EWTN fans know Dale Ahlquist as the host of the long-running “G.K. Chesterton: Apostle of Common Sense” series. Ahlquist spoke to members of Legatus, a national Catholic association of business leaders, Nov. 6.
“When I discovered Chesterton around 1981, I was shocked that more people didn’t know about him,” Ahlquist said. “I thought that this is one of the most profound and complete thinkers that I have ever encountered.”
Ahlquist, president of the American Chesterton Society, publisher of Gilbert magazine and co-founder of Chesterton Academy, a high school in Minneapolis, travels the world sharing his insights on the cigar-chomping British writer and Christian apologist who died in 1936.
Legatus is the Latin word for ambassador. Acting as Ambassors for Christ, Legatus, is the only organization in the world designed exclusively for top-ranking Catholic business leaders and their spouses. The organization offers a unique support network of like-minded Catholics with varying interests and diverse talents who all share one overriding goal: to become better Catholics and, in turn, positively impact their business and personal lives. This objective is fulfilled with a single event held each month.
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Gilbert Keith Chesterton was a convert to Catholicism, as is Ahlquist, who was raised as a Southern Baptist.
“I didn’t realize [Chesterton] was slowly converting me,” Ahlquist said in an interview with The Catholic Sun. “I was changing my mind about a lot of things without even being aware of it.”
Ahlquist’s wife, who was a fallen-away Catholic, eventually rejoined the Church. The couple has six children and their eldest daughter helped start a Chesterton society in Hollywood, Ca. Ahlquist’s mother, still a Southern Baptist, never fails to tune into his program on EWTN on Sunday nights.
So what does a writer and Christian apologist who died before the outbreak of World War II have to say to a tech-savvy society in 2013? A lot, according to Ahlquist.
“He’s quite prophetic — he seems to be writing more about now than the time he lived in,” Ahlquist said.“He said that science is going to replace the role of religion in our society and as a result we will have science telling us what to do.” From so-called test-tube babies to human cloning, “we’ve lost our eternal reference point and we are making these life-and-death decisions with no moral compass,” Ahlquist said.
Chesterton, known for his pithy quotes and ability to capture and articulate paradoxical realities, was a vocal critic of eugenics at a time when most intellectuals — including his friendly enemy, George Bernard Shaw — embraced it.
And while proponents of the “new atheism” seemed to have grabbed media spotlight during the last decade, Chesterton was busily debunking it in his own era.
“First of all the new atheism is not new — it’s just the same old atheism,” Ahlquist said. “They have some celebrities so they get some press, but the reason why they get press is because they are abnormal…they don’t report on the number of murders that are not committed, and as a result, because we are always bombarded with the abnormal, we are starting to think in an abnormal ways.”
There are over 70 Chesterton societies around the country, Ahlquist said, and they meet at on a regular basis to discuss Chesterton’s writing. The literary giant was a columnist, orator, poet, lay theologian and the author of the popular Father Brown detective series as well as books about St. Francis of Assisi and St. Thomas Aquinas.
Ahlquist, who’s spent much of his adulthood teaching others about Chesterton’s writing, said his hero represents what lay spirituality mysticism should look like.
“It’s another reason why I want him to be canonized,” Ahlquist said. “We need more models for how lay people are supposed to live.” The bishop of Northampton has commenced the official process by appointing a cleric to begin the investigation into the cause for canonization.
Chesterton “stood up for eternal truths against fashionable ideas, showing how they come and go,” Ahlquist said. “He was never afraid to be regarded as the fool for Christ because that’s really what St. Francis was as well.”
Just days before his election to the Chair of Peter, Pope Francis, said to be an admirer of Chesterton, approved the text submitted by a private prayer group in Argentina that is praying for the famed writer’s canonization.