Wednesday, July 02, 2008

G K Chesterton on Original Sin

Of course he had something to say about that fact.

MODERN masters of science are much impressed with the need of beginning all inquiry with a fact. The ancient masters of religion were quite equally impressed with that necessity. They began with the fact of sin -- a fact as practical as potatoes. Whether or not man could be washed in miraculous waters, there was no doubt at any rate that he wanted washing.

But certain religious leaders in London, not mere Materialists, have begun in our day not to deny the highly disputable water, but to deny the indisputable dirt. Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.

Some followers of the Reverend R. J. Campbell, in their almost too fastidious spirituality, admit divine sinlessness, which they cannot see even in their dreams. But they essentially deny human sin, which they can see in the street.

The strongest saints and the strongest sceptics alike took positive evil as the starting-point of their argument. If it be true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness in skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can only draw one of two deductions; he must either deny the existence of God, as all Atheists do, or he must deny the present union between God and man, as all Christians do.

The new theologians seem to think it a highly rationalistic solution to deny the cat.

One hardly needs to name names...

4 comments:

PaulNoonan said...

If it be true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness in skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can only draw one of two deductions; he must either deny the existence of God, as all Atheists do, or he must deny the present union between God and man, as all Christians do.

I think that Gilbert left out a few options. Evolutionary biology for one. And also the fact that many people do not feel happiness in skinning a cat. If original sin is universal, all should feel this drive. Since many, and I would say probably most do not, his argument is, what's the word? Ah, yes. Bunk.

Also, note that this is not "denyine the cat," as I'm sure he is implying. It is denying the universality of the cat. This is very different, and has the added benefit of being correct.

Perhaps basing one's theological views on the actions of serial killers is not the strongest argument one could make.

Aquinas said...

Wow. In looking for Chesterton's missing options, Paul seems to have missed the rest of the point as well.

I think that Gilbert left out a few options... And also the fact that many people do not feel happiness in skinning a cat."

Um, Paul? He didn't leave out that option. What he said was that "a man can feel exquisite happiness in skinning a cat." He didn't say how many men. Only that it was a possibility. For the purposes of demonstration. Chesterton uses the cat skinning as synecdoche. Since Original Sin is universal, all men do feel the drive to sin, though it may not necessarily manifest itself in cat skinning, evolutionary biology having provided us with countless outlets for the sinful urge.

Perhaps ridiculous hyperbole—to the point where the use of serial killers in an argument is considered subtle and persuasive—is not the strongest argument one could make. In fact, it might just be, say, bunk.

Dad29 said...

Agreed; Paul missed the forest for the trees.

PaulNoonan said...

Perhaps. Alternatively, perhaps Gilbert decided to call one tree a forest.