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Book 7

  1. Matheson, Richard — I Am Legend (161 pages)
  2. McCarthy, Cormac — No Country for Old Men (307 pages)
  3. Dexter, Gary — Why Not Catch 21?: The Stories Behind the Titles (213 pages)
  4. Ryman, Geoff — 253 (366 pages)
  5. Wyndham, John — The Day of the Triffids (267 pages)
  6. Kurkov, Andrey — Death and the Penguin (228 pages)
  7. Chesterton, G.K. — Orthodoxy (183 pages)

Page count: 1725.

I didn't do particularly well with my Lenten resolutions this year. One of them was to read at least one religious book. I chose Chesterton's Orthodoxy. One might legitimately question whether this counts as a religious book. (As I said to Father Kevin last night, I would have been better off with Teresa's autobiography.) And I read the last ten pages after the Easter Vigil Mass, so technically I didn't finish during Lent either. I can't even say that I tried my best, for I've been reading several other things concurrently.

So here I am, having finished one of the most famous books categorized as Christian Apologetics and finding that it contains very little that is apologetics or much even that is Christian. If it explains anything, it gives insight into the twists and turns of the Chestertonian mind.

Chesterton's premise is that Christianity is the only feasible and satisfying (note I didn't say reasonable) system for describing our world. He describes how he conducted his search for answers from the perspective of a sceptic and agnostic and kept being led to Christianity. He "discovers" his own metaphysical model, he says, only to find that it had already been discovered a thousand [sic] years before.

I suppose I should be thrilled whenever someone finds his way to Christ, however he got there. But I don't feel Chesterton's path is particularly safe. For one (and I could stop at this one), Christianity is about faith. If we could prove the existence of God, it would somewhat defeat the purpose. I think Chesterton acknowledges this—no, I know he does—yet he persists in showing how he reached his "faith" threw logical deductions.

Two, he spends considerable effort debunking (successfully) other schools of thought, such as materialism, rationalism, fatalism, et cetera-ism. He calls some of them quite reasonable and sound, but points out that they are missing something. The analogy he makes repeatedly is to the madman, for a madman's logic is faultless but a madman's worldview is prohibitively narrow. The problem is that ruling out all other schools of thought as inadequate doesn't by default prove Christian thought correct.

Finally, many of Chesterton's assumptions are faulty and/or dated. His "axioms" aren't at all axiomatic. That anyone would take for granted some of the points he expects us to take for granted implies a sort of intellectual gullibility on the reader's part. Or laziness. Or wishful thinking. Indeed, I think one of the reasons this book is so popular amongst Christians is that Chesterton arrives at the same place we do. We generally agree with his conclusions; therefore, we're all too willing to ignore or excuse the manner in which he bullied his way there from faulty or unsupported premises.

Having said all that, I do appreciate the zeal with which Chesterton delved into his task. This was, mostly, an enjoyable and insightful read. Some of the analogies and metaphors he uses are priceless. And he does point out some "truths" about Christianity (and about attacks on Christianity) that are most enlightening and worth pondering. It's just that, as spiritual autobiography, Orthodoxy falls short of the standard set by others such as Merton and Day and, I'm sure, Teresa.


Mar. 23rd, 2008 03:34 am (UTC)
If he successfully debunks so many other schools of thought, I imagine that his own methods could also be used to debunk Christianity, except from what you say, he approaches that one a very different way.

Indeed, sounds like it'd be a frustrating read for a thoughtful, devout person such as yourself.

Happy Easter!
Mar. 23rd, 2008 03:43 am (UTC)
"Debunk" was a poor choice of words on my part. That's what I get for writing when half asleep!

More accurate would be to say that he points out the logical inconsistencies of other schools of thought (not of religion) which are used to attack the validity of religious thought. Then he turns right around and uses Christianity's seeming contradictions to "prove" how Christianity avoids these inconsistencies. But of course, his methods could be used against him, especially given the number of his basic axiomatic assumptions which seem flawed.

It wasn't a frustrating read, though, partly because Chesterton's style is so irreverant and light-hearted that one wonders how seriously he took himself and can excuse a lot.

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