Sunday, January 10, 2016

Freedom Is Impossible Without Limitations (Chesterton)

You can check the tag Sunday Salt for a compilation of reflections and wisdom posted to this blog from significant Christians of past centuries.

G.K. Chesterton was unquestionably one of the most brilliant men of the 20th century, a fact even his ideological opponents like George Bernard Shaw insisted upon. One of the most precious things about his mind was his ability to see paradox (two things that appear to contradict each other, but actually don't) as a window onto truth. He was able to reveal how our understanding of reality and truth is often hindered by simplistic assumptions. And he often demonstrated how the objections of even the most sophisticated and educated people to Christianity were a result of such simplistic assumptions. This is one example of how he demonstrates that true freedom actually requires some limitations - some definition - in order to be able to go along freely.

Moderns ... imagine that romance would exist most perfectly in a complete state of what they call liberty. They think that if a man makes a gesture it would be a startling and romantic matter that the sun should fall from the sky.

But the startling and romantic thing about the sun is that it does not fall from the sky. They are seeking under every shape and form a world where there are no limitations -- that is, a world where there are no outlines; that is, a world where there are no shapes. There is nothing baser than that infinity. They say they wish to be as strong as the universe, but they really wish the whole universe as weak as themselves. Chesterton, Heretics (1905).

Take just one example from real life. Many people imagine that the idea of romance necessarily suggests the complete liberty to follow your emotions for another person wherever they lead, and never to restrain them. But it is surely true that the more romantic thing is for love to last, to stay true to another person and to be constant and unbreakable through every test and trial. The most romantic love is one that does not permit itself to change. The least romantic thing of all is for a person's professions of love for you to simply vanish tomorrow or the next day because a new feeling has swept them away in a different direction. Being unstable and constantly carried along by every impulse is not the same thing as being free.

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