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Archive for the ‘G.K. Chesterton’ Category

[Today was our first day of school for the new schoolyear.  (Woo hoo!)  I’ve been spending an hour a day just harvesting figs and tomatoes (not to mention putting them up), and I’ve been haunting the Rumor Queen’s website *somewhat* obsessively, waiting to see if anyone got any news from China about paperwork today.  (No, not a single one, apparently.  Major bummer.)  So, I’m cheating and reposting something old on G.K. Chesterton (always worth revisiting!) instead of discussing the debt debacle, because I really can’t afford to be up until 1 am tonight.]

A number of the talks I attended at the homeschooling conference were on the subject (or study) of G.K. Chesterton.  In one talk, a particular idea (among the dozens of wonderful quotes offered) caught my attention (so much so that I failed to write it down, apparently) and sort of stuck in my head:

We have been taught to want abnormal or extraordinary things, and, so, have forgotten how to want normal things.

Think about that for a second.

What do kids dream of?  Being famous: football star, music star, movie star, whatever.  Never mind that someone is probably more likely to be struck by lightening than to be the next Brett Favre or Angelina Jolie.  The old (and attainable) dreams of fireman or teacher are largely forgotten by most children.  (Diva first wanted to be a nun, now she declares that she’s going to be a mommy.  Don’t know how I managed to make it seem like an enviable job, but I’m thankful.)

To be honest, what do we dream of?  ….

Read the rest here.

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And right now, except for my one commenter who is also reading Belloc’s Crisis of Civilization, nearly all of you are saying, “What the heck is distributism?”

For quite some time, I had heard that G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc were considered leading proponents of a “third way” of economics, neither capitalism nor communism.  The problem was, I didn’t really understand it.  It finally clicked a bit for me while reading Belloc’s book on the history of Christendom, Crisis of Civilization.  To be more accurate, Belloc starts with Christendom, moves into the Reformation and the previously tethered forces it unleashed (not, in Belloc’s perspective, as good as most of us were told in history class), and finishes with the state of the world in his day and how to fix it.

If you’ve heard Prof. Joseph Pearce’s conversion story, you’ve also heard of distributism.  As a young, functionally atheist, radical, racist, anti-Catholic, nationalist activist in Great Britain, he hated the communists, but didn’t have much of an answer to their charges that the nationalists were just doing the capitalists’ dirty work on the streeets.  A friend suggested to Pearce that he read G.K. Chesterton’s essay on distributism in The Well and the Shallows.  Well, the one essay was about distributism, but the rest of the book was a defence of the Catholic Church.  As Pearce notes, adapting a quote from C.S. Lewis regarding atheists, “A sound racist can’t be too careful of what he reads.”  Pearce became Catholic, and is now a professor at Ave Maria University, married to an American Catholic.  God, Pearce reminds us, has a sense of humor.

Anyways, back to distributism.

The problem with distributism is that it relies on a moral restraint that our modern society is sadly lacking.  (Frankly, if that moral restraint had remained strong, we wouldn’t be in nearly the financial mess we currently are.)  In some sense, distributism hearkens back to the early Middle Ages: trade was active and widespread, usury was forbidden, excessive competition was frowned upon, and massive accumulations of wealth were discouraged.  Those with some wealth (often in the form of land rents or taxes) had it because they were expected to be the front-line defenses for their area; the money came with the expectation of service.  Later, as the threat of warfare receeded, wealth was expected to be used to fund charitable activities (schools, churches, religious orders (who then taught schools, served the poor, cared for orphans, etc.)).

Sounds… old fashioned.  Hopelessly so.

I think another of my favorite authors knew a bit about the thing, though, because his vision helped me understand distributism.  Hobbits, I think, show a distributist system in action.

You would’ve had to have read the books to really get it, because, like so many other important details that the movie makers either thought viewers wouldn’t “get” or didn’t “get” themselves, these aspects of hobbit life were largely lost or re-written in the movies.

Think about it:

  • Hobbits frown upon excessive wealth.  It’s considered, at best, to be in seriously poor taste.
  • Those who are better off share generously with everyone around them.  Bilbo is known for handing out toys to children and being rather free with his money.  In fact (and the movies totally botched this), Frodo gives his large family home over to Sam’s growing family, saying that he’d rather see the home full of children again, and he doesn’t need Bag End all to himself.
  • Even less-well-off hobbits, including Sam Gamgee’s family before being given Bag End, have their own homes and gardens, however modest they may be.
  • Grubbing after money is seen as a nasty eccentricity.  Think of the Sackville-Bagginses.  They’re always envying Bilbo and Frodo for having Bag End, which they want for themselves.  Apparently, everyone else in the area knows it, too, and doesn’t much like the Sackville-Bagginses for it.
  • There is communal property, most notably including the Party Field.
  • There are very few instances of anyone working for anyone else, and, when they do occur, it’s a very friendly relationship.  Sam and his father consider themselves as friends and defenders of Bilbo and Frodo, who they work for as gardeners.

It isn’t communism, as some people have claimed.  Unlike communists (or at least communist theory), hobbits definitely have different levels of wealth, although nobody is in dire poverty and nobody is filthy rich.  Also, and this is a key distributist point, property is widespread; everyone has at least a home and a bit of garden to call their own.

Of course, when things go wrong, it also shows what the Shire’s economics are not meant to be.  When evil men take over the Shire, they start by playing on the miller’s greed for importance and the Sackville-Bagginses greed for power and money.  (And all those idiots out there who say the Shire was the ideal communist society should note that the Shire most mimics communism when the evil men take over and force everyone to work for the Boss, saying it’s for their own good.  Except it obviously isn’t.)  The hobbits are so surprised at the turn of events and the tightening noose of draconian rules that nobody tries to overpower the men in charge.

The Party Tree is chopped down, left to rot, and not even used for firewood.  Firewood is strictly rationed by the men, as is food, most of which has been collected to pay for the “services” of the new bullies.  When Frodo and his friends return to the Shire, they are greeted by desolation and scared, freezing, starving hobbits.  Yeah, communism is just great… if you’re part of the group in power.  The men don’t work, except for ordering hobbits about, and they’re comfortable and well-fed, unlike the hobbits, who they claim to be “helping.”

The problem with distributism is the problem Belloc notes with several declining societies: we’ve lost our moral underpinnings.  We no longer have the self-discipline to say, “This is enough money, property, house, etc.”  As a nation, we have indebted ourselves up to our eyebrows to get more house, more stuff, more junk we don’t need and hardly even want anymore.  Consequently, the government has been called in to tell us when we have enough money by heavily taxing the “extra.”

Self-discipline is not the same thing as government-enforced discipline, just as paying your taxes is not the same thing as giving to charity.

I’m not sure we are at a point when we could institute any form of distributism.  I would say that at least the idea of encouraging property ownership would be good… but we just tried that through a bunch of risky home loans that crashed our economy.  The distributists’ cry was, “Three acres and a cow,” but I just drove through some of the semi-rural areas around me.  Acres of front yard, and what do people do?  With very few exceptions, there were no family cows, large vegetable gardens, or even fruit trees.  Almost everyone put in a lawn and mowed it to a perfect, golf-course flat, useless green expanse, which made the acerage a financial liability instead of an asset.

And now we’re right back to the problem of not wanting normal things again.

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I was watching The Apostle of Common Sense on EWTN a while back (when they were showing the new season, not the re-runs) and caught G.K. Chesterton (or, more accurately, a reenactor presenting Chesterton and Dale Ahlquist commenting) on Islam.  GKC argued, partly, that Islam’s problem is that it is a Christian heresy and, like many heresies, had a kernel of truth… which it then made the only truth.

In short, Islam, Chesterton said, is a monomania: the initial focus may be true (there is only one God and He deserves obedience), but it is not the only truth, and, in absence of other truths, can actually become something false.

An e-mail newsletter (that I don’t know why I don’t unsubscribe from) tonight caused me to revisit Chesterton’s comments on heresy and monomania.  Most of the newsletter was devoted to a discussion of why women should not wear pants.  Ever.  Pants are (and I would argue most of these points) far inferior to skirts/dresses in comfort, utility, style, modesty, propriety, etc., and no Christian man should allow his wife or daughters to wear pants if he can in any way help it.  I even ran across a collection of “Plain” Catholics; they dress like the Amish, work on family farms, avoid politics, shun modern conveniences, etc. in an effort to find a closer relationship with God.

Excuse me for being a history major, but I have to point out that the Victorians managed to consider ankles scandalously sexy, in spite of the skirts swishing above them.  The Middle Ages and Renaissance, for all their yards and yards of fabrics, had their share of affairs and “loose women”.  Free love hippies wore floppy bellbottoms, which could nearly be a split skirt.  And plenty of electricity-free, women-in-dresses, family-farm-inhabiting people of the late 1800’s were losing God, too.

The question is the interior attitude; it’s much harder to change and much more difficult to gauge if you’re getting anywhere.  Which, I suppose, is why it’s easier to go for the monomania: “If only we could get women back in skirts, we could reverse the massive decline in the culture in general and sexual morality in particular…” 

The thought ranks up there with the Latin-only argument.  I appreciate the use of Latin in the mass (and I wish my parish would use it more than twice a year) and I certainly think a whole lot more reverence in the average mass is a very necessary thing.  While I myself do not attend a Latin-mass parish, I understand that some people prefer the tradition of the mass in Latin.  The problem (and part of the reason that I don’t attend the local Latin-only parish) is that some people (not sure if they’re the majority or the vocal minority) loudly proclaim that, “If only we could get the mass back in Latin, then everything would be okay again.”

The problem isn’t the Latin.  If it were, the fall from “okay” wouldn’t have been so sudden and steep.  Nuns and monks wouldn’t have been abandonning their vows of chastity and service and marrying each other, bishops wouldn’ t have been openly instructing their flocks to ignore the pope’s call to continue to forsake artificial contraceptives, and the CCD programs wouldn’t have devolved into “Kumbaya”-singing, fluffy-headed, can’t-we-all-get-along, theology-lacking disasters so fast.

The problems were already there.  The Latin hadn’t changed, which fooled some into thinking nothing had really changed yet, but we don’t call church councils for nothing.  Make no mistake: the Latin-praying church had problems, and Rome knew it.  And so we got Vatican II… which, given the underlying spiritual rot of large chunks of the Church, was neither well implemented nor well taught.  It’s ok; we’re Catholics, we understand history (or should), and we should remember that there were more Arian heretics after the Council of Nicea than there were before and it took a while to convince all of them of the orthodox position.

As soon as the call went out from Vatican II to start acting like adults again and think about your faith with at least the amount of brainpower you apply to your job and other adult activities… well, a lot of people apparently realized they didn’t know how to.  Or didn’t want to.  “I liked it better when the mass was in Latin, and you couldn’t understand anything,” complained a character in a movie.

It’s not the skirts, it’s not the Latin.

It’s not even stay-at-home moms, although I would argue we’re getting closer to the problem there.  In a C-FAM newsletter tonight (yes, another newsletter; I was cleaning out the inbox), the discussion turned to the current UN meetings of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Descrimination Against Women (CEDAW) committee.  The Russian delegation explained that by encouraging women to avoid abortion and instead have children (critical, since Russia is currently on a horrific demographic downturn), they had managed to a) get the number of abortions below the number of live births and b) decrease maternal mortality.  The UN conference was unimpressed and promptly began to ask if the Russians have considered the awful consequences of not getting women back into the workplace quickly enough after childbirth, and, BTW, have they implemented better transgender medical care yet?  (I’m not sure I even know what that’s supposed to mean…)

Then the committee turned to the *important* task of needling Fiji on decriminalizing prostitution for adult sex workers and making marriage available to homosexual couples.  Aren’t you glad the U.S. is fully funding its UN obligations again?  That’s your tax dollars at work, right there.  I’m sure the Fijians are grateful.

The problem is much bigger than skirts, Latin, and stay-at-home moms.

All are good things, but all can be done for the wrong reasons, and done badly.

They’re also only symptoms showing the decay underneath.  Fixing the symptom but not the decay is like whitewashing a tomb (wait, I’ve heard that somewhere…).

I’m currently reading Hillaire Belloc’s Crisis of Civilization.  He discusses the rise and flowering of Christendom through the first half of the Middle Ages: the triumphs of unity, Gothic cathedrals, literature, etc.  Something happened, though, in the late Middle Ages: unity remained on the surface, but the spirituality was weakening and the unity was breaking up, even as material progress continued.  So, people thought things were sort of okay, even as Christendom was rotting from the inside out.  Belloc suggests it was a form of old age, where the Church started failing to fight the necessary, ongoing fight for renewal.  The result was the Reformation and the destruction of Christendom as a real unity.

We’re still on that downwards slide.  The disasters of credit, wage slaves, wealth inequality, lack of moral restraint on business or culture, government taking over everything, etc. that Belloc was discussing are many times worse than they were in his day.  I think the only thing that would surprise him about today’s culture is that, somehow, we’re still standing.

The monomanias of “Can’t we just reinstate X?” or “If we could only get people to go back to Y…” aren’t going to fix things.  Even forcing women to be stay-at-home moms in life-long marriages again wouldn’t fix things if we didn’t change hearts first to understand why the woman in the home stabilized society.

It’s harder than monomania.  It isn’t one thing, it’s everything.

And it starts with the heart.  Yours.  Mine.

You can’t see it.  You can’t check it off the list; it’s an ongoing thing.  You can’t verify its progress in society in a year like you could if it was just skirts or Latin mass or even eliminating the UN (although that last one would help a lot).

Monomania is easier, but it isn’t life.

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Mr. Ahlquist, president of the American Chesterton Society, had the last speaking slot.

He looked a bit tired; I’m not surprised, given that he’d been manning the table over at the ACS, selling books and chatting about Chesterton, for two and a half days by this point.  Heck, I didn’t have to talk to hundreds of people a day, and I was about done by this point in the conference.

So, Ahlquist opened with a string of Chesterton quotes.  Certainly not a bad thing…

An open mind is a mark of foolishness, as is an open mouth.  The purpose of an open mind, as of an open mouth, is to close it again on something solid.

Thinking does sometimes lead to the truth… all men are dogmatic.

There are those who are dogmatic and know it… and those who are dogmatic and don’t know it.

We are struggling in a fallen language like men struggle in a fallen tent.

Ahlquist then defined a couple of popular words today:

  • “Whatever” means “I’m not going to think about it.”
  • “You know” means “I don’t know, and I’m hoping you do, ’cause I’m not sure what I mean…”

We have no words because we have no thoughts because we don’t know how to think.  And, as Chesterton said, “If you think wrong, you go wrong.”

So, how does one think?

1.  All proofs begin with something that can’t be proved but can only be perceived or accepted (an axiom).

2.  No argument can be held unless people agree on first principles.  (example: if I view adoption as a healing of a family who can’t have children and a child who needs a home, but someone else views adoption purely as powerful rich people forcing poor moms to sell their children, who will be psychologically destroyed by the process… well, we really can’t have a discussion about how adoption law should or should not be changed, can we?  We don’t even agree if adoption should be legal or a felony.)

3.  An act can only be judged by defining its object.  Progress, success, and efficiency sound great… but in what direction?

The whole of modern civilization does not know what it is trying to find, and, so, does not find it.

Every modern philosophy wants to blame our problems on something else.  Class oppression, parental inadequacies, gender bias, racism… “It’s not your fault, it’s because those people over there were insufficiently nice to you!”  This takes away both responsibility and free will.  The only logical conclusion, Ahlquist said, is madness and destruction.

Or that scene from Farenheit 451, where the main character’s wife is so engrossed in her TV shows that she ignores anything that might almost pass as real life, and dies in the massive war she was utterly oblivious to.

But never mind, what we really care about is what Lindsay Lohan did at her latest court appearance, and nobody actually requires students to read old books, especially by white men like Bradbury.  And certainly not Chesterton.

Which, again, brings us to why we homeschool.

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I’m currently reading What’s Wrong With the World by G.K. Chesterton, part of my haul from the American Chesterton Society table at the homeschooling conference last month.  (I’m also re-varnishing the front hall floor… so if my spelling or grammar is off tonight, blame the fumes.  Last night, it dropped to a reasonable 75 degrees and kept dropping.  Not tonight, of course, when I need to ventilate the house.  It’s still 80 and miserably humid at 1 am.  Ick.)

As Dale Ahlquist, the president of the ACS said in several of his talks, (I’m paraphrasing), “The thing to cure all your problems is more Chesterton!  And I have tons of him at my table, right against the far wall of the vendor area…”  So, I will endevor (too late, too many fumes to get that right…) attempt to enliven your day with an extended quote from Chesterton:

Some impatient trader, some superficial missionary, walks across an island and sees the squaw digging in the fields while the man is playing a flute; and immediately says that the man is a mere lord of creation and the woman a mere serf.  He does not remember that he might see the same thing in half the back gardens in Brixton, merely because women are at once more conscientious and more impatient, while men are at once more quiescent and more greedy for pleasure.  It may often be in Hawaii as it is in Hoxton.  That is, the woman does not work because the man tells her to work and she obeys.  On the contrary, the woman works because she has told the man to work and he hasn’t obeyed.

I read this to my DH the other night.  It was about ten o’clock, at least.  I had just finished folding laundry and filling the dishwasher.  I was impatiently waiting for him to get off his obnoxious submarine-hunting video game (on my laptop, which he insists is not “mine”, but jointly held) so I could enter a bunch of data in my Excel spreadsheet of garden output.  (Yes, seriously.  I’ve got lovely little graphs of lettuce, bean, and tomato production.  Theoretically, this is going to help me decide what’s worth its footprint in the garden and what isn’t.)  Plus, I wanted to catch up on blogging, and I needed to get online to decide on a pattern for the table runner I’m weaving for my in-laws.

DH made that face and some garbled sentences that came out mostly as, “I’d try to be offended, but I’m in the middle of a game, which only proves the point, so I might as well quit defending my gender before I start and admit that Chesterton, as usual, has precisely described the issue…”

I could go on with the examples (Me: the lawn needs mowing.  Him: oh, it can wait another two or three days… Me: I mowed the lawn while he was at work.), but it’s late (Me: I should go to bed, after I run the dishwasher, put away the clean clothes, check the calendar for tomorrow… Him: I’m going to bed.  Zzzzzz…..) and he does read the blog every so often, so I’ll hear about it.  (speaking of hearing about it: Me: KILL THE MUSKRATS!  I’ve tried everything!  Him: Why don’t we wait a bit and see if it goes away?  Me, three days later: Ok, it ate what was left of the corn plants.  Him: Ok, so let’s wait a bit longer and see if it leaves…)

This is a large part of why, I think, Chesterton also commented that divorce because of incompatibility was silly.  Men and women are, at their core, incompatible, and, “Marriage is a duel to the death which no man of honor should decline.”

(DH rolled his eyes at that quote, too… )

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You will notice as the summaries continue (interrupted these past few days by re-planking a deteriorating deck and a lovely little case of heat exhaustion… someday, I hope to learn “pacing myself”), that I chose to attend the more philosophical talks at the conference.  I attended a few talks that sounded like they’d be more hands-on, “do this, don’t do that”, practical advice, but, well, they weren’t.  (With one major exception: watch for Mrs. Billing in a few days.)

That being said, let’s continue with Mr. Dale Ahlquist, president of the American Chesterton Society, with “What is the basis for education?”

(There will be more Chesterton on the blog in the future, because I did exactly what I told my DH I would do: as soon as the vendor area opened, I headed straight to the ACS table and bought one of almost everything.  I did, however, refrain from standing on a chair, waving my copy of Lepanto, and yelling, “If you buy nothing else, you have to buy this book!“… mostly because I’d forgotten my copy at home.  That, and DH gave me that, “Oh, please don’t do that, there might be people we know at the conference…” look when I told him my plans.)

(Parentheses are horrible, addictive things, aren’t they?  (Or is it just me?))

Mr. Ahlquist opened, as usual with several pertinent quotes from G.K. Chesterton, on the excuse that he was going to have a very short talk… and a very long introduction:

The more doubtful we are about whether we have any truth, the more certain we are that we can teach it to our children.

We are learning to do a great many clever things.  The next thing we have to learn is not to do them.

The obvious effect of frivolous divorce is frivolous marriage.

The moment sex ceases to be a servant, it becomes a tyrant.

We’ve come up with the best communications in all of history, precisely at the moment when we have nothing to say.

In Chesterton’s book What’s Wrong With the World, he cited four main things behind the chaos of modern “civilization”: big government, big business, feminism, and public education.  Why?  Because they all undermine the stability and importance of the family.  (At a homeschooling conference, of course, public education became the main source of discussion for the rest of this talk, but the ACS is having a conference in August in Maryland of the same title as the book.)

The problem with education, Ahlquist pointed out, is that we fail to define it.  Everyone agrees that education is a wonderful and desirable thing.  But what are we actually teaching?  Everyone is educated… many of us were just educated wrong.  We learned how to be ready for work, for the world, for politics… but not for the home.  Our modern education system treats the home as preparation for school, when the school should be preparation for a happy home life.

I could hold up as an example the many programs about reading to your children so they’ll be ready for kindergarten.  What about reading to them so they’ll love the stories, or love language, or learn from the stories, or remember the time they spent with their parents?  No, no, it’s about getting them ready for the artificial construct of the modern school.

Chesterton argued that the home is the large, expansive thing; the world is narrow, with everyone in their circumscribed specialty or office.  Home is where all the important things happen.  (Although, today, birth and death have been removed from the home to the specialists’ offices, so that home is often as irrelevant as the bedroom community: yes, you sleep there, but your real life is all lived somewhere else, and nobody is very committed to the faceless, community-less suburb.)

About the time the world decided we should not be coerced about the form of religion, we decided we should be coerced about the form of education.

And, at this point, Mr. Ahlquist announced that he had actually finished his introduction and was going to commence the talk.

“Education is truth in the state of transmission.”  Every education teaches a philosophy, regardless of whether it claims to be doing so or not.  In Prof. Joseph Pearce’s biography of Chesterton, he recounts an incident where Chesterton argued against a minimalist approach to teaching religion in the public schools.  Not yet a Catholic, Chesterton argued that teaching only the Bible would, in effect, be teaching a Protestant view of religion, since Protestants hold that the Bible is sufficient, while Catholics hold that the community of the Church is the necessary background to teaching the Bible.  Proponents of the law insisted that they weren’t teaching a philosophy of Christianity; Chesterton would say that they were, they just weren’t admitting it.

Ahlquist proposed four key factors in a Catholic education:

  1. An integrated approach to teaching: subjects must fit together, your Catholic faith must be the backbone of your teaching, and your faith should inform every subject.  Faith doesn’t go in that little box over there, separate from math, which is also separate from science, which are all wholly unrelated to literature.
  2. Provide a classical education: we must acknowledge the importance of tradition.  There is a reason why some things survive and others are forgotten.  Yes, Chesterton has been neglected for decades, but he is not forgotten.  I could say that St. Augustine has been neglected, as well, but who even remembers the Arians he fought except as a defeated heresy?  There are reasons why St. Augustine and Chesterton and Shakespeare and dozens of others survived as “classics” while their contemporaries have vanished.
  3. If you exalt education, you must exalt parental power with it.  We are not too bold for rules, Ahlquist paraphrased Chesterton, we are too timid for responsibilities.  Those who would throw off the rules of parental authority (and, often, the traditional morality that goes with it) are often appealing to our laziness about our responsibilities, not our boldness about throwing off the rules.  Besides which, I would add, there are only new rules, not a lack of them.  I hate to bring Disney in as an illustration, but do you remember in Lion King, where Scar is telling the hyenas they’re going to kill the king?  “Great idea!  Who needs a king?” they answer.  Of course, Scar is going to be the king after they’ve killed the rightful one and the rightful heir, and he turns out to be an awful and disastrous tyrant.  Getting rid of the rightful power (parents) doesn’t mean no authority, just a different authority.
  4. Educate your children to be warriors.  Prepare them to transform the world so it’ll be easier for them to educate their children.  If we, as Christians, fail to take an interest in the world, there is absolutely no guarantee that the world will fail to take an interest in us.  Quite the contrary, in fact.

Finally, when you’re feeling that maybe they’re right, maybe education should be left to the experts, the people with the educations to do teaching, and you, as mom and dad, just really aren’t up to teaching your own kids, remember Chesterton’s warning: “We are in a horrible and deadly danger of taking educated people seriously.”

And then laugh and carry on.

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[My apologies; this is not technically a comment on a particular talk at the IHM homeschooling conference; I’ll get to those tomorrow.  This was on my mind, and, as such, had to be gotten out by putting it on the blog.]

A number of the talks I attended at the homeschooling conference were on the subject (or study) of G.K. Chesterton.  In one talk, a particular idea (among the dozens of wonderful quotes offered) caught my attention (so much so that I failed to write it down, apparently) and sort of stuck in my head:

We have been taught to want abnormal or extraordinary things, and, so, have forgotten how to want normal things.

Think about that for a second.

What do kids dream of?  Being famous: football star, music star, movie star, whatever.  Never mind that someone is probably more likely to be struck by lightening than to be the next Brett Favre or Angelina Jolie.  The old (and attainable) dreams of fireman or teacher are largely forgotten by most children.  (Diva first wanted to be a nun, now she declares that she’s going to be a mommy.  Don’t know how I managed to make it seem like an enviable job, but I’m thankful.)

To be honest, what do we dream of?  We joke about, “Yeah, I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up…” because, somehow, middle management or homeschooling stay-at-home mom wasn’t on most of our lists (and, some days, those nasty little voices in our ears whisper that we could really do better).  At some point, most of us, at least secretly, hoped to be famous or important or recognized or a hero or at least a published author or something.  We all grew up being encouraged to “make something of yourself” or “live up to your potential,” with the implication that we’d wind up well-known and well-off.

It’s an insidious call.  Surveys consistently show that about 75% of employed women with small children wished they could stay home… but they don’t.  A book was published a few years back called Shut Up and Get Back to Work, because women with degrees were allegedly wasting their lives and schooling and endangering future female students’ chances of getting scholarships by staying home to raise their own kids.  People bought it (the book, and, apparently, the premise).

Why?

I think Chesterton nailed it, a century ago: we don’t want the normal things.  Which is what most of us will get: the normal things.  So, we really ought to learn to be happy with it.

Frankly, the leaders who are happy with the normal things make some of the best extraordinary people.  George Washington, repeatedly, tried to retire to his plantation; he didn’t want fame, he wanted home.  Cardinal Ratzinger was looking forward to maybe finally retiring back to Bavaria to chat and play piano with his brother… and got elected pope.  Those who actually want the abnormal things are often the ones who do the worst with them (how many music and movie stars totally self-destruct with drugs and promiscuity?  The ones who stay sort of private and try to maintain a quasi-normal family life tend to do better, happiness-wise).

But what is normal?  Chesterton held up the most normal thing of all: a happy home life.

I’m reading Prof. Joseph Pearce’s biography of G. K. Chesterton, Wisdom and Innocence.  A key figure in Chesterton’s life was his wife, Frances.  However, she barely appears in his autobiography.  Critics have pointed to this as evidence of Chesterton’s Victorian misogyny, but friends said it was because Frances requested to be left out, preferring her privacy.  On a speaking tour in the U.S., Frances told reporters that, really, she and Mr. Chesterton were very private, and were, in fact, terribly homesick for their own home, their own garden, in their little hometown in England.

Chesterton had fame and fortune, even if he is rather ignored today.  As Dale Ahlquist, the president of the American Chesterton Society, said, “We have the bizarre problem of a 300-pound writer having fallen through the cracks…”

But he wanted the normal things.  He loved the normal things.

The extraordinary things came…

but they still didn’t mean as much to him as the normal things.

(On related note, there is a wonderful essay on the possibilities of GKC’s beatification (patron saint of journalists?).  At the homeschooling conference, Mr. Ahlquist was vigorously passing out cards promoting the cause (I have lost mine… I shall have to attend the big conference in August to acquire a new one to pin on the fridge…))

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