This is a brief departure from my current series. I’ve been chipping away at the fundamentalist/modernist debates, but this came up and it was too fun not to write about.
I don’t know that Christianity is usually associated with whimsy. Sure, you have your happy-clappy Christians that play guitar while they sing who are a good deal more relaxed than their high church counterparts, but even they’re pretty serious in the grand scheme of things. They seriously implore people to love their neighbor. They seriously talk about the need to emulate Jesus. Though they may be chipper and informal, they’re still not exactly playful on average. Whimsy seems not to come naturally when your centerpiece is a crucified God. That’s the thing I love about the Christian apologist G.K. Chesterton. He taps into a level of whimsy that is so rare within Christian communities.
For example, in his book Orthodoxy, he recalls an incident in which he was working in a publishing house and his boss had just turned someone’s manuscript down. This boss muttered, “He’ll be ok. He believes in himself.” Chesterton promptly argued that point with him:
Shall I tell you where the men are who believe most in themselves? For I can tell you. I know of men who believe in themselves more colossally than Napoleon or Caesar. I know where flames the fixed star of certainty and success. I can guide you to the thrones of the Super-men. The men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums.(Ch. 2, Orthodoxy, Chesterton)
Sure enough, when we’re logical about it, when recognize that believing in ourselves doesn’t actually make us any more likely to succeed than anyone else. Every would-be pro-athlete and aspiring instagram influencer believes in themselves. Some delusionally so! We’ve all known someone who has no ability to sing and yet insists that they will be the next great pop-star. We’ve all known someone who wrote “the next great American novel” without being able to handle simple sentence structure. But telling them that they won’t hit it big won’t change their plans one iota. Why? Precisely because they believe so strongly in themselves.
Our individualist society says that if you believe in yourself, you’ll get somewhere, but Chesterton takes that secular dogma and flips it on its head. Logically, we are the least trustworthy people when it comes to evaluating our own ability. We’re incredibly biased, either for or against ourselves. We need to believe in something more secure than our own ego.
He does the same flip with our faculty of reason. We assume that if you use your reason, you’ll figure things out sooner or later. But how flawed is that assumption? Some of the most rational people in the world are the least reasonable:
If a man says (for instance) that men have a conspiracy against him, you cannot dispute it except by saying that all the men deny that they are conspirators; which is exactly what conspirators would do. His explanation covers the facts as much as yours. Or if a man says that he is the rightful King of England, it is no complete answer to say that the existing authorities call him mad; for if he were King of England that might be the wisest thing for the existing authorities to do. Or if a man says that he is Jesus Christ, it is no answer to tell him that the world denies his divinity; for the world denied Christ’s.Ch. 2, Orthodoxy, Chesterton
Again, the tables are turned! We assume that a keen sense of rationality can make sense of the world, but none of the people in this scenario are illogical! They all make perfect sense! And yet, we know they’ve reached the wrong conclusions.
The world we’ve constructed in our minds is far too narrow. We assume that we need to set out with our brain and our ego to conquer a largely stagnant world. But in the process, we miss all of the delightful joy that surrounds us. For example, we fail to celebrate the greenness of a leaf. We all assume that leaves ought to be green because they’re always green. But what if that leaf were polka-dotted? Or puce? Or teal? Why not? Things could have been any way imaginable! And yet, the leaf is green. What a delight! What a pure, unpredictable delight to see the greenness of a leaf and know that it could have been any other way, but it is green. It’s only our own self-centeredness that stops us from seeing the joy in that leaf! We assume that things are the way they are because “logically” that’s what they have to be. Or we assume that the green leaves are just backdrops for our grand story that we’re responsible for making. But these leaves are more than that! Once we start to delight in the crazy random joy of green leaves, we can start to wonder, why are they like that? Is it all just mechanistic detail to be relegated to the background? Or is there a joyful logic to it? Is there a god that happens to delight in green leaves?
The world we live in is so dreary. There’s so rarely anything greater than ourselves. We are expected to go out in all of our power and make something out of both ourselves and this mixed-up world. But Chesterton tells us to stop. There’s so much more at work in this world than what our little minds can perceive. Rather than drawing the limits at our own horizons, he invites us to rediscover a world infinitely larger than our own perception. A world in which a green leaf is a miracle and in which we are a tiny speck in the plans of an infinite God.
Chesterton’s works are all in the public domain, so if you’re intrigued, check out a free copy of his work on Amazon or google. And if you don’t have the time for a new read right now, reawaken your sense of whimsy. Don’t believe the narrow constraints that modern philosophy places on the world. The good news of Christianity isn’t all somber. A creative, world-creating God is real, and he’s in charge of every little thing you see. That truth makes mundane existence more of a fairy tale than you might expect.