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Brilliantly Stoking the Halo of Hatred
on June 20, 2003
Very few books are worth reading with a pencil in hand. Most fit Stephen Donaldson's description of a novel as "throwing words at a short story."
The Everlasting Man demands to be annotated. Chesterton's prose is masterful, his wit and sarcasm are triumphant, but most fundamentally, his arguments are pointed and illuminating.
Chesterton provides a method and a practical goal. His method is to examine preconceptions by going out of context; to picture our reality as if we were strangers. The goal is to compare the secularist, religious, and dogmatic views of man with this external picture.
His conclusion is in the recognition of Christ as The Distinguishing Event which bears no contrast or comparison with history before or since. Along the way, he dices up comparitive religion, takes a poke or two at Spencer & Darwin, relegates Islam to a heresy (albeit a "respectable heresy") and thoroughly demolishes the concept of secularist rationality.
Among the more profound of Chesterton's recognitions is in the strange continuity of the Church. A little apologetics is involved, but I get the impression that his discussions are intended more for comfort to the faithful than butressing his already-established arguments.
Overall, a thoroughly engaging read. My only negative criticism of the book is the dexterity of Chesterton's references and citations. I probably missed more of his allusions than I caught. In some ways, it reminds me of Swift's Gulliver's Travels - we all get the "Big end/Little end" allusion to Protestant/Catholicism conflict, and the ancillary references to France/England, etc. But only by reading thorough criticism do we find that Swift was referring not only to massive social events, but also to specific individuals and practices. Without a key from contemporary society, there is no way for us to "get" Gulliver's Travels. And I fear that this is true of "The Everlasting Man" as well. Which only goes to prove some of the points of the book itself.
I wonder if Chesterton planned it that way?
Finally, I cannot help but cite the end of Part I as an example of the brilliance of the writing and the theme. Referring to the first Christians in Rome, and the Roman persecution, Chesterton writes: "And there shone on them in that dark hour a light that has never been darkened,; a white fire clinging to that group like an unearthly phosporescence, blazing its track through the twilights of history and confounding every effort to confound it with the mists of mythology and theory; that shaft of light or lightning by which the world itself has struck and isolated and crowned it; by which its own enemies have made it more illustrious and its own critics have made it more inexplicable: the halo of hatred around the Church of God."