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Thoughts on Chesterton’s Orthodoxy: Patriotism and Paganism

July 15, 2020 Comments off

Some observations from recent reading and the Christian/Evangelical response to the pandemic situation.

In reading G.K. Chesterton’s classic work (published in 1908), Orthodoxy (online text and audio files available online here) I’ve noticed a similar thought style to C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, who were greatly influenced by Chesterton.  Additionally, Chesterton’s description of the right kind of patriotism, to me, brought forth the word-picture illustration of Tolkien’s The Shire (as for instance how Frodo described his love for the shire, without a particular reason, simply caring about it and its people):

The man who is most likely to ruin the place he loves is exactly the man who loves it with a reason. The man who will improve the place is the man who loves it without a reason. If a man loves some feature of Pimlico (which seems unlikely), he may find himself defending that feature against Pimlico itself. But if he simply loves Pimlico itself, he may lay it waste and turn it into the New Jerusalem. I do not deny that reform may be excessive; I only say that it is the mystic patriot who reforms. …If we love England for being an empire, we may overrate the success with which we rule the Hindoos. But if we love it only for being a nation, we can face all events: for it would be a nation even if the Hindoos ruled us. Thus also only those will permit their patriotism to falsify history whose patriotism depends on history. A man who loves England for being English will not mind how she arose. But a man who loves England for being Anglo-Saxon may go against all facts for his fancy. He may end (like Carlyle and Freeman) by maintaining that the Norman Conquest was a Saxon Conquest. He may end in utter unreason—because he has a reason. …Nowhere else is patriotism more purely abstract and arbitrary; and nowhere else is reform more drastic and sweeping. The more transcendental is your patriotism, the more practical are your politics.

Orthodoxy also brings out the lament concept, how we ought to respond in sadness, not rejoicing, at coming destruction and judgment.  Another interesting section is the contrast between paganism and its ‘non-binary’ sameness, versus the Christian expression of life with great diversity:

If any one wants a modern proof of all this, let him consider the curious fact that, under Christianity, Europe (while remaining a unity) has broken up into individual nations. Patriotism is a perfect example of this deliberate balancing of one emphasis against another emphasis. The instinct of the Pagan empire would have said, “You shall all be Roman citizens, and grow alike; let the German grow less slow and reverent; the Frenchmen less experimental and swift.” But the instinct of Christian Europe says, “Let the German remain slow and reverent, that the Frenchman may the more safely be swift and experimental. We will make an equipoise out of these excesses. The absurdity called Germany shall correct the insanity called France.”

Chesterton’s observations echo today, more than a century later, with the significance of the ‘break the binary’ movement that has now ushered in rampant homosexuality and transgenderism.  I first learned of this connection between paganism one-ness and these cultural expressions of perversion, from two of Dr. Peter Jones’ lectures (reference this previous post).

Yet as Chesterton pointed out, world history itself stands as a great testament to this fundamental difference in worldviews, in which we see the geographically large and monolithic Eastern empires, as contrasted with the great variety of life, even in the fact of the much smaller European nations that developed from the ancient Roman Empire.

Orthodoxy is an interesting read–some of it dated with references to the political ideas of the day, yet also expressing timeless truths about the Christian worldview, especially in terms of basic social ideas such as patriotism (and optimism/pessimism) and one-ness versus diversity.