that this is the thing of which I am generally accused. I know nothing so contemptible as a mere paradox; a mere ingenious defence of the indefensible. If it were true (as has been said) that Mr. Bernard Shaw lived upon paradox, then he ought to be a mere common millionaire; for a man of his mental activity could invent a sophistry every six minutes. It is as easy as lying; because it is lying. The truth is, of course, that Mr. Shaw is cruelly hampered by the fact that he cannot tell any lie unless he thinks it is the truth. I find myself under the same intolerable bondage. I never in my life said anything merely because I thought it funny; though of course, I have had ordinary human vainglory, and may have thought it funny because I had said it. It is one thing to describe an interview with a gorgon or a griffin, a creature who does not exist. It is another thing to discover that the rhinoceros does exist and then take pleasure in the fact that he looks as if he didn’t. One searches for truth, but it may be that one pursues instinctively the more extraordinary truths. And I offer this book with the heartiest sentiments to all the jolly people who hate what I write, and regard it (very justly, for all I know), as a piece of poor clowning or a single tiresome joke.

For if this book is a joke it is a joke against me. I am the man who with the utmost daring discovered what had been discovered before. If there is an element of farce in what follows, the farce is at my own expense; for this book explains how I fancied I was the first to set foot in Brighton and then found I was the last. It recounts my elephantine adventures in pursuit of the obvious. No one can think my case more ludicrous than I think it myself; no reader can accuse me here of trying to make a fool of him: I am the fool of this story, and no rebel shall hurl me from my throne. I freely confess all the idiotic ambitions of the end of the nineteenth century. I did, like all other solemn little boys, try to be in advance of the age. Like them I tried to be some ten minutes in advance of the truth. And I found that I was eighteen hundred years behind it. I did strain my voice with a painfully juvenile exaggeration in uttering my truths. And I was punished in the fittest and funniest way, for I have kept my truths: but I have discovered, not that they were not truths, but simply that they were not mine. When I fancied that I stood alone I was really in the ridiculous position of being backed up by all Christendom. It may be, Heaven forgive me, that I did try to be original; but I only succeeded in inventing all by myself an inferior copy of the existing traditions of civilized religion. The man from the yacht thought he was the first to find England; I thought I was the first to find Europe. I did try to found a heresy of my own; and when I had put the last touches to it, I discovered that it was orthodoxy.

– G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Who is G. K. Chesterton? (Part 5)

(Continued from part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4)

Parts 3 and 4 were all about Chesterton’s religion.  As we’ve said, it’s vital to understand that because Chesterton’s Christianity determined everything else that he believed.  We also mentioned common sense; Chesterton used common sense to determine which religion to follow.  Having done that, he then used common sense to interpret Christianity.

To begin with, Chesterton liked poor people.  He phrased it most commonly as support for “the common man”, the ordinary, hard-working folks who make up most of the population.  He did not do this based on an abstract notion of equality, but rather his position flowed from his religion.

“Carlyle said that men were mostly fools. Christianity, with a surer and more relevant realism, said that they were all fools. This doctrine is sometimes called the doctrine of original sin. It may also be described as the doctrine of equality among men.

Like so many Chesterton quotes, this one carries so much wit that one can easily miss the wisdom.  Christian belief in original sin simply means that nobody is perfect, and if nobody is perfect then there’s no basis for elevating one ruler or a small group of elites over everybody.  The common man has flaws–unlike Tolstoy, Chesterton did not naively  belief that farmers and other ordinary folk were immune to alcoholism, boorishness, or other vices–but by and large, the common man can be trusted to control himself, to maintain good traditions and folk wisdom, and to be kind to others.

If he liked the poor, he also disliked the rich and powerful.  He issued many famous epithets again them:

It is terrible to contemplate how few politicians are hanged.

The rich have been the scum of the earth in every nation.

Quotes like that might suggest an overdoes of vitriol, particularly to those not familiar with Chesterton’s sense of humor.  But, once again, his views were grounded in Christian belief.

I know that the most modern manufacture has been really occupied in trying to produce an abnormally large needle. I know that the most recent biologists have been chiefly anxious to discover a very small camel. But if we diminish the camel to his smallest, or open the eye of the needle to its largest —if, in short, we assume the words of Christ to have meant the very least that they could mean, His words must at the very least mean this—that rich men are not very likely to be morally trustworthy.The whole case for Christianity is that a man who is dependent upon the luxuries of this life is a corrupt man, spiritually corrupt, politically corrupt, financially corrupt. There is one thing that Christ and all the Christian saints have said with a sort of savage monotony. They have said simply that to be rich is to be in peculiar danger of moral wreck.

If we judge all things on earth by secular, worldly standards, then we have no choice but to crown those who have the most of something worldly, whether it be money, fame, power, or something else.  Christianity suggests an otherworldly standard that looks down on the worldly ones, and thus gives even the poor a grounds for criticizing the powerful.  From this Chesterton got a firm grounding for analyzing and judging society and anything in it.

Coming first and looming largest on Chesterton’s enemies list were wealthy corporate barons.  He once referred to

a most monstrous and mythical superstition of Adam Smith;
a theological theory that providence had so made the world that men
might be happy through their selfishness; or, in other words,
that God would overrule everything for good, if only men could
succeed in being sufficiently bad.

The results were plainly visible.  In Chesterton’s time, millions of people were forced into dreary and dangerous factory jobs; crammed into unsafe, overcrowded factories; overworked; underpaid; exploited; and denied even as much freedom and dignity as the poor of earlier centuries have received.  Chesterton knew this was wrong.  That was common sense at work as well.

Early in his life, Chesterton had been a socialist, seeing in government seizure of property the solution to the woes of the industrial revolution.  There were many such groups running around England in the early twentieth century, though they never grew powerful enough to seriously challenge the power structure.  Soon, however, Chesterton realized the danger of having the government control all property.  It would not actually restore freedom to the working poor, but would simply substitute one ruling elite for another.  By his 30’s, when he began writing his most famous works, Chesterton had fully rejected socialist ideas.

In its place he put a new economic theory called “distributism”.  He did not invent it, as some believe, but he did a great deal to popularize it.  The concept at the heart of distributism is private property.  Capitalism gives private property to a select few and socialism gives it to none, but distributism would allow all, including the poor, to own houses, as well as farms and shops if they so desired.  Chesterton argued that no one could truly be free without property, because they’d always be dependent on some powerful institution for food, shelter, and other needs.  In addition, he believed in the ‘good fences make good neighbors’ concept.  A family that owned its own home had the ability to do as it pleased within the confines of that home.  Once eliminate property and push people together in public and their freedom is greatly reduced.

For the truth is, that to the moderately poor the home is the only place of liberty. It is the only spot on the earth where a man can alter arrangements suddenly, make an experiment or indulge in a whim. Everywhere else he goes he must accept the strict rules of the shop, inn, club, or museum that he happens to enter. He can eat his meals on the floor in his own house if he likes. I often do it myself; it gives a curious, childish, poetic, picnic feeling. There would be considerable trouble if I tried to do it in an A.B.C. tea-shop. A man can wear a dressing gown and slippers in his house; while I am sure that this would not be permitted at the Savoy, though I never actually tested the point. If you go to a restaurant you must drink some of the wines on the wine list, all of them if you insist, but certainly some of them. But if you have a house and garden you can try to make hollyhock tea or convolvulus wine if you like. For a plain, hard-working man the home is not the one tame place in the world of adventure. It is the one wild place in the world of rules and set tasks. The home is the one place where he can put the carpet on the ceiling or the slates on the floor if he wants to.

In the century since Chesterton wrote this, both big business and big government have grown much bigger, in England and America and any nearly other country you care to name.  Moreover, they do so not as enemies, which is what many commentators want you to think, but as two fused parts of a single machine, working to suck money and power into itself.  Chesterton predicted this as well.  He understood that distributism, unlike capitalism or communism, could never be imposed from on high.  The people would have to choose it.  Although we have not chosen it en masse, there has been some movement towards appreciating smallness and individuality in the past generation.  A small slice of our culture is reorienting itself around the family farm and the family business, and Chesterton would certainly smile to see it.


Who is G. K. Chesterton? (Part 4)

(Continued from part 1, part 2, and part 3.)

Part 3 dealt with Chesterton’s religion.  Before going on to other topics, we must say a little bit more about this one.  We’ve already noted that Chesterton had a rational faith in Christianity.  He found that Christianity corresponded with all the basic facts that he could observe in the world around him.  He was excellent with logic and had a keen ability to reduce an argument to its fundamentals and then point out it flaws.  In this way he sliced through the arguments of lesser thinkers like a hot knife through butter.  One of Chesterton’s two top influences was Saint Thomas Aquinas, the great medieval monk whose philosophy treatises gave the logical underpinnings for Christian dogma.

But if Chesterton was sure and thorough in providing reasons for his beliefs, he also knew that strict logic alone was not the answer to human existence.  He lived at a time–the late 19th and early 20th century–when doubt and skepticism were rampant in the intellectual world.  Bold, brainy men were promoting Marxism, Freudianism, social Darwinism, postmodernism, and more other -isms than anyone could count.  Chesterton was aware of them all and tackled them one by one.  However, he didn’t just crush their results but investigated their philosophical underpinning.  Beneath each one he found the same rotten foundation, namely an absolute rejection of tradition and religion coupled with total dedication to materialist thinking.  If so many bad ideas emerged from the same source, it was reasonable to conclude that the source itself had a problem.  As he put it:

Let us begin, then, with the mad-house; from this evil and fantastic inn let us set forth on our intellectual journey. Now, if we are to glance at the philosophy of sanity, the first thing to do in the matter is to blot out one big and common mistake. There is a notion adrift everywhere that imagination, especially mystical imagination, is dangerous to man’s mental balance. Poets are commonly spoken of as psychologically unreliable; and generally there is a vague association between wreathing laurels in your hair and sticking straws in it. Facts and history utterly contradict this view. Most of the very great poets have been not only sane, but extremely business-like; and if Shakespeare ever really held horses, it was because he was much the safest man to hold them. Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Poets do not go mad; but chess-players do. Mathematicians go mad, and cashiers; but creative artists very seldom. I am not, as will be seen, in any sense attacking logic: I only say that this danger does lie in logic, not in imagination. Artistic paternity is as wholesome as physical paternity.

Having thus identified the problem, Chesterton offered a solution with an -ism of his own.

Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity. The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic. He has permitted the twilight. He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland. He has always left himself free to doubt his gods; but (unlike the agnostic of to-day) free also to believe in them. He has always cared more for truth than for consistency. If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them. His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his physical sight: he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that. Thus he has always believed that there was such a thing as fate, but such a thing as free will also. Thus he believed that children were indeed the kingdom of heaven, but nevertheless ought to be obedient to the kingdom of earth. He admired youth because it was young and age because it was not. It is exactly this balance of apparent contradictions that has been the whole buoyancy of the healthy man. The whole secret of mysticism is this: that man can understand everything by the help of what he does not understand. The morbid logician seeks to make everything lucid, and succeeds in making everything mysterious. The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious, and everything else becomes lucid.

Here, in one masterful stroke, Chesterton defeats the charge that religion is irrational.  Strict, dogmatic adherence to logic while excluding all else is illogical.  True rationality means acknowledging that the world is just slightly too complicated to be squeezed into a strict logical scheme.  In this way, Chesterton married rational faith to mysticism, and the creative tension that results from these two underpins everything that Chesterton believed.
In these quotes, both taken from the first chapter of Orthodoxy, we see Chesterton defending “religion”, and one might get the impression that he was a fan of all religions as long as they opposed the destructive force of materialism.  This would be entirely wrong.  The abstract concept of “religious tolerance”, the notion that all religions are fundamentally alike, was among his favorite targets for attack.

We talk much about “respecting” this or that person’s religion; but the way to respect a religion is to treat it as a religion: to ask what are its tenets and what are their consequences. But modern tolerance is deafer than intolerance. The old religious authorities, at least, defined a heresy before they condemned it, and read a book before they burned it. But we are always saying to a Mormon or a Moslem–”Never mind about your religion, come to my arms.” To which he naturally replies–”But I do mind about my religion, and I advise you to mind your eye.”

And  he also noted:

Historians seem to have completely forgotten the two facts– first, that men act from ideas; and second, that it might, therefore, be as well to discover which ideas.

Recall that Chesterton was a big fan of common sense.  That all religions are the same, or close to the same, or the same in their major points, or that they teach the same morals, is obviously nonsense.  Different religions teach vastly different things: different theologies, but different morals as well.  Chesterton was not afraid to right about religion.  He looked carefully at what the various religions believed and responded to them.  In some cases he was not afraid to label ridiculous claims as such.  If Christian Scientists insisted that all disease was purely spiritual and thus shouldn’t be treated with medicine, that’s crazy and Chesterton said as much.  If Mormons claimed that God favored polygamy until the year 1890 and then changed His mind, that’s absurd and Chesterton said so.  He also didn’t hesitate to connect the dots between religious beliefs and visible results.  If Hinduism caused millions to suffer under the caste system or Islam produced a large number of violent fanatics, he made the connection bluntly.

In addition, Chesterton had strong opinions about the correct interpretation of Christianity.  Some churches he opposed.  Calvinism was one another of his favorite targets; he viewed Calvinist belief in an all-powerful God and a helpless humanity as cruel and dehumanizing.  He was keenly aware of Christian history and knew exactly when, where, and why each tenet of Orthodox Christianity came from.  He also understood their implications.  Just as he could draw the lines between other religions and their results social effects, he also knew why the unique aspects of western society were inexorably woven together with Christian beliefs.  Hence Chesterton’s religious standpoint was inseparable from his social, political, economic, and even artistic mores.

Who is G. K. Chesterton? (Part 3)

(Continued from part 1 and part 2.)

Let’s begin by reviewing two main points.  First, Chesterton wrote an enormous amount of stuff covering almost any topic that you could name.  Second, Chesterton’s goal was to help the reader see what was unseen, not because it was hidden, but rather because it was obvious.  That leads us to the next question: what, exactly, did Chesterton want us to see?

We note in passing that Chesterton’s writing is stupendously entertaining.  Sometimes it’s funny, other times flashy, other times dramatic, or romantic, or intriguing–he could do it all.  But while he was always entertaining, he was never merely entertaining.  Everything that he wrote had a purpose.  Even the more farcical stories and poems always contained a bit of meaning carefully hidden in a corner somewhere.  In the lingo that we teach kids in language arts classes, every Chesterton work has a theme.  To be perfectly precise, most of his works have a plethora of themes, but all have at least one.  Chesterton was a man of strong beliefs who wrote to convince other people.

Chesterton’s strongest belief was Christianity.  He was a self-described orthodox Christian and most people associate him with the Catholic Church, though he was actually a member of the Church of England for most of his life before converting to Catholicism in 1922.  One cannot talk sensibly about Chesterton without talking about his religion.

There are now and always have been a lot of silly explanations offered for religious beliefs by the enemies of Christianity, as for instance that Christians are mentally ill, or seek an imaginary God as a substitute father figure, or are victims of childhood indoctrination, or so forth.  Chesteron serves as a one-man rebuttal to all of these.  Anyone reading his work can see that he was clearly in robust mental health and he had a fine father figure in the form of his father.  Most significantly he was not raised to be a strong Christian.  In his teenage years he experimented with the occult and wrestled with violence, depression, and suicidal thoughts.  Only in adulthood did he come to understand and accept the tenets of Christianity.  His most famous book, Orthodoxy, charts this remarkable transformation.

Because of how he arrived at it, Chesterton had an extrordinarily broad and deep understanding of what Christianity meant.  His massive intellect allowed him to swat aside the simpler objections with ease.  For instance, responding to Marxist claims that religion is the opiate of the masses, Chesterton compared the Irish to English.  The Irish were obviously poorer and more religious, yet obviously not dull or drugged.  If either nation met that description it would be the English.  Chesterton offered up countless rebuttals of this kind to mealy-mouthed skeptical arguments.  His faith was a rational faith.  He studied history, science, literature, arts, scripture, psychology, and every other relevant field in great depth, and perceived that no matter where he looked, the facts were pointing him towards Christianity.  As he explained it:

The first answer is simply to say that I am a rationalist. I like to have some intellectual justification for my intuitions. If I am treating man as a fallen being it is an intellectual convenience to me to believe that he fell; and I find, for some odd psychological reason, that I can deal better with a man’s exercise of freewill if I believe that he has got it. But I am in this matter yet more definitely a rationalist. I do not propose to turn this book into one of ordinary Christian apologetics; I should be glad to meet at any other time the enemies of Christianity in that more obvious arena. Here I am only giving an account of my own growth in spiritual certainty. But I may pause to remark that the more I saw of the merely abstract arguments against the Christian cosmology the less I thought of them. I mean that having found the moral atmosphere of the Incarnation to be common sense, I then looked at the established intellectual arguments against the Incarnation and found them to be common nonsense.

That being true, Chesterton’s faith was based on more than a large collection of factoids, even if it was a very large collection.  He saw orthodox Christianity as a unified system that accounted for all aspects of human experience: moral, ethical, aesthetic, and historical.  To him the system’s unity proved its truth, along with the fact that it offered him abundant life and possibilities for growth.  As he explained in his best known and most quoted paragraph:

I have another far more solid and central ground for submitting to it as a faith, instead of merely picking up hints from it as a scheme. And that is this: that the Christian Church in its practical relation to my soul is a living teacher, not a dead one. It not only certainly taught me yesterday, but will almost certainly teach me tomorrow. Once I saw suddenly the meaning of the shape of the cross; some day I may see suddenly the meaning of the shape of the mitre. One free morning I saw why windows were pointed; some fine morning I may see why priests were shaven. Plato has told you a truth; but Plato is dead. Shakespeare has startled you with an image; but Shakespeare will not startle you with any more. But imagine what it would be to live with such men still living, to know that Plato might break out with an original lecture to-morrow, or that at any moment Shakespeare might shatter everything with a single song. The man who lives in contact with what he believes to be a living Church is a man always expecting to meet Plato and Shakespeare to-morrow at breakfast. He is always expecting to see some truth that he has never seen before. There is one only other parallel to this position; and that is the parallel of the life in which we all began. When your father told you, walking about the garden, that bees stung or that roses smelt sweet, you did not talk of taking the best out of his philosophy. When the bees stung you, you did not call it an entertaining coincidence. When the rose smelt sweet you did not say “My father is a rude, barbaric symbol, enshrining (perhaps unconsciously) the deep delicate truths that flowers smell.” No: you believed your father, because you had found him to be a living fountain of facts, a thing that really knew more than you; a thing that would tell you truth to-morrow, as well as to-day. And if this was true of your father, it was even truer of your mother; at least it was true of mine, to whom this book is dedicated.

That explains Chesterton’s Christianity with crystal clarity.  Christianity offered him exactly what scripture says it offers: a new life, a second birth, a chance to experience anew the joys and childhood without giving up on the joys of adulthood.  These things convinced Chesterton to become a committed, lifelong Christian.  As we’ll see, Chesterton wrote on a great many other topics and was equally passionate about those others, but nothing that he wrote can be separated from his religion.  It was the trunk from which all the other branches grew.

It’s Easter!

Actually it isn’t, at least not according to the official timers.  It’s 11:14 PM in the eastern time zone as I write this.  According to Jewish tradition, however, a day actually starts at sunset and lasts until the next sunset.  The Jews as we all know were very wise, and it’s demonstrated by the fact that they came up with an excuse to start every holiday a few hours early.  Today we can time the beginning of the holiday by the ancient Jewish tradition and the ending by modern timekeeping and thus actually stretch the length of the holiday out a bit.  So with that said, it’s Easter!  Start the party by enjoying one of the greatest Easter hymns:

I first heard this hymn while attending Easter service at a Methodist Church in Sperryville.  They told me that it was written by Charles Wesley, and that we Methodists should take pride in the fact that folks all over the world were singing our song today.  The truth is actually a bit more complicated.  There are ten stanzas in total, though most hymnals only contain five or six.  Three of the stanzas come from an old Latin hymn that existed long before Wesley’s time.  He does get credit for translating them into English and adding the other seven, so the hymn is really a collaborative effort, Catholic and Protestant, old and new.  I might even say that it’s symbolic of how the truth of the resurrection transcends boundaries.

The lyrics in their entirety can be found here, with music: http://www.hymntime.com/tch/htm/c/t/l/ctlrisen.htm

Good Friday reflection

It’s not really Good Friday anymore, but nonetheless I will reflect.  I went to my church’s Moravian service today.  What is a Moravian serivce.  As service of readings from the gosepl interspersed with hymns, and nothing else.  No sermon, no eucharist, no intercessory prayers.  The lecter reads a scripture passage, we take a few minutes to contemplate on it, we sing a verse or two from a hymn, and then we move on to the next passage.  Today’s readings, not surprisingly, were all those covering the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus.

One thing I paid attention to was the mentions of beatings and floggings, particularly how not special and noteworthy they were.  Indeed, at that time it was just common sense that anyone who was arrested would be beaten.  It would happen before, during, and after the trial, if they were lucky enough to get a trial.  This type of torture was not considered a punishment or a part of the legal procedure as much as simply a means whereby the authorities demonstrated their absolute power.  I noted how, even when Pilate was leanings towards releasing Jesus, he still offered to throw in a little bit of flogging, apparently because that’s what governors were supposed to do. [Luke 23:13-16]

Nowadays, in the United States, we have rules about how prisoners must be treated when they’re arrested.  We don’t use beatings or other types of torture, we don’t mock them, we don’t spit on them, at least when we’re following the rules.  This is certainly quite different from how it was done throughout most of history.  It’s quite different from how it’s done in many countries today.  So as we go through Holy Week, we should remember to see the face of Jesus in all victims of police abuse and humiliation at all times and places.

How to fish for men.

Yesterday’s gospel lesson was Matthew 4:18-22:

18 And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. 19 Then He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 They immediately left their nets and followed Him.
21 Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets. He called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him.

Hearing it threw me back in time about four years to when I was reading the Gospels for the first time in Nashville.  I was taking part in a Bible study, and it was also a time of emotional turmoil.  I had just gotten to know Jesus for the first time, while at the same time I was coming to realize that most of my formal education had been a waste of time and my research would be useless.

Two things stick out about this passage; stick out so much that it feels somewhat silly to point them out.  First is the urgency with which the disciples act.  Jesus asks them to follow and they literally drop everything and follow.  No hesitation, no looking back, no second thoughts.  Second is the fact that this was the start of something huge.  We have here a bunch of humble fishermen, uneducated, poor, and with little worldly experience.  Out of this ragtag group, Jesus fashioned the beginnings of the Church, which has now covered the world and brought in billions of souls and is still growing.  This will always be among my favorite passages because the message is so simple, elegant, and true.

It will also be among my favorite passages because of the way it spoke to back then in Nashville.  I had just been introduced to Jesus, and yet a few weeks later I really did drop everything and leave my life behind as I went to follow Jesus.  And it was the best decision of my life.

What should I write here?

I started by blog on Friday and made one post.  Today is Sunday and I’m writing my second post.  I can’t really think of anything worth writing about.  I’m already out of ideas and running short of inspiration.  Perhaps this blogging project wasn’t such a good idea after all.

The thing is that I don’t want to fill up my blog with mediocrity.  I feel that an excessive amount of mindless nonsense spilling out onto blogs is one of the plagues of modern times.  Back in ancient times, people were well aware of the dangers of too much writing.  Seneca once said: “The world suffers from an excess of literature as much as from an excess of anything.”  Cicero: “Times are bad.  Children disobey their parents and everyone is writing a book.”  Even Plato worried that there was too much writing going on.

Of course this attitude didn’t last forever.  During the Middle Ages the Scholastics believed that books were generally good.  They wanted as many people as possible to be literate and they wanted literate people to read as many books as possible.  By and large, the modern world still accepts those notions.  People in the Middle Ages were generally quite sensible and we could benefit quite a bit from studying them and their ideas.

Nevertheless, I’m not quite willing to blow off Seneca and his ilk just yet.  Even if they fretted a bit too much about the plague of books, there’s still a certain amount of wisdom is judiciously curtailing one’s own writing.  So I’ll end this post right here.

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