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Chapter 4: The Tale of a Detective August 7, 2007

Posted by Ashleigh in The Man Who Was Thursday by GK Chesterton.

1. We’re told that Syme’s feeling toward anarchists is a “rebellion against rebellion” and that “being surrounded with every conceivable kind of revolt from infancy, Gabriel had to revolt into something, so he revolted into the only thing left—sanity. But there was just enough in him of the blood of these families to make even his protest for common-sense a little too fierce to be sensible.” In learning Syme’s “backstory” do you feel like you’ve gained greater insight into his motivations and behavior?

2. The policeman Syme meets tells him, “He [one of the most celebrated detectives in Europe] is certain that the scientific and artistic worlds are silently bound in a crusade against the Family and the State.” He goes on to say:

We say that the most dangerous criminal is the educated criminal. We say that the most dangerous criminal now is the entirely lawless modern philosopher. Compared to him, burglars and bigamists are essentially moral men; they merely seek it wrongly. Thieves respect property. They merely wish the property to become their property that they may more perfectly respect it. But philosphers dislike property as property; they wish to destroy the very idea of personal possession. Bigamists respect marriage, or they would not go through with the highly ceremonial and even ritualistic formality of bigamy. But philosophers despise marriage as marriage. Murderers respect human life; they merely wish to attain a greater fulness of human life in themselves by the sacrifice of what seems to them to be lesser lives. But philosophers hate life itself, their own as much as other people’s.

What do you think of this? Is there any truth in it? Can it be applied at all to our modern society? And if so, how?

3. Syme tells “the invisible chief,” as Chesterton describes him, that he is unqualified and unfit to assume the position of a policemen. The chief responds by saying, “You are willing, that is enough.” Syme says, “I don’t know any profession of which mere willingness is the final test.” In response, the chief states, “I do. Martyrs. I am condeming you to death. Good day.” What did you think of this? Can we relate this to the Christian life at all?

4. Any other thoughts? What stood out to you in this chapter?


1. Michelle - August 9, 2007

Being somewhat familiar with some of Chesterton’s writings, I get the sense that he is making a point regarding educated criminals & high society crime. I am eager to see where he goes with this idea as I wouldn’t be opposed to light being shed on my way of viewing the topic.

2. Danielle - August 10, 2007

2.) Yes, I think this quote can be applied to our modern society. I think it describes the views of some people. Chesterton’s “lawless modern philosopher” would simply be one who does not believe in God and takes it to it’s logical conclusion. If there is no God, there can be no absolutes. And ultimately, who is government to tell us right from wrong. And different governments have different “rules.” One governments rules may be in conflict with another governments rules. Who’s right? Is there an absolute truth that can judge between them? If not, why follow such rules?

I really liked the quote:

“They believe that all the evil results of human crime are the results of the system that has called it crime. They do not believe crime creates the punishment. They believe that the punishment has created the crime.”

I certainly know some who would agree with this quote. While there is some truth to it in certain situations, in the sense that sometimes the punishment can continue the corruption of a man, instead of rehabilitating him, I would say original sin was the ultimate creator of crime vs. the punishment.

Hope all this makes sense.

3. Ashleigh - August 22, 2007

Danielle, great points. I immediately thought of views and ideas also. It brought to mind those in our modern society who challenge what we hold as biblical values: traditional marriage, creationism, sanctity of life. Those who use their education and intellect to justify being more “open minded.”

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