‘The Ball And The Cross’ and Apathy of Faith

While perusing Barnes & Noble one evening I discovered a book by G.K. Chesterton called The Ball And The Cross. It follows a devout Catholic named Evan MacIan who becomes so enraged at what James Turnbull, atheist newspaper editor, writes about the Virgin Mary that he challenges him to a duel to the death. Though against the law, the editor readily accepts, seeing their feud as the most important thing to happen in England for some time.

But every time their swords cross, they’re interrupted either by police, various people who walk into their fights, or even Nature itself. As they roam about the countryside eluding authorities and seeking a place to kill each other, they start discussing their beliefs and begin an uneasy friendship as they see the uniqueness of their position.

Both come to the conclusion that their duel isn’t merely about what Turnbull wrote, but about the fire each possesses for their respective faiths. Other people they meet are apathetic about the tension between Christianity and atheism, trying to keep the peace instead of letting the sparks fly. The two fugitives who actually want to cross swords over their beliefs see themselves as a dying breed, two men who hold deep convictions and want to defend them.

Whether you favor Christianity or atheism, Chesterton’s unique novel is an enlightening read. It gave me pause to consider how “fiery” I am for my faith. Am I willing to get worked up about theological and philosophical fallacy and debate it and engage with it? Or do I prefer keeping the status quo and holding my opinions to myself? Do I have any “zeal for Zion”?

Outside of religion, there are certain social movements today vehemently arguing their position, but often the goal is to shut down any opposing thought. Open discussion is discouraged and blatant acceptance is expected. Their mantra is often “lie down and die, or join the revolution.” They’re willing to fight for their agenda, but they don’t want opposing sides to return fire. This pressures groups on “the wrong side of history” to be complacent and let sleeping dogs lie.

In our age of mock tolerance and a cry to “coexist” have we lost passion for our beliefs? This doesn’t mean we have to engage in physical fisticuffs to prove our point (since Christians should live at peace with their neighbors), but are we willing to get into a heated argument so that the other side sees our humanity and that we see theirs? The tension between faiths should not be ignored or smoothed over, we should be looking for a good “fight” to engage in. Not merely for the thrill of it, but for showing that we find our faith something to die for.


*cover photo credit: Ben Hatke


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