Mystery is good for mental health

G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy is one of those books that is like a bag full of gemstones. At the same time, it leaves you wondering “where was the editor?” One paragraph will have you saying, “incredible!”, and the next, “um, huh? What does that have to do with the topic in this chapter… or with ANYTHING for that matter?” Anyway, I’ve been rereading this one as well. Again, last time I read it was before I was blogging and wrote anything down. I’m finding it difficult to reduce to posts. Some sections of it are superb, but would need to be quoted in several pages of context to really have much potency. Nevertheless, I will try with a few sections.

At the end of his essay on how rationalism drives men insane, he answers with a statement about what keeps men healthy:

Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity. The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man whas always been a mystic. He has permitted the twilight. He has always had one foot on earth and the other in fairyland. He has always left himself free to doubt his gods; but (unlike the agnostic of to-day) free also to believe in them. He has always cared more for truth than for consistency. If he saw two truths that seemed to contradict each other, he would take the two truths and the contradiction along with them. His spiritual sight is stereoscopic, like his phsyical sight: he sees two different pictures at once and yet sees all the better for that. Thus he has always believed that there was such a thing as fate, but such a thing as free will also.

The whole secret of mysticism is this: that man can understand everything by the help of what he does not understand. The morbid logician seeks to make everything lucid, and succeeds in making everything mysterious. The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious, and everything else becomes lucid. The determinist makes the theory of causation quite clear, and then finds that he cannot say “if you please” to the housemaid. The Christian permits free will to remain a sacred mystery; but because of this his relations with the housemaid become of a sparkling and crystal clearness.

-G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, Ch.2