Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Chesterton Medley - Books, Part 4

Been a while since I've done one of these, but it's time for "10 Influential Books," Part 4, Parts 1, 2, and 3 here.

I'd already done something on Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday, before I'd put together this list (full list at the bottom). But I cheated, and included "Everything else by Chesterton" as my Number 2. So that's today. Because the thing is, Chesterton has been SO influential in my life. From big things like my view of adversity, to smaller things like my take on tipping, Chesterton has impacted so many different aspects of my life. So if you haven't read any of these, read at least one. And if you've read one, read another.

Introduction to the Book of Job: First of all, this isn't even a book: It's just a few short pages, so there's literally no excuse not to drop whatever you're doing and READ IT RIGHT NOW. Seriously, go and do that: I'll wait.

In The Everlasting Man, Chesterton calls Job "one of the colossal cornerstones of the world," and that definitely comes through in this introduction. It is one of the most interesting books in the world, according to Chesterton, and immensely important: It is about "the desire to know what is, and not merely what seems." It is the only book in the Old Testament that questions, not whether God is able to rule over humanity, not whether it is possible for God to sacrifice our desires and even our lives, but whether it is right and good that God do so. There really isn't a whole lot I can say to "summarize" really do need to read it.

     Memorable line:

"Verbally speaking the enigmas of Jehovah seem darker and more desolate than the enigmas of Job; yet Job was comfortless before the speech of Jehovah and is comforted after it. He has been told nothing, but he feels the terrible and tingling atmosphere of something which is too good to be told. The refusal of God to explain His design is itself a burning hint of His design. The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man."

Manalive: This was the first Chesterton book I'd ever read. It's short, relatively simple, and a very fun read: If you're looking for an intro to Chesterton that won't take much time or effort, this is it. It was the book for our "practice" session during Torrientationm and I'll tell you this: I sucked at it. I can't tell you too much without spoiling the whole thing, but I can tell you that the book demonstrates that true Christian contentment is active, not passive. This book showed me that passivity leads not to contentment, but to stagnation: But being truly content with what you have is an activity, something you must actively participate in.

Contentment is not a lesser pleasure, not something to be placed under the initial "infatuation" stage in terms of strength. It is not stagnation, a mere willingness to experience or endure what you experienced or endured the day before. It is shining, living and active and vibrant...but also something that must be cultivated and tended. True Christian contentment is not to "settle" for what you have, to "take the world as you find it" is to make MORE of the world than what you find in it.

     Memorable line: 

""Moon," said Arthur Inglewood, rather huskily, "you mustn't be so bitter about it. Everyone has to take the world as he finds it; of course one often finds it a bit dull—"

"That fellow doesn't," said Michael decisively; "I mean that fellow Smith. I have a fancy there's some method in his madness. It looks as if he could turn into a sort of wonderland any minute by taking one step out of the plain road. Who would have thought of that trapdoor? Who would have thought that this cursed colonial claret could taste quite nice among the chimney-pots? Perhaps that is the real key of fairyland. Perhaps Nosey Gould's beastly little Empire Cigarettes ought only to be smoked on stilts, or something of that sort. Perhaps Mrs. Duke's cold leg of mutton would seem quite appetizing at the top of a tree.""

The Ball and the Cross: An atheist duels with a Catholic across England, while the entire country conspires to stop the duel from taking place. If this were a movie, it'd be a buddy movie where the buddies crack jokes, go on adventures....and pause every couple of days to try to kill each other. A "peacemaker" who tries to stop them only ends up convincing them of the rightness of their fight, while a madman who encourages them to kill each other forces them to rethink their motives. And there's even a little romance thrown in!

This is signature Chesterton. While this book (like Manalive) is incredibly funny, the real meat is found in the conversations between the Catholic MacIan, and the atheist Turnbull. Both of them care passionately about their faith (or lack of it), and both are bewildered by the refusal of the modern world to take either of them seriously. It is an age of "tolerance," which translates to an age of apathy: This enrages both participants. Turnbull recognizes that if Christianity is not true, it is a blight that needs to be wiped from the face of the earth, while MacIan recognizes that if it IS true, then it is of the utmost importance.

     Memorable line: Tougher to narrow down than Manalive, but one of my personal favorites, from the very beginning, is...
""Wherever and whenever I meet that man," and he pointed to the editor of The Atheist, "whether it be outside this door in ten minutes from now, or twenty years hence in some distant country, wherever and whenever I meet that man, I will fight him. Do not be afraid. I will not rush at him like a bully, or bear him down with any brute superiority. I will fight him like a gentleman; I will fight him as our fathers fought. He shall choose how, sword or pistol, horse or foot. But if he refuses, I will write his cowardice on every wall in the world. If he had said of my mother what he said of the Mother of God, there is not a club of clean men in Europe that would deny my right to call him out. If he had said it of my wife, you English would yourselves have pardoned me for beating him like a dog in the market place.""

Orthodoxy: This is it: the big one. This is Chesterton's account of his own journey towards Christianity. Specifically, it focuses on his rational and reasoning: Why he believes that Christianity is not only the best practical philosophy for living life, but also the most true.

The need for "romance" (that is, adventure), the insufficiency of materialism, the marvelousness of the covers lots of things. But one of the most striking is the Christian ability to keep seeming opposites side by side, without ever mixing them. Celibacy and marriage, pacifism and just battle, proper pride (that is, a recognition of our status as images and children of God) and proper humility...Chesterton says, "It has kept them side by side like two strong colours, red and white, like the red and white upon the shield of St. George. It has always had a healthy hatred of pink."

But possibly the most striking is the very end, where he speaks of the living Church. And that brings me to...

    Memorable line: 

"When your father told you, walking about the garden, that bees stung or that roses smelt sweet, you did not talk of taking the best out of his philosophy. When the bees stung you, you did not call it an entertaining coincidence. When the rose smelt sweet you did not say "My father is a rude, barbaric symbol, enshrining (perhaps unconsciously) the deep delicate truths that flowers smell." No: you believed your father, because you had found him to be a living fountain of facts, a thing that really knew more than you; a thing that would tell you truth to-morrow, as well as to-day...

This, therefore, is, in conclusion, my reason for accepting the religion and not merely the scattered and secular truths out of the religion. I do it because the thing has not merely told this truth or that truth, but has revealed itself as a truth-telling thing. All other philosophies say the things that plainly seem to be true; only this philosophy has again and again said the thing that does not seem to be true, but is true. Alone of all creeds it is convincing where it is not attractive; it turns out to be right, like my father in the garden."

Chesterton. Read him. Love him. Get all his books for free on Mackenzie out!

1: The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton

2: (Everything else by Chesterton: Manalive, Orthodoxy, The Ball and the Cross)

3: On the Unity of Christ by Cyril of Alexandria

4: The Way of the Son of God into the Far Country by Karl Barth

5: The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

6: CS Lewis section (Space Trilogy, Chron. of Narnia, Abolition of Man, Till We Have Faces, The Great Divorce)

7: The book of Job

8: The book of Ecclesiastes

9: The Idea of a University by John Henry Newman

10: The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner


  1. I'm a sucker for a post about Chesterton, who I consider a major influence as well. He would be my single number one choice for a dinner guest.

    I am currently reading The Man Who Knew Too Much, and am trying to read one Chesterton work per year, rotating between fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. I probably do need to read Manalive at some point, which means I should probably purchase it.

    In a perfect world, where money was no object, I would own the complete Ignatius Press hardback collection. Well, that and if shelf space was no object. As it is, I am double stacking some shelves. My tendency to accumulate books reminds me very much of the parable of the rich man. "I will build bigger bookshelves!"

    Not that you asked, but the other authors currently on my "one book a year" list are C. S. Lewis, Anthony Trollope, P. G. Wodehouse, Patrick O'Brian (until I finish the Aubrey/Maturin series), Alan Bradley (Flavia series), and Alexander McCall Smith (because my kids love his books and we will continue to need traveling audiobooks.)

    1. I actually haven't read any of his mystery stuff...should I?

      Also, while physical books are definitely awesome, remember that you can just download it, either as a Kindle file or just a Word document, for free!

      And as for your last list...I'm afraid the only author I know out of those is Lewis.

    2. My original introduction to Chesterton was his Father Brown stories (back in 9th grade?). The complete Father Brown was one of the first (non-used) books I paid for with my own money.

      I do read e-books when I am waiting in court (which isn't reliably often), but I do prefer physical copies when I can get them. I may at least pull Manalive in digital format.

      I am all astonishment that you haven't discovered P. G. Wodehouse. You simply must read him! One of the funniest authors ever. No, his books aren't deep, but they are quite witty and a blast to read. (Some are probably free on Kindle.)

      Trollope is the forgotten Victorian novelist. Unlike Dickens, he writes believable female characters to go with his male ones, and is one of the best at portraying the psychology of his characters.

      Patrick O'Brian wrote a whole series of books based on the real exploits of the British Navy in the age of Napoleon. Think Horatio Hornblower - but much better written. The movie Master and Commander was based on them (although I wasn't impressed with the movie).

      Bradly and McCall Smith are modern mystery writers, so I would put them in the category of guilty pleasure.