G.K. Chesterton and The Gentle Traditionalist on Secular Dogmas


Chesterton on Dogma

Internet meme of G.K. Chesterton – for which I hope and trust permission is not necessary. See note below.*


It is not often that I feel such a surge of passion that I wish to run up to a man, grab him, hug him, even plant a kiss firmly on his cheek.

Still less often does this occur, when the man in question happens to be dead!

But that is exactly how I felt the other day about the great G.K. Chesterton, when I chanced upon an internet meme (reproduced above) featuring his words:

In truth, there are only two kinds of people; those who accept dogmas and know it, and those who accept dogmas and don’t know it.

Yes, G.K. Chesterton, sometimes I could kiss you!

How brilliant you were with simple formulae that go straight to the core problems of our age. And so it is with this one. The world is divided between the vast number of people who know they have a religion – and those who don’t.

Moreover, I would contend that situation is tremendously perilous, for people who are unconsciously religious are frequently far more dangerous than those who consciously choose their religion.

Now, at this point, if certain unconsciously religious people were to read my words, they might start spluttering in rage: “What are you talking about? I don’t have a religion!”

Indeed, a scene something like this occurs in my book The Gentle Traditionalist, where a young secularist – whose initials are GPL – denies having religion.

His interlocutor – GT, the Gentle Traditionalist himself – is not so sure and asks GPL regarding euthanasia. To which he responds:

GPL: Well, if someone is in horrible, horrible pain and they want to end it, they should have the right to do that, shouldn’t they?

GT: Let’s say they do. They don’t only do that, do they?

GPL: I’m not sure what you mean …?

GT: Well, for one, they set an example to others. Granddad had assisted suicide, so did my uncle. Now Auntie Maisie wants it. Everyone’s doing it.

GPL: You’re saying it’s not just a private act. It has public consequences?

GT: That’s right.

GPL: Well, okay, maybe we need to set a public example—if it will liberate people from their suffering.

GT: How do you know they’re liberated from suffering?

GPL: Isn’t it obvious? Do you realise how much some people have to suffer before they die?

GT: Obviously, there is terrible, terrible suffering. Moreover, that’s been obvious for thousands of years. You might ask yourself why it is only now, after all these centuries, that people try to justify assisted suicide…

At any rate, I don’t know how I’d face a situation like that myself—especially without the Holy Sacraments. Still, there’s a hidden presumption operating here. You’re assuming the suffering ends with the death of the body. You’re also assuming suicide isn’t a sin which carries consequences in the afterlife.

GPL: Well, yes.

GT: What if that’s not true? What if the person committing suicide suffers more after he dies, than he did before?

GPL: You mean in their soul? Well, that’s a religious belief.

GT: Forgive me, my good man, but you just indicated your own religious belief: that the person committing suicide suffers less.

GPL: A religious belief?

GT: You are making implicit statements about what happens after death. For example, that the amount of suffering that exists beyond death must necessarily be less than the suffering in this life. Or that committing suicide carries little or no consequence in the afterlife. You can’t make the equation you just did— i.e. less suffering versus more suffering—without belief!

Moreover, you indicated a wish to disseminate your belief— by hoping people might set public examples of your belief-system…

GT lifted a finger. “We have, first: a belief about the ultimate nature of reality.”

Raising another finger, he said, “Second: an imperative—this is what people ought to do on the basis of that belief.”

Lifting a final finger, he added, “Third: public demonstration of your ‘path of liberation from suffering.’ That looks awfully like religion to me.”

What my character GT is trying to show is the deeply unconscious nature by which so many folk hold unbending religious beliefs, indeed dogmas – without ever realising it.

At this juncture, it may help to understand just what a dogma is. Let us, then, turn to the Mirriam-Webster dictionary which defines it thus:

a belief or set of beliefs that is accepted by the members of a group without being questioned or doubted.

In the above example, we turned to euthanasia, which rests on the firm (usually entirely unconscious) surety that suicide has no consequences beyond this world.

But, of course, we could cite plenty of other dogmas of the secular world. For example, the firm surety that abortion does not matter, because a foetus is not a child.

Or there is the firm surety that gay adoption or in-vitro fertilisation do not matter, because two men or two women can parent equally as well as a father and a mother and that no God-given reason exists why a child needs both the masculine or feminine archetype present and operating in his youth.

And the list goes on. Today’s secularism is permeated by countless firm ‘politically correct’ beliefs. And not only are these beliefs never questioned by a growing secular section of the population, one is even treated as a heretic if one does not share the beliefs!

Hence, in my book, the Gentle Traditionalist calls all this the New Secular Religion.

And he maintains that possessing unconscious religious dogmas poses the gravest of threats to humanity. Indeed, this is a major theme of the book.

But now I see, that long ago, the great G.K. Chesterton ably identified the entire problem in one succinct sentence, so good I will I sing it again:

In truth, there are only two kinds of people; those who accept dogmas and know it, and those who accept dogmas and don’t know it.

Herein lies the origin of so much of the strife and horror that have dominated the West, since at least 1789, the year of the French Revolution.

For prior to 1789 and the Enlightenment rationalism it was based on, society never experienced the problem of unconscious secular dogmas. This is why the Gentle Traditionalist speaks of the New Secular Religion.

We will continue ruminating on these things in upcoming posts and why they seem to me more dangerous than ever in our brave new millennium . . .

Also, for those who may be interested, further extracts from The Gentle Traditionalist on secularism, the New Age and other modern horrors can be found here in my archive of posts dedicated to my book.


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*Note regarding internet meme above. I have reproduced it knowing that the words are certainly in the public domain, as all Chesterton’s writings are, according to British copyright law. As for the design, I do not know who created it, but there seems no other purpose for producing such, given that the very purpose of a meme is to be replicated across cyberspace. If my judgment errs, I beg forgiveness and permission to feature it (with credit attached).
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  1. By Christian Religion or Secular Religion? on 30 September 2016 at 12:18

    […] « G.K. Chesterton and The Gentle Traditionalist on Secular Dogmas […]

  2. […] Good thoughts expounding on this here. […]

  3. […] Recently, I re-started writing a series at this weblog about secular dogmas and indeed crypto-secular religion. […]

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