Chesterton ended chapter two with the conclusion that reason must be balanced with the acceptance of mysticism. Being able to accept two seemingly apparent contradictions - an antinomy - is important: fate and free will, love and discipline, particle and wave. Rather than being a weakness, seeing from two different angles provides us with clearer vision and perception of depth. In chapter three, Chesterton begins to explore how the isolation of thought has deteriorated the applicability of man's reason. Man, the industrialist, has specialized truths so that individual truths are held and perfected with ignorance to and the neglect of other truths.
Going beyond the general example of extreme virtues in the scientist and the humanitarian, Chesterton provides a specific example in regard to humility. He spends a paragraph building up humility as an extremely important virtue, acknowledging its good. "For towers are not tall unless we look up at them; and giants are not giants unless they are larger than we...It is impossible without humility to enjoy anything - even pride." But Chesterton goes on to explain how the virtue of humility, isolated and taken to the extreme, is deleterious. He claims that humility has moved "from the organ of ambition" to the "organ of conviction." Chesterton says,
"A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert - himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt - the Divine Reason... [Modern humility] is practically a more poisonous humility than the wildest prostrations of the ascetic. The old humility was a spur that prevented a man from stopping; not a nail in his boot that prevented him from going on. For the old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether."
"At any street corner we may meet a man who utters the frantic and blasphemous statement that he may be wrong. Every day one comes across somebody who says that of course his view may not be the right one. Of course his view must be the right one, or it is not his view. We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table. We are in danger of seeing philosophers who doubt the law of gravity as being a mere fancy of their own. Scoffers of old time were too proud to be convinced; but these are too humble to be convinced. The meek do inherit the earth; but the modern sceptics are too meek even to claim their inheritance."
In chapter two, Chesterton made the claim that reason was the problem with modernity. Man was so utterly focused on reason - and not just any reason, but reason in isolation - that he had gone mad. Modern man’s thought process was just like the lunatic you'd find in a madhouse. Chesterton now expounds more on reason, saying that the issue has never been with reason itself, but rather the misunderstanding of it. His goal in this chapter and throughout the book is to defend reason, for "the whole modern world is at war with reason." But Chesterton also used the last chapter to claim that imagination has never been the problem of man. This is important, as many who hear Chesterton bash reason alone will likely charge that reason is infinitely better than imagination. Many moderns of his day, and our day, push back so hard against the "superstitions" of religion and the beliefs of our ancestors. Yet Chesterton will argue throughout the book that it is never (or rarely) the imagination that is the problem. The problems humanity face almost always lie with reason.
Chesterton acknowledges that religious authority has, like every other legal system, been "callous and full of a cruel apathy." It has been oppressive and unreasonable. "But the modern critics of religious authority are like men who should attack the police without ever having heard of burglars." Chesterton goes on to explain that there is a very real threat to the human mind, and it is religious structures that have been erected to protect society against this threat. What is the great threat? The threat is that "the human intellect is free to destroy itself."
Chesterton argues that moderns were destroying thought by teaching that there is no validity in any human thought. We are living several generations after Chesterton, and see the effects of such teaching in notions like relativism today. While the skeptics hammer religion with its uncertainty represented in faith, they fail to see that their alternative of reason requires faith as well. Chesterton says that "It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all. If you are merely a sceptic, you must sooner or later ask yourself the question, ' Why should ANYTHING go right; even observation and deduction? Why should not good logic be as misleading as bad logic? They are both movements in the brain of a bewildered ape?'" Chesterton seems to be making an early form of Plantinga's famous argument against knowing what we know in a naturalistic world. For if there is no grounding of truth in an unchanging, purposeful creation, what confidence can we have in knowing that we know? Evolution guides for survival, not the attaining of truth. While we may come to understand some truths, in a naturalistic world, this would be mere coincidence. We can have no certainty in such a world that we know truth, even if we do in fact hold some true ideas. This is exactly why religion has been important throughout the ages. Whether right or wrong, religion has tended to provide man with a stable and objective grounding for thought and morality. Even if religion is wrong, and materialism right, religion has been useful. And if it has been useful, though wrong, materialists should embrace it, as utility and survival are the goals of their ideology. Either way, whether we need it for truth or we need it for a society's survival, religion wins.
Chesterton points out that the crusades, creeds, hierarchies, and persecutions that we see throughout history were not organized for the suppression of reason, as most atheists assert. Rather, they were organized to defend reason from the deterioration brought about by freethought. Authority and all that comes with it are only as legitimate as that in which they are grounded. If there is no ultimate authority, God, then all authority is only as strong as the grounding of physical might or collective agreement - both of which are ever changing and groundless. Chesterton goes on to explain several instances in which reason dies in modernity. One example he gives is that of placing progress on a pedestal. He goes on to explain how losing one's grounding in absolutes leads to senselessness.
"We often hear it said, for instance, 'What is right in one age is wrong in another.' This is quite reasonable, if it means that there is a fixed aim, and that certain methods attain at certain times and not at other times. If women, say, desire to be elegant, it may be that they are improved at one time by growing fatter and at another time by growing thinner. But you can't say they are improved by ceasing to wish to be elegant and beginning to wish to be oblong. If the standard changes, how can there be improvement, which implies a standard? Nietzsche started a nonsensical idea that men had once sought as good what we now call evil; if it were so, we could not talk of surpassing or even falling short of them. How can you overtake Jones if you walk in the other direction? You cannot discuss whether one people has succeeded more in being miserable than another succeeded in being happy. It would be like discussing whether Milton was more puritanical than a pig is fat...The theory of a complete change of standards in human history does not merely deprive us of the pleasure of honouring our fathers; it deprives us even of the more modern and aristocratic pleasure of despising them."
Chesterton then declares that the end of reason and free thought had already arrived and become bankrupt. While many freethinkers were proclaiming a new age of reason, they didn't realize that the age of reason had already passed them by.
"It is vain for eloquent atheists to talk of the great truths that will be revealed if once we see free thought begin. We have seen it end. It has no more questions to ask; it has questioned itself. You cannot call up any wilder vision than a city in which men ask themselves if they have any selves. You cannot fancy a more sceptical world than that in which men doubt if there is a world. It might certainly have reached its bankruptcy more quickly and cleanly if it had not been feebly hampered by the application of indefensible laws of blasphemy or by the absurd pretense that modern England is Christian. But it would have reached the bankruptcy anyhow."
Unfortunately, Chesterton was not being hyperbolic when he makes his claims, as we see his predictions evidenced today. The bankruptcy of freethought seemed relatively obvious to Chesterton, as he identified "thinkers" who attempted to produce a coherent worldview to fill the void that freethought opened beneath their feet. This group of thinkers embellished the will. Without foundation, they proclaimed that humanity's true call was to will for themselves. But this - the embracing of foundationlessness - is a vanity just as empty as freethought. And this seems to be where we largely find ourselves today. Society embellishes the will.
Chesterton goes on to show that one of the main goals of will worshipers is to overthrow notions of "thou shalt not." This is exactly what the majority of Westerners - moral relativists - do today. For if there is no grounding and no objectivity in the prescriptive realm, then what I want should be elevated. This is what makes me free. But Chesterton sees two glaring problems. First, he recognizes that you can never get rid of "thou shalt nots." For "it is surely obvious that 'thou shalt not' is only one of the necessary corollaries of 'I will.' 'I will go to the Lord Mayor's Show, and thou shalt not stop me.'" Will worshipers cannot escape the assertion of moral truths.
Second, Chesterton points out that we intuitively understand the importance of limitation and grounding. He says,
"Anarchism adjures us to be bold and creative artists, and care for no law or limits. But it is impossible to be an artist and not care for laws and limits. Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame. If you draw a giraffe, you must draw him with a long neck. If, in your bold creative way, you hold yourself free to draw a giraffe with a short neck, you will really find that you are not free to draw a giraffe. The moment you step into the world of facts, you step into a world of limits. You can free things from alien or accidental laws, but not from the laws of their own nature. you may, if you like, free a tiger from his bars; but do not free him from his stripes. Do not free a camel of the burden of his hump: you may be freeing him from being a camel. Do not go about as a demagogue encouraging triangles to break out of the prison of their three sides. If a triangle breaks out of its three sides, its life comes to a lamentable end. Somebody wrote a work called 'The Loves of the Triangles'; I never read it, but I am sure that if triangles were loved, they were loved for being triangular. This is certainly the case with all artistic creation, which is in some ways the most decisive example of pure will. The artist loves his limitations: they constitute the THING he is doing."
Revolutionists and anarchists - ultimate will worshipers - are often the product of freethought that has run its course. Those who are characterized by such ideological leanings desire to throw off the structure of institutions and the constraint of foundational, objective morality. But as Chesterton points out, "the modern revolutionist, being an infinite sceptic, is always engaged in undermining his own mines. In his book on politics he attacks men for trampling on morality; in his book on ethics he attacks morality for trampling on men. Therefore the modern man in revolt has become practically useless for all purposes of revolt. By rebelling against everything he has lost his right to rebel against anything."
This is where we end, with the suicide of thought - the Tolstoyan's (representing extreme rules and regulation, and that nearly all actions are bad) and the Nietzscheite's (representing the notion that all actions are good).
"The Tolstoyan's will is frozen by a Buddhist instinct that all special actions are evil. But the Nietzscheite's will is quite equally frozen by his view that all special actions are good; for if all special actions are good, none of them are special. They stand at the crossroads, and one hates all the roads and the other likes all the roads. The result is- well, some things are not hard to calculate. They stand at the cross-roads. Modern man is left in indecision or in wavering decision that leads nowhere. They are all on the road to the emptiness of the asylum. For madness may be defined as using mental activity so as to reach mental helplessness; and they have nearly reached it. He who thinks he is made of glass, thinks to the destruction of thought; for glass cannot think. He who wills to reject nothing, wills the destruction of will; for will is not only the choice of something, but the rejection of almost everything."
We are living in a world where everyone praises the will and deplores rejection and judgment. Yet few seem to recognize that asserting one's will towards one particular goal or movement is the rejection of all other goals and all other movements. When they proclaim that there are no boundaries, they demolish form and purpose - for those things only exist within parameters and intention. Just as the triangle ceases to be a triangle when its form is rejected, so humanity ceases to be humanity - as they were truly purposed to be - when their form is rejected. This notion has drastic implications for many issues today. One of those issues is homosexuality. Regardless of where one stands on the issue, most people usually fail to grasp what the root of the discussion should be. Liberals call conservatives bigots, and conservatives call liberals depraved. The liberal points out that conservatives aren't being who they should be as humans - loving, tolerant, non-judgmental, respecter's of personal choice and desire. The conservative points out that the liberal isn't being who they should be - will worshipers, desire flesh followers, and usurper's of God's design for the family. Notice that the question at stake is "what does it mean to be human." Where individuals want to be affirmed in their desires and choices, a Christian must ask a very different question than a will worshiper. A will worshiper focuses on the desire. A Christian focuses on the design. Where the desire and design align, it is good. Where the desire is counter to our form, the desire must be resisted. When it comes to homosexuality - in the minds of many conservative Christians - to affirm the choice of homosexuality would be akin to affirming a triangle's choice to add another side to itself. You could certainly love a shape with four sides for having four sides, but you are no longer loving a triangle. Wouldn't it be more loving for a person to correct the triangle's misconception of itself than to let it go on living like a square, when in fact it was not?
Likewise, if God has created humanity to live and flourish and glorify God within particular parameters, we can love individuals for making choices outside of those parameters. But then we are no longer affirming their humanity, their image bearing nature, God's purposes, and God's glory. On Christianity, denouncing a choice does not mean you hate an individual, it means you love them so much that you want them to be who they were made to be - the best they can be and the only way they can truly be fulfilled. You want the triangle to be what a triangle is supposed to be, and a human to be what a human is truly supposed to be. This is why a true Christian should be able to correct in love. The true Christian way is not trying to correct or assert that Christians are better, but rather showing care and compassion for an individual who is acting in a manner less than God has intended for them. Depravity and deviation from God's plan should first and foremost break our hearts. This is where many Christians go wrong in their judgmentalism and correction. They approach other sinners with contempt and hatred. Discipline and correction are loving endeavors, as every parent should know. The whole discussion goes much, much deeper than this, but the underlying principles hold. For purpose to stand, there must be boundaries and there must be will - there must be design. If there is no design and no form to which a human should align, then both the conservative and liberal have no ground to stand on as they judge each other based on fictitious and fabricated guidelines of their own creation. Judgment must be implemented to maintain boundaries and form, and judgment is always implemented when the will is exerted. For creatures who have will and seek purpose, judgment is an unavoidable, invaluable feature.
I want to end this section with a beautiful quote from Chesterton that foreshadows what is to come. For as Chesterton himself admits, these first three chapters were simply the drudgery he had to do to get to the good stuff. Here, Chesterton shows us someone who is not stuck at a crossroads, yet it is an individual who modern man could not wrap their heads around. Chesterton will use this individual to show us how the presence of seeming contradiction can be embodied, as he leads readers on into future chapters where he will assert a positive explanatory view for how one can consistently live and reason with imagination and religion. In fact, he will use this individual to show that these notions are not only coherent together, but inseparable.
"Joan of Arc was not stuck at the crossroads, either by rejecting all the paths like Tolstoy, or by accepting them all like Nietzsche. She chose a path, and went down it like a thunderbolt. Yet Joan, when I came to think of her, had in her all that was true either in Tolstoy or Nietzsche, all that was even tolerable in either of them. I thought of all that is noble in Tolstoy, the pleasure in plain things, especially in plain pity, the actualities of the earth, the reverence for the poor, the dignity of the bowed back. Joan of Arc had all that and with this great addition, that she endured poverty as well as admiring it; whereas Tolstoy is only a typical aristocrat trying to find out its secret. And then I thought of all that was brave and proud and pathetic in poor Nietzsche, and his mutiny against the emptiness and timidity of our time. I thought of his cry for the ecstatic equilibrium of danger, his hunger for the rush of great horses, his cry to arms. Well, Joan of Arc had all that, and again with this difference, that she did not praise fighting, but fought. We KNOW that she was not afraid of an army, while Nietzsche, for all we know, was afraid of a cow. Tolstoy only praised the peasant; she was the peasant. Nietzsche only praised the warrior; she was the warrior. She beat them both at their own antagonistic ideals; she was more gentle than the one, more violent than the other. Yet she was a perfectly practical person who did something, while they are wild speculators who do nothing. It was impossible that the thought should not cross my mind that she and her faith had perhaps some secret of moral unity and utility that has been lost. And with that thought came a larger one, and the colossal figure of her Master had also crossed the theatre of my thoughts. The same modern difficulty which darkened the subject-matter of Antole France also darkened that of Ernest Renan. Renan also divided his hero's pity from his hero's pugnacity. Renan even represented the righteous anger at Jerusalem as a mere nervous breakdown after the idyllic expectations of Galilee. As if there were any inconsistency between having a love for humanity and having a hatred for inhumanity! Altruists, with thin, weak voices, denounce Christ as an egoist. Egoists (with even thinner and weaker voices) denounce Him as an altruist. In our present atmosphere, such cavils are comprehensible enough. The love of a hero is more terrible than the hatred of a tyrant. The hatred of a hero is more generous than the love of a philanthropist. There is a huge and heroic sanity of which moderns can only collect fragments. There is a giant of whom we see only the lopped arms and legs walking about. They have torn the soul of Christ into silly strips, labelled egoism and altruism, and they are equally puzzled by His insane magnificence and His insane meekness. They have parted His garments among them, and for His vestures they have cast lots; though the coat was without seam woven from the top throughout.