Chesterton’s Orthodoxy Overview
Chapter 1: “Introduction in Defence of Everything Else”
Chapters 2 and 3: “The Maniac” and “The Suicide of Thought”
Chapters 4 and 5: “The Ethics of Elfland” and “The Flag of the World”
Chapters 6 and 7: “The Paradoxes of Christianity” and “The Eternal Revolution”
Chapter 8: “The Romance of Orthodoxy”
Chapter 9: “Authority and the Adventurer”
Structure of the general argument suggested in Chapter 1 of Orthodoxy and brought to a completion in chapter 8:
(1) Human beings have a double spiritual need for adventure and security (or: balance between imagination and reason–or the exciting and the commonsensical).
(2) This need is not pathological, but is identical with a need for psychological health, i.e., sanity.
(3) This need is better satisfied by accepting the Christian worldview than by accepting any alternative worldview.
Therefore, it is at least reasonable to accept the Christian worldview.
(4) Furthermore, alternative worldviews fail to a greater or lesser extent to satisfy the aforementioned double spiritual need.
Therefore, it is unreasonable to prefer any such alternative to the Christian worldview.
It is crucial to note that until the last chapter, chapter 9, the argument of the book is aimed at showing that Christian belief and practice is healthy and not that it is true. As Chesterton puts it in chap. 2: “It must be understood that I am not now discussing the relation of these creeds to truth but, for the present, solely their relation to health. Later in the argument I hope to attack the question of objective verity; here I speak only of a phenomenon of psychology.”
Chapters 2 and 3
A taxonomy of some of the views concerning the stature of reason canvassed by Chesterton in Chapters 2 and 3:
I. Religious authority:(i) Truth is a standard independent of the human mind that “measures” the mind and serves as its goal.
(ii) Reason is a generally reliable guide to truth. (Moderate optimism with respect to reason.)
(iii) In regard to the really big questions, reason on its own is severely limited and requires the light of faith and authority in order to attain the truth. (Moderate pessimism with respect to reason.)
(iv) This is the view held by St. Thomas, St. Augustine, and the Catholic tradition especially.
II. The Maniac (Enlightenment Rationalism or Modernism or so-called “Free Thought”):
(i) Truth is a standard independent of the human mind that “measures” the mind and serves as its goal.
(ii) Reason is a generally reliable guide to truth.
(iii) Reason on its own is in principle capable of attaining wisdom. More specifically, reason can attain wisdom without authority, and indeed needs to be freed from authority–especially religious authority but also political, economic and social authority–in order to do so. In general, ideal inquiry is affect-less with respect to its object. Affections distort, but reason without affection can find fundamental truths that all reasonable people will agree to. (Enthusiastic optimism with respect to reason.)
(iv) This is the view at least suggested by Descartes and Locke, among early modern philosophers, and by Mill later on. It is characteristic of the so-called “free-thinkers” who either rejected Christian revelation (e.g., materialists, evolutionary naturalists) or else attempted to reinterpret Christian revelation in such a way as to eliminate its supernaturalistic character (liberal theology).
III. The Suicide of Thought (Postmodernism, generated in the 19th and early 20th centuries by the perceived failure of Enlightenment Rationalism):
All of the views included here exhibit a marked pessimism with respect to reason. In general, they see that reason cannot validate itself, and this leads them to reject appeals to reason as illegitimate:
A. Academic Skepticism: Reason turned upon itself raises doubts about its own reliability and can be seen to be wholly unreliable at least with respect to the big questions in metaphysics and moral theory. A skeptic of this stripe might despair of finding wisdom and instead romanticize the unfulfilled “search for wisdom.” Alternatively, this sort of skeptic might might accept Christian revelation despite its being in conflict with fallen reason (fideism — suggested by Philo at the end of Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion). In addition, this sort of skepticism can easily lead to the forms of intellectual pessimism that follow.
B. Pragmatism: Reason is wholly unreliable with respect to the big questions in metaphysics and moral philosophy. However, the realization that this is so should not lead to despair but should instead make us see that it is a waste of time (not to mention dangerous) to try to answer the big questions in metaphysics and moral theory. Therefore, we should resolve to concentrate only on those matters (e.g., satisfying needs, pursuing scientific knowledge, trying to reduce human suffering) which reason is proportioned to. (Hume, Dewey, Rorty, Simonides (as quoted by Aristotle in the Metaphysics).) A variant of this view allows that people have the freedom to (arationally) adopt comprehensive worldviews, but that these should be strictly private commitments and should not enter into public discourse, where they tend to be divisive.)
C. Nietzscheanism: Reason is wholly unreliable with respect to the big questions in metaphysics and moral theory. Indeed, reason applied to the big questions is in general rationalization, so that appeals to reason on these questions are simply excuses for the will to power, i.e., for the will to dominate others. Given this, the strong (or “free spirits”) should assert themselves without apology, so that they can become the best exemplars of the human spirit — and such individuals should be dominant and not held back by the weak and fearful, who constitute the vast majority of human beings.
D. Quietism: Reason is wholly unreliable with respect to the big questions in metaphysics and moral philosophy. Indeed, reason applied to the big questions is in general rationalization, so that appeals to reason on these questions are simply excuses for the will to power, i.e., for the will to dominate others. Given this, we should resist the will to power and try to make ourselves as much as possible impervious to the temptation to dominate others or in general to exercise our power. (Tolstoy, certain strands of Stoicism and Buddhism.)
Chapters 4 and 5
Chesterton’s five pre-Christian basic attitudes
P1. The world does not explain itself. It is at first glance astonishing, even in its regularities.
“Here is the peculiar perfection of tone and truth in the nursery tales. The man of science says, ‘Cut the stalk and the apple will fall’; but he says it calmly, as if the one idea really led up to the other. The witch in the fairytale says, `Blow the horn and the ogre’s castle will fall’; but she does not say it as if it were something in which the effect obviously arose out of the cause. Doubtless she has given the advice to many champions, and has seen many castles fall, but she does not lose either her wonder or her reason. She does not muddle her head until it imagines a necessary mental connection between a horn and a falling tower…. [The scientific men, on the other hand,] feel that because one incomprehensible thing constantly follows another incomprehensible thing the two together somehow make up a comprehensible thing” (pp. 56-57).
“This elementary wonder, however, is not a mere fancy derived from the fairy tales; on the contrary, all the fire of the fairy tales is derived from this. Just as we all like love tales because there is an instinct of sex, we all like astonishing tales because they touch the nerve of the ancient instinct of astonishment” (pp. 58-59).
P2. The world is like a work of art. It has a meaning.
“The strongest emotion was that life was as precious as it was puzzling. It was an ecstasy because it was an adventure; it was an adventure because it was an opportunity” (p. 60).
“This was my first conviction; made by the shock of my childish emotions meeting the modern creed in mid-career. I had always vaguely felt facts to be miracles in the sense that they are wonderful: now I began to think them miracles in the stricter sense that they were wilful” (p. 66).
P3. The world is beautiful and admirable in its design despite its defects.
“The goodness of the fairy tale was not affected by the fact that there might be more dragons than princesses; it was good to be in a fairy tale. The test of all happiness is gratitude; and I felt grateful, though I hardly knew to whom” (p. 60).
P4. The proper form of thanks for the world is some form of humility and restraint. (Doctrine of Conditional Joy.)
“The true citizen of fairlyland is obeying something he does not understand at all. In the fairy tale an incomprehensible happiness rests upon an incomprehensible condition. A box is opened, and all evils fly out. A word is forgotten, and cities perish. A lamp is lit, and love flies away. A flower is plucked, and human lives are forfeited. An apple is eaten, and the hope of God is gone” (p. 61).
“Such, it seemed, was the joy of man, either in elfland or on earth; the happiness depended on not doing something which you could at any moment do and which, very often, it was not obvious why you should not do. Now, the point here is that to me this did not seem unjust. If the miller’s third son said to the fairy, `Explain why I must not stand on my head in the fairy palace,’ the other might fairly reply `Well, if it comes to that, explain the fairy palace’ … And it seemed to me that existence was itself so very eccentric a legacy that I could not complain of not understanding the limitations of the vision when I did not understand the vision they limited. The frame was no stranger than the picture. The veto might well be as wild as the vision; it might be as startling as the sun, as elusive as the waters, as fantastic and terrible as the towering trees … For this reason (we may call it the fairy godmother philosophy) I never could join the young men of my time in feeling what they called the general sentiment of revolt” (p. 62).
P5. In some way all good is a remnant to be stored and held sacred out of some primordial ruin.
“Every man has forgotten who he is. One may understand the cosmos, but never the ego; the self is more distant than any star. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God; but thou shalt not know thyself. We are all under the same mental calamity; we have all forgotten our names. We have all forgotten what we really are. All that we call common sense and rationality and practicality and positivism only means that for certain dead levels of our life we forget that we have forgotten. All that we call spirit and art and ecstacy only means that for one awful instant we remember that we forgot” (p. 59).
Chapters 6 and 7
The paradoxes of Christianity
Because the truth of Christianity is a complex truth, it is hard to argue directly for it. The case for it is cumulative, and this makes it hard to know where to begin. C. says that the anti-Christian literature of his day provided the clue as to how to begin (see p. 91).
a. Christianity is too pessimistic: spreads gloom, keeps people from taking joy in nature, in their bodies, in their own autonomy, etc.
BUT Christianity is also too optimistic: consists in wishful thinking with its doctrines of Providence and life after death.
“This puzzled me; the charges seemed inconsistent. Christianity could not at once be the black mask on a white world, and also the white mask on a black world. The state of the Christian could not be at once so comfortable that he was a coward to cling to it, and so uncomfortable that he was a fool to stand it” (p. 92).
b. Christianity makes one too timid: emphasis on virtues like kindness, non-violence, monkishness
BUT Christianity also makes one too warlike: crusades, mother of wars.
“The Gospel paradox about the other cheek, the fact that priests never fought, a hundred things made plausible the accusation that Christianity was an attempt to make a man too like a sheep … [But] I turned the next page in my agnostic manual, and my brain turned upside down. Now I found that I was to hate Christianity not for fighting too little, but for fighting too much” (p. 93).
c. Christianity is just one among other religions; as a creed it divides people but as a moral code it is universal
BUT Christianity preaches a benighted and outmoded morality.
“I was thoroughly annoyed with Christianity for suggesting (as I supposed) that whole ages and empires of men had utterly escaped this light of justice and reason. But then I found an astonishing thing. I found that the very people who said that mankind was one church from Plato to Emerson were the very people who said that morality had changed altogether, and that what was right in one age was wrong in another. If I asked, say, for an altar, I was told that we needed none, for men our brothers gave us clear oracles and one creed in their universal customs and ideas. But if I mildly pointed out that one of men’s universal customs was to have an altar, then my agnostic teachers turned clean round and told me that men had always been in darkness and the superstition of savages. I found it was their daily taunt against Christianity that it was the light of one people and had left all others to die in the dark. But I also found that it was their special boast for themselves that science and progress were the discovery of one people, and that all other peoples had died in the dark” (p. 94).
d. Christianity attacks the family by dragging women to the cloister
BUTChristianity forces marriage and the family upon us.
e. Christianity shows contempt for women’s intellect
BUT Christianity is such that in Europe “only women” follow it.
f. Christianity is reproachable because of its pomp and ritualism
BUT Christianity is reproachable because of its sackcloth and dried peas.
g. Christianity restrains sexuality too much
BUT Christianity does not restrain sexuality enough.
h. Christianity is primly respectable
BUT Christianity is religiously extravagant.
i. Christianity is too disunified
BUT Christianity is too monolithic.
C’s conclusion at that point was not that Christianity is true, but simply that it must be very odd to be wrong in all these ways at once. There are just two possibilities: either Christianity is a very odd shape or the critics themselves are odd in many opposed ways. (p. 97).
The Romance of Orthodoxy
In this chapter C.’s main aim is to show that Christian doctrines, not watered down according to liberal tastes, have social consequences consonant with real progress and freedom from oppression, and that the proposed liberal substitutes make for oppression and regression:
“In actual modern Europe a freethinker does not mean a man who thinks for himself. It means a man who, having thought for himself, has come to one particular class of conclusions, the material origin of phenomena, the impossibility of miracles, the improbability of personal immortality and so on. And none of these ideas are particularly liberal. Nay, indeed almost all these ideas are definitely illiberal, as it is the purpose of this chapter to show.
“In the few following pages I propose to point out as rapidly as possible that on every single one of the matters most strongly insisted upon by the liberalisers of theology their effect upon social practice would be definitely illiberal. Almost every contemporary proposal to bring freedom into the church is simply a proposal to bring tyranny into the world. For freeing the church now does not even mean freeing it in all directions. It means freeing that particular set of dogmas loosely called scientific, dogmas of monism, of pantheism, or of Arianism, or of necessity…. There is only one thing that can never go past a certain point in its alliance with oppression–and that is orthodoxy” (p. 330).
Chesterton deals with six doctrines:
1. ORIGINAL SIN (vs. Oligarchy): See chapter 7.
2. MIRACLES (vs. Naturalism or Materialism)
“The only thing which is still old-fashioned enough to reject miracles is the New Theology. But in truth this notion that it is “free” to deny miracles has nothing to do with the evidence for or against them. It is a lifeless verbal prejudice of which the original life and beginning was not in the freedom of thought, but simply in the dogma of materialism. The man of the nineteenth century did not disbelieve in the Resurrection because his liberal Christianity allowed him to doubt it. He disbelieved in it because his very strict materialism did not allow him to believe it. Tennyson, a very typical nineteenth-century man, uttered one of the instinctive truisms of his contemporaries when he said that there was faith in their honest doubt. There was indeed. Those words have a profound and even a horrible truth. In their doubt of miracles there was a faith in a fixed and godless fate; a deep and sincere faith in the incurable routine of the cosmos. The doubts of the agnostic were only the dogmas of the monist….
“A holiday, like Liberalism, only means the liberty of man. A miracle only means the liberty of God. You may conscientiously deny either of them, but you cannot call your denial a triumph of the liberal idea. The Catholic Church believed that man and God both had a sort of spiritual freedom. Calvinism took away the freedom from man, but left it to God. Scientific materialism binds the Creator Himself; it chains up God as the Apocalypse chained the devil. It leaves nothing free in the universe. And those who assist this process are called the ‘liberal theologians’.” (pp. 133-134).
“Reform or (in the only tolerable sense) progress means simply the gradual control of matter by mind. A miracle simply means the swift control of matter by mind…. If a man cannot believe in miracles there is an end of the matter; he is not particularly liberal, but he is perfectly honourable and logical, which are much better things. But if he can believe in miracles, he is certainly the more liberal for doing so; because they mean first, the freedom of the soul, and secondly, its control over the tyranny of circumstance” (pp. 134-135).
3. DIVINE TRANSCENDENCE (vs. Pantheism and Immanentism, and especially Buddhism)
“The truth is that the difficulty of all the creeds of the earth is not as alleged in this cheap maxim: that they agree in meaning, but differ in machinery. It is exactly the opposite. They agree in machinery; almost every great religion on earth works with the same external methods, with priests, scriptures, altars, sworn brotherhoods, special feasts. They agree in the mode of teaching; what they differ about is the thing to be taught” (p. 136).
“All humanity does agree that we are in a net of sin. Most of humanity agrees that there is some way out. But as to what is the way out, I do not think that there are two institutions in the universe which contradict each other so flatly as Buddhism and Christianity” (p. 137).
“A short time ago Mrs. Besant, in an interesting essay, announced that there was only one religion in the world, that all faiths were only versions or perversions of it, and that she was quite prepared to say what it was. According to Mrs. Besant this universal Church is simply the universal self. It is the doctrine that we are really all one person; that there are no real walls of individuality between man and man. If I may put it so, she does not tell us to love our neighbours; she tells us to be our neighbours. That is Mrs. Besant’s thoughtful and suggestive description of the religion in which all men must find themselves in agreement. And I never heard of any suggestion in my life with which I more violently disagree…. Upon Mrs. Besant’s principle the whole cosmos is only one enormously selfish person” (p. 138-139).
“We come back to the same tireless note touching the nature of Christianity; all modern philosophies are chains which connect and fetter; Christianity is a sword which separates and sets free. No other philosophy makes God actually rejoice in the separation of the universe into living souls. But according to orthodox Christianity this separation between God and man is sacred, because this is eternal. That a man may love God it is necessary that there should be not only a God to be loved, but a man to love him. All those vague theosophical minds for whom the universe is an immense melting-pot are exactly the minds which shrink instinctively from that earthquake saying of our Gospels, which declare that the Son of God came not with peace but with a sundering sword. The saying rings entirely true even considered as what it obviously is; the statement that any man who preaches real love is bound to beget hate. It is as true of democratic fraternity as of divine love; sham love ends in compromise and common philosophy; but real love has always ended in bloodshed” (pp. 139-140).
“That external vigilance that has always been a mark of Christianity (the command that we should watch and pray) has expressed itself both in typical western orthodoxy and in typical western politics: but both depend on the idea of a divinity transcendent, different from ourselves, a deity that disappears. Certainly the most sagacious creeds may suggest that we should pursue God into deeper and deeper rings of the labyrinth of our own ego. But only we of Christendom have said that we should hunt God like an eagle upon the mountains: and we have killed all monsters in the chase…. If we want reform, we must adhere to orthodoxy” (p. 141).
4. TRINITY (vs. Unitarianism)
“There is nothing in the least liberal or akin to reform in the substitution of pure monotheism for the Trinity. The complex God of the Athanansian Creed may be an enigma for t he intellect; but He is far less likely to gather the mystery and cruelty of a Sultan than the lonely god of Omar or Mahomet. The god who is mere awful unity is not only a king but an Eastern king. The heart of humanity, especially of European humanity, is certainly much more satisfied by the strange hints and symbols that gather round the Trinitarian idea, the image of a council at which mercy pleads as well as justice, the conception of a sort of liberty and variety existing even in the inmost chamber of the world” (p. 142).
5. HELL (vs. Universalism)
“To hope for all souls is imperative; and it is quite tenable that their salvation is inevitable. It is tenable, but it is not specially favourable to activity or progress. Our fighting and creative society ought rather to insist on the danger of everybody, on the fact that every man is hanging by a thread or clinging to a precipice. To say that all will be well anyhow is a comprehensible remark: but it cannot be called the blast of a trumpet. Europe ought rather to emphasize possible perdition; and Europe always has emphasized it. Here its highest religion is at one with all its cheapest romances. To the Buddhist or the eastern fatalist existence is a science or a plan, which must end up in a certain way. In a thrilling novel (that purely Christian product) the hero is not eaten by cannibals; but it is essential to the existence of the thrill that he might be eaten by cannibals. The hero must (so to speak) be an eatable hero. So Christian morals have always said to the man, not that he would lose his soul, but that he must take care that he didn’t. In Christian morals, in short, it is wicked to call a man “damned”: but it is strictly religious and philosophic to call him damnable” (p. 143).
6. DIVINITY OF CHRIST (vs. Arianism)
“This truth is yet again true in the case of the common modern attempts to diminish or to explain away the divinity of Christ. The thing may be true or not; that I shall deal with before I end. But if the divinity is true it is certainly terribly revolutionary. That a good man may have his back to the wall is no more than we knew already; but that God could have His back to the wall is a boast for all insurgents for ever. Christianity is the only religion on earth that has felt that omnipotence made God incomplete. Christianity alone has felt that God, to be wholly God, must have been a rebel as well as a king. Alone of all creeds, Christianity has added courage to the virtues of the Creator. For the only courage worth calling courage must necessarily mean that the soul passes a breaking point–and does not break” (pp. 144-145).
“Let the revolutionists choose a creed from all the creeds and a god from all the gods of the world, carefully weighing all the gods of inevitable recurrence and of unalterable power. They will not find another god who has himself been in revolt. Nay (the matter grows too difficult for human speech), but let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist” (p. 145).
Conclusion: see pp. 146-147
Authority and the Adventurer
The purpose of this chapter is to argue that Christianity is not only conducive to social progress and reform but also true. The chapter takes the form of an extended answer to the question: Why not just accept the moral and social teaching without all the metaphysical doctrine?
“The last chapter has been concerned with the contention that orthodoxy is not only (as is often urged) the only safe-guardian of morality or order, but is also the only logical guardian of liberty, innovation and advance…. A reasonable agnostic, if he has happened to agree with me so far, may justly turn round and say, `You have found a practical philosophy in the doctrine of the Fall; very well. You have found a side of democracy now dangerously neglected wisely asserted in Original Sin; all right. You have found a truth in the doctrine of hell; I congratulate you. You are convinced that worshippers of a personal God look outwards and are progressive; I congratulate them. But even supposing that those doctrines do include those truths, why cannot you take the truths and leave the doctrines? …’ This is the real question; this is the last question; and it is a pleasure to try to answer it” (pp. 148-149).
The ultimate answer is that (i) GKC has found the arguments against Christianity to be based on `facts’ that are not really facts at all, and that (ii) he has come to the general conclusion that the Church which teaches these doctrines is a truth-telling thing. The argument itself can be divided as follows:
1. Rationality and the arguments against Christianity
I, says GKC, like the agnostic, have no demonstration of my position but only an “enormous accumulation of small but unanimous facts.” But the agnostic’s `facts’ turned out not to be facts. For instance, it is not the case that man is just another animal, that religion arose in ignorance and fear, or that the Catholic religion is full of doom and gloom:
“Thus these three facts of experience, such facts as go to make an agnostic, are, in this view, totally turned around. I am left saying, `Give me an explanation, first, of the towering eccentricity of man among the brutes; second, of the vast human tradition of some ancient happiness; third, of the partial perpetuation of such pagan joy in the countries of the Catholic Church.’ One explanation, at any rate, covers all three: the theory that twice was the natural order interrupted by some explosion or revelation such as people now call `psychic’. Once Heaven came upon the earth with a power or seal called the image of God, whereby man took command of Nature; and once again (when in empire after empire men had been found wanting) Heaven came to save mankind in the awful shape of a man. This would explain why the mass of men always look backwards; and why the only corner where they in any sense look forwards is the little continent where Christ has His Church” (p. 152).
Again, it is not the case that Jesus was a gentle creature, that Christianity flourished only in the dark ages of ignorance, or that strongly religious people like the Irish are week, unpractical, and behind the times.
“The sceptic is too credulous; he believes in newspapers and encyclopedias. Again the three questions left me with three very antagonistic questions. The average sceptic wanted to know how I explained the namby-pamby note in the Gospel, the connection of the creed with mediaeval darkness and the political impracticability of the Celtic Christians. But I wanted to ask, and to ask with an earnestness amounting to urgency, `What is this incomparable energy which appears first in one walking the earth like a living judgment and this energy which can die with a dying civilization and yet force it to a resurrection from the dead; this energy which last of all can inflame a bankrupt peasantry with so fixed a faith in justice that they get what they ask, while others go empty away; so that the most helpless island of the Empire can actually help itself?’
“There is an answer; it is an answer to say that the energy is truly from outside the world…. It is no injustice…to say that only modern Europe has exhibited incessantly a power of self-renewal recurring often at the shortest intervals and descending to the smallest facts of building or costume. All other societies die finally and with dignity. We die daily. We are always being born again with almost indecent obstetrics…. For our civilization ought to have died, by all parallels, by all sociological probability, in the Ragnorak of the end of Rome. That is the weird inspiration of our estate: you and I have no business being here at all. We are all revenants; all living Christians are dead pagans walking about. Just as Europe was about to be gathered in silence to Assyria and Babylon, something entered into its body. And Europe has had a strange life–it is not too much to say that it has had the jumps–ever since” (pp. 155-156).
2. Rationality and belief in the supernatural
Chesterton then summarizes the point that his own acceptance of miracles and the “objective occurrence of the supernatural” is more based on evidence than his opponents’ rejection of these things. This is in effect his argument against Hume’s ad hominem against the ignorant masses who are the source of most miracle stories:
“Somehow or other the extraordinary idea has arisen that the disbelievers in miracles consider them coldly and fairly, while believers in miracles accept them only in connection with some dogma. The fact is quite the other way. The believers in miracles accept them (rightly or wrongly) because they have evidence for them. The disbelievers in miracles deny them (rightly or wrongly) because they have a doctrine against them. The open, obvious, democratic thing is to believe an old apple-woman when she bears testimony to a miracle, just as you believe an old apple-woman when she bears testimony to a murder. The plain, popular course is to trust the peasant’s word about the ghost exactly as far as you trust the peasant’s word about the landlord. Being a peasant he will probably have a great deal of healthy agnosticism about both. Still you could fill the British Museum with evidence uttered by the peasant, and given in favour of the ghost. If it comes to human testimony there is a choking cataract of human testimony in favour of the supernatural. If you reject it, you can only mean one of two things. You reject the peasant’s story about the ghost either because the man is a peasant or because the story is a ghost story. That is, you either deny the main principle of democracy, or you affirm the main principle of materialism–the abstract impossibility of miracle. You have a perfect right to do so; but in that case you are a dogmatist. It is we Christians who accept all actual evidence–it is you rationalists who refuse actual evidence being constrained to do so by your creed. But I am not constrained by any creed in the matter, and looking impartially into certain miracles of mediaeval and modern times, I have come to the conclusion that they occurred” (pp. 157-158).
3. Rationality and the truth of Christianity
Given this belief in the supernatural, he then must choose among the competing claims as to the nature of the supernatural, and to distinguish good spirits from bad ones.
“It is not enough to find the gods; they are obvious; we must find God, the real chief of the gods. We must have a long historic experience in supernatural phenomena–in order to discover which are really natural. In this light I find the history of Christianity, and even of its Hebrew origins, quite practical and clear. It does not trouble me to be told that the Hebrew god was one among many. I know he was, without any research to tell me so. Jehovah and Baal looked equally important, just as the sun and the moon looked the same size. It is only slowly that we learn that the sun is immeasurably our master, and the small moon only our satellite. Believing that there is a world of spirits, I shall walk in it as I do in the world of men, looking for the thing that I like and think good” (pp. 160-161).
So the main strategy is to argue that once the question becomes one of choosing a particular account of the world, an account which includes a recognition of the supernatural–both the good supernatural and the bad supernatural–Christianity and particularly Catholicism looks really good.
“I have now said enough to show (to any one to whom such an explanation is essential) that I have in the ordinary arena of apologetics, a ground of belief. In pure records of experiment (if these be taken democratically without contempt or favour) there is evidence, first, that miracles happen, and second that the nobler miracles belong to our tradition. But I will not pretend that this curt discussion is my real reason for accepting Christianity instead of taking the moral good of Christianity as I should take it out of Confucianism.
“I have another far more solid and central ground for submitting to it as a faith, instead of merely picking up hints from it as a scheme. And that is this: that the Christian Church in its practical relation to my soul is a living teacher, not a dead one. It not only certainly taught me yesterday, but will almost certainly teach me tomorrow. Once I saw suddenly the meaning of the shape of the cross; some day I may see suddenly the meaning of the shape of the mitre. One fine morning I saw why windows were pointed; some fine morning I may see why priests were shaven. Plato has told you a truth; but Plato is dead. Shakespeare has startled you with an image; but Shakespeare will not startle you with any more. But imagine what it would be to live with such men still living, to know that Plato might break out with an original lecture tomorrow, or that at any moment Shakespeare might shatter everything with a single song. The man who lives in contact with what he believes to be a living Church is a man always expecting to meet Plato and Shakespeare tomorrow at breakfast. He is always expecting to see some truth that he has never seen before. There is one only parallel to this position; and that is the parallel of the life in which we all began. When your father told you, walking about the garden, that bees stung or that roses smelt sweet, you did not talk of taking the best out of his philosophy. When the bees stung you, you did not call it an entertaining coincidence. When the rose smelt sweet you did not say `My father is a rude, barbaric symbol, enshrining (perhaps unconsciously) the deep delicate truth that flowers smell.’ No: you believed your father, because you had found him to be a living fountain of facts, a thing that really knew more than you; a thing that would tell you the truth tomorrow as well as today. And if this was true of your father, it was even truer of your mother; at least it was true of mine, to whom this book is dedicated…
“I give one instance out of a hundred; I have not myself any instinctive kinship with that enthusiasm for physical virginity, which has certainly been a note of historic Christianity. But when I look not at myself but at the world, I perceive that this enthusiasm is not only a note of Christianity, but a note of Paganism, a note of high human nature in many spheres…. With all this human experience allied with the Christian authority, I simply conclude that I am wrong, and the Church right; or rather that I am defective, while the church is universal. It takes all sorts to make a church; she does not ask me to be celibate. But the fact that I have no appreciation of the celibates, I accept like the fact that I have no ear for music. The best human experience is against me, as it is on the subject of Bach. Celibacy is one flower in my father’s garden, of which I have not been told the sweet or terrible name. But I may be told it any day.
“This, therefore, is, in conclusion, my reason for accepting the religion and not merely the scattered and secular truths out of the religion. I do it because the thing has not merely told this truth or that truth, but has revealed itself as a truth-telling thing. All other philosophers say the things that plainly seem to be true; only this philosophy has again and again said the thing that does not seem to be true, but is true. Alone of all the creeds it is convincing where it is not attractive; it turns out to be right, like my father in the garden” (pp. 161-164).
And Chesterton believes that this philosophy has obvious advantages over the superficially more liberal, but in truth enslaving, philosophies of the modernist:
“The outer ring of Christianity is a rigid guard of ethical abnegations and professional priests; but inside that inhuman guard you will find the old human life dancing like children, and drinking wine like men; for Christianity is the only frame for pagan freedom. But in the modern philosophy the case is opposite; it is its outer ring that is obviously artistic and emancipated; its despair is within.
“And its despair is this, that it does not really believe that there is any meaning in the universe; therefore it cannot hope to find any romance; its romances will have no plots. A man cannot expect any adventures in the land of anarchy. But a man can expect any number of adventures if he goes travelling in the land of authority. One can find no meanings in a jungle of scepticism; but the man will find more and more meanings who walks through a forest of doctrine and design” (pp. 164-165).
“All the real argument about religion turns on the question of whether a man who was born upside down can tell when he comes right way up. The primary paradox of Christianity is that the ordinary condition of man is not his sane or sensible condition; that the normal itself is an abnormality…. It is only since I have known orthodoxy that I have known mental emancipation” (p. 165).
“And when rationalists say that the ancient world was more enlightened than the Christian, from their point of view they are right. For when they say `enlightened’ they mean darkened with incurable despair. It is profoundly true that the ancient world was more modern than the Christian. The common bond is in the fact that ancients and moderns have both been miserable about existence, about everything, while mediaevals were happy about that at least. I freely grant that the pagans, like the moderns, were only miserable about everything–they were quite jolly about everything else. I concede that the Christians of the Middle Ages were only at peace about everything–they were at war about everything else. But if the question turn on the primary pivot of the cosmos, then there was more cosmic contentment in the narrow and bloody streets of Florence than in the theatre of Athens or the open garden of Epicurus. Giotto lived in a gloomier town than Euripides, but he lived in a gayer universe…. Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial” (p. 166).