Saturday, July 17, 2010

Book Review - Orthodoxy

I have now read four books by the human quote machine known as G. K. Chesterton, and this one, Orthodoxy, is my favorite so far. In a nutshell, Orthodoxy chronicles Chesterton's own rather unorthodox journey to his Christian faith. Written before his eventual conversion to Catholicism, the work is a mile wide, a mile deep, and has a strong current. It is very easy to get tossed along in Chesterton's stream-of-consciousness. I found it much better to just take it nice and slow, hop from one paragraph to the next, and occasionally re-read bits I didn't get on the first pass.

Chesterton's arguments in favor of Christianity are anything but straight-forward. They are filled with metaphor and allusions, both to literature and to the events of the late 19th century. However, the end result is striking. And the number of brilliant aphorisms that may be mined from Orthodoxy is practically infinite. Here are a few of my favorites:
"Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame. If you draw a giraffe, you must draw him with a long neck. If, in your bold creative way, you hold yourself free to draw a giraffe with a short neck, you will really find that you are not free to draw a giraffe."

"Oscar Wilde said that sunsets were not valued because we could not pay for sunsets. But Oscar Wilde was wrong; we can pay for sunsets. We can pay for them by not being Oscar Wilde."

"Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live, taking the form of a readiness to die."

‎"We have almost up to the last instant trusted newspapers as organs of public opinion. Just as recently, some of us have seen that they are obviously nothing of the kind. They are, by nature of the case, the hobbies of a few rich men....We do not need a censorship of the press. We have a censorship by the press."

"The man of the 19th century did not disbelieve in the Resurrection because liberal Christianity allowed him to doubt it. He disbelieved in it because his very strict materialism did not allow him to believe it."

‎"How can we say that the Church wishes to bring us back into the Dark Ages? The Church was the only thing that ever brought us out of them."
There is also a passage in which Chesterton compares Saint Joan of Arc to Tolstoy and Nietzsche which I enjoyed very much. These quotes should give an idea of how much ground Chesterton covers in Orthodoxy. And this is truly just scratching the surface.

Orthodoxy is a highly philosophical book that deals with a great many abstract concepts. However, if you are interested in philosophy, intellectually curious and want to find out how one of the great minds of the 20th century came to embrace Christianity, you will find Orthodoxy to be an enlightening and very rewarding read.

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