Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The alternative to the supernatural is the unnatural

Chesterton and the Romance of Orthodoxy by William Oddie is a new biography of G.K. Chesterton, one of the most interesting Christain apologists of the Twentieth Century. John Chalberg reviews it in the current Weekly Standard.
.... In its broadest outline, Chesterton's conversion story was quite ordinary. Born into a Victorian family of much affection and minimal belief, he went through a stretch of teenage atheism before dabbling with the late Victorian version of liberal Christianity. It might have ended there had Chesterton's brain actually been the "lump of white fat" that one of his frustrated teachers dismissed it as being, and had the 1890s not been what they were.

Youthful atheist or no, his schoolboy friends remembered him as "looking for God." Such a search was not an easy one to undertake, much less complete, in a turn-of-the-century London given over to secularism, relativism, modernism, skepticism, Impressionism, and hyper-rationalism. It was, in Oddie's phrase, a time "much more like our own than we imagine." And yet, paradoxically, it was a perfect time for someone of Chesterton's cast of mind.

His starting point was not what he dubbed the "supernormal world" but the material world that seemed to point to the existence of a spiritual world, which in turn seemed to imply a creator. At the same time, those who denied the existence of a creator played an inadvertent role in his thinking as well: As the "isms" of the 1890s began to take hold, Chesterton began to observe that unbelievers were ceasing to believe even in "normal things." Without the supernatural, he concluded, man was left with the "unnatural." To put matters a bit differently, "We are all agnostics until we discover that agnosticism doesn't work." And for G. K. Chesterton, unbelief ultimately failed to work, both as a theological system and as a recipe for daily life.

In the end...Chesterton's "real transgression" was not so much believing that Christianity was true but believing that anything could be true. .... [more]
PREVIEW: On Becoming G.K.

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