When I started this blog, I hoped to write more about Eastern Orthodoxy. It is ironic that Brits are bombarded with anti-Christian propaganda focussed largely on fundamentalists in America, when the very liberals who shudder with horror at Palin's support for Intelligent Design or 'The Decider's' Methodist faith, share so many of their basic tenets: that there is little room for beauty or culture, that poor people should fend for themselves, that white people who speak English should enjoy a special place in the world, there is no alternative to liberalism or fundamentalist protestantism, an open horror that Russia's president is surrounded by 'cowled figures' (to quote a certain New Atheist, who presumably thinks 'dog collared figures' would be a lot less offensive).
However, I think it is more difficult to write about being an Orthodox Christian, largely because it is a very complex faith with a strong apophatic tradition. I believe in Christ the Redeemer, the Holy Trinity, His Resurrection. But I have no interest whatsoever in trying to draw lessons in biology or physics from the Old Testament or in feeling superior to other people based on faith.
For me Orthodoxy is something to be experienced, like art or scenery and I expect the same is true for Christians in other Apostolic traditions. Perhaps it is for this reason that I find this story a profound work of Christian art, perhaps as much for what isn't in it, than what is. There is no good v evil plot, no hero, no miracles. I especially love the following exchange:
'Besides, you have no business to be an unbeliever. You ought to stand for all the things these stupid people call superstitions. Come now, don’t you think there’s a lot in those old wives’ tales about luck and charms and so on, silver bullets included? What do you say about them as a Catholic?’
‘I say I’m an agnostic,’ replied Father Brown, smiling.
‘Oh, yes,’ replied Father Brown, ‘I believe in the Devil. What I don’t believe in is the Dundee. I mean the Dundee of Covenanting legends, with his nightmare of a horse. John Graham was simply a seventeenth-century professional soldier, rather better than most. If he dragooned them it was because he was a dragoon, but not a dragon. Now my experience is that it’s not that sort of swaggering blade who sells himself to the Devil. The devil-worshippers I’ve known were quite different. Not to mention names, which might cause a social flutter, I’ll take a man in Dundee’s own day. Have you ever heard of Dalrymple of Stair?’
‘No,’ replied the other gruffly.
‘You’ve heard of what he did,’ said Father Brown, ‘and it was worse than anything Dundee ever did; yet he escapes the infamy by oblivion. He was the man who made the Massacre of Glencoe. He was a very learned man and lucid lawyer, a statesman with very serious and enlarged ideas of statesmanship, a quiet man with a very refined and intellectual face. That’s the sort of man who sells himself to the Devil.’Chesterton's Stuart sympathies weren't popular in Edwardian England, nor would they be popular now. Despite the raw bigotry of the Whigs, the Orangites and Hanoverians, it is the Stuarts who are hated for their lack of regard for Parliament and the Protestant faith. There is no irony that William of Orange was a friend of Parliament and he signed orders to authorise the massacre of an entire village. Human ethics can, and will, justfiy anything. So much for the Glorious Revolution, which militant atheists probably admire as much as any Orangeman.
No matter how much Britain has changed, or tells itself it has changed, Chesterton's Stuart message* has probably never had as hostile an audience as the current neo-liberal media coalition.
Still, maybe the ever more evident bankruptcy of this ideology will lead to British people casting it off forever.
(* It has to be added that Chesterton was far from being an angel and did demonstrate signs of anti-Semitism; but even then, his romanticism and Christian distributism were very interesting ideals).