What Makes You Say That?

G. K. Chesterton liked to tell how one of his grandfather’s friends used to go for walks on Sunday carrying a prayer book, without the slightest intention of going to church. He calmly defended the practice by saying with uplifted hand: “I do it, Chessie, as an example to others.” Some of us refrain from doing things pour décourager les autres, or so as not to offend the weaker brethren (perhaps an indication that we don’t want to do them all that badly).

The Chestertonian anecdote came to mind recently when a lady in the next county had an interesting experience. While in her local town one day she thought she recognized a man who was carrying a banner with the words, “REPENT, FOR THE END IS NIGH.” On her way home she was finally able to identify him as the one who some weeks before had taken her cottage on a seven-year lease.

That man may have been the soul of sincerity, but in any case such vague and laconic warnings tend to stir risible reaction in me. This particular inscription for some reason brings recollection of a vivid passage in The Wind in the Willows, a piece of spiritual uplift I read periodically for my soul’s good. “The Badger strode heavily into the room, and stood looking at the two animals with an expression full of seriousness.… ‘The hour has come!’ said the Badger at last with great solemnity. ‘What hour?’ asked the Rat uneasily, glancing at the clock on the mantelpiece.”

Strangely enough, more precision on the subject has come from a source not normally given to sounding strong eschatological notes. A WCC committee report at Uppsala stated: “More and more scientists … are warning that technology’s second revolution may turn out to be its last, that human life as we know it may ...

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