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Orthodoxy Paperback – May 5, 2013
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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 --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
"Whenever I feel my faith going dry again, I wander to a shelf and pick up a book by G.K. Chesterton."
--from the foreword by Philip Yancey, author of What's So Amazing About Grace? and The Jesus I Never Knew
"My favorite on the list [of top 100 spiritual classics of the twentieth century] is Chesterton's Orthodoxy. It offers wonderful arguments for embracing religious traditions, but it also has humor you don't typically find in religious writing."
--Philip Zaleski, author and journalist
Named by Publisher's Weekly as one of 10 "indispensable spiritual classics" of the past 1500 years.
"Chesterton's most enduring book.... Charming."
From the Hardcover edition. --Review --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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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 and how he unknowingly discovered this "new doctrine" on his own--only to find out, much to his surprise, 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 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. 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." "A man's friend leaves him as he is: his wife loves him and is always trying to turn him into somebody else."
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 past since its composition.
Chesterton has a way of inverting and reversing commonly-held viewpoints and exposing their failings. Christianity is God becoming man so that He as a perfect man can bear the punishment of us all. How absurd, and yet it is true.
Orthodoxy offers the reader Chesterton's explanation of his belief in the truth of Christianity and the falsehood of secularism and Eastern religions. He begins not with reasons for one having faith, or even historical evidence of Christianity, but rather with an explanation of how he arrived at the conclusion that truth and the meaning and purpose of creation comes to us from God. His explanation is masterful and timeless. It is as relevant today, in our day, as it was when he penned the words over a century ago.
He didn't begin from the perspective that Christianity was true. Instead, almost by process of elimination, he proved a hundred dead-ends to be not true, and further showed that what was lacking in each of them was present in the truth of Christianity.
He didn't start from the church as we know it today and work backwards, needing to strip it of controversy and confusion before he could reach a collection of pure facts - like one chipping away at a jewel to try to determine its components. Instead he began as if Christianity was just being discovered, describing the shining delight of the jewel when first seen.
Instead of answering questions about Christianity, he asked questions that the human heart has always asked - only to find that Christianity was the answer to all of them.