“Believers bump into each other”

The rational human faith must armor itself with prejudice in an age of prejudices, just as it armoured itself with logic in an age of logic. But the difference between the two mental methods is marked and unmistakable. The essential of the difference is this: that prejudices are divergent, whereas creeds are always in collision. Believers bump into each other; whereas bigots keep out of each other’s way. A creed is a collective thing, and even its sins are sociable. A prejudice is a private thing, and even its tolerance is misanthropic. So it is with our existing divisions. They keep out of each other’s way; the Tory paper and the Radical paper do not answer each other; they ignore each other. Genuine controversy, fair cut and thrust before a common audience, has become in our special epoch very rare. For the sincere controversialist is above all things a good listener. The really burning enthusiast never interrupts; he listens to the enemy’s arguments as eagerly as a spy would listen to the enemy’s arrangements. But if you attempt an actual argument with a modern paper of opposite politics, you will find that no medium is admitted between violence and evasion. You will have no answer except slanging or silence. A modern editor must not have that eager ear that goes with the honest tongue. He may be deaf and silent; and that is called dignity. Or he may be deaf and noisy; and that is called slashing journalism. In neither case is there any controversy; for the whole object of modern party combatants is to charge out of earshot.

What’s Wrong with the World (1910).

Published in: on January 25, 2012 at 5:02 pm  Comments (3)  

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  1. Great stuff. But what is the prejudice that the rational human faith chooses in this age of prejudices?

    I can only hazard a guess: elitism, technical or intellectual (or preferably both).

    And, combining that guess with the “(un-)eager ear” and “honest tongue” of journalism, the whole rational human faith looks a lot like our current political battles.

    But what does Chesterton say it is?

  2. He seems to be arguing that an age of prejudice backs even the logical man into a corner: he must adopt a prejudice — or what looks like a prejudice to his interlocutors — in order to retain ground. And the particular prejudice Chesterton defends, in context, is “the assertion of a human ideal”. Have a look.

    • Thanks for the link. A prejudice towards sanity, “the divine man,” and dogma. Embodying a prejudice towards meaning what one says (sanity)–is a novel idea indeed! “I happen to prefer making sense.” “I’ve a peculiar tendency towards discrete and intelligible positions”!

      He seems to suggest we defend ourselves with what everyone believes to be true–what is too obvious to miss–things so right, that they’re inalienable. What a tactician! Focusing on the commonest sense inevitably involves asserting a human ideal: “I shall try to be as un-transcedental as possible,” Chesterton says, in his defense of… the Incarnation.

      Maybe that is how he’s won so many converts.


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