Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Loving one's enemies . . .

On the culture wars mentioned in the previous post.

Take this as apocryphal, for I am recalling it from memory, but I vaguely remember reading of an exchange between the Catholic convert G. K. Chesterton and his perennial adversary, George Bernard Shaw. Caveat emptor, but this is how I remember it: Shaw sent two tickets to a play of his that was about to open to Chesterton with a note saying: invite a friend, if you have one. To which Chesterton replied that he planned to attend the second performance of the play, if there was one.

Loving one's enemies begins with loving one's adversaries. Shaw may have been entirely unsympathetic to Christianity, but he, like Chesterton, was a product of the cultural deeply shaped by Christian faith. The amity which was part of their otherwise profound disagreements was not simply a product of their individual graciousness. Rather it was far more part of the ethos which they each inherited from their somewhat Christianized culture. Chesterton breathed in deeper drafts of that religious heritage, of course, which is why he was such an astonishingly jovial pugilist in the culture wars of his day -- the culture wars of the sort that Rieff insists are part of culture itself.

My footnote to Rieff, therefore, would be that the ability of a culture to cope with the tensions involved in "culture wars" is enhanced by the same spirit that made the Shaw-Chesterton relationship so interesting. Today's culture wars are taking place at a more advanced stage of the attenuation of the Christian influence, and that is perhaps why they are so often humorless. Mea culpa.

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