G.K. Chesterton on truth

The following quote is from G.K. Chesterton, courtesy of Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick:

Dear Mr. Chesterton,

How can you think Christianity is true? What about all the other religions that claim to be true?


Free Thinker

Dear Former Thinker,

The vulgar modern argument used against religion, and lately against common decency, would be absolutely fatal to any idea of liberty. It is perpetually said that because there are a hundred religions claiming to be true, it is therefore impossible that one of them should really be true. The argument would appear on the face of it to be illogical, if anyone nowadays troubled about logic. It would be as reasonable to say that because some people thought the earth was flat, and others (rather less incorrectly) imagined it was round, and because anybody is free to say that it is triangular or hexagonal, or a rhomboid, therefore it has no shape at all; or its shape can never be discovered; and, anyhow, modern science must be wrong in saying it is an oblate spheroid. The world must be some shape, and it must be that shape and no other; and it is not self-evident that nobody can possibly hit on the right one. What so obviously applies to the material shape of the world equally applies to the moral shape of the universe. The man who describes it may not be right, but it is no argument against his rightness that a number of other people must be wrong.

Your friend,

G.K. Chesterton

Because the scientific method does not apply to any of various issues, people have used that to argue that, therefore, there can be no truth. G.K. Chesterton answered that conundrum rather easily as seen in the above quote. You see the result of the idea that there can be no truth in various historical and other studies. It has now become de rigueur for non-scholars to promote and dramatize every person who promotes an idea that is in conflict with any majority held theory. Has history recorded many more than one time that a majority held theory is wrong? Yes! But, let me bring up two facts. One is the reality of a paradigm shift shows that these events are actually quite rare in world history. The second fact is that when a paradigm shift happens, it is generally rather quickly accepted (as long as rather quickly means within a generation or less).

What is not found in history is a paradigm shift that involves giant conspiracy theories. Generally a paradigm shift is effective within a generation or less. That is because the new explanation fits the data so much better than the old explanation that the shift is not difficult. The problem we have now is that it has become common for many people to accept one or another theory based merely on their private emotional feeling that it fits, with no relation to any gathering of facts that might solidify the uncommon explanation. Thus, the problem that G.K. Chesterton faced in the 1800′s has become ever so much worse.

This problem will not be easily resolved.



  1. Peter McCombs says

    “What so obviously applies to the material shape of the world equally applies to the moral shape of the universe.”

    At the moment when the material shape of the world is observed, it is definite. But the moral shape of the universe appears to man no more definite than the aesthetic shape of the universe, or the poetic shape of the universe. What objective instrument can quantify it and report reliably on the facts? There is manifestly less argument about the material shape of the world than about the moral shape of the universe; could it be that every man who describes it is right, and that _all_ the churches are true after some fashion?

    • says

      That all religions are true after some fashion is actually supported by Saint Paul in Romans 2, “for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.” That is in all religions there is a remnant of true knowledge that does indeed guide people, but also becomes the evidence for or against them at the final judgment.

      But, the other side of the statement you made would be that “all” churches (or synagogues or mosques or …) are wrong after some fashion. Taken at the pure meaning of the words, that would also be true. However, that is not how those words are used. Those words are used to say that no Church could possibly hold a deposit of Truth and is the pillar and support of it. More than that, one runs into the problem that if “all” churches are true after some fashion, then it is equally true that “all” churches are false after some fashion.

      This affects our salvation. The Orthodox (and Roman Catholics and Wesleyans and …) are often accused of leaving their believers to live in fear because they have no “assurance” of salvation, that is, we are not Calvinists. But, I can think of no more fear and terror inducing theology than that no church (and perhaps no religion) can show me a clear path to God. For how am I to know if that road that appears to be trending upward, but cannot be clearly seen, will not over the next rise drop me into a chasm from which I will not recover?

  2. Rafael says

    Looking forward to the continuation, Fr. Ernesto, and kinda missing your voice over at the iMonastery…

  3. says

    Dear Father,

    I don’t think Chesterton’s point answers THAT specific question. I think the parallel of his argument confirms that there is one religion that can be true despite lots of others claiming it to be (i.e. one premise being true regarding the shape of the earth despite many others claiming themselves to be). Still it, doesn’t answer if CHRISTIANITY is THE true religion. (Now you and I know that is the case, but through other means, not the above argument).

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