Thursday, December 17, 2009

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 . . .