Monday, October 24, 2005


I just started reading Chesterton's "Heretics" again. After getting in about seventy pages, I handed it off to my housemate who has yet to read it. It's a very good book, in which he blasts the "heretics" of his day, that is, those people whose philosophy differs from his own.

After he wrote it, George Bernard Shaw--who was a good friend of Chesterton's--chided him for giving no account of his own philosophy. After all, it is very easy to attack something for being wrong, but Chesterton himself point out that one must have a standard in mind. The reply was Chesterton's best, and most famous work, "Orthodoxy" which our confounded library does not have. Regradless, it is interesting to note that sometime between the two books, he converted to Catholicism.

What makes "Heretics" so fascinating--besides the brilliant style, charming wit and good humor--is it's timeliness. Though the references are out-dated--it is unlikely that many of today's readers are familiar with Kipling's philosophy, and though H.G. Wells's books are still read, his belief structure is perhaps less known--the heresies are still committed frequently.

I'll not recant the book, or even dwell on a whole lot of it. It would be a shame to spoil it for anyone who can take the opportunity to read this fascinating work. Instead, I will examine his premise, which is a very basic and seemingly obvious one. And that is this: each man is as orthodox as the Catholic Church--even if not as right--and those whose philosophies differ from that man are heretics.

The coarseness of the word "heretics" as well as the undesirability of "orthodoxy" might lead the reader astray. Yet, if any sensible man was asked about his view of the universe he would admit--perhaps cautiously and humbly--that his view was the right one. To think otherwise is to be guilty of moral cowardice, or foolishness. If one believes that he has found truth and will not say so, he is a coward. If a man does not believe that his view is correct, it would behoove him to find the correct view quite quickly.

Of course this all seems to ignore agnosticism. Admittedly so, for the agnostic has yet no view of the universe, and in honesty, he does not particularly concern me. That is certainly callous, but I will assuredly pray for the man to figure all of this out. We have all been, indeed are born as, agnostics, but at some point man must get off the fence and jump into the existential abyss or explore the confines of deism, based on the truth he has perceived in this short life.

But back to heretics. The ancient man understood all of this quite well. And while it is common to look with disdain upon our ancestors, one must remember that not only do we behave quite pathetically--two world wars in half a century for starters--but the same blood runs through us as well. The savage was out of line in burning the blasphemer on the stake, but he was right in calling him a blasphemer. If what a man, even our savage, knows about God and life and the world is true, another man, even an enlightened modern, would do best to check his philosophy at the door of the cave, at least in the savage's estimation.

The point has been made thoroughly and probably redundantly. It is always difficult to explain something that is readily obvious. Regardless, the point is now ready to be applied. Let us have no more of people who say that they are "spiritual, but not religious". This phrase irks me because it reeks of, with all due respect, complete idiocy.

I will disagree with the materialist because he is wrong, but I'll not invite him to get himselg a church because his view of the world does not require one. Yet when a man realizes that he has a soul--I think correctly--he must see this observation to its logical conclusion. Once one has leapt into deism, it is imperative to examine the nature of this diety.

If the churches of this world do not suit a man he owes it to himself to found one. Examine the nature of God, worship him as you see him and state your beliefs. In other words, become orthodox, and enlighten us poor heretics. To benignly state that you are not religious and leave it at that, is to live life dispassionately. Most humans would agree and deem that heretical.

It is of course well and good for me to hide behind the orthodoxy of the Roman Catholic Church. It is not very courageous perhaps, to stand with one billion other believers and shun the rest of the world. I do tend to think that the size of the fold speaks to the congruity and truth of the banner we march under, but that is not the main point. I am orthodox, precisely because I say so. This does not make me arrogant. However, it may make me wrong, and it would be good if you heretics could calmy tell me so I could straighten myself out.

One can be assured that the rest of the world needs to watch out. Chesterton may have left a large gap when his three hundred pound frame expired, but there are still some of us orthodox fellows left.

In any case, read his book. It is certainly thought-provoking.


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Jeff said...

Well put Eric.
You know, besides the "I'm spiritual but not religious" folks out there, the other ones who drive me nuts in this same way are the "cafeteria catholics" and the people of any Christian denomination who have not the time or energy to know what their sect believes and to be able to state it and stand by it.
They all fall under the same banner of persons unwilling to become "orthodox"
Yours is a very good challenge to them.

troutsky said...

"When particular understandings become rigidly fixed and uncritically appropriated as absolute truths,well meaning people can and often do paint themselves into a corner from which they must assume a defensive or even offensive posture.With potentially destructive consequences people presume to know God, abuse sacred texts, and propogate their particular versions of absolute truth.
When adherants lose sight of the symbolic nature of language about God, religion is easily corrupted." Charles Kimball from his book When Religion Becomes Evil. My problem with religious attitudes about God is their tendency to divide people and divert their attention from real -world oppressors.Those same oppressors actively promote religion for this reason.On the other hand if we think of religion as "4: a cause ,principle,or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith" Websters, we see the bloody 20th century as one of religious wars between fascism, socialism and capitalism.This also explains Humanism or other non-deistic world views, such as Buddhism, Taoism etc..

Did Chesterson work to relieve the suffering of the poor?

A Wiser Man Than I said...

Thank you Jeff.

I will keep this in mind Troutsky, and I would expect you to instruct me if I become abusive in any sort of way with my set of beliefs.

"Did Chesterson work to relieve the suffering of the poor?"

Your question about Chesterton is a good one, and must be answered in two parts. First, yes, he did.

According to the website devoted to him--linked on my page--"this was the man who wrote a book called The Everlasting Man, which led a young atheist named C.S. Lewis to become a Christian. This was the man who wrote a novel called The Napoleon of Notting Hill, which inspired Michael Collins to lead a movement for Irish Independence. This was the man who wrote an essay in the Illustrated London News that inspired Mohandas Gandhi to lead a movement to end British colonial rule in India.

A very grand record to be sure. I cannot comment on the validity of the accounts, but an email to the site should help.

The bigger point though, is a man is not only judged on how he helps his fellow man materially, but also spiritually. I cannot comment on the number of materially poor Chesterton helped during his lifetime.

I can say that converting Lewis was no small feat and the echoes of that very large rock thrown into this big sea.

And, to a Christian, that counts for a great deal.

troutsky said...

Writing definitely counts as "good works". And yours is inspiring me to read more about Chestertson.By the way, what do you think of this new Polish Catholic President?

A Wiser Man Than I said...

Oh, don't call me out on my ignorance of world affairs. =)

I'm looking it up as I write this...

At first glance, I'd say he sounds like a pretty good guy. The Guardian calls him a "strongly conservative" Catholic which means he might be.

As for the opposition to gay rights and support of the death penalty, one out of two is okay I suppose. The thing I really like is that he might just shake up that confounded EU. We'll see if he keeps his spine.

If you know anything else about him, I would appreciate it if you'd send some information my way. Thanks.