Review of Chesterton’s *Well and Shallows*

At first glance this book is rather jarring.  There is a vague theme and many of the references require knowledge of early 1900 British culture and politics, something I am blessedly ignorant of.

And the slams against Protestantism make for difficult reading for Protestants (a word on that later).  I suppose his theme, since this is a collection of essays, is the Church is the well (deep truth) and everything else is the shallows (9). This book addresses a number of issues that would shape the 20th century (and indeed, write most of it in blood): Economics, relativizing of religious truth-claims, and Party politics.

Against the communist and socialist, Chesterton urges non-Utopian schemes and points out that man cannot be reduced to mere economics (interestingly, a criticism that can be made of libertarian capitalism).  Against the capitalist Chesterton points out that if Communism reduces man to pure laborer, Capitalism reduces God’s creation to a market.  Against both Chesterton advocates his famous Distributism.

Chesterton points out how often he changed political views:  or rather, he remained the same and political views changed.  Reminds one of how useless “Party politics” really is.  There is no “left-right” divide (56).  That is an illusion to keep the haves above the have-nots.

Chesterton’s thoughts on the Jews bear notice. People have accused him of being anti-semitic.  What that word means is “something today’s political Jews in the ADL do not like.”   Chesterton and Belloc simply pointed out the obvious.  However, Chesterton did admit that Hitler’s actions against the Jews were wrong (96).

Chesterton is right to point out an Anglo banking conspiracy that had as its goal the destruction of traditional society (which we see today).  I don’t think he realized how much Britain is really implicated in this.

Chesterton’s main point in this book is religion.  Truth be told, if this is his only argument for Catholicism, it is a poor one. It refutes today’s Anglicanism and Lutheranism, but it does not prove Catholicism.  However, Chesterton’s larger points are good.  While his myopia towards Rome is annoying (what about other, ancient traditions?), one should stop and ask, “Why is it for all the evident corruption in the church, the Roman church has not gone down the road of the mainline Protestants?”  Another thought to consider, and this one is scary, why is it that even the most conservative and biblical and fervent Protestant denominations end up in the gutter (see the current debates in TEC and the Lutheran church)?

Chesterton also has good thoughts on how the Institutional church cannot be a conspiracy.


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