…in a piece that takes various Chesterton quotations that generally preserve quite a lot of common sense and then subjects them to flat-footed heckling for no particular reason other than being contrarian and jerkish.
Much of the heckling works if you are into that sort of thing, sort of like a 13 year old’s heckling “works” as pure logic when the snot-faced little brat retorts to Mom’s “I said come here immediately” by jail-house lawyering what “immediately” might mean: “Measured on the basis of quantum physics, ‘immediately’ is not possible since no human being can move in a space of nanoseconds.” Any clever high schooler can pick apart random sentences from a FB page. You can do it with aphorisms from the Sermon on the Mount (“Oh yeah, like a camel can literally go through the eye of a needle! Why not just say that our job creators are all going straight to hell, Jesus!”). But none of this constitutes real critical thought. It’s just heckling and the kid deserves the slapped face he gets.
Several of the deconstructed quotes, ripped bleeding from their context, can be ridiculed if elevated to the status of the Ten Commandments(something that would have horrified Chesterton). However, some of the nitpickiness by the First Things author seems to me to be wilfully obtuse and ultimately contrary to the Faith out of spite, such as:
- “Love means to love that which is unlovable; or it is no virtue at all.”
Love means to love what is worthy of love; everything else is vice.
- “There is the great lesson of ‘Beauty and the Beast,’ that a thing must be loved before it is lovable.”
This is basically a Sartrean thesis: The will by choosing to love something endows it with the value which makes it capable of being loved. I don’t think I need to explain how pernicious this thought is, since we all know from Thomas “quia bonum intellectum est obiectum voluntatis.”
Both passages suggest a complete unfamiliarity with the fourth and fifth chapters of the epistle to the Romans or with, well, ever having been around parents of people like the author of this piece, who doubtless had moments where they chose to love their sneering, superior know-it-all child when there was not much for the neighbors to appreciate. The secret of grace–as of parenting–is the love of “God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were” (Romans 4:17). That is why
While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Why, one will hardly die for a righteous man–though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die. But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. (Romans 5;6-8)
Still I was prepared to cut the piece some slack since I–yes, even I–think that Chesterton is misquoted at times or his word misused to support agendas rather remote from his intentions. That is, until one of the commenters, one AF Zammoro, wrote:
Were you perhaps frustrated at how such a second rate, miseducated, and fat Englishman could have such cache (sic) amongst a certain class of Catholic reader? Did you trip over a hardcover of the collected works this morning? Did you find yourself looking at some photo of Chesterton or other and just think, “Goodness, what an ugly man”?
And the author of the piece responded:
Of the commenters so far, AF Zamarro has things more or less right.
At which I realized the author is a second rate, miseducated ass who seriously believes “Chesterton was fat and ugly” constitutes brilliant argumentation. May he find the love and generosity he refuses to extend a good man like Chesterton extended to him from God, that he might cease to be a malicious ass and become a saint–as Chesterton is.*
First Things: What happened to you guys?
*Note to panicky readers who fret about such matters: no, I am not claiming the authority to canonize saints of Holy Church. This bogus and deeply stupid complaint was first leveled when I mentioned that I consider Perry Lorenzo a saint and a mob of self-appointed Inquisitors with no sense of irony whatsoever took it upon themselves to don their paper mitres and threaten me with excommunication for admiring a man I think was deeply admirable and thinking he lived a holy life. As anyone not wilfully obtuse can grasp, Catholics have a long and happy tradition of saying, “Aunt Agatha was a saint” without expecting that people will take that opinion as some sort of serious claim to unilateral papal authority. That’s why, when the crowd shouted “Santo subito!” at JPII’s funeral, Cardinal Ratzinger didn’t tell them to shut up and stop usurping the Church’s authority to canonize saints. But then, Cardinal Ratzinger was a real bishop with common sense, whereas combox and Facebook bishops imagine false claims of episcopal authority to canonize where none are being made even while themselves making real claims of episcopal authority to excommunicate where they emphatically do not exist.
Bottom line: I pray for Chesterton’s intercession when I write because it is my private opinion that the man was a saint and now enjoys the beatific vision. If I’m wrong, I’m sure God will understand. I hope and trust that GKC will merrily pray for the spiteful little men who seriously believe “Chesterton was fat and ugly” is just the sort of argumentation the readership of FT needs.