21 March, 2009

Denying the cat

I've not been as impressed with G. K. Chesterton as many Catholics whose opinions I respect. I once tried to read one of his books and I came away profoundly unimpressed. (I don't recall the title.)

I do respect these Catholics' opinions, though, so I'm willing to give the man another shake. I recently downloaded an electronic edition of Orthodoxy and I've been reading it occasionally, generally while waiting for the two year-old to fall asleep. So far it's a great deal better than what I've read of Chesterton before. This passage is dead on the mark: (emphasis added)

The strongest saints and the strongest sceptics alike took positive evil as the starting-point of their argument. If it be true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness in skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can only draw one of two conclusions. He must either deny the existence of God, as all atheists do; or he must deny the present union between God and man, as all Christians do. The new theologians seem to think it a highly rationalistic solution to deny the cat.
I wonder what Chesterton would think of our day, where many Christians do not deny the present union between God and man, but deny the cat. I am not exaggerating in the slightest: one of my seminary professors explicitly denied original sin to my face; and as far as parish priests go I've lost count, but: I deliberately avoid the parish that is geographically closest to me precisely because its pastor has, on every occasion that I have had the misfortune of hearing him preach, stated unequivocally that all religions are the same—that is a verbatim quote. I wonder why I should send my son to the expensive Catholic school whose education he likewise encourages, despite the fact that they do not give me "the Catholic discount"? I have never heard him explain this, perhaps because I've succeeded so well at avoiding his homilies.

Before I waste any more time making a fool of myself, I'll quote most of the paragraph that preceded the above quote, since I enjoyed it as well:
Whether or not man could be washed in miraculous waters, there was no doubt at any rate that he wanted washing. But certain religious leaders…, not mere materialists, have begun in our day not to deny the highly disputable water, but to deny the indisputable dirt. Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved. Some followers of the Reverend R. J. Campbell, in their almost too fastidious spirituality, admit divine sinlessness, which they cannot see even in their dreams. But they essentially deny human sin, which they can see in the street.
Like Chesterton, I've felt for a long time that if any aspect of Christianity can be empirically verified at all, it must be sin, in particular original sin. The evidence I have is my often-soiled life. Yet I am also aware how wonderful it is to be washed and to be medicated, as well as the joy of those occasions when I steer clear of the mud: which I would not do if my faith did not make plain to me that it is mud, and that I can be clean. It isn't easy, but it's worthwhile.

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