Nearly a third of Britons believe they have a guardian angel watching over them, according to a new survey by the Bible Society and Christian Research. Time magazine’s poll revealed that 69 percent of Americans believe in angels.
“When a Man stops believing in God he doesn’t then believe in nothing, he believes anything.”
And I – along with thousands of others – firmly believed that was G.K. Chesterton’s most famous quote. Until today, when I discovered he never said those words. That’s fine with me – I appreciate the research of others.
Now : I believe this dank weather will change next week – so I’ll put off my dolmen-hunting ’til then. If the forecast changes, I’ll believe that too – and my plans will change with it. It would appear that I give a different weight to the word ‘belief’.
The actual source of Chesterton’s ‘Famous Quote’ is an essay by a Belgian professor who taught in London. He was discussing Chesterton’s 1923 story ‘The Oracle of the Dog’ : he is quoting Father Brown, one of Chesterton’s favourite characters –
‘”It’s drowning all your old rationalism and scepticism, it’s coming in like a sea; and the name of it is superstition.” The first effect of not believing in God is to believe in anything: “And a dog is an omen and a cat is a mystery.” [p. 211, The Laughing Prophet – 1937 : a study of Chesterton by Emile Cammaerts].
Chesterton, a committed Christian, was deploring, through his character Father Brown, the ‘modern thought’ that was flooding through British society after the Great War. In the wake of that catastrophe, he saw both loss of Faith, and belief in anything.
So consider this: Of the three people waiting in the checkout-line behind you, one believes that an invisible social-worker is hovering over their shoulder. One in every three patients about to go into surgery believes an unseen guardian with gossamer wings is floating above their bed.
The bank employees processing your money? A majority of the clerks there think they have an incorporeal vigilante minding them. Most of the people assembling your new car on the factory-line have a spectral supervisor guiding them. Two in every three motorists speeding through the rush-hour traffic travels with a bodiless bodyguard to protect them.
There may be sat-nav in the car on the driveway, but there are still fairies at the bottom of the garden.