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Heretics Paperback – February 28, 2007
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Heretics is one of Chesterton s most important books. It is also one of his most neglected books. Perhaps the reason has to do with the title. The word heretic conjures up frightful images of controversial characters being barbecued for their beliefs. It smacks of intolerance. The very word dogmatic is perceived as being intolerant. But Chesterton says that man is the animal who makes dogmas. Trees have no dogmas. Turnips are singularly broad-minded. There is something ironic about tolerance being an ideal, and that it is connected to religious freedom. In reality, tolerance has done more to suppress religion than has any persecution. It has left us not only afraid to debate about our beliefs, it has made us afraid even to discuss them. As Chesterton says, We now talk about the weather, and call it the complete liberty of all creeds. This strange silence about religion leaves the impression that religion is not important. There is one thing that is infinitely more absurd and unpractical than burning a man for his philosophy. This is the habit of saying his philosophy does not matter, and this is done universally in the twentieth century... A man s opinion... on Botticelli matters; his opinion on all things does not matter. Chesterton says that we can t get away from the fact that we have a general view of existence, whether we like it or not. It affects and involves everything we say or do, whether we like it or not. And our general view of things is based on our ultimate view of things. Religion is never irrelevant. This book is not an attack but a defense, a defense of the ancient truths that are under attack by modern heretics. Chesterton claims to have gained a deeper appreciation of the Christian Faith through the simple exercise of defending it. He says he never realized the great philosophic common sense of Christianity until the anti-Christian writers pointed it to him. Heresy, it turns out, is usually a distinct lack of common sense. A heresy is at best a half-truth, but usually even less than that. A heresy is a fragment of the truth that is exaggerated at the expense of the rest of the truth. The modern world praises science and hygiene and progress. These are all very well and good, but they have been elevated at the expense of larger truths, such as faith and tradition and permanent ideals. In this book, Chesterton takes on George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, and other heretics whose names may not be familiar, even if their heresies are still exceedingly familiar. The original objection to Heretics, which in fact compelled Chesterton to write Orthodoxy, is that his own criticisms of others were not to be taken seriously unless Chesterton himself declared what he stood for. This is perhaps why Heretics is considered the negative for which Orthodoxy is the positive. But any reasonable reader can see that Chesterton s criticisms are a defense of a well-defined position. By criticizing moral and artistic relativism, he is defending identifiable and absolute standards. By criticizing egoism and the cult of success, he is defending humility. By criticizing skepticism, morbidity and muddle-headedness, he is defending faith, hope, and clarity. Clarity. The truth which Chesterton is defending should be obvious. But because Chesterton has to defend it, it obviously isn t obvious. The heretics have obscured the truth, they have distracted us, they have won us over with lies. The first lie is that truth doesn t matter. --Dale Ahlquist, American Chesterton Society --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
About the Author
GK Chesterton was born in London in 1874 and educated at St Paul's School, before studying art at the Slade School. In 1896, he began working for the London publisher, Redway, and also T. Fisher Unwin as a reader where he remained until 1902. During this time he undertook his first freelance journalistic assignments writing art and literary reviews. He also contributed regular columns to two newspapers: the Speaker (along with his friend Hilaire Belloc) and the Daily News. Throughout his life he contibuted further articles to journals, particularly The Bookman and The Illustrated London News. His first two books were published; two poetry collections, in 1900. These were followed by collections of essays and in 1903 by his most substantial work to that point; a study of Robert Browning. Chesterton's first novel, 'The Napoleon of Notting Hill' was published in 1904. In this book he developed his political attitudes in which he attacked socialism, big business and technology and showed how they become the enemies of freedom and justice. These were themes which were to run throughout his other works. 'The Man who was Thursday' was published in 1908 and is perhaps the novel most difficult to understand, although it is also his most popular. 'The Ball and the Cross' followed in 1910 and 'Manalive' in 1912. Chesterton's best-known fictional character appears in the Father Brown stories, the first of the collection, 'The Innocence of Father Brown', being published in 1911. Brown is a modest Catholic priest who uses careful psychology to put himself in the place of the criminal in order to solve the crime. His output was prolific, with a great variety of books from brilliant studies of Dickens, Shaw, and RL Stevenson to literary criticism. He also produced more poetry and many volumes of political, social and religious essays. Tremendous zest and energy, with a mastery of paradox, puns, a robust humour and forthright devotion along with great intelligence characterise his entire output. In the years prior to 1914 his fame was at its height, being something of a celebrity and seen as a latter day Dr Johnson as he frequented the pubs and offices of Fleet Street. His huge figure was encased in a cloak and wide brimmed hat, with pockets full of papers and proofs. Chesterton came from a nominlly Anglican family and had been baptized into the Church of England. However, he had no particular Christian belief and was in fact agnostic for a time. Nevertheless, in his late --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
Some of the names have been forgotten almost entirely; a few, like G B Shaw, Kipling, and so on, are still read. Many of the openings of the chapters are the best and most concise things in the chapters, but as always there are gems scattered around, and a bundle of wit.
I would recommend this book for those interested in exploring the arena of worldview debate. It isn't a long book, at only about 150 pages. The essay are broken up into nice little chunks that you can read in a half-hour or so, spend some time mulling, and maybe read through again, if you'd like. I could attempt to describe the content of the essay's, but it would take way too long, and I'd fail to do it anywhere near as well the Big Man himself.
In Heretics, Chesterton outlines the popular philosophies of his day which stood in opposition to not only logic but also that which the author maintained as truth. Amazingly, more than a century later, the same truth is still available and apparent to those who seek it while the same philosophies, although perhaps slightly altered, still stand in direct contradiction to what Chesterton understood to be unmistakable truth. What might be the greatest truth so easily recovered from the pages of Heretics, yet which remains so hidden from the view of the masses, is the incomplete substance, as opposed to the mere falsity, of many philosophies. Chesterton's work, however, was, as he admitted, left unfinished with regard to Heretics and later fulfilled with the publication of Orthodoxy. If Heretics presented a problem, Orthodoxy presented the solution. Both are timeless classics, and both should be read if an understanding of Christianity in relation to apparent philosophical and ideological truths is sought.
Each Essay takes on novelists, poets, philosophers, clergy and so-forth, mostly well-known in his day, introducing some of their work and what they stand for. If Loren Eiseley once re-introduced the symbolic essay to English in the 60's as Annie Dillard once opined in Best American Essays, Chesterton's essays each center on an idea he associates with each person. Three names I recall off-hand are Kipling, Shaw and Wells. The idea associated with Kipling is that he embodies the globe-trotter (what we called a jet-setter in the 60's) as opposed to the farmer who stays put. The world traveler thinking to enlarge his vision, becomes jaded and mentally blinkered as the world "shrinks" due to the greater speed of travel, while the humble man who never goes out the gate imagines a boundless world and enjoys a blessed life of enchantment. As I paraphrase the argument, it sounds trite, but it, and many others in the book are phrased so well, one can read the essays many times without sharing the fate of the traveler.
Please note, my five stars are for the book itself. I think the paperback's cover makes it look like a cheap Christian tract rather than the masterpiece of a subtle man of faith which provides food for thought as fresh today as on the day Chesterton wrote it. I include quotes from Heretics in half a dozen of my books in English and think he may seem less dated than I will in a hundred more years!
Most Recent Customer Reviews
One of the great minds and writers more than just relevant; absolutely along with HG Wells essential.Read more