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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.

Comments

spwebdesign
Mar. 24th, 2008 05:27 am (UTC)
Again, this idea of evidence — who uses miracles as the existence of God? Rather, it should be the other way around. We have faith in the existence of God (amongst other things), and thus if anything the existence of God is evidence that miracles are miracles and not simply unexplained phenomenon. I will repeat that miracles prove nothing. Religious belief (and not belief in religion, to address a subtle point from your previous comment) is based on faith, not on a preponderance of evidence. This is one of the places where I feel Chesterton strayed, by trying to create (flimsy) evidence. If one could construct some sort of proof from evidence, the whole point of religion would vanish in a puff of smoke. There's just no two ways around this: Religious belief is by definition faith-based.

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