Marshall Mcluhan's conversion

I honestly think Marshall McLuhan is one of the brightest people that ever lived and he was devout Catholic. I learned that he was agnostic and converted to Catholicism–and being agnostic myself–I was very curious why such a genius would become Catholic of all things. So I read “The Medium and the Light” and I found my answer. He wrote:

“Had I not encountered Chesterton I would have remained agnostic for many years at least. Chesterton did not convince me of religious truth, but he prevented my despair from becoming a habit or hardening into misanthropy. He opened my eyes to European culture and encouraged me to know it more closely. He taught me the reasons for all that in me was blind anger and misery.”

It seems by studying G. K. Chesterton, Thomas Aquinas, and James Joyce he inevitably converted. But it doesn’t say exactly what convinced him of that religious truth, just what opened him up to it… which brings me to my question.

How loosely can Catholicism be interpreted? Surely as a convert he struggled with some of what the Bible says and surely he didn’t interpret everything literally. But at the same time if you start questioning Catholic teaching too liberally, doesn’t that just make you a protestant? I though Catholicism was one of those things you swallowed the whole pill or not at all… no derivatives? Maybe I’m wrong.

How loosely can Catholicism be interpreted?

Interesting question. I would recommend though that since this is a question about the Catholic faith in particular it probably would be best asked in the apologetics thread. I see it is your first post, so no problem and welcome to the forums. My question to you would be, why would you convert to something that you did not believe was truth? If you converted because you believe it to be truth, why would you then only want to follow it loosely?

Since you are on the subject of conversion and G.K. Chesterton was brought up I would recommend that you give this book by him a read:

The Catholic Church And Conversion

God bless you

Well, I’m not converting. I don’t know enough about Christianity let alone Catholicism to make a bold jump like that. McLuhan just got me interested in it all so I’m here to learn. McLuhan was a genius and even a nonreligious person could accept that because although inspired by religion, his work had nothing to do with religion. He made a huge impression on me so in turn the least I can do is understand where he was coming from. I’ll definitely look into the book thank you.

As a convert, before joining the Church, I remember reading the Bible and finding some verses I didn’t understand. I tried to interpret them on my own, but found I kept confusing myself. But I resolved, each time, to listen to the Church when I should enter her. At the time, I did not know why I made this resolution; it was just something I thought was the right thing to do, given that Jesus wanted me to enter His Church. But now I understand why I made the resolution: because only the Catholic Church can undestand the Word of God. Guided by God, who alone is the Author and Interpreter of the Bible, just as the author is the interpreter of his books, the Church is guided into all truths and she preserves the Word which Christ entrusted to His Apostles and, through them, their successors the Bishops. I assume God didn’t really help me interpet the Bible on my own because He didn’t want me to be puffed up with pride but to submit myself to the Church.

McLuhan wrote the intro to Hugh Kenner’s PARADOX IN CHESTERTON. It is flawed.


I understand, however you wanted to know why an otherwise (what you consider to be) intelligent person would convert to Catholicism. Chesterton was not always Catholic, nor was he always a Christian. You may find an answer to your question by reading Chesterton’s conversion story.

[quote=Radix]I was very curious why such a genius would become Catholic of all things.

I will give you Chesterton’s own answer (although not from the work I reference you to) and perhaps it will inspire you to give him a read (I promise you, though you may not agree with Chesterton’s writings, he will challenge you):

The difficulty of explaining “why I am a Catholic” is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true. I could fill all my space with separate sentences each beginning with the words, “It is the only thing that . . .” As, for instance, It is the only thing that really prevents a sin from being a secret. It is the only thing in which the superior cannot be superior; in the sense of supercilious. It is the only thing that frees a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age. It is the only thing that talks as if it were the truth; as if it were a real messenger refusing to tamper with a real message. It is the only type of Christianity that really contains every type of man; even the respectable man. It is the only large attempt to change the world from the inside; working through wills and not laws; and so on… Twelve Modern Apostles and Their Creeds

God bless you

If one is interested, the best story of Chesterton’s conversion, to the point when he was ready to become a Roman Catholic, is William Oddie’s CHESTERTON AND THE ROMANCE OF ORTHODOXY.


Don’t leave it there, GKC – tell us more. Flawed in what way?

McLuhan was appreciative of Chesterton’s metaphysics, to the scornful exclusion of his more poetic, and (as he said ) the “more hyperbolic descriptive parts of Chesterton’s prose”. McLuhan was partially blind in looking at Chesterton, fatally so, for his grasp of the man as a whole, however peceptive his appreciation of the metaphysics might be.

While I was looking online to see if I could find the intro to Kenner’s book, to link to it, I did find this, from TOUCHSTONE:

Well said. In general, where McLuhan praised Chesterton, he did so rightly. What he deplored showed McLuhan’s own limits and prejudices, not Chesterton’s.

Kenner’s book was the 2nd book I ever bought, on Chesterton, back around 1966. I’ve kept buying Chesterton for around 40 years now. I never looked for another thing from McLuhan.


You’ve been missing out! McLuhan wasn’t even famous for being a Chesterton critic, or even for being Catholic. In fact he largely disguised that fact because he didn’t want his work to be misunderstood because he was Catholic. He was known for his work in technology. Early in his career he once said:

“It was a long time before I finally perceived that the character of every society, it’s food, clothing, arts, and amusements are ultimately determined by it’s religion–It was longer still before I could believe that religion was as great and joyful which it creates–or destroys.”

Here I think he was still agnostic and he sounds much like Max Weber. Later in his career through meeting Harold Innis he was able to conclude that technology was in fact the greatest cause for social change, not religion. It was after all, technology that first brought the split between Catholics and Protestants. Had it not been for print and the Gutenberg printing press, Martin Luther would have surely been less successful, if at all. And the printing press was the start of the Industrial Revolution: the first massed produced product was the Bible!

Where McLuhan’s work completely separates from that of Weber or Innis is in realizing how media/technology alters our sensory perception. For example, if you would agree that America is a post industrial nation (everything is going digital now) and that China is a newly industrializing country, then it seems to explain why Christianity is on the decline in America, and on the rise in China. It also explains a lot of criticism that Weber was never able to answer for.

He said that print, the alphabet, and industrialization cause fragmentation of the senses, while electronic media puts them back together again. In other words fragmentation of the senses causes detribalization while the other causes retribalization. I think his work on sensory perception seems to mirror that of Aquinas.

I think I am the only Catholic on all of CAF who is not the least bit interested in the life or works of GK Chesterton. I know it’s virtually heretical to admit that but…it is what it is lol…I’ve read some of him and found him boring. I get tired of witisisms. I must be missing something because everyone in here is enamoured!!

You are missing something.


I prefer Dawson’s take on religion and culture. McLuhan was a hot number when I was in college; I found him a great deal as gurneyhalleck finds Chesterton.


While we can no longer be friends because of your stance :D, I have to wonder; boring? I can think of a lot of words to describe the man but boring never entered my mind.

You are free to your opinion, however boring it may be. :wink:

God bless you

Everyone I know is in love with his wit and insights. I just don’t find him stimulating and interesting. What can I say? I’m just not fascinated by the man’s life like so many here seem to be. And it’s almost blasphemy to not be a GKC fan (not the poster, the actual man himself lol)…He gets put on a pedestal to the point people quote him almost like a proof text lol…I read Chesterton’s views on economics and found them unrealistic and a tad naive…oh well…I don’t think my opinion is boring, just being honest. I know it’s not orthodoxy for CAF but hey, I’m never afraid to buck the system.

Christopher Dawson? As in the Anglo-Catholic historian who converted to Catholicism? I have to admit, I have never read any of his works (outside a passing mention of him in my Middle Ages course in college), but am I sensing a pattern with some of the authors you like to read:

Anglo-Catholic =====> Catholic :hmmm: :smiley:

God bless you

I don’t think so, GKC. Sorry to let ya down, I’m just not a fan, never have been. My buddy worships the guy and tried to get me hooked. Didn’t grab me. GKC’s buddy Belloc didn’t grab me either. He couldn’t have grabbed you too much either! You didn’t convert like he did! You’re still an Anglican. Were he more compelling and convincing, I think you’d be praying some Ave Marias and going to confession with Father O’Malley right now! :stuck_out_tongue: But alas, you’re still an Anglican.

There was a show on EWTN with this dude playing Chesterton; he was dressed like him and trying to talk like him wearing the 1800’s garb. Oh man, cheesy! And the guy who is the head of the Chesterton Society or whatever it is? Oh geez…I’ve heard some people in CAF wanting the guy to be considered a saint? Wowzers?:shrug:

Everybody has their favorite writers and commentators. Just not my bag. He seems like a Catholic Mark Twain type…in love with his own hyperbole and witty sayings. Too opinionated and overrated…

Now I better duck!:smiley:

Correct. As in Ronald Knox.

Or Anglican ---------->Anglican: C.S. Lewis, Dorothy L. Sayers, Charles Williams

Or Roman Catholic ---------->Roman Catholic: Hilaire Belloc, J.R.R. Tolkien

Or Methodist ---------> Roman Catholic: Arnold Lunn


The dude was likely Chuck Chalberg. He is not to my liking either. But the garb would be circa 1930. There was a guy from Australia, back around 1975, who did Chesterton much better. Tony somebody or other.

The head of the Chesterton Society is Dale Ahlquist.

OTOH, Chesterton is to my taste. As also Belloc. And the folks I list in the post above. Being RC is not the* sine qua non* of my favorites. I like Anglicans, too. Wonder why?

WIlliam Oddie, author of the best book on Chesterton written in the past 60 years or so, is an advocate for his sainthood. Chesterton is likely laughing uproariously.

You have my permission not to read Chesterton. If anyone tries to entice you, show them this post, over my signature.


You should never read Chesterton on economics.


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