Saturday, April 04, 2009

A Herd of Bulls and Tigers

I've been reading G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy recently, and his amazing insight keeps flooring me. I don't agree with everything he says, but like Lewis I think he gets a whole lot right, and even when he gets it wrong it's healthy to think about why, because he raises excellent points.

In light of my previous post, I thought the following quote was particularly amazing. To give context, he's just spent a chapter arguing for why Christianity makes sense of the world by simultaneously affirming two seemingly contradictory premises, balancing them off each other to create one beautiful whole. He concludes the chapter by saying this:
It is exactly this which explains what is so inexplicable to all the modern critics of the history of Christianity. I mean the monstrous wars about small points of theology, the earthquakes of emotion about a gesture or a word. It was only a matter of an inch, but an inch is everything when you are balancing. The Church could not afford to swerve a hair's breadth on some things if she was to continue her great and daring experiment of the irregular equilibrium. Once let one idea become less powerful and some other idea would become too powerful. It was no flock of sheep the Christian shepherd was leading, but a herd of bulls and tigers, of terrible ideals and devouring doctrines, each one of them strong enough to turn to a false religion and lay waste the world. Remember that the Church went in specifically for dangerous ideas; she was a lion tamer. The idea of birth through a Holy Spirit, of the death of a divine being, of the forgiveness of sins, or the fulfillment of prophecies, are ideas which, any one can see, need but a touch to turn them into something blasphemous or ferocious...Here it is enough to notice that if some small mistake were made in doctrine, huge blunders might be made in human happiness. A sentence phrased wrong about the nature of symbolism would have broken all the best statues in Europe. A slip in the definitions might stop all the dances; might wither all the Christmas trees or break all the Easter eggs. Doctrines had to be defined within strict limits, even in order that man might enjoy general human liberties. The Church had to be careful, if only that the world might be careless. (101-102)
I encourage you all to get your hands on this book and wrestle through it. It will be well worth your while.

1 comment:

tangentry said...

All my old friends who have gone off to Christian colleges have been raving about GK Chesterton for a long time, and I think it's about time I figure out why.

That quote makes him seem well worth any effort I'd spend to get to know his thoughts.