Heretics

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This quote comes from the first page of Chesterton’s book Heretics:

It is foolish, generally speaking, for a philosopher to set fire to another philosopher in Smithfield Market because they do not agree in their theory of the universe. That was done very frequently in the last decadence of the Middle Ages, and it failed altogether in its object. But there is one thing that is infinitely more absurd and unpractical than burning a man for his philosophy. This is the habit of saying that his philosophy does not matter, and this is done universally in the twentieth century, in the decadence of the great revolutionary period. General theories are everywhere condemned; the doctrine of the Rights of Man is dismissed with the doctrine of the Fall of Man. Atheism itself is too theological for us to-day. Revolution itself is too much of a system; liberty itself is too much of a restraint. We will have no generalizations. Mr. Bernard Shaw has put the view in a perfect epigram: “The golden rule is that there is no golden rule.” We are more and more to discuss details in art, politics, literature. A man’s opinion on tram cars matters; his opinion on Botticelli matters; his opinion on all things does not matter. He may turn over and explore a million objects, but he must not find that strange object, the universe; for if he does he will have a religion, and be lost. Everything matters — except everything.

We still have the habit of saying that a person’s philosophy “does not matter.” In fact, it has become almost an embarrassment for someone to profess to have any kind of philosophy. It means the person is likely to be intolerant, even “mean-spirited.” This, I think, is one of the notions behind the move in the last years to ban the notion of Christmas; we are told to celebrate not the most momentous event in human history but “the Holidays.” We can’t say Merry Christmas for fear of discomforting those who have no philosophy; we say “Seasons Greetings” or some other meaningless expression.

This reticence to express our deepest belief is not the role of the Christian, even if it does offend. I think of this especially at this time of year, and I think back with a pang of conscience at how inoffensive I have been over the past year. The one thing I do to try to correct the situation is wish everyone I meet a very heartfelt “Merry Christmas.” It’s the least I can do.

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This page contains a single entry by Ron Moffat published on December 16, 2006 10:58 AM.

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THE DEFINITION OF CHRISTENDOM is the next entry in this blog.

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