-- Go into any bookstore and you are sure to find books that insist that “religion poisons everything,” that faith is a “failed hypothesis,” and that God is a “delusion.” Readers are promised tools that will enable them to “break the spell” of religion, in particular Christianity.
What has been called the “new atheism” has become an important publishing niche. These books sold more than a million copies in a single year, making their authors quite rich.
But there is nothing really new here. The only thing that has changed from a century or so ago is the caliber of the atheist. In G.K. Chesterton’s time, the atheists included the likes of George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, and Clarence Darrow—men whose way with words matched their way with an argument.
In books like Heretics, and especially Orthodoxy, Chesterton more than held his own. He achieved his goal of demonstrating that “the central Christian theology (sufficiently summarized in the Apostles’ Creed) is the best root of energy and sound ethics.”
Needless to say, this is a book you ought to read. But it helps to have a guide in your exploration of Chesterton’s ideas—and I can’t think of a better one than my friend Ken Boa.
Boa is correct when he describes Chesterton as an “extraordinary man who defended ordinary things.” Far from being a dry tome filled with lofty ideas, Orthodoxy is as practical and down to earth as it gets. That’s because, Boa observes, Chesterton addresses the one subject most writers and thinkers avoid: that is, who God is. Because once you get your thinking straight about God, that illuminates our thinking about the rest of life.
That’s why in Chesterton’s famous mystery novels, Father Brown always could solve the mystery. He understood God and the way God created us.
By addressing what others have avoided, Boa tells us, Chesterton acquired the “correct insights into reality” that made him a “complete thinker” whose works almost constitute a complete education in themselves.
As Ken points out, Chesterton anticipated the bad ideas and false worldviews that eventually would come to hold our culture in their thrall—relativism and what he called the “insane simplicity” of materialism.
He foresaw the weakening of the family, and that this weakening would pave the way for an ever-growing role for the state. He warned that the growing acceptance of birth control would inevitably lead to promiscuity and the widespread practice of abortion. He was right, of course, on both counts.
The alternative to all of this is Christianity, which Chesterton regarded as the religion most in tune with “common sense.” Is it the “best root” of “energy and sound ethics” because it sees the world and the people in it as they really are.
It was realism that was behind one of Chesterton’s most famous writings. When the Times of London invited leading intellectuals to write about what was wrong with the world, Chesterton’s contribution was a short letter that simply read: “Dear Sirs: I am. Sincerely, G.K. Chesterton.”
It’s difficult to imagine a more succinct articulation of the Christian worldview. Which is why Orthodoxy is one of the 10 best books I’ve ever read and ought to be on your reading list, and why Ken Boa should be your guide.
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