By Curtis K. Shelburne: Religion columnist
If a writer has ever lived who could better turn a phrase than the early 20th-century author G.K. Chesterton, I can’t imagine who it would be.
Here are a couple or a few quotable examples:
“Thieves respect property. They merely wish the property to become their property that they may more perfectly respect it.”
“Among the rich you will never find a really generous man even by accident. They may give their money away, but they will never give themselves away; they are egotistic, secretive, dry as old bones. To be smart enough to get all that money you must be dull enough to want it.” (He was actually quite wealthy when he died.)
“I believe what really happens in history is this: the old man is always wrong; and the young people are always wrong about what is wrong with him. The practical form it takes is this: that, while the old man may stand by some stupid custom, the young man always attacks it with some theory that turns out to be equally stupid.”
“Man is always something worse or something better than an animal; and a mere argument from animal perfection never touches him at all. Thus, in sex no animal is either chivalrous or obscene. And thus no animal invented anything so bad as drunkenness—or so good as drink.”
I love Chesterton’s writing. He gives me hope. He was a devoted Christian and a brilliant man who saw reality far more clearly than most. He recognized sin, weakness, and failure when he saw it. As he wrote, “Modern masters of science are much impressed with the need of beginning all inquiry with a fact. The ancient masters of religion were quite equally impressed with that necessity. They began with the fact of sin — a fact as practical as potatoes. Whether or no man could be washed in miraculous waters, there was no doubt at any rate that he wanted washing. But certain religious leaders in London, not mere materialists, have begun in our day not to deny the highly disputable water, but to deny the indisputable dirt.”
Chesterton saw the “dirt,” but rather than become bitter and cynical, Chesterton chose to poke fun at our foibles and inconsistencies: “Moderate strength is shown in violence; supreme strength is shown in levity.”
Nor did the big man mind laughing at himself. He stood 6 feet, 4 inches and weighed almost 300 pounds and was said to distrust “cold, hard, thin people,” as well we should. But when a lady in London during World War I asked accusingly why he wasn’t “out at the front,” Chesterton replied, “If you go round to the side, you will see that I am.”
According to Wikipedia (from whence some of these facts are derived), when the London Times “invited several eminent authors to write essays on the theme, ‘What’s Wrong With the World?’ Chesterton’s contribution took the form of a letter:
Very sincerely yours,
G. K. Chesterton.’”
God help us to see the same, and still live in grace and joy.