G.K. Chesterton: Theologian, Pt 6

Chapter 6 of G.K. Chesterton: Theologian is headed “Man in the Image of God.” Nichols states that creation of man in the image of God is the “foundational doctrine of Christian anthropology.” (119) I must admit, I have found modern courses on Christian anthropology and such topics (e.g. the theology of the body) as long in promise and short in delivery. Phrases such as “flourishing of the human” (119) strike me as next to meaningless.

Chesterton had the significant insight that humanity is created with divine dignity, not merely an earthly one. As Nichols notes, Chesterton was opposing the contemporary “deterministic biology of the human taken from … reading of Darwin.” (121) As Chesterton wrote, when Lincoln opposed slavery, he had access to the Declaration of Independence of 4 July 1776, which stated:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights …

But in modern times, many people would, if they were honest, rather agree:

We hold these truths to be probable enough for pragmatists; that all things looking like men were evolved somehow, being endowed by heredity and environment with no equal rights, but very unequal wrongs … (122-123)

The role of Darwin and more, the doctrine of evolution, has been an acid eating not only into morality but even human decency (see note 1, below). The idea of ongoing evolution, Chesterton said, serves as a pretext for ideologues who wish to herd the human species into a desired direction. (124)

But man is more than an evolved mammal. As Chesterton wrote:

The truth involved  here has had many names; that man is the image of God; that he is the microcosm; that he is the measure of all things. He is the microcosm in the sense that he is the mirror, the only crystal we know in which the fantasy and fear in things are, in the double and real sense, things of reflection. (126)

To really understand man, we have to make an imaginative effort to see ourselves as if from the outside (this is a constructive use of imagination). (127) When we do, we see so great a difference between humanity and animals that it is not plausible to say that man is an evolved animal: the “distinctively human configuration of consciousness and activity” is what we call “the human soul.” (128) When Darwin pointed to “hope for a still higher destiny in the distant future” (128) he was shifting what is valuable in humanity from the soul to the body: and this naturally leads, I would suggest, to eugenics and racism. (see note 1)

One of the great differences between animals and ourselves is that we manufacture art. Chesterton says that “art is the notion of representing things in shadow or representative shape” (130). This is a critical insight: all creation an artistic representation by God, and humanity, in particular, is the antetype of the type of Jesus: the shadow of His reality. And we are so different from animals, that it is correct to see us a supernatural rather than a natural product. (131) The spirit of man can encompass all things in the natural world, but they cannot encompass it. (131) This alone shows that we are not purely natural.

Now, it is because we were created in the image of God that despite the sad history of humanity, there is hope for us. This is the other side of the teaching of original sin. It does not have to be rejected, it should, rather, be understood: it means that because we were created in so exalted a condition and have all fallen through sin, that by overcoming sin, we may be redeemed. In other words, humanity will advance not through evolution and its necessary correlate, eugenics, but through salvation in Christ, or, as Chesterton said, “by cooperating with God’s grace.” (136-137)

Note 1

In researching race theories since Darwin, it has become apparent to me that he himself not only believed what he called “European” man to be superior to other races, but that he related this to his theory of evolution. He saw the races as evolving, and the European race as a superior product of this evolution, although it was not the final word. Many apologists for Darwin argue either that he was not really so racist, or that if he had followed his own principles, he would not have been so: such is, for example, Agustín Fuentes, “On the Races of Man”: Race, Racism, Science, and Hope,” in A Most Interesting Problem: What Darwin’s Descent of Man Got Right and Wrong about Human Evolution, with contributions by: Janet Browne, edited by: Jeremy DeSilva, Princeton University Press, 2021.

However, Fuentes has to overlook very many matters to arrive at that view. See Richard Wiekart, From Darwin to Hitler, Palgrave, New York, 2004. And I do not think that there is any challenge now to the view that, as Jeynes says: “Eugenics was a natural outgrowth from the theory of evolution.” The theory of evolution asserted that it was the fittest humans that survived … Eugenics simply applied the theory of evolution to its logical conclusion. That is, to the extent that supposedly for the good of the human race only the most fit survive, eugenicists aver that for the well-being of the human race, there ought to be an effort made to ensure that only the fittest human beings will mate.” William H. Jeynes, “Race, Racism, and Darwinism,” Education and Urban Society 535-595, 43(5) 2011, p.546.

Jeynes also says that Christianity, “in the view of Darwinists, tended to impede the selection process rather than improve it. … Before the nineteenth century, the intellectual dominance of Christianity militated against some of the worst excesses of racism. Christian theology taught the universal brotherhood of all races, who descended from common ancestors. … Most Christians believed that all humans, regardless of race, were created in the image of God and possessed eternal souls. This meant that all people are extremely valuable, and it motivated Europeans to send missionaries to convert natives of other regions to Christianity . . . Most Christian churches believed that people of other races were valuable.” (p.547)

He adds that: “What is perhaps most troubling is that as much as one might try, it may be nearly impossible to decouple evolutionary theory and racism. This is because at the very heart of evolutionary theory rests the assumption that some races are superior to others and that only the fittest races will ultimately survive (p. 550)

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