Topics are arranged alphabetically in the INDEX.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

G.K. Chesterton's Philosophy of Paradox

G. K. Chesterton

Chris Hauser — The Dartmouth Apologia

Within its long history, Christianity has been accused of almost every kind of vice imaginable. Strangely enough, its critics—sometimes even the same critic—have attacked it for contradictory reasons. Some detractors, in particular Epicureans and Materialists, have decried it for its unworldliness and pessimistic outlook on the material world. Other disparagers—those with a more cynical point of view, such as the Stoics or Existentialists—have condemned Christianity for blinding the people, shielding their eyes from the true bleakness of the world by giving false promises of divine mercy and a glorious afterlife. Hell, it is said, is a doctrine breeding despair; but Heaven, they say with equal vehemence, is a doctrine breeding false hope.It is with this criticism that G.K. Chesterton begins his explanation of his “philosophy of paradox” in the sixth chapter of Orthodoxy, his excellent book of wit and wisdom.1 As Chesterton points out, it might be easily overlooked if this were the only set of inconsistent charges but indeed there hardly seems to be an accusation against Christianity whose opposite has not also been leveled against the religion. It has been accused of being too pacifistic, “an attempt to make a man like a sheep,” as a result of Gospel phrases like “turn the other cheek” and “love your enemy.”2 And yet the bloodshed of the Crusades and the intolerance for heresy have earned this meek, sheep-minded religion a reputation for violence and aggression.3 “Or again,” Chesterton writes, “Christianity was reproached with its naked and hungry habits; with its sackcloth and dried peas. But the next minute Christianity was being reproached with its pomp and its ritualism; its shrines of porphyry and its robes of gold. It was abused for being too plain and for being too coloured.”4 The accusations run on and on, extending from an unwarranted destruction of the family to an irrational insistence on the family, from an unnatural praise of celibacy to an overly natural demand for children.5 It would seem that Christianity is as full of paradoxes as it is of parables.

The result of all these contradictory charges is that everything about Christianity seems to be not just wrong, but wrong in opposite ways and for opposite reasons. When a young Chesterton reflected on the picture of Christianity painted by its critics, he began to think that they did not understand how evil Christianity really must be if their contradictory criticisms were all correct. He was forced to reevaluate just how bad Christianity was: “It must be understood that I did not conclude hastily that the accusations were false or the accusers fools. I simply deduced that Christianity must be something even weirder and wickeder than they made out.”6

However, the more Chesterton reflected on this, the more he found this conclusion to be unsatisfactory. For the striking thing about Christianity was that though its critics collectively accused it of every possible evil, individually most of them were willing to admit that certain ethical principles or teachings were very valuable and beneficial to the welfare of humanity. Chesterton decided that the critics had no special insight into Christianity, for they had no explanation for its apparently endless evil:

I found in my rationalist teachers no explanation of such exceptional corruption. Christianity (theoretically speaking) was in their eyes only one of the ordinary myths and errors of mortals. They gave me no key to this twisted and unnatural badness. Such a paradox of evil rose to stature of the supernatural. It was, indeed, almost as supernatural as the infallibility of the Pope. An historic institution, which never went right, is really quite as much of a miracle as an institution that cannot go wrong.7

Read it all here.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Mere Christianity - Some Objections

C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity
Discussion Questions

Book I, Part 2 – Some Objections

In this chapter, Lewis addresses objections to his assertion that the Moral Law is a law that exists in real time and space with universal application, much as the Multiplication Table. What 2 objections did his listeners pose to this assertion?

The herd instinct prompts actions that insure survival, such as fleeing from a forest fire. How do we explain the risk humans take when they attempt to rescue other creatures from the fire? Lewis uses the example of a person who attempts to rescue a drowning man.

Lewis argues that impulses to do the opposite of the herd point to the reality of a universal Moral Law or what he calls “Real Morality.” How does distinguishing between “civilized morality” or Buddhist or Nazi morality and saying that one is better than another reinforce Lewis’ argument?

If the Moral Law is a social convention reinforced through education, why do we not regard it as fixed and universal in the same way we recognize the Multiplication Table to be fixed and universally true?

What 2 reasons does Lewis give to support his position that the Moral Law is fixed and universal?

For Lewis, Real Morality is like a yardstick against which we measure human actions. The Ten Commandments is one expression of the yardstick, specific to the ancient Hebrews. What expression of the yardstick did Jesus Christ give to His Disciples? (He calls it the “New Law.”)

Group Work

In small groups develop your best argument to support your view and prepare to present it to the class. Begin by posing a question. Answer the question. Provide examples, illustrations, analogies and/or metaphors that clearly convey your viewpoint. Anticipate the counter arguments of the other teams and prepare to refute their points.

Group 1: The Moral Law is merely another name for the herd instinct.
Group 2: The Moral Law is merely a social convention reinforced by education.
Group 3: The Moral Law is a fixed and universal aspect of the created order.


Having different mental images of something does not mean that the entity has no real existence. Lewis uses the example of New York City (NYC). The fact that different people have different mental images of NYC does not negate the existence of NYC in real time and space. The very fact that we each have an idea “NYC” is evidence of its existence.

That which has no existence cannot be conceived mentally. Recall the homework assignment: Describe an entity that does not exist.

Students often think of the mythological unicorn. This is not valid because the image of the unicorn consists of constituent parts that exist, ie. horns and horses. Further, unicorn horses did exist, according to Marco Polo. According to Polo the unicorn breed of horses were exclusively bred in Badakshan, part of ancient Persia. They had a single a horn on their forehead. This breed was the exclusive property of a single member of the Badakshan royal family. This ruler refused to grant the king ownership of some of these remarkable horses and was executed. In revenge his infuriated daughter destroyed the entire herd, thus bringing the unicorn to extinction. See The Travels of Marco Polo (Penguin, 1958).

Related reading: Mere Christianity Discussion Questions, Part 1; Natural Law: The Outside Standard

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Mere Christianity Discussion Questions

Red and brown Nubians wearing feathers 
They resemble the Nabatean warriors of Petra.

C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity
Discussion Questions

Book I, Part 1 – The Law of Human Nature

What does Lewis’ analysis of common arguments reveal?

List the different expressions that one might hear instead of “Rule of Fair Play.”

While humans cannot disobey physical laws such as gravity, we are free to disobey the law that is “peculiar” to human nature. Describe some ways that this freedom might express itself.

Lewis asserts that the Law of Human Nature is universal, that is, it pertains to all humans at all times and in all places. What evidence does he give? What evidence do you find to support this view?

Lewis states that the Law of Human Nature is fixed, like the multiplication table. Do you agree? Explain your answer.

Lewis describes how humans play the “blame game” by making excuses for our lack of decent behavior or the same lack in others. Can you think of a time when you caught yourself doing this and stopped? What did that require of you?

Lewis concludes Part 1 with 2 related assumptions that appear to be self-evident. What are they?

A verse in Romans 7:15-18 summarizes Paul’s experience of the human condition as detailed by these two assumptions. Write the verse and cross-reference it with “MC, p. 8.”

Research the oldest known moral code. Come prepared to discuss this in class.

Cite incidents in which the code of reciprocity or moral decency was upheld even among moral relativists.


Lewis cites ancient Egyptian, Babylonian, Hindu, Chinese, Greek and Roman cultures as having similar moral codes. This is due, in part, to the dispersion in the Late Holocene of a royal priesthood out of Africa into Arabia, Mesopotamia, the Mediterranean,Anatolia, Nepal, China, Cambodia and Japan. They were the rulers of the ancient Afro-Asiatic Dominion. They lived before the time of Abraham.

A civilization in moral decline shows evidence of disregard for moral decency or kindness. The first to experience such contempt are usually the most vulnerable in society: infants, the poor, foreigners, the handicapped, the mentally retarded, etc.

Moral obligation is part of the human experience. Philosophers have addressed the nature of moral obligation from the most ancient times. Lewis distinguishes between duty expected by one's culture - such as circumcision among Jews - and universal moral obligations. These would include behaviors that are universally regarded as right - such as caring for children and livestock, respecting territorial boundaries and protecting one's family and property.