Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Elves in Geneva, Fairies in Heidelberg

In G.K. Chesterton's chapter "The Ethics of Elfland" in Orthodoxy, he writes:

All the terms used in the science books (such as law, necessity, order, tendency, and so on) are really unintellectual, because they assume an inner synthesis, which we do not possess. The only words that ever satisfied me as describing Nature are the terms used in the fairy-books: charm, spell, enchantment. They express the arbitrariness of the fact and its mystery. A tree grows fruit because it is a magic tree. Water runs downhill because it is bewitched.
We may smile at the quaintness of Chesterton's sentiments here (though he wouldn't, and neither would he call them "sentiments"), but the fact is that there is an element of wonder, humility, and childlikeness that characterizes Chesterton's writings, as well as that of others like him such as Lewis and Tolkien.

And none of them were Calvinists.

Now, Chesterton was fond of Geneva-bashing, insisting, for example, the the great hymn-writer William Cowper suffered his melancholic bouts of depression as a result of his belief in predest-ination. Of course, it is difficult to know exactly what Chesterton had in mind when he spoke of "Calvinistic determinists," and something tells me it wasn't John Calvin himself, but more likely his late nineteenth-century proponents.

But straw man arguments aside, one has to ask why it is that of all the Christian authors who tend to display the kind of refreshing wonder that Chesterton did, very few are of the Reformed or Presbyterian persuasion.

I, for one, wouldn't mind letting a little bit of Elfland into Geneva, assuming the former would deign to darken the latter's door.