Quieting the thunder of secularism

As far as I can recall, in all my years — and they are legion — I have never quoted G.K. Chesterton. It always seemed like cheating. He was too smart to be in my company.

Chesterton, born in London in 1874 and a convert by 1922, was one of the early apologists to modernity. Meaning that his apologetics on the Faith was geared to how the modern secular mind thinks. Though he died in 1936, he still appeals today.

He had followers and friends as diverse as Gandhi, the atheist playwright George Bernard Shaw and filmmaker Orson Welles.

Chesterton wrote more than 80 books, as well as short stories, essays, poems and plays. His “Father Brown” series of mysteries — starring a priest-detective — led to a popular television character.

Many know him well for two of his classic works of Catholic apologetics — “Orthodoxy” and “The Everlasting Man.”

News came out of England in August that the bishop of Northampton, where Chesterton died, has appointed a priest to investigate the possibility of opening the cause for his canonization. It’s the first step on a long road, but I like the idea of having a “Saint G.K.”

I recently gave a talk ominously titled “Being Catholic in an Anti-Christian Culture.” The audience was young adult — which to me means under 40. When I mentioned to a friend that I was giving the talk, she advised me to tell them that in dealing with the anti-Christian culture, “we need mercy, kindness and joy.” You think she’d know me better.

I did try to tell them that faith can survive many things, but one of the hardest things to deal with is the incessant drumbeat of propaganda. I think of Meredith Willson’s “Seventy-Six Trombones” from “The Music Man”:

“There were copper bottom tympani in horse platoons, thundering, thundering, all along the way.”

That’s what is just outside your door every morning, noon and night, thundering, thundering all along the secular way.

Especially for younger people, there is that gnawing temptation that a great, big party is going on that they are missing because of the Catholic thing. I mentioned that it is not unlike what recovering alcoholics deal with in the early days of sobriety. They create an image in their own minds of those wonderful beer-party commercials on television they will never enjoy again.

It’s too easy to forget that those television beer parties sell beer, not reality. They don’t show the kid in the background heaving his guts out. Or how for the alcoholic, booze means sickness, job loss, misery at home and a wrecked life.

I explained that most of what the anti-Christian culture sells with sitcom laugh tracks leave a similar shipwreck behind, and pointed to 48 percent of babies now born out of wedlock and the crushing poverty that creates for mother and child. And the poverty of the soul for the fathers.

Anyway, that was my pitch and at least nobody walked out. Then I finished with a quote from G.K. Chesterton’s “Twelve Modern Apostles” on “Why I am a Catholic.” He explained that “it is the only thing that frees a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age.” That frees you from the copper bottom tympani of the secular propaganda machine.

I opened up the floor for questions and one woman rose to say that she had recently come back to the Faith. She wanted to know what she should do about her old friends from her old ways. She wanted to know how to treat them so that she could share what she now had.

There was an easy answer. “Treat them,” I said, “with mercy, kindness and joy.” Everybody needs a saint for a friend. 

Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.