The Wisdom of G. K. Chesterton (Excursus 2)

“When the business man rebukes the idealism of his office-boy, it is commonly in some such speech as this: “Ah, yes, when one is young, one has these ideals in the abstract and these castles in the air; but in middle age they all break up like clouds, and one comes down to a belief in practical politics, to using the machinery one has and getting on with the world as it is.” Thus, at least, venerable and philanthropic old men now in their honoured graves used to talk to me when I was a boy. But since then I have grown up and have discovered that these philanthropic old men were telling lies.”

This has always been a pet peeve of mine, ever since the father of a friend of mine promptly dismissed my assertion that churches should not be teaching classes out of The Purpose Driven Life by commenting, “It is good thing I don’t believe all the things I believed when I was young.” Well, I am older now (though not quite so sagacious as he is, I’m sure) and I still don’t think churches should be teaching classes out of The Purpose Driven Life. That, I’m sure, would not interest him. In his “philanthropy” he would surely and generously grant me more time to overcome my idealism.

More frustrating than the fact that I did not change and do not expect to change is the mentality that I keep encountering that suggests that I ought to change. There is some delusion that has crept into the senile minds of older men that they must make an effort to divest me (and others) of my youthful zeal. Why? What virtue is there in stripping someone of zeal and diluting someone’s ideals? I hope that I never slide into this trap. I hope that I always will oppose youthful vigor if it is misguided and support it if it is virtuous, but may it never be that I should oppose zeal merely because it is zealous.

I get the sincere impression that the “philanthropists” in question are not bothered so much by my zeal as by their inability to counter my zealous arguments with sound counter-arguments.

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