But peasants are so credulous…

We have two laws, one very old, and one very recent, but they illustrate a point Chesterton had made, once in a story and once in his book, Orthodoxy: that the peasant is right just as often as the educated man, and sometimes when it comes to those situations requiring intuition, more. Those two laws are the First Amendment and the “Right to Try” Act (FDA).

Yesterday, the First Amendment was again trampled when 3 major social media platforms purposefully scrubbed a video in which a doctor (along with several others) in Texas was describing a regimen that was working for her COVID19 patients. That doctor was Dr. Stella Immanuel of Rehoboth Medical Center in Houston, Texas.  Her story is not unlike the story of other Physicians who have all been doing what the Hippocratic oath tells them to do in regard COVID19 rather than blindly following a dictated procedure whether it works or not.

This interesting and disturbing development of this pandemic reminded us of the following passage from Authority and The Adventurer from Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. Why?  Because the passage in relation to the COVID19 dilemma describes the revelatory spirit of the Christian and in turn, the adventurous American spirit that made us the “Can do” nation when it came to solving problems. The answers don’t always come from where we have been taught that they come from in this materialistic world. Sometimes they come from the simple people who face the problem on the front-lines, simple people who are not interested in investors, Big Pharma, and the money to be made from waiting for a vaccine. They are interested in saving the lives of their patients who they care deeply about with the best of their hearts and their minds.

“But among these million facts all flowing one way there is, of course, one question sufficiently solid and separate to be treated briefly, but by itself; I mean the objective occurrence of the supernatural. In another chapter I have indicated the fallacy of the ordinary supposition that the world must be impersonal because it is orderly. A person is just as likely to desire an orderly thing as a disorderly thing. But my own positive conviction that personal creation is more conceivable than material fate, is, I admit, in a sense, undiscussable. I will not call it a faith or an intuition, for those words are mixed up with mere emotion, it is strictly an intellectual conviction; but it is a PRIMARY intellectual conviction like the certainty of self of the good of living. Any one who likes, therefore, may call my belief in God merely mystical; the phrase is not worth fighting about. But my belief that miracles have happened in human history is not a mystical belief at all; I believe in them upon human evidences as I do in the discovery of America. Upon this point there is a simple logical fact that only requires to be stated and cleared up. Somehow or other an extraordinary idea has arisen that the disbelievers in miracles consider them coldly and fairly, while believers in miracles accept them only in connection with some dogma. The fact is quite the other way. The believers in miracles accept them (rightly or wrongly) because they have evidence for them. The disbelievers in miracles deny them (rightly or wrongly) because they have a doctrine against them. The open, obvious, democratic thing is to believe an old apple-woman when she bears testimony to a miracle, just as you believe an old apple-woman when she bears testimony to a murder. The plain, popular course is to trust the peasant’s word about the ghost exactly as far as you trust the peasant’s word about the landlord. Being a peasant he will probably have a great deal of healthy agnosticism about both. Still you could fill the British Museum with evidence uttered by the peasant, and given in favour of the ghost. If it comes to human testimony there is a choking cataract of human testimony in favour of the supernatural. If you reject it, you can only mean one of two things. You reject the peasant’s story about the ghost either because the man is a peasant or because the story is a ghost story. That is, you either deny the main principle of democracy, or you affirm the main principle of materialism– the abstract impossibility of miracle. You have a perfect right to do so; but in that case you are the dogmatist. It is we Christians who accept all actual evidence–it is you rationalists who refuse actual evidence being constrained to do so by your creed. But I am not constrained by any creed in the matter, and looking impartially into certain miracles of mediaeval and modern times, I have come to the conclusion that they occurred. All argument against these plain facts is always argument in a circle. If I say, “Mediaeval documents attest certain miracles as much as they attest certain battles,” they answer, “But mediaevals were superstitious”; if I want to know in what they were superstitious, the only ultimate answer is that they believed in the miracles. If I say “a peasant saw a ghost,” I am told, “But peasants are so credulous.” If I ask, “Why credulous?” the only answer is–that they see ghosts. Iceland is impossible because only stupid sailors have seen it; and the sailors are only stupid because they say they have seen Iceland. It is only fair to add that there is another argument that the unbeliever may rationally use against miracles, though he himself generally forgets to use it.”

– G. K. Chesterton, Authority and the Adventurer, Orthodoxy, 1908

image source: photo of original Hippocratic Oath.

2 thoughts on “But peasants are so credulous…

  1. “The believers in miracles accept them (rightly or wrongly) because they have evidence for them.” This is very true. I have been blessed to experience miracles and find the reactions of those looking for other possible explanations quite humorous. I can’t explain it to them and don’t bother to try. I think that may be why Jesus didn’t encourage those that He healed to talk about it in public. Those who knew the person before the miracle could accept it or search in vain for another reason. For me, all I can think of doing is to praise God and thank Him. And share the truth when God reveals the soil the miracle can take root in.

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