The Huge Synthesis of Humbug!

All modern philosophies are chains which connect and fetter; Christianity is a sword which separates and sets free.  No other philosophy makes God actually rejoice in the separation of the universe into living souls. p.200

Chesterton was a brilliant philosophiser with a quirky way of saying things. His witty remarks redeem for me the hard slogging of following his lines of thought.  In chapter eight of Orthodoxy he sets out to demonstrate that liberal theology is not liberal at all in that it does not have a freeing effect, but a restraining one.

He says the modern ‘freethinker’ is not so free as he supposes.

Having thought for himself, [he] has come to one particular class of conclusions, the material origin of phenomena, the impossibility of miracles, the improbability of personal immortality and so on. p.189

It is a ‘lifeless verbal prejudice’ to deny miracles, which is based not in freedom of thought but in a materialistic worldview! p.191

Chesterton takes particular offence at the pretense that all religions basically teach the same thing, differing only in their rites and rituals.

It is rather like alluding to the obvious connection between the two ceremonies of the sword:  when it taps a man’s shoulder, and when it cuts off his head. It is not at all similar for the man. p.197

…both Christ and Buddha were called by the divine voice coming out of the sky, as if you would expect the divine voice to come out of the coal-cellar. p.196

“The things said most confidently by advanced persons to crowded audiences are generally those quite opposite to the fact; it is actually our truisms that are untrue.” p.194

All humanity does agree that we are in a net of sin.  Most of humanity agrees that there is some way out. But as to what is the way out, I do not think that there are two institutions in the universe which contradict each other so flatly as Buddhism and Christianity. p.197

The Buddhist is looking with a peculiar intentness inwards.  The Christian is staring with a frantic intentness outwards. p.198

I found Chesterton’s insights regarding Buddhism particularly interesting. Would he have imagined our current love affair in the West with religious practices from the East? (Think: Yoga, Meditation).  What does this say about our understanding of the virtues of Orthodoxy? What would have been his response?

On individuality vs. the universal self:

For the Buddhist or Theosophist, personality is the fall of man, for the Christian it is the purpose of God, the whole point of his cosmic idea…this separation between God and man is sacred, because this is eternal. That a man may love God it is necessary that there should be not only a God to be loved, but a man to love him. p.200

There have been many pantheist poems suggesting wonder, but no really successful ones.  The pantheist cannot wonder, for he cannot praise God or praise anything as really distinct from himself.” p.201

With their oriental doubts about personality they do not make certain that we shall have no personal life hereafter; they only make certain that we shall not have a very jolly or complete one here. p.212

on the nature of real love:

‘…any man who preaches real love is bound to beget hate.  It is as true of democratic fraternity as a divine love; sham love ends in compromise and common philosophy; but real love has always ended in bloodshed. p.201

On the pursuit of God and its social outworking:

Certainly the most sagacious creeds may suggest that we should pursue God into deeper and deeper rings of the labyrinth of our own ego.  But only we of Christendom have said that we should hunt God like an eagle upon the mountains…p203

By insisting specially on the immanence of God we get introspection, self-isolation, quietism, social indifference–Tibet.  By insisting specially on the transcendence of God we get wonder, curiosity, moral and political adventure, righteous indignation–Christendom.  Insisting that God is inside man, man is always inside himself.  By insisting that God transcends man, man has transcended himself.p.204

“There is no real possibility of getting out of pantheism any special impulse to moral action.  For atheism implies in its nature that one thing is a good as another; whereas action implies in its nature that one thing is greatly preferable to another.” p.202

on the Trinity:

Suffice it to say here that this triple enigma is as comforting as wine and open as an English fireside;  that this thing that bewilders the intellect utterly quiets the heart: but out of the desert, from the dry places and the dreadful suns, come the cruel children of the lonely God; the real Unitarians who with scimitar in hand have laid waste the world.  For it is not well for God to be alone. p.205 [And this was written before ISIS ever unleashed its savagery!]

On the likeness of the life of faith to a good fiction story:

Life (according to the faith) is very like a serial story in a magazine:  life ends with the promise (or menace) “to be continued in our next.”  Also, with a noble vulgarity, life imitates the serial and leaves off the exciting moment.  For death is distinctly an exciting moment. p.207

And lastly,

On Crime as Disease vs. Free-willed Sin

…making a prison merely a hygienic environment like a hospital, of healing sin by slow scientific methods…p.208

The fallacy of the whole thing is that evil is a matter of active choice whereas disease is not.  If you say that you are going to cure a profligate as you cure an asthmatic, my cheap and obvious answer is:  “Produce the people who want to be asthmatics as many people want to be profligates.” p.208

A man may lie still and be cured of a malady.  But he must not lie still if he wants to be cured of a sin;  on the contrary, he must get up and jump about violently.  The whole point indeed is perfectly expressed in the very word which we use for a man in hospital: “patient” is in the passive mood; “sinner” is in the active….All moral reform must start in the active not the passive will. p.208

I hope you’ve enjoyed Chesterton’s unique way of putting things in words that call the bluff on a great deal of ‘humbug’!  There is only one chapter remaining to his personal case for an orthodox faith. I hope to see you then!

For other posts highlighting this book, please use the ORTHODOXY tag on the sidebar.

Thanks for stopping by to share my reading.


2 thoughts on “The Huge Synthesis of Humbug!

  1. Unabashedly fierce and yet making his opponents laugh too. He is known to have kept up a friendly banter even with those who disagreed with him. A remarkable blend. A product of humility I think… Yes please God, work this wonder in us!

  2. I do love this phrase, and even more, I love the way Chesterton is so unabashedly fierce with all the shenanigans that posed as “truth” in his day. May God give us sifting minds and hearts and the ability to laugh at ourselves.

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