G. K. Chesterton Writing Styles in Orthodoxy

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Perspective

Chesterton is a well-respected English writer known for his fiction and non-fiction works alike. In this piece, he very clearly has biases, which he makes no attempt to hide. First of all, he is Christian, and specifically a Catholic, and the purpose of this piece is to show how he came to be a Christian. While this piece is not explicitly written to convince others to become Christian, it is clear that it has elements of an appeal. For example, in the last chapter of the book, Chesterton insists upon how joyous the life of the Christian is, and joy is the theme of the final paragraph. This is an obvious attempt to make life as a Christian attractive. Further, he elsewhere compares the Church to a loving mother who teaches her young child about the world. Once again, Chesterton makes an emotional appeal to the possibly skeptical reader.

Second, Chesterton is clearly a political liberal, and perhaps the chief audience for this book are those people who more or less agree with him politically but disagree with him on religion. However, how much Chesterton really agrees with most other liberals is not clear. While calling himself a liberal, he goes after many ideas which are considered "liberal" in his time. This suggests that perhaps Chesterton is trying to change the minds of his readers not only on religion, but also on politics.

Tone

Humility characterizes much of Chesterton's writing in these books. Chesterton, though a skilled writer, is neither a trained philosopher nor a trained theologian, and as such appears somewhat uncomfortable asserting the ideas in this book with any authority. In order to overcome this, he will frequently appeal to common sense or very simple analogies, as if to show that the conclusions he draws, no matter how complicated or intelligent they may seem, are really conclusions even a simple child could draw from observation. Thus, for example, he offers an indirect argument for God's existence which basically argues that the world's features could have been different than they are; therefore, they must be the result of a choice by some intelligent creator. However, instead of stating this argument in philosophical fashion, Chesterton draws these lessons from fairy tales told to him in the nursery. Thus, Chesterton can advance a decently sophisticated argument without having to answer for his lack of academic credentials.

Another key feature of Chesterton's writing style is the use of paradox and negation. For example, in the beginning of Chapter III: The Suicide of Thought, Chesterton writes: "But the virtues are let loose also; and the virtues wander more wildly, and the virtues do more terrible damage." The idea that virtues could be "let loose" and do "terrible damage" is meant to be thought-provoking. Chesterton is attempting to cause confusion in the mind of his reader initially in order that the subsequent explanation is more lucid.

Structure

Orthodoxy is divided into nine chapters, each with its own distinct theme. Aside from the first chapter, which is a brief introduction to the book, there is not an obvious reason for the order of the book. Rather, Chesterton seems to be concerned with addressing many of the reasons why modern liberals take issue with Christianity and takes on these issues generally a chapter at a time.

After introducing the book in the first chapter and giving his reason for writing it (others had argued that he only criticized their ideas without offering his own), Chesterton sets out in the second chapter with a criticism of the excessively logical, arguing that intense devotion to reason leads to madness. The following chapter follows a similar theme: Skepticism, which is a form of exaggerated devotion to logic, leads ultimately to the death of thought itself, since it undermines reason ultimately.

The fourth chapter picks up a theme touched upon in the second: the value of imagination. In this chapter, he gives a brief and indirect argument for God's existence and for the existence of morality by appealing to the imaginary lands of fairy tales. The following chapter is presented as the next step in maturity—just as the young boy moves on from fairy tales to war stories, so too did Chesterton move on to discuss the similarities between a patriot and a true Christian. In this chapter he argues that a true Christian is loyal to the world, since God created it, but does not accept everything in it, since it is part of God's plan that man work for good in the world. Continuing on this theme of opposing attitudes—loving the world but also wanting to change it—Chesterton generalizes it and shows how the Christian is constantly balancing opposing passions without compromising either. Orthodoxy, he concludes, is the structure which keeps the passions from overwhelming one another.

Returning to the theme that man is instrumental in changing the world, Chesterton discusses the then very fashionable idea of progress in Chapter VII. He argues that many, or even most, of the concepts of progress in his time are flawed, and that true progress means the movement towards some fixed goal. While he discovered this on his own, he was shocked to find, he says, that Christianity has always believed this same thing. Thus, he ties Christianity into the modern notion of progress, and obvious appeal to the sensibilities of those liberals for whom he is writing.

In the final two chapters, Chesterton takes on a number of arguments leveled against Christianity. The arguments in Chapter VIII are of a more theoretical level and include discussing claims that Christianity and Buddhism (and really all other religions) are ultimately the same and the beliefs of the Unitarians. The final chapter, Chapter IX, gives a defense for the institution of the Church itself. Chesterton may have given a good argument for the individual beliefs of Christianity, but a skeptic might still advance any number of factual arguments against the Church. Chesterton takes these individually and shows that ultimately the "facts" which they suppose are really not facts at all.

This section contains 997 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)
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