April 11, 2004

Orthodoxy, by G.K. Chesterton

This is a simply amazing book, and one that I'm having great difficulty reviewing. When reviewing a non-fiction book, I like to summarize the book's argument. That's absurdly difficult in this case, because the book is almost embarassingly rich--is almost bigger on the inside than on the outside. I think I'm going to need to re-read it every couple of months for the indefinite future if I'm to do it justice.

Anyway, here's what it's about (as opposed to what's in it). Chesterton wrote a book called Heretics in which he described several of the prominent thinkers of his day and the world-views they espoused, and pointed out the weaknesses and failings of the latter. A critic of the book declared that it was unfair for Chesterton to deal so with his subjects without giving them the opportunity to criticize his own world-view. Chesterton was always willing to plunge cheerfully into battle, and wrote the current book in answer.

Just as Surprised by Joy describes C.S. Lewis's personal journey of faith so this book describes Chesterton's, and with great humor. Indeed, the whole book can be described as an enormous joke on Chesterton himself. As a young man he rejected Christian orthodoxy, and became a freethinker. And as he examined each school of thought proposed by the freethinkers before him, he found that it wouldn't answer. Rejecting each of them, he boldly struck out on his own, and attempted to devise his own system of thought that commended itself to his reason and his common sense. And when he had completed it, and saw that it was good, he discovered that he had reinvented Christian orthodoxy.

There now, I think I've adequately described the premise of and occasion for the book; it's the content that's hard to summarize. I'll have to read it again.

In the meantime, I suggest you take a look at this essay, which undoubtedly does a better job of introducing the book than I have.

Posted by Will Duquette at April 11, 2004 01:49 PM