“A Summary of Chesterton Conversation to Date”
Chesterton’s summary at the end of “The Ethics of Elfland” summarizes our journey of the past six months or so. You may or may not agree with Chesterton at every point, but it is difficult to refute his observations or utterances of “unutterable things.” I will summarize his five points here, and these I will assume as the basis for further conversation. What Chesterton has given to us is not what must be believed in order to become a Christian, but rather what one must believe in order to be Christian, or to think Christianly. After the summary, I will list a few questions which are raised but not answered.
The five points are these (which for my sake, I take in a slightly different order than Chesterton presents):
First, the world does not explain itself. The order which we find “out there” in the world is superimposed upon the seeming chaos of facts. This superimposed order is patterned after the order which is “up there” or in the mind of God, the transcendant, or noumenal, we might call it. In addition to the transcendant order and the phenomenal order, that is phenomena we perceive with our five senses, there must be some kind of order “in here,” inside our minds which allows us to understand or misunderstand according to the degree in which it is aligned with the order “out there.”
Second, the world was created by a person. God is not a creed or a proposition; he is a person. Therefore, in order for us to know him, we must come to know him, not as an object (through sensory perception, utilization, etc.), but as a person. We desire not to know about him, gathering facts about him; our desire is to know him.
Third, God created the world with truth, and now it is tainted with error. When we draw lines between the dots, as it were, or properly relate the facts, we have truth. To misrepresent the relationship between facts is to be wrong. Thus, right and wrong, truth and error, are necessary categories.
Fourth, he created the world with beauty, and now it is tainted with ugliness. That is to say, it is correct and responsible to distinguish between that which is beautiful and that which is ugly. The old adage, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is wrong when it is used in an attempt to prove the relativity of beauty. (To say that beauty is subjective is not to say that there are no absolute judgments in aesthetics.)
Fifth, he created the world with goodness, and now it is tainted with evil, or badness. Morality is not relative, nor culturally relative. Cultures may be morally good (more or less), or they may be morally bad (more or less).
If “out there” is ordered from “up there”, how do we know we perceive “out there” correctly from “in here”? In other words, because of the fall, our “grid” is skewed (which raises the question, “whence commeth our grid?”). How do we “right it” and how do we know when it is right? How do we know whether a thing is true or false, good or bad, beautiful or ugly? What do we find attractive, and what do we find revolting?