Thursday, March 6, 2014

“On Facing Facts”, III: “It’s Not Our Way”


In yesterday’s posting we mentioned an essay by G. K. Chesterton from an obscure collection published in 1934 that started us on the train of thought that led to this brief series.  In the essay, “On Facing Facts,” Chesterton opined that Englishmen of his day tended to live a little too much in the far-distant past, and not enough in the more recent past.

Prussian Trinity: Bismarck, Roon, Moltke
We took “On Facing Facts” as, in part, a subtle hint to Chesterton’s disciples, then and now, who seem to have developed the habit of tailoring truth and editing facts to meet their particular needs, and feed their favorite fancies and hobby horses.  This impression was strengthened by another essay in the collection, “On Prussian Paganism.”  This also strengthened the impression we have gained over the past few years that Chesterton was attempting to keep his disciples and followers on the straight-and-narrow, and prevent them from veering off along the path of expedience and self-interest, not to say self-righteousness.

Be that as it may, the essay taking on the Prussians began by noting that a German general had recently declared that he repudiated Christianity “as not appropriate to the German character.” (p. 201.)  Chesterton then commented,

Unsuited to G.K.'s Temperament?
“The remark set me thinking, especially about the general absence of thought, and a growing division in mankind upon that matter.  To me it seems very much as if I were to say: ‘I deny the existence of the Solar System, as unsuited to the Chestertonian temperament.’  In other words, I cannot make any sense of it at all.”  (Ibid.)

These words practically leaped off the page.  They recalled a rather bizarre series of events from some time back that still cause a sense of bafflement at the uncommon nonsense exhibited by the followers of the Apostle of Common Sense.  It was almost as if Chesterton had a crystal ball and could see what was coming, and how his own devotees were going to behave.

A few years back a friend of CESJ went to a great deal of trouble to introduce members of the CESJ core group to a Prominent Chestertonian.  The friend suggested we send some material to the PC, so we did.  When we followed up, the PC claimed he hadn’t seen the material.

Didn't happen, either.
We sent the material again, and followed up.  This time the PC said he had lost the material.  We resent the material yet again.  A few weeks later we met the PC at a conference.  Although not meeting anyone’s eyes, he said he must not have received it, and asked that we send it again.  We did.  He refused to return follow up phone calls.  About that time the penny dropped, so we gave the PC up as a bad job.

The CESJ friend cornered the PC at some event or other a month or so later, and demanded to know less-than-diplomatically what was going on.  The PC mumbled something about “It’s not our way.”  Although this was less than enlightening (or even very honest), we let it, too, drop.

Until we came across the essay by Chesterton.  All of a sudden the whole issue became clear.

Oh, dear, I can't decide: true? False?


It didn’t matter to the PC whether CESJ’s “Just Third Way” is true or false, any more than the truth or falsity of Christianity mattered to the German general.  The only thing that mattered was whether the Just Third Way or Christianity is compatible with, or suits the tastes and temperaments of, Chestertonians or Germans, respectively.  When the question of truth or falsity is raised, as Chesterton explained,

"It's always you, isn't it."
“[T]he answer is not that the theory is false, but that it has not been specially composed to suit the taste or temperament of people living in a particular marsh, or halfway up a particular mountain, or along the shores of a particular inland lake; or in any local atmosphere which may or may not improve the faculties for finding the truth.  It does not matter whether the statement is a statement of fact; it only matters whether it will instantly fit into the mood now filling the mind of the people in Tibet or Tooting or Ballyhooley or Berlin.”  (Ibid., 206.)

The only thing that matters is whether or not it’s their way.

#30#

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