Love That Ends in Bloodshed: G.K. Chesterton on Division and Unity

G.K. Chesterton, OrthodoxyI recently wrote a piece at Ethika Politika discussing the problems we encounter when we pursue unity for the sake of unity. My basic argument — which is partially borrowed from Kenneth Minogue — is that moderation lends itself toward ambivalence, and ambivalence wanders from truth.

Shortly thereafter, my good friend RJ Moeller pointed me toward an excerpt from G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodox, which illuminates similar similar points from a Christian perspective.

In this case, Chesterton points to the differences between artificial unity and active love (a close cousin of truth).

It is just here that Buddhism is on the side of modern pantheism and immanence. And it is just here that Christianity is on the side of humanity and liberty and love. Love desires personality; therefore love desires division.

It is the instinct of Christianity to be glad that God has broken the universe into little pieces, because they are living pieces. It is her instinct to say “little children love one another” rather than to tell one large person to love himself.

This notion of being “living pieces” translates quite well into an individualistic approach to our public endeavors, particularly when we consider the benefits that can come from active struggle and engagement.

Chesterton continues, noting that Jesus made it clear his blood and sacrifice would provoke division, not soften it:

We come back to the same tireless note touching the nature of Christianity; all modern philosophies are chains which connect and fetter; Christianity is a sword which separates and sets free. No other philosophy makes God actually rejoice in the separation of the universe into living souls. But according to orthodox Christianity this separation between God and man is sacred, because this is eternal.

So that a man may love God it is necessary that there should be not only a God to be loved, but a man to love him. All those vague theosophical minds for whom the universe is an immense melting-pot are exactly the minds which shrink instinctively from that earthquake saying of our Gospels, which declare that the Son of God came not with peace but with a sundering sword. The saying rings entirely true even considered as what it obviously is; the statement that any man who preaches real love is bound to produce hate in some who hear his words.

Chesterton then wraps all of these ideas up by aptly connecting the implications of politico-moral unity with presupposed notions of universalism in the spiritual realm:

It is as true of democratic fraternity as a divine love; sham love ends in compromise and common philosophy; but real love has always ended in bloodshed.

Tell that to Rob Bell.

(Note: Emphasis was added throughout.)

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  • Remnant Culture

    Chesterton: Sham love ends in compromise; real love ends in bloodshed. More thoughts on moderation: (HT @rjmoeller)

  • Andrew Haines

    “Orthodoxy” is an incredible book. One of my favorites. This sort of concise yet deeply reflective analysis is the very thing that makes Chesterton so powerful — and above all in this volume.

    I’m curious: as a Catholic, I’ve been exposed to Chesterton’s work mostly within the bounds of the Catholic tradition (where he’s often considered a bulwark against the influence of British empirical atheism, but also Protestantism). How have you experienced his thought to be taken in non-Catholic circles? Is he widely read? And are there any points at which his essays become difficult to grapple with?

  • Remnant Culture

    I would say that within Protestant circles he is indeed widely read (at least, he is in the ones I hang out in). I tend to see more esteem, respect and commonality expressed with Chesterton, although the dissonance is certainly still there. I think many (modern-day) Protestants approach Chesterton in a “Mere Christianity” sort of way, or perhaps the same way I, an Arminian, approach Calvinists — as a means for prodding and testing my own theological beliefs.

    As far as where exactly those essays become difficult to grapple with, I’m not so familiar with the areas of conflict, as I have not read any of his works in fill. The extent of my knowledge is confined to a few chapters and extensive quotes I’ve read (most of which, are offered as *support* for arguments I agree with).

    But speaking of Calvinists, here is one of John Piper’s takes on Chesterton, which I remember reading a few years back. There is a bit of disagreement expressed throughout, but nothing too specific:

    To tap a few of those closer to my sphere, I’d be interested in what RJ (referenced above) and Matt Lee Anderson would have to say, as I believe both are ardent Chesterton admirers while also Protestants. (Anderson’s blog title, “Mere Orthodoxy,” is a hat tip to both Lewis and Chesterton).

  • Timothy Winterstein

    RT @RemnantCulture Love That Ends in Bloodshed: G.K. Chesterton on Division and Unity

  • Autumn

    The “real love” resulted in the bloodshed of Christ. Chesterton had very strong words against Calvinists, Calvinists have strong words against Bell. Both men are/were incredibly awesome at arguing valid points to the extreme chagrin of their more dogmatic contemporaries.