Fierce Opponents with a Great Friendship – G.K. Chesterton and George Bernard Shaw do it right

[From the archives.]

G.K. Chesterton and George Bernard Shaw were great friends who rarely saw eye to eye in their personal philosophies. Note in this passage from his book Heretics how Chesterton praises Shaw’s good sense while criticizing his inability to grasp what most people understand: humanity is worth something but progress for the sake of progress is a waste of time.

After belabouring a great many people for a great many years for being unprogressive, Mr. Shaw has discovered, with characteristic sense, that it is very doubtful whether any existing human being with two legs can be progressive at all. Having come to doubt whether humanity can be combined with progress, most people, easily pleased, would have elected to abandon progress and remain with humanity. Mr. Shaw, not being easily pleased, decides to throw over humanity with all its limitations and go in for progress for its own sake.

If man, as we know him, is incapable of the philosophy of progress, Mr. Shaw asks not for a new kind of philosophy but for a new kind of man. It is rather as if a nurse had tried a rather bitter food for some years on a baby, and on discovering that it was not suitable, should not throw away the food and ask for a new food, but throw the baby out of window and ask for a new baby.

These two men would debate each other on stage and then dine together afterward, admiring the intellect and integrity of the other. Chesterton’s part in this friendship, as you can see in the quote above, was not to blindly boost Shaw no matter what he said or thought. Rather, he saw this friendship as a place where he could talk things through, hash things out, and come to disagreement if warranted.

Do you have friends like that, friends you can come to disagreement with? I think the Bible tells us this is a good type of friendship.

Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses. (Proverbs 27:5-6.)

And as Paul tells us under the New Covenant, there is grace when believers disagree even on doctrinal issues:

All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. (Philippians 3:15.)

I admire Chesterton for many things: his clarity of writing, his intellect, his incisive wit. But I also admire him for his example of what real friendship looks like. I want to be like him.

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13 Responses to Fierce Opponents with a Great Friendship – G.K. Chesterton and George Bernard Shaw do it right

  1. Doug says:

    Good words, Tim! And to be like GK is to imitate who he imitated; Jesus. Read a quote yesterday from a lecture given in 1909 at Columbia University by scientist, Max Planck, about the changes in physics at that time; he emphasized;

    “Therefore we wish to emphasize unanimously and frankly what is acknowledged by us all, without exception, and must be admitted. That is, in the first place, scrupulousness in criticism of self, bound up with perseverance in the fight for true knowledge, and, in the second place, honorable regard, not to be shaken by misunderstandings, for the personality of scientific adversaries, and finally, a lasting confidence in the force of the Word which, for more than 1900 years, has given us an ultimate infallible test for distinguishing false prophets from true – “By their fruits ye shall known them!””

  2. Jim Bruner says:

    A worthy goal for us all, Tim. Thanks for the post in these savagely divided times.

  3. Pingback: Fierce Opponents with a Great Friendship – G.K. Chesterton and George Bernard Shaw do it right — Tim’s Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another @tim_fall | Talmidimblogging

  4. Another startling yet touching example of genuine friendship having developed in the midst of profound dichotomy was the (at least, eventual) friendship and respect between Larry Flynt and Jerry Falwell (see http://www.latimes.com/la-op-flynt20may20-story.html )

  5. roscuro says:

    This is something that I’ve been pondering lately, the paradox (Chesterton loved a good paradox) of showing unconditional love to those we disagree with; and affirming that Christ is the way, the truth and the life, which so many people complain is too exclusive. I always find it striking that the account of Jesus talking to the rich young ruler, it says that Jesus loved the man, but the ruler goes away without responding the Jesus’ challenge. That story, along with Paul’s very clear and great respect for King Agrippa (whom Josephus also reports to have been a wise king) although Agrippa did not accept Paul’s message, are a constant challenge to me.

  6. Muff Potter says:

    Again Tim, great stuff on what friendship is and is not.
    Allow me to cite the past friendship between Supreme Court Justices Ginsberg and Scalia as a further example of what it means to be friends.

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