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    Guinness World Record Holder for largest book signing ever, Orrin Woodward is a NY Times bestselling author of And Justice For All along with RESOLVED & coauthor of LeaderShift and Launching a Leadership Revolution. His books have sold over one million copies in the leadership and liberty fields. RESOLVED: 13 Resolutions For LIFE made the Top 100 All-Time Best Leadership Books and the 13 Resolutions are the framework for the top selling Mental Fitness Challenge personal development program.

    Orrin made the Top 20 Inc. Magazine Leadership list & has co-founded two multi-million dollar leadership companies. Currently, he serves as the Chairman of the Board of the LIFE Leadership. He has a B.S. degree from GMI-EMI (now Kettering University) in manufacturing systems engineering. He holds four U.S. patents, and won an exclusive National Technical Benchmarking Award.

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G.K. Chesterton: Pagans and Christians

Posted by Orrin Woodward on October 18, 2012

Last night, while doing some research on the Greeks for a future book, my mind kept ruminating on Solomon’s statement “vanity of vanities” as I read the history of the Greek’s self-destruction. While pondering human sinfulness, I started to read the last article in a book of essays on the genius of the Greeks. Even though I had no idea who the author was when I started reading, within minutes I knew this writer viewed the intellectual landscape from a different perspective than the rest of the essays. The whole book was fascinating, but the last article, by G.K. Chesterton, blew me away. Remarkably, in less than 3,000 words, he summed up what I was wrestling with, capturing the similarities, as well as the differences, between the best of the Pagan past and the Christian future.

Indeed, most of the authors raved about the greatness of the Greeks, and truth be told, there is much to admire and respect. Still, when one methodically analyzes the Greeks’ dreams in comparison to their historical realities, it’s enough to make the most optimistic of leaders (me) suffer from temporary melancholia. :) In a nutshell, Greek society’s apex was the united city-states defeat of the previously invincible Persian Empire. Unfortunately, however, after a thirty-year Periclean peace, the rest of Greek history is one long series of fratricidal wars, ending with the Roman Conquest and Pax Romana. In consequence, some of the greatest mental achievements (in philosophy, politics, science, theater, etc.) in the world’s history were accomplished in the midst of the mass destruction of the very civilization responsible for their creation.

Needless to say, Chesterton’s article was a breath of fresh air, helping me sort out the gap between the Greek dreams and the Greek realities. Why is this important? Because the LIFE business has big dreams as well. One of my reasons for reading about past leaders and cultures is to learn lessons from their example so I don’t have to repeat the same mistakes. Yesterday, Chris Brady and I discussed how much one can learn by simply reading, listening, and associating. :) Without any further ado, here is the first of several posts on Chesterton’s Pagans and Christians.

Sincerely,

Orrin Woodward

The real difference between Paganism and Christianity is perfectly summed up in the difference between the pagan, or natural, virtues, and those three virtues of Christianity which the Church of Rome calls virtues of grace. The pagan, or rational, virtues are such things as justice and temperance, and Christianity has adopted them. The three mystical virtues which Christianity has not adopted, but invented, are faith, hope, and charity. Now much easy and foolish Christian rhetoric could easily be poured out upon those three words, but I desire to confine myself to the two facts which are evident about them. The first evident fact (in marked contrast to the delusion of the dancing pagan)—the first evident fact, I say, is that the pagan virtues, such as justice and temperance, are the sad virtues, and that the mystical virtues of faith, hope, and charity are the gay and exuberant virtues. And the second evident fact, which is even more evident, is the fact that the pagan virtues are the reasonable virtues, and that the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and charity are in their essence as unreasonable as they can be.

As the word “unreasonable” is open to misunderstanding, the matter may be more accurately put by saying that each one of these Christian or mystical virtues involves a paradox in its own nature, and that this is not true of any of the typically pagan or rationalist virtues. Justice consists in finding out a certain thing due to a certain man and giving it to him. Temperance consists in finding out the proper limit of a particular indulgence and adhering to that. But charity means pardoning what is unpardonable, or it is no virtue at all. Hope means hoping when things are hopeless, or it is no virtue at all. And faith means believing the incredible, or it is no virtue at all.

It is somewhat amusing, indeed, to notice the difference between the fate of these three paradoxes in the fashion of the modern mind. Charity is a fashionable virtue in our time; it is lit up by the gigantic firelight of Dickens. Hope is a fashionable virtue to-day; our attention has been arrested for it by the sudden and silver trumpet of Stevenson. But faith is unfashionable, and it is customary on every side to cast against it the fact that it is a paradox. Everybody mockingly repeats the famous childish definition that faith is “the power of believing that which we know to be untrue.” Yet it is not one atom more paradoxical than hope or charity. Charity is the power of defending that which we know to be indefensible. Hope is the power of being cheerful in circumstances which we know to be desperate. It is true that there is a state of hope which belongs to bright prospects and the morning; but that is not the virtue of hope. The virtue of hope exists only in earthquake and eclipse. It is true that there is a thing crudely called charity, which means charity to the deserving poor; but charity to the deserving is not charity at all, but justice. It is the undeserving who require it, and the ideal either does not exist at all, or exists wholly for them. For practical purposes it is at the hopeless moment that we require the hopeful man, and the virtue either does not exist at all, or begins to exist at that moment. Exactly at the instant when hope ceases to be reasonable it begins to be useful.

Now the old pagan world went perfectly straightforward until it discovered that going straightforward is an enormous mistake. It was nobly and beautifully reasonable, and discovered in its death-pang this lasting and valuable truth, a heritage for the ages, that reasonableness will not do. The pagan age was truly an Eden or golden age, in this essential sense, that it is not to be recovered. And it is not to be recovered in this sense again that, while we are certainly jollier than the pagans, and much more right than the pagans, there is not one of us who can, by the utmost stretch of energy, be so sensible as the pagans. That naked innocence of the intellect cannot be recovered by any man after Christianity; and for this excellent reason, that every man after Christianity knows it to be misleading.

Let me take an example, the first that occurs to the mind, of this impossible plainness in the pagan point of view. The greatest tribute to Christianity in the modern world is Tennyson’s “Ulysses.” The poet reads into the story of Ulysses the conception of an incurable desire to wander. But the real Ulysses does not desire to wander at all. He desires to get home. He displays his heroic and unconquerable qualities in resisting the misfortunes which baulk him; but that is all. There is no love of adventure for its own sake; that is a Christian product. There is no love of Penelope for her own sake; that is a Christian product. Everything in that old world would appear to have been clean and obvious. A good man was a good man; a bad man was a bad man. For this reason they had no charity; for charity is a reverent agnosticism towards the complexity of the soul. For this reason they had no such thing as the art of fiction, the novel; for the novel is a creation of the mystical idea of charity. For them a pleasant landscape was pleasant, and an unpleasant landscape unpleasant. Hence they had no idea of romance; for romance consists in thinking a thing more delightful because it is dangerous; it is a Christian idea. In a word, we cannot reconstruct or even imagine the beautiful and astonishing pagan world. It was a world in which common sense was really common.

20 Responses to “G.K. Chesterton: Pagans and Christians”

  1. Rob Robson said

    I love his definition of Faith, Hope, and Charity. It is such a great reminder of the fact that the only way to emulate Christ is to offer those things to the most undeserving among us.

    • Orrin Woodward said

      Rob, Amen. Wait till part II and part III. This article ROCKED! :)

      • peter metcalf said

        Rob, more can be accomplished if people lose the word “undeserving” when speaking or writing of spiritual things. I would use the expression “needy.”
        With love,
        Peter

      • Orrin Woodward said

        Peter, the Bible talks about God’s unmerited favor. God’s grace is unmerited, but certainly needed. thanks, Orrin

      • peter metcalf said

        HI Orrin,
        Thank you for clarifying the Bible’s role in the concept of “undeserving.” The Bible stating that God’s favor is unmerited is a double message. One is that love is without conditions. This must have been some kind of amazing, even incredible revelation to the Jews of Jesus’ era, as obsessed as they were with following the letter of the law in exchange for the love of God.
        The other message is the caveat to the first, namely, don’t take this kind of love to mean approval for continuing an unloving earthly life.
        Focusing on the second part of the message undermines the first and revolutionary part of the message, especially for early Jews, who were already manifesting the issue of deserving trying to make a “perfect sacrifice” and trying so desperately to toe the mark by “splitting hairs” and living life through their egos, “according to the letter of the law”. So, the message is appropriate for people at different stages of spiritual development. These days, with long acquaintance with the idea, even if misapprehended, of unconditional love, I don’t believe there is a need for the average person to focus on how unmeritorious they are for God’s grace. Morality has come a long ways since Rome dominated the “western world,” and the human potential movement certainly had an effect. No one condones killing by stoning, without a trial yet, nor giving one’s wife to another for the night because it is a mark of hospitality – certainly not westerners in the industrial world – at least so far as I know. There is no danger of people going off the deep end into an abyss of depravity because they have become acquainted with the idea (for such it remains until experienced or accepted) of unconditional love. Yet the idea of “undeserving” or lacking merit, is still potent in the hearts of humanity, serving to compel in people a denial of love, and most especially, of unconditional love. In a word, expressing the thought that there are people who do not deserve unconditional love as much as others, or don’t deserve God’s grace as much as others, adds mortar to the rocky wall of doubt and denial of God, Christ, and the existence of the Soul. Furthermore, such statements and thoughts reinforce the notion that we are not equal, and most perniciously, that our dearness to our Heavenly Father is based on acts, thereby paving the way not to merely bigotry and slavery, but to holocausts and “all kinds of trouble” as a simple person might lament. So, I encourage everyone to take care in how they think of their fellow person, and the language they use.

    • peter metcalf said

      Oops – please read my comment under Orrin’s comment – it was meant for you and your readers Rob.

      • r said

        Peter, dwelling on being undeserving should do a couple of things:

        1. It should magnify God’s glory and holiness.
        2. It should magnify our sinfulness and need for redemption.
        3. It should drive us to the cross of Jesus Christ to seek repentance and faith. For only in Him will we truly see how completely undeserving we really are of His grace. 1 John 4:19- “We love because he first loved us.” How glorious and true are those words!

  2. Wow! The last paragraph is quite telling! The irony is that we did not move away from the simplicity of and in the Word suddenly. Over the many years a little bit of leaven kept invading and how far have we come off. Like you say in your writings and cds it was a current that was created and it can only be combated with a equal and opposite current. Not sure why this verse comes to mind but the common sense side of it reminds me Matthew 5:37 ‘Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No'; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.’
    Again, thank you for your continued steadfastness to your calling. We are learning so much with you and from you. God bless you.

  3. Tina A. Abernathy said

    Orrin, this article was truly a breath of fresh air. With all of the “talk” that is going on all around this world, I am pleased to read such a refreshing article. Although I don’t get all of what the author is saying, what I do understand is that if we call ourselves christians then the best thing we can be doing with our time is reading his word, loving his people (which is everyone) and serving ALL to the best of our ability. For without love, it all is for nothing!!

    Tina A.

  4. peter metcalf said

    Interesting article Orrin. I laughed aloud at Christian virtues being “as unreasonable as they can be”! I know what you mean.
    Regarding the pagan view – there is pagan, and then there is Pagan. As I mused when writing earlier about Ulysses (my error, which you graciously ignored, it being Jason and the Golden Fleece – but one heroic type is trans – don’t remember the term – into another just fine) being concerned with worldly things, I was also thinking that it must have been in the way he did his worldly things that lent heroism to his adventure. I also believe that mythology is overlaying the collective psyche onto some suitably heroic actual person, first in recent past, then over time, in the distant past – who may well have been a hero in the way he or she (not many She’s back in the earliest “Greek” days) lived through an adventure or adversity.
    Poets had a great hand in creating heroes, for the same reasons as always, reasons being the same as why Socrates was condemned; among the charges was “corrupting the youth.” Well, as Plato complained, the youth of his day did not respect their elders, etc. My point is, that there is always a need for poets because of the conservative nature of most societies (there are exceptions) – the elders more or less – the “establishment” – the majority of people, who value security over exploration and honesty (honesty to look at oneself).
    In really old pagan cultures, as in Pagan, there was Goddess worship, Earth being the Mother/Goddess – the Creator. Judaism succeeded this, and it seems to me as I read your writing that the Greek pantheon was just an intermediary step to male dominated religion. But in the old old days, paganism was not exactly rational, and was very much more centered about romance and sexuallity, if not spiritual love. We know so little about it, but I do believe, since it was oriented around a female deity, and women being “receptive” as opposed to males being assertive, and women also being more nurturing than most males, that the culture may well have been more loving. I am not so familiar with the archaeology to know when, but possibly there was less backdrop of war, famine, etc. from which the virtues of hope, etc. might be highlighted or even born. I speak of course, of the Garden of Eden. It seems that the Goddess culture became transformed in the face of famine, which would necessitate exploration and a new way of perceiving the world in order to survive. And perhaps the developed seed of destruction of the Goddess culture was when (according to anthropologists and scholars researching Paleolithic times) males were executed in ritual sacrifice after giving sperm to fertilize Earth or more likely and less directly, to a priestess intermediary. Perhaps the Amazons were a remnant of that ancient culture. Part of the falling, or evidence of it, was this transformation, rather than simply birthing Hope, Faith, and Charity and Goodwill Towards Men. It gets murky back then, but obviously, something or someone failed. I personally do not believe it was human failure at that time and place. No. Original sin predates the Garden of Eden. But that is another discussion.
    So, the Greeks were an early example of assertive living, meaning that they were already into the intellect as you pointed out, yet I believe that there have always been artists in societies where male types of perception and living, such as how to irrigate and conserve water as opposed to praying for or merely expecting rain, as milk from a loving Mother, predominate. Of course, the Garden of Eden dried up, by which time, everyone who had any common sense had left!

    • Orrin Woodward said

      Peter, you are well read on many subjects! :) Good stuff to make me think even more. thanks, Orrin

      • peter metcalf said

        Not so well read as I would like – you have read so many of the classics that I never touched. But I did take a great class in World Mythology.

  5. jimmy varghese said

    wow Orrin. what a great article. the truth is even pagan authors confirmed the life of Christ. The other day a couple asked me about the LIFE materials being “all christiany.” I said yes, its based on the truth. If you want results in your life, you have to utilize knowledge that is absolute and true. I truly love the fact that we don’t have to be bashful or shy about our faith. We are intolerant with love! Thanks Orrin.

  6. Kevin Hamm said

    Orrin,

    Very thought provoking,

    I personally, would object to the idea of faith, hope and love as invented things. The plan of God has been the same from the beginning. His attributes of which love, at least is one of them, are superlative to anything we could attain. It is ultimately those attributes and His person that inspire our faith and hope and love along with all other virtues. The Greek stoics approached these virtues from a humanistic viewpoint much like an Olympic athlete strives for excellence in his skill. Just like the athlete, much can be accomplished with the human will. Modern day stoics, pagans by choice perhaps, actually have disdain for Christians, because they can not accept the idea that they are incapable of virtue without a savior who imputes His righteousness upon His followers. The stoic can not see that his efforts are purely self serving and that, in the end, it will be this selfishness that causes his system to break down. Historically, this conflict has led to great persecution of Christians at the hand of stoics and pagans and it certainly could be a potential in the future. The faith aspect in the Life organization is a significant aspect indeed, lest we find in the end to be just diligent stoics:)

    • Orrin Woodward said

      Kevin, Agreed. Revealed is probably a better word to use in the history of ideas. Faith, Hope, and Charity were revealed in the fullness of time. :) thanks, Orrin

  7. Andy Compton said

    I’ve recently discovered the writings of Chesterton as well. I believe that Oliver DeMille mentions him in some of the recommended readings in A Thomas Jefferson Education. Chesterton brings a refreshingly brilliant and surprising perspective. The kind of stuff that after reading is likely to cause you to say, “Wow that was awesome. Wait a minute. What?”. Followed by several repeat readings. Plus he brings a great humor to much of his work seemingly born from a world class ability to not take himself too seriously.
    Going to save reading the follow up for tomorrow.

  8. Kim Decker said

    Orrin, This is an intersting subject i know nothing of and thank you for opening up an area of the past most of us would never know and probably never read upon. You give us a quality of knowledge that should be taught in more places.

  9. Michael Hartmann said

    “Exactly at the instant when hope ceases to be reasonable it begins to be useful.” – Priceless!

    Excellent Article – thanks for sharing Orrin.

  10. Jonathan Brandenberger said

    This still my favorite post. Since I started reading. Love it.

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