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Posted November 16, 2012

The Complete Thinker: The Marvelous Mind of G.K. Chesterton
Author: Dale Ahlquist
Ignatius Press. San Francisco, CA. 2012. pp. 261

An Excerpt from the Book:

What does it mean to be a complete thinker? It means being able to take on a wide variety of ideas and disciplines and put them all together in a way that they work together. It means thinking like G.K. Chesterton.

The English author G.K. Chesterton (1874-193) was one of the most prolific and well-known writers of his time, and one of the most widely quoted in our own. For newspapers and magazines, he wrote social commentary, literary criticism, and poetry with poignancy and wit. Creator of the beloved detective Father Brown, Chesterton also wrote novels and short stories.

"Thinking", wrote Chesterton, "means connecting things." His ideas are not only connected to each other, they are also connected to us, showing that the thought of Chesterton is timeless. In a world of increasing specialization, Chesterton connects us to the big picture by helping us see how the many and varied elements within our experience fit together.

An Excerpt from the Book:

One of the reason it is hard to think is that it is hard to talk. It is hard work to put our thoughts into actual words. Even when we put language to work, we find that language is always falling short of what we want it to do. Chesterton says, "We are struggling in a fallen language like men struggling inside the folds of a fallen tent."

And it seems as if language continues to fall. It is hard to imagine how much further it can fall. We seem to be getting more and more inarticulate. We try to say more and more with fewer and fewer words. If you want a really horrifying vision of the future, just take a look at the way our young people talk. How many times have you heard variations of the following? "Like, you know, um, he's like looking at me, you know, and I'm, um like: 'What are you looking at me for?' And you know he's like, um, 'I'm not looking at you', and I'm, um, like you know, 'It looks like you're looking at me.' And he's like you know, 'Like, why would I look at you?' and I'm like 'Whatever!'"

They have taken this form of minimalist language to its minimum. Their vocabulary consists mostly of "like", "um", and "you know."

Perhaps the only word with multiple syllables that you will hear them say is "whatever", the ultimate postmodern word. It reveals the thinking of the postmodern world --- well, not the thinking, but the default position, which is, "I'm not going to think about this."

What do those other words mean?

"Like" means a lack of precision; it means only an approximation, a vague similarity. They cannot say what "is", only what is "like". They cannot even say "say", "Like" has replaced "say".

What does "you know" mean? "You know" means "I don't know." It means "I hope you know because I don't. I don't know what I'm saying, because I haven't figured out how to say it or even what to say. You know"?

What does "um" mean? "Um" sums up everything else that is missing from their vocabulary and their minds. It is just a sound that is utterly meaningless. And yet it takes up the greater part of their speech.

But why can't they talk? Because they cannot think. There are no words because there are no thoughts that correspond with them. And why can't they think? Because we have not taught them how to think.

And what could be more frustrating for them? They get angry because they cannot express their anger, because they cannot express anything. Finally, the rage is released in the most brutal and unimaginable ways --- in loud pounding music that fills their empty heads with sound instead of words, in loveless sex that fills their empty soul with something like a substitute for affection, or, ultimately and tragically, in something even worse; in death, violent death, in the murder of their unborn children, of their fellow students, or of themselves.

Yes, thinking is important. Chesterton says, "If you think wrong, you go wrong." That is why we need to be taught how to think.

Table of Contents:

1. How to think

2. Truth and its discontents

3. The limits of language

4. The problem of evil

5. The seven deadly sins

6. The universe and other little things

7. Old and new

8. East and West

9. War and peace

10. Politics and patriotism

11. Law and lawyers

12. Buying and selling

13. Sickness and health

14. Life and death

15. Abandon hopelessness, all ye who enter here

16. To be

17. The exception proves the rule