Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Wisdom of G. K. Chesterton, pt. 4

This is a continuation of my quotes from G. K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy. (See also, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3)

"The question of whether miracles ever occur is a question of common sense and of ordinary historical imagination: not of any final physical experiment. One may here surely dismiss that quite brainless piece of pedantry which talks about the need for "scientific conditions" in connection with alleged spiritual phenomena. If we are asking whether a dead soul can communicate with a living it is ludicrous to insist that it shall be under conditions in which no two living souls in their senses would seriously communicate with each other. The fact that ghosts prefer darkness no more disproves the existence of ghosts than the fact that lovers prefer darkness disproves the existence of love. If you choose to say, "I will believe that Miss Brown called her fiance a periwinkle or, any other endearing term, if she will repeat the word before seventeen psychologists," then I shall reply, "Very well, if those are your conditions, you will never get the truth, for she certainly will not say it." It is just as unscientific as it is unphilosophical to be surprised that in an unsympathetic atmosphere certain extraordinary sympathies do not arise. It is as if I said that I could not tell if there was a fog because the air was not clear enough; or as if I insisted on perfect sunlight in order to see a solar eclipse."

"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 truths 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 truth to-morrow, as well as to-day."

On the inestimable importance of the early education of boys by their mothers, he writes, "...a boy is only sent to be taught at school when it is too late to teach him anything."

A fantastic definition of the Fall: " the question, 'What is meant by the Fall?' I could answer with complete sincerity, 'That whatever I am, I am not myself.'"

" so far as the liberal idea of freedom can be said to be on either side in the discussion about miracles, it is obviously on the side of miracles...If you wish to feed the people, you may think that feeding them miraculously in the wilderness is impossible--but you cannot think it illiberal. If you really want poor children to go to the seaside, you cannot think it illiberal that they should go there on flying dragons; you can only think it unlikely. 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." He continues, "The assumption that there is something in the doubt of miracles akin to liberality or reform is literally the opposite of the truth. 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. Sometimes this truth is ignored in a singularly naive way, even by the ablest men."

Let me conclude this entry, the last of the catalogues of quotes from Orthodoxy first with the sincere admission that I had never read a Christian apology quite so appealing as this. Previously, I had never been roused by any apology more than the Epistle to Diognetus, particularly the fifth chapter. Earlier this year I completed David Bentley Hart's Atheist Delusions, which quickly became my favorite apology. I can now honestly say, however, that Chesterton has surpassed both ancient and modern apologists for me, not because he conclusively proves Christianity, but because, rejecting the possibility of proving it, he defends it existentially. He stands up for it as it is, not as a mathematical equation that, once sufficiently balanced cannot reasonably be denied, but as a messy, illogical, terrible, beautiful, true explanation of our messy, illogical, terrible, beautiful true existence. And that makes me very happy. Thus, I finish with this final quote:

"Greek heroes do not grin: but gargoyles do--because they are Christian."

No comments:

Post a Comment