Sunday, April 02, 2006

GKC sampler: faith and reason

As you know, I am a little too busy to write just now - but I think you will enjoy this sampler of Chesterton on faith and reason. If you need references, please ask, or use the Quotemeister. Better yet, read some Chesterton for yourself!

PS There are a lot of people who need help just now; some blogg, some don't. Please be sure to remember them in your prayers. I will remember you in mine.
-- Dr. Thursday.

Life is much too important to be taken seriously.

The world left to itself grows wilder than any creed.

People will tell you that theories don't matter and that logic and philosophy aren't practical. Don't you believe them. Reason is from God, and when things are unreasonable there is something the matter.

This is the definition of a faith. A faith is that which is able to survive a mood.

Religion might approximately be defined as the power which makes us joyful about the things that matter.

To become a Catholic is not to leave off thinking, but to learn how to think.

The Catholic Faith, which always preserves the unfashionable virtue, is at this moment alone sustaining the independent intellect of man.

Catholic virtue is often invisible because it is the normal. Christianity is always out of fashion because it is always sane; and all fashions are mild insanities. The Church always seems to be behind the times, when it is really beyond the times. It keeps the key of a permanent virtue. The human race has always admired the Catholic virtues, however little it can practise them; and oddly enough it has admired most those of them that the modern world most sharply disputes.

The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.

We have got to explain somehow that the great mysteries like the Blessed Trinity or the Blessed Sacrament are the starting points for trains of thought far more stimulating, subtle and even individual, compared with which all that skeptical scratching is as thin, shallow and dusty as a nasty piece of scandal-mongering in a New England village. Thus, to accept the Logos as a truth is to be in the atmosphere of the absolute, not only with St. John the Evangelist, but with Plato and all the great mystics of the world.

Take away the supernatural, and what remains is the unnatural.

When once one believes in a creed, one is proud of its complexity, as scientists are proud of the complexity of science. It shows how rich it is in discoveries. If it is right at all, it is a compliment to say that it's elaborately right. A stick might fit a hole or a stone a hollow by accident. But a key and a lock are both complex. And if a key fits a lock, you know it is the right key.

You cannot evade the issue of God, whether you talk about pigs or the binomial theory, you are still talking about Him. Now if Christianity be ... a fragment of metaphysical nonsense invented by a few people, then, of course, defending it will simply mean talking that metaphysical nonsense over and over again. But if Christianity should happen to be true - that is to say, if its God is the real God of the universe - then defending it may mean talking about anything or everything. Things can be irrelevant to the proposition that Christianity is false, but nothing can be irrelevant to the proposition that Christianity is true.

Somehow or other an 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 the 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. All argument against these plain facts is always argument in a circle. If I say, "Mediaeval documents attest certain miracles as much as they attest certain battles," they answer, "But mediaevals were superstitious"; if I want to know in what they were superstitious, the only ultimate answer is that they believed in the miracles. If I say "a peasant saw a ghost," I am told, "But peasants are so credulous." If I ask, "Why credulous?" the only answer is - that they see ghosts. Iceland is impossible because only stupid sailors have seen it; and the sailors are only stupid because they say they have seen Iceland.

From the famous debates in The Ball and the Cross:

"What is the good of words if they aren't important enough to quarrel over? Why do we choose one words more than another if there isn't any difference between them? If you called a woman a chimpanzee instead of an angel, wouldn't there be a quarrel about a word? If you're not going to argue about words, what are you going to argue about? Are you going to convey your meaning to me by moving your ears? The Church and the heresies always used to fight about words, because they are the only things worth fighting about."

"We are fighting about God, there can be nothing so important as that."

"This man and I are alone in the modern world in that we think that God is essentially important. I think that He does not exist; that is where the importance comes in for me. But this man thinks that God does exist, and thinking that very properly thinks Him more important than anything else."


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