June 15, 2004

The Everlasting Man, by G.K. Chesterton

I first tried reading this around the time I got out of college. Then, as now, I was a big fan of C.S. Lewis, and especially of his book Mere Christianity, and I'd been led to believe that this was more of the same. And in fact, it was nothing like I expected; I found it disappointing, and heavy going, and I soon abandoned it.

Now, the fact is, I was doomed from the start. Chesterton is not Lewis, and must be enjoyed on his own terms. If they explored some of the same territory, they explored it in completely different styles. Lewis set out with little but surveying instruments of the highest quality; Chesterton set out on elephant back, with Persian rugs and his entire library in jeweled boxes at his side. If sometimes seems that it takes Chesterton a full page to say what Lewis can say in a sentence or two, still, Lewis does not provide us with such a dizzying panoply of examples, illustrations, and allusions in every breath.

Suffice it to say that I appreciated the book much more this time around.

It's difficult to summarize Chesterton, especially at this length, but I'll try. We moderns have gotten used to thinking of Christianity as one religion among many: Christianity in this column, Judaism and Islam just adjacent, with Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism just beyond that. That is, we've gotten the notion that all of these labels stand for things that are much the same underneath, when nothing could be further from the truth. In this book, Chesterton has undertaken to show us how different Christianity is from all of these others, and indeed how radically different it was at its inception from the Greco-Roman paganism it replaced--that is, how different Christ, the everlasting man of the title, is from Zeus and all that lot. Along the way he explodes a great many sacred cows of his day, and it's rather surprising to note how many of them have calves roaming our streets even today.

It's a fascinating book, frankly, and as always with Chesterton makes me look at some familiar things in a new way. I'm clearly going to have to re-read it in a year or so, though, just to see what I missed the first time through.

Posted by Will Duquette at June 15, 2004 07:13 PM