Not long ago, I stumbled upon a treasure of wit and wisdom. In 1911, Holbrook Jackson, a disciple of Nietzsche and Fabian socialism, wrote a book called Platitudes in the Making. Jackson communicated his progressive “wisdom” through a collection of short and memorable statements, properly categorized for the readers of his day. In celebration of the book’s release, he sent a copy to G. K. Chesterton, who, with a green pencil proceeded to work his way through Jackson’s book, commenting on nearly every one of the platitudes.
In 1955, in a used bookstore in San Francisco, Chesterton’s personal copy of Platitudes was discovered, with all of his markings intact. I recently came across one of the hard-to-find facsimile editions of Chesterton’s copy of Platitudes. It is simply marvelous to watch how Chesterton tested every platitude, no matter how wise it may have sounded, and responded with humor and verve.
A few of my favorites:
- As soon as an idea is accepted it is time to reject it. No: it is time to build another idea on it. You are always rejecting if you build nothing.
- Truth is one’s own conception of things. The Big Blunder. All thought is an attempt to discover if one’s own conception is true or not.
- No opinion matters finally: except your own. Said the man who thought he was a rabbit.
- Don’t think—do! Do think! Do!
- Every custom was once an eccentricity; every idea was once an absurdity. No, no, no. Some ideas were always absurdities. This is one of them.
- The future will look upon man as we look upon the ichthyosaurus—as an extinct monster. The “future” won’t look upon anything. No eyes.
- Doubt is the prerogative of the intellect; Faith, of the emotions. Nowadays the emotions have all the Doubt and the intellect all the Faith. The mind exists not to doubt but to decide.
- The great revolution of the future will be Nature’s revolt against man. I hope Man will not hesitate to shoot.
- When we love we are most like animals. When we love we are at our best. We are never like animals. And least of all in love.
- Love is protective only when it is free. Love is never free.
Chesterton’s wisdom and wonder at the world comes through in his little green responses to the worldly wisdom of his day.
But I wonder: are Christians equipped to test the platitudes of worldly wisdom in our own times? Do we even think to test the platitudes? Do we even think?
Much of what passes today as “common sense” are merely beliefs that are commonly held, but is our common sense actually sensible? Is it true?
This volume has reinforced my desire to test the platitudes of our age with counter-cultural thought. Slogans and sayings, new terms and shifts in language, ideas that gain a foothold and then spread throughout our society—all of them should be put to the test of deliberative and biblical evaluation. Chesterton’s copy of Platitudes shows us he tested the world’s platitudes with thoughtful humor. We need more people like him today.