Thursday, March 30, 2006

Chesterton's Orthodoxy

I've been reading Orthodoxy since the beginning of Lent. I'll admit to being a bit lazy about my reading given the other things competing for my time right now (such as all that moving stuff I've been whining about for the past month).

Anyway, I've enjoyed Chesterton's reminiscence of his intellectual process from agnosticism to the Catholic Faith. I've mentioned previously that I find his style to be a tad circuitous. He tends to write around his subjects, which is pretty typical of 19th century British prose. Being paid by the column inch certainly had its impact on Dickens, so it's not surprising to see ripples in GKC's work. I prefer Waugh's directness, but GKC mental meanderings have their own pleasure.

Something else to note about Chesterton is his quotability—like Emerson without the heresy. Chapter 2 of Orthodoxy is a prime example—line after line of zingers. He describes complete self-confidence as follows:

Believing utterly in one's self is a hysterical and superstitious belief like believing in Joanna Southcote[1]: the man who has it has 'Hanwell'[2] written on his face as plain as it is written on that omnibus.

Or this on modernist theologians and their denial of the existence of sin:

If it be true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness in skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can only draw two deductions. He must either deny the existence of God, as all atheists do; or he must deny the present union between God and man, as all Christians do. The new theologians seem to think it a highly rationalistic solution to deny the cat.

Something I struggle with in many British works of the period (and evident of both GKC and Waugh) is the use of invective. I could chalk it up to an overabundance of charity, or an excess of gentility, but I think it's more likely to be due to the habit of political correctness that developed during my university studies. I'm trying to overcome that tendency, but I always struggle to find balance in that area.

I need to wrap up Orthodoxy and move on to the next book on my list by our Holy Father: Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions.

1. an English visonary
2. an asylum in west London
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