“The cross has at its heart a collision and a contradiction…”
Reading Chesterton after spending nearly two months immersed in books written by existentialists exceedingly refreshing. Nietzsche wrote in a somewhat lighthearted tone, but that only made his words all the more disturbing. The thing is, though, that this is a man who is arguing by reason, yet essentially insists that we all should believe in fairies. He both exhilarated me with his poetry and kept me skeptical.
I was reminded very much of reading The Little Prince, of realizing that I’ve become the kind of adult who sees a hat in a child’s drawing of an elephant eaten by a snake. Chesterton not only believes in fairy tales, but also believes that, to an extent, they are necessary for us — or perhaps not fairly tales specifically, but mysticism and mystery. The paradoxical nature of Christianity, or Christianity’s allowances for paradoxes, are a kind of mysticism to Chesterton.
Man is made with a need to wonder at things, Chesterton believes. That’s why fairy tales and adventure stories and romances exist in the first place. He also believes, however, that the thinkers or his time (he mentions Nietzsche in particular repeatedly, and I could add other names of my own to his list) aim to squelch wonder. They try to create answers for everything, to explain the entirety of the world and its workings, and in doing so they “attempt to cross an infinite sea and thus make it finite.”
Not only will thought projects like this make a man unhappy, because they allow no possibility for wonder, but they will drive him insane. The madman, he says, is not the man who has lost his reason, but the man who has lost everything but his reason. He tries to create explanations where there are none, and none will fit, thus leaving the completely reasonable man frustrated and miserable, yet thinking that that is how he is supposed to be.
Christianity, on the other hand, is full of paradoxes, and Chesterton has been romanced by how those paradoxes do not simply clash, but rather balance each other, and he claims it is the only ideology which does this. It allows man to believe both that all men die and that men can also be resurrected. It both explains the universe and leaves much about it unanswered. It allows both to have enough courage to undertake an adventure, but leaves us with just enough doubt to enjoy it.
I really love Chesterton’s picture of Christianity and explanation of how it is the most reasonable view for us, and he wooed me with his imagery. Where my Little Prince moments came in, however, was when he encouraged believing in things like elfland and fairyland or any other sort of fantastic things, and when I was struck by how simple he makes it all sound. I’m a bit of a child at heart, so I love the thought of believing in magic or believing in things that we don’t necessarily see as possible, but there’s no reason why they must be impossible. We live by a lot of “whys,” so the idea of embracing a few more “why nots” is charming to me, but I think I’m far too much of a pragmatist to really accept Chesterton’s propositions.
I don’t think I like that, though. I don’t like the feeling that I might very well be more comparable to Nietzsche, going mad as I try to explain away everything and insisting that everything has a rational cause, than like Chesterton, saying that well, perhaps there’s not reason for why daisies are all the same besides God never got tired of making them that way. Is it to my credit that I’m at least tickled by Chesterton’s ideas, even if I won’t go so far as to make them my own? Is it wrong for me to tend towards rationalism? Do I lack the childlike faith that Chesterton seems to have and that Christ encourages? When does healthy questioning, for Chesterton, cross the line into insanity? How can I be a journalist without crossing that line?