G.K. Chesterton’s ‘Everlasting Man’ — perfect Easter reading

Easter is here — that wonderful day when Christians rejoice and atheists shake their head and ask, “Why the heck are we still talking about that guy Jesus after 2,000 years?!” That is a fair question, which is why today seems like an ideal opportunity to revisit G.K. Chesterton’s “The Everlasting Man.”

“If Christ was simply a human character, he really was a highly complex and contradictory human character. For he combined exactly the two things that lie at the two extremes of human variation. He was exactly what the man with a delusion never is; he was wise; he was a good judge. What he said was always unexpected; but it was always unexpectedly magnanimous and often unexpectedly moderate.

Take a thing like the point of the parable of the tares and the wheat. It has the quality that united sanity and subtlety. It has not the simplicity of a madman. It has not even the simplicity of a fanatic. It might be uttered by a philosopher a hundred years old, at the end of a century of Utopias. Nothing could be less like this quality of seeing beyond and all round obvious things, than the condition of an egomaniac with the one sensitive spot in his brain. I really do not see how these two characters could be convincingly combined, except in the astonishing way in which the creed combines them.” — G.K. Chesterton.

Every year countless YouTube videos pop up by wannabe Joe Rogans, who blast the so-called “fairy tale” known as Christianity. They go apoplectic over said “fairy tale” and its longevity. Generation after generation after generation picks up the Bible, studies it, and then billions of people conclude that Christ was exactly who he claimed to be.

The reason for this, as Chesterton points out, is that Christ spoke with authority while simultaneously being “exactly what the man with a delusion never is; he was wise; he was a good judge.”

The Jesus of the New Testament seems to me to have in great many ways the note of something superhuman; that is of something human and more than human. But there is another quality running through all his teachings which seems to me neglected in most modern talk about them as teachings; and that is the persistent suggestion that he has not really come to teach.

If there is one incident in the record which affects me personally as grandly and gloriously human, it is the incident of giving wine for the wedding-feast. That is really human in the sense in which a whole crowd of prigs, having the appearance of human beings, can hardly be described as human.

It rises superior to all superior persons. It is as human as Herrick and as democratic as Dickens. But even in that story there is something else that has the note of things not fully explained; and in a way there very relevant. I mean the first hesitation, not on any ground touching the nature of the miracle, but on that of the propriety of working any miracles at all, at least at that stage; ‘my time is not yet come.’

What did that mean? At least it certainly meant a general plan or purpose in the mind, with which certain things did or did not fit in. And if we leave out that solitary strategic plan, we not only leave out the point of the story, but the story.

The imitation Joe Rogans often preface their derision of Christianity with lines like, “I went to Catholic school” — as if they weren’t like every other high-school kid who slept through classes, wrote notes to girlfriends, and generally just goofed around with buddies for four years. The same people who cannot understand basic economics in their 40s would have us believe they fully understood Christianity by age 16, but I digress.

The more one studies the Bible, the more obvious it becomes that Christ was unlike any man who walked the earth up until that time — and that He maintains that distinction to this very day. All the “flying spaghetti monster” jokes in the world cannot diminish the genius and goodness dispensed by Christ in ways, as Chesterton says, “more than human.”

Christ was born. His primary purpose in life was to die a horrible death — and then rise again. He did.

Chesterton states:

“I willingly and warmly agree that it is, in itself, a suggestion at which we might expect even the brain of the believer to reel, when he realized his own belief. But the brain of the believer does not reel; it is the brains of the unbelievers that reel. …

I care not if the skeptic says it is a tall story; I cannot see how so toppling a tower could stand so long without foundation. Still less can I see how it could become, as it has become, the home of man. 

Had it merely appeared and disappeared, it might possibly have been remembered or explained as the last leap of the rage of illusion, the ultimate myth of the ultimate mood, in which the mind struck the sky and broke. But the mind did not break. It is the one mind that remains unbroken in the break-up of the world.

If it were an error, it seems as if the error could hardly have lasted a day. If it were a mere ecstasy, it would seem that such an ecstasy could not endure for an hour. It has endured for nearly two thousand years; and the world within it has been more lucid, more level-headed, more reasonable in its hopes, more healthy in its instincts, more humorous and cheerful in the face of fate and death, than all the world outside.

Happy Easter, everyone. I am grateful for all of you who regularly give me precious time out of your day and I pray for your regularly.

Best,

Doug

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Bono channels G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis to affirm his faith in Christ

Bono on JesusIt’s not often that a giant rock star gives an interview where he unflinchingly affirms his belief in Christ. That is exactly what U2’s Bono did during a March 2014 interview that is making the rounds again just in time for Easter. However, what is perhaps most interesting is how Bono appears to be well-versed in the writings of G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis.

Here is what Bono said in his interview with RTE One’s Gay Byrne, which comes across at times like an FBI interrogation or a courtroom cross examination:

Bono: I think it’s a defining question for Christian. Who was Christ? I don’t think you’re let off easily by saying a great thinker or great philosopher because, actually, he went around saying he was the Messiah. That’s why he was crucified. He was crucified because he said he was the Son of God. So, he either, in my view, was the Son of God — or he was nuts. Forget rock-and-roll messianic complexes. This is, like, I mean Charlie Manson-type delirium. And I find it hard to accept that all the millions and millions of lives, half the Earth, for 2,000 years have been touched, have felt their lives touched and inspired by some nutter. I don’t believe it.

Byrne: So therefore it follows that you believe he was divine?

Bono: Yes.

Byrne: And therefore it follows that you believe that he rose physically from the dead?

Bono: Yes. I have no problem with miracles. I’m living around them. I am one.

Byrne: So when you pray, then you pray to Jesus?

Bono: Yes.

Byrne: The risen Jesus?

Bono: Yes.

Byrne: And you believe he made promises that will come true.

Bono: Yes. I do.

Friendly note to Bono: Your observation is actually more awe-inspiring than you originally thought because billions — not just millions — have been touched by the words of Christ. Regardless, here is what G.K. Chesterton said when “The Everlasting Man” was published in 1925:

“If Christ was simply a human character, he really was a highly complex and contradictory human character. For he combined exactly the two things that lie at the two extremes of human variation. He was exactly what the man with a delusion never is; he was wise; he was a good judge. What he said was always unexpected; but it was always unexpectedly magnanimous and often unexpectedly moderate.

Take a thing like the point of the parable of the tares and the wheat. It has the quality that united sanity and subtlety. It has not the simplicity of a madman. It has not even the simplicity of a fanatic. It might be uttered by a philosopher a hundred years old, at the end of a century of Utopias. Nothing could be less like this quality of seeing beyond and all round obvious things, than the condition of an egomaniac with the one sensitive spot in his brain. I really do not see how these two characters could be convincingly combined, except in the astonishing way in which the creed combines them.” — G.K. Chesterton.

Here is what C.S. Lewis said when “Mere Christianity” was published in 1952:

“Yet (and this is the strange, significant thing) even His enemies, when they read the Gospels, do not usually get the impression of silliness and conceit. Still less do unprejudiced readers. Christ says that He is “humble and meek” and we believe Him; not noticing that, if He were merely a man, humility and meekness are the very last characteristics we could attribute to some of His sayings.

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level of a man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.” — C.S. Lewis.

Chesterton and Lewis beautifully articulate the case before us: either Christ was who he said he was, or he was insane. But, as they both keenly observe, even his biggest detractors generally regard him as a profound thinker and a beacon of light whose example we should all follow.

Think of how many great men and women there were throughout all history, whose names are forgotten within weeks, months, or at most a few decades after they’ve passed away. Then consider Jesus, who for over 2,000 years has captivated the world and changed billions of lives — even those who don’t believe his claims. Like G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, a modern Irish rock star named Bono, and billions of other individuals throughout the course of history, I firmly believe he was exactly who he claimed to be.

Barack Obama Wishes Sentient Water Molecule, Christopher Hitchens, a Happy Easter.

President Obama used his weekly radio address to wish all of us a Happy Easter. He even had a little message for our atheist friends:

“While we worship in different ways,” the president said, “we also remember the shared spirit of humanity that inhabits us all — Jews and Christians, Muslims and Hindus, believers and nonbelievers alike.”

While I don’t fault the President for reaching out to atheists—he is the President of all Americans—I wonder if non-believers would have put up a stink if he had not thrown them a bone (or if he had, and it happened to be a rib…) After all, I would think that

I'm Christopher Hitchens, sentient water molecule...in the shower! That's insane!

someone who essentially believes everything cosmically fell into place so we, the sentient water-molecules of the universe, could exist for a brief moment in time before once again becoming part of the Big Wave, shouldn’t really get bent out of shape if they’re ignored. I mean, after all, when they’re gone they’re gone, right? That’s it. No coming back and no spirit left behind to worry about, correct? So why should they get angry? Well, they do. But at least it makes for great debate. Although, if you’re not up for a debates then I highly suggest reading Dinesh D’Souza’s fabulous book What’s So Great About Christianity this Easter (notice that’s not a question).

[Stephen Hawking states]: “If the rate of expansion one second after the Big Bang had been smaller by even one part in a hundred thousand million million, the universe would have recollapsed before it even reached its present size. So the odds against us being here are, well, astronomical.” And yet we are here. Who is responsible for this? (What’s So Great About Christianity, 131.)

If you’re unsure, I suggest reading D’Souza’s book. And Christopher Hitchens, if you’re right, I’ll see you in the oceans…