Tag Archives: eugenics and other evils

On Chesterton & Calvinism (From a Lover of Both)

Several weeks ago, a friend of mine expressed interest in my opinion of Chesterton’s thoughts on Calvinism:

Surely you encountered his position while reading Orthodoxy, if not in other places. I would not presume to take every word of his as gospel of course, but if I were Calvinist I would be hesitant to recommend him without a disclaimer, especially considering the influence and effectiveness of his writing. Admittedly I’m somewhat confused by your advocacy of Chesterton (although I obviously encourage it in general).

It’s a good question, and I’ll do my best to answer it as briefly and thoroughly as possible. I suspect there are others who read this blog who may be wondering the same thing.

chesterton1I am indeed aware of Chesterton’s antagonistic attitude toward Calvinism. In Orthodoxy, for example, he asserts that it was Calvinism which drove William Cowper to madness. In Eugenics and Other Evils, he calls Calvinism “immoral” and “the most non-Christian of Christian systems.” How then, as a staunch lover of the historic Reformed faith, can I feel comfortable recommending such works without a booming disclaimer?

It’s very simple, really: as a critic of Calvinism, the Prince of Paradox is a bit of a clown.

Remember the scene in V for Vendetta, where Evey awakes to find the hero fencing with an empty suit of armor? It is all very winsome and dramatic, but of course, it is to battle what O’Doul’s is beer: a complete and utter joke.

A similar thing happens whenever Chesterton takes a swipe at Calvinism: he blusters a lot and tips his nose in the air and generally makes it clear that he doesn’t approve. And then he moves on. He never seriously engages with it mano-a-mano. Perhaps there is an essay somewhere in which he actually plants his foot and does bloody battle to the death over the matter, but in all my reading thus far, I haven’t encountered any such thing.

GKC was never one to dance around the point, so I won’t either: on the subject of Calvinism, the man was hilariously, absurdly wrong. No offense to my dear Reformed Baptist friends, but in the words of Tim Bayly, “Listening to Chesterton on Calvinism is like listening to John Piper (or worse, John MacArthur) on infant baptism.”

Yeah. Hard to take seriously, in other words.

Chesterton’s potshots are so risibly ill-aimed that I am more amused than challenged (let alone concerned) by them. I think it fair to say that Calvinists who know why they are Calvinists will not be knocked out of their position by a bit of rhetorical skylarking.

Saying the Same Thing

“Most Eugenists are Euphemists. I mean merely that short words startle them, while long words soothe them. And they are utterly incapable of translating the one into the other, however obviously they mean the same thing. Say to them ‘The persuasive and even coercive powers of the citizen should enable him to make sure that the burden of longevity in the previous generation does not become disproportionate and intolerable, especially to the females’; say this to them and they will sway slightly to and fro like babies sent to sleep in cradles. Say to them ‘Murder your mother,’ and they sit up quite suddenly. Yet the two sentences, in cold logic, are exactly the same. Say to them ‘It is not improbable that a period of time may arrive when the narrow if once useful distinction between the anthropoid homo and the other animals, which has been modified on so many moral points, may be modified also even in regard to the important question of the extension of the human diet’; say this to them, and beauty born of murmuring sound will pass into their face. But say to them, in a simple, manly, hearty way ‘Let’s eat a man!’ and their surprise is quite surprising. Yet the sentences say just the same thing.”

– G.K. Chesterton, Eugenics and Other Evils (p. 12)