Saturday, August 01, 2009

Chesterton, Renaissence Man

In the past few years, I have been trying to read and find out more about GK Chesterton. I knew him from a little of his his fictional work. My parents had a copy of "The Man Who was Thursday", which I did not actually read until relatively recently, and some of the Father Brown Mysteries.

What I appreciated immediately was GK's use of language. Although it is frequently challenging, it is rather like dark chocolate to one who loves language.

Chesterton never seemed to leave much doubt about what he meant, but he also was said to have had no enemies. He was masterful at saying exactly what he meant, even about specific individuals with whom he vehemently disagreed (such as George Bernard Shaw, HG Wells, and Bertrand Russell) without alienating people. Wells, Shaw and Russell were all friends of GK.

I recently heard of the debate between Chesterton and Clarence Darrow. A comment after that debate was 'It was billed as the "Clash of the Titans", but only one titan showed up'. It is a pity that no transcript of the debate exists. The media was unanimous in declaring GK the winner. They were debating Genesis and Creation. Darrow was the favourite before the debate, partly, I suspect, because he was the American (the debate took place in New York) but also because he was the "man of science".

What seems to come to me is that Chesterton was one of the last "Renaissance Men". He was knowledgeable about nearly everything. Another comment after the Darrow debate was that GK came off much more the man of science than Darrow.

I suspect that GK's broad topic base is a large reason why we do not read him in schools. He is really tough to categorize. Religion, Politics, Sociology, Fiction, History, Poetry...he's written it all. He is popular among homeschoolers, particularly the Catholic because of his religious writing, because of his exceptional use of language, and reason.

I think it could be said that he sought truth wherever it might be and did not limit himself to just religion or just science or whatever.

I am perhaps bold in labelling GK Chesterton a Renaissance man because so many of the original period chose to disavow religious faith, and to proceed as if religion and reason were incapable of co-existence. Chesterton did not in any way do this. He, like Blaise Paschal, showed handily that the two not only could, but perhaps should co-exist.

I would love to know what he would have thought about the environmental movement.