G. K. Chesterton’s Anti-Semitism

A few days ago, Dawn Eden Goldstein published a thread on Twitter regarding G. K. Chesterton’s anti-semitism. The thread begins here. As a fan of Chesterton’s writings, I read the thread with great interest and little shock.

That may seem odd: shouldn’t I be aghast at this dismantling of a beloved writer’s reputation? No. Firstly, neither Goldstein’s thread, nor any book that focuses on the issue of Chesterton’s anti-semitism are the last word about his character. Secondly, while I am by no means an expert in his life, I know enough about it to be able to say that there was a very great deal of good in him. None of it can excuse, much less wipe away, the stain on his character that his anti-semitism brings, but it does put it into perspective.

Dawn Eden Goldstein has done me and all who like Chesterton a favour.
She’s done him a favour as well.

She has done us a favour because she has shone a light on a part of GKC’s character that needs to be known so that we can know him more fully, deeply, and authentically. And she has done Chesterton a favour because a fuller knowledge of the person he was allows us to pray for him more effectively. Lord, forgive Chesterton his sins, particularly those committed against Jewish people through his anti-semitism; remember the good that he did in his life and bring him to the peace of your heavenly kingdom. Amen.

What does all this mean for G. K. Chesterton’s cause? The issue of his anti-semitism has been highlighted before and not prevented its promotion so I don’t think it will again. I still support his canonisation, and will continue to do so unless I see evidence to the effect that anti-semitism poisoned Chesterton’s whole heart.

The Saints, after all, are not people who were perfect on earth. They are people who were centred on God. They were people who committed sins, sometimes many, sometimes serious, but always picked themselves up and turned back to God. The Saints knew they were sinners – even if they did not know all the ways in which they were sinful, because we all have our blind spots – and this informed their actions: a turning back to God, through His Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ.

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