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Heretics by Gilbert Keith Chesterton

Heretics (1905)

by Gilbert Keith Chesterton

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This collection of essays was more of a mixed bag for me and nowhere near as wonderful as [b:Orthodoxy|87665|Orthodoxy|G.K. Chesterton|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1174077015s/87665.jpg|1807543]. (Much of that probably had to do with my failure to catch turn-of-the-twentieth-century references.) However, the chapters I liked were indeed wonderful (such as "On Certain Modern Writers and the Institution of the Family"), and I'll be able to reread [b:Orthodoxy|87665|Orthodoxy|G.K. Chesterton|http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1174077015s/87665.jpg|1807543] now with a better appreciation of what he was about. I'd certainly still call it essential reading for any Chesterton fan. ( )
  LudieGrace | Dec 4, 2013 |
Chesterton was a jovial, good-natured man, known for his raucous laughter and his love for naps and good beer. But Chesterton was also criticized for his joy, particularly criticized for how many jokes he made at his opponents’ expense. Heretics exhibits that style of jovial criticism, as in its pages Chesterton contests the philosophies and the philosophers of his day, but does so with wit and flair.

The chapters of this book are each devoted to a different writer or thinker of Chesterton’s day, as he tears down their ideas one at a time. Some names are recognizable today, while others have disappeared into the forgotten past.

I give this book a rating of 3 out of 5 with some regret, because I found great enjoyment in its pages. But the primary weakness of the book is its strong ties to the past; many of the ideas and persons described within are no longer known to today’s society. While the chapter on H. G. Wells still carries some interest for today’s reader, there is little need for us to dwell on the weaknesses of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

As to the book’s strong suits, I thought the opening to be one of the most profound I have ever read. Chesterton described our modern world turned on its head, as illustrated by our use of the words “orthodoxy” and “heretic”:

"The word 'heresy' not only means no longer being wrong; it practically means being clear-headed and courageous. The word 'orthodoxy' not only no longer means being right; it practically means being wrong. All this can mean one thing, and one thing only. It means that people care less for whether they are philosophically right. For obviously a man ought to confess himself crazy before he confesses himself heretical."

Chesterton also wrote profoundly about the modern tendency to focus on evils and weaknesses, without pointing men and women toward any idea of what is good: “The human race, according to religion, fell once, and in falling gained knowledge of good and of evil. Now we have fallen a second time, and only the knowledge of evil remains to us.”

I could continue to share dozens more quotes — the Kindle tells me I’ve highlighted 89 different passages in the book — but instead I encourage you to read Heretics yourself.

This book will require more labor to read than any of today’s books, but the effort is worth your time. Chesterton was a brilliant social critic, and a fantastic wordsmith. If you are up for the challenge, Heretics will provide you with handfuls of pithy quotes, a picture of Chesterton’s coherent Christian worldview, and an example of how to winsomely critique the false ideas of your peers. It has not the accessibility of C. S. Lewis or even of Chesterton’s own Orthodoxy, but Heretics is a fascinating, if more difficult, read. ( )
  QuietedWaters | May 22, 2013 |
Book itself: unfortunately, I got to the introduction only after reading it through; knowing that this book came before Orthodoxy, and that it was written by 1905, would have been useful throughout the reading.

Nevertheless, Chesterton plows forward in this book in his unique style, often turning conventional wisdom on its head as he looks at things from a quite different perspective.

The book is loosely about the "heresies" of many of the popular figures of Chesterton's day-- G. B. Shaw, Kipling, and even many of the political figures of the day. Chesterton, as a Catholic, ventures forth with a creative defense of the Christian viewpoint/system in light of the growing influence of modernism.

Both Chesterton and C.S. Lewis have provided useful apologetic material for our present day, and Chesterton's material has one benefit-- he writes these things before either WWI or WWII, while Enlightenment triumphalism and modernism were reaching their full effect and not dented by the relativism that would seep in after the horrible years.

Many of his comments are quite good and worth hearing out; the reader will likely find many quotables in this text, since Chesterton, if nothing else, is eminently quotable.

Sometimes he goes a bit far; he is quite wed to English superiority, and the past century has proven some of his predictions wrong. Much of his material presupposes an understanding of turn of the century England and its empire, and thus many of his references lose a modern audience. Nevertheless, he clearly saw the challenges and the fallacies of Enlightenment triumphalism and the modernist movement afoot. As the last Romantic, Chesterton might just help us find a way forward through the philosophical wreckage of our own day.

Kindle edition: I had few difficulties with this ebook. A few spelling mistakes that might be on account of the OCR. Make sure that you go back to the beginning and read the introduction, since Chesterton's references are quite time-specific. ( )
  deusvitae | Jul 19, 2011 |
The prickly old polemicist at his trade. Chesterton's writing is hugely interesting. Even when he is clearly wrong, I need to really think how to refute him. Sometimes it is in his postulates or axioms, never in his rhetoric. (Note that when I say "he is clearly wrong", I am only repeating Chesterton's words: after all, he says that a heretic is one that disagrees with him.) ( )
  ari.joki | Jan 11, 2011 |
Author of the "Father Brown" crime stories, Chesterton was not the most practical of men. While on a lecture tour he is said to have sent his wife a telegram saying "Am in Stow-on-the-Wold, where should I be? Love, Gilbert." Yet as a controversialist he was precise and deadly, which is why these hundred-year-old attacks on the ideas of Shaw, Wells, Ibsen and Kipling retain their interest. So much so that in an essay of 2005 Patrick Wright accused him of promoting an 'unsavoury xenophobia'. Who, looking at the state of England today, can doubt that Chesterton, had he not been dead seventy years, would have skewered the "Guardian" essayist neatly and decisively? ( )
1 vote gibbon | Aug 11, 2008 |
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To My Father
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Nothing more strangely indicates an enormous and silent evil of modern society than the extraordinary use which is made nowadays of the word “orthodox.”
We ought to see far enough into a hypocrite to see even his sincerity.
We ought to be interested in that darkest and most real part of a man in which dwell not the vices that he does not display, but the virtues that he cannot.
A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.
Ideas are dangerous, but the man to whom they are least dangerous is the man of ideas. He is acquainted with ideas, and moves among them like a lion-tamer. Ideas are dangerous, but the man to whom they are most dangerous is the man of no ideas. The man of no ideas will find the first idea fly to his head like wine to the head of a teetotaller.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0486449149, Paperback)

The "Prince of Paradox" is at his witty best in this collection of 20 essays and articles. Focusing on "heretics" — those who pride themselves in their superiority to conservative views — Chesterton appraises prominent figures from the literary and art worlds who fall into that category, including Kipling, Shaw, Wells, and Whistler.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:52 -0400)

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In Heretics, Gilbert K. Chesterton rails against what he sees as wrong with society. He points out how society has gone astray and how life and spirituality could be brought back into focus. 'It is foolish, generally speaking, for a philosopher to set fire to another philosopher in Smithfield Market because they do not agree in their theory of the universe. That was done very frequently in the last decadence of the Middle Ages, and it failed altogether in its object. But there is one thing that is infinitely more absurd and unpractical than burning a man for his philosophy. This is the habit of saying that his philosophy does not matter, and this is done universally in the twentieth century, in the decadence of the great revolutionary period.' -G. K. Chesterton… (more)

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