A Place Outside This World: G.K. Chesterton’s religious identity in Orthodoxy (1 of 3)

In the Western tradition of spiritual autobiography from writers such as St. Augustine and Thomas Merton, G.K. Chesterton compiles his views of religion in his most popular work Orthodoxy.  Written as a response to his views from his earlier book Heretics, Chesterton writes Orthodoxy as both an apologetic and as testimony of his personal conversion to the Christian faith.  It is not an explanation “of whether the Christian Faith can be believed, but of how he personally has come to believe it” (Orthodoxy, x).  Chesterton allows his readers to engage in his “sort of slovenly autobiography” by addressing some of the thoughts of the Victorian Era such as the rise of Modernism and Science. Although his writing is autobiographical in nature, Chesterton boldly asserts his opinion in the areas of politics, science, and religion.

His book of essays delineates on a variety of topics in relation to Religion and ultimately concludes that Christian orthodoxy is the foundation by which Chesterton understanding humanity. Chesterton is able to join the seemingly opposite corners of these topics because of his meta-narrative of faith and, as he describes, his personal odyssey from agnosticism to Christianity: “I will not call it my philosophy; for I did not make it.  God and humanity made it; and it made me” (O, 1).  Chesterton chooses to assert his narrative voice within the context of Christianity; thus creating an autobiography not dictated by his chronological experiences of life, but rather his chronological revelations to his faith.  Chesterton utilizes both intellectual and “common sense” arguments to articulate a coherent view of life and humanity.

Richard Kearney writes that stories are used to “create narrative identities” as a force against confusion (Kearney, 4).  “Every human existence is a life in search of narrative” as the writer “strives to discover a pattern to cope with the experience of chaos and confusion” (Kearney, 129). This force against confusion manifests in multiple genres depending on the form that best communicates the writer’s identity.  For Chesterton, this identity begins in the mind and is cultivated in his arguments in Orthodoxy.  Chesterton uses his narrative voice as a Christian apologist, but more importantly, as a professing Christian writing of his understanding of the universe.  “If one goal of an autobiography is to show the individual’s personal creative response to difficult psychological, and intellectual conditions, then Orthodoxy deserves to be called a classic of the genre.”  Indeed, Orthodoxy is an autobiography of the highest spiritual order as it is a defense of both Christianity and of Chesterton himself.  It is through his explanation of humanity and a transcendent God that allows Chesterton’s readers to understand how he situated himself in the mystery of this world.

Author: Josh Withrow

I want to help people creatively tell their stories by giving them the tools to engage other people with captivating ideas. My 14 years of classroom teaching and my master's degree in English Literature give me the experience to make my classes both creative and informative. People don't need a degree to enjoy learning -- but sometimes a little guidance goes a long way.

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