He loved debate and controversy but at the same time managed to remain magnanimous to his enemy

I note from the posts in response to my last two blogs that some people get extraordinarily heated over certain issues such as women’s rights, the spectre of over-population and so on. It sometimes seems as if it is not possible to conduct a serious debate without wanting to punch your opponent verbally in the face. What is the antidote? To love your adversary even as you explain to him/her that their arguments are shallow, ignorant, irrational or confused; easier said than done.

There is one man who loved debate, controversy and argument while at the same time managing to remain magnanimous to his enemy: this was G K Chesterton. I have just been reading The Holiness of G K Chesterton, edited by William Oddie, and reflecting that Chesterton would have taken to the blogosphere with gusto. Words, writing and quick repartee came naturally to him; ideas and images flowed ceaselessly from his pen. Faced by the atheist brigade he would have fizzed and sparkled, laughed and lunged, as ready to win over as well as to win.

In his introduction, Oddie quotes GKC on St Thomas Aquinas: Aquinas’s huge productivity, Chesterton comments, could not have been achieved, “if he had not been thinking even when he was not writing; but above all thinking combatively. This, in his case, certainly did not mean bitterly or spitefully or uncharitably, but it did mean combatively. As a matter of fact it is generally the man who is not ready to argue, who is ready to sneer. That is why in recent literature there has been so little argument and so much sneering.”

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Sneering was not in Chesterton’s make-up. He would have scorned such a tone of voice, as well as its bedfellows, bitterness and spite. He was also holy – because he loved the truth and loved people; because he hated humbug and cant; because he was large-hearted and humble. “Holiness” is a category foreign to atheism; it smacks of Christian skulduggery and hypocrisy. If atheists could only think of holiness as a very large man, jesting and generous, candid and humorous, full of faith and radiating happiness, they would have some idea of what it is about.

Looking back on his life Chesterton once described it as “indefensibly happy” – the happiness of a man who has found the pearl of great price and wants to share it with everyone he meets. Let’s pray for his canonisation – as the future saint of the blogosphere.

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