YIMC Book Club, “Orthodoxy,” Chapter 5

Posted by Webster  
Here is where G. K. Chesterton sank his teeth into me. By the end of chapter 5 of Orthodoxy, I was thinking about two people for whom I have the highest regard, the highest love imaginable. In my personal reading, this chapter describes as well as anything could my father, David Bull, and my wife, the former Katie McNiff. I’ll do my best to explain.

Chapter 5, “The Flag of the World”
The chapter’s title is also its central metaphor. In his effort to explain why Christianity is the only philosophy and way of life that ultimately makes sense, Chesterton plants “The Flag of the World” in front of us readers, as the symbol of an essential loyalty to life. Neither the optimist nor the pessimist gets it or has it. By his very nature, “a man belongs to this world,” and therefore the only reasonable response is loyalty. Nothing matters but this fundamental loyalty to life. This loyalty is like patriotism of a particular kind; it is unarguable, unshakable, unassailable, ultimately indefensible.

The world is not a lodging-house at Brighton, which we are to leave because it is miserable. It is the fortress of our family, with the flag flying on the turret, and the more miserable it is the less we should leave it. The point is not that this world is too sad to love or too glad not to love; the point is that when you do love a thing, its gladness is a reason for loving it, and its sadness a reason for loving it more.

My dad had a fundamental loyalty to life and a belief in things outside himself—his parents, his older brother Webster, my mother, his children, his country, and his company—until his company effectively betrayed him and he walked away with his head held high. This loyalty is what allowed him to serve with honor in World War II. Katie has this kind of loyalty—to the memory of her parents, to her siblings, to her friends, to her daughters, and God help me, to myself. It’s one of the things that keeps us married after 25 years.

Dad was, Katie is a fundamentally, profoundly religious person—in ways that, for each of them, go beyond rote observance, routine devotion. Dad and Katie never met before the day Katie and I were married; yet by the time he died last year, they were devoted to one another, in part, I suppose, because of their shared loyalty to me.

Did/does this shared loyalty mean that either was/is incapable of criticizing me? Oh ho—on the contrary! Dad was very assertive about setting me straight when I was a naughty boy; Katie has taken over the role today. For as Chesterton notes:

The same women who are ready to defend their men through thick and thin are (in their personal intercourse with the man) almost morbidly lucid about the thinness of his excuses or the thickness of his head. A man’s friend likes him but leaves him as he is; his wife loves him and is always trying to turn him into somebody else.

As Chesterton didn’t live long enough to write—LOL.

Admittedly, there are finer points and later ones in this chapter, including the telling moment near the end when Chesterton recognizes Christianity as “the spike of dogma that fitted exactly into the hole in the world.” However, I will leave these matters for others to discuss. Right now, I have dishes to do and—what?—what’s that, Honey?—OK, Dear, I’m coming . . .

  • EPG

    Webster — I agree with you entirely — this is a great chapter, because Chesterton addressed the issue of how to love the world, but also maintain the desire to improve it.Here Chesterton reflects on a real problem with materialistic determinism. If the world is just as it is because that is how it developed, how (or why) is it that we want so much more for it? How is it that we have a vision of what the world could be, and a burning desire to make it so? Because, if this is all there is, we (at least in theory) be satisfied with it. The question is, how does one hate the world enough to want to change it, yet at the same time love it well enough to think it worth changing? Christianity offers this – a lodestar, for something beyond this world. Christianity, in its account of the Fall, attempts to answer the nagging feeling we all have that something is not quite right with this world, that something better was intended. Here is the great phrase from Chesterton: “according to Christianity, we were indeed the survivors of a wreck, the crew of a golden ship that had gone down before the beginning of the world.”So, why not love the world? After all, if God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, should we not love the world as well? Perhaps this is a challenge to the idea of things “not of this world.” We are of this world, and perhaps it is our duty to try to participate in God’s plan of redemption for the world. God does not want us to be indifferent to this world. He made it, and on the end of each day of creation, he saw that it was good.A few years ago, I was listening to an Evangelical preacher on the radio. In his sermon, he spoke of the Earth with something like contempt – the idea was “I’m praying for heaven, and I’m getting out of this dump.” But, of course, this world is not a dump. It is fallen, it is corrupted. It may be like Pimlico. But we should love it. We ought to love it. We ought to love it because God loved it and continues to love it. Imagine your home town. Since you grew up, its downtown has decayed as Wal-Mart set up outside of town. The factories that used to provide decent employment for hundreds have moved out. There are vacant buildings, and empty lots. Its schools have declined. So, what is your reaction? Acquiescence? Resignation? Or do you undertake to fight, to improve, to reform? Hate what the world has become, but love the world.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    The following really hit home for me, as well as his argument about the difference between martyrs and those who commit suicide. Especially when thinking of the difference between martydom for Christianity vs say the actions of Islamic suicide bombers today for (what exactly???) Islam?And these passages really struck me as brilliant too:"And the root phrase for all Christian theism was this, that God was a creator, as an artist is a creator."And then this…"According to most philosophers, God in making the world enslaved it. According to Christianity, in making it, He set it free. God had written, not so much a poem, but rather a play; a play he had planned as perfect, but which had necessarily been left to human actors and stage-managers, who had since made a great mess of it."And then to wrap it all up:"I had found this hole in the world: the fact that one must somehow find a way of loving the world without trusting it; somehow one must love the world without being worldly. I found this projecting feature of Christian theology, like a sort of hard spike, the dogmatic insistence that God was personal, and had made a world separate from Himself. The spike of dogma fitted exactly into the hole in the world—it had evidently been meant to go there—and then the strange thing began to happen. When once these two parts of the two machines had come together, one after another, all the other parts fitted and fell in with an eerie exactitude. I could hear bolt after bolt over all the machinery falling into its place with a kind of click of relief. Having got one part right, all the other parts were repeating that rectitude, as clock after dock strikes noon. Instinct after instinct was answered by doctrine after doctrine. Or, to vary the metaphor, I was like one who had advanced into a hostile country to take one high fortress. And when that fort had fallen the whole country surrendered and turned solid behind me."The Church as Key to fit the Lock that is the World.

  • EPG

    Frank — I loved all of the passages you quoted as well. Chesterton's reminder that God is a creator who loves what He has created reminds me of another neat book, "The Supper of the Lamb," by Robert F. Capon. Capon, an Episcopal priest, has written a number of remarkable and highly eccentric works, but "The Supper of the Lamb" (one of his earliest) is also one of his best. In it, he explores the theological implications of cooking as a creative act. One of the persistent images is of God, at each stage of creation, commenting that it is good. Or, as Chesterton might put it, the world is a mess, but it is a noble mess (and worth being set right).

  • Turgonian

    A very good post. Loyalty to life, affirming life, saying 'yes' to life, is something I intend to write about soon. It's hard, though; I made several attempts here, but I found myself unable to write comprehensibly…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    @EPG and all. I recently posted an excerpt of "the Letter to Diognetus" on the "Thoughts on the LOTH for Today." I put a link there to the entire letter and will share it below. Enjoy!http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/diognetus-roberts.html

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15292156826231664316 pennyyak

    "They will think me very narrow…if I say that the remarkable thing about Christianity was that it was the first to preach Christianity." And wrap around this his remarks about sincerity, pity, etc. hardly being absent from the world prior to the coming of Jesus.I walk around sometimes with this mindset – that the sum of Christianity is expressed in my kind acts. I could join the "Pass It On" movement just as well. I recall also the caricature in literature of women doing "Good Deeds" that no one wants done to them.I am not saying that we are not enjoined to any number of good works, we are.But Chesterton seems trying to place our faith in its distinctive place, and in the spirit of one reader's suggestions, I tried to think in broader strokes and "word pictures" (oh, my brain is creaking). I will see what that brings in Ch. 6.However, on re-reading the chapter, being exhorted by the pessimistic but very true words Webster wrote earlier – are you ready for this post? – thought not…I am left with the image of God creating Adam, Sistine Chapel, which brings to mind His words about creation (well discussed above, "It is good"), and as a foretaste of the Incarnation (I will come to you, and I will continue my plan to redeem this universe gone askew).

  • Webster Bull

    Pennyyak, Thanks for jumping in with these thoughts. I have a feeling some YIMCBC members are getting a bit intimidated by Chesterton at this point (as I am sometimes). I think your approach is a good one, picking up on points that resonate with you. Fact is, the guy is brilliant beyond imagining and can not only think but write circles around most people.

  • http://aol.com Mlrid

    "They gained their morality by guarding their religion."• Fought for the shrine – found they became courageous• purified for the alter – found they were clean• holy day for God – made a holiday for manI have found that after reading this chapter I have very many thoughts and I am challenged to put them to script. Today I will just enjoy reading your posts.Sincerely,Mary RPS: I have found how to post comments! I am not "Anomymous" any more. Yea!