Chesterton, the Church, right and wrong

Catholic Memes has a new one going around FB, attributed to G. K. Chesterton:

I don’t need a church to tell me I’m wrong where I already know I’m wrong; I need a church to tell me I’m wrong where I think I’m right.”

Two things about this struck me the moment I saw it: 1) Chesterton did say something like that; and 2) Chesterton would never have phrased himself so awkwardly. What he actually said was: “We do not really want a religion that is right where we are right. What we want is a religion that is right where we are wrong.” The Catholic Church and Conversion

Chesterton’s explanation/elucidation of the point is worth reading:

It is a very different matter when a religion, in the real sense of a binding thing, binds men to their morality when it is not identical with their mood. It is very different when some of the saints preached social reconciliation to fierce and raging factions who could hardly bear the sight of each others’ faces. It was a very different thing when charity was preached to pagans who really did not believe in it; just as it is a very different thing now, when chastity is preached to new pagans who do not believe in it. It is in those cases that we get the real grapple of religion; and it is in those cases that we get the peculiar and solitary triumph of the Catholic faith. It is not in merely being right when we are right, as in being cheerful or hopeful or humane. It is in having been right when we were wrong, and in the fact coming back upon us afterwards like a boomerang. One word that tells us what we do not know outweighs a thousand words that tell us what we do know. And the thing is all the more striking if we not only did not know it but could not believe it. It may seem a paradox to say that the truth teaches us more by the words we reject than by the words we receive.

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