Chesterton’s Response to Skeptics
In the essay titled, “Christianity and Rationalism,” G.K. Chesterton addresses the skeptics of his day who question the validity of Christianity. He takes each of their arguments and shows how the objection of the skeptics actually gives credence to the Christian faith. His responses to the questions of his opponents are still relevant today, and therefore, worthy of reflection.
1. Many myths parallel the Christian story.
The skeptic will often point to parallels of the incarnation of God in other cultures. The pagans of days long ago, and even Native American tribes have stories that depict a god becoming man. In citing these cases, the skeptic looks to disprove the Incarnation of Jesus Christ and pass it off as another myth. But Chesterton proposes the opposite. He claims that the very fact that the incarnation is alluded to in the many cultures of the world gives more credence to the Christian claim that God became man.
To the skeptics, Chesterton raises the question, “If we are so made that a Son of God must deliver us, is it odd that Patagonians should dream of a Son of God?” The incarnation of God is in a sense written in the mind of man. As humans, we desire the eternal, and so as Chesterton proposes, we find glimmers and shadows of Christ in other cultures, precisely because we find our fulfillment in Him.
2. Christianity is a “gloomy and ascetic thing.”
By the phrase “gloomy and ascetic thing,” the skeptic means that Christianity is austere, sad, and miserable. They point to the saints who give up everything for their God including their home, comfort, and sex life as a way of suggesting that Christianity is foolish. In reply to this claim Chesterton proves, once again, that the opposite is true.
The ability of the saints to give up everything for Christ bears witness to a supernatural reality. They are not downcast and sorrowful, but joyful and full of life. They manifest in their very personhood the living presence of God. Chesterton says, the skeptic “Tries to prove that there is no such thing [as God] by proving that there are people who live on nothing else.”
3. Christianity is the source of great violence.
One of the more popular arguments against the validity of Christianity is that Christians have committed treacherous acts of violence in the name of their God.
Chesterton bluntly replies, “Naturally.”
This is because, as Chesterton argues, “Most crime is committed because, owing to some peculiar complication, very beautiful or necessary things are in some danger.” We only need to look at the world around us to see this reality. Chesterton observes, if something people “rightly value is in peril such as the food of their children, the chastity of their women, or the independence of their country” people will fight to protect these things. Of course, this doesn’t justify violence as such, but it does explain why Christians throughout the ages have acted aggressively. They were afraid of losing their religion or some aspect of it and acted rashly out of a desire to hold on to what is good. No one fights for what is bad. People fight, whether justly or not, for what they believe to be good.
4. The God of Israel and Christianity is a local, tribal god.
In this objection to Christianity, the skeptic claims that Christianity is false like all of the other tribal religions of the world, because it originates in a particular place and is governed by a local deity. In his typical fashion, Chesterton uses the very argument of the skeptic to prove the validity of the Christian religion.
The fact that God speaks to a particular people at a particular time in a particular place is proof that Christianity is not a man made religion, but given by God Himself.
In the words of Chesterton:
“If there be such a being as God, and He can speak to a child, and if God spoke to a child in the garden the child would, of course, say that God lived in the garden. I should not think it any less likely to be true for that. If the child said: ‘God is everywhere: an impalpable essence pervading and supporting all constituents of the Cosmos alike’ – if, I say, the infant addressed me in the above terms, I should think he was much more likely to have been with the governess than with God.”
When God reveals Himself to Moses, He appears in a bush that Moses would have seen throughout his life. Like the child from Chesterton’s example, Moses encounters God in a familiar place, which is then transformed by the experience. Chesterton argues that this is a much more likely form of revelation than God simply infusing revelation into the minds of every person. The latter is more natural and therefore more probable. If man were to invent a religion, it would most likely mimic the religion of the governess (babysitter) than that of the child. The God of Christianity does exactly that, He appears to a lowly people and raises them up as His beloved children.
Although the skeptics raise many arguments that challenge the validity of Christianity, Chesterton flips their arguments on their heads and proves that the opposite is true. Chesterton shows that the criticisms raised by the skeptics are not as strong as they appear.