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Chesterton: Skepticism, Determinism, and Common Sense

G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

“It was not that I began by believing in supernormal things. It was that the unbelievers began by disbelieving even in normal things. It was the secularists who drove me to theological ethics, by themselves destroying any sane or rational possibility of secular ethics. I might myself have been a secularist, so long as it meant that I could be merely responsible to secular society. It was the Determinist who told me, at the top of his voice, that I could not be responsible at all.  And as I rather like being treated as a responsible being, and not as a lunatic let out for the day, I began to look around for some spiritual asylum that was not merely a lunatic asylum.

“On that day, in short, I escaped from an error, which still entangles many better men than myself.  There is still a notion that the agnostic can remain secure of this world, so long as he does not wish to be what is called ‘other-worldly.’ He can be content with common sense about men and women, so long as he is not curious of mysteries about angels and archangels.  It is not true. The questions of the sceptic strike direct at the heart of this our human life; they disturb this world, quite apart from the other world; and it is exactly common sense that they disturb most.  There could not be a better example than this queer appearance, in my youth, of the determinist as a demagogue; shouting to a mob of millions that no man ought to be blamed for anything he did, because it was all heredity and environment.  Logically, it would stop a man in the act of saying ‘Thank you’ to somebody for passing the mustard. For how could he be praised for passing the mustard, if he could not be blamed for not passing the mustard?”

— G. K. Chesterton, Autobiography Chapter VII (toward the end).

 

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