All Things Considered (x3)

National Public Radio’s afternoon news program, All Things Considered,” is about big stuff and small stuff, world-shaking events and minute ephemera. In this sense, it does approximate “all things,” indeed, and I’ve been a devoted fan since Terry, my college roomie, clued me in nearly 40 years ago. “What is this anyway?” I asked him one rainy Seattle morning. The radio was on, and the bumper music I’d been enjoying suddenly gave way to some guy (Bob Edwards?) reading the headlines.

“NPR,” he replied flat out—as if I should’ve known better.

He was right. I should’ve known better, but nobody in my circle growing up listened to NPR, least of all my parents (rest in peace). They were rock-solid Republicans of the Goldwater variety, and even if they’d known about NPR (which I suspect they didn’t), they would’ve reviled its left-leaning editorial bias.

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And it’s this bias that makes “All Things Considered” a bit of misnomer, for while the show does address “all things” in terms of subject matter, it does so from a pretty narrow perspective—NPR’s claims to the contrary notwithstanding.

So it is that, in pursuit of a true “all things considered,” I also tune in to talk radio—which means I’m regularly listening to Rush Limbaugh and Scott Simon, as odd as that sounds. It’s a longstanding habit that plants me in a very small minority of radio consumers, I’m sure, but it’s a good place to be. I like hearing a variety—a wide variety—of perspectives on the issues of the day, and NPR’s ATC only carries water for one. Besides, what talk radio lacks in terms of production values, it more than makes up by being transparent about its point of view.

All of which brings to mind the original All Things Considereda 1908 collection of G.K. Chesterton’s columns from the Illustrated London News. The volume’s title is an audacious one, especially since the book is a mere 190 pages long—at least in the 1969 reprinting I have before me. It’s probably the same edition that I encountered at DePaul University decades ago. At the time, I was a Catholic wannabe and fresh under the spell of Chesterton’s beguiling, paradox-ridden prose. In fact, although Dorothy Day’s writings had previously inspired me to consider the Church’s claims, it was GKC’s that convinced me to join up.

Those were the years before Ignatius Press started reprinting GKC’s works en masse, and aficionados were forced to track down his works in used bookstores and library stacks. When I located All Things Considered at DePaul, it was like finding gold. I snagged it off the shelf and dug in, hoping for further buttressing of my Catholic proclivities.

What I found, however, were essays addressing topics ranging from fairy stories and Oxford to cockney accents and limericks—“from phonetic spelling to running after one’s hat,” as Dale Ahlquist puts it. Even the collection’s essay on St. Joan of Arc is less about holiness than it is about history. It was one of my first encounters with Chesterton’s justly celebrated integrated catholic (small “c”) worldview, for the columns in ATC had not only been written years before he became a Catholic (big “C”), they largely didn’t directly address religion at all.

Instead, Chesterton blithely takes his (at the time, Anglican) faith for granted in ATC—or, rather, he addresses big stuff and small stuff as a writer who just happens to be a Christian. To observe, for instance, in reference to the hat retrieval theme, that “an adventure is an inconvenience rightly considered” doesn’t require an explicit theological rationale. It’s a brilliant, stand-alone observation, and something wholly consistent with its author’s Christian worldview. Unlike NPR and its ATC program, which purports to be objective but tilts to the progressive, Chesterton’s ATC is happily unobjective and dauntless in its orthodox assumptions.

This is especially the case when GKC tackles assaults on traditional values and viewpoints. “Most fleeting ideas, which seem to the world to be so new and noteworthy, attack the permanent things, like religion, which seem so old and outdated,” writes Ahlquist of the book. “But truth is not a trend, and Chesterton never bows to the weird winds of new philosophies, no matter how strongly they blow.” GKC’s consideration of “all things” is refreshing in its detachment from majority opinion and the moment. “The real objection to modernism is simply that it is a form of snobbishness,” he writes in ATC. “It is an attempt to crush a rational opponent not by reason, but by some mystery of superiority, by hinting that one is specially up to date or particularly ‘in the know’.”

This is a nice segue to a third “All Things Considered” iteration I stumbled across recently: A Welsh-produced BBC religion program “tackling the thornier issues of the day in a thought-provoking manner.” Looking over the archive, it’s evident that the show lives up to its name, with episodes on climate change and human rights, but also gardens and libraries. The host, Roy Jenkins, is a former Baptist pastor and veteran journalist, and he writes of his youthful writing apprenticeship with Chestertonian relish:

Being a Gazette reporter (the Gazette’s only reporter, as it happened) demanded a willingness to assume a certain authority in all sorts of area where my knowledge was not exactly comprehensive: with weddings and funerals, in courts, councils, flower shows, operatic performances. Instant expert on everything!

This is a journalistic humility and honesty that we rarely encounter these days, but one which finds echoes in GKC. “In the end it will not matter to us whether we wrote well or ill; whether we fought with flails or reeds,” he declares in his ATC. “It will matter to us greatly on what side we fought.”

I like it that Jenkins wants to consider “all things”—like NPR’s ATC. I like it that his take (a religious one) is up front—like talk radio. I also like it that Jenkins himself is apparently self-effacing, jovial, and open-minded—like GKC. I won’t be able to get his program on my car radio, but I’m looking forward to adding it to my listening line-up via the internet. I’m hoping it will provide a healthy middle to my diet of broadcast extremes.

(Photo credit: Shutterstock)


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