by G.K. Chesterton, 1908

This book is a philosophical autobiography. In it, Chesterton follows his own footprints through life as he presents a series of fundamental concepts which allow people to see things as they are. It is quite possibly the finest rational exposition of how sensible Christianity is above and beyond any worldly philosophy. However, it can only go as far as Chesterton himself had gotten in his understanding of spiritual things. His criticism of the Quakers’ attention to inner light betrays an ignorance of the immanent nature of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

In spite of that flaw, the book is well worth reading for its fine wit, and the sense it gives of a world in which Christianity is not merely a moral code or a religious exercise, but a thorough and exhaustive philosophy of life, the universe, and everything.

  1. Introduction in Defence of Everything Else — The man searching for truth searches alone. He imagines himself to be the first to find it, but if what he has found is actually truth, he will find that every other seeker of truth found it before he did.
  2. The Maniac — Since sin is no longer a widely held belief in human thinking, Chesterton begins instead with the concept of insanity. Imagination does not breed insanity. Exactly what does breed insanity is reason. Every bizarre act committed by the insane is performed because it has been reasoned to be essential. One cannot argue against insanity, one can only show its insufficiency. So it is that certain thoughts must be rebuked as unhealthy to reason itself. What is it that keeps men sane? Mysticism keeps men sane....The whole secret of mysticism is this: that man can understand everything by the help of what he does not understand.
  3. The Suicide of Thought — Pure reason may drive a man mad, but the elimination of all reason makes us inhuman. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all. Authoritative claims of truth were set up to protect reason; questioning everything leads to questioning reason itself. Thoughts that stop thought ought to be stopped.
  4. The Ethics of Elfland — The most orthodox emotions can only be expressed in unorthodox terms. Chesterton here uses fairy tales to express certain Christian ideals that he believed before he found the Christian revelation.
    1. The world is a pleasantly surprising mystery.
    2. There is a purpose to the world, and someone to purpose it.
    3. The purpose is beautiful.
    4. That the proper form of thanks to it is some form of humility and restraint.
    5. We owe obedience to whatever made us.
    6. All that is good is but a remnant of what was originally purposed.
  5. The Flag of the World — Optimism sees nothing bad in the world, pessimism sees nothing good; neither view is correct. Patriotism loves something enough to defend it against attack or to destroy it and rebuild it better. The point is not that this world is too sad to love or too glad not to love; the point is that when you do love a thing, its gladness is a reason for loving it, and its sadness a reason for loving it more.
  6. The Paradoxes of Christianity — Christianity embraces the paradoxes of life not by compromising opposing principles, but by balancing each one in full force with the others. It is constantly assured...that when the lion lies down with the lamb the lion becomes lamb-like. But that is brutal annexation and imperialism on the part of the lamb. That is simply the lamb absorbing the lion instead of the lion eating the lamb. The real problem is -- Can the lion lie down with the lamb and still retain his royal ferocity? That is the problem the Church attempted; that is the miracle she achieved.
  7. The Eternal Revolution — The failings of the ideas of evolution and progress are discussed and contrasted with the preferable idea of revolution as a means (in a worldly sense) of obtaining Utopia. Certain key requirements must be met:
    1. The ideal must be permanent (Eden)
    2. It must be artistically combined, like a picture (a personal, involved God)
    3. We need watchfulness even in Utopia, lest we fall from Utopia as we fell from Eden (an awareness of original sin)
    4. And the perils, rewards, punishments, and fulfilments of an adventure must be real, or the adventure is only a shifting and heartless nightmare (real and irrevocable consequences)
  8. The Romance of Orthodoxy — There is more freedom and adventure in the Christian dogma than in the secular philosophies which oppose it. Christianity admits the possibility that free will may lead to failure. Secular opponents dogmatically reject Christianity and in so doing, bind and oppose themselves.
  9. Authority and the Adventurer — Chesterton here admits that there are yet things Christianity has to teach him. And that is precisely one of the reasons he gives for believing Christianity in the first place. It has been right so often, that he eagerly looks forward to learning more tomorrow. He admits that he has no compelling reason for believing it, other than that a man knows when he has turned right-side up after having been born upside down. That is probably as close as Chesterton had gotten at that point to an understanding of the inner witness of the Holy Spirit.
Also by G.K. Chesterton:
The Everlasting Man

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