The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton: Summary
Rumor has it that cavemen waved clubs, knocked women down, and dragged them away by their hair when they wanted sex. There is zero evidence that this ever happened. If cavemen were so rude, how is it that cavewomen were so modest and refined?
People are interested in everything about the caveman except what he did in the cave. In the cave we do not find clubs, or the cracked skulls of female conquests. We see drawings and paintings of animals made by artists—not by animals. Animals do not make art. It is clear that the caveman took pleasure in watching and illustrating animals. There is not a speck of evidence that he was ever violent or ferocious.
Cave paintings do not even prove cavemen lived in caves any more than the discovery of the wine cellar below my home a thousand years from now would prove I live underground. The cave could have been a religious shrine, or a refuge during war, or a place for secret meetings. If man is just an animal, why have we found no pictures of animals drawing men? Man does not differ from beasts by degree but by kind. No ape can even draw a decent stick figure.
We know almost nothing about prehistoric man for the simple fact that he was prehistoric. It is amazing the number of educated people who accept whatever some quack says about what he knows happened a million years ago—which quite honestly is nothing.
As far as we really know, the human mind is virtually unchanged since time began. People around the world seem to have engaged in worship as far back as we can tell but no animals do. Animals also show a serious lack of reverent remembrance for their ancestors.
All we do know from history and legend is that man has always had a mystical side and he wears clothes—vestments for the priests that are men. Nakedness is not natural to man. Clothes are not only for warmth but also for decency, dignity, and decoration.
Among living creatures on earth, man is so strange it is as if he was a stranger on the earth. Man is wrapped by bandages he calls clothes, sits on what he calls furniture—and he laughs. The more we look at man as an animal, the less he looks like one. Man is a creator as well as a creature. It is not natural to see man as a natural product. He seems supernatural.
The earth is an extraordinary place. The question is, where did the universe, life, and man come from? Nobody can imagine how nothing can turn into something. No one can explain how something turned into something else.
Evolution is mistaken for an explanation. The supposed slowness of evolution is no excuse for its absurdity. The pace of something does not make it more logical. If you don’t believe in miracles, a slow miracle would be just as incredible as a quick one.
In most science, evidence is increased by further experimentation. But scientists cannot make men; or go back in time to see the first man be created. Yet believers in science are often fanatical in their claims about the weakest of all scientific theories—evolution.
At natural history museums, displays confidently explicate the "descent" of man to millions of gullible schoolchildren as if these crazy ideas were fact while totally ignoring the Bible Creation Story as “not scientific.” They even recreate a mother for the human race, a little ape they call "Lucy," as if she were Queen Victoria—a historical personage.
Whatever men have believed throughout time a recurrent theme seems to be that there is something wrong with mankind—a sort of original sin, as it were. The other constant we see all over the world in all cultures at all times is this: a father, a mother, and children.
At the dawn of history we find man already civilized. The first two human societies for which we have reliable and detailed records are those of Egypt and Babylon—civilizations that boast vast and splendid achievements of genius. Today we do have savages living in our midst, but it is likely they represent a decline of the human rather than an evolution in progress. We do know that civilizations decline.
It seems that the first humans were very much like us. We see princes and priests and kings and warriors and teachers in the most ancient records. It seems there have always been civilized men and savage, primitive men living at the same time on earth—not that one evolved into the other.
The Antichrist spreads the fallacy that religious people have always fought progress, as if a priest was against the invention of the wheel. It is far more likely that a priest invented the wheel. It is nearly certain that priests invented written language.
The one fundamental fact about men before Christ is that they were individually insignificant to the state. They toiled like ants and died like flies building the great pyramids.
The religions of the world and their founders are often grouped together, but they show very little common character.
Confucianism may be a civilization, but it is not a religion.
There is something unique in world history about the Jews—an ancient culture scattered around the world but still distinct. I mean, why are Jews still Jews even though their original nation was demolished nearly 2000 years ago? One does not meet Sumerians or Visigoths or Hittites scattered about.
Those with evolution mania seem convinced that everything grows from a seed, forgetting that seeds come from trees.
Godless thinkers teach our children that monotheism evolved from polytheism, but is that true? Is it not more likely that polytheism “devolved” from monotheism? Among the most primitive savages we find the worship of many gods, but also one chief god who was there first. In fact, in polytheism everywhere, we find the tendency to add more and more gods—not to subtract from them making them less and less until they are whittled down to one God.
Possibly the old God stood for morality that was constraining, and the people sought out demons who would approve of and even encourage whatever they wanted to do and added these demons to their pantheon of gods. Gods and demigods multiply like herrings and suggest the family of gods may have one founder. That mythology grows more and more complicated suggests that in the beginning it was simpler.
Socrates and Virgil believed in God. They refer to Him in the singular in their writings. I believe that all men knew about God the Father at one time and later devolved into paganism with a new motto: the more gods the merrier.
Myths, Pagans & Demons
A myth is a work of the imagination, and therefore a work of art by a poet. Pagan mythology and folklore about goblins in the woods, elves, leprechauns, fairies of the forests, trolls, and nymphs—from Valhalla to Mt Olympus we have stories we sympathize with as men or we wouldn’t be human.
But these myths were never a religion in the sense that Judaism, Islam, and the Christian Faith are religions. Odin and Thor and Freya are on par with Jack and the Beanstalk not Jesus of Nazareth.
The pagan feels the presence of powers about which he guesses and invents. Paganism is an attempt to reach the divine reality through the imagination. Mythology differs from religion as a landscape painting differs from a real landscape. The painting may look very much like a landscape. The chief difference is that a picture is not a landscape.
Apart from the white magic of mythology there is the black magic of witchcraft. Some people have the impulse to seek to employ the dark powers of demons. A cult of demons is often expressed among savages as a cult of deities.
Sooner or later some men will make a habit of doing the most disgusting thing they can think of.
The original meaning of cannibalism, killing babies, bestiality, and homosexual acts lies in the hope that extreme evil will enlist demonic power on one’s behalf.
It is not that men denied the horribleness of what they did, but that they knew it was horrible and did it anyway. Some men indulge in self-conscious diabolism to cast their lot in with the powers of darkness.
Some high civilizations enthroned demons as gods, often portrayed as dragons or serpents. Human sacrifice—often of babies—was usually involved. The Aztec, Mayans, and Inca were all Devil-worshippers. Their demonic idols were made as hideous as possible as opposed to the beauty of Greek mythological gods.
Polytheism and paganism—except for the darker strands of demonic paganism—were superficial and insincere. Pagans and polytheists never saw their religion the way Christians see theirs—as an all-encompassing worldview of complete truth with something to say about everything.
Tyre and Sidon were devil-worshipping societies, though they called Satan "Baal Moloch." They saw worshipping demons as a shortcut to worldly success. It was against such demonic people that God raised up the Hebrews—to save the world.
Carthage was a high civilization, mature and polished, that abounded in luxury and refinement. These were not primitive people. They had a more advanced civilization than Rome, but also one full of human sacrifice. Baal Moloch was not a myth, and his meal was not a myth. These people sought his blessings by regularly throwing hundreds of their infants into a large furnace. Imagine going to church every Sunday to see a baby roasted alive.
Carthage conquered Greece and Sicily and had established herself on the coast of Spain. Rome could not live in peace with these people. Modern historians portray this as some sort of economic rivalry or trade dispute, but it was nothing of the sort. It was a destroying force of evil killing in the name of Baal Moloch. Hannibal—whose name in his own language means “the grace of Baal”—famously invaded Italy from across the Alps. When Carthage fell it meant that its demons had been defeated. The hateful soul of devil-worshipping Carthage was annihilated.
Confucius was not bringing a message from heaven to earth but trying to organize China. While he addressed morals and manners he was not a religious teacher.
The Hindu tradition is that all the gods and men are only the dreams of Brahma; and will cease to exist the moment Brahma wakes up.
Gautama, the great Lord Buddha, was among the greatest intellectuals in human history. He was noble, sincere, and magnificent among men. He was reared in pomp and luxury but deliberately lived life as a beggar. Buddha was a philosopher who founded a school of philosophy.
Whereas in the West we see the universe, life, and human beings as having a beginning and progressing to an end; in the East the view is of an endless cosmic wheel. And the chief idea is to get off.
From the concept of this wheel of life, the Hindu constructed an ever-expanding, extraordinarily extravagant mythology. A great deal of it is idolatry—the local and literal worship of idols—that was not true of the original Brahmins. Hinduism sees a spiritual superiority behind social superiority in contrast to the Christian Faith in which kings and paupers will stand equal before God. All Hindus are not brothers and sisters as are all Christians. Along with this concept of the cosmic wheel of destiny in Hinduism comes belief in reincarnation.
The Buddha proposed a metaphysical or psychological discipline by which to eliminate desire, which he saw as the cause of all sorrow. But with this came the idea that reality is not real. A Buddhist could exist—as far as he could be said to exist—in an ecstasy of indifference. It is as if the Lord of Compassion pities people for being alive. One thing is for certain: this has never borne any resemblance to a Church.
The mind of Asia can be represented by a 0—the great Asiatic symbol of a serpent with its tail in its mouth. Everything is a dream and a delusion. The problem with creation is differentiation and individual personalities. All will be well once we disappear into nothingness.
The materialistic theory of history—that all politics and ethics are expressions of economics—is a fallacy. The truth is that the thing most present to the mind of man is not economic machinery but existence itself: the world in which he awakes each morning and the nature of his position in it. It all comes back to what a man feels when he looks forth from those windows we call eyes upon that strange vision we call the world.
People do not usually fight and die for money. Nero would have found no takers had he offered a thousand dollars to be eaten by lions. What truly matters to men is the meaning of life.
Now we are supposedly in a "New Age." But you become unnatural by worshipping nature. You become unmanly by worshipping man. Men grow more immoral and their immorality grows more indefensible. Men seek stranger sins or more startling obscenities to stimulate their jaded senses.
Syncretists preach that all religions are the same. The Theosophists built a pantheon for pantheists—a Parliament of Religions. Christians are welcome as long as they place Jesus no higher than Osiris, Attis, Mithras, Ammon, Apollo, Zeus, or Jupiter.
To appear broadminded we are expected to boil down all religions, myths, and mysteries into a lukewarm liquid in a great pot of cosmopolitan corruption. The conscious cult of demons is also welcome by egalitarian society with its witchcraft and sexual rituals—hopefully without its human sacrifice.
There are people who say they don’t want faith, they only want to be “spiritual.” Perhaps they mean they want to be ghosts. Atheism is truly an abnormality because it denies what the subconscious knows to be true—that the world does have meaning and people do have a purpose.
History throws a single, steady light on the Jews—their meaning and their mission. The Hebrews alone prohibited images of God and the God who did not have a statute—alone remained a Spirit.
The Promised Land where the Hebrews were sent to live was a land of monsters and demon gods—Moloch, Dagon, Tanit, Baal, and Astarte. The Hebrews preserved the primary religion of all mankind. They were opposed by the power of demons.
As Rome came to an end it officially tolerated every form of worship. A group of unimportant people, including slaves and barbarians, began to teach a new religion of the one true God who had not suddenly appeared but who had been nearly forgotten by everyone except the Jews and who had now appeared as a man to spread the Good News about Redemption and Salvation. A new light shone in the world—the halo of hatred the Prince of this World has cast around the Church of God.
A Cave in Bethlehem
The mountain shepherds around Bethlehem used caves to stable their livestock at night. In such a lowly cave was born, in the humblest of circumstances, the Savior about whom, over two thousand years, millions of sermons have been preached; songs sung; pictures drawn; rhymes written; rituals performed; and billions of prayers prayed.
Why did Herod order all those babies to be slaughtered if he was not doing the bidding of Satan? Unless we understand the presence of the Enemy, we will never understand the Christian Faith. It is because evil is real, Satan is real, and demons are real that Christ came. From its beginnings the Church has been a revolution against the prince of this world.
The Christian Faith has something for all moods of man, it finds work for all kinds of men, it understands secrets of psychology, it is aware of depths of evil. It finds more in existence to think about and it gets more out of life. It embraces every aspect of the truth, and it is stiffly embattled against every mode of error.
In these respects, it is simply not true to say that other religions are its rivals. The story of Jesus is not like a legend or a story of a great man. It is the quite peculiar and individual character of the story that has a hold on human nature.
Some critics treat Christ as a mere man. Oh they prattle on about what a merciful and humane lover of humanity he is; what a good teacher he is; what a fine example he set. This is the reverse of the truth about Christ Jesus—so much so that it makes me wonder if these people have ever read the New Testament.
Jesus does utter, in words of heart-breaking beauty, his pity for our broken hearts. The mass of the people are poor and broken. Jesus is the most sympathetic of friends. But the New Testament Christ is also quite supernatural and an exorcist who very much believed in evil spirits.
There are a great many strange things about the Gospels that nobody would have invented. In the midst of strangely beautiful stories are startling pieces of advice and stunning rebukes. What Christ taught about marriage and the relations of the sexes was something quite different and difficult—but no more difficult today than it was then.
What Christ suggests about marriage does not suggest the views of man in the first century but does strongly suggest the sacramental view of marriage developed afterwards by His Church. Whatever we can say about the teachings of Christ we cannot say his teachings were more suitable for men of 2,000 years ago than they are today. There is extraordinarily little in the words of Christ that ties him at all to his own time. His ideas are altogether outside of time.
Some say Jesus was merely a teacher of ethics; some say a socialist; some a pacifist; others say he was simply a prophet; some only a spiritual healer; some say he never lived at all. There is surely something mysteriously multi-faceted about the real Christ if so many little Christs can be carved out of him. Who did he say he was? “Before Abraham was, I am.”
It is easy to see that Jesus possessed amazingly distinctive intellectual powers. That alone is not proof of his divinity but it is evidence of a probable distaste for false and vainglorious claims to divinity. Jesus does not strike us as a self-deluded sensationalist.
In no other religion is a man presented as God Incarnate. Jews do not think Moses to be Jehovah; Muslims do not think Mohammed is Allah.
Thus it is false that all religions are equal because all religious founders were rivals—that they were all fighting for the same crown. Mohammed, Moses, Buddha, and Confucius never made the claim that Jesus made.
The only men who have ever claimed to be God—besides Jesus—are in insane asylums. But no one supposes that Christ was a lunatic, do they? Not even Atheists think Jesus a half-witted imbecile. Christ was exactly what a delusional man never is: He was wise.
The Christian Faith
What other founder of a religion lay down his life for his friends? And for his enemies?
The few followers left after the death and resurrection of Jesus had no reason to come together except the memory of him that they had in common—the memory of the greatest events of their lives: this tragedy of the teacher of universal peace. They are always repeating his words and trying to imitate his character.
Surely common sense tells us that men who only continued to meet through their common enthusiasm for a leader they loved would not rush out to establish anything of which he would not approve. It was not long before the Church was not only Jewish but also Greek, Roman, Asian, and African.
The modern missionary is hated by postmodern critics for regarding cannibal culture as beneath his own. It is rather ridiculous to ask a man about to be boiled in a pot and eaten why he does not regard all religions equal.
Evil is a rebellion and an invasion. The life of a man is an adventure story. How it ends depends on the man. He can choose the ditch or the Church.
Many times the Christian Faith has seemed to die but it has a God who knows his way out of the grave. Some men say there is no god; some say all men are god; some say things we cannot make heads or tails of. A dead thing can drift along with a stream but only a living thing can go against the stream.
The Christian Faith alone makes the astounding claim that the Maker of this Universe visited the world in person as a man. The Man Who Made The World. He was here.
The soul of Christendom came forth from the incredible Christ. It has endured for two thousand years and the world within it has been more lucid, inventive, level-headed, reasonable, healthy in its instincts, and more humorous and cheerful in the face of suffering and death, than all the world outside.
It is not that the truths of the Christian Faith are not worthy of belief; it is that for some people they are too good to be true.
The ideas above are expressed or implied in the book by G.K. Chesterton The Everlasting Man.