Category Archives: Charity

Samaritan is not Synonymous with Charity

The parable of the “Good Samaritan” is not a title that has aged well. We know the story well enough, a man is robbed and beaten, ignored by his own people, and only a Samaritan who passes by takes care of him. Now, Samaritan funds and Samaritan charities have become common, a callback to the story we all know.

Except, it’s a terrible name, and it has lost the meaning and context of the original telling.

Jesus tells the parable in response to the question, “Who is my neighbor?” posed by “an expert of the law,” according to Luke’s telling. Probably a test, definitely a cynical question.

So in Jesus’ story, a priest and a Levite pass by the broken man. If he was dead, or to die, they would be made unclean by physical contact with him. The process of cleansing was long and tedious, including completely shaving oneself and washing in the water that was poured over a burned animal sacrifice (like Fight Club‘s history of soap). So they weren’t being uncharitable you see, they were being practical.

The Samaritan treats him different. But who was the Samaritan? The Samaritans were a people despised by the tribe of Judah (the Jews) for they were a people of mixed blood. They were the descendants of the Northern tribes of Israel taken by the Assyrians, intermarried and mixed with Gentile lineage. Not like the Jews, who had remained “pure” in their heritage.

Notice Jesus didn’t tell the parable of the “Good Roman” – Romans were oppressing the Jews, occupying their land, treating the Jews as a conquered people. That would have been a shock, too. A Roman, especially a Roman soldier or a Roman officer, to have taken pity on the Jewish man, would have been a shock. But Jesus did not use an example of someone who the Jews saw as over them and hated, but someone they saw as beneath them and hated.

Even knowing the context of Samaritans in the time of Jesus doesn’t fully deliver the impact this must have had. Jesus chose to hold up as an example someone that was derided by his audience as an example of someone who acted neighborly. It was a rebuke wrapped in an example, as bitingly cynical (if I might suggest Jesus was cynical in this matter) as the jaded question that prompted the story.

But other than calling back to the story, why use the term “Good Samaritan” or “Samaritan” for our charities? The label seems to have lost its meaning over time. Note that Jesus doesn’t even use the term “Good Samaritan;” that’s the title we use to label the story. It’s rather patronizing – “You know all Samaritan are scum, but hey, remember that story about the good one? That was remarkable, and worth retelling.”

If I may be permitted to think about what Jesus might have used for an example today, based on the Jewish-Samaritan relations of His time, maybe he would have told the story of the Good Liberal, or the Good Guy in a MAGA hat. Maybe it would have been The Good Drug Addict. The Good Illegal Alien. The Good Homeless Person. The Good Person-With-Different-Skin-Color-Than-You.

I think He would have chosen someone His current audience would have seen as below them, someone His audience derided, not someone they thought was a threat. Someone they found unworthy of pity or charity. Someone that His audience could not imagine making a selfless act and sacrifice, who overcame his tribal feeling of injustice and cared for a fellow human being from a class that oppressed, excluded, and judged his kin and those like him.

Maybe, just maybe, Jesus today would tell the parable of The Good Christian.

Intellectual Charity And Returning to Writing

Sincerely I learned about wisdom, and ungrudgingly do I share— her riches I do not hide away;
For she is an unfailing treasure;
    those who gain this treasure win the friendship of God,
    being commended by the gifts that come from her discipline.
Now God grant I speak suitably
    and value these endowments at their worth:
For he is the guide of Wisdom
    and the director of the wise.
For both we and our words are in his hand,
    as well as all prudence and knowledge of crafts.

Wisdom 7:13-16

What is the point of growing in wisdom and knowledge if not to share what is gained with our fellow humans?

A post a few months ago from Faith and Culture highlighted this aspect of charity as identified as the work of the educator, when aligned to truth, as an act of love. With this in mind, and a regular recitation of this post’s quote from Wisdom in the Liturgy of the Hours, I have been thinking a lot on this idea.

Certainly, we are to use knowledge and wisdom to grow closer in a relationship to God, as part of our purpose to “know, love, and serve” our Lord. But we also know, love, and serve God in our interactions with others.

Having 7 children, homeschooling, and returning to full-time employment has established a lot of my own goals and objectives for processing information and sharing it with those individuals and teams God has placed in my immediate experience. However, my collection of notes has been growing, and my thoughts keep coming back to this blog, to books not yet written, and the ability, even perhaps the responsibility to keep sharing information with the wider audience that is willing to listen. Not only is there an ability to reach out in space, but also in time – written words have a tendency to linger on, if they end up resonating.

So, here I return to Eternal Revolution. It takes quite a bit more effort, now that most of my time is engaged in other work that pays regularly. However, in another way this is now a better occasion for writing content that can exist for the sake of communicating ideas, not also having the burden being tied to producing income on which to live.

Look for a new post once a week. I’ll be sticking to the same topics and ideals – virtue, spiritual and personal discipline, the concepts in The Way of the Christian Samurai and The Eternal Revolution, and reflections inspired by G.K. Chesterton. Next week, I’ll introduce one of the projects I’ve been working on while life has been happening for the last several years.

Pray for Revolution!

On Being Where You Are

As St. Patrick’s day approaches, and thoughts turn to Ireland (or at least some fabled Emerald Isle that bears the name) I think there is something in the saint’s story worth considering when we reflect on our local church:

1) There are many beautiful churches and cathedrals in Ireland.

2) Many modern (built in the 70’s or later) churches in America seem uninspired, even ugly.

I’m not really qualified to make objective statements about architecture; I realize that. I’m going to  have to make a point from those two very widely held yet anecdotal bits of evidence.

As a Catholic that grew up in one of those older churches that was constructed almost as a scale model of an Irish cathedral, the trend  in the last 100 years of architecture is apparent to me, especially as we moved westward to where parish churches were constructed 50 years ago instead of 150 years ago.

There are some that fault the building for the lack of reverence. Some that will bemoan that the quality of music, the attire or attitudes of the other churchgoers, or yes, even the building itself does not present as good a spiritual environment as such-and-such in another place.

There are those who will even travel great distances to go to a place of worship that is, to them, more reverent, more spiritual, and more beautiful than their local parish. If at all possible, people tend to seek out that parish that resembles a cathedral – maybe even an Irish cathedral.

I am here going to mention an  apparently blasphemous but painfully true statements that one must never, ever utter in such hallowed places such as Irish bars on St. Patrick’s day. If you repeat this truth in such a place, you alone are responsible for the beating you suffer for it.

St. Patrick wasn’t Irish. He was, to put it bluntly, a Brit.

Patrick was forcefully taken from his home and brought to the pagan isle of Ireland as a slave. He escaped, returned to Britain, and eventually returned to Ireland as a missionary and a priest. The rest is history, legend, and the story of a saint.

St. Patrick did not choose to stay near the aesthetically pleasing places of worship. He went back to the pagan land, preached, prayed, worshipped and taught in a land with no cathedrals.

Truth, Beauty, Ignorance

The things that feel spiritual or reverent to us – the music, the attire, the posture and behavior of the people, the building – these are things of man. The are aesthetics. When we make a judgement of things based on aesthetics, we’re making judging as man sees, not as God sees. We’re choosing things because they are attractive, or pretty.

We are called to be in the place we find ourselves, in the time we found ourselves. We may not have been kidnapped, as St. Patrick was, but nevertheless our circumstances often dictate where we are.

Maybe the way the local church worships isn’t as attractive to you because of cultural differences. There are certainly legitimate ways in which worship at one church in a place and time varies from another. Some of the aesthetic preference is simply cultural or nostalgic.

But maybe the lack of perceived beauty is ignorance. Maybe people at your church aren’t reverent because they don’t fully understand what it is they are proclaiming, adoring, and worshipping when you gather. Truth is beauty, as Keats wrote, so the corollary that ignorance is ugly might be fitting.

If ignorance is the case, and you feel you know more than those around you, doesn’t that imply you might just have a job to do there, where God has placed you?

Maybe there is something you need to learn from others in the place God has put you – after all, it was the tax collector who beat his breast in the temple that went home justified. The learned man, who was comparing himself to another in the temple even in his prayer, did not go home justified.

If St. Patrick had stayed where the faith was more firmly rooted, where people worshipped as he had when he was a boy, where they were more reverent than the pagans in Ireland,  we might not have the Irish cathedrals we admire today.

Dependence and Charity

The stated goal of many charities is to encourage independence of families or the individual. The entire operation, if properly aligned, is to help the person and those they support to no longer become dependent on some other entity – in most cases that means they organization specifically does not want the person to remain dependent on them.

For Christians, however, especially those aware of the Eternal Revolution and our daily battles with the world, we cannot say our charity work or acts of charity are geared towards the independence of those we serve. When we do what we can to meet the physical, mental, and emotional needs of others we want them to find dependence on God, not on themselves. To be reliant on oneself is to act out of pride.

Charity, as a virtue, ought to always desire to love others as God loves them. We do not want others dependent on destructive influences like drugs, alcohol, or debt. But nor do we want them to see themselves as dependent on their own selves. This can be as simple as directing their expressions of thanks to God, and not to our organizations or our own efforts. It is good for any child of God to recognize His hand behind the hands that help them, and it ought to be their goal to always be dependent on His Charity.

It is not a bad thing that people need help from charities. Charities, especially Christian charities, ought to exist as organizations that do works of charity – that is love. And as Christians we desire that people put their trust, their hope, and their dependence on the love of God. To desire them to be independent of that would in fact be a terrible and uncharitable thing to wish upon another person.

We Don’t Teach Children Justice

Think about this for a moment:

Do we really teach children – with the exception of the mine phase – what justice is? I mean, do we have to teach them about fairness?

With my own children, and the children I encounter is schools and other community functions, I hear adults and myself having to say “life’s not fair.” You hear that a great deal more of that speech than you hear people teaching young people that life ought to be fair, things ought to be divided equally, or people’s needs ought to be met.

We don’t teach youth justice, we teach them to endure injustice and inequality in and unfair world. Sometimes, without intending to, we teach them injustice, prejudice, and bigotry.

But the ideal of justice is apparent to us from a young age. The ideal exists in the human mind, even as our experiences as we grow older compound more and more reasons why it doesn’t, won’t, and can’t exist in our world.

That seems to reinforce the idea that the Kingdom of Heaven is a place where this ideal of justice must be realized. It also sheds some light on the fact that Jesus said we cannot enter the Kingdom unless we become like a little child.

Men and Abortion: Free Pro-Life Conference MP3s


No one can deny a person’s lived experience. People can argue with us about the psychological stuff, they can argue with us about whatever. But they can’t take away the truth of someone’s lived experience.

Vicki Thorn, founder of the National Office of Post Abortion Healing and Reconciliation and Project Rachel

In my capacity as a journalist I attended the Reclaiming Fatherhood conference on Men and Abortion in September of 2008, put together by Vicki Thorn, founder of Project Rachel, and the Knights of Columbus, with the support of many other individuals and organizations. The 2008 conference was to be the second annual conference, but in the past 2 years in the past 7 years no further symposiums have been arranged. The audio of the conference was supposed to be released as free MP3s and DVDs were going to be made available. So far, this has not yet come to pass.

As I was going though my archives I realized I still had my recordings of the talks. Granted, I was sitting about 5 tables back from the speakers, but the audio quality was still decent for most of the talks. These are “bootlegs,” and you can hear my camera’s shutter and my typing at times, as well as other background noise.

However, it occurred to me that these audio files could be of tremendous use in the relatively silent wake of the 2008 conference. There were a number of valuable and intriguing gems of information at this conference. Advice from scholars and therapists on why traditional therapy does not reach men. Testimonies of real experiences. And antecdotal evidence from 1 study and 3 practicing counselors of a possible link between abortion and homosexuality.

So here they are as MP3s – raw and uncut. There are 14 talks and about 10 hours of audio here. You can’t stop the signal.

Keep on scrolling down to listen to each of the talks right here in your browser, with some brief commentary of my own. Click on the speaker/topic name to start playing  or right-click and choose “save as” to download.

Intro by Vicki Thorn & Testimony by Bruce Mulligan

Vicki Thorn opens the conference, and the first of four personal testimonies is given by Bruce Mulligan. The testimonies (which really need no comment from me) are short and very powerful. Some of the names may be familiar.

John Morales Post-Abortion Testimony (John is the voice behind Champions of Faith)

Jason Jones Post-Abortion Testimony (Jason is a producer of the pro-life movie Bella)

Rev. Brian Walker Post-Abortion Testimony

Vicki Thorn on Fatherhood Lost

Vicki Thorn spoke on the physiological aspects of fatherhood, and how abortion impacts that. Great information for sex ed, biology, or for expectant fathers, in addition to its value to the pro-life initiative and post-abortive healing.

Coyle and Rue on Existing Research

This talk by Catherine T. Coyle, PhD and Vincent Rue, PhD is very dense with information on studies that have been done already on men and abortion, and their strengths and shortcomings. Might be a bit dry for the casual listener but those of you in the research fields will want to pay close attention to this one. (Intro and start were cut off, sorry.)

Lionel Tiger on Fatherhood without Paternity

Lionel Tiger, PhD. was a surprising guest. Right off the bat he admitted to not sharing the pro-life approach to the abortion problem, but he spoke at this conference out of solidarity with those who recognized men’s shrinking role in society and the harmful impact.

Tom Golden on Masculine Healing

Tom Golden’s presentation on Masculine Healing pointed out how modern counseling and therapy does not address mens needs or provide the environment men naturally seek. A must not only for post-abortive men and those that love them, but anyone who has a man in their life who suffers from grief. Tom was the most animated of the speakers and left the podium for much of his talk, so the audio levels are low.

First Day Q&A with Speakers

Question and answer session with Dr. Tiger, Dr. Coyle, Tom Golden and Vicki Thorn.

Vincent Rue on Trauma and Abortion

The first of the second day’s talks, Vincent Rue returned to address the specific psychological impact and symptoms of the trauma of abortion in men. The talk is preceded by (part of) a presentation of an award to Vicki Thorn.

Greg Hasek on Medicating the Pain

A terrific follow-up to identifying the pain caused by abortion, Greg Hasek spoke on the grieving and normal and abnormal ways men deal with the pain. Another very important talk for those who counsel, love, or treat men that are grieving.

Fr Martin Pabel on the Spiritual Aspects

While many of the speakers to this point may have had a Christian world view, their presentations were on the biology, statistical data, or psychology of abortion’s impact. Fr. Martin Pabel dedicates his presentation to addressing the needs of the soul.

Catherine Coyle on Forgiveness Therapy

Catherine T. Coyle, PhD, returns to speak on the use of forgiveness therapy for men hurting from abortion, and what forgiveness really means. Her talk is preceded by Vicki talking about future plans, including the talks becoming available as free MP3 downloads.

Q&A with Speakers

The closing Q&A session with Greg Hasek, Viki Thorn, Dr. Coyle, and Fr. Pable. There is an interesting point where Hasek, Thorn, and Coyle all recall having post-abortive patients who identified as homosexual after the abortion; some returned to heterosexual relationships after therapy. At this point the data is anecdotal, but could be the subject of a future study. For more information on the conference, you can visit the main site at Note: MenAndAbortion.COM is a pro-abortion site. MenAndAbortion.NET is another pro-life organization. The domain suffix matters a great deal here.

Press Coverage of the Conference: American Life League’s Celebrate Life Magazine US News and World Report (and follow up article)

Why the Ten Commandments are not Enough

When it comes time to teach the Christian faith, either to converts or children, it seems that the go-to moral code is the Ten Commandments.

These ten simple rules were inscribed on stone for the people of Israel wandering in the desert, and were part of a larger law given to the people at that time. It is one of the simplest, oldest codes of morality in human history.

For Christians, though, it seems like it is remedial at best. They are not even exclusively Christian anymore – lying, stealing, and killing are generally outlawed in any culture, and no sect is ok with profaning what they hold as sacred or important.

When a rich young man asks him what must be done to inherit eternal life, Jesus first asks him about the commandments. The young man says he has kept them since his youth. Then Jesus tells him to go and sell everything – a command not found in the 10 commandments – and the young man goes away sad. Jesus remarks about how difficult it is for a rich man to enter heaven.

In Matthew 25, Jesus tells the parable of the goats and the sheep. The goats are denied entry into heaven, even though they call their judge Lord. The difference between the two groups is the acts of charity, or works of mercy, that were or were not done. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and visiting the imprisoned. It is not against the commandments to not do those things, but apparently it is enough to deny one entry into heaven.

Put bluntly, you can keep the Ten Commandments and still go to hell.

The world knows this. Christians can keep the 10 Commandments and feel self-righteous, yet still be jerks. Even someone vaguely familiar with the gospels can point out that Jesus was calling people to much more than keeping 10 simple rules.

The 10 Commandments did not pass away or expire. You absolutely should keep them. But keeping them is a baby step for a Christian – like giving an Olympic athlete a medal for finishing a race, or thinking your marriage is great because you don’t cheat on each other. It should be a given. Even as we fail to keep them, and pick ourselves up again, we should be aiming higher.

What then should we teach as moral principles?

I have seen several sources recently point to the Beatitudes. Those are terrible goals, because they are not goals, they are effects. It’s rather like saying the goal is to be happy, when happiness is not an object that can be pursued, but the result or effect of something else.

If you are living as a true follower of Christ, you will be persecuted. But you don’t get there by going into a public place and demanding that people persecute you; if you actually follow Christ’s teachings in a fallen world, you will experience persecution. Then, blessed are you.

The Beatitudes lack the direct command of the commandments or the concrete task list we find in the parable of the goats and the sheep. Thou shalt not kill. Feed the hungry. Blessed are the meek. The first two give you a clear, firm prohibition or instruction, the last one just describes a divine effect for a particular state of being.

We should look to be the kind of people that the Beatitudes describe, but we don’t go about that by trying to force the effects or states of being.

If we want a set of ideals that will take a lifetime to perfect, I suggest we turn again to the virtues – those three chief virtues identified by the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:13, and the four virtues identified in Wisdom 8:7, otherwise known as the Seven Heavenly Virtues of Faith, Hope, Charity, Prudence, Fortitude, Justice, and Temperance.

In them we see how the rich young man may have failed at temperance or justice, but kept the commandments, or how Dives failed to show Charity and Justice to Lazarus, while not necessarily breaking any commandments.

Even more detail, and clear instruction, is found in the parable of the goats and sheep, with a clear distinction that feeding the hungry and visiting the imprisoned are the sort of things that will come up on Judgement Day. In the Summa Theologica Thomas Aquinas listed 14 such tasks that are expressed throughout the scriptures, which he called almsdeeds but are better known as works of mercy or works of charity:

  • Feed the hungry
  • Give drink to the thirsty
  • Clothe the naked
  • Shelter the homeless
  • Visit the sick
  • Visit the imprisoned
  • Bury the dead
  • Admonish the sinner
  • Instruct the ignorant
  • Counsel the doubtful
  • Comfort the sorrowful
  • Bear wrongs patiently
  • Forgive all injuries
  • Pray for all

If we Christians spent our lives doing the works of mercy and striving to perfect the seven virtues in our lives, it would look much different than the lot of us resting on the fact we know and keep the Ten Commandments. Our lives would look a lot more like Christ’s.

Fear is a Terrible Teacher

It seems to be a common refrain: religion is all about using fear to control and educate people.

Fear is the worst way to teach people. It is a last resort of the desperate, bad teacher. Pay attention, or doom on you. Remember this, or doom on you.

It is certainly true that we ourselves, our parents, and our grandparents have been met with some terrible fear-based religious teachers, at home, in school, and in church.

But generally we fear our permanent records, our loss of careers, and falling behind on the track of the American dream – even more than hell – based on fears taught by our elders and educators.

So if we are to write of the Church and religion because of some lousy teachers that only knew how to use fear to teach, we had better write off education and public schools too. Because they haven’t softened or changed tactics in the last 60 or more years.

What Does Religious Freedom Look Like?

It is a tenet of this blog to avoid current events. This post will push the limit, since there are current events that inspired it and will be mentioned; however the purpose is for more persistent.

Christian persecution is again making world headlines. A woman in the Sudan has been sentenced to death for refusing to convert from Christianity to Islam. Amnesty International and other human rights groups are calling for intervention to protect religious freedom.

It seems good to hear that these secular organizations are stepping up and speaking out against this injustice, but what does religious freedom actually look like?

This sort of persecution is not uncommon, is not a relic of the past, but a reality that has faced Christians throughout our history, in one region of the world or another. Wherever you are, this choice of your faith or your inalienable right to life could be face by you, your children, or your children’s children.

Here in America, we hold that it is self-evident that we are endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The first right enumerated in the Bill of Rights was written to ensure for freedom of religion.

But what does freedom of religion look like?

As of yet, we are not denied life, as Americans, for our religious beliefs. But what about those other two self-evident, inalienable rights?

Consider the following:

  • Brendan Eich, co-founder of Mozilla, resigned under public pressure over a $1,000 contribution made years ago in opposition to same-sex marriage. Regardless of whether his support of Proposition 8 was motivated by a Christian worldview, this is a position many Christians hold, and with a lot less status in the companies for which they work.
  • The state of the Health Care Mandate forcing conscientious objectors to pay for insurance that covers contraception, including religious institutions for which such things are considered gravely wrong.
  • Numerous anecdotes from elementary students punished for praying to people being fired or asked to resign for their beliefs.

To these I can even add personal experience. Once when inquiring about a job in computer repair, the owner looked me up online and  noticed my writings for and other websites. With a smirk he said, “You are quite the activist, aren’t you?” And with that, any chance of working there died.

What does religious freedom look like? I don’t know. I know we haven’t got it, and I know Sudan does not have it. I’m not sure anywhere in world has it or will ever have it.

Religious freedom is an ideal that is impossible in a world to which the power of the kingdoms of God are in the hands of our Enemy (Matthew 4:9). Religious persecution is the reality we will face – from the Roman Empire, to the modern world, and ever after until kingdom come.

Do not be afraid if your life is asked of you; do not be afraid if your career, your employment, your livelihood is threatened. It may be your boss, your governor, your family – or as Brendan Eich experienced, a mob of sodomites (see also Genesis 19:5  and Judges 19:22).

Our Lord said: “If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” (John 15:19) James writes in his epistle: “Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4)

We should not expect religious freedom, nor should we conform to the world’s expectations. Our Lord’s expectation is that we persevere in spite of the injustices we are to suffer for His sake. 

And if that were not radical enough, He taught and set the example that we are to love, forgive, and do good to those who wrong us, persecute us, and hate us. To do otherwise is to fail to live up to the standards you profess to defend.


7 Most Popular G.K. Chesterton Quotes He Never Said

G.K. Chesterton is practically infinitely quotable, a fact that I have put to the test over the past several years curating the Daily Chesterton Quote site and service.

However, when you combine such a prolific writer with a legacy over a century old, plus the Internet, you stumble upon a few misattributed quotes. Some of these have become incredibly popular, taking on a life of their own; but there is no evidence that G.K. Chesterton actually said these things.

Even the well-read experts have mistakenly repeated the misquotes; I am almost certain I have repeated some of these myself.

I had thought of doing a series of Chesterton misquotes in a “Not said by Chesterton” series on, but that could just add to the confusion.

“Love means loving the unlovable – or it is no virtue at all.”

The only place I can find attribution on this is the American Chesterton Society, which states it comes from Heretics – but searching the etext does not turn up any parts of the the exact phrase.

Everyone else cannot seem to find this quote in GKC’s works, even though it comes in a few different forms, such as, “Love means to love that which is unlovable, or it is no virtue at all; forgiving means to pardon that which is unpardonable, or it is no virtue at all,” or ” To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable. Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless,” or “Love means to love that which is unlovable; or it is no virtue at all.”

The closest thing I have been able to find is in Orthodoxy: “Stated baldly, charity certainly means one of two things–pardoning unpardonable acts, or loving unlovable people.”

Update: Jonathan Watson pointed out that there is another similar quote in Heretics: “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.”

“Fairy tales are more than true — not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.”

This one really took on a life of its own, and in recent times. This brief, succinct, beautiful expression is actually first found in the epitaph of Coraline by Neil Gaiman.

This has sparked quite a literary issue on the Internet, but Gaiman actually set the record straight on his blog:

It’s my fault. When I started writing Coraline, I wrote my version of the quote in Tremendous Trifles, meaning to go back later and find the actual quote, as I didn’t own the book, and this was before the Internet. And then  ten years went by before I finished the book, and in the meantime I had completely forgotten that the Chesterton quote was mine and not his.  I’m perfectly happy for anyone to attribute it to either of us. The sentiment is his, the phrasing is mine.

If you read enough Chesterton and his critics, GKC did the same thing; he could read an entire book in minutes, and often wrote from memory. While exceptional, it was not perfect. So Gaiman “pulled a Chesterton” while paraphrasing GKC.

It is worth mentioning that Gaiman is a big fan of Chesterton, and GKC has directly influenced Gaiman’s Sandman, Coraline, Good Omens, Neverwhere, and probably a lot of other books.

Here is the original that Gaiman cites, from The Red Angel in Tremendous Trifles – quoted a bit more at length than usual for context:

The timidity of the child or the savage is entirely reasonable; they are alarmed at this world, because this world is a very alarming place. They dislike being alone because it is verily and indeed an awful idea to be alone. Barbarians fear the unknown for the same reason that Agnostics worship it– because it is a fact. Fairy tales, then, are not responsible for producing in children fear, or any of the shapes of fear; fairy tales do not give the child the idea of the evil or the ugly; that is in the child already, because it is in the world already. Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey. The baby has known the dragon intimately ever since he had an imagination. What the fairy tale provides for him is a St. George to kill the dragon.

Exactly what the fairy tale does is this: it accustoms him for a series of clear pictures to the idea that these limitless terrors had a limit, that these shapeless enemies have enemies in the knights of God, that there is something in the universe more mystical than darkness, and stronger than strong fear. When I was a child I have stared at the darkness until the whole black bulk of it turned into one negro giant taller than heaven. If there was one star in the sky it only made him a Cyclops. But fairy tales restored my mental health, for next day I read an authentic account of how a negro giant with one eye, of quite equal dimensions, had been baffled by a little boy like myself (of similar inexperience and even lower social status) by means of a sword, some bad riddles, and a brave heart. Sometimes the sea at night seemed as dreadful as any dragon. But then I was acquainted with many youngest sons and little sailors to whom a dragon or two was as simple as the sea.

“A man knocking on the door of a brothel is looking for God.”

I heard this one most recently in a Bible study; but it was actually from author Bruce Marshall in The World, The Flesh, and Father Smith, in which the quote appears, “the young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God.

Guess it sounded Chestertonian and someone got it mixed up.

“If there were no God, there would be no atheists.”

This is going to sound like nitpicking, but a single letter changes a word, and a changed word can change the meaning.

The correct quote, from the essay Too Simple to Be True, collected in Where All Roads Lead is “If there were not God, there would be no atheists.”

The misquote helps fuel the misconception that GKC’s point was that with out a Creator, there would be no one to deny Him. That is a bit pedantic for Chesterton, and the meaning of the quote is best expressed in the context:

“Atheism is, I suppose, the supreme example of a simple faith. The man says there is no God; if he really says it in his heart, he is a certain sort of man so designated in Scripture. But, anyhow, when he has said it, he has said it; and there seems to be no more to be said. The conversation seems likely to languish. The truth is that the atmosphere of excitement, by which the atheist lived, was an atmosphere of thrilled and shuddering theism, and not of atheism at all; it was an atmosphere of defiance and not of denial. Irreverence is a very servile parasite of reverence; and has starved with its starving lord. After this first fuss about the merely aesthetic effect of blasphemy, the whole thing vanishes into its own void. If there were not God, there would be no atheists.”

Chesterton’s point was not that atheists would not exist without God to create them, but to point out that atheism only subsists because it is a blasphemy or rejection of something real; after all, there is no serious organization or movement that is denying the existence of unicorns or leprechauns.

“Meaninglessness does not come from being weary of pain. Meaninglessness comes from being weary of pleasure.”

A reader asked me about this quote, which he had heard from Ravi Zacharias. It seems to be a repeat of the Gaiman fairy tale quote, where someone beautifully paraphrased a longer, more involved Chesterton quote.

G.K. Chesterton did state in The Everlasting Man:

“Pessimism is not in being tired of evil but in being tired of good. Despair does not lie in being weary of suffering, but in being weary of joy. It is when for some reason or other the good things in a society no longer work that the society
begins to decline; when its food does not feed, when its cures do not cure, when its blessings refuse to bless. We might almost say that in a society without such good things we should hardly have any test by which to register a decline; that is why some of the static commercial oligarchies like Carthage have rather an air in history of standing and staring like mummies, so dried up and swathed and embalmed that no man knows when they are new or old.”

and in Charles Dickens (which I wrote about here):

“There are some men who are dreary because they do not believe in God; but there are many others who are dreary because they do not believe in the devil… The full value of this life can only be got by fighting; the violent take it by storm. And if we have accepted everything we have missed something — war. This life of ours is a very enjoyable fight, but a very miserable truce.”

“When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing — they believe in anything.”

Wikiquotes has explanation of this and the other form it takes, “The first effect of not believing in God is to believe in anything.”

This quotation actually comes from page 211 of Émile Cammaerts’ book The Laughing Prophet : The Seven Virtues and G. K. Chesterton (1937) in which he quotes Chesterton as having Father Brown say, in “The Oracle of the Dog” (1923): “It’s the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense.” Cammaerts then interposes his own analysis between further quotes from Father Brown: “‘It’s drowning all your old rationalism and scepticism, it’s coming in like a sea; and the name of it is superstition.’ The first effect of not believing in God is to believe in anything: ‘And a dog is an omen and a cat is a mystery.'” Note that the remark about believing in anything is outside the quotation marks — it is Cammaerts.

“What is Wrong With the World?” “Dear Sirs, I am.”

This seems to be the ultimate Chesterton myth, in the truest sense of the word. It was even the inspiration for a documentary entitled  I Am that came out a few years ago. However, while it might be full of truth and Chestertonian wit, no one can find it.

The Times and other English papers have been searched through their archives, and yet no one can find the fabled essay request or the incredibly short response from GKC. It could be that the letter was written and not published, but as of the time of this writing no one seems to be able to find the source of the story or any evidence that it is true.

Many theories surround the fact that Chesterton did write a book called What is Wrong With the World. In the dedication, GKC writes:

“I originally called this book “What is Wrong,” and it would have satisfied your sardonic temper to note the number of social misunderstandings that arose from the use of the title. Many a mild lady visitor opened her eyes when I remarked casually, “I have been doing ‘What is Wrong’ all this morning.” And one minister of religion moved
quite sharply in his chair when I told him (as he understood it) that I had to run upstairs and do what was wrong, but should be down again in a minute. Exactly of what occult vice they silently accused me I cannot conjecture, but I know of what I accuse myself; and that is, of having written a very shapeless and inadequate book, and one quite unworthy to be dedicated to you. As far as literature goes, this book is what is wrong and no mistake.”

In a review of the book, St. John Ervine wrote, “‘The book is called ‘What’s Wrong with the World,’ by G.K. Chesterton: it should have been called, ‘What’s Wrong with the World’ is G.K. Chesterton’.”

If there are any new sources that are discovered that validate these quotes, however, I would very much like to hear about it! If you want to do your own research on Chesterton quotes, check out the G.K. Chesterton search engine here.