YIMC Book Club, “Orthodoxy,” Chapter 3

Posted by Webster

The honor roll of the YIMC Book Club reads as follows: Mary, Kneeling Catholic, EPG, Goodalice19, Mujerlatina, Mike, Regina, Frank & Webster (Who am I missing?)

It’s been a long day, YIMC Book Clubbers! So I’m going to keep this short and turn it over to you.

Chapter 3, “The Suicide of Thought”

Frankly, between you and me, this overeducated Exeter boy finds Chesterton intimidating. He is so damn smart, he piles on the analogies, the metaphors, like baked beans on a Saturday supper plate. And this chapter has more beans than the two previous chapters combined. But—

Let’s all remember that Chesterton was writing in the first decade of the 20th century, one hundred years ago. Imagine that! In the name of Christianity, he took on the following “titans” of Western thought: Marx, Darwin, Nietzsche, and Tolstoy! (There are others mentioned in chapter 3, but this is a heavy-hitting line-up.) He stood up to these guys and said, “You know what? You don’t get it. The Protestant Reformation ‘shattered’ Christianity 350 years ago, and all the intellectual powers of man have come unhinged from their moral base.”

Here are a couple of related quotes from chapter 3 that resonate with me.

In the act of destroying the idea of Divine authority, we have largely destroyed the idea of that human authority by which we do a long-division sum.

And

Thinking in isolation and with pride ends in being an idiot. Every man who will not have softening of the heart must at last have softening of the brain. 

What I understand from this chapter is that, by becoming unhinged from the Divine truth that inspired it, Western thought has flown off into an orbit of its own. And Chesterton is calling us back to Christ.

What do you think, my newfound Catholic friends?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15292156826231664316 pennyyak

    I read this book for the first time about a month ago, and if I had to summarize any one chapter I would require medical attention.All I can say (in the vaguest way) is he is on the side of the angels, but the density of his writing stumps me at every turn.I wonder if I can find any Cliff notes? Ha!

  • Webster Bull

    Hey Pennyyak, Thanks for your honesty. I find GKC pretty dense myself, but I also recognize the sound of my brother's voice. Intellectually, he may be miles above me, but where it matters, at the level of the heart, of faith, I think I "get" him.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    You know what's weird are his novels. I read "The Man who would be Thursday" and it wasn't too bad, but "Father Brown" is all over the place in grand GKC style. Some of his writing is like cotton-candy to me. You put it in your mouth and POOF it's gone. But "Lepanto" was dead-on. And his common sense appeal is easy for me to understand. He's has got lot of stuff in print and yet, not much is in my public library.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15292156826231664316 pennyyak

    Funny you would say that Frank, because that is the first place I looked for his books (before buying Orthodoxy). Nothing in the library – not even fiction. I have been wanting to read a Father Brown story (and will, one day). All of his work is new to me, and I'm interested in seeing more, though I might only really grasp just a bit.

  • Anonymous

    Dense reading – yes! My solution to understanding his message is to read the chapter then, while listening to it on CD, make tick marks beside the pertinent statement not the analogy or metaphor. My third time through this chapter is to read only my tick marks. It is at this point I understand GKC. Whew!What struck me was the statement, " Humility was largely meant as a restraint upon the arrogance and infinity of the appetite of man. " This is as true today as it was 100 years ago. In the corporate world, I read about the CEO of the financial institutions that received bailout money. They use it to give bonuses to the upper management or to decorate their offices. True humility would be to recognize there is someone greater than your self (God)and use the money to stabilize the company which was the intent of the government. On a personal level, I find my arrogance in my knowledge at work. I am very good with details. True humility for me is to accept that what knowledge I have is through the grace of God. As we separate God from ourselves , from our work, from our skills, from our responsibilities, we believe we are a god or at least act as if we are one. It is our skill and our work. We have removed ourselves from the Devine. Tonight I will pray the Litany of Humility. I need to return to the proper attitude and relationship with God. Sincerely,Mary R

  • Webster Bull

    Thanks, MaryAll very true for me, as well, although I am equally taken with his "humility in the wrong place." We should be holding proudly to the Truth, not our petty truth of "I'm right, you're stupid," but the Truth of the Word. GKC laments the "shattering" of Christianity at the Reformation and Fr. Julian Carron (head of CL following Fr. Giussani's death) lasents the loss of the "old traditional certainties." Meanwhile, Pope BXVI warns us of the dangers of relativism (any truth is fine). This is just as serious a problem to think about.

  • EPG

    Anonymous wrote [in part]: "What struck me was the statement, " Humility was largely meant as a restraint upon the arrogance and infinity of the appetite of man. ""And then Chesterton goes on to argue that humility can be practiced to excess, that humility is meant to restrain our ambitions, but not to undermine our confidence in our ability to reason, to think — he uses the phrase "the thought that kills thought." So not only is he taking on Marx, Freud, Darwin, Wells, and others of his day, he is anticipating, and arguing against, post-modernism, over 50 years before it reared its ugly little head. Brilliant stuff.A thought on handling Chesterton's prose. Remember that he was trained as an artist, and worked as a journalist. I think he is not so much making an argument, as painting a picture of one. Thus the analogies, turns of phrase, etc. I find it helps, if not to read his stuff aloud literally (although one could try that) then to imagine hearing his words, perferably as he speaks to you over a dinner table, or in the corner of a pub over a couple of pints. Consider it a conversation, or even a lecture, and just let it flow.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    Hey Pennyyak (sheesh I wanna call you Ms. Moneypenny for some strange reason, forgive me!):I am on a first name basis with my library's "Inter-Library Loan" department. They have been a HUGE help getting stuff for me to read that isn't owned by "the system". Call your library reference desk, nay, look at their webpage and see if they can borrow stuff from "abroad".

  • Webster Bull

    EPG, Reading GKC aloud is a great suggestion, although it might drive Katie nuts! :-) I love reading aloud, read the LOTH psalms aloud to myself every morning. And the postmodernism connection is one I made while reading then dropped. On this point, I'm actually quite hopeful, going to the Belloc quote: "Do not, I beseech you, be troubled about the increase of forces already in dissolution. You have mistaken the hour of the night: it is already morning." Is it possible that these systems of thought enumerated by GKC have committed suicide, shown their emptiness (Marxism has, I think we can agree on that) and that a new dawn is coming? I think our pope may see that dawn coming, when perhaps the Church isn't growing in size or is even contracting but at the same time is coming (back) to something essential.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12442813565745123497 MUJERLATINA

    Folks: I am way behind ALL of you — both in my reading and my understanding of Chesterton. This weekend I think I'll try to what Mary is doing, by reading aloud and underlining as I go. @ Webster: I'm a Pomfret girl and, though it's not Exeter, am happy to have found a "commrade-in-boarding-school-days-arms!" While I'm a fairly bright lightbulb, obviously this Chesteton guy is giving me pause. Bear with me fellow YIMC Bookclubbers. I hope to have something edifying to add next Thursday. Que Dios les bendiga este Adviento.

  • Webster Bull

    Mujerlatina (I think of you as "Doc," because you said you're a physician, Frank refers to you as "Bones," just so you know who your friends are, in this anonymous on-line world!)–Thanks and hang in there, Pomfret Girl. I think another way to take Chesterton is to read each chapter just once, underlining what means something to you, then meditating on these lines only. After all, no writer has ever repeated himself so much!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    Levity Alert!! Anyone remember this quote from the movie "Bull Durham"?Crash(Kevin Costner) to Laroush(Tim Robbins): "I'm your new catcher and you just got lesson number one: don't think, it can only hurt the ballclub."Back to the cotton candy (or peanuts & cracker jacks) LOL!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12442813565745123497 MUJERLATINA

    Will do my friends!! Now I don't feel so "dull." (as "not the sharpest knife in the drawer") analogy. Happy reading.Pax,Mujerlatina AKA 'Doc' and/or 'Bones'

  • Mary P.

    Okay, I think I know where I'm going wrong! I downloaded the book on my iPhone. It's really tough going, although I recognize the wisdom of the words themselves, I'm having trouble comprehending the points of Chesterton's arguments. Reading a paragraph at a time is probably part of my problem. You know, I'm seeing trees, but having difficulty comprehending the forest. I am greatly heartened that others are having the same difficulty! I was a bit amused at Chesterton's reference to humility. As a writer, I have difficulty accepting the fact that just because I write something, people aren't tripping over themselves to read my work, thus witness my brilliance. If we had no sense of an ego, we would never possess the tenacity to put words to a page (or computer screen) and think we have something to offer humanity. So I very much appreciate EPG's comment on the proper place for humility.In the mean time, I think I'll order a hard copy, unearth a highlighter, and pray for inspiration for a few words half as enlightening as the rest of you!

  • Webster Bull

    Mary,I have found that reading a book on my iPhone has only one great application: reading myself to sleep when Katie has already turned out the lights! Otherwise, give me a book!!

  • http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/pannone jp

    Don't know if you folks know about the American Chesterton Society, but in case you don't, they're a great resource for getting to know GKC. http://chesterton.org.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01819831282677092730 Frank

    JP: I love his "Quotes Page" at that link! And regarding my Bull Durham quote, it is similar (in a way) to Our Lord's teaching as follows:"Truly I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all." -Luke 18:17When I was a kid I didn't "over-think" stuff.Trying to open my mind agian now LOL (and Chesterton's is a beautiful mind).And Bones…you are as sharp as a scalpal, as God intended! Sheesh!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/15292156826231664316 pennyyak

    A lot of good suggestions – I'm fired up to try and tackle it again. And Frank, I'll look into that.

  • Anonymous

    Hi Book Club, Chesterton to me is such a giant as a writer because he understood that mind,body and soul always seek beauty. He believed in celebrating the Christian Imagination. Oh, and I love the method he used in writing-He was a little hary -cary,did not sweat the dates and footnotes yet, like a painter was able to present his subjects in such a tangible way that reading him helped you "get" the person he was describing. Happy Advent, Regina

  • EPG

    Webster wrote (in part):"I think our pope may see that dawn coming, when perhaps the Church isn't growing in size or is even contracting but at the same time is coming (back) to something essential."Well, the current Pope is a major reason I am looking at the Catholic church. A friend of mine had lent me his book "Truth and Tolerance," written while BXVI was still Cardinal Ratzinger. I thought, "This man is a powerhouse, and nothing like the caricatures of him in the press." That was the month before JPII's death, and Ratzinger's election.Your quotes from Belloc are intriguing. He is on my list of writers to get to know, and I know he had a close association with GKG.Keep up the good work. I may not check in very much for the next couple of weeks, as I am about to start a long and difficult trial (oh the life of a lawyer). If I do, however, it will be primarily to check in on the progress of the virtual book club. It's a great addition to this blog, and I look foward to it.

  • Webster Bull

    EPG, Thanks for staying with us as we sort out YWeR Catholic! As you read more about and from our current pope, you might find value in Peter Seewald's two books of interviews with him (Salt of the Earth & God and the World), both interview sessions held while BXVI was still Cardinal Ratzinger. Those, plus Seewald's follow-up (BXVI: An Intimate Portrait), completed after BXVI's election, are eye-opening. First, Seewald approached the German cardinal as a skeptic and even a cynic (young, lay German journalist). By book III, Seewald had become a Catholic. Second, Ratzinger/Benedict's answers to very, very challenging questions are stunning for their balance (as in it's impossible to throw this guy OFF balance!), fairness, compassion–whatever qualities of humanity and holiness you want from a pope, you're going to hear in these answers. Becoming a Catholic after the death of JPII was a bit like waking up on Christmas morning and finding Santa had died. Now, I'm thrilled that Benedict is "my" pope. May he live a thousand years!

  • Webster Bull

    Regina, Thanks for your contributions to this book group! I am keen to read other books by Chesterton for the reasons you give. It seems to me that, at least in Orthodoxy, he is coming from a position similar to that in some writings by Don Giussani, founder of CL, who taught (if I get him right) that we have to be whole (mind, body, and soul) to see the world correctly; that we can't see truth unless we judge our lives not just with our minds but with our hearts as well; that there is a truth written on the heart (now, I'm waxing poetical!) that corresponds with ultimate reality/truth.


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