Book in Review: Orthodoxy


I have read almost 4 books by G. K. Chesterton thus far; and Orthodoxy is a masterpiece. The best of what I have read from him yet. Witty, hilarious, intellectually astute--Chesterton is in fine form throughout. And though Orthodoxy is heady, you will find that Chesterton's humor and skill with the pen make it an entertaining, almost addictive read. His paradoxical manner of framing big ideas, his undeniable ability to wield "common" sense as a weapon, his way of speaking to universal human experiences--together makes him one of the most enjoyable writers of his time. And he's not pulling any punches with the philosophers of his day either.

In the introduction, Chesterton self-deprecatingly describes himself as a man who sent out from England to explore new lands but gets blown off course in his travels and unknowingly arrives back in downtown London, where he then proceeds to claim this "new land" for England! Chesterton then charts his spiritual journey from agnosticism to Christianity (ultimately in the form of Roman Catholicism, which I’ll admit is unfortunate) and how he unknowingly discovered this "new doctrine" on his own--only to find out, that it was nothing more than the old Christian doctrine which has been believed for thousands of years. Chesterton is a late comer to the party, and he doesn't mind admitting that fact throughout!

Chesterton rails against intellectualism, against the scholastics and against the George Bernard Shaw types. The atheist scientist who says there is no transcendent meaning to this thing called life. Grown up skeptics and modernized "experts" who care little for the world. In short, Chesterton realizes that the fairy tales that he knew as a child, that wonder he felt within the deepest part of him when he was young, the feeling that the grass was green because it was "supposed to be green"--were actually all true. The reason the tales of the "Lady and the Dragon", or "Jack and the beanstalk" resonated with him so much as a child was because they spoke to a certain human truth, an internal testimony, that there is something more than just molecules and chance. There had to be something more. So Chesterton figures out an understanding of original sin, of creation, of a transcendent God, and of the archetypal tale because it was really true--the story of God coming into the world to bring man back to Himself. Chesterton is unabashedly romantic, and he rejoices to find that Christianity is as well.

In the chapter that perhaps hit me the hardest (The Flag of the World), Chesterton confronts exactly what our posture as Christians needs to be towards the world. It cannot be escapism or pessimism; an unhealthy desire to withdraw from the darkness of the world: "For our Titanic purposes of faith and revolution, what we need is not the cold acceptance of the world as a compromise, but some way in which we can heartily hate and heartily love it. We do not want joy and anger to neutralize each other and produce a surly contentment; we want a fiercer delight and a fiercer discontent. We have to feel the universe at once as an ogre' castle, to be stormed, and yet as our own cottage, to which we can return at evening." Wow. That is romance in writing and ointment to my own personal numbness I have been struggling with recently. Another one: "The point is not that this world is too sad to love or too glad not to love; the point is that when you do love a thing, its gladness is a reason for loving it, and its sadness a reason for loving it more."

This is a great book, and I am already doing a second pass through it because there is so much in it that I missed. Chesterton is medicinal to the ills of a modern world--and Orthodoxy in particular has lost no degree of relevance in the century that has passed since its composition.

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