Friday, May 18, 2007
On this day:

The orthodox and the infantile

Andrew Sullivan - one of the blogosphere's most insufferable crybabies - says that G.K. Chesterton is "infantile."

Mark Shea replies:
To describe a mind as subtle and lithe as Chesterton's with this sort of bumper sticker dismissal just beggars my powers to reply. All I can think of is that fatuous bit of European noble flotsam in Amadeus telling Mozart his music has "too many notes."
I've been slowly making my way through Chesterton's Orthodoxy over the past couple of weeks. (You can be read it online for free here.) Chesterton calls the book a "sort of slovenly autobiography," an account of how his personal search for truth led him back to the faith of his fathers. Here's a passage from the first chapter:
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.
Chesterton, of course, was speaking of how he came to embrace orthodox Christianity. But one need not be a Christian, or even believe in God, to accept the "orthodox" belief that - in the words of Russell Kirk - there is "a transcendent order, or body of natural law, which rules society as well as conscience." This moral order rules over us whether we like it or not, and it applies to the whole species of man even if entire societies do all that they can to reject it. It is immutable and unchanging, arising out of our own human nature. As luck would have it, either nature or nature's God (whichever you prefer) has chosen to leave the delicate inscription of this "natural law" on our hearts.

This sort of orthodoxy - the belief that there is a natural moral order that governs all of humanity and that we should adhere to it, or at least refrain from trying to overturn it - is neither old-fashioned nor oppressive. It is essential to realizing our full potential as human beings. Ever since Adam and Eve in the Garden, man has rejected what's good for him. Is it really so "infantile" to seek after this long-lost treasure? Or to rejoice when at long last we find it?