Thursday, September 12, 2013

Chesterton's The Ball and the Cross

G. K. Chesterton, The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton VII, with introduction and notes by Iain T. Benson. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2004.

Ralph C. Wood, "Tyrannical Tolerance and Ferocious Hospitality: The Ball of the Cross," in Chesterton: The Nightmare Goodness of God. Waco, TX: Baylor University, 2011.

Chesterton wrote in his book Heretics: Bigotry may be roughly defined as the anger of men who have no opinions. It is the resistance offered to definite ideas by that vague bulk of people whose ideas are indefinite to excess. Bigotry may be called the appalling frenzy of the indifferent. This frenzy of the indifferent is in truth a terrible thing; it has made all monstrous and widely pervading persecutions. . . .

The Ball and the Cross would be considered a fantasy novel. The two main characters are Turnbull and MacIan. Turnbull is an English atheist who has slandered the Virgin Mary. MacIan is a Scots Catholic who takes offense at this slander. He breaks the front window of Turnbull's newspaper shop and challenges Turnbull to a duel. The major plot is that everyone around them wants to stop them from having this duel.

G. K. Chesterton states that "Modern toleration is really a tyranny" (125). Woods in his chapter analysis of Chesterton's book contrasts toleration with hospitality. Other comments by Chesterton on tolerance: "It is a tyranny because it is a silence. To say that I must not deny my opponent's faith is to say I must discuss it (125). Chesterton also said that tolerance was a virtue for the "man with no convictions." Christianity, according to Chesterton, "was intolerable because it was intolerant."

Wood describing The Ball and the Cross says: that this novel "recounts the attempt of two vehement foes--one Christian, the other atheist--to undertake  . . . an engagement" (132). Wood explains that Christian hospitality engages the other: "On the one hand, it must engage opponents so genuinely that they not only recognize themselves in our representation of their most basic convictions, but also that we ourselves must be susceptible of conversion to their faith. On the other hand, we are also called to demonstrate the case for Christianity so persuasively, in both act and argument, that we help create the possibility of their conversion as well" (132). This is something tolerance cannot do. It does not engage its opponent.

There are many things to like about Chesterton's The Ball and the Cross. One of the things I liked was that it seems a simple story, but that is deceiving. It can be read at many levels. As mentioned earlier, it is considered a fantasy. Second, it shows how God's transcendence can be experienced in the ordinary. Third, it shows how people with opposing beliefs can respect each other and engage each other's beliefs.

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