The war between atheists and believers has been going on far longer than many people realize. It’s modern form with Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens is but a graceless reflection of what was happening back in the early 1900s. Witness G.K. Chesterton’s book “Orthodoxy” which was published in 1908.
Back at the turn of the previous century, Chesterton’s sparring partners were the likes of George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells. No slouches, those two. But unlike today, there was a sort of collegiality between Chesterton and some of his opponents. Bernard Shaw and Chesterton considered themselves to be friends and actually enjoyed their arguments.
“Orthodoxy” was meant to be a companion volume to his previous book, “Heretics,” in which Chesterton had a go at the modern, humanistic philosophies of the time. He was roundly criticized for not offering any alternative philosophy of his own. As one of Chesterton’s targets, G.S. Street, put it, “I shall not begin to worry about my philosophy of life until Mr. Chesterton discloses his.” Chesterton’s “disclosure” turned into one of his greatest works.
In the brief opening chapter, Chesterton lays out his goal this way:
“We need so to view the world as to combine an idea of wonder and an idea of welcome. We need to be happy in this wonderland without once being merely comfortable. It is this achievement of my creed that I shall chiefly pursue in these pages.”
By “creed” Chesterton meant the Apostle’s Creed, “as understood by everybody calling himself Christian until a very short time ago and the general historic conduct of those who held such a creed.”
So off we go! Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with blow by blow summaries of each chapter or detailed analyses of various positions. I will share with you Chesterton’s best lines and try to make his key ideas clear.
See you next time with a “Moment With Gil.”