What, if anything, is it that makes the human uniquely human? (And why are Goats not Gallant but Humans are Heroes?)

jordantmoody —  October 2, 2013 — Leave a comment
Cover of "The Everlasting Man"

Cover of The Everlasting Man


I have been reading G.K. Chesterton’s Everlasting Man and I have been intrigued by the questions he posed regarding life and substance. No one can doubt there is life. Creationist’s and Darwinist’s do not argue life’s existence but rather on its conception, destination, and purpose. Many question whether there is any substance in life. The word substance, we may alike it to purpose or fulfillment and since we do not doubt there is life than the arguing must fall on the purpose of this life. Is there any purpose? How do we find satisfaction in this life? What gives my life substance? Those are all questions men have been asking since the beginning of time. G.K. Chesterton (GKC) in his book, The Everlasting Man, seeks to connect the dots between life and substance.


Day-dreams are about existence; not about how we can live, but about why we do (GKC 110).


What do you day-dream about? Yes, it is true we often dream about things that are innately temporal and materialistic. But why has mankind consistently questioned the reason for his existence? Are we not more advanced versions of cows(Darwinism)? Certainly not! GKC’s reason for this is that mankind yearns for more than an economic (materialistic) life of existence. We yearn for a substance to give us purpose. We yearn for ideals and elemental outlooks such as the “pursuit of happiness, liberty, and equality.” You don’t see cows or squirrels rising up and giving their lives for the cause of their nation. Animals are machines that run on instinct and humans are vessels that are only full when run on inspiration.


Let us look at GKC’s own words as he describes these thoughts.


Chapter 7: The War of the Gods and Demons


(snippets summarizing his topic and thoughts)


The materialist theory of history, that all politics and ethics are the expression of economics, is a very simple fallacy indeed. It consists simply of confusing the necessary conditions of life with the normal preoccupations of life, that are quite a different thing.

Cows may be purely economic, in the sense that we cannot see that they do much beyond grazing and seeking better grazing grounds; and that is why a history of cows in twelve volumes would not be very lively reading. Sheep and goats may be pure economists in their external action at least; but that is why the sheep has hardly been a hero of epic wars and empires thought worthy of detailed narration; and even the more active quadruped has not inspired a book for boys called Golden Deeds of Gallant Goats or any similar title. It will be hard to maintain that the Arctic explorers went north with the same material motive that made the swallows go south. And if you leave things like all the religious wars and all the merely adventurous explorations out of the human story, it will not only cease to be human at all but cease to be a story at all.

The outline of history is made of these decisive curves and angles determined by the will of man.

Economic history would not even be history. But there is a deeper fallacy besides this obvious fact; that men need not live for food merely because they cannot live without food The truth is that the thing most present to the mind of man is not the economic machinery necessary to his existence; but rather that existence itself; the world which he sees when he wakes every morning and the nature of his general position in it. There is something that is nearer to him than livelihood, and that is life. For once that he remembers exactly what work produces his wages and exactly what wages produce his meals, he reflects ten times that it is a fine day or it is a queer world, or wonders whether life is worth living, or wonders whether marriage is a failure, or is pleased and puzzled with his own children, or remembers his own youth, or in any such fashion vaguely reviews the mysterious lot of man. This is true of the majority even of the wage-slaves of our morbid modern industrialism, which by its hideousness and in-humanity has really forced the economic issue to the front. It is immeasurably more true of the multitude of peasants or hunters or fishers who make up the real mass of mankind.”

Even those dry pedants who think that ethics depend on economics must admit that economics depend on existence. 

And any number of normal doubts and day-dreams are about existence; not about how we can live, but about why we do.

And the proof of it is simple; as simple as suicide… Suppose that a man wishes to die, and the professor of political economy becomes rather a bore with his elaborate explanations of how he is to live. And all the departures and decisions that make our human past into a story have this character of diverting the direct course of pure economics. As the economist may be excused from calculating the future salary of suicide, so he may be excused from providing an old age pension for a martyr…

But all these come back not to an economic calculation about livelihood but to an elemental outlook upon life.

They all come back to what man fundamentally feels, when he looks forth from those strange windows which we call the eyes, upon that strange vision that we call the world.


So one unique factor to mankind is our self-awareness. Are cows self-aware? Are goats self-aware? No. But humans recognize ourselves as filling a roll in some cosmic play. We theorize our position in relation to the harmony of the universe. How is it we constantly feel the world rather than simply be. It is if we are made outside the world then placed in it and we now yearn for something beyond our temporal placement. We seek the person who placed us here and we seek the place where that creator is.(God and Heaven)


Goats are not gallant or heroic because they do not yearn for causes greater than their own well-being. Humans can be heroic because we are all made in the image of the ultimate hero, Jesus Christ.


Mankind fights for more than economic subsistence and G.K. Chesterton explains this idea as he postulates the reasons for war?


WHY DO FIGHTERS FIGHT? What is the psychology that sustains the terrible and wonderful thing called a war? 

There is something we all know which can only be rendered, in an appropriate language, as realpolitik (def. a system of politics or principles based on practical rather than moral considerations). As a matter of fact, it is an almost insanely unreal politik. It is always stubbornly and stupidly repeating that men fight for material ends, without reflecting for a moment that the material ends are hardly ever material to the men who fight. In any case no man will die for practical politics, just as no man will die for pay. Nero could not hire a hundred Christians to be eaten by lions at a shilling an hour; for men will not be martyred for money. But the vision called up by real politik, or realistic politics, is beyond example crazy and incredible.

Does anybody in the world believe that d soldier says, ‘My leg is nearly dropping off, but I shall go on till it drops; for after all I shall enjoy all the advantages of my government obtaining a warm-water port in the Gulf of Finland.’

Can anybody suppose that a clerk turned conscript says, ‘If I am gassed I shall probably die in torments, but it is a comfort to reflect that should I ever decide to become a pearl-diver in the South Seas, that career is now open to me and my countrymen.’

Materialist history is the most madly incredible of all histories, or even of all romances. Whatever starts wars, the thing that sustains wars is something in the soul; that is something akin to religion. It is what men feel about life and about death.


Do soldiers and heroes die for purely temporal implications?


A man near to death is dealing directly with an absolute; it is nonsense to say he is concerned only with relative and remote complications that death in any case will end. If he is sustained by certain loyalties, they must be loyalties as simple as death. They are generally two ideas, which are only two sides of one idea. The first is the love of something said to be threatened, if it be only vaguely known as home; the second is dislike and defiance of some strange thing that threatens it. The first is far more philosophical than it sounds, though we need not discuss it here. A man does not want his national home destroyed or even changed, because he cannot even remember all the good things that go with it; just as he does not want his house burnt down, because he can hardly count all the things he would miss. Therefore he fights for what sounds like a hazy abstraction, but is really a house. But the negative side of it is quite as noble as well as quite as strong. Men fight hardest when they feel that the foe is at once an old enemy and an eternal stranger, that his atmosphere is alien and antagonistic, as the French feel about the Prussian or the Eastern Christians about the Turk. If we say it is a difference of religion, people will drift into dreary bickering about sects and dogmas. We will pity them and say it is a difference about death and daylight; a difference that does really come like a dark shadow between our eyes and the day. Men can think of this difference even at the point of death; for it is a difference about the meaning of life.


Men are moved in these things by something far higher and holier than policy; by hatred. When men hung on in the darkest days of the Great War, suffering either in their bodies or in their souls for those they loved, they were long past caring about details of diplomatic objects as motives for their refusal to surrender. Of myself and those I knew best I can answer for the vision that made surrender impossible. It was the vision of the German Emperor’s face as he rode into Paris. This is not the sentiment which some of my idealistic friends describe as Love. I am quite content to call it hatred; the hatred of hell and all its works, and to agree that as they do not believe in hell they need not believe in hatred. But in the face of this prevalent prejudice, this long introduction has been unfortunately necessary, to ensure an understanding of what is meant by a religious war. There is a religious war when two worlds meet; that is when two visions of the world meet; or in more modern language when two moral atmospheres meet


GKC goes on to describe historical examples of one nation fighting against what it considered was evil. This cause is a dominate theme throughout all of humanity.


Hatred for evil is a cause or a thread that unifies all of humanity together. Some call it a sense of right and wrong. But this cosmic battle has been waged since the beginning of time and it is something that expresses the unique composition of what makes humans human. We are made up of some kind of conscience. A knowledge of a right and a wrong and a willingness to die for the cause. That feeling is  something akin to religion and Christianity. There is an ember burning inside all of us to fight against evil and to stamp out wickedness. This ember makes us human. This ember is the image of God as he wrote it on our hearts. God’s nature is ultimately the foundation of our nature, (though marred by sin) we still see light of what it once was. This ember is kindled by the Holy Spirit when he saves us from the darkness that is our original sin. Here is a good summary statement from another blogger who wrote on GKC.




Thoughts: from Windmillfighter


That song ‘War what is it good for” misses the whole point of  ‘Deleta est Carthago’that evil must be fought at all costs.  We do not truly fight people but powers.  Evil must be destroyed and evil is clear to spot:  Carthage killed babies for the demon Molach, Hitler’s Germany exterminated millions for the demon of a pure race, Communist Russia killed thousands of dissenters for the demon of power, abortion clinics have killed billions for the demon of choice.  And every demon is fought by the Church – and even in defeat ‘Rome’ rises again.


Years ago I was told by a bitter professor that religion particularly Christianity is the cause of all war.  I agree with that, Christianity fights – if it did not there would be a slaughter.  Christianity (as in the eternal church, not just the practices of the religion) is the only thing holding back the tides of Darkness.  It is the church that has brought Sudan and Darfur to the world’s attention, it is the church that really toppled the iron curtain, it is the church that fights in every battle against evil.  If it does not fight, there is a slaughter.  When it faces a Hannibal, it will win because the church is not concerned with economic reason but only concerned with the true causes: the abstract causes – the weight of glory.


However what Chesterton is writing about here is not the church fighting.  At this time the church is safely held by the Jews in a small strip of land.  Yet the fight against the demons was by the same people in years to come would enslave the Jews.  There is an ember even in the souls of those who do not know the church to fight against evil…





I'm a Pastor/Teaching Elder at Hope Fellowship Church in New Ipswich, NH.

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