Chesterton Knew The Importance of Ecumenical Dialogue

Chesterton Knew The Importance of Ecumenical Dialogue

Saturday, 26 November 2011

GK's Weekly, The Thing, The Nordic Hindoo

(These Saturday articles by GK Chesterton, started to appear on this blog back in June. The first one, with introduction can be found here.)


I CANNOT, as some do, find Dr. Barnes a very exciting Bishop merely because he is an Evolutionist in the style of fifty years ago and a Protestant persecutor in the style of eighty years ago.His views are stale enough; but I admit that his arguments are sometimes amusing.

Thus, he reached the last limit of wildness in one remark which he made in the course of explaining that the folklore of the Mediterranean had been forced upon the Nordic nations--whatever that may mean. He added abruptly that Indian and Chinese metaphysics are now much more important than ours. But, above all, he made the crowning assertion that Rome is thus stamped as Provincial. This seems to suggest to the educational mind the construction of an examination paper in elementary general knowledge. It might run something like this:

1. From what language is the word "provincial" derived?

2. To what provinces did it generally refer?

3. If Athens, Antioch, Rome and Jerusalem were provincial towns, what was their Metropolitan city?

4. What reasons are there for supposing that Birmingham occupied this Metropolitan position from the earliest times?

5. Give a short account of the conquest of Southern Europe and the Near East by the Emperors of Birmingham.

6. At what date did the Papacy rebel against the Diocese of Birmingham?

7. Explain the old proverb, "All roads lead to Birmingham."

8. Discuss the following remark, "The most charmingly Nordic peopleI know are those dear Chinamen."

9. Why is the folklore of the Hindoos so much more reasonable than that of the Romans?

10. When will the Bishop of Birmingham go touring in the Provinces?

Answers must be sent in before the time of the Disestablishment of the Church of England, and priests are forbidden to give their crafty assistance to the candidates.

Really, I do not know any other way of dealing with even a pretence of seriousness with such an extraordinary remark. It was rendered even more extraordinary, of course, by the further remarks on the subject of Chinamen and Hindoos. Now we know all about the Nordic Man, so far as anybody can know anything about a person who does not exist. We know, for instance, that up to the autumn of 1914 he used to be called the Teutonic Man. Dean Inge used to be frightfully fond of him in those days; even fonder than he is now. He once quoted lavishly, and still quotes occasionally, from that great and glorious English patriot, Mr. Houston Stewart Chamberlain.

We quite understood that all Nordic Men were like gods, having long golden hair and gigantic stature; and this made it all the more pleasant to realize that we ourselves were Nordic Men, Unfortunately, the Germans were even more Nordic and gigantic and beautiful to gaze upon; they said so; and they ought to know. The poor Teuton was a little unpopular for five years or so; but now he is creeping out again to feel the sun, like the kings after Napoleon's fall in Mrs. Browning's poem. Like several other people, he changed his name during the War. He is now entirely Nordic and not at all Teutonic. And, as it is, and always was, his whole profession in life to praise himself and exalt the virtue of pride, so much undervalued by Christians, it is perfectly natural that he should despise "Dagos" and talk about the lower culture of lesser breeds without the law. It is natural that he should insist that all Spaniards are cowardly bullfighters and all Italians luxurious organ-grinders. He maybe expected to point out at intervals the sluggish incompetence of Napoleon and the impotent languor of Mussolini.

All this we were used to; it was what we expected from the Nordic Man; for nobody ever expected a Nordic Man to face facts staring him in the face, or to learn anything even from his own experience. We thought we had it all clear and complete, like a mutual understanding; there was the Nordic Man who was noble because he was Protestant and had light hair; and there was the Southern Catholic who was a lower sort of animal, because he was swarthy and superstitious. But why Hindoos? 0 Venerable Father in God and gentle shepherd of souls, why Hindoos?

Why are we now told to learn from people who are even less light-haired and even further off from the Arctic Circle? Are they not a lower race, conquered by the earth-shaking Imperialism of Birmingham? Are they not a lesser breed without the law? Are we to go to Asia to escape from the folklore and magic? Do the dear Indians never exhibit any of the errors that deface the deplorable Romans? If the Latins are idolaters, do the Indians never have idols? If Southern Europe is attached to mythology, is Southern Asia a world of pure reason that has never been defaced by a myth?

The explanation, the only explanation that I can suggest, is the one I have already suggested; and it is in a simple word; the word DESPAIR. Everybody knows that when a military campaign begins to fail there is an inevitable and even pardonable temptation to every military commander on the defeated side to lower the standard of military fitness and collect soldiers from anywhere, whatever be their military quality. This has happened again and again even among the white races; something similar is constantly happening in their relation to theother races. So both the Dutch and the English in the South African quarrel have been continually tempted to make use of the natives for war as well as labour. France has been blamed for relying on dark troops; though I never could see why she should be blamed by us, who drew dark troops from all over our own Empire.

Anyhow, it is a process that defeated or embarrassed captains fall back upon regularly but often reluctantly. It is a very exact parallel to the defeat of the Bishop of Birmingham and his cry for help to the Hindoos. He has reached the position in which he will accept reinforcements from anywhere except Rome. Rome must be provincial; even if it is the only place in the world that is provincial. Rome must be barbaric; if all the barbarians of the earth are called up to sack the city.

And when we have reached that point, it is not difficult to see that the very invasion and spoliation proclaim it to be a Holy City; unique and universal and towering over the tribes of men.

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