The Everlasting Man – Introduction

I picked up this book last year and read it through once.  The mark of a great book is when it is read again new ideas come to light and so begins another journey into ‘The Everlasting Man’.  I plan to write a post for each chapter I read.

A brief overview of the book:

The Everlasting Man is a two-part history of mankind, Christ, and Christianity, by G. K. Chesterton.  Whereas Orthodoxy detailed Chesterton’s own spiritual journey, in this book he tries to illustrate the spiritual journey of humanity, or at least of Western civilization.

C. S. Lewis credited The Everlasting Man with “baptising” his intellect, much as George MacDonald‘s writings had baptized his imagination, so as to make him more than half-converted well before he could bring himself to embrace Christianity. C.S.Lewis listed The Everlasting Man among the 10 books which did most to shape his philosophy of life also in a letter to Sheldon Vanauken (23 Dec. 1950) he wrote:

“I do not think there is a *demonstrative* proof (like Euclid) of Christianity, nor of the existence of matter, nor of the good will & honesty of my best & oldest friends. I think all three are (except the second) far more probable than the alternatives. The case for Christianity is well given by Chesterton [in *The Everlasting Man*]; […] Hang it all, the very fairy-tales embody the truth. Othello believed in Desdemona’s innocence when it was proved: but that was too late. Lear believed in Cordelia’s love when it was proved: but that was too late. […]But supposing one believed and was wrong after all? Why, then you would have paid the universe a compliment it doesn’t deserve. Your error would. even be so more interesting & important than the reality. And yet how could that be? How could an idiotic universe have produced creatures whose mere dreams are so much stronger, better, subtler than itself?”

The whole text can be found online at: http://www.cse.dmu.ac.uk/~mward/gkc/books/everlasting_man.html

Outline of chapter:

The Everlasting Man was written to address to attacks on Christianity (1) that man is just an animal and (2) that Christ was just a man.  The Introduction of the book claims that the critics of Christianity are missing the trees for the forest and that the detractors either need to immerse themselves into the church or take a detached view.

“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 Christanity are not really outside it.”

This is true of most ways of life, that the people who are most against something have inoculated themselves from it: the cynical scientist, the knowledgeable skeptic, and the Christian turned atheist or agnostic.  The issue of these individuals lies not in the truth of what they hear but that they are tired of hearing the truth.  The way, according to Chesterton, is the same way once gets rid of luke-warm water – by either making it more hot or more cold; but not by pouring more of the same.

“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.”

The main argument is that someone from a completely different point of view could see events more clearly than those who are calloused.  It’s like when one wants to learn a foreign language there are two approaches either learn it by immersing yourself in a culture (the best method) or by detaching yourself and learning it from a school (the second-best method) but not by attacking the culture the language comes from.   Only someone who is not attached not detached can avoid the wonderment and the offensiveness of the Bible (where in any other religion does the God of the Universe become man, be born in dirt and animal dung, live a pauper’s life to just to die – what great offensive love!).  These critics should head the warning in Revelation 3:14-21.

One of the main attacks against the church is their hypocrisy; but in this sense the argument swings both ways – the church know it is and strives to be more Christ-like in spite or even despite of it foibles, yet those who do not engage themselves are just hardening their hearts.

“When the world goes wrong, it proves rather that the Church is right. The Church is justified, not because her children do not sin, but because they do. But that marks their mood about the whole religious tradition they are in a state of reaction against it. It is well with the boy when he lives on his father’s land; and well with him again when he is far enough from it to look back on it and see it as a whole. But these people have got into an intermediate state, have fallen into an intervening valley from which they can see neither the heights beyond them nor the heights behind. They cannot get out of the penumbra of Christian controversy. They cannot be Christians and they can not leave off being Anti-Christians. Their whole atmosphere is the atmosphere of a reaction: sulks, perversity, petty criticism. They still live in the shadow of the faith and have lost the light of the faith.”

Now to the answer that the first part of the book addresses: that man is just an animal.

“He who holds the Christian and Catholic view of human nature will feel certain that it is a universal and therefore a sane view, and will be satisfied. But if he has lost the sane vision, he can only get it back by something very like a mad vision; that is, by seeing man as a strange animal and realising how strange an animal he is. But just as seeing the horse as a prehistoric prodigy ultimately led back to, and not away from, an admiration for the mastery of man, so the really detached consideration of the curious career of man will lead back to, and not away from, the ancient faith in the dark designs of God. In other words, it is exactly when we do see how queer the quadruped is that we praise the man who mounts him; and exactly when we do see how queer the biped is that we praise the Providence that made him. In short, it is the purpose of this introduction to maintain this thesis: that it is exactly when we do regard man as an animal that we know he is not an animal. It is precisely when we do try to picture him as a sort of horse on its hind legs, that we suddenly realise that he must be something as miraculous as the winged horse that towered up into the clouds of heaven. All roads lead to Rome, all ways lead round again to the central and civilised philosophy, including this road through elf-land and topsyturvydom. But it may be that it is better never to have left the land of the reasonable tradition, where men ride lightly upon horses and are mighty hunters before the Lord. So also in the specially Christian case we have to react against the heavy bias of fatigue. It is almost impossible to make the facts vivid, because the facts are familiar; and for fallen men it is often true that familiarity is fatigue.”

Essentially man is the only animal that has cognition, and in doing so is separate not by degree but by kind.  To be separate by degree there must be another animal in the present or past that could reason. But more on this in Chapter 1.

To break the fatigue of familiarity the journey to an outsiders view of Christianity begins…

Thoughts:

First, the individual; I know a great many people who have become jaded with Christianity yet still call themselves Christians despite rejecting the orthodox.  They seem too cold to warm up to the faith and too hot to truly reject everything.  They like to be picky with the faith taking the soft love of forgiveness without the hard love of why forgiveness is needed.  I continue to pray that their personal journey has them going home.  The first sentence of the Introduction of The Everlasting Man writes: “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.”  I just hope and pray that their journey will be one that is quick.

Secondly, the group; this issue of inoculated people still exists: (http://www.charismatica.com/2009/03/14/protestant-catholic-or-none-of-the-above/) and this article (http://io9.com/5167699/the-coming-collapse-of-evangelical-christianity) that states:

“meanwhile, there’s going to be a rising tide of secularism as our culture becomes more “religiously antagonistic” and “Intolerance of Christianity will rise to levels many of us have not believed possible in our lifetimes, and public policy will become hostile to evangelical Christianity, seeing it as the opponent of the common good.”

But the article that has the most shock is (http://ministrytodaymag.com/index.php/ministry-news/65-news-main/18334-god-as-a-fashion-statement) whereit states:

“‘These people aren’t secularized,’ said Barry Kosmin, co-author of the massive study that polls more than 54,000 people across the United States. ‘They’re not thinking about religion and rejecting it; they’re not thinking about it at all. More than ever before, people are just making up their own stories of who they are. They say, ‘I’m everything. I’m nothing. I believe in myself,’ said Kosmin. In 1990, he concluded that many Americans saw God as a ‘personal hobby,’ and characterized the country as ‘a greenhouse for spiritual sprouts.’ Today, however, ‘religion has become more like a fashion statement, not a deep personal commitment for many.”‘

It seems that a breath of fresh air is needed for both the individual and the group.  It’s like when one lives in a dark room for too long the sun is too bright outside, and one is likely to get burned – that’s the best time to go outside.  Rather be burned by the light than wilt in the dark.

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