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Psalm 78
. . . we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD, his power, and the wonders he has done. .
so the next generation would know them . . . and they in turn would tell their children.
Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Blogging About Orthodoxy: Chapters 3 and 4

This month I am reading G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy and blogging about it along with my blogging friend Sharon. Catch up on all my Orthodoxy posts here, and see Sharon's posts here.

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."

And,
"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.

5 comments:

Sharon said...

I only read the first part of this post so far because I have just finished my post on the third chapter, but not yet done a post for chapter 4. Must go to bed as it is very late. You have a great way of encapsulating everything so neatly. I looked at his argument much closer and saw a few parallels to modern thought as well. There was one where I asked for your insight... but it's right towards the end of my long post, so you'll have to wade through the rest to find it and help me, sorry.

Wow that chapter was dense! I don't really think I understood it at all the first time but the second through for my post was a lot better. Now I come to your post and I can see it all a lot clearer! So thanks!

~ Sharon

Mrs. Edwards said...

Yes, both of these chapters were difficult for me to understand. I felt like my post only summarized and failed to analyze, but I don't think I'm qualified to do more! This is very interesting, though!

Sharon said...

Qualifications? Huh, who needs qualifications? You have to remember, Chesterton is dead. He's not going to pop up with a comment on our blogs and tell us what a shemozzle we've made of understanding his book, is he?

And frankly, I think if you can summarise something so complex succinctly, you have actually understood it very well. You'll notice none of my posts on the book have been so concise and to the point!

~ Sharon

Sharon said...

I have just finished my post on chapter four so came back to read the second half of this post.

I loved that quote on Sleeping Beauty. I have thought a number of times about the similarity between many fairy tales and the core biblical messages, so it was good to realise that someone else saw (long ago!) the same things.

Your final paragraph of this post is helpful, because you remind me not only of where Chesterton has taken us, but where we have yet to journey with him.

Hmmm. Just re-reading that last sentence. Do you think all this reading of Chesterton is inflating or distorting my vocabulary somewhat?

~ Sharon

Mrs. Edwards said...

They say that every story in literature or film is a rip-off of a Biblical story and I think it is quite true. Regardless of the belief of the author, Biblical themes of redemption, temptation, the wages of sin, atonement, and so on, are woven into every tale. I think this is yet another "proof" of the truth of Christ. Like Chesterton's artists trying to draw a giraffe with a short neck, those who try to draw a world without Christ find that they are no longer drawing the world as it is.

If our vocabulary and diction improves upon reading Chesterton, then it is worth the effort! Although you are starting out with excellent skills in this area!

The longer I contemplate these chapters (1-4) the more I seem to understand them and notice relevance to real life. My poor friends are lately hearing me say, "Well, I was just reading Chesterton and he wrote that..."

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