Reading with Joy — Orthodoxy, In Defence of Everything Else
Welcome to our summer book club!
This summer we’re working our way through Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton. This is our very first week, so you found us just in time! We’re looking at “Introduction: In Defence of Everything Else.” This is how each week works: you read the assigned chapter, I do a podcast where I summarise the main themes, explain things, make some observations, and then ask some questions which you all can discuss here in the comments, or on my Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook pages. If you’re feeling really cool, you might even want to start your own book club and discuss the chapters with a friend over tea and coffee in real life.
Sound good? If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.
You can get the book on Project Gutenberg for free. Or, if you prefer a physical copy, pretty much any edition will work on Amazon. And I’ve been told the Kindle versions are only fifty cents! So find a copy, and let’s dive in!
Oh, and if you’re wondering why I have a picture of that weird little puppet/statue man, well, it’s kinda a fun story actually. I recently went to Vienna with my mom. While peering in the windows of close shops, I saw this little fellow and thought “Oh my goodness! It’s a tiny, wooden, Austrian Chesterton!” Don’t believe me? Check this out…
They’re cousins at the very least, don’t you think? I thought it was a rather fun find. :)
Without further ado… let’s dive in!
Chapter One : Introduction — In Defence of Everything
Summary of the Chapter:
This chapter almost isn’t a chapter, it’s more of a preparation. Chesterton explains to us why he’s writing this book and he what he hopes to accomplish. It seems he has come under fire for being an enthusiastic critic of other people’s philosophies while remaining unwilling to show his hand by asserting his own. Chesterton was known for having many merry opponents— people with whom he disagreed deeply, yet maintained open, honest, and cheerful friendships. It was through the inspiration of one of these friends that Chesterton composed Orthodoxy. He writes:
This phrase has always made me chortle. And it reminds me of my own dispositions toward podcast. I am certainly a person only too ready to record a podcast upon the feeblist provocation…
I digress. To learn more, you’ll have to read the chapter and listen to this week’s episode. Below are the themes I drew out of this chapter, themes which will, I think revisit us throughout Orthodoxy.
Making Sense vs. Sense Making
Many apologetic books take similar approaches. They either defend a Christian doctrine or belief, demonstrating its intellectual integrity in the face of contrary evidence, or they build a case toward a Christian doctrine. Chesterton does something rather different here. He begins with all his intuitions and observations about life and asks “What kind of philosophical system would make sense of these intuitions and this complicated world?” This is the difference between testing Christianity to ensure it makes sense, and using Christianity to see if it makes sense of what we already believe or know to be true about the world.
Chesterton describes this in terms of Satisfaction.
As a non-believer (an odd phrase as everyone believes some things!), he had certain intuitions about the world, the moral order, and humanity. These intuitions were to Chesterton like a hunger which Christianity satisfied. Yes, Christianity made sense to him, but it also made sense of many things that would otherwise have remained opaque.
I think this is an important aspect of philosophical and apologetic conversations to keep in mind. Not only should we ask if what we believe makes sense, but also if it has sense-making capacities. Does it satisfy or answer our deepest unanswered intuitions, longings and questions.
2. The Story of Belief
Orthodoxy is less like a book of apologetics, and more like one of the great apologias of holy men past. His goal is not to systematically defend each principle in Christianity, but to tell the story of how he came to be a believer. In this sense, he is writing in the tradition of authors of Saint Augustine (Confessions), Saint Patrick (Confessions of Saint Patricks), and, after Chesterton, Lewis (Surprised by Joy). Like all of these authors, this story involves moments of defence of his beliefs, but these defences are communicated less like abstract principles and more like discoveries along a treasure hunt.
And there is something extremely valuable in this. How often do we attempt to explain ourselves and our beliefs in a vacuum without describing the long and arduous series of quandaries, complications, and discoveries that lead us to our present convictions. We sometimes consider the narrative aspects of our beliefs insignificant, but this is a mistake. If we discovered our own beliefs in the rushing river of experience, aren’t others more likely to be convinced or at least understand us better if we tell them that story?
I wonder how much better we would understand our own beliefs and the beliefs of others if instead of proclaiming our out of context convictions, we told the story of how we discovered them?
3. Romance of Reality
“I have often had a fancy for writing a romance about an English yachtsman who slightly miscalculated his course and discovered England under the impression that it was a new island in the South Seas. I always find, however, that I am either too busy or too lazy to write this fine work, so I may as well give it away for the purposes of philosophical illustration. There will probably be a general impression that the man who landed (armed to the teeth and talking by signs) to plant the British flag on that barbaric temple which turned out to be the Pavilion at Brighton, felt rather a fool. I am not here concerned to deny that he looked a fool. But if you imagine that he felt a fool, or at any rate that the sense of folly was his sole or his dominant emotion, then you have not studied with sufficient delicacy the rich romantic nature of the hero of this tale. His mistake was really a most enviable mistake; and he knew it, if he was the man I take him for. What could be more delightful than to have in the same few minutes all the fascinating terrors of going abroad combined with all the humane security of coming home again? What could be better than to have all the fun of discovering South Africa without the disgusting necessity of landing there? What could be more glorious than to brace one's self up to discover New South Wales and then realize, with a gush of happy tears, that it was really old South Wales. This at least seems to me the main problem for philosophers, and is in a manner the main problem of this book. How can we contrive to be at once astonished at the world and yet at home in it? How can this queer cosmic town, with its many-legged citizens, with its monstrous and ancient lamps, how can this world give us at once the fascination of a strange town and the comfort and honour of being our own town?”
G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy.
One of the greatest quandaries that Chesterton seeks to satisfy is the simultaneous comfort and estrangement of existence. We feel both at home in this world, and dreadfully afraid of it. In Chesterton’s writings there is always this urgency to encounter reality with open eyes and open hearts, awake and alert to the other-worldliness of this world of ours. And so as Chesterton sought a philosophy of his own, he sought one which could hold these intuitions in tension, not in merely paradox, but in a paradox that rang true. It was in this endeavor that he discovered Christianity. He writes…
Well, friends. That’s week one!
But before you go, I have two assignments for you:
This week, I want you to find one person and ask them the story of how they came to believe what they believe about one of their central convictions (religious, political, ethical). Prompt them to tell it in a story— when did they first start thinking about this? What were important moments along the way? Where there any moments along the way that challenged this belief? Ask them to describe the moment or season in which they realised they believed this thing. How has this shaped their lives sense? Your goal here is not to challenge or argue or even to add, but to listen. Afterward, reflect on their story. Does their conviction in this area (particularly if it’s one you disagree with) make more sense to you?
Either in the comments on this blog, on my Facebook (I’ll post about this later), my instagram, or my twitter, tell me the story of one of your beliefs. Follow the questions above. Does this help clarify your own sense of conviction? Does it make you question any of the beliefs?
I’ll look forward to seeing you all next week for Chapter Two “The Maniac” !
Patreon is a way for you to support me as I produce the podcast and finish my Phd (two full time jobs!), and for me to share fun extras like secret podcast, monthly updates, playlists and more. You can support the Patreon $2 or $10 a month. Your support means the world, especially as I enter this last year of my Phd. At the moment %3 of you keep the podcast going, and I’m hoping to raise that to %5 by this fall. I’d be honoured if you considered supporting me on Patreon! Find out more at the link below.