Thursday, January 14, 2010

YIMC Book Club, “Orthodoxy,” Chapter 9

Posted by Webster 
With this post and the comments that follow, we say good-bye to our first YIMCBC book, Orthodoxy by GK Chesterton. Next week we turn to Mere Christianity by CS Lewis. Frank will lead that discussion.

Chapter 9, “Authority and the Adventurer”
The entire book is, in Chesterton’s own words, “an account of my own growth in spiritual certainty.” The first eight chapters set aside major modern objections to Christianity (from materialism, Marxism, and other schools of thought), then show ways in which Christian positions make rational sense. In the final chapter, Chesterton asks and answers the ultimate question. As advocate for the devil, he writes:

Even supposing that [Christian] doctrines do include [many] truths, why cannot you take the truths and leave the doctrines? . . . Why cannot you simply take what is good in Christianity, what you can define as valuable, what you can comprehend, and leave all the rest, all the absolute dogmas that are in their nature incomprehensible?

This is the argument for ethical humanism or even an anti-clerical Protestant Christianity: “We all know what’s right. We don’t need dogmatic mumbo-jumbo to back it up. We don’t need a clergy to keep us in order. We can all just get along.”

The reason Chesterton finally embraces Christianity, needs Christianity, is the same reason Rome was the center of the Roman Empire: All roads led there. Likewise, for Chesterton, all the data points to Christ. He is persuaded by “an enormous accumulation of small but unanimous facts.’’

To back this up, he begins with two “triads of ordinary anti-Christian arguments” (six arguments, in all). In each instance, he shows that the facts back the Christian position. The six arguments are:
  1.  “Men, with their shape, structure, and sexuality are, after all, very much like beasts, a mere variety of the animal kingdom.”
  2. “Primeval religion arose in ignorance and fear.”
  3. “Priests have blighted societies with bitterness and gloom.”
  4. “Jesus was . . . sheepish and unworldly, a mere ineffectual appeal to the world.”
  5. “Christianity arose and flourished in the dark ages of ignorance and . . . would drag us back [to these].”
  6. “The people still strongly religious or (if you will) superstitious—such people as the Irish—are weak, unpractical, and behind the times.”
You can read for yourself his response to each of these—and he might have picked many other anti-Christian arguments. Being married to a faithful Catholic woman whose maiden name is Katie McNiff, I appreciated this Englishman’s defense of the Irish, at point 6.

In all cases, Chesterton writes, “The skeptic was quite right to go by the facts, only he had not looked at the facts. The sceptic is too credulous; he believes in newspapers or even in encyclopedias.” This was my conclusion today about a commenter who threw offhand criticisms at the Catholic Church.

There is much more to this concluding chapter, but I will leave that to the few (the happy few) who have followed this discussion to its end. What did you find most interesting about Chesterton’s final chapter?