An Example of Good Friendship – G.K. Chesterton and George Bernard Shaw

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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21 Responses to An Example of Good Friendship – G.K. Chesterton and George Bernard Shaw

  1. Bronwyn Lea says:

    Tim, this is excellent. Such healthy,respectful dialogue is so rare these days. I have been mulling over the thought lately that the chrsitian community in general, and our church in particular, doesn’t have many “hard conversations”. We don’t talk about politics, ethics, social reform and a great many other things, for fear that such conversation will be so explosive and divisive that it would detract from the gospel. On some days I see wisdom in this, but on other days I think we are just chicken. The hard conversations of acts 15 and Galatians: confrontational and offensive but necessary, are hard to imagine in our contexts.
    The love and respect of shaw and Chesterton, even in their deep disagreement, is such a healthy and timely reminder that we can love well behind the reach of those with whom we share consensus.

    • Tim says:

      I think we’re just chicken some days too, Bronwyn. Doing things that matter can be hard, and that includes hard conversations. But what really gets me is the joy these friends found in having those hard conversations with each other. What a friendship!

  2. Judy says:

    Hi Tim,
    The world could use more of these kinds of relationships. I agree with Bronwyn that we chicken out of challenging conversations. Or maybe we have become so insulated in our like-minded ideological and theological bubbles that we have too few friends with whom we disagree. Christians should lead the way for our culture in this area. By the way, a local theater company did a production based on the interactions between Shaw and Chesterton last year. It was a good concept, but I was a little disappointed in the result. Still enjoyed it though:). Judy

    • Tim says:

      That would be a fascinating stage play, Judy. And it’s a good way to show people that getting out of their circle of like-minded people can be enriching.

  3. Jeannie says:

    This struck home, Tim. I have had a conflict with my closest friend; about 3 months ago I tried to talk to her about what I felt were some overly harsh things she had said and emailed in the context of a group we’re part of. She was extremely angry and although we’ve tried to talk it over twice, she doesn’t want to see me. It’s been really painful and has left me questioning what Christian friendship is really about. It’s also made me pray that in my close relationships God will help me take the attitude of, “I’m so glad X felt free to tell me that.” It’s actually an honour when someone entrusts the truth, even a hard truth, to us, and it can bring us closer to the other person if we let it. It sounds like Chesterton and Shaw’s relationship had a solid foundation.

    • Tim says:

      Shaw was no Christian, of course, but he was a good friend to Chesterton. Your own experiences remind me of Paul and Barnabas and Mark. They had a falling out, but eventually Paul came around and considered Mark to be essential to his work. I think Mark was always a valuable companion (Barnabas certainly thought so!), and am glad Paul finally came to his sense about his friend.

      I’m praying for you and your friend to find reconciliation too, Jeannie.

  4. Aimee Byrd says:

    I call this a real-ationship. And they are very hard to come by. Thanks for the encouragement and example.

  5. Adriana says:

    “Just as iron sharpens iron,
    We affect each others lives;
    We should try to live as razors,
    Not just plain ole butter knifes.”

    (Written by a teenage guy-friend while I was on a mission trip to Moscow in 1993. Wish I could remember his name.)

  6. jamie says:

    I’m going to share this with my husband. He has some very best friends he debates with regularly (and hotly). I think he will certainly appreciate your words. 🙂

    • Tim says:

      I’d be interested in his take on this, Jamie. And speaking of friends who get on together, did you ever see the Monty Python skit when the Prince of Wales, George McNeill Whistler and G.B. Shaw came to a party at Oscar Wilde’s house?

  7. I really like it. Being friends with somebody who you disagree with on politics is so important because it does two things:
    a) it forces you to challenge yourself intellectually, and actually research and study and find support for the beliefs you have that, in like-minded company, you might otherwise just accept blindly as truth.
    b) it forces you to be civil and to learn to be civil, both because you come to see that the friendship will not survive if you are not civil, but also because you come to see that people who disagree with you can have a very loving heart and the best intentions, and it would be wrong NOT to be civil.

    My beliefs have hardened on the core political issues I care about during my friendship with my most conservative friend, but my ability to listen to other people’s opinions respectfully has vastly improved. Being friends with somebody you disagree with doesn’t mean you have to change your beliefs. It means you have to better learn to understand your own beliefs, and the beliefs of others.

  8. Nice! And thanks for mentioning my blog post. I seriously think it is time we accept that we all are different. Just like in a household – kids born to the same set of parents are so different in attitude and aptitude. I just can’t stand it when parents ask one kid to “be like the other”. No one is like the other. The key is to accept that we all are different, have different views, perspectives, how we come together and respect each other can only be done if we celebrate our differences.
    Just like your faith Tim, your belief in God could be constructed in a different framework and mine in a different but does that mean I insult you for your belief/faith? No, it means, you and I help each other understand what our perspectives are. We don’t have to “switch” to learn tolerance. When I read Connie’s piece, it wasn’t about that she was being mean or bad or anything. I just thought why she understood karma the way she did and I knew the answer – because of the western social construction of karma. So I just responded to that. Does that make her less of a friend? No, it doesn’t. Because her belief doesn’t change the aatman (the soul) in her – which to me, is above all imperfections and man-made social constructions. It is her soul I find pure and noble and unchangeable.

    • Tim says:

      Your graciousness in response to Connie’s post was an example of good friendship for all of us, Anu. I appreciate your constructive and informative posts more than I can say. Thank you so much for being part of what’s going on here too with your comment.

  9. Pingback: G.K. Chesterton’s The Ball and the Cross – Seeing the world as it really is | Tim's Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another

  10. Pingback: G.K. Chesterton Wrote the Best Book on Reality You’ve Never Read | Tim's Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another

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