Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Review: The Ball and the Cross

I thought I'd do a quick review of an old book. I know that we need to support new work, but it's good to read the old stuff on occasion. Why? Bluntly put, it's usually better written and more intelligent. Reading such things will make you a better reader and writer.

Anyway, the first oldie is G. K. Chesterton's The Ball and the Cross. [Addendum: it's also available as a free audiobook from LibriVox.] Now, it does have a couple weaknesses, and I should mention one of them immediately: it begins with a kind of mad scientist and a priest he kidnaps just because he can. They have a brief debate in the first chapter--and then they disappear until nearly the end of the book! (Yeah, minor spoiler: they do turn up again eventually, and it all makes sense in the end.) So for the majority of the story we're stuck with two other characters having much the same debate, but otherwise the relevance of the first chapter is hard to understand.

The new characters in the second chapter are a devout Catholic bumpkin and an equally devout atheistic journalist honest enough to admit their differences and even passionate enough to fight over them. In fact, the bulk of the story deals with their attempts to engage in a duel without interruption. They eventually have to come to terms with what they actually believe and where it leads; only then can they call upon a divinely appointed messenger to set them free.

Now I mentioned a "couple weaknesses." The first is the jolting shift from the first chapter to the second. The second and more enduringly annoying problem is something I have noticed in some of Chesterton's other works: he goes out of his way to make the atheist improbably noble. That's admirable from the standpoint of fairness, but it's just plain wrong from the standpoint of reality. I have never yet encountered an atheist who held his views disinterestedly. In every case the rejection of God boiled down to anger at a God who supposedly doesn't exist. Some reject him because they don't like his moral limits. Others hate him because all the world's evils are his fault. But I've never seen someone who simply, truly did not believe in God. I think he would be a fairly placid person if he did exist: not furious at an evil phantom, not evangelizing the masses to reject the Gospel.

However, that point aside, The Ball and the Cross is a very good read, and surprisingly relevant today.

No comments:

Powered by WebRing.