Stephanie's Reviews > Orthodoxy

Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton
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Apr 26, 2011

it was ok
Read in March, 2010

Ah, Chesterton. You never cease to awaken me to the paradoxes and perplexities of life. The foremost being, "How can Christians actually like you when you're paradoxically narrow-minded and a god-awful writer to boot?" Life never ceases to amaze me.

So following is not my review of the book, but the "Ten Things I Hate About Chesterton." This was part of my Torrey notes when I actually had to read the book in school last year. After struggling through a monstrosity such as Orthodoxy, there was much need for catharsis.

10. He has an intermittent genius. This is why he gets two stars instead of one. He sees through a lot of garbage, but then as if to compensate he makes you wade through all his garbage. When he is right (about wonder, etc), you just want to strangle him for being so obtuse the rest of the time.

9. Everything HAS to be symbolic. Tombstones and ballots are marked by a cross (46)! OMG! I never realized it before! It's so deep! Thank God Chesterton lived too early to know about Laminin, or he would have had a field day. If there were swastikas in our blood, would Chesterton defend Nazism? Ok, probably not. If you're Chesterton, why wait for a pretext?

8. He likes the status quo. That's because he's an upper class, imperialist, white male. If he was one of the millions actively oppressed by orthodoxy (and if you want to get technical, for Chesterton Orthodoxy includes anything European)he would feel very different about defending the system.

7. He overused alliteration. Why does he compare two things in one of his pointless aphorisms? Because they sound alike and he thinks it's cute. For instance, Hell and Hanwell (not bedlam) on page 9.

6. He's uninformed. Sure, he'll admit when he's not the most qualified person to speak on a subject (6), but it's not like that stops him from giving his rant anyway. And he pretends to the authority of eternal truth. Worse, people believe him.

5. He's wordy. Overuse of the second person, filler adjectives (quite, really), meaningless phrases ("if I may say")--any high school student knows how these can clog up writing. If Chesterton cut the conversational tone and got right to the point his book would be half as long and twice as good. If only he had, I don't know, worked on a newspaper or somethin' maybe he would have picked up basic writing skills.

4. He's patronizing. Ah, those poor silly fellows who are so foolish as to disagree with Chesterton--and not merely Chesterton, I might add, but the full force of Christendom and (gasp!) WESTERN thought! How entertaining they are, and yet also worthy of eternal torture. (For it is not incompatible to mock the damned. A Christian combines all extremes. You always knew double-think was more than just Orwell being pessimistic, didn't you?) We are even respectful to our damnable detractors, not using their bare surnames, but even sticking a "Mr." in front, which gives the impression of a slight, ironical bow (17).

3. He speaks in aphorisms. Scan through a paragraph looking for the main argument, and you could easily end up highlighting, "Monkeys may throw bluebottles at sunset, but Christians SHALL not." Ok, this is not really from Chesterton. But this is: "Greek heroes do not grin: but gargoyles do--because they are Christian. And when a Christian is pleased, he is (in the most exact sense) frightfully pleased, his pleasure is frightful" (104). Does this make any sense? No. does it support the argument (whatever that is)? No. Does it sound clever. Uh, actually...no.

2. He keeps knocking perfectly good authors such as Nietzsche, Wilde, and Tolstoy. He ones remarks that for his opponents no stick is too bad to beat Christianity (89). We can see where they learned it. For Chesterton, no stick is too bad to beat Nietzsche. In Torrey, students have it drilled into their heads not to feel superior to geniuses because we are Christian and they are not. Apparently, no one ever gave that advice to Chesterton. Sometimes I wonder if he even understood Nietzsche...especially on 107 where he seems to completely miss the idea that rejecting labels such as "good" and "evil" means that you can't use those labels anymore. Oh, well. At least it's clearly ridiculous for Chesterton to criticize Nietzsche for hiding behind metaphors. Yeah, don't you just hate it, Chesterton, when authors disguise their lack of argument with flashy prose? Oh, sorry, I didn't mean to target you. Your prose is just bad.

And the number 1 reason to hate Chesterton is...

1. He equates "western" with "all goodness possible on earth." Orthodoxy doesn't quite come out and say "If the King James version was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me," but it comes pretty damn close. This man has never stopped to realize that he worships a Middle Eastern Jew. Sure, he's right to say Christianity is the only true religion. Where he goes wrong is assuming that every single aspect of European culture is superior to every single aspect of any other culture, and moreover that the difference points to a theological truth. Who cares if Buddhist saints have their eyes closed? If Christian saints did, you'd dredge up some reason to defend that.

Is it just me? I might think so, but when I recently spoke up at a lecture about what I saw as the flaws in Chesterton's worldview, it only took a few seconds for a girl sitting next to me to whisper, "I think Chesterton's racist too. Just because you're nice doesn't mean you have no misconceptions about other cultures." But she was too afraid to speak up.

This is why I ultimately can't be a thinking person and fully defend Chesterton. With a great imagination, he cuts himself off from so much symbolic richness by his narrowminded prejudice against all that is different. He seems to think that Athens brought glory to Jerusalem, instead of the other way around. And there I go with the mindless aphorisms...
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Comments <span class="smallText"> (showing 1-10 of 10) </span> <span class="smallText">(10 new)</span>

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A.S. Peterson I agree with a lot of this criticism, but if anything is true of Chesterton, it's true that he's a brilliant writer. You might as well say Dickens couldn't write.


Stephanie See my review of "Tale of Two Cities!" :D

I guess Chesterton is one of those "love it or hate it" styles. Sometimes he's a lot of fun, but sometimes his writing just feels forced because he jumps from aphorism to aphorism without really explaining what he means.


Justin The fun is to figure out what he means (it took me years), because he means something, every time.
Western culture was Christian, therefore superior...if you don't like the notion then, fair enough, you won't like Chesterton. The problem being that contemporary western culture has little to do with Christianity, so it's difficult to make comparisons.


message 4: by Chris (new)

Chris The One reason I hate Stephanie's review:

1. It isn't a review. Stick to the script for those of us that actually want to find a review under reviews rather than your long winded 10 reasons you hate the author.


Stephanie Justin--I agree, some of the fun is cracking open the meaning behind Chesterton's aphorisms. I've been part of some good class discussions on his books. In general, though, I prefer authors who can state big ideas in simple words.

Beginners love flair; the greats let the truth speak for itself.

You're right, it is complicated to discuss the influence of Christianity on Europe, particularly when religion has been abused. That's why I'm not fully comfortable with the idea of one culture being "superior."

Chris--What script are you referring to? Sorry this review wasn't what you had expected. I usually avoid book summaries because those are easy to find on Amazon, and what makes Goodreads unique is that people can share their opinions.


message 6: by Michael (new)

Michael Lanier Your criticisms 8 and 4 are addressed in The Everlasting Man. You seem to take him out of his time. He was writing philosphy, he has to back up his claims to the upmost. Have you read Kant? He is brief considering. He beats "perfectly good authors" Nietzsche, Wilde, and Tolstoy because they believe reason is wholly unreliable with respect to the big questions in metaphysics and moral theory. It has nothing to do with how they write, rather what they write that was influencing church doctrine. He speaks in using allusions that people knew at the time when people actually appreciated classics. His statement makes perfect sense given its context "The following propositions have been urged: First, that some faith in our life is required even to improve it; second, that some dissatisfaction with things as they are is necessary even in order to be satisfied; third, that to have this necessary content and necessary discontent it is not sufficient to have the obvious equilibrium of the Stoic. For mere resignation has neither the gigantic levity of pleasure nor the superb intolerance of pain. There is a vital objection to the advice merely to grin and bear it. The objection is that if you merely bear it, you do not grin. Greek heroes do not grin: but gargoyles do–because they are Christian. And when a Christian is pleased, he is (in the most exact sense) frightfully pleased; his pleasure is frightful. Christ prophesied the whole of Gothic architecture in that hour when nervous and respectable people (such people as now object to barrel organs) objected to the shouting of the gutter-snipes of Jerusalem. He said, “If these were silent, the very stones would cry out.” Under the impulse of His spirit arose like a clamorous chorus the facades of the mediaeval cathedrals, thronged with shouting faces and open mouths. The prophecy has fulfilled itself: the very stones cry out." So the answer is yes, it is just you. If you read it with your mind made up it is terrible because it was written by a white, male, upperclass British man- then you are left with terrible conclusions.


Stephanie It's nice to see a comment that's actually a defense of the text instead of just trying to start a flame war. In short, if you enjoy Chesterton's prose, by all means go on enjoying him. Chesterton's style just ticks me off for some reason (well, 10 reasons), and that doesn't mean the book is bad for everybody.

Michael, my philosophy class got me through Descartes and Hume. We didn't read Kant, but from what I see on Goodreads, I'm glad we didn't. Sounds dull.

As for Nietzsche, Wilde, and Tolstoy, I've read them all and gotten good thoughts from all of them. They were all helpful to me, but I guess if they weren't for Chesterton--that's his opinion.

It just seems unfair for them to be reduced to "bad influence on church doctrine." As unfair, actually, as reducing Chesterton to "Imperialist white male."

The long passage quoted shows both the good and bad points of Chesterton's style. There's a lot to talk about in this passage, but there's also some confusion. Christ's statement can't be said to relate to stone gargoyles in any direct sense, even metaphorically. Gargoyles are demonic beings meant to frighten people with their wickedness. So it takes a huge leap in logic to compare them to Christian people. I can get the idea, it just seems very awkward. If that metaphor were any looser, it would fall off.

Maybe it's because of my knowledge of the classics that I find Chesterton's metaphors so bizarre and unlikely. If you know what he's referencing it's too easy to see where he cherry-picks images.

So to wind up a very long comment, Chesterton's style has some definite quirks to say the least. And there are times (such as the discussion of the monotheistic sultan and the closed saint's eyes) that seem unnecessarily harsh to other cultures. I'll still reread "The Man Who Was Thursday" and "The Everlasting Man" but I don't agree with him on all points.


message 8: by Michael (new)

Michael Lanier It just seems unfair for them to be reduced to "bad influence on church doctrine." As unfair, actually, as reducing Chesterton to "Imperialist white male."- they both might be true, but dismissing there claims based on such seems like a bad idea. Chesterton spends an entire chapter explaining why it is a bad idea, or rather why their philosophy is unreasonable. I took offense at your statement that he likes the status quo because he is upper white class. It is defiantly not his reasoning given.


message 9: by Rachael (new) - added it

Rachael Wow, another Torrey chum who dislikes this book as much as I do (maybe more), for the same reasons even! Glad I'm not the only one.


Stephanie Rachael wrote: "Wow, another Torrey chum who dislikes this book as much as I do (maybe more), for the same reasons even! Glad I'm not the only one."

Haha reading back over this review I realize I should have explained "Torrey." But it seems that I found a chum anyway! :)


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