Saturday, 28 March 2015

Mini review of G K Chesterton's The Everlasting Man

A year or two back, I wrote about an Easter line, in "Othello"

"Like the base [Judean], threw a pearl away,
Richer than all his tribe".

William Shakespeare says that baseness was at the heart of Judas's immoral if practical vision of reality. This vision could not distinguish between the dead communal moneybag from which he stole and the priceless Everlasting Man. Secretly, he was a worshipper of death, not life. He thought death and fear lies at the heart of all things instead of Hope and Love.

I've now read The Everlasting Man, the book by G K Chesterton which inspired C S Lewis. It is an experience of locating diamonds in a compost heap of two page paragraphs, meandering through vast tracts of classical history, defying all but the most determined.

But if one grits the teeth, there are pearls of great price. It is a book one needs on the bookshelf to take down once a month and to 'mine'. It reportedly 'baptised' the mind of C S Lewis. In 1947, Lewis wrote that it was the greatest apologetic for the Christian faith he had ever read. I attach a few snatches here:

G K Chesterton points out that the curtain rises upon a play already in progress. When we are born, the curtain has already gone up on history, also in our long family stories, in the lives of our parents. In other words, we must fit into a historical context.

The birth of Christ came upon the world just as myths and gods were fading, along with classical philosophy. Myths were the product of imaginative pastoral "children" who were seeking to explain things. When Christ came, and he put an stop to myth for all was explained. He brought down the curtain on Greek philosophy. The coming of Christ also signalled the start of the end of slavery. He made 'the person' matter.

Chesterton says that what he calls servile, materialistic urban dwellers who are kept quiet with 'cinema' (now the internet) are actually the peasantry who have lost their childlike imaginations. They put Dresden shepherdesses on the mantlepiece not figures of gilded bankers, because they know that something is missing in their lives.

He says that history should be grateful for The Roman Empire, which, though harsh at times, conquered Carthage which worshipped the terrible god, Moloch, the god of Death.  Moloch demands a terrible sacrifice : giving him your most precious possession namely your children to eat. Moloch is the abominable Ammorite deity that demanded child and animal sacrifice by fire, who Jehovah sought His people to destroy, along with the worshippers. Ginsberg in his poem 'The Howl' calls Moloch, the (fallen) human mind.

Chesterton says that Moloch-Baal worshippers are those who believe that fear is at the heart of the Universe instead of love. They follow a religion, but it is the religion of despair. In other words, they believe that darkness, terror and evil are the essence of the world, something we see in many modern films and much art. They believe that death is stronger than life and inanimate dead things conquer all (whether money, gold, minerals, products, property, jewels, stock and shares). For them, dead things are stronger than living things and the Risen God. He calls this the vision of the merchant princes of Carthage, the commercial mind. He says that Carthage fell because of this materialism, a mad indifference to real thought, materialism too practical and pragmatic to be moral. The disbelieving mind becomes the misbelieving soul and eventually thinks that money will fight and conquer all. The Romans went on fighting beyond despair, fighting for an ideal. They won, also overcoming Moloch.

Chesterton says that those who do not see the family as sacred lose their wider judgment and are not fit to govern (quoting several sources to show that the Romans believed this).

He says that The Nativity Story is counter cultural - on purpose. It has a touch of revolution, as of the world turned upside down in it. It goes on chipping away at the foundations of the palaces of the merchant princes, from below. It whispers to us that The Highest Thing is working up from below out of weakness, humility and marginalisation not down from above us in our world. Divine Royalty can only return through a sort of rebellion against the Prince of this World.

The same could be said of The Easter Story. The Higher Thing is utterly humiliated, cast into the grave. But then, energised by resurrected Power, it works upwards from the very bottom, to eventually take over the known world....

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