Tag Archives: Chesterton

The Wind, The Trees, and Revolution – G.K. Chesterton Guest Post

This essay, which appears in the volume Tremendous Trifles, is an important one to me and the idea of Eternal Revolution for (at least) two great reasons. First, it explains the idea that revolution is never the actions of mankind, for the revolution must always start as a spiritual movement towards an ideal. Second, it reminds us that it is right and just to pray for revolution. 

 

I am sitting under tall trees, with a great wind boiling like surf about the tops of them, so that their living load of leaves rocks and roars in something that is at once exultation and agony. I feel, in fact, as if I were actually sitting at the bottom of the sea among mere anchors and ropes, while over my head and over the green twilight of water sounded the everlasting rush of waves and the toil and crash and shipwreck of tremendous ships. The wind tugs at the trees as if it might pluck them root and all out of the earth like tufts of grass. Or, to try yet another desperate figure of speech for this unspeakable energy, the trees are straining and tearing and lashing as if they were a tribe of dragons each tied by the tail.
As I look at these top-heavy giants tortured by an invisible and violent witchcraft, a phrase comes back into my mind. I remember a little boy of my acquaintance who was once walking in Battersea Park under just such torn skies and tossing trees. He did not like the wind at all; it blew in his face too much; it made him shut his eyes; and it blew off his hat, of which he was very proud. He was, as far as I remember, about four. After complaining repeatedly of the atmospheric unrest, he said at last to his mother, “Well, why don’t you take away the trees, and then it wouldn’t wind.”
Nothing could be more intelligent or natural than this mistake. Any one looking for the first time at the trees might fancy that they were indeed vast and titanic fans, which by their mere waving agitated the air around them for miles. Nothing, I say, could be more human and excusable than the belief that it is the trees which make the wind. Indeed, the belief is so human and excusable that it is, as a matter of fact, the belief of about ninety-nine out of a hundred of the philosophers, reformers, sociologists, and politicians of the great age in which we live. My small friend was, in fact, very like the principal modern thinkers; only much nicer.
In the little apologue or parable which he has thus the honour of inventing, the trees stand for all visible things and the wind for the invisible. The wind is the spirit which bloweth where it listeth; the trees are the material things of the world which are blown where the spirit lists. The wind is philosophy, religion, revolution; the trees are cities and civilisations. We only know that there is a wind because the trees on some distant hill suddenly go mad. We only know that there is a real revolution because all the chimney-pots go mad on the whole skyline of the city.
Just as the ragged outline of a tree grows suddenly more ragged and rises into fantastic crests or tattered tails, so the human city rises under the wind of the spirit into toppling temples or sudden spires. No man has ever seen a revolution. Mobs pouring through the palaces, blood pouring down the gutters, the guillotine lifted higher than the throne, a prison in ruins, a people in arms–these things are not revolution, but the results of revolution.
You cannot see a wind; you can only see that there is a wind. So, also, you cannot see a revolution; you can only see that there is a revolution. And there never has been in the history of the world a real revolution, brutally active and decisive, which was not preceded by unrest and new dogma in the reign of invisible things. All revolutions began by being abstract. Most revolutions began by being quite pedantically abstract.
The wind is up above the world before a twig on the tree has moved. So there must always be a battle in the sky before there is a battle on the earth. Since it is lawful to pray for the coming of the kingdom, it is lawful also to pray for the coming of the revolution that shall restore the kingdom. It is lawful to hope to hear the wind of Heaven in the trees. It is lawful to pray “Thine anger come on earth as it is in Heaven.”
The great human dogma, then, is that the wind moves the trees. The great human heresy is that the trees move the wind. When people begin to say that the material circumstances have alone created the moral circumstances, then they have prevented all possibility of serious change. For if my circumstances have made me wholly stupid, how can I be certain even that I am right in altering those circumstances?
The man who represents all thought as an accident of environment is simply smashing and discrediting all his own thoughts– including that one. To treat the human mind as having an ultimate authority is necessary to any kind of thinking, even free thinking. And nothing will ever be reformed in this age or country unless we realise that the moral fact comes first.
For example, most of us, I suppose, have seen in print and heard in debating clubs an endless discussion that goes on between Socialists and total abstainers. The latter say that drink leads to poverty; the former say that poverty leads to drink. I can only wonder at their either of them being content with such simple physical explanations. Surely it is obvious that the thing which among the English proletariat leads to poverty is the same as the thing which leads to drink; the absence of strong civic dignity, the absence of an instinct that resists degradation.
When you have discovered why enormous English estates were not long ago cut up into small holdings like the land of France, you will have discovered why the Englishman is more drunken than the Frenchman. The Englishman, among his million delightful virtues, really has this quality, which may strictly be called “hand to mouth,” because under its influence a man’s hand automatically seeks his own mouth, instead of seeking (as it sometimes should do) his oppressor’s nose. And a man who says that the English inequality in land is due only to economic causes, or that the drunkenness of England is due only to economic causes, is saying something so absurd that he cannot really have thought what he was saying.
Yet things quite as preposterous as this are said and written under the influence of that great spectacle of babyish helplessness, the economic theory of history. We have people who represent that all great historic motives were economic, and then have to howl at the top of their voices in order to induce the modern democracy to act on economic motives. The extreme Marxian politicians in England exhibit themselves as a small, heroic minority, trying vainly to induce the world to do what, according to their theory, the world always does. The truth is, of course, that there will be a social revolution the moment the thing has ceased to be purely economic. You can never have a revolution in order to establish a democracy. You must have a democracy in order to have a revolution.
I get up from under the trees, for the wind and the slight rain have ceased. The trees stand up like golden pillars in a clear sunlight. The tossing of the trees and the blowing of the wind have ceased simultaneously. So I suppose there are still modern philosophers who will maintain that the trees make the wind.

 

Paul Nowak is a husband and father of 7, who also happens to be a writer and author. He has written The Way of the Christian Samurai among other books.

Modern Prophets

Looking at the old testament of the Bible, it seems like there were a lot more prophets among the people than in modern times. Such an observation begs the question of whether God is withholding such gifts in our own times. If you consider that the events of the old testament played out over several thousand years, prophets were only present a small percentage of the time. Even then, however, can you recall a prophet from the past several generations? Perhaps we’re not paying close enough attention. In reading Joseph Pearce’s biography of G.K. Chesterton entitled Wisdom and Innocence there was a passage that brings to light this possibility. Albert Speer, Hitler’s chief architect and Minister of Armaments (also author of Inside the Third Reich) wrote in his diary after his imprisonment about some of the reading he had been doing:

April 7th, 1957. Have read a great deal recently. As early as 1904 Chesterton, in The Napoleon of Notting Hill, dealt with the frightening consequenses of a mass psychosis. In this store a pseudoking arbitrarily picked out of the London city directory succeeds in playing on the emotions of a whole people – as Hitler was to do – bringing about the the most absurd actions and reactions. Such books are only read after the fact… I wonder how Chesterton was read in his time, as a kind of prophesy or as an entertaining fantasy? After half a century, at any rate, it is clear that, with the nervous attunement of a great artist, he sensed what the future would be.

All prophesy relies on an understanding of human behavior. Such understanding, if whispered in one’s ear, delivered in one’s dreams, or inspired in an artist comes from a common Source – the only One who can give the gift, or even a talent or knack for predicting human behavior. God has not been silent – we have been deaf and stubborn. Generations from now, historians will look back and be able to pick out those of us who saw foreshadowings accurately and will ponder how their peers received them. Yet I wonder how many prophets among us even recognize their own gifts?

This article previously appeared on an old Eternal Revolution blog. I was hoping to have some big news today, so I delayed the post, but the news has to be delayed a bit longer. 

Paul Nowak is a husband and father of 7, who also happens to be a writer and author. He has written The Way of the Christian Samurai among other books.

7 Most Popular G.K. Chesterton Quotes He Never Said

G.K. Chesterton is practically infinitely quotable, a fact that I have put to the test over the past several years curating the Daily Chesterton Quote site and service.

However, when you combine such a prolific writer with a legacy over a century old, plus the Internet, you stumble upon a few misattributed quotes. Some of these have become incredibly popular, taking on a life of their own; but there is no evidence that G.K. Chesterton actually said these things.

Even the well-read experts have mistakenly repeated the misquotes; I am almost certain I have repeated some of these myself.

I had thought of doing a series of Chesterton misquotes in a “Not said by Chesterton” series on GKChestertonQuote.com, but that could just add to the confusion.

“Love means loving the unlovable – or it is no virtue at all.”

The only place I can find attribution on this is the American Chesterton Society, which states it comes from Heretics – but searching the etext does not turn up any parts of the the exact phrase.

Everyone else cannot seem to find this quote in GKC’s works, even though it comes in a few different forms, such as, “Love means to love that which is unlovable, or it is no virtue at all; forgiving means to pardon that which is unpardonable, or it is no virtue at all,” or ” To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable. Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless,” or “Love means to love that which is unlovable; or it is no virtue at all.”

The closest thing I have been able to find is in Orthodoxy: “Stated baldly, charity certainly means one of two things–pardoning unpardonable acts, or loving unlovable people.”

Update: Jonathan Watson pointed out that there is another similar quote in Heretics: “But charity means pardoning what is unpardonable, or it is no virtue at all. Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all. And faith means believing the incredible, or it is no virtue at all.”

“Fairy tales are more than true — not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”

This one really took on a life of its own, and in recent times. This brief, succinct, beautiful expression is actually first found in the epitaph of Coraline by Neil Gaiman.

This has sparked quite a literary issue on the Internet, but Gaiman actually set the record straight on his blog:

It’s my fault. When I started writing Coraline, I wrote my version of the quote in Tremendous Trifles, meaning to go back later and find the actual quote, as I didn’t own the book, and this was before the Internet. And then  ten years went by before I finished the book, and in the meantime I had completely forgotten that the Chesterton quote was mine and not his.  I’m perfectly happy for anyone to attribute it to either of us. The sentiment is his, the phrasing is mine.

If you read enough Chesterton and his critics, GKC did the same thing; he could read an entire book in minutes, and often wrote from memory. While exceptional, it was not perfect. So Gaiman “pulled a Chesterton” while paraphrasing GKC.

It is worth mentioning that Gaiman is a big fan of Chesterton, and GKC has directly influenced Gaiman’s Sandman, Coraline, Good Omens, Neverwhere, and probably a lot of other books.

Here is the original that Gaiman cites, from The Red Angel in Tremendous Trifles – quoted a bit more at length than usual for context:

The timidity of the child or the savage is entirely reasonable; they are alarmed at this world, because this world is a very alarming place. They dislike being alone because it is verily and indeed an awful idea to be alone. Barbarians fear the unknown for the same reason that Agnostics worship it– because it is a fact. Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.

Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him for a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear. When I was a child I have stared at the darkness until the whole black bulk of it turned into one negro giant taller than heaven. If there was one star in the sky it only made him a Cyclops. But fairy tales restored my mental health, for next day I read an authentic account of how a negro giant with one eye, of quite equal dimensions, had been baffled by a little boy like myself (of similar inexperience and even lower social status) by means of a sword, some bad riddles, and a brave heart. Sometimes the sea at night seemed as dreadful as any dragon. But then I was acquainted with many youngest sons and little sailors to whom a dragon or two was as simple as the sea.

“A man knocking on the door of a brothel is looking for God.”

I heard this one most recently in a Bible study; but it was actually from author Bruce Marshall in The World, The Flesh, and Father Smith, in which the quote appears, “the young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God.

Guess it sounded Chestertonian and someone got it mixed up.

“If there were no God, there would be no atheists.”

This is going to sound like nitpicking, but a single letter changes a word, and a changed word can change the meaning.

The correct quote, from the essay Too Simple to Be True, collected in Where All Roads Lead is “If there were not God, there would be no atheists.”

The misquote helps fuel the misconception that GKC’s point was that with out a Creator, there would be no one to deny Him. That is a bit pedantic for Chesterton, and the meaning of the quote is best expressed in the context:

“Atheism is, I suppose, the supreme example of a simple faith. The man says there is no God; if he really says it in his heart, he is a certain sort of man so designated in Scripture. But, anyhow, when he has said it, he has said it; and there seems to be no more to be said. The conversation seems likely to languish. The truth is that the atmosphere of excitement, by which the atheist lived, was an atmosphere of thrilled and shuddering theism, and not of atheism at all; it was an atmosphere of defiance and not of denial. Irreverence is a very servile parasite of reverence; and has starved with its starving lord. After this first fuss about the merely aesthetic effect of blasphemy, the whole thing vanishes into its own void. If there were not God, there would be no atheists.”

Chesterton’s point was not that atheists would not exist without God to create them, but to point out that atheism only subsists because it is a blasphemy or rejection of something real; after all, there is no serious organization or movement that is denying the existence of unicorns or leprechauns.

“Meaninglessness does not come from being weary of pain. Meaninglessness comes from being weary of pleasure.”

A reader asked me about this quote, which he had heard from Ravi Zacharias. It seems to be a repeat of the Gaiman fairy tale quote, where someone beautifully paraphrased a longer, more involved Chesterton quote.

G.K. Chesterton did state in The Everlasting Man:

“Pessimism is not in being tired of evil but in being tired of good. Despair does not lie in being weary of suffering, but in being weary of joy. It is when for some reason or other the good things in a society no longer work that the society
begins to decline; when its food does not feed, when its cures do not cure, when its blessings refuse to bless. We might almost say that in a society without such good things we should hardly have any test by which to register a decline; that is why some of the static commercial oligarchies like Carthage have rather an air in history of standing and staring like mummies, so dried up and swathed and embalmed that no man knows when they are new or old.”

and in Charles Dickens (which I wrote about here):

“There are some men who are dreary because they do not believe in God; but there are many others who are dreary because they do not believe in the devil… The full value of this life can only be got by fighting; the violent take it by storm. And if we have accepted everything we have missed something — war. This life of ours is a very enjoyable fight, but a very miserable truce.”

“When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing — they believe in anything.”

Wikiquotes has explanation of this and the other form it takes, “The first effect of not believing in God is to believe in anything.”

This quotation actually comes from page 211 of Émile Cammaerts’ book The Laughing Prophet : The Seven Virtues and G. K. Chesterton (1937) in which he quotes Chesterton as having Father Brown say, in “The Oracle of the Dog” (1923): “It’s the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense.” Cammaerts then interposes his own analysis between further quotes from Father Brown: “‘It’s drowning all your old rationalism and scepticism, it’s coming in like a sea; and the name of it is superstition.’ The first effect of not believing in God is to believe in anything: ‘And a dog is an omen and a cat is a mystery.'” Note that the remark about believing in anything is outside the quotation marks — it is Cammaerts.

“What is Wrong With the World?” “Dear Sirs, I am.”

This seems to be the ultimate Chesterton myth, in the truest sense of the word. It was even the inspiration for a documentary entitled  I Am that came out a few years ago. However, while it might be full of truth and Chestertonian wit, no one can find it.

The Times and other English papers have been searched through their archives, and yet no one can find the fabled essay request or the incredibly short response from GKC. It could be that the letter was written and not published, but as of the time of this writing no one seems to be able to find the source of the story or any evidence that it is true.

Many theories surround the fact that Chesterton did write a book called What is Wrong With the World. In the dedication, GKC writes:

“I originally called this book “What is Wrong,” and it would have satisfied your sardonic temper to note the number of social misunderstandings that arose from the use of the title. Many a mild lady visitor opened her eyes when I remarked casually, “I have been doing ‘What is Wrong’ all this morning.” And one minister of religion moved
quite sharply in his chair when I told him (as he understood it) that I had to run upstairs and do what was wrong, but should be down again in a minute. Exactly of what occult vice they silently accused me I cannot conjecture, but I know of what I accuse myself; and that is, of having written a very shapeless and inadequate book, and one quite unworthy to be dedicated to you. As far as literature goes, this book is what is wrong and no mistake.”

In a review of the book, St. John Ervine wrote, “‘The book is called ‘What’s Wrong with the World,’ by G.K. Chesterton: it should have been called, ‘What’s Wrong with the World’ is G.K. Chesterton’.”

If there are any new sources that are discovered that validate these quotes, however, I would very much like to hear about it! If you want to do your own research on Chesterton quotes, check out the G.K. Chesterton search engine here.

 

Paul Nowak is a husband and father of 7, who also happens to be a writer and author. He has written The Way of the Christian Samurai among other books.

Pray for Revolution

 

If you’ve ever received an email from me, I use a non-standard closing: “Pray for Revolution.” It’s a phrase that appears throughout the site here at Eternal Revolution and there is even a shirt design using the phrase. I realized I never explained the source anywhere on this site.

I admit, it is an unusual prayer request. It comes from Chesterton’s essay The Wind in the Trees, collected in Tremendous Trifles.

The wind is up above the world before a twig on the tree has moved. So there must always be a battle in the sky before there is a battle on the earth. Since it is lawful to pray for the coming of the kingdom, it is lawful also to pray for the coming of the revolution that shall restore the kingdom. It is lawful to hope to hear the wind of Heaven in the trees. It is lawful to pray “Thine anger come on earth as it is in Heaven.”

Chesterton’s point in the essay is that just just as the invisible force of the wind moves the trees, so too does the invisible forces of spirit come before the violence and madness of human revolt. “No man has ever seen a revolution,” G.K.C. summarizes.

It is certainly not the popular interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer. Yet as with most Chesterton quotes, once he points out the odd interpretation in makes a great deal of sense. We pray for the coming of the kingdom. We pray for His will to be done on earth. And what He said he came to bring was a fire that would consume the earth.

Does that fire consume the earth now? Does it even consume you? Is there a zeal, a passion, burning in your soul like the bush that spoke to Moses, or that pillar of fire that led the people of Israel through the desert?

If not, then pray for the revolution. Pray for the turning (volution) again (re) of your heart and mind back to the things of God. Turn away, again and again, from the things of this world.

All we can directly effect with our own will is our own person. The eternal revolution for which we pray every time we say the Our Father is therefore first and foremost an internal revolution. When properly burning within us, it will catch on to the world around us.

Nurture the flame of the spirit within yourself. Discipline your self, your mind, and your heart to follow the Lord’s will more and more closely every day.

And pray for revolution.

Paul Nowak is a husband and father of 7, who also happens to be a writer and author. He has written The Way of the Christian Samurai among other books.

The Purpose of War is Peace

“The true object of war is peace.”

This expression is often attributed to Sun Tzu, author of the ancient “Art of War.” In fact, it seems to have originated in the forward to the 1983 edition of that book, written by James Clavell – someone who is just as qualified to remark on the subject of war and peace.

Even if Sun Tzu did not say that war’s purpose was peace in so many words, he did express similar expressions. Many good military leaders did, and do, understand that war is not an undertaking that should be entered into without a goal of peace.

Certainly there are unjust wars. However violence itself is not the opposite of peace. Several times throughout human history war was fought in order to restore a peace that was lost. Oppression, denial of human rights, or outright aggression against a people or nation is not peaceful, even if it is nonviolent. And when all else has failed, violence has sometimes been necessary to restore peace.

Blessed are the peacemakers; but maintaining the status quo when there is not peace is not “keeping the peace,” it is staying silent in the face of evil.

Thankfully, most of us will not be in a position to decide whether or not to wage war against another country, and for that we should be grateful that we are spared that terrible responsibility.

Yet each of us fights a war every day in a different way. The world as we know it is not the Kingdom of Heaven for which we hope. Conflict surrounds us, and we cannot avoid it. We must, at times, speak out, take action, and be forceful at times to correct the wrongs around us. The eternal revolution is an ongoing fight we as Christians can never escape.

This does not mean we should go out swinging fists at every person with whom we disagree. Our words may sting or have bite. Our anger may justly rise up, our thoughts may turn to non-violent vengeance. Or we may be thrust into a conflict in which moral right must be defended.

In these cases the principle that “the true object of war is peace” still applies. Righteous or just anger must still seek peace. If it feeds itself into a festering rage, or inspires shaming or harm to a person, their reputation, or their livelihood beyond the measure necessary to right the wrong at hand, then it has overstepped the boundaries of justice.

We must maintain hope at all times. When it comes to personal conflict with other people, in our homes, in our workplace, and in the world around us, we must always keep our eyes on the goal of peace. Every word of correction, every thought in anger, every expression of justice must take form in a way that will preserve the dignity of all human persons. Especially the person with whom you are arguing.

In a way, overstepping the bounds of a righteous anger is to lose hope that other people want what is good. Unjust anger casts them as an enemy, when we are called to accept all people as neighbors and fellow children of God.

You may not wage war on a global scale, but make sure every little act of war you make in your daily life is a hopeful gesture towards peace.

Paul Nowak is a husband and father of 7, who also happens to be a writer and author. He has written The Way of the Christian Samurai among other books.