VIEWSrnSacramental ParodiesrnG.K. Chesterton and Muriel Spark Confront the Spiritualistsrnby Father Ian Boydrn^*A / hat do you expect of a spiritualist? His mind’s at-rnV V tuned to the ghouls of the air all day long. How canrnhe be expected to consider the moral obligations of the flesh?rnThe man’s a dualist. No sacramental sense.” So speaks one ofrnthe characters in a Muriel Spark novel. G.K. Chesterton thinksrnalong similar lines. He also regards the loss of a sacramentalrnsense as the defining characteristic of the modern world. LikernMuriel Spark, he regards the retreat to private worlds of the spiritrnas a religious problem, since those who isolate themselves inrnthis way cut themselves off from the voice of God who speaksrnto man through material things. But Chesterton makes a furtherrnpoint. He also believes that a people who sever themselvesrnfrom the materialities of everyday life often invent parodies ofrnthe material realities with which they have lost touch. In hisrnview, in such a post-Christian spiritualist society, the old Christianrntruths never entirel}- disappear: thc’ are merely transmutedrninto new and strangely abstract shapes. “All the tools of ProfessorrnLucifer,” he writes, “were the ancient tools gone mad,rngrown into unrecognizable shapes, forgetful of their origins, forgetfulrnof their names.” In Orthodoxy (1908), commenting onrnthe loss of solidly material communities in which real virtuesrnare embodied, he describes the modern world, not as somethingrnevil, but as something crazed and disconnected fromrnreality, a realm in which disembodied Christian virtues haverngone mad because they have become isolated from each other.rnFather Ian Boyd is editor of the Chesterton Review inrnSaskatoon, Canada.rnContemporary life provides many examples of the sacramentalrnparodies to which Chesterton refers. It would, for example,rnbe easy to draw up a more or less random list of ceremonies ofrncontemporary secular life that mimic, in a weird way, the beliefsrnof the Christian faith. This strange list is full of ironies. In arnworld in which the fear of damnation is no longer a matter ofrngeneral concern, the therapist becomes the modern confessor,rnproviding psychologically troubled souls with a secular substituternfor sacramental forgiveness of sins that, in psychologicalrntheory, do not in fact exist. In an age which rejects religious authority,rnthe ever-changing pronouncements of modern scientistsrnare accepted with religious trust. In nations which havernlost a sense of spiritual peril, dangers to physical health are regardedrnwith the same horror with which religious people usedrnto regard mortal sin, and increasingly extreme measures are takenrnto protect citizens from such moral threats as secondhandrnsmoke or unhealthy food. Recently, for example, one of thernmost thoroughly de-Christianized societies in the Westernrnworld, came close to abandoning its age-old tradition of raisingrnbeef for food because of a mass hysteria whipped up by televisionrnand newspaper reports about a danger to physical healthrnthat was statistically so remote that even the scientific authoritiesrnwhose contradictory studies were the basis for the panic becamernfrightened by the irrationality which their reports had unleashed.rnIn a popular and largely urban pornographic culture,rnmoral environments as polluting as open sewers are regardedrnwith complete indifference; et, at the same time, city-dwellersrnexpress growing concern about possible damage to the forestsrn12/CHRONICLESrnrnrn