The vice of the modern notion of mental progress is that it is always something concerned with the breaking of bonds, the effacing of boundaries, the casting away of dogmas. But if there be such a thing as mental growth, it must mean the growth into more and more definite convictions, into more and more dogmas.
Many animals make tools. Man is something more; man makes dogmas. Man piles conclusion on conclusion, developing a philosophy, a religion. By doing so, he becomes more human and less like a tool-making animal.
Therefore, if man is to be considered as advancing, “it must be mental advance in the construction of a definite philosophy of life.” And he must consider this philosophy right, and other philosophies wrong.
Does this mean to suggest a rigid process – once one conclusion is reached, it can never be altered or challenged. I would think not. It does mean that it must be understood well by those doing the challenging; the reason it was once accepted must be understood as well. this should be expected of those challenging existing dogma.
Since the Enlightenment, if not the Renaissance, man in the West has worked to overturn long-developed dogma – dropping one doctrine after another, growing evermore skeptical. Challenging definitions, finally sitting as God – with no creed and no foundation:
…he is by that very process sinking slowly backwards into the vagueness of the vagrant animals and the unconsciousness of the grass. Trees have no dogmas. Turnips are singularly broad-minded.
Coming to the point where man believes in absolutely nothing – or, at least, nothing comprehensible.
Ideas are dangerous, but the man to whom they are least dangerous is the man of ideas. He is acquainted with ideas, and moves among them like a lion-tamer.
But aren’t those who are most certain of their philosophy also the most bigoted? Chesterton says no:
In real life the people who are most bigoted are the people who have no convictions at all.
Our time offers stark examples of this: the bigoted are rioting on the street, holding no conviction other than destruction; the bigoted are chastising you for not wearing a mask, holding no conviction for science. They know nothing of truth, all-the-while claiming, violently, to be the keepers of the truth.
Ideas are dangerous, but the man to whom they are most dangerous is the man of no ideas. The man of no ideas will find the first idea fly to his head like wine to the head of a teetotaller.
We see this in the empty heads filled with ideas of violence and revolution; we see this in the empty heads believing that they are all front-line soldiers in the war on a seasonal virus.
Truths turn into dogmas the instant that they are disputed.
We really know nothing of what we believe until we are challenged. As we are challenged, we better understand the commonsense, or lack thereof, of our beliefs. This is certainly true of our inherited Western traditions. It is playing out evermore visibly today, with the growing cultural and political divide in society. Yet Chesterton saw this coming more than one-hundred years ago:
The great march of mental destruction will go on. Everything will be denied. Everything will become a creed.
As Christianity is destroyed, it is not being replaced by nothing; there is no possibility of a void in religion. There will be a new creed:
A creed (also known as a confession, symbol, or statement of faith) is a statement of the shared beliefs of (an often religious) community in the form of a fixed formula summarizing core tenets.
Today, one side holds a much stronger conviction of their creed than does the other; those desirous of destroying Western Civilization are far more religious than those who claim to defend it. It is a religious community willing to put words into action. This shift has been ongoing for centuries, accelerating rapidly before our eyes in the last months and years. We haven’t seen the worst of it yet:
Fires will be kindled to testify that two and two make four. Swords will be drawn to prove that leaves are green in summer.
And you thought it couldn’t get worse after we accepted that boys could be girls and girls could be boys. Chesterton offers that it will get sillier than even this (and, therefore, more serious).
There are no rationalists. We all believe fairy-tales, and live in them.
There is no life void of narrative. We see the narrative of those sucking the joy out of life, those smashing windows and those wearing masks. They live in a narrative and fervently believe the narrative.
It must be the same for us, those in search of peace and liberty in this world:
Let us, then, go upon a long journey and enter on a dreadful search. Let us, at least, dig and seek till we have discovered our own opinions. The dogmas we really hold are far more fantastic, and, perhaps, far more beautiful than we think.
Without this, there is no life, there is no liberty.