It’s the first effect of not believing in God that you lose your common sense.
This quote is usually rendered as something like “When you cease to believe in God, you believe in anything” but this appears to be misquoted and I don’t like spreading mis-attributed aphorisms around. Unless it’s funny. When I think of what Chesterton meant by this, I used to think it meant any other religion or belief. For example, some sort of neo-paganism, astrology or just in something esoteric. So it may not be God or Christianity but at least it’s a belief in purpose and truth in the universe. I would say that what he meant is much worse than this and it makes the actual quote a whole lot more accurate.
I was watching part of a Gears of War 4 launch event last week (a video game). I love the series and I’m looking forward to playing the latest game. I think I’m a pretty big fan too, having played all the games in the series and even reading some of the related novels by Karen Traviss. I only watched parts of the launch event and at one stage there was a grown man getting a Gears of War tattoo live on the event. I’ve never liked tattoos but this goes beyond my dislike for them. I can understand why someone might get one for a loved one or something very important in their life. But a video game? This is far from the first time I’ve seen this so seeing this was just a reminder. An old friend of mine was covered in pop culture tattoos like Star Wars. I’ve also seen plenty of tattoos for video games, movies and of course, even more for rock bands.
There is nothing wrong with liking a movie, a rock band or video game in most cases. When you have a tattoo though, that indicates an intense if not obsessive interest. Deciding to go through the pain, permanence and indeed, the payment means there is a strong attachment. In the case of popular culture and entertainment, they are more often than not fleeting. I loved the Smashing Pumpkins in high school but I would be wishing I didn’t have the tattoo today had I got one after my eighteenth birthday. I liked Star Wars as a kid and I still do today but I’m definitely glad I don’t have a Star Wars tattoo all the same.
This I think is probably Chesterton’s point. People lose their common sense. Moving away from tattoos specifically, many people I know seem to live for the next movie, the next video game or even just the next weekend. There doesn’t seem to be anything beyond these life events. I know I used to be like this as a child which is quite normal but it isn’t good for it to continue into adulthood. Yet you have no shortage of people who devote themselves to things that are supposed to be merely entertainment when you’re not working and building a life. I (like many), regret the wasted aspects of my youth but this isn’t really about that. When you’re young, you often can’t see far enough ahead to make decisions but adults can and adults increasingly don’t
Many people celebrate the decline of religion, particularly Christianity as a good thing. Without agreeing or disagreeing, I can’t see how what we have now is much of an improvement. Instead of obsessing over doing right by God, a large portion of the population obsesses over cars, sports and other forms of entertainment. I’m not trying to suggest that hobbies and interests are bad. They are good but when your hobby becomes how you define yourself to the point where it would be mentioned at your funeral, it probably isn’t healthy.