G. K. Chesterton: It’s Not Gay, and It’s Not Marriage
by Dale Ahlquist
(Originally published in Crisis Magazine, Feb. 21, 2013)
One of the pressing issues of Chesterton’s time was “birth control.” He not only objected to the idea, he objected to the very term because it meant the opposite of what it said. It meant no birth and no control. I can only imagine he would have the same objections about “gay marriage.” The idea is wrong, but so is the name. It is not gay and it is not marriage.
Chesterton was so consistently right in his pronouncements and prophecies because he understood that anything that attacked the family was bad for society. That is why he spoke out against eugenics and contraception, against divorce and “free love” (another term he disliked because of its dishonesty), but also against wage slavery and compulsory state-sponsored education and mothers hiring other people to do what mothers were designed to do themselves. It is safe to say that Chesterton stood up against every trend and fad that plagues us today because every one of those trends and fads undermines the family. Big Government tries to replace the family’s authority, and Big Business tries to replace the family’s autonomy. There is a constant commercial and cultural pressure on father, mother, and child. They are minimized and marginalized and, yes, mocked. But as Chesterton says, “This triangle of truisms, of father, mother and child, cannot be destroyed; it can only destroy those civilizations which disregard it.”
This latest attack on the family is neither the latest nor the worst. But it has a shock value to it, in spite of the process of de-sensitization that the information and entertainment industries have been putting us through the past several years. Those who have tried to speak out against the normalization of the abnormal have been met with “either slanging or silence,” as Chesterton was when he attempted to argue against the faddish philosophies that were promoted by the major newspapers in his day. In 1926, he warned, “The next great heresy will be an attack on morality, especially sexual morality.” His warning has gone unheeded, and sexual morality has decayed progressively. But let us remember that it began with birth control, which is an attempt to create sex for sex’s sake, changing the act of love into an act of selfishness. The promotion and acceptance of lifeless, barren, selfish sex has logically progressed to homosexuality.
Chesterton shows that the problem of homosexuality as an enemy of civilization is quite old. In The Everlasting Man, he describes the nature-worship and “mere mythology” that produced a perversion among the Greeks. “Just as they became unnatural by worshipping nature, so they actually became unmanly by worshipping man.” Any young man, he says, “who has the luck to grow up sane and simple” is naturally repulsed by homosexuality because “it is not true to human nature or to common sense.” He argues that if we attempt to act indifferent about it, we are fooling ourselves. It is “the illusion of familiarity,” when “a perversion become[s] a convention.”
In Heretics, Chesterton almost makes a prophecy of the misuse of the word “gay.” He writes of “the very powerful and very desolate philosophy of Oscar Wilde. It is the carpe diem religion.” Carpe diem means “seize the day,” do whatever you want and don’t think about the consequences, live only for the moment. “But the carpe diem religion is not the religion of happy people, but of very unhappy people.” There is a hopelessness as well as a haplessness to it. When sex is only a momentary pleasure, when it offers nothing beyond itself, it brings no fulfillment. It is literally lifeless. And as Chesterton writes in his book St. Francis of Assisi, the minute sex ceases to be a servant, it becomes a tyrant. This is perhaps the most profound analysis of the problem of homosexuals: they are slaves to sex. They are trying to “pervert the future and unmake the past.” They need to be set free.
Sin has consequences. Yet Chesterton always maintains that we must condemn the sin and not the sinner. And no one shows more compassion for the fallen than G.K. Chesterton. Of Oscar Wilde, whom he calls “the Chief of the Decadents,” he says that Wilde committed “a monstrous wrong” but also suffered monstrously for it, going to an awful prison, where he was forgotten by all the people who had earlier toasted his cavalier rebelliousness. “His was a complete life, in that awful sense in which your life and mine are incomplete; since we have not yet paid for our sins. In that sense one might call it a perfect life, as one speaks of a perfect equation; it cancels out. On the one hand we have the healthy horror of the evil; on the other the healthy horror of the punishment.”
Chesterton referred to Wilde’s homosexual behavior as a “highly civilized” sin, something that was a worse affliction among the wealthy and cultured classes. It was a sin that was never a temptation for Chesterton, and he says that it is no great virtue for us never to commit a sin for which we are not tempted. That is another reason we must treat our homosexual brothers and sisters with compassion. We know our own sins and weaknesses well enough. Philo of Alexandria said, “Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a terrible battle.” But compassion must never compromise with evil. Chesterton points out that balance that our truth must not be pitiless, but neither can our pity be untruthful.
Homosexuality is a disorder. It is contrary to order. Homosexual acts are sinful, that is, they are contrary to God’s order. They can never be normal. And worse yet, they can never even be even. As Chesterton’s great detective Father Brown says: “Men may keep a sort of level of good, but no man has ever been able to keep on one level of evil. That road goes down and down.”
Marriage is between a man and a woman. That is the order. And the Catholic Church teaches that it is a sacramental order, with divine implications. The world has made a mockery of marriage that has now culminated with homosexual unions. But it was heterosexual men and women who paved the way to this decay. Divorce, which is an abnormal thing, is now treated as normal. Contraception, another abnormal thing, is now treated as normal. Abortion is still not normal, but it is legal. Making homosexual “marriage” legal will not make it normal, but it will add to the confusion of the times. And it will add to the downward spiral of our civilization. But Chesterton’s prophecy remains: We will not be able to destroy the family. We will merely destroy ourselves by disregarding the family.
+ + +
Dale Ahlquist is the president and co-founder of the American Chesterton Society
He is the creator and host of the Eternal Word Television Network series, "G.K. Chesterton: The Apostle of Common Sense." Dale is the author of G.K. Chesterton: Apostle of Common Sense and the recently published The Complete Thinker. He is also the publisher of Gilbert Magazine, and associate editor of the Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton (Ignatius). He lives near Minneapolis with his wife and six children.