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Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton

Orthodoxy (original 1908; edition 1995)

by G. K. Chesterton

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3,496201,519 (4.25)58
Authors:G. K. Chesterton
Info:Ignatius Press (1995), Paperback, 168 pages
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Orthodoxy by Gilbert Keith Chesterton (Author) (1908)


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brilliant! ( )
  ivinela | Dec 10, 2013 |
I'm in the peculiar (and rather frustrating) situation of being a book lover living in a foreign country with no access to an English library and (temporarily, I hope) in a financial situation that prevents me from buying books. Therefore, I've had to fall back on the collection of books that I already own.

I've just recently finished reading G. K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy for the 3rd time. If you're familiar with Chesterton then you well know his penchant for paradox and mirth. This writer had a knack for showing familiar things in a startling new light.

Orthodoxy doesn't disappoint. It constantly amazes and stimulates from the first page to the last. It's as good as a book on religion and philosophy can get.

I won't write about this book what's already been written in other reviews below. I'll only add that in my 3rd reading of this book I came across a passage that somehow I had forgotten after my first 2 readings. This passage is a prime example of how Chesterton can astonish:

"All the towering materialism which dominates the modern mind rests ultimately upon one assumption; a false assumption. It is supposed that if a thing goes on repeating itself is it probably dead; a piece of clockwork. People feel that if the universe was personal it would vary . . . The sun rises every morning. I do not rise every morning; but the variation is due not to my activity; but to my inactivity . . . it might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising . . . The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they especially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore."

That's from a chapter titled 'The Ethics of Elfland' and I think that's a good example of the flavor of the entire book. ( )
  BottomOfThePile | May 31, 2013 |
Although Chesterton included many references to his contemporaries and to the issues of his day, most of them now obscure, the clarity of his writing and the force of his argument made this an interesting and surprising read for me. ( )
  nmele | Apr 6, 2013 |
Orthodoxy : The Classic Account of a Remarkable Christian Experience (The Wheaton Literary Series) by G.K. Chesterton (?)
  journeyguy | Apr 2, 2013 |
G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy is a most unorthodox defense of Christian orthodoxy. Or is it, as it sometimes seems, an orthodox defense of Christian unorthodoxy? (I trust that Chesterton, that lover of paradox, would not begrudge me one of my own at his expense). If you know Chesterton, you know that he will not be pinned down without a fight. He is a man of manifest and muscular opinions—he musters those opinions, and delights in ordering them to strike, to dissipate, to retreat, to regroup, and to reform in new ranks over the course of a single paragraph. You never know what Chesterton will next say, as you never know what Proteus will next be. This is not because Chesterton holds his views lightly (again, he holds them with great force), but because the near-irresistible strength of his personality and style only partially overwhelms the countervailing force of reason, which, left to its own devices, would send his incompatible contentions hurtling to the cosmic antipodes in a blast of annihilatory logic. Chesterton’s verdicts are in constant flux, because that’s the only way for them to stand still. They exhibit a fractal structure; every argument, upon inspection, is found to be comprised of smaller, identical arguments, each one pointing in the opposite direction. He is an unadulterated genius, an exemplary stylist of English prose, and what’s more (as a purely practical matter), has his heart almost unfailingly in the right place. And that, dear reader, is precisely why you must watch him like a hawk.

You can learn a lot about a philosophizer by attending to what he styles a “self-contradiction” (that is, a supposed absurdity urged by his opponents), and what he styles a “paradox” (that is, a supposed absurdity urged by himself). So, for example, it is a self-contradiction when the critics of Christianity reproached it…

…with its naked and hungry habits; with its sackcloth and dried peas. But the next minute Christianity was being reproached with its pomp and its ritualism; its shrines of porphyry and its robes of gold. It was being abused for being too plain and for being too colored… (p. 81)

…whereas it is a mere paradox when Chesterton himself asserts:

In one way Man was to be haughtier than he had ever been before; in another way he was to be humbler than he had ever been before. (p. 86)

This is self-evidently a game played with loaded dice. It would be easy and pointless to multiply examples—Orthodoxy veritably writhes with them. But Chesterton’s steadfast partiality and illogic are not what ultimately make Orthodoxy such an exercise in insipidity. What is Christianity, anyway? You would not believe Chesterton’s answer if I did not quote it verbatim:

Here we must remember the difficult definition of Christianity already given; Christianity is a superhuman paradox whereby two opposite passions may blaze beside each other. The one explanation of the Gospel language that does explain it, is that it is the survey of one who from some supernatural height beholds some more startling synthesis. (p. 139)

This is unrecognizable. If that’s all Christianity is, then it’s hardly worth the skeptic’s time to attack; sadder still, it’s hardly worth the Christian’s trouble to defend. This is bald, unmitigated mysticism—defensible, perhaps, in its own right—but to call it (orthodox) Christianity is laughable. The most execrable thing, however, is not Chesterton’s audacity in pronouncing this doctrine to be orthodox—rather, it’s the timorous acquiescence of generations of actual orthodox Christians, who have hypocritically found convenient cover in pretending that Chesterton was marshalling his formidable intellectual talents on behalf of their own quite distinguishable beliefs.

To be sure, the orthodox Christian is likely to recognize some of her private spiritual experience in Chesterton, but I doubt she will recognize much of her avowed religious creed. There is, for example, very little Christ in Chesterton’s version of Christian orthodoxy. Most of the biblical underpinnings of his theology (Eden, The Fall, and Original Sin, most prominently) derive from Old Testament sources. The suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ; universal atonement for human sins; the doctrine of the Trinity; these are all mentioned, but only tangentially. They are in no sense crucial to the vision of Christian orthodoxy that Chesterton presents. The only identifiable thing about the Christian mythos that is truly essential to Chesterton’s Christianity is that, as a contingent, historical matter, the Christian mythos is the set of stories out of which the Christian Church happened to emerge and around which it coalesced. With the bludgeon of his near-irresistible rhetoric, however, I have no doubt that Chesterton could just as easily have made the case that any other religious tradition answered the demands of his youthful, searching mysticism—as, with sufficient determination, any square peg can be made to fit any round hole.

Come to that, it must have felt terribly convenient, having been a bit of a religious dissident in his youth, for Chesterton to discover that all it took was some sophistry to accommodate Christianity to his own private, spiritual longings. What a relief that the one true religion, the one that he had always felt right down in the marrow of his mystic little bones, turned out to be precisely the one most widely practiced, and least dangerous to be avowed in his own homeland! What a comfort, to commune with the martyred saints, while risking only the jeers and giggles of a few effete materialists!
  polutropon | Jan 12, 2013 |
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Chesterton, Gilbert KeithAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Yancey, Philipmain authorall editionsconfirmed
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This book is meant to be a companion to “Heretics,” and to put the positive side in addition to the negative.
We have come to the wrong star ... That is what makes life at once so splendid and so strange. The true happiness is that we don't fit. We come from somewhere else. We have lost our way.
Life is not an illogicality; yet it is a trap for logicians. It looks just a little more mathematical and regular than it is; its exactitude is obvious, but its inexactitude is hidden; its wildness lies in wait.
Madmen never have doubts.
Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385015364, Paperback)

If G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy: The Romance of Faith is, as he called it, a "slovenly autobiography," then we need more slobs in the world. This quirky, slender book describes how Chesterton came to view orthodox Catholic Christianity as the way to satisfy his personal emotional needs, in a way that would also allow him to live happily in society. Chesterton argues that people in western society need a life of "practical romance, the combination of something that is strange with something that is secure. We need so to view the world as to combine an idea of wonder and an idea of welcome." Drawing on such figures as Fra Angelico, George Bernard Shaw, and St. Paul to make his points, Chesterton argues that submission to ecclesiastical authority is the way to achieve a good and balanced life. The whole book is written in a style that is as majestic and down-to-earth as C.S. Lewis at his best. The final chapter, called "Authority and the Adventurer," is especially persuasive. It's hard to imagine a reader who will not close the book believing, at least for the moment, that the Church will make you free. --Michael Joseph Gross

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:52:43 -0400)

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G.K. Chesterton was a journalist, playwright, poet, biographer, novelist, essayist, literary commentator, editor, orator, artist, and theologian. A serious attack in 1903 against Christianity by Robert Blatchford, well-known newspaper editor, impelled Chesterton to seize the gauntlet of refutation. His reply was immensely successful and was the early formation of his convincing credo that is so brilliantly and cogently argued in Orthodoxy, a masterwork that was published just five years later.… (more)

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