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G.K. Chesterton
Common Sense Apostle
& Cigar Smoking Mystic, part 3

The Religion of Irreligion

The attack on the family is directly connected to the attack on the Faith. That is because the family is directly connected to the Holy Family. Every father is Joseph: a craftsman, a protector, a provider. Every mother is Mary: a servant, a model, an intercessor. Every child is Jesus: a visitor from heaven, entrusted for a time to his parents. Marriage is a sacrament. It is reveals a religious truth: that love is unconditional and that love is life-giving.

The attack on the family is above all an attack on a religious truth. And it is an attack on the religion that has revealed this truth: the Roman Catholic Church. Defending the faith means defending the family. But it also means defending the faith, its precepts, its practices, its purity. The attacks come from all sides and are both subtle and overt. Chesterton says, "What is really working in the world today is Anti-Catholicism and nothing else."

What we are fighting is a new and false religion, much more powerful but much less noble than that against which our civilization strove in the Crusades. But in the clearest minds it may almost be called a religion of irreligion. It trusts itself utterly to the anarchy of the unknown; and, unless civilization can sober it with a shock of disappointment, it will be for ever inexhaustible in novelties of perversion and pride.

This "religion of irreligion" is the most subtle of all the attacks on the Church, the idea that it doesn’t matter what you believe, and therefore it is best to not even talk about it. Chesterton says religious freedom is supposed to mean that we are free to discuss our religion. In practice, however, it means that we are barely allowed to mention it. We have ironically reached the point where all we can talk about is the weather, and we call that free speech and "the complete liberality of all creeds."

Chesterton says, "The opponents of Christianity would believe anything except Christianity." We have indeed seen the most bizarre sects and cults taken seriously while the Church is ridiculed.

One Holy, Whole Catholic Church

He also recognizes that every Protestant "sect" is indeed a "section" of the wholeness of the Catholic Church. Every heresy has taken some part of the truth and discarded the rest. Thus, the Lutherans became obsessed with "faith alone," Calvinists with the sovereignty of God, Baptists with the Bible, Seventh Day Adventists with the Sabbath, and so on. Meanwhile they stand outside the Church and throw stones from all sides. The Catholic Church is attacked for being too austere or too gaudy, too material or too spiritual, too worldly or too otherworldly, too complicated or too simplistic. Catholics are criticized for being celibate but also for having too many babies, criticized for being unfair to women but also because "only women" go to Mass.

The modernists complain that the Catholic Church is dead, and complain even louder that it has so much power and influence. The secularists admire Italian art while despising Italian religion. The world rebukes Catholics for their sins, and worse still, for confessing their sins. Protestants say Catholics don’t take the Bible seriously and then criticize them for being so literal about the Eucharist. Yet, as Chesterton points out, they take off their hats in churches even while denying that Christ is present on the altar.

Ultimately every attack on the Church is an attack on the priesthood and the Eucharist. Every attack on the Church is an attack on Christ, God who came in the flesh, and who founded a Church and who held up the bread and the cup and said, "This is my body. This is my blood."

Chesterton says there is only the Catholic Church and its enemies. Long before his conversion he said that if every man lived a thousand years, "every man would end up either in utter pessimistic skepticism or as member of the Catholic creed." He knew that everyone outside of the Church is either moving toward it or away from it. Just like everyone outside of heaven. We are making our choice for or against God.

Chesterton defended the Church even when he was still an outsider. Ironically, today we sometimes have to defend the Church against insiders, against Catholics who would undermine their own faith. Chesterton says there have been times in the Church’s history when it has been too much wedded to the world. But when it has been wedded to the world, he says, it has always found itself widowed by the world.

When Chesterton died in 1936, Pope Pius XI called him a Defender of the Faith. He is still a defender of the faith, an apologist for right reason and divine revelation, as his words are still effective weapons against the attacks that come from all sides. He flings his opponents off with ease. He is still a maker of converts, turning his enemies into friends, his opponents into allies, wrestling with angels and refusing to let go.

(Originally published as "G.K. Chesterton: Oversized Apologist in an UnderFaithed World" in Envoy magazine, volume 7.3.)

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About Dale Ahlquist

Dale Ahlquist is the president and co-founder of the American Chesterton Society. He is the creator and host of the television series, “G.K. Chesterton: The Apostle of Common Sense,” on EWTN. Dale is the publisher of Gilbert Magazine, author of The Chesterton University Student Handbook, editor of The Gift of Wonder: The Many Sides of G.K. Chesterton, associate editor of the Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton (Ignatius). He has been called “one of the most respected Chesterton scholars in the world” and has delighted audiences around the country with his variety of talks on the great English writer. He is a graduate of Carleton College (B.A.) in Northfield, Minnesota, and Hamline University (M.A.) in St. Paul, Minnesota. He lives near Minneapolis with his wife and five children. Like Chesterton, Dale is a Catholic convert and a joyful defender of the Catholic Faith. He can be contacted at info@chesterton.org.

Order Today! Call 1-800-651-1531 | Order online here

G.K Chesterton: Apostle of Common Sense

by Dale Alquist
188 pages; $13.95

G. K. Chesterton was one of the most well-known and beloved writers of his time. Yet he has been strangely neglected today. This book is the perfect introduction to Chesterton. Ahlquist is an able guide who takes the reader through twelve of Chesterton’s most important books as well as the famous Father Brown stories.

One of the problems with approaching Chesterton is that he was so prolific that the reader is simply overwhelmed. But Ahlquist makes the literary giant accessible, highlighting Chesterton’s amazing reach, keen insight, and marvelous wit. Each chapter is liberally spiced with Chesterton’s striking quotations.

There is something special that runs throughout Chesterton’s books that sets him apart from the confusing philosophies of the modern world. That common thread in Chesterton’s writings is common sense. It is instantly recognizable and utterly refreshing.

“Dale Ahlquist is one of the most respected Chesterton scholars in the world and there are few more qualified to illustrate the timeless wit and wisdom of the legendary GKC. This volume is an excellent introduction to one of the giant figures of the Catholic Literary Revival.”

—Joseph Pearce, Author, Literary Converts

“Ahlquist re-presents in a lively and incisive manner the many fundamental themes in Chesterton. Chesterton is the real intellectual giant of our times. Ahlquist succeeds admirably in reminding us why.”

—Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.




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