In Search of the Giant

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Chesterton

I felt like sharing a few great quotes today from my favorite book of all time, Everlasting Man, by G.K. Chesterton. Chesterton, aside from being a brilliantly creative and entertaining writer, addresses some of Man’s most profound and important questions in this book and does so with a clarity and wit that is unmatched – at least by anyone else I’ve read.

The thesis of the book is this:

“Those who say that Christ stands side by side with similar myths, and his religion side by side with similar religions, are only repeating a very stale formula contradicted by a very striking fact.”

The book goes on to show all of the evidence to support this thesis and does so in a very convincing way. (If you’ve read C.S. Lewis – G.K Chesterton was a big influence on him and his conversion.) And it does so by looking, not at religious dogma or divine revelation, but on the facts of history. The trouble is that it is hard for us, because of our immersion in a semi-Christian culture, to truly grasp or see the facts of history for what they are – to truly see Christianity for what it is. The opening introduction of Everlasting Man captures this challenge beautifully.

“There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there. The other is to walk round the whole world till we come back to the same place; and I tried to trace such a journey in a story I once wrote. It is, however, a relief to turn from that topic to another story that I never wrote. Like every book I never wrote, it is by far the best book I have ever written. It is only too probable that I shall never write it, so I will use it symbolically here; for it was a symbol of the same truth. I conceived it as a romance of those vast valleys with sloping sides, like those along which the ancient White Horses of Wessex are scrawled along the flanks of the hills. It concerned some boy whose farm or cottage stood on such a slope, and who went on his travels to find something, such as the effigy and grave of some giant; and when he was far enough from home he looked back and saw that his own farm and kitchen-garden, shining flat on the hill-side like the colours and quarterings of a shield, were but parts of some such gigantic figure, on which he had always lived, but which was too large and too close to be seen. That, I think, is a true picture of the progress of any really independent intelligence today; and that is the point of this book.

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 anti-clerical 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 plain clothes 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 the journalist. 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 write wild and pointless articles and letters in the press about why the churches are empty, without even going there to find out if they are empty, or which of them are empty.[…] They still live in the shadow of the faith and have lost the light of the faith.”

He continues:

“Now the best relation to our spiritual home is to be near enough to love it. But the next best is to be far enough away not to hate it. It is the contention of these pages that while the best judge of Christianity is a Christian, the next best judge would be something more like a Confucian. The worst judge of all is the man now most ready with his judgments; the ill-educated Christian turning gradually into the ill-tempered agnostic, entangled in the end of a feud of which he never understood the beginning, blighted with a sort of hereditary boredom with he knows not what, and already weary of hearing what he has never heard. He does not judge Christianity calmly as a Confucian would; he does not judge it as he would judge Confucianism. He cannot by an effort of fancy set the Catholic Church thousands of miles away in strange skies of morning and judge it as impartially as a Chinese pagoda.”

“The ill-educated Christian turning gradually into the ill-tempered agnostic, entangled in the end of a feud of which he never understood the beginning…already weary of hearing what he has not heard.” That’s such a cool sentence. Welcome to American culture.

3 comments Add comment

Matthew Catalano December 18, 2008 at 5:50 pm

Awesome!

Damien Schiff December 18, 2008 at 11:08 pm

I agree, a superb book. Also not to be missed is GKC’s “What I Saw in America” in which he describes the US as having the soul of a church because it was founded upon a secular creed—perhaps the most trenchant observation of America since De Tocqueville.

Carson Weber November 13, 2012 at 10:54 am

This reminds me of what Dr. Peter Kreeft said during a presentation he gave at the Sacramento Catholic Forum last year. To paraphrase: “Evangelizing the first pagans was easy. They were confronted with the newness and the splendor of Christianity. Evangelizing today’s neo-pagans is difficult. They’ve been living in a society with Christian values and think they know what Christianity is all about. It’s quite the challenge to get the pagan of today to think outside the box and to re-examine what he thinks he knows, but rather, has a dim, warped, distorted knowledge, in reality. The first pagans were like virgin brides. Today’s pagans are jaded divorcees.”

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