Monday, November 8, 2010

My Version of Chesterton's "Double Spiritual Need"

In the first chapter of his landmark work Orthodoxy, G. K. Chesterton set forth a "double spiritual need" which is common among men and which, by his reckoning, only the orthodox Christian faith can adequately answer:

I have often had a fancy for writing a romance about an English yachtsman who slightly miscalculated his course and discovered England under the impression that it was a new island in the South Seas.  I always find, however, that I am either too busy or too lazy to write this fine work, so I may as well give it away for the purposes of philosophical illustration. There will probably be a general impression that the man who landed (armed to the teeth and talking by signs) to plant the British flag on that barbaric temple which turned out to be the Pavilion at Brighton, felt rather a fool.  I am not here concerned to deny that he looked a fool. But if you imagine that he felt a fool, or at any rate that the sense of folly was his sole or his dominant emotion, then you have not studied with sufficient delicacy the rich romantic nature of the hero of this tale. His mistake was really a most enviable mistake; and he knew it, if he was the man I take him for. What could be more delightful than to have in the same few minutes all the fascinating terrors of going abroad combined with all the humane security of coming home again? What could be better than to have all the fun of discovering South Africa without the disgusting necessity of landing there? What could be more glorious than to brace one's self up to discover New South Wales and then realize, with a gush of happy tears, that it was really old South Wales.  This at least seems to me the main problem for philosophers, and is in a manner the main problem of this book. How can we contrive to be at once astonished at the world and yet at home in it?  How can this queer cosmic town, with its many-legged citizens, with its monstrous and ancient lamps, how can this world give us at once the fascination of a strange town and the comfort and honour of being our own town?
To show that a faith or a philosophy is true from every standpoint would be too big an undertaking even for a much bigger book than this; it is necessary to follow one path of argument; and this is the path that I here propose to follow. I wish to set forth my faith as particularly answering this double spiritual need, the need for that mixture of the familiar and the unfamiliar which Christendom has rightly named romance.

Lately, it has occurred to me that I also have a dual spiritual need, which has only been adequately fulfilled, really, since I have been Anglican.  I thought at first that it was separate from and parallel to the dual need expressed by Chesterton, but now I think it is merely a specialized case of it.

It is this:  I need to feel myself a rebel in some sense, and part of a conspiracy.  At the same time, I need to feel that my actions are righteous, and that I am fighting on the side of the angels.

This need is, of course, precisely delineated and answered in our Lord's command, recorded in the 10th Chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel:

... be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.
Because the world is currently captive to a usurper and his forces, we can easily get our fill of rebellion, insurgency, and adventure.  Yet, because we fight for the true King, we can be comfortable in the knowledge that our actions (if we are good soldiers) are ratified by Heaven.

I have felt this double need, simultaneously fulfilled, many dozens of times since becoming an Anglican.  I felt it particularly when I was still organizationally linked to that great Satan, The Episcopal Church.  We traditionalists were always embattled, almost always losing, rebellious to the death (if necessary) against the Zeitgeist, but at the same time, innocent as doves regarding the commandments of God.  I don't know any other feeling which satisfies me as much.