Lecture 34: The Uses of Diversity

“Diversity” is one of those words that has become a sort of sledgehammer to force curriculums and staffs and casts of television shows to look a certain way. There is something quite fraudulent about it, and it is easy to point out. If people were serious about diversity, they would all be reading G.K. Chesterton. He offers more diversity than we can possibly bear. Perhaps that is why people don’t read him. Or perhaps the problem is that Chesterton does not offer diversity for the sake of diversity, but diversity for the sake of truth. Truth is not relative. All things are related to Truth. Chesterton’s reach is amazing, it is his grasp that is utterly astonishing.

Interestingly enough, Chesterton published a book in 1921 called The Uses of Diversity. It is a collection of essays from his weekly columns in The Illustrated London News and the New Witness, gathered from a period of more than twelve years. The title is not really explained except that there seems to be no unifying theme to the choice of essays included in this volume. The ensemble cast includes a Frenchman, an Irishman, a Japanese man, a woman novelist, a scientist, a ghost, a monster, a pig, and a murderous king. How’s that for diversity?

One of the most appealing things about this collection (as with most of Chesterton) is how light and playful the writing is, even when taking on weighty subjects. Chesterton starts right off in the opening essay by declaring that seriousness is not a virtue. Furthermore, animals are too serious. Only humans laugh. (Hyenas only give “ironic cheers.”) The corollary of this principle is that being too serious about animals is also not a virtue. “Wherever there is animal worship there is human sacrifice.” Chesterton seems to be foreseeing that we would have animal rights activists who are all pro-abortion. But pet-owners also beware. I think we have all seen otherwise sane people who treat their pets with much more loving attention than they treat their children (or would treat their children, if they had any).

And speaking of pet owners, Chesterton has an amusing essay about a woman who has run afoul of the local ordinances because she has attempted to keep a pig as a pet. Chesterton defends pigs, especially for their fine fatness, for “a certain sleepy perfection of contour”). Then he gives all the reasons why pigs would make excellent pets, and while perfectly logical it also sounds perfectly absurd. That is precisely his point. Any idea can be defended on reason alone, or worse, by appealing to something as vague as evolution for a justification. We all know very well that pigs should not be pets. But why? Why can’t we explain it? Because the reason has something to do with‚Ķtradition. And if tradition becomes the reason for doing or not doing something, well, imagine the consequences!

If appealing to tradition were not bad enough, Chesterton also has the cheek in this book to take on some religious sects he happens to disagree with, such as Christian Science and Mormonism. The problem with the former, he says, is not that Christian Scientists are spiritual, but that they are spiritual and nothing else. Pure spiritualism is the enemy of real religion, because real religion has to do with real things. He does not object to faith healing. Faith healing has always been around, but it was real bodies that were healed of real diseases. It was always connected to a material act. Or a sacrament.

As for Mormons, Chesterton does not get waylaid by the question of polygamy about which everyone was fussing, but gets at the creed that no one would discuss. He thus exposes the fallacy of “religious tolerance”:

We talk much about “respecting” this or that person’s religion; but the way to respect a religion is to treat it as a religion: to ask what are its tenets and what are their consequences. But modern tolerance is dearer than intolerance. The old religious authorities, at least, defined a heresy before they condemned it, and read a book before they burned it. But we are always saying to a Mormon or a Moslem – “Never mind about your religion, come to my arms.” To which he naturally replies – “But I do mind about my religion, and I advise you to mind your eye.”

Getting along with all of God’s creatures is a great challenge, and one of my all time favorite Chesterton quotations appears in this collection: “The Bible tells us to love our neighbours, and also to love our enemies; probably because they are generally the same people.”

Everything about the modern world is out of whack, out of balance. Chesterton is always striving to restore a proper sense of proportion, whether we have lost the balance of the spiritual and physical or the balance of love and truth. It is a joyful battle.

I enjoy stars and the sun or trees and the sea, because they exist in spite of me; and I believe the sentiment to be at the root of all that real kind of romance which makes life not a delusion of the night, but an adventure of the morning. It is, indeed, in the clash of circumstances that men are most alive. When we break a lance with an opponent the whole romance is in the fact that the lance does break. It breaks because it is real: it does not vanish like an elfin spear. And even when there is an element of the marvellous or impossible in true poetry, there is always also this element of resistance, of actuality and shock. The most really poetical impossibility is an irresistible force colliding with an immovable post. When that happens it will be the end of the world.

This book is currently out of print.

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