Monday, May 18, 2009

Quotable GKC

"If people are especially horrified at the failure of Christian practice it must be an indirect compliment to the Christian creed."

- GK Chesterton, Daily News, Feb. 13, 1906 -


Tarasview said...

what a great quote!

Matthew A. Wilkinson said...

"if people are especially horrified at the failure of _________ practice it must be an indirect compliment to the _________ creed."

I do love Chesterton, but you could put a lot of ideological groups in those spaces.

I feel nitpicky pointing that out, but the specialness of Christianity has been a recurring theme on your blog lately -and I'm beginning to get the impression you think Christianity is a little more unique than it actually is.

Chesterton's logic is compelling in that quote, but I'm suspicious that Christians are going to push its implications further than they ought to.

I can't let you get away with anything lately. Sorry.

jon said...

Ah, but are you especially horrified when Shriners don't live up to the Shriner's motto, or when atheists don't live up to whatever it is atheists think they should live up to? And what is it atheists want Christians to live up to? Christ? THe Christian creed? Or some other standard arrived at from entirely neutral and scientific means?

And so it goes . . . !

Matthew A. Wilkinson said...

There is no atheist creed, obviously. I couldn't tell for sure, but were you suggesting there might be, or should be, or could be? There can't be.

Am I disappointed when Shriners don't live up to their creed? No, but I don't know what their creed is. I might be if I did.

So, Shriners, no.

Muslims, yes.
Hindus, yes.
Buddhists, yes.
Secular Humanists, yes.
Baha'i, yes.
Christians, yes; but no more than the others.

And so it goes.

Speaking for myself only, the "other standard" I am disappointed if people fail to meet is reason.

Tony Tanti said...

I think the quote is implying that there is an especially large amount of criticism when Christians fail as compared to any other belief group. I think there's some truth to that. I know a lot of people who have deep respect for Buddhists and Muslims and have no knowledge of the failures of those religions. Maybe that's a unique North American thing, I'm not sure.

Matthew A. Wilkinson said...


Y'know I really have no idea how to talk about God without becoming a bore.

I have gone through phases of trying to avoid such issues in conversation -but that's intellectually crippling. So I don't know what to do.


Tony Tanti wrote,
"there is an especially large amount of criticism when Christians fail as compared to any other belief group."

That's certainly not my impression. My experience leads me to think that the church has a weird persecution complex -imagining they are surrounded by haters on all side, when in fact Western society still generally has a tremendous respect for the religion which so many Western values evolved out of.

Certainly I have heard a lot more criticism of Islam than I have of Christianity.

I feel like a lot of Christians I have known almost WISH the church was being persecuted, because persecution would be a sign of relevance. And that frightens me.

Colin Toffelmire said...

I'm on Matt's team on this one. Christianity in NA (especially evangelicalism) reeks of "persecuted hegemon" syndrome.

Tanti's probably got a point that we hear more about hypocritical Christians in the West because that's long been the dominant religious framework here. My guess is that we're hearing more criticism of Islam now because that's currently the ascendant religion on the world stage, and it is the chief point of cultural conflict faced by the West.

Having said this, there is something to the spirit of the Chesterton quote. He correctly suggests that it's pretty meaningless to criticize on moral grounds a morality whose ontological premises you don't accept. You can certainly criticize it on ontological grounds, but that involves an entirely separate discussion.

Anonymous said...

Interesting discussion...i'd like to dip my toe in this pond. The creed of Christianity which makes it unique is in a person... Jesus Christ. When Christians flaunt their creed rather than exalt the Person then trouble ensues. Is this not the issue here? Stu

jon said...

yeah stu that would be a problem i'd have with with GKC's comment, actually.

the quote isn't a hill i'd die on. and i don't know its original context. i think there is still some truth to it though, as well as to what Matthew, Tanti, and Colin are saying. (how's that for soft-pedalling the issue and feigning consensus? Chesterton would NOT be proud of me.)

Matthew A. Wilkinson said...

There is absolutely some truth to the quote, Jon. I'm with Colin completely when he wrote,

"'s pretty meaningless to criticize on moral grounds a morality whose ontological premises you don't accept."

joel said...

It is not a compliment.

They are critiquing the inconsistency of a religion and this does not come from accepting the ontology of the religion it simply comes from reason.

If you say it is blue but its green and I call you on it, that does not show respect or admiration of you saying it is green.

To say this is positive is to say that holding a crook accountable is a complement for his original cheating pitch.

Tony Tanti said...

Joel, I think you're missing the point. If I prefer blue but always wear green then you have something and your criticism of my lack of wearing green could be construed to be a compliment to how good you think I'd look in blue.

Matt and Colin, I hear ya, Christians (especially Evangelicals) do have a victim complex. I wasn't really thinking in terms of North America when I said that though. I could be way off but it's my impression that Christianity in general is far more criticized and called out for its failures worldwide than any other religion. And its not the biggest religion anymore.

Am I way off?

I think about Tom Cruise too (stay with me on this one), he is widely criticized for being nuts and for his beliefs but he's not criticized for being a hypocrite or for not living up to the high calling of his beliefs. His beliefs themselves are what gets ridiculed.

With Christians it seems to me to normally be the failures of the individual person or church and not the belief system itself, that is often critiqued.

Also, just to get sidetracked for a second, we talked charity a few posts back and Matt shot down my contention that Christians are the most generous because the west is most generous and the west is generally Christian. Just to clarify however, this is in fact not the basis of my point about charitability. Statistically Christians within NA are the most charitable people and Christians worldwide are as well and the study I had read was ranking groups and regions based on a percentage of total income not just who gives the most so it wasn't related to wealth either. Again, I don't have the stats but my recollection is that it's really not even close. I know that doesn't relate to this conversation but I just remembered that I never answered that valid critique last time.

jon said...

gotta agree with tanti on this one.

jon said...

i don't know about the West or the globe, but in my experience Christians take a lot of heat for not living up to . . . what? to Reason?

Then that's quite a compliment to Reason (nevermind whose, just assume for a second there is one universal reason arrived at by the more-neutral-than-though). But in this case, then, the critique would have to apply to all, not just Christians, in which case we're left to wonder why Christians would ever be the especially horrifying examples of failure?

Thus if the problem is indeed that Christians fail their own creed, then fair enough. Yes they do, and it is troublesome, at least to those who think the creed would look good on them.

But by such a failure they are still witnesses to who Christ is, as God's grace extended to humanity, and to what humanity ought to be and is to become.

Far as I can see, any argument that says their inconsistency disproves God is based upon a presupposed understanding of God which insists that if he existed he would make instantly perfect followers (and a few other presuppositions as well).

Tarasview said...

just to throw an odd comment out there- my step-father is black. Until he came into our lives I had no idea black people were still persecuted in Canada. I would have thought that more often than not it was Perceived racism but not probably how it was meant. I would have thought the collective "they" were imagining more than there was because I had never experienced it. Until my step-father arrived. Then I actually SAW it.

Perhaps we can't really SEE and understand what we aren't truly a part of? SO I can't really understand and FEEL the persecution Buddhists endure because I am, in fact, not a Buddhist. I may think they are just exaggerating... until I experience it for myself.

Just a thought. It's late so maybe it makes no sense but there you have it anyway :)

joel said...

Inconsistency is applicable to all people, not just Christians. By excluding a group you simply commit the same problem. You persist on making reason (like atheism) into a faith because you only seem to understand faith vs. faith analogies Jon.

The critique of inconsistency is applicable to all people groups, even those who do not adhere to valuing it. So long as you see it as an ‘us vs. them’ paradigm, you can get away with simply throwing the criticism back on the source.

If you cannot criticize Christianity by its believers how can you criticize it? One cannot criticize the Holy Scriptures, because they come from God and one cannot criticize God itself because who am I to criticize that which I cannot understand, grasp or really touch?

God is perfect, but our understanding of God is fallible; thus any problems found therein are excusable as human-caused.

The Scriptures are perfect, but they had to be given (or originally given) to and through people; thus any problems found therein are excusable as human-caused.

Christians have the true religion but they are fallible; thus any problems found with them are excusable as human-caused or bad examples.

If you cannot scrutinize a religion based on its ideas, its God, its scriptures or its people; how the hell is one to make a judgement?

This system smacks of convenience, and it is only titillated by the fact that Christians will only take criticism serious it comes from within and if it is delivered for the benefit of the religion as a whole. It does not bother me that this is the system chosen by religious people in order to obtain a kind of stability and defence against the onslaught of attack from other faiths and various anti-christian view points; but surely you must admit of its problematic nature, if not that the danger it posses for clear-minded scrutiny Jon.

You, yourself are such a high proponent of listening to criticism and wanting to delve deep into the hard questions opposed to Christianity; surely you should take some serious thought on this set-up- instead of simply saying all other groups are the same or have the same problems!

Tony Tanti said...

Joel said, "If you cannot scrutinize a religion based on its ideas, its God, its scriptures or its people; how the hell is one to make a judgement?"

I don't know any Christians (even the most arrogant) who don't scrutinize the religion of Christianity at least somewhat. My guess is that you experience a lot of pushback against your criticisms because you're starting out at an admitted stance of unbelief which makes people defend things they're not even sure of completely themselves.

You were in the church so you know there is a lot of questioning going on out there, all I hear from you in this line of thinking is a rejection of faith. That's your call and it's your right to look at the same world as me and choose no faith while I choose faith, but it smacks of arrogance for you to somehow imply that criticism and reasonable thought applied to Christ can only produce atheism.

Maybe that's not what you mean to imply but that's my impression.

Of course there are hard questions, just as I'm sure there are for an atheist, but that doesn't mean people who believe in God aren't wrestling with them. See here is somewhere we can agree, I think you can scrutinize all of the things you've said a religious person can't, using reason. For me though reason always brings me back to God, maybe not religion, but certainly God.

joel said...

Honestly, I fee like you just illustrated my point: that Christians will only take internal criticism seriously. That’s good, but eliminates the possibility of full scrutiny does it not?

It would be like saying: I am self-critical of my position, but not to the point that I might be wrong, only in such a way that I increase my chances of being more right.

I can never take serious the fact that I might ever be totally wrong, I have isolated myself from the potential of ever being wrong.

This second thing is what I am trying to desrcribe.

jon said...

joel, i thoroughly reject your premises that Christianity:

a) does not self-critique
b) does not criticize the Bible (in fact, if one looks at the last 100 years of biblical criticism alone one is hard pressed to find a way it has not been criticized)
c) believes the Bible "perfect" in the way you imply
d) does not criticize God (in fact God welcomes us to lament pretty brutally and honestly)

There isn't much further for us to go when that is the idea of Christianity you wish to contend against.

I also can hardly believe that you accuse me of not taking questions and criticism seriously when my entire relationship with you (online at least) has been one where i have done exactly that.

And conversely I have really rarely felt that my critiques of atheism have been little more than brushed off. so, again i'll say that it makes presuppositions (and accepts them, one must conclude, by faith) in its stance against God, and these too seem very convenient for what it hopes to find. there is no avoiding unproven first premises. question is what stands up to reason and if you ask me what worldview gives the most reasonable assessment of existence as we know it (as well as the most promising and life-producing) it is Christianity. Why wouldn't I defend that? But to say critiques are not taken seriously is at this point a little unbelievable.

jon said...

this stream overlaps itself above....