Thursday, March 13, 2008

Book Review: G. K. Chesterton's "Heretics"

I just finished listening to this book via I had already read its sequel, Orthodoxy as a young Protestant. (I'll have to read it again now that I'm... well orthodox).

Chesterton is the prince of paradox. He surprises you with every phrase. I highly recommend this insightful book (and its sequel)... I mean seriously, if you haven't read Chesterton... get to it.

Here are a few concepts from the book which I thought were particularly profound. I have just re-worded/quoted from memory so these are not exact quotes:

Reasonable men always have comedy in their mind and tragedy in their heart.

Great minds are delighted by small things. Mediocre minds are bored at big things.

Only the weak can be brave.

It is only when hope is unreasonable that it becomes useful.

It is only acceptable to be proud about something that is not creditable to yourself. And the more valubale the thing (creditable to yourself) which you are proud of, the more unacceptable it is to be proud of it. It's bad to be proud of having money but it's worse to be proud of having intellect (which is of more value than money). It would be worst of all to be proud of being good. And of course, goodness itself is to be cherished above money or intellect. (I talked about this in my post on Fatherhood. I should have read Chesterton first!)

Those who think they are progressive, think individualistically which is the anti-thesis of progress. The invidualist starts at the very beginning and by all probability can go no further than his father before him. True progressive thought not only studies the past but assumes it in order to build on it. How much less progressive are those who seek to destroy tradition!

Men talk with the greatest solemnity and at length over the least important things in life - sports, weather etc... but they always joke and talk profanely about serious matters - getting married, getting hanged and religion.

We are miserable rationalists and moderns. We do not merely love ourselves more than we love duty - we love ourselves more than we love joy. (He says what I clumsily tried to convey in my post on fatherhood, I said "We've pushed selfishness to its limits - we've become so selfish, that we don't even care about ourselves - only our immediate pleasure.")

Unless a man is in part a humorist, he is only in part a man.

It is more dangerous to have ideals which are practical than those which are lofty. In practical terms - wordly ideals are more dangerous than otherworldly ones. With wordly and practical ideals, we are in greater danger of deluding ourselves and thinking that we have achieved them. It may be an evil to mistake a cloud for a cape and the cloud which is easier to mistake for a cape is the one nearest the earth.

Our modern idea of intellectual growth and progress is often expressed in terms of breaking boundaries and exceeding limits - doing away with dogma. If there is such a thing as growth - it should be growth into more definite convictions - produce more dogmas and actually reach conclusions. When we hear of a man who is too clever to believe, it is almost a contradiction in terms. It's like hearing of a bolt which was too strong to hold a door shut. Destroying dogmas is the process of sinking backwards. Trees have no dogmas. Turnips are singularly broad minded.

Truth becomes dogma the moment it is disputed.
Chesterton says all this and more much better than I could.


andrew preslar said...


Gretchen said...

I have both books you mentioned, but I happen to be reading Chesterton's "The Man Who Was Thursday" just now, with "St. Thomas Aquina: The Dumb Ox" waiting in the wings. I will need to get to Orthodoxy and Heretics soon. Thanks for the post. The man, though wordy at times, is a genius.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Gretchen - I have Chesterton's St. Thomas Aquinas on my reading list too - it's patiently waiting on my shelf at home! Not sure if I have the Man Who Was Thursday- I dont think I do. How is it?

I can see what you're saying about his style. When I read Orthodoxy - I remember two things - 1. (Like you said) he's a genius and 2. I dont like his style.

I prefer C.S. Lewis' style to Chesterton's but listening to Heretics on audio book has made me appreciate the writing style more. I think it's easier to listen to than to read for whatever reason.