on 9 July 1998
Portly, fun loving, witty G.K. Chesterton decided to write this book as a companion volume to his book HERETICS. Since HERETICS had criticised contemporary philosophies, ORTHODOXY was written to present an alternative viewpoint, and is therefore both affirmative in tone and autobiographical in many places. A sampling of his chapter titles gives some idea of Chesterton's sense of fun as well as his unusual approach to the matter of Christianity. Chapter one is "In Defense of Everything Else" (one pictures Chesterton with a whimsical, impish smile on his face as he wrote this). There are also chapters on "The Suicide of Thought", "The Ethics of Elfland" (a really superb chapter), "The Maniac", and "The Paradoxes of Christianity". In this easily readable book (only 160 pages in the small paperback edition), Chesterton shows that theological reflections and philosophical ruminations need be neither boring nor incomprehensible. This was jolly good fun to read, being both funny and intellectually stimulating. Highly recommended.
on 23 January 1998
G. K. Chesterton's book "Orthodoxy" argues forcefully that democratic reforms and revolutions must be founded on a fixed ideal, that the false concept of "progress" impedes real progress, that a doctrine of "Original Sin" is the only real basis for political equality, and many other things much worth thinking about. I highly recommend his chapters "The Suicide of Thought" and "The Ethics of Elfland" for a wonderful critique of modern philosophy. His style is superlative. Reading Chesterton is a joy.
on 8 April 2009
This is an extraordinary book, a definite `must read' before you die. I was expecting a sort of early version of C.S. Lewis, a robust defence of traditional Christianity. It is much more than that. Whereas Lewis gently takes you along with a persuasive argument, Chesterton pulls you into a room full of mirrors and out of the box thinking, not just in the paragraphs, but almost in every sentence there's an irony, a contradiction, a reflection saying something you don't quite expect. Take the opening sentence of Chapter Two, entitled, `The Maniac' - `Thoroughly worldly people never understand even the world; they rely all together on a few cynical maxims that are not true.' As he gets into the argument, the crackling irony continues. A worldly maxim is that the man who believes himself will go far, the truth: `The men who really believe in themselves are all in lunatic asylums'. Of course he's right, all the way through, and even if you don't agree with him, the polemic is superb. In this chapter he establishes that materialism, the void, makes men mad, and what keeps people sane is mysticism, the irony that `man can understand everything by the help of what he does not understand'. Every chapter is like a glass of cold water in a desert, but probably the best was `The Ethics of Elfland' Again we start with mirrors - `The vision is always a fact. It is the reality that is often a fraud.' And so soon he is turning our clichéd way of thinking on its head by passionately arguing for fairy tales, superior both to religion and rationalism, `the sunny country of commonsense'. This is not just to do with the morals you get from the tales, but that they are more accurate in their observations than science. The answer to both why eggs turn to birds, and Cinderella's mice to horses is the same: magic. There is no inevitable law involved, and to pretend that there is makes you `strictly a sentimentalist'. No let up with the irony. At the end he helpfully sums up his fairy story creed. The world does not explain itself; but it must have a meaning which implies someone `to mean it'; that meaning, purpose, is beautiful; we owe obedience to whatever this is. There's a lot more, but if you are bored of reading self righteous politically correct twaddle about stakeholders and recycling, get hold of some Chesterton. One last comment: there is a very silly myth that people who believe traditional Christianity don't use their brains: I wouldn't like to be with these people if they meet Chesterton in heaven.
Orthodoxy is a work wit and exuberance. I wouldn't have discovered it if it hadn't been for Phillip Yancey's excellent chapter on him in his book `Soul Survivor.' So I was pleased to learn that Mr Yancey has written an introduction to a new edition (although not the one I read). Yancey praises Chesterton's childlike wonder and love of life, and indeed this does shine through the pages of `Orthodoxy.' But there is also an intellectual toughness and rigour that holds the hand of the child's wonder.
The opening chapters show Chesterton dismantling what he saw as the heresies of the time: materialism, nihilism, and existentialism. He's done this before in his work `Heresies,' and he explains in his first chapter that `Orthodoxy' is a response to a criticism that in `Heresies' he attacks other systems of thought but does not state his own.
But first, he lays into the heresies with gusto, and his deconstruction of them is charged by the passion of his abhorrence with what he sees as the harm and potential harm of them - nothing less that the "suicide of thought" and a route to individual and corporate madness. There a relevance to this too when one reviews the resurgent scientific fundamentalism of our own day. It would be great to read a Chestertonian response to "The God Delusion!"
Chesterton goes on to trace the roots of his own faith in his intuitions of the world as a child, and how the truths in fairy stories point to wider spiritual truths. He then develops his arguments to describe how his Orthodox Catholic faith is the best rebuttal to the heresies of his day, and why the Christian faith alone gives universal satisfaction to the problems of existence.
Sometimes the breathless pace of his prose and the rapid fire deployment of argument, logic and wit cause his ideas to pile up to the point where they sometimes exhausted this reader. But staying with it will communicate the zest for intellectual combat, the sheer gift of living and its rootedness in God that Chesterton burns to tell us.
on 10 November 1997
Those who have read Chesterton realize that he is the sort of man with whom the world is blessed every 100 years or so. A master writer and wry philosopher, Chesterton provides in his book Orthodoxy one of the best summaries available concerning the life in Christ. Even though he found God calling him to the Church of Rome, readers from a wide range of backgrounds - evangelical Protestants of all "flavors", fundamentalists, Eastern Orthodox, Episcopalians, Baptists, Pentacostalists, Lutherans, and yes, Roman Catholics - will discover new insights into their walk with the Christ.
Chesterton has the ability to make us see things anew. In Orthodoxy, he helps us to see the Church in a new way, and he helps us to see afresh the One who founded His Church - Jesus Christ. The book is not an apologetic for Roman Catholicism, but rather one for orthodox Christianity itself.
Chesterton is simultaneously a master of the written word and one who knows his Master. To borrow a phrase (applied to something else, but applicable here) of Richard John Neuhaus, Chesterton is a "singular grace note in God's creative purpose". For those who have not read Chesterton, Orthodoxy is probably the best place to start, followed by The Everlasting Man, followed by the delighful (and insightful) Father Brown stories, followed by ...
on 17 August 2011
I was delighted and surprised with how weird The Man Who Was Thursday turned out to be, having always thought of G.K Chesterton as an old duffer who turned out pleasant crime capers.
Orthodoxy was recommended to me by a vicar, perhaps unsurprisingly. However, GKC's voice is so overpowering at times that it's little surprise that C.S. Lewis is the better known apologist. Still, once one accepts his, at times overbearing, assertions that Pimlico is dreadful etc., there is a challenging argument for the value of ordinariness (or, not thinking too much of/about oneself), which enables you to truly appreciate and value the unusual.
Given his love of paradox, it's inevitable that this attempt to describe what I liked about the book is a reductive misrepresentation of the work as a whole. It's inevitable that many readers would find fault with his constructions of ordinariness, particularly post 70s social theorists. But underneath it all, there is sufficient food for thought.
on 13 November 1998
This book is Chesterton's defence of orthodox Christianity. It is partly autobiographical, in the sense that Chesterton describes various insights into the nature of reality, and various puzzles about reality, and then shows how (to his astonishment) the Christian faith accounts for the insights and answers the puzzles.
The following quote expresses this idea:
"This, therefore, is, in conclusion, my reason for accepting the religion and not merely the scattered and secular truths out of the religion. I do it because the thing has not merely told this truth or that truth, but has revealed itself as a truth-telling thing. All other philosophies say the things that plainly seem to be true; only this philosophy has again and again said the thing that does not seem to be true, but is true. Alone of all creeds it is convincing where it is not attractive; it turns out to be right, like my father in the garden."
But don't just take my word for it! You can read it online from the G.K.Chesterton web page and then buy the book!
on 23 July 2008
Chesterton is hard to take at times; his irritating metaphors and play on words can grind one down. But, what is extraordinary is that this book is so relevant to the "now". He has grasped the nettle of modern relativism and said: "no, accipio crucem Christi; I believe in the Trintiy of princely might": "it is utterely rational for me to so believe". A definite "must" for anyone who wishes to deal with the issues of modernity and faith.
on 5 April 2007
This is a fascinating book, which, like all good things, requires initial effort to adjust oneself to the very particular style of the author and an awareness of it's place in time, i.e. the beginning of the nineteenth century. What is so refreshing about this book is the novel approach of the author to important aspects of the faith. It is insightful, humorous and moving. I would absolutely recommend this timeless work to any denomination of Christian.
on 1 February 1999
In ORTHODOXY, Chesterton provides somewhat of a spiritual autobiography for the reader, weaving together his eloquent writing style with his brilliant Christian apologetics. This book challenges the mind, while arousing a sense of wonder that truly captures the deep spirituality of G.K. Chesterton's own pilgrimage. He explores the realm of mystery in the Orthodox view, while engaging the tradition that it encompasses, transforming it from a safe haven of believe to a rich "romance" of faith and uncertainty. The attentive reader will have difficulty putting this book down.