Orthodoxy Themes

This Study Guide consists of approximately 24 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Orthodoxy.
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Christianity: A Liberal Religion

Chesterton's primary aim in this book is to prove to English liberals that Christianity is compatible with the primary tenets of liberalism. However, in order to do this, Chesterton must also show that many ideas which pass as liberal are not really so. Thus, for example, Chesterton argues against those "liberal" theologians who think that it is necessary to be a materialist in order to be liberal. If liberty is the driving force behind liberalism, then materialism, which negates the freedom of the will, is truly contrary to it. Since materialism is incompatible with the belief that miracles happen—because God, being immaterial, cannot exist for a materialist—Chesterton is also rebuking those liberal forms of Christianity which argue for a more "natural" and less supernatural religion.

Another important feature of liberalism is its dedication to democracy. Liberals believe that men, by nature, should have equal authority in government, and it is natural, then, that liberals are also democrats. This is fundamentally compatible with Christianity, because unlike other ideologies, Christianity teaches that all men are subject to sin. Socialism argues, for example, that poverty damages the minds of the poor, and so it would seem to follow logically (despite the socialist's intentions) that the rich should rule. But for the Christian, not only is the rich man as much of a sinner as the poor, there is something additionally suspicious about the rich man: He may be unduly influenced by his wealth. Therefore, it is natural that the Christian, like the liberal, should avoid those forms of government which give power to the rich and not the poor.

The Superiority of Liberal Politics

Though this book was written to persuade its readers of certain religious beliefs, it is obvious that Chesterton is also concerned with convincing others of his political beliefs. He often does this by extending tangents from his main points concerning religion to discuss political philosophy. For example, in the second chapter of the book, Chesterton argues against the notion that liberals, who value freedom, should be philosophically in tune with so-called "free thinkers." Liberals certainly support the freedom of thought, but "free thinkers" refers to those who hold a specific set of thoughts, and especially the doctrine of materialism, which Chesterton later goes on to prove is not particularly liberal.

Likewise, in the chapter dedicated to the concept of progress—"The Eternal Revolution"—Chesterton takes issue with those who think of progress as something which constantly changes its goals, and against this point he makes the thoroughly political argument that it benefits only those who like the status quo, namely the capitalists (embodied by a Mr. Gadgrind). This affiliation with the working class and skepticism towards the capital owners is characteristic of liberal thought.

The Compatibility of Tradition with Democracy

Chesterton attempts to overcome the prejudice many of his readers apparently have that to be a democrat is also to be opposed to tradition. The source of this prejudice is fairly obvious. Just as Chesterton, while calling himself a liberal, opposes the ideas of other liberals (though, they are false liberals, according to him), so too many democrats believe bad ideas. Among these ideas is the idea of social evolution. Just as human beings evolved from more primitive ancestors, so too has society evolved from more primitive societies. Tradition, then, is something crude and outdated; to wish to return to tradition, even in part, is like thinking that a chimpanzee is better than a human

Chesterton, of course, takes issue with the theory of evolution (not necessarily with its biological application—he does not seem to think that to be difficult). Progress is not a natural progress. Rather, progress is the result of hard-working individuals trying to make the world a better place. Further, not all change is good change; it is entirely possible that the majority of changes to the society in recent history have been for the worst. Therefore, it is not reasonable to utterly reject tradition; it may be that the ancestors of the modern world still have answers to the problems that have been created, or have otherwise arisen, since their time.

Chesterton sees the reverence of tradition as a logical extension of the idea of democracy. The core of democracy is that all men should have equal political footing, and he does not see why dead men should be excluded from this equality. Since tradition, according to him, is nothing more than the wisdom of dead men, it follows logically that, far from being opposed, tradition is something integral to democracy.

This section contains 749 words
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