YIMC Book Club, “Orthodoxy,” Chapter 9

Posted by Webster 
With this post and the comments that follow, we say good-bye to our first YIMCBC book, Orthodoxy by GK Chesterton. Next week we turn to Mere Christianity by CS Lewis. Frank will lead that discussion.

Chapter 9, “Authority and the Adventurer”
The entire book is, in Chesterton’s own words, “an account of my own growth in spiritual certainty.” The first eight chapters set aside major modern objections to Christianity (from materialism, Marxism, and other schools of thought), then show ways in which Christian positions make rational sense. In the final chapter, Chesterton asks and answers the ultimate question. As advocate for the devil, he writes:

Even supposing that [Christian] doctrines do include [many] truths, why cannot you take the truths and leave the doctrines? . . . Why cannot you simply take what is good in Christianity, what you can define as valuable, what you can comprehend, and leave all the rest, all the absolute dogmas that are in their nature incomprehensible?

This is the argument for ethical humanism or even an anti-clerical Protestant Christianity: “We all know what’s right. We don’t need dogmatic mumbo-jumbo to back it up. We don’t need a clergy to keep us in order. We can all just get along.”

The reason Chesterton finally embraces Christianity, needs Christianity, is the same reason Rome was the center of the Roman Empire: All roads led there. Likewise, for Chesterton, all the data points to Christ. He is persuaded by “an enormous accumulation of small but unanimous facts.’’

To back this up, he begins with two “triads of ordinary anti-Christian arguments” (six arguments, in all). In each instance, he shows that the facts back the Christian position. The six arguments are:

  1.  “Men, with their shape, structure, and sexuality are, after all, very much like beasts, a mere variety of the animal kingdom.”
  2. “Primeval religion arose in ignorance and fear.”
  3. “Priests have blighted societies with bitterness and gloom.”
  4. “Jesus was . . . sheepish and unworldly, a mere ineffectual appeal to the world.”
  5. “Christianity arose and flourished in the dark ages of ignorance and . . . would drag us back [to these].”
  6. “The people still strongly religious or (if you will) superstitious—such people as the Irish—are weak, unpractical, and behind the times.”

You can read for yourself his response to each of these—and he might have picked many other anti-Christian arguments. Being married to a faithful Catholic woman whose maiden name is Katie McNiff, I appreciated this Englishman’s defense of the Irish, at point 6.

In all cases, Chesterton writes, “The skeptic was quite right to go by the facts, only he had not looked at the facts. The sceptic is too credulous; he believes in newspapers or even in encyclopedias.” This was my conclusion today about a commenter who threw offhand criticisms at the Catholic Church.

There is much more to this concluding chapter, but I will leave that to the few (the happy few) who have followed this discussion to its end. What did you find most interesting about Chesterton’s final chapter?

  • http://semperjase.com Jason

    Orthodoxy is available for free in PDF form at http://www.ccel.org.

  • Webster Bull

    Thanks for the tip, Jason.

  • EPG

    I sometimes have a hard time with questions like Webster's, because there is so much in Chesterton that makes me want to pick up my pen and make a note. I sometimes think I'm going to end up writing the whole chapter down.I particularly liked how Chesterton picked up the theme of the Fall, and weaves it into a message of hope. I think a lot of non-Christians see the doctrine of the Fall as a negative. Chesterton finds it helpful, because it explains so much.As he writes early in the chapter: "If we wish to pull down the prosperous oppressor we cannot do it with the new doctrine of human perfectibility; we can do it with the old doctrine of Original Sin."Of course, Christianity does not merely leave us with the doctrine of Original Sin — it also prescribes a cure, hence the hope.And that hope frees us from the tyranny of karma (the logical consequence of the doctrine of re-incarnation) and the despair inherent in western paganism, of which GKC writes "beyond the gods, who are despotic, sit the fates, who are deadly."And then, of course, this: "There was some one thing that was too great for God to shwo us when He walked upon our earth, and I have sometimes fancied it was his mirth."

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

    Well, this was a great book, a fun read, and I look forward to re-reading it!