In the G.K. Chesterton's The Ball and the Cross there's a point where it's obvious that Chesterton doesn't think Evan McIan's initial philosophy, if taken to its fullness, would bring about peace on Earth.

What exactly was it about his philosophy that left him open to temptation (in his dream) and how did his viewpoint change. Furthermore, what was it about seeing the old man that made him want to stop fighting?

I ask this as a Catholic who feels compelled to smash things occasionally, but somehow feels it's not the right thing to do!

1 Answer 1


I imagine that two important principles would be violated if Mr. McIan's philosophy were taken to its logical extreme:

  • Free Will (and thereby the loss of Love)
  • Religious Liberty (or liberty of conscience)

1) In a world were no evil could take place, even in principle, there would be no place for truly freely given Love: which is to say, there would be no place for Love. By its very nature, Love needs to be freely given. The same is true of Loyalty, Respect, Admiration, etc. But if there is no free will, these cannot exist.

2) Once Free Will has been instituted, then it is possible for people to be so utterly lost as to not not be able to see or recognize Truth. Indeed, it may come to pass (as it often does), that a person may confuse a lesser truth with Truth, and if in addition such a person has a healthy understanding of the proper response to Truth, may cling fiercely to this lesser truth with everything in their being. The Catholic Church has come to accept that such a person cannot be taken out of error by force or violence: that every person deserves a right to follow his conscience (so long as no serious danger comes to others) as part of his human dignity given them by God himself. Why afford such a lofty place to conscience? Because it is in the depths of our conscience that we meet God himself. To be denied the right to follow our conscience is to be denied the right to meet God. Yes, it is possible that the conscience of many persons is ill-formed; or that when people think they are following their consciences they are actually following something else (such as their ego). But the significance of conscience is so great that this is a risk that must be taken. We must prod the consciences of men, certainly; we must try to inform their consciences too. But we cannot force belief into man and remain of God.

Why would Mr. McIan's viewpoint changed upon meeting the Old Man? Barring miraculous intervention, I would guess it had to do with the most humble demeanor of the Old Man. In spite of the obvious mystical nature of the Old Man, he nonetheless allowed himself the indignity of being imprisoned, and gave himself into the hands of the evil-doers. Kind of like Christ that way, I would say. And his faith remained, despite the ill-treatment.

I think the Old Man served as an example of the approach we should have about teaching The Faith: breaking things can break persons, and thus force their actions, but not their beliefs.

I say this as a Catholic man who is afraid of breaking things lest he offends people. But I do believe in self-defense, and if people are breaking my God's things, I may just have to defend them.

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