Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton

G.K. Chesterton's book Orthodoxy was the first I read by him and it was amazing. It was little hard to get through for me, more essay-like than story-like, but if you have the perseverance it is SO worth it. I liked his writing even MORE than C.S. Lewis. It was more direct, clearer and a little more humorous. The way he described his culture of the time still applies exactly to the culture of our time: relativism, skepticism, worshipping the "god within". And he really will convince you that there is a wonderful adventure waiting where you'd least expect it!

Here are some of my favorite quotes:
If it be true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness in skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can only draw one of two deductions. He must either deny the existence of God, as all atheists do; or he must deny the present union between God and man, as all Christians do. The new theologians seem to think it a highly rationalistic solution to deny the cat. (Chapter II, The Maniac)

The Christian admits that the universe is manifold and even miscellaneous, just as the sane man knows that he is complex. The sane man knows that he has a touch of the beast, a touch of the devil, a touch of the saint, a touch of the citizen. Nay, the really sane man knows that the has a touch of the madman. But the materialis's world is quite simple and solid, just as the madman is quite sure he is sane. The materialist is sure that history has been simply and solely a chain of causation, just as the interesting person before mentioned is quite sure that he is simple and solely a chicken. Materialists and madmen never have doubts. (Chapter II...)

Mysticism keeps men sane. As long as you have mystery you have health; when you destroy mystery you create morbidity. The ordinary man has always been sane because the ordinary man has always been a mystic. He has permitted the twilight. He has always had one foot in earth and the other in fairyland. He has always left himself free to doubt his gods; but (unlike the agnostic of to-day) free also to believe in them. (Chapter II...)

At any street corner we meet a man who utters the frantic and blasphemous statement that he may be wrong. Every day one comes across somebody who says that of course his view may not be the right one. Of course his view must be the right one, or it is not his view. We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table. We are in danger of seeing philosphers who doubt the law of gravity as being a mere fancy of their own. Scoffers of old time were too proud to be convinced; but these are too humble to be convinced. The meed do inherit the earth; but the modern skeptics are too meek to even claim their inheritance. It is exactly this intellectual helplessness which is our second problem. (Chapter III, The Suicide of Thought)

Religious authority has often, doubtless, been oppressive or unreasonable; just as every legal system (and especially our present one) has been callous and full of a cruel apathy. It is rational to attack the police; nay, it is glorious. But the modern critics of religious authority are like men who should attack the police without ever having heard of burglars. For there is a great and possible peril to the human mind: a peril as practical as burglary. Against it religious authority was reared, rightly or wrongly, as a barrier. And against it something certainly must be reared as a barrier, if our race is to avoid ruin. (Chapter III...)

We have found all the questions that can be found. It is time we gave up looking for questions and began looking for answers. (Ch III...)

Liberalism has been degraded into liberality. Men have tried to turn "revolutionize" from a transitive to an intransitive verb. The Jacobin could tell you not only the system he would rebel against, but (what was more important) the system he would not rebel against, the system he would trust. But the new rebel is a Skeptic, and will not entirely trust anything. He has no loyalty; therefore he can never be really a revolutionist. (Ch III...)

In short, the democratic faith is this: that the most terribly important things must be left to ordinary men themselves - the mating of the sexes, the rearing of the young, the laws of the state. This is democracy; and in this I have always believed. (Chapter IV, The Ethics of Elfland)

And it seemed to me that existence was itself so very eccentric a legacy that I could not complain of not understanding the limitations of the vision when I did not understand the vision they limited. The frame was not stranger than the picture. (Ch IV...)

I had always felt life first as a story: and if there is a story there is a story-teller. (Ch IV...)

Fourth, that the proper form of thanks to it is some form of humility and restraint: we should thank God for beer and Burgundy by not drinking too much of them. (Ch IV...)

Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her. (Chapter V, The Flag of the World)

Of all horrible religions the most horrible is the worship of the god within. Any one who knows any body knows how it would work; any one who knows any one from the Highter Thought Center knows how it does work. That Jones shall worship the god within him turns out ultimately to mean that Jones shall worship Jones. Let Jones worship the sun or moon, anything rather than the Inner Light; let Jones worship cats or crocodiles, if he can find any in his street, but not the god within. Christianity came into the world firstly in order to assert with violence that a man had not only to look inwards, but to look outwards, to behold with astonishment and enthusiasm a divine company and a divine captain. (Ch V...)

And the more I considered Christianity, the more I found that while it had established a rule and order, the chief aim of that order was to give room for good things to run wild. (Chapter VI, The Paradoxes of Christianity)

The instinct of the Pagain empire would have said, "You shall all be Roman citizens, and grow alike; let the German grow less slow and reverent; the Frenchmen less experimental and swift." But the instince of Christian Europe says, "Let the German remain slow and reverent, that the Frenchman may the more safely be swift and experimental. We will make an equipoise out of these excesses. The absurdity called Germany shall correct the insanity called France." (Ch VI...) 

The man of the nineteenth century did not disbelieve in the Resurrection because his liberal Christianity allowed him to doubt it. He disbelieved in it because his very strict materialism did not allow him to believe it. (Chapter VIII, The Romance of Orthodoxy)


  1. That was also the first of his book which I read. It is a sort of intellectual autobiography more than anything else--so it will naturally be part story and part essay. He's very imaginative in his outlook, so even his essays carry an air of whimsy and a sense of wonder, and element of fantasy and of fancy. There is some element of storytelling in his style of essay.

    And I also like his writing more than that of C.S. Lewis--or more appropriately, I like his best stuff more than Lewis' best stuff.

  2. Yes, so well-described! It's a pity he isn't as well-known as Lewis...!