Comon Sense 101: The Ugliness of Modern Life

A caricature of GK Chesterton

I’ve decided to make this week GK Chesterton week. I’m currently reading Common Sense 101, which is a compilation of many of the wisely-simple truths that Chesterton came up with on a daily basis. If you’ve never heard of Chesterton, that’s ok…most people haven’t. But I would highly recommend that you find out more about him!

Throughout this particular book, I’ve been struck by the elementary clarity that comes from each sentence he spoke, yet will find myself reading it more than once just to truly grasp the ideal he’s presenting. This is because, as he is quick to point out over and over, the greatest things in life are the simplest; we just have to be able to see them.

A few weeks ago I found myself at a coffee shop, speaking with a friend who had just come back from a backpacking trip to Europe. While there, she was struck by the beauty of art in its various forms, and how we are so lacking in that type of timelessness today. She asked where the modern day Michealangelos and Divincis where, and why artists today won’t ever produce works that will stand the test of many centuries of trials.

No matter how many time one views the Sistine Chapel's beauty, it never ceases to awe and amaze.

Reading Chesterton, I found myself recalling this conversation. “The fundamental problem with modern life is…it’s ugliness.” How truly simple he has made it! The reason for this ugliness is a lack of enthusiasm. If we really loved life, we would make it more beautiful, because all men seek to make beautiful what they already find beautiful.  A mother dresses her child in finery, the owner of a lovely home decorates it from top to bottom, a believer beautifies his church, and a lover lavishes his lady. But today we seem to be bored, no matter the beauties, fascinations and mysteries that life offers.

Modern life is bored, and modern life is reflecting this truth with what it produces – therefore there are no more Michaelangelos or Divincis. Boredom can be seen in the way we pass our time. No longer do we play games; instead we hire professionals for that purpose, while we merely sit and watch. Our entertainment grows louder, flashier, and more bizarre in an increasing attempt to simply keep our attention. Chesterton talks of this and says that “men are walking in their sleep and trying to wake themselves up with nightmares.”

Installation art may cause someone to think for a moment, but it will never be seen in museums hundreds of years from now.

Innocence is probably the key to preventing this jadedness. A child’s sense of wonder at a fairy tale is something that is basic. But what is interesting is that the younger the child is, the less fantastic the tale has to be. Again, Chesterton makes this clear with only a few words. “A child of seven is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door and saw a dragon. But a child of three is excited by being told that Tommy opened a door.”

We are made to be astonished. And that is what we expect art to do for us. But there are no Masters today, because we’ve lost that sense of wonder, trying instead to create thrills with large-scale installations, abstract or surrealist paintings, and even films that frighten or disgust. Even with all this, and there is an overabundance of it today, the only art that has stood the test of time is quite elementary and basic – it is that which reflects creation.

Finding the beauty in life may sound simple, but it requires much more than modern life is comfortable giving.

Chesterton urges us to find that childlike sense of wonder that still remains within us, although it is most likely cowering in some dark corner, trembling at the overexposure of modern life. Being able to see the beauty that is all around us will require effort, but the things we are now blind to are the largest things of all. Creation is waiting for us to enjoy it once more, to see it’s beauty and stand in awe of it’s maker.

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3 Responses to Comon Sense 101: The Ugliness of Modern Life

  1. David says:

    Aye, well said and fully agreed by me. I’ve only really discovered Chesterton this year, but I’m sure he’ll be a mainstay for the rest of my life. His clarity, profundity, and humor seem very much an influence on C.S. Lewis, who I read often.

    His diagnosis of modernity is sadly true. By God’s grace, may God’s people be the ones who, even in this age, continually appreciate and expand on the beauty of creation, to the glory of Jesus Christ!

  2. Jackie says:

    I have been thinking along these lines for some time now myself. It was really made obvious to me by accident while attending a large function for the 4th of July celebration. Here were 100′s of people gathered together, and I noticed that there were people everywhere fiddling with something in their hands. Instead of enjoying the company of those around them, they were texting, googling and playing games. It just suddenly dawned on me, we are going to loose the art of intimate conversation, true friendship, passion! I am as guilty as the next person but.. being the rebel that I am, I no longer want that. I want to enjoy the moment, I want to share laughter, tears and spontaneity with those around me. I’m not giving up my cell phone but, I am going to use it less, and enjoy those around me more!
    HMMM I feel better already : D

  3. Amanda Stahnke says:

    Lovely simple truth, glad that is has been shared so that we can pass it along.

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