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Chesterton on being broad-minded

A good bit from chapter 20 of G. K. Chesterton’s Heretics:

Whether the human mind can advance or not, is a question too little discussed, for nothing can be more dangerous than to found our social philosophy on any theory which is debatable but has not been debated. But if we assume, for the sake of argument, that there has been in the past, or will be in the future, such a thing as a growth or improvement of the human mind itself, there still remains a very sharp objection to be raised against the modern version of that improvement. The vice of the modern notion of mental progress is that it is always something concerned with the breaking of bonds, the effacing of boundaries, the casting away of dogmas. But if there be such a thing as mental growth, it must mean the growth into more and more definite convictions, into more and more dogmas. The human brain is a machine for coming to conclusions; if it cannot come to conclusions it is rusty. When we hear of a man too clever to believe, we are hearing of something having almost the character of a contradiction in terms. It is like hearing of a nail that was too good to hold down a carpet; or a bolt that was too strong to keep a door shut. Man can hardly be defined, after the fashion of Carlyle, as an animal who makes tools; ants and beavers and many other animals make tools, in the sense that they make an apparatus. Man can be defined as an animal that makes dogmas. As he piles doctrine on doctrine and conclusion on conclusion in the formation of some tremendous scheme of philosophy and religion, he is, in the only legitimate sense of which the expression is capable, becoming more and more human. When he drops one doctrine after another in a refined scepticism, when he declines to tie himself to a system, when he says that he has outgrown definitions, when he says that he disbelieves in finality, when, in his own imagination, he sits as God, holding no form of creed but contemplating all, then he is by that very process sinking slowly backwards into the vagueness of the vagrant animals and the unconsciousness of the grass. Trees have no dogmas. Turnips are singularly broad-minded.

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Three years after G. K. Chesterton published Heretics, he wrote Orthodoxy. It’s a great book, including one of my favorite Chesterton pieces, “The Ethics of Elfland.”

As for why he wrote a second book (it’s sort of a sequel to Heretics), he explains why in the preface:

This book is meant to be a companion to Heretics, and to put the positive side in addition to the negative. Many critics complained of the book called Heretics because it merely criticised current philosophies without offering any alternative philosophy. This book is an attempt to answer the challenge. It is unavoidably affirmative and therefore unavoidably autobiographical…. It is the purpose of the writer to attempt an explanation, not of whether the Christian Faith can be believed, but of how he personally has come to believe it. The book is therefore arranged upon the positive principle of a riddle and its answer. It deals first with all the writer’s own solitary and sincere speculations and then with all the startling style in which they were all suddenly satisfied by the Christian Theology.

As usual, it’s available to download in EPUB or Kindle formats.

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I’ve wanted to get back into reading G. K. Chesterton, but I wasn’t very happy with any of the EPUB editions of Heretics out there, so I’ve made my own. Since, um, that’s what I do. At least with public domain books.

Anyway, head on over to the book page to download it in EPUB or Kindle formats.

I should also add that this is my first release in a new category, Inklings. Many of the Inklings’ books are still under copyright (C.S. Lewis only has Spirits in Bondage in the public domain, for example), but there are still authors and books that influenced them or that they mentioned in essays or letters, and that’s what I’ll be publishing in that category — G. K. Chesterton’s works, George MacDonald’s works, A Voyage to Arcturus, The Worm Ouroboros, etc. Basically, anything related to the Inklings that’s in the public domain.

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