Eric Sundquist's Reviews > Orthodoxy

Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton
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Feb 26, 11

Read in January, 2010

Notes on Chesterton's Orthodoxy
Second time through
July - August 2010

I. Introduction in Defense of Everything Else

Author describes his autobiography like a man setting sail for a new world and returning to England under the impression of being in South Africa. "I did try to found a heresy of my own; and when I put the final touches to it, I discovered that it was orthodoxy."

II. The Maniac

Holding too tightly to logic and rules produces insanity - this is a bad thing. In contract, poets and those who embrace paradox find the most satisfaction in life.
>Author wants to encourage readers to stop trying to understand all the rules and just start living.

A madman may be able to explain away everything according to his worldview, but that creates a smaller world for him to live in. Instead, admitting there are some - or several - things that you do not know creates a layered and more enjoyable world.
>Author would like readers to drop their assumptions that everything can be explained in a tidy worldview (like cause and effect) and see what happnes when they experience life from this perspective.

One cannot reason himself out of insanity (or his current worldview); it takes some mystical act of the will to change the way life is experienced.

"The Christian is quite free to believe that there is a considerable amount of settled order and inevitable development in the universe. But the materialist is not allowed to admit into his spotless machine the slightest speck of spiritualism or miracle."

III. The Suicide of Thought

Author in this chapter takes his stance against many of the emerging philosophies of his day, especially "modern scepticism," which he claims is "so humble that [the sceptic] doubts if he can even learn."

Author evaluates modern systems of thought - materialism, extreme evolutionism, Well's concept of uniqueness, theory of modern progress, extreme pragmatism - and concludes that they naturally lead the thinking person to stop thinking.

Author then looks at a different system - egoism - which is about human will rather than thought. This system, however, is self-contradictory and eventually ends up being another self-refuting intellectual theory as powerless as the previous ones.

IV. The Ethics of Elfland

Author strongly values democracy - a liberal ideal; but to be truly democratic, votes from the past must also be counted, resulting in tradition - a conservative ideal.

The author sees the laws of the world as the laws of "Fairyland" instead of modern materialistic laws.
>There is a certain magic in everything. Repeated cause and effect sequences do not demonstrate a law but merely a weird coincidence.
>Fairyland is fully of absurdities to remind us of the joy of discovering everything for the first time. This real world is marvelous because everything is absurd when discovered for the first time.
>Because of the world's goodness, there must be an author somewhere who should be thanked.
>Magic in fairy tales always depends on the obedience of a condition. Likewise, obedience should be given to any author of the real world.

Scientific fatalism/materialism lacks the enjoyment and awe of Fairyland because everything must be the way it is. The author dismisses mere repetition as proof of this worldview.
>The repetition in the universe may just as well prove it is alive and good instead of dead.

The scientific worldview, which has no laws to be obeyed because there is no free will, has created for itself a prison. But those who live in Fairyland obedient to its rules are allowed to remain in awe of everything they see.

All the points thus far author came up with on his own without ever thinking of Christianity.

V. The Flag of the World

Optimism and pessimism are inferior attitudes than fierce patriotic loyalty.
>Pessimism leads to despair for change; optimism is too content to change. Only patriotism can hold both the hate for the world and love for the world needed to really bring change.

Suicide is the worst sin because it is in a sense destroying the world for that person. Author then contrasts suicides to martyrs: one kills the world, the other dies for the world. He then realizes that Christianity has the same view on things and begins to notice that many of his believes line up with Christianity.
>Christianity's doctrine of something outside man and outside the universe is compatible with his scepticism of the inner light and stoicism.
>Because an outside good God created the universe inhabited by corrupted men, it is possible to both love and hate it - fitting with his idea of loyalty.
>The author's earlier thoughts on the rules of Fairyland make sense when there is a person-creator instead of a materialistic universe.

VI. The Paradoxes of Christianity

The arguments against Christianity were some of the most convincing points proving Christianity to author because they condemned Christianity for opposite things - too pessimistic and too optimistic, too passive and too aggressive, etc.

Because of the contradicting arguments against Christianity, either it must be quite bizarre or the world must be quite bizarre.

While the world tries to balance contradicting extremes, Christianity holds on to both sides and in this way provides freedom "for good things to run wild."

VII. The Eternal Revolution

In order to be at once very satisfied and very unsatisfied in the world, one must take up a value system.
>It cannot be nature, for this leads to circular reasoning. (It is good because nature decrees it; nature decrees it because it is good.
>It cannot be time, for this always makes the majority (living in the past) wrong and without value.
>Instead, values should simply be determined by what we naturally want.,

Progress and reform are not the same. "Progress" (in author's definition) means changing the ideal/vision. "Reform" means changing the situation to get closer to the ideal/vision.

Obtaining what we want (our chosen highest value), "reform" and conservatism are more effective than "progress" and liberalism, for conservatism keeps its eye on the goal and moves to keep itself there or get closer, while liberalism changes the goal so frequently that nothing else gets done.

Christianity again lines up with Chesterton's thought as it has a fixed ideal (Eden) to which it longs to restore the world.

The ideal of progress must not only be fixed, it must be composite - that is, multifaceted.
>Thus, there is no one ideal of pacifism or dominance; instead man rejoices in a complex mix and balance of the two.
>This too lined up with Christianity.

Once the ideal of reform is reached, vigilance is required to keep it where it is; otherwise it mutates into something else.

VIII. The Romance of Orthodoxy

Liberal thought is actually less freeing ("liberal") than orthodox thought, for each school of liberalism adds many constraints which cannot be removed.

Liberalism is illiberal because it does not allow for the possibility of miracles.
>In fact, if the good of progressivism is to bend matter to the desire of mind, then miracles are more progressive than liberalism.

Orthodoxy is more freeing than pantheism because it allows the freedom to love others, where pantheism is just self-love.

The orthodox doctrine of original sin is more freeing than the Eastern doctrine of pantheism because it allows for progress and setbacks as opposed to just an unchanging state of consciousness.

IX. Authority and the Adventurer

Author argues that it is proper to accept the Christian doctrine as a whole instead of simply taking the truths and leaving the doctrines.

Author finds that arguments against Christian doctrine (e.g. man being an animal, religion's ignorant and fearful origins, the depression of priests, et. al.) are in fact incorrect when honestly examined, and even show the opposite to be true.

The accumulation of many small facts is enough to justify belief in the whole system.

It is more rational to believe in miracles than against: "Believers in miracles accept them because they have evidence for them. The disbelievers in miracles deny them because they have a doctrine against them."

Author presents one of his central reasons to accept Christianity: the Christian Church has shown itself to be a living teacher to his soul.
>It has shown itself to be "a truth-telling thing," and when he has disagreed with the church he has always come around to discover the church was right all along; author fully expects to be so guided in the future.

Christianity is greater than agnosticism because it allows for real, expansive, ecstatic joy.
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