Chesterton is an intellectual hero of sorts to Christians, although many people now have only vaguely heard of him as a writer that C.S. Lewis read. I believe he is better known in the Catholic community, since Chesterton ultimately took his journey to orthodoxy to Catholicism. We'll probably come back to that point later.
Since I have not read or studied Chesterton before, I came to the book not knowing what to expect. Chapter 1: Introduction in Defense of Everything Else makes clear what is coming. It is a classic introduction, a great example of "Tell the reader what you are going to write about."
"I have attempted in a vague and personal way in a set of mental pictures rather than in a series of deductions, to state the philosophy in which I have come to believe. I will not call it my philosophy; for I did not make it. God and humanity made it; and it made me."
Near the end of chapter one, Chesterton writes about the fact that his journey to faith took place largely outside of church. He writes,
"It might amuse a friend or an enemy to read how I gradually learnt, from the truth of some stray legend or from the falsehood of some dominant philosophy, things that I might have learnt from my catechism--if I had ever learnt it."
In his search for truth, Chesterton went to to the ends of the earth philosophically ("in an anarchist club or a Babylonian temple") and did find the truth, but what he found was that those philosophies were false and Christianity true. I found this observation to be an affirmation of the value of Scripture memory or catechism. That is, even if my children take a journey in adulthood in search of truth as Chesterton did, wishing to test out false philosophies for themselves, I pray that the truth of Christ that they've hidden in their heart in childhood will be there for them when re-discover that Christ is, in fact, the Truth. There all the time.
If I thought this would be an easy read, chapter two proved otherwise. I feel a bit like I'm reading Orthodoxy in another language! Why? Because he speaks in terms of philosophy and I'm realizing I'm a bit lacking in my knowledge of philosophy and, more specifically, the history of philosophy. In any case, chapter two, The Maniac, has some brilliant and witty quotes. In fact, Chesterton had me laughing out loud in several places!
In chapter two, Chesterton observes that one cannot recount a journey to Christianity any longer with the most obvious of facts: sin. He marvels that,
"Certain new theologians dispute Original Sin, which is the only part of Christian theology that can really be proved...But they essentially deny human sin, which they can see in the street."
Indeed, "the fact of sin--a fact as practical as potatoes" as Chesterton says, is still in dispute today! With sin off the table as a starting point, Chesterton starts with insanity.
"Men deny hell, but not, as yet, Hanwell."
(Hanwell being an insane asylum near London.) I found chapter two to be a challenge for me, since (as I said) I am under-educated in philosophy. But Chesterton says it is practical.
In other words, to be purely materialist (the material world is all there is) is beginning at the wrong end."This chapter is purely practical and is concerned with what actually is the chief mark and element of insanity; we may say in summary that it is reason used without root, reason in the void. The man who begins to think without the proper first principles goes mad; he begins to think at the wrong end. And, for the rest of these pages, we have to try and discover what is the right end.""...What is it that keeps them sane? ...a general answer...Mysticism keeps men sane."
Next week: Chapter 3: The Suicide of Thought and Chapter 4: The Ethics of Elfland