GKC – Some Things I Liked; Orthodoxy Chapter 3c   Leave a comment


Let’s talk for a change about some of the things I liked about this chapter. First of all, I like that Chesterton leaves open the possibility of Christians believing in evolution:

If evolution simply means that a positive thing called an ape turned very slowly into a positive thing called a man, then it is stingless for the most orthodox; for a personal God might just as well do things slowly as quickly, especially if, like the Christian God, he were outside time.

Chesterton did not believe in evolution himself. Or, at least he thought evolution disproved later in his life. But he never did close the door on the possibility of God creating through slow change. He had some philosophical issues that we talked about in my last post, but his approach to the possibility of evolution itself was exactly right. Even when he thought evolution disproved, he thought it disproved for the right reason: he believed the evidence argued against it.

And I’m glad he didn’t take some awful stand against evolution. Because I like evolution. I find it fascinating, and I would be greatly saddened if my enthusiasm for it had been poinsoned by a prejudice Chesterton had given me.

It’s odd to me that evolution is so roundly condemned. It’s just so useful. Evolution can explain why Europeans are more likely to develop hemachromatosis (too much iron in the blood) (the gene that causes hemachromatosis gave people a better chance of surviving the plague). It can explain why anemia is so common in certain parts of Africa (it helps people survive malaria).

Anyway, evolution is cool, and I’m glad Chesterton didn’t set me against it.

Another thing I liked from this chapter comes from a throwaway line. Chesterton declares the idea that England in his day was Christian to be an absurd pretence. Yes, Chesterton is “No true Scotsman”ing up a storm, but this idea of pagan civilization was helpful to me. I lived with the expectation that people would disagree with me. I expected that people would disagree with me. Everything I thought, I knew there was someone out there who thought the opposite. I expected disagreement to the extent that it didn’t bother me a bit. Some people can’t stand to be contradicted, and I was never one of them. If I stayed calm in the face of disagreement because I was comfortable in the knowledge that I was the only true Scotsman, I still stayed calm.

Another good thing I found in this chapter was the concept of opportunity costs. It wasn’t called that, of course, but the idea was there.

Every act is an irrevocable selection and exclusion.  Just as when you marry one woman you give up all the others, so when you take one course of action you give up all the other courses.  If you become King of England, you give up the post of Beadle in Brompton. If you go to Rome, you sacrifice a rich suggestive life in Wimbledon.

Chesterton did not drastically alter my views, and I expected and welcomed false Scots before I read Chesterton, but this idea, I think was something new to me. If I spend the afternoon reading, then I can’t also spend it watching television. It had a kind of crystallizing effect that I think normally only comes after a young person goes out on their own and learns how terrible it is to choose between two good things. Do I go for a medical degree, or pursue accounting? The decision can be reversed, but the time can never be recovered. To get some small taste of the seriousness of making decisions in high school was a blessing to me.

Another throwaway line that I liked came at the end of the chapter. Chesterton writes of the method of the reverent sceptic, “It discredits supernatural stories that have some foundation, simply by telling natural stories that have no foundation.” This line rang very true to me. When I read it, I remembered seeing years earlier a History Channel special about the real life of Jesus. The show claimed that while some stories reported Mary standing stolidly at the foot of the cross when Jesus was crucified, she really would have been weeping uncontrollably because women in that culture valued their firstborn sons so much.

And it’s not that Mary couldn’t have been weeping. She could have. But that’s a ridiculous reason to say she must have been weeping. I mean, it’s not like people acting outside of cultural norms in an extremely emotional event is unusual. And I feel like a lot of history goes that way. Some genius declares, “Hmmm… I can think of a good reason this historical event should have happened this way, therefore it must have happened this way!” It’s annoying, and I don’t mind Chesterton calling others out on it.

And the last thing I liked in the chapter was simply the wordplay and imagery of the last few pages. The content is bunk, but it’s incredibly well presented bunk. The chapter ends with:

The love of a hero is more terrible than the hatred of a tyrant. The hatred of a hero is more generous than the love of a philanthropist.  There is a huge and heroic sanity of which moderns can only collect the fragments.  There is a giant of whom we see only the lopped arms and legs walking about.  They have torn the soul of Christ into silly strips, labelled egoism and altruism, and they are equally puzzled by His insane magnificence and His insane meekness.  They have parted His garments among them, and for His vesture they have cast lots; though the coat was without seam woven from the top throughout.

This whole paragraph is based on some simply false (or at least unproven) accusations against moderns. It relies on the ambiguity of “heroism” and a caricature of philanthropists. And it hopes you don’t notice that the soldiers cast lots because they refused to tear his coat, not in spite of its seamlessness.

But goodness it’s well written.

Next week, on to elfland!

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Posted 08/05/2012 by reluctantliberal in GKC

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