Chapter 3: The Suicide of Thought
In chapter three, Chesterton takes a look at the world of modern thought in which he lives. It is "a rough review of recent thought," as he calls it. I find it interesting that the thinking of the elite in Chesterton's day is now the thinking of the commoner in our own day, one hundred years later.
Here is a great example:
"But what we suffer today is humility in the wrong place...A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth. This has been exactly reversed. Nowadays, the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt--the Divine Reason...For the old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether."
"We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table."
In this we have the forerunner of today's, "How can you be so arrogant to think that you know the truth?" But Chesterton spots the error: it isn't arrogance to recognize truth and be sure of it! More specifically, we are told today that it is arrogant to declare that Christianity is true and other beliefs are false. And yet, these same people have complete confidence that whatever they set their minds to doing, it is right for them to do it.
He explores the idea of laws, limits, and breaking free from them, something anarchists and modernists desperately seek to do. (Consider that Picasso's Cubism period began in 1909, so the dawn of abstract art was just on the horizon, yet Chesterton notes the yearning to shrug off all limits.)
"Anarchism adjures us to be bold creative artists, and care for no laws or limits. But it is impossible to be an artist and not care for laws and limits. Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame. If you draw a giraffe, you must draw him with a long neck. If, in your bold creative way, you hold yourself free to draw a giraffe with a short neck, you will really find that you are not free to draw a giraffe. The moment you step into the world of facts, you step into a world of limits.
You can free things from alien or accidental laws, but not from the laws of their own nature. You may, if you like, free a tiger from his bars; but do not free him from his stripes."
Chapter Four: The Ethics of Elfland
In chapter four, Chesterton sets out to show that fairy tales capture truth better than rationalism.
"I have always been more inclined to believe the ruck of hard-working people than to believe that special and troublesome literary class to which I belong."
He makes some keen observations of fairy tales that I never contemplated while reading them to my children (or as a child):
"There is the lesson of "Cinderella," which is the same as that of the Magnificat--Exaltavit Humiles. There is the great lesson of "Beauty and the Beast;" that a thing must be loved before it is loveable. There is the terrible allegory of the "Sleeping Beauty," which tells how the human creature was blessed with all birthday gifts, yet cursed with death; and how death also perhaps may be softened to a sleep."
Chesterton began to see "the soil for the seeds of doctrine" in his belief that
"the world does not explain itself. It may be a miracle with a supernatural explanation; it may be a conjuring trick, with a natural explanation. But the explanation of the conjuring trick, if it is to satisfy me, will have to be better than the natural explanations I have heard. The thing is magic, true or false."He goes on to say that he felt the magic must have meaning, a meaning and purpose beautiful in its design. He realized, "We owed, also, an obedience to whatever made us."
Chesterton's journey to faith as recounted in Orthodoxy has, at the close of chapter four, embraced the supernatural and even the existence of God, and yet he still searches for the knowledge of Who God is.