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Archive for the ‘Heretics’ Category

Every Lent for several years now I pick a religious book to read. Near the end of 2017, my husband and I watched the G.K. Chesterton video that is a part of Bishop Robert Barron’s Catholicism series. As a result, my husband decided to read Orthodoxy over the Christmas holiday. So, I thought I’d give Chesterton a try. But instead of reading Orthodoxy I decided to read Heretics because Orthodoxy is a reaction to the reaction against Heretics. I figured if I wanted to understand Orthodoxy I should read Heretics first.

At first, when I began reading this book the following Shakespearean quote from Hamlet came to mind: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Just as Hamlet is pointing out how little the most educated people can explain, so Chesterton does the same about those who seek to explain “everything” but fail to mention God and His teachings. But, by the end, I wasn’t so sure that this was his purpose.

Chesterton starts out refuting the philosophies of his contemporaries: Rudyard Kipling, Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, and Oscar Wilde to name a few. The sections that I found most interesting were about Walter Pater, who believed in enjoying the moment for the moment’s sake; Fitzgerald’s translation of Omar Khayyam’s “Rubaiyat,” in which Chesterton contrasts the wine in the poem with the wine in the Gospels, i.e. Jesus’s blood; and Louis Dickenson, paganism vs. Christianity. If paganism, which predated Christianity, is the ideal which leads to a full life and a satisfied humanity, why did Christianity come along? If humanity truly was living the ideal life as pagans, why would they want to live a life less than the ideal as Christians?

Chesterton writes to a contemporary audience, his contemporaries. Throughout reading this book I wished that in the beginning there would’ve been a section titled “Prerequisites” that listed the knowledge one must have before reading this book. I feel that I would’ve gotten more out of it if I had known more about the people, philosophies and political climate of his day. His writing style also makes this book difficult to read. He tends to go off on tangents. One minute he will be talking about one thing and the next he’s on to another subject altogether and on and on within the same chapter. I found this to be quite a hindrance to understanding what his ultimate argument or conclusion really was. At about halfway through or maybe two-thirds, it’s difficult to tell on a Kindle, it felt as though he was doing more whining than trying to disprove arguments from the so-called heretics. This became quite exasperating. The last sections of the book dealt heavily with politics. Chapter XVIII, when first reading it, I thought Chesterton was anti-American, mentioning America as a dying nation, and pro-England in his praise. But by the end, it seemed as though he was anti-England also. I found this quite confusing.

I gave this book two stars (out of 5) not because I don’t believe it has some merit, but because I personally didn’t find it particularly enlightening, enjoyable, or readable. His style of writing turned me off. If he does have something profound to say, for me it’s quite hidden among his hard-to-follow style of writing. Judging from the comments on Goodreads and the fact that G.K. Chesterton is one of the most influential writers of the late 19th and early 20th century, I realize my views are in the minority. I doubt I’ll want to read anything by Chesterton again, including his fictional stories since I have been told they too employ the same writing style he used for his non-fiction works.

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