I like reading. I’d be crazy to have written a book review column for a year and a half if I didn’t like reading. But, in addition to reading, I like getting to know people. I’m an interesting person to make friends with because I have a knack for focusing very intentionally on developing the friendship. I want to find out whether I click with someone, whether my potential friends are “after my own heart” (Acts 13:22). I was delighted to find that after spending intentional time with the mind of Mr. G. K. Chesterton. If you like British people, theology, deeply reflective reading, and wit, you will love Orthodoxy as much as I did.
Orthodoxy is among Chesterton’s best-known works. It is recommended as a good first book for the beginning Chesterton fan; I support that recommendation. Like any philosopher or theologian, he begins with a basic question: what should I believe in? If we can believe that some things are good and some are bad, then why do people do bad things—or, in his trademark style, why do men go mad? Along the way, Chesterton describes his journey toward a personal philosophy and the startling final discovery that he was not the first person to generate that philosophy. Christianity had it right all along.
I would be a terrible reviewer if I didn’t warn you that Chesterton is not an easy read. It took me a very long time to finish reading this book. (Then again, it took me a very long time to get as close to my best friends as I am now.) I annotated the whole thing, so the pages are marked (pardon the pun) by my underlining, summaries, and even cross-references. I like to chew over books as I read them (also people, but not literally), especially books about God (sometimes literally—hooray for the Eucharist). Chesterton is very chewy. You will have a much easier time with this book if you know a little bit about theology or philosophy, but if you are open to following a complex line of thought (knowing that it ends at the Apostles’ Creed), you will be delighted with Chesterton’s wit and forthrightness. He doesn’t mince words, and he’s not trying to seem like a big shot, but he is very well educated. If you adopt a bit of this philosophy into your life, you will be, too.
Chesterton’s explanation of why Christianity is the only logical path of belief is also marked by his humility. In the very first paragraph of the very first chapter, he writes:
I have attempted, in a vague and personal way, in a set of mental pictures rather than in a series of deductions, to state the philosophy which I have come to believe. I will not call it my philosophy; for I did not make it. God and humanity made it; and it made me.
He spends a later chapter explaining that fairy tales help us understand life. A door that leads to a hidden castle is only exciting because we know that most doors don’t lead to magical castles. The idea that something so simple as learning a little man’s name can enslave him to you is only ridiculous when we give so little power to names. Complaining about monogamy only arises when the beauty of sexuality is taken for granted. Modesty, freedom, charity, sacrifice: they all slowly make sense. In trying to figure out what he believed for himself, he discovered that others already agreed completely. He had stumbled upon the Truth.
I did try to found a little heresy of my own; and when I had put the last touches to it, I discovered that it was orthodoxy.
Read this book, find orthodoxy for yourself, and discover the freedom and joy within.
Up next: Flight of the Earls, by Michael K. Reynolds (pending my receiving the book in time)