Sunday, July 19, 2020

Plain Thinking

…a little plain thinking would teach them how harsh and fanciful are the mass of their own ethics…

Heretics, Gilbert K. Chesterton (eBook)

Harsh and fanciful.  A nice description of the “ethics” we are having shoved down our throats.  Nothing of love, nothing of understanding the human condition, nothing or man’s right – true rights of life and property.

…how very civilized and very complicated must be the brain of the Tolstoyan who really believes it to be evil to love one's country and wicked to strike a blow.

To love one’s country.  An interesting phrase.  To understand the phrase, one must understand what is meant by “love” and what is meant by “country.”

Love.  Love is doing; it is action.  Also, we all know 1 Corinthians 13, read at many weddings.  It offers the feel-good part of love.  Just one verse, to not make too long a cite:

4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.

The entire tone is like this.  It is really…lovely.  Aspirational.  An ideal at which to aim.  But love is so much more:

Proverbs 3: 11 My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent his rebuke, 12 because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.

Hebrews 12 cites these verses from Proverbs, then continues:

7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.

If you are not disciplined, you are not loved.  Love entails disciplining, rebuking.  Love holds to account.  To love one’s country is not “my country, right or wrong.”  There is no disciplining here, no rebuke.

What of country?

A country is a political state, nation, or controlled territory. It is often referred to as the land of an individual's birth, residence, or citizenship. 

A country may be an independent sovereign state or part of a larger state….

The word originates from the French:

mid-13c., "(one's) native land;" c. 1300, "any geographic area," sometimes with implications of political organization, from Old French contree, cuntrede "region, district, country,"

While today it is generally assumed to be synonymous with a political entity (a state), this has not always been true – and is not even true today.  Examples today include:

The Kingdom of the Netherlands includes four separate countries: Netherlands, Aruba, Curaçao, and Sint Maarten.

The United Kingdom includes England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The Crown Dependencies, which are not part of the UK itself, are also sometimes referred to as countries.

The Kingdom of Denmark includes three separate countries: Denmark, Faroe Islands, and Greenland.

There are others.  “Country” holds a much more cultural and regional connotation than it does a political connotation. Country does not mean government; it does not mean state.  I may love my country and feel animosity toward the institutions that have formal governance responsibility over it.  Sounds about right.

Putting all of this together, to love one’s country involves acting with goodwill (including holding to account) toward those with whom you share cultural characteristics and regional ties.  In this case, one can understand the evil in those who do not love country.

Returning to Chesterton:

A man approaches, wearing sandals and simple raiment, a raw tomato held firmly in his right hand, and says, "The affections of family and country alike are hindrances to the fuller development of human love;" but the plain thinker will only answer him, with a wonder not untinged with admiration, "What a great deal of trouble you must have taken in order to feel like that."

Chesterton then contrasts the high living from the plain thinking that is the result of thinking like this:

High living will reject the tomato. Plain thinking will equally decisively reject the idea of the invariable sinfulness of war.

I had much trouble with this until I worked through a proper meaning of loving one’s country.  In defense of one’s country, war is not invariably sinful.  In defense of one’s state?  Virtually always; at least given the historic examples we have where “defense” really meant “offense.”

High living will convince us that nothing is more materialistic than to despise a pleasure as purely material. And plain thinking will convince us that nothing is more materialistic than to reserve our horror chiefly for material wounds.

Material wounds in defense of one’s country are minor horrors for those who love their country.  Losing that which one loves is a much greater horror.


In this matter, then, as in all the other matters treated in this book, our main conclusion is that it is a fundamental point of view, a philosophy or religion which is needed, and not any change in habit or social routine.

We live in a story, a narrative: “a fundamental point of view, a philosophy or religion.”  This is what makes a country, and it is this which one can love: embrace, discipline, rebuke, defend to the point of war.

The things we need most for immediate practical purposes are all abstractions. We need a right view of the human lot, a right view of the human society….

Men are fallen, and will remain fallen.  That is a right view of the human lot.  All fall short of whatever standard of “good” a man of integrity can offer.  The rioters demand that we purge all sin from man – taking on a wrong view of the human lot.

Jesus demonstrated love.  Yes, He washed Peter’s feet; he also called him Satan.  This was love.


Chesterton concludes this chapter with a thought quite appropriate for today:

Men take thought and ponder rationalistically, touching remote things—things that only theoretically matter, such as the transit of Venus. But only at their peril can men rationalize about so practical a matter as health.

We are pondering too much about our health right now.  It is perilous.


  1. I like the path you are on and taking us through. You are getting into nuanced thoughts about identity and value.

    Sometimes we can't divorce fighting for country from fighting for State even though I understand what you are talking about. Sometimes the State is fighting the country's fight even if they are doing it for their own purposes. But usually not.

    Reading Ajamian's latest article Gramsci was right. For each Western state, the country was grounded in Christian theology and morality from President to janitor. That isn't the case now, but we the church must do our best to extend that narrative to everyone around us because it is the only true narrative. It is a universal, diverse narrative too. But different than people believe today. There is no freedom in sexual and narcotic dissipation. There is only death. We need to offer mercy to people involved in dissipation, even though there is judgment. The judgment is a sign post to say wrong way. Mercy is the engine to turn the car around. The gentleness (maybe kindness) of Christ lead to repentance, so says Paul in Romans 2.

  2. To love is to rebuke... this means that to love is to desire the full development of the object of one's love. It's certainly more satisfying than shallow feelings of affection, but it also requires more from the loved and the loving.