Monday, March 12, 2007

Important Men of the World

I was at two different conferences this weekend. On Friday, I spent the day down at the Wells Fargo Theater in the first of a two-day conference, Living the Catholic Faith, sponsored by the Archdiocese of Denver. On Saturday, I attended an all-day class on the new Benjamin Franklin exhibit that the Denver Museum of Nature and Science is sponsoring until May 20th. Both of these all-day events were geared to educators -- those who work in front of people, evangelizing through their teaching and actions, teaching the truth to those who may not have heard the truth before.

The interesting thing about these conferences, and why I'm posting about them, is that I realized the great schism between what I heard on Friday and what I heard on Saturday. On Friday, I attended a lecture by noted Chestertonian scholar and president of the Chesterton Society, Dale Ahlquist on the Christian threads woven throughout GK Chesterton's writings. On Saturday, I heard about all the various facets of Benjamin Franklin.

How do these two men -- G.K. Chesterton and Benjamin Franklin -- complement or contrast the other?

Chesterton was obviously an Englishman of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A product of a middle class home, GK didn't go to University, opting instead for an art education. So, he wasn't "educated" in the classic sense of that British term -- he didn't go to Oxford or Cambridge, didn't go to the proper prep schools and was not a member of the Anglican Church. He was an outsider and yet his writings were taught in schools for years as being spot-on and philosophically intellectual. Chesterton, although proud of his writings, felt that he was just a word-smith and down-played his innate intelligence.

Franklin was a product of a middle class tradesman's family -- the 10th boy in a family of printers, chandlers and tradesmen in the 1700s. Franklin had only two years of formal schooling before he was taken out of the school-room and placed in various apprenticeships until he wound up at 14 with his (abusive) older half-brother to learn the printing trade. At 16, Franklin ran away from Boston to Philadelphia and the rest, as they say, is history. Franklin became known as a philosopher, inventor, statesman, economist, and bon vivant -- but he continued to call himself a printer. He was proud of his accomplishments (and was an amazing, if not narcissistic, self-promoter) but always clung to his "leather apron" background.

So, these two great men were pulled themselves up "by their bootstraps" and really made a name for themselves. But Chesterton, whose philosophical thoughts are well-worth investigating, came to the Catholic church through rational thought processes while Franklin despaired of organized religion, was a deist (didn't believe in Christ's divinity) and Free Mason, and thought of himself as a progressive.

15 years (!) before Chesterton came into the Church of Rome, he wrote a book called Orthodoxy. This book is a defense of the Catholic faith -- and no better has been written since. Reading Orthodoxy will convert even a Ben Franklin because of it's tight, logical, conclusions which prove that Christianity -- as practiced by the Roman Catholic Church -- is the ONLY answer for humanity and rationality. Within the pages of Orthodoxy you'll find a essay that decimates the "progressives" and asks instead to look at tradition, to look back and see what worked and what didn't and to move ahead accordingly. And as you read other books by GK, you'll find yourself inextricably in agreement with this Renaissance man!

But, Franklin is studied in our schools and Chesterton is basically ignored. Franklin is considered a forward-thinker and Chesterton an old fuddy-duddy, English writer of a past era. Since both died a long time ago -- I wonder which one was right? I'm banking that Chesterton's rational embracing of Catholicism is the right choice while Franklin's progressive dismissal of organized religion is the wrong choice. But both men deserve to be studied by students and adults -- both have much to share with our current age!

What do you think?

1 comment:

MaryM said...

Very interesting post, Mary.