Wordly Asceticism (G.K. Chesterton)

Of Augustine and asceticism:

The war upon life, the denial of nature, were exactly the things he had already found in the heathen world outside the Church, and had to renounce when he entered the Church.

-G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man, pp. 225-226

This is still the case today. The world is full of ascetics, and a lot of its asceticism infests the church in strange forms.


    • Heath Cross says:

      So after thinking a good bit about this I started writing a post. But now I’ve decided it would take a book to unpack what I mean fully. So, instead, I’m going to make the cliff’s notes version here. This is why I often make cryptic comments. I want to get people to think without having to spell out my own thoughts with a 200 page essay.
      Let me just say briefly that the New Testament idea of denying yourself entails NOT thinking about yourself, your own ego, quirks, and personal jollies, while worldly asceticism follows precisely those ideals. Wordly Asceticism winds up actually affirming my own ego rather than being a denial, though it is disguised as self-denial. It’s a denial with a view toward making me feel good about myself, or even making me feel like I am holy. If you see self-righteousness in the church (and I know you do) then you see worldly asceticism – for it is not of God.
      Lent is the easy example. Some Lent-observers deny themselves so that they can feel good about themselves and feel accepted. They have their reward. PETA is an ascetic group. Being kind to animals makes them feel really good about themselves. They have their reward. I’ve heard criticism toward Christians who hunt because people can’t imagine Jesus killing a poor defenseless animals. ‘Rise Peter, kill and eat.’ Who said that? I’m just as guilty of this as the next guy, because I’m denying these deniers. Who will stop the insanity? The fact of the matter is that we avoid asceticism only when we train our affections to rejoice in the things God rejoices in, hate the things God hates, and remain indifferent to the things God is indifferent about – and that’s easier said than done.
      You can grill me from here, if you have specific questions let me know and I’ll try to unpack further. But I’m going to need direction or I’m going to wander off into areas that I probably don’t even need to go.

  1. Timothy says:

    In other words, the very goals altruism that so many put forth are nothing more than stroking our egos in disguise. I think I get that. We are self focused in so much of what we do, that dying to ourselves really is just a distant thought and when we do die to ourselves, it often times becomes mute because we do it in such a way that it strokes the ego.

    Jody and I had a similar conversation today about giving money to the poor. We don’t do it because there is a need or because it’s good for the person but because of our own feelings. It makes us feel good. To which I replied, “the last time I did it, I just wanted the guy out of my face.” He responded, “Yes, to make you feel good.”

    Then our motives are less than pure and our actions less than helpful.

    Good thoughts.

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