Chesterton, G. K. The Everlasting Man. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2011.
This is a witty apologetic that advocates original monotheism, as opposed to an evolutionary account of religion, and the supernatural origins and distinct status of Christianity, as opposed to a higher critical and comparative religions approach. The book is not academic or annotated, and Chesterton grants this weakness. But Chesterton’s mind is sharp and he is quick to point out fallacies and inconsistencies in unbelieving thought. Though Chesterton writes as a committed Roman Catholic,* his critiques of modern thought are incisive and worth reading.
A few examples:
“The point of this book, in other words, is that the next best thing to being really inside Christendom is to be really outside it. And a particular point of it is that the popular critics of Christianity are not really outside it. They are on a debatable ground, in every sense of the term. They are doubtful in their very doubts. Their criticism has taken on a curious tone, as of a random and illiterate heckling. Thus they make current and anticlerical cant as a sort of small talk. They will complain of parsons dressing like parsons, as if we should be any more free if all the police who shadowed or collared us were plainclothes detectives. Or they will complain that a sermon cannot be interrupted, and call a pulpit a coward’s castle, though they do not call an editor’s office a coward’s castle. It would be unjust both to journalists and priests, but it would be much truer of journalists. The clergyman appears in person and could easily be kicked as he came out of church; the journalist conceals even his name so that nobody can kick him. . . . They will suddenly turn round and revile the Church for not having prevented the War, which they themselves did not want to prevent and which nobody had ever professed to be able to prevent, except some of that very school of progressive and cosmopolitan skeptics who are the chief enemies of the Church. It was the anticlerical and agnostic world that was always prophesying the advent of universal peace; it is that world that was, or should have been, abashed and confounded by the advent of universal war. As for the general view that the Church was discredited by the War—they might as well say that the Ark was discredited by the Flood. When the world goes wrong, it proves rather that the Church is right.”
“The more we look at man as an animal, the less he will look like one. . . . What for him would be the simplest lesson of that strange stone story book [that is, the cave man’s cave]? After all, it would come back to this: that he had dug very deep and found the place where a man had drawn the picture of a reindeer. But he would dig a good deal deeper before he found a place where a reindeer had drawn a picture of a man. That sounds like a truism, but in this connection it is really a very tremendous truth.”
“The freethinker frequently says that Jesus of Nazareth was a man of his time, even if he was in advance of his time; and that we cannot accept his ethics as final for humanity. The freethinker then goes on to criticize his ethics, saying plausibly enough that men cannot turn the other cheek, or that they must take thought for the morrow, or that the self-denial is too ascetic or the monogamy too severe. But the Zealots and the Legionaries did not turn the other cheek any more than we do, if so much. The Jewish traders and Roman tax gatherers took thought for the morrow as much as we, if not more. We cannot pretend to be abandoning the morality of the past for one more suited to the present. It is certainly not the morality of another age, but it might be of another world.”
“Christ said, ‘Seek first the kingdom, and all these things shall be added unto you.’ Buddha said, ‘Seek first the kingdom, and then you will need none of these things.”
“They are always telling us that priests and ceremonies are not religion and that religious organization can be a hollow sham, but they hardly realize how true it is. It is so true that three or four times at least in the history of Christendom the whole soul seemed to have gone out of Christianity; and almost every man in his heart expected its end. This fact is only masked in medieval and other times by that very official religion which such critics pride themselves on seeing through. Christianity remained the official religion of a Renaissance prince or the official religion of an eighteenth-century bishop, just as an ancient mythology remained the official religion of Julius Caesar or the Arian creed long remained the official religion of Julian the Apostate. But there was a difference between the cases of Julius and of Julian, because the Church had begun its strange career. There was no reason why men like Julius should not worship gods like Jupiter forever in public and laugh at them forever in private. But when Julian treated Christianity as dead, he found it had come to life again. He also found, incidentally, that there was not the faintest sign of Jupiter ever coming to life again. This case of Julian and the episode of Arianism is but the first of a series of examples that can only be roughly indicated here. . . . Now if we were to dip below the surface of history, as it is not in the scope of this argument to do, I suspect that we should find several occasions when Christendom was thus to all appearance hollowed out from within by doubt and indifference, so that only the old Christian shell stood as the pagan shell had stood so long. But the difference is that in every such case, the sons were fanatical for the faith where the fathers had been slack about it. . . . The Faith is not a survival. It is not as if the Druids had managed somehow to survive somewhere for two thousand years. That is what might have happened in Asia or ancient Europe, in that indifference or tolerance in which mythologies and philosophies could live forever side by side. It has not survived; it has returned again and again in this Western world of rapid change and institutions perpetually perishing. . . . At least five times, therefore, with the Arian and Albigensian, with the Humanist skeptic, after Voltaire and after Darwin, the Faith has to all appearance gone to the dogs. In each of these five cases it was the dog that died.”
“An old don with D.D. after his name may have become the typical figure of a bore; but that was because he was himself bored with his theology, not because he was excited about it. It was precisely because he was admittedly more interested in the Latin of Plautus than in the Latin of Augustine, in the Greek of Xenophon than in the Greek of Chrysostom. It was precisely because he was more interested in a dead tradition than in a decidedly living tradition. In short, it was precisely because he was himself a type of the time in which Christian faith was weak. It was not because men would not hail, if they could, the wonderful and almost wild vision of a Doctor of Divinity.”
*It is probably worth addressing why Chesterton as a Roman Catholic can be so helpful to Christians combatting modernism, since Christians standing in opposition to abortion or contraception mandates (that include abortifacients) or so-called same-sex marriage often find the writing and works of contemporary Roman Catholics helpful. The reason for this is undoubtedly that that Roman Catholics retain a great deal of Christian truth in their thinking. Thus a doctrinally conservative Roman Catholic and an orthodox Protestant both agree against the Unitarian in defense of the Trinity or in favor of the deity of Jesus against the critics. But it is important to remember that the Reformers were never unaware of the great deal of truth held in common between themselves and the Romanists. The common truths do not negate the differences nor minimize the seriousness of those differences. The differences between Rome and the Reformation center on the gospel, and it would be much better to lose the debate in the public square over same-sex “marriage” than to win that debate and lose the gospel.
The Everlasting Man is available for $.99 on Kindle or $9.99 in print.