Thursday, May 29, 2008

Happy Birthday GKC!

No, it's not the birthday of the venerable Hebrew Lexicon, Gesenius-Kautzch-Cowley. It's the birthday of the Prince of Paradox, Gilbert Keith Chesterton. I encourage you to honor his birthday by making arguments that delightfully stand conventional wisdom on its head. I wish more people could argue like Chesterton. Even when you think that what he's arguing is pure nonsense, you can't help but appreciate the beauty of how he's arguing it.

I give you a random sample, something I have never read until a few minutes ago: The Twelve Men.

Notice how he can argue with passion, but without rancor; how he can entertain without sarcasm. If I were to write an essay about serving on a jury, I'd no doubt look for laughs by carping about the ridiculous, bureaucratic rigmarole and by making fun of my fellow jurors. This is the narrow humor of a sarcastic middle schooler, someone who thinks he's smarter than anyone in the room. But GKC is a grown-up; so he presents himself as being at least as ridiculous as the jury selection system he's participating in.

I don't know why I haven't read everything he's written; he never disappoints. This is my favorite section from The Twelve Men:

But the true result of all experience and the true foundation of all religion is this. That the four or five things that it is most practically essential that a man should know, are all of them what people call paradoxes. That is to say, that though we all find them in life to be mere plain truths, yet we cannot easily state them in words without being guilty of seeming verbal contradictions.

(HT to Justin Taylor for alerting me to GKC's birthday. The argument JT excerpts from
John Piper is a great example of standing conventional wisdom on its head. Who would have thought of the new Calvinists as the heirs of GKC's love of truth-and-mystery? Well, I still don't think so; the Arminians I know love truth-and-mystery just as much as the new Calvinists I know. Calvinism's biggest draw has always been the steely deductive logic of TULIP. But I'll consider Piper's argument an appropriate homage to GKC.)

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