‘What’s Wrong with the World?’

a Chestertonian look at family, modern morality and adoption

Megan Marley

“It is not fashionable to say much nowadays of the advantages of the small community. We are told that we must go in for large empires and large ideas. There is one advantage, however, in the small state, the city, or the village, which only the willfully blind can overlook. The man who lives in a small community lives in a much larger world. He knows much more of the fierce varieties and uncompromising divergences of men. The reason is obvious. In a large community we can choose our companions. In a small community our companions are chosen for us,” wrote prolific British author and journalist Gilbert Keith Chesterton, in his essay ‘On Certain Modern Writers and the Institution of the Family’ in his collection entitled ‘Heretics’.

This essay served as the inspiration of the talk entitled ‘On Certain Modern Stupidities and the Institution of the Family’ given by Carl Olson, Editor of the Catholic World Report and contributor to Word on Fire, Our Sunday Visitor and other publications, at the 38th annual Chesterton Conference held in the Kansas City area August 1-3.

In his 45-minute talk, Olson first introduced himself: convert (partly due to reading Chesterton), Byzantine Catholic and father of three adopted children.

“Almost 19 years ago in early December of 2000, I experienced in a most remarkable and startling way the truth of Chesterton’s assertion (about small community),” he said, explaining how infertility had led him and his wife to consider adoption.

“To be honest I was dragging my feet—in part because the process of adoption seemed daunting, time consuming, demanding and expensive. And I’ve since learned that parenting is daunting, time consuming, demanding and expensive,” he concluded with a chuckle.

In December 2000, his wife phoned him about a friend knowing of a 10-day-old baby girl needing a home—right now. After a series of calls, they met with the young mother, her mother and lawyer the next day to determine if it were a good fit—and later that day they met the baby who would become their firstborn.

“Did we choose her? Yes, but to echo Chesterton, she was chosen for us—my rather vague and even abstract notion of fatherhood had been upended and replaced by the scandal of particularity, which involved diapers, feedings and sleepless nights,” Olson said.

“It brought home to me a simple theological truth…it is God who always initiates, we respond…we decide whether or not to reach back,” he continued, explaining that this echoes the Trinity’s continual perfect selfless outpouring of love between the divine Persons.

He posited the ‘specific-ness’ of the Trinity as three-in-one, model of love and of the family is contrary to the feelings-based ‘reasoning’ currently in vogue.

“Modernity and secularism are not too concerned with the abstract notion that a God exists, rather they have done away with the specific mystery of the Trinity which again is the source of all love, relationship and society, and has left us with what has aptly been called moralistic, therapeutic deism…a vague, and rather convenient belief system that provides the sort of assurances and comforts roughly comparable to what you find in a typical Hallmark card.”

Philosophically, this results from ‘nominalism’—claiming everything outside the mind cannot be comprehended through universal and abstract concepts, but only through the empirical study of specific objects.
With no universal truth, modernity becomes “fixated on the individual and the rights and freedoms that are needed to express themselves, as long as no one is hurt.”

This is ultimately contrary to the communion of persons found in the family, the city, the Church and the Trinity.

“What is one person without any relationship to anyone else? Hell. That’s what Hell is.”

He found evidence of this individualistic, modern thought in the foster care classes necessary to adopt their third child.

“While some of those classes were practical in nature, the heart of the course was politically correct, relativistic, anti-traditional, pro-gay and anti-family propaganda. The 60 or so people in attendance were told that they were never, no matter what, to negatively speak about anything gay…moral judgments in short were condemned, and condemned in the most moral of terms and judgmental of tones.”

“At one point one of the instructors asked a question that clarified something that had puzzled me, namely—why are so many of the 60 or so people there seeking to become foster parents over the age of 50, based on what I could tell?…’How many of you are grandparents working to become foster parents of your grandchildren?’ Over 75 percent of the hands went up.”

“No one openly dared question the nonsense that was foisted on us, because that would likely mean being expelled from this class… What does it say about a society when the state decides to instruct and certify grandparents to take care of their own grandchildren? But of course this is almost small potatoes compared to the redefinition of marriage foisted upon us by judicial fiat four years ago…contraception, abortion and other matters.”

The Society of Gilbert Keith Chesterton is a Catholic lay apostolate dedicated to drawing people to the Faith and helping them live joyful and holy lives, promoting Catholic education, evangelization and the Church’s social teaching. For more information on the Society or to find details on the Kansas City, Mo. or Lawrence, Ks. chapters, visit Chesterton.org


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October 28, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph