QUESTION: I have heard that the phrase, “America is a nation with the soul of a church,” is from Chesterton, but I can’t find the source. Can you help?
ANSWER: In the first chapter of his 1922 book What I Saw in America (See The Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton, Vol. 21), Chesterton says that America is “the only nation in the world founded on a creed.” He goes on to write about the questions he was asked when he entered the country and how they were a kind of test of that creed. In regards to these tests, he writes: “Now I am very far from intending to imply that these American tests are good tests or that there is no danger of tyranny becoming the temptation of America. I shall have something to say later on about that temptation or tendency. Nor do I say that they apply consistently this conception of a nation with the soul of a church, protected by religious and not racial selection. If they did apply that principle consistently, they would have to exclude pessimists and rich cynics who deny the democratic ideal; an excellent thing but a rather improbable one. What I say is that when we realize that this principle exists at all, we see the whole position in a totally different perspective. We say that the Americans are doing something heroic or doing something insane, or doing it in an unworkable or unworthy fashion, instead of simply wondering what the devil they are doing.”