Heretics

by G.K. Chesterton, 1905

When G.K. Chesterton called his contemporaries heretics he meant only that the philosophies which they put forth were at odds with the absolute truth of the universe, specially revealed through Christianity. He proves that it is possible to disagree with someone while still walking in love. He speaks quite respectfully about most of them while he artfully and with great humour dissects their errors. He is uncompromising in his defense of the truth, but his whole approach is one of charity.

  1. Introductory Remarks on the Importance of Orthodoxy — In this book, modern heretics are criticized on the basis that they don’t believe anything. Even those who are wrong ought to at least believe they are right. Belief in any principle is considered to be in bad taste. High principle is eschewed in favour of practicality, revealing a lack of belief in anything. People end up reacting like animals to the mood of the moment rather than according to any well-thought-out reasons.
  2. On the Negative Spirit — Negativity, in pointing out the world’s problems, seeks to eliminate evils through fear and loathing. It is not the acknowledging of problems that is wrong, it is the lack of any ideal of good. It is not enough to know what is bad; we must have an ideal of what is ultimately good. Progress is used to escape moral anchors, yet there can be no progress without some ideal of good to progress toward.
  3. On Mr. Rudyard Kipling and Making the World Small — The bored make the world smaller by overlooking the very things that make places interesting. They skip on, blithely searching for new entertainments, and never pause to discover what there is that might inspire love. They are so pre-occupied with things that divide people that they do not see those things that unite. To really appreciate something, you must become a part of it. To really know a place, you must know it not as a tourist, but as an inhabitant.
  4. Mr. Bernard Shaw — The man with definite convictions appears wildly inconsistent to those whose opinions change with the fashion of the day. Such a man may live a consistent life, yet be completely wrong in his beliefs. A man who truly sees things as they are is humbled by his views. To the proud, all things are inferior and subject to criticism. Rather than concentrating on what things could be if they were different, we need a view that would find the absence of those things tragic.
  5. Mr. H. G. Wells and the Giants — Men do not become great by trying to become great men. They become great when they are what they are to the best of their ability. The humble know they are unworthy of the prize and press on all the more to obtain it. The proud believe they deserve the prize and expect it to be given them. Healthy men take no thought for the condition of their lives, but are free to pursue activities for the pleasure of them, in contrast with the sick whose constant focus is to get healthy. Those who are constantly trying to make themselves other than they are end up making themselves abnormal. Those who simply are what they are go on to triumph over their circumstances, enemies, and selves.
  6. Christmas and the Aesthetes — Our ideas of what religion ought to be like are usually opposite to what religion actually is. Loud, exuberant celebrations are frowned upon, yet they best express the natural joy of a soul who has met God. Ritual is considered to be unnecessary foolishness, but carries an inherent requirement of humility which is indispensable. Like it or not, the supernatural inspires celebration—and all the boisterous activities that go along with it.
  7. Omar and the Sacred VineIt is easy to deny one’s self festivity; it is difficult to deny one’s self normality. Wine is a temptation when it is viewed as something which makes life livable. It is only properly imbibed when it accompanies a celebration of the true joys of life. The unhappy live for the joy of the moment; the happy look beyond the moment to the eternal joy in the nature of things. Man cannot love mortal things. He can only love immortal things for an instant.
  8. The Mildness of the Yellow Press — It takes a great deal of courage to say something which contradicts conventional wisdom. It takes greater courage to embark on a hopeless crusade. For principle, one may risk all and fail, yet achieve greatness in the attempt. In pursuit of success, one avoids all risk of failure and achieves only mediocrity. So it is that men with no principle put on a show as they call for success in their foolish endeavors and call it common sense.
  9. The Moods of Mr. George Moore — The paradox of pride is that it destroys the very thing that it worships. Pride is a weakness in the character; it dries up laughter, it dries up wonder, it dries up chivalry and energy. It concentrates on self and in so doing, denies the reality of anything outside of self or in relation to it. One of the thousand objections to the sin of pride lies precisely in this, that self-consciousness of necessity destroys self-revelation. By making self the all in all, the proud man effectively eliminates anything uniquely personal within himself. With no coherent view of reality, and lacking any development of personality, the proud man finds himself without a consistent philosophy of life.
  10. On Sandals and SimplicityThe only kind of simplicity worth preserving is the simplicity of the heart, the simplicity which accepts and enjoys. Adjusting our physical habits and practices will do nothing to reclaim that simplicity once it has been lost. If, on the other hand, we retain that simplicity which enjoys with astonishment and fear very little matters physically. If we are to become like little children, we must set aside man-made distinctions between natural and artificial, simple and complex, and simply see the wonder in everything — and the opportunity for play.
  11. Science and the Savages — Science studies the material world with a detachment that becomes a handicap when studying human nature. Science claims certainty where there is only mystery. Mystery frightens us and inspires humility. So much about the human heart is a mystery that we cannot truly understand other people any more than we can understand ourselves. We only approach an understanding when we identify rather than explain.
  12. Paganism and Mr. Lowes Dickinson — Christianity surpassed paganism by its three unreasonable virtues: faith, hope, and love. They are unreasonable because they are inherently paradoxical. The pure reason exalted by the pagan world is shown to be insufficient in the face of these virtues. It is the stress of ultimate need, and a terrible knowledge of things as they are, which led men to set up these riddles, and to die for them. Likewise, humility is a paradoxical Christian virtue which, once the necessity for it has been seen, will turn a pagan into a Christian.
  13. Celts and Celtophiles — Racial politics was invented as a way to defend the indefensible conduct of the powerful. It tries to place a great deal of significance on something which is physical (race) in an effort to avoid, or perhaps to overthrow, a spiritual reality which truly is significant (nationality). Any number of races may cohere into a single nationality for which they would be willing to die.
  14. On Certain Modern Writers and the Institution of the FamilyIn a large community we can choose our companions. In a small community our companions are chosen for us.... There is nothing really narrow about the clan; the thing which is really narrow is the clique.... We make our friends; we make our enemies; but God makes our next-door neighbour.... That is why the old religions and the old scriptural language showed so sharp a wisdom when they spoke, not of one’s duty towards humanity, but one’s duty towards one’s neighbour. The duty towards humanity may often take the form of some choice which is personal or even pleasurable.... But we have to love our neighbour because he is there—a much more alarming reason for a much more serious operation. He is the sample of humanity which is actually given us. Precisely because he may be anybody he is everybody. He is a symbol because he is an accident.... The best way that a man could test his readiness to encounter the common variety of mankind would be to climb down a chimney at random, and get on as well as possible with the people inside. And that is essentially what each one of us did on the day that he was born.... The thing which keeps life romantic and full of fiery possibilities is the existence of these great plain limitations which force all of us to meet the things we do not like or do not expect.
  15. On Smart Novelists and the Smart Set — The media presents the rich and powerful as the ideal of mankind. But to do so, they must deny reality. They flatter the witless by depicting them as witty. Praise may be gigantic and insane without having any quality of flattery so long as it is praise of something that is noticeably in existence. They present the repression of feelings as the norm, whereas it is sentimentalism which makes us human.
  16. On Mr. McCabe and a Divine Frivolity — To be too solemn about something is to make it vain. Funny and serious are not opposites, as is so often supposed. The truth is, as I have said, that in this sense the two qualities of fun and seriousness have nothing whatever to do with each other, they are no more comparable than black and triangular. The spirit of elitism takes those things which ought to be the common joy of all, and demands a solemn respect for those experts who have mastered them and in so doing have made us all a little less human.
  17. On the Wit of Whistler — Beauty and morality are consistent among those who manifest them because those people see beauty and morality in others around them. The paradox of humility is that great men act ordinary because they see themselves as equal with others. Those with too much concern for their greatness express frustration rather than joy, even as they produce their works of beauty or morality.
  18. The Fallacy of the Young Nation — People with wrong ideals more easily delude themselves into thinking that they are something that they are not. Thinking in this manner leads to inappropriate actions which certainly lead to damage, and possibly result in destruction. A nation’s youth may be held to be an ideal, but it is a delusion to take that youth as an indicator of that nation’s destiny.
  19. Slum Novelists and the Slums — Truly democratic philosophy requires us to treat men according to their similarities rather than their differences. We learn nothing of a group by expressing the ways in which they are unlike us. We only truly know them when we imagine ourselves in their place and discover that even the external variety finds a match with us in internal similarity.
  20. Concluding Remarks on the Importance of Orthodoxy — Every man ought to come to some conclusion about they way things are. In doing so, he must be quite dogmatic in his defense of those ideas. If he is right, he ought to know why he is right. At the same time, every man ought to realize that he is inevitably wrong about a great many things, and have the humility to consider whether his views can stand in the face of opposition, practical application, or in light of new information.
Also by G.K. Chesterton:
Orthodoxy
The Everlasting Man
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