In the first post of this series, Trevin Wax and I detailed what we saw as the merits of G.K. Chesterton and his book Orthodoxy. We also invited you to read along and discuss the latest section of the reading plan with us each week.
Today, we focus on the introduction, “In Defense of Everything Else.”
Matthew: Christianity satisfies a double spiritual need
Let’s start with what this book is not: It is not primarily a work of apologetics, though Chesterton says in the introduction that he will contend the Apostle’s Creed is “the best root of energy and sound ethics.” Orthodoxy isn’t an analytic recounting of the contents of that creed, or a detailed history of how Chesterton himself came to believe in it.
Instead, it is a “slovenly autobiography,” a set of “mental pictures” that lay out how Christianity satisfies a “double spiritual need, the need for that mixture of the familiar and unfamiliar, which Christendom has rightly named Romance.” He thinks Christianity admirable because it makes us welcome in the world, while still leaving the world a wonder – that is it offers us a “practical romance” or the “combination of something that is strange with something that is secure.”
Okay, then. But of this “double spiritual need”: Is it? I mean, is this a fundamental spiritual need at all or is it a peculiar experience that Chesterton could have because he was a Westerner? This story of the man who finds what he takes to be New England and discovers that it’s Old England is properly romantic stuff, but how deep does it go? Do we have to be romantics already to feel the force of the problem Chesterton lays out, or is he right that this is an impulse that everyone shares?
Trevin: Chesterton manages to be humble and confident
Do we have to be romantics to feel the force of the problem? In some sense, yes. But I believe he is right that everyone is a romantic deep down (though plenty manage to squelch the magical wonder of existence, and Chesterton has words for these writers throughout this book and Heretics. Let’s let commenters weigh in on the question of the “double spiritual need.”
Before we open up the discussion, however, we should note how humble and confident Chesterton comes across in these opening pages. He describes the book as “a joke against me. I am the man who with the utmost daring discovered what had been discovered before.” Though we speak of Orthodoxy as creative and original, it is fundamentally boring if we are analyzing it only in terms of “newness.” Chesterton describes the book as his “elephantine adventures in pursuit of the obvious.”
What I love about this foreword is that we are confronted with a man who is absolutely sure of his convictions and the truth of Christianity, and yet he is humble enough not to take himself so seriously. His carefree nature is matched by cheerful prose that somehow manages to treat the mysteries of the universe with all the seriousness and joy they deserve. My question is, how we can cultivate more of this? People who are grounded and grateful, confident and cheerful, hardened and humble.
Now, share your thoughts
Next week, we will discuss chapters 2-3 of Orthodoxy, “The Maniac” and “The Suicide of Thought,” but first, we would like to hear from you about the introduction.
Is the “double spiritual need” one that all men feel? How can more of us develop the humble confidence Chesterton displays in his writing?