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The Nightmare Goodness of God

Ralph C. Wood

Publication Year: 2011

The literary giant G. K. Chesterton is often praised as the"Great Optimist"—God's rotund jester. In this fresh and daring endeavor, Ralph Wood turns a critical eye on Chesterton's corpus to reveal the beef-and-ale believer's darker vision of the world and those who live in it. During an age when the words grace, love, and gospel, sound more hackneyed than genuine, Wood argues for a recovery of Chesterton's primary contentions: First, that the incarnation of Jesus was necessary reveals a world full not of a righteous creation but of tragedy, terror, and nightmare, and second, that the problem of evil is only compounded by a Christianity that seeks progress, political control, and cultural triumph.

Wood’s sharp literary critique moves beyond formulaic or overly pious readings to show that, rather than fleeing from the ghoulish horrors of his time, Chesterton located God's mysterious goodness within the existence of evil. Chesterton seeks to reclaim the keen theological voice of this literary authority who wrestled often with the counterclaims of paganism. In doing so, it argues that Christians may have more to learn from the unbelieving world than is often supposed.

Published by: Baylor University Press

Series: The Making of the Christian Imagination


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Title page

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p. iii

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Series Introduction

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pp. vii-ix

The current rash of books hostile to religious faith will one day be an interesting subject for some sociological analysis. They consistently suggest a view of religion which, if taken seriously, would also evacuate a number of other human systems of meaning, including quite a lot of what we unreflectively think of as science...


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pp. xi-xii

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pp. xii-xv

“Of making many books there is no end,” laments the Preacher with gloomy weariness (Eccl 12:12).1 The making of this book has entailed no such weariness, no such gloom, because it has brought so many occasions of gratitude to so many aides in the long process of its gestation. These helpers rescued me at many points along my slow and winding path in the study of G. K. Chesterton...

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pp. 1-6

Nightmare is a word that recurs throughout the work of G. K. Chesterton. “I was still oppressed with the metaphysical nightmare of negations about mind and matter,” he writes in his Autobiography, “with the morbid imagery of evil, with the burden of my own mysterious brain and body; but by this time I was in revolt against them; and trying to construct a healthier conception of cosmic life, even if it were one that should err on the side of health...

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1--Man as Holy Monster: Christian Humanism, Evolution, and Orthodoxy

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pp. 7-38

Anyone who has read any of Chesterton’s work is likely to have read Orthodoxy. First published in London by John Lane Press in 1908, it has never gone into dormancy; there are more than two dozen printings still available. How to account for such enduring interest? Graham Greene described Orthodoxy as “among the great books of the age,” calling Chesterton “a man of colossal genius.”...

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2--Patriotism and the True Patria: Distributism, Hymns, and Christendom in Dublin

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pp. 39-68

In her still unsurpassed biography of Chesterton published in 1943, Maisie Ward declared that the three great loves of the great man’s life were “his wife, his country and his Faith.”1 Ward’s capitalizing of the final word seems to make clear that Chesterton had rightly arranged his central loves, with his Christian convictions properly subordinating the other two. Yet Julia Stapleton’s study of Chesterton’s politics reveals...

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3--Militarism and the Church Militant: Lepanto, Defense of World War I, and “The Truce of Christmas”

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pp. 69-96

“Of all the modern poets,” Charles Williams declared in 1930, “there is only one whose verse is always full of the voice of battle, and that is Mr. Chesterton.” “There are drawn swords from the first page to the last,” Williams added, “material, intellectual, and spiritual. . . . Everything is spoken of in terms of war, either actual or potential. For even when there is no enemy the state of being described [by Chesterton] is a state where man is strung to a high pitch...

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4--The Waning of the West and the Threat of Islam: The New Jerusalem and The Flying Inn

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pp. 97-124

In the face of late modern Islamist terrorism, it is a perilous thing to air Chesterton’s complaints against Mohammedanism, as he called it. Chesterton could easily though wrongly be enlisted as a militant in “the clash of civilizations.” Samuel Huntington famously invented this phrase to define his argument that, after the 1989 rending of the Iron Curtain, the essential world-dividing line has become cultural rather than political and ideological...

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5--Tyrannical Tolerance and Ferocious Hospitality: The Ball and the Cross

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pp. 125-154

“Modern toleration is really a tyranny,” G. K. Chesterton asserts. “It is a tyranny because it is a silence. To say that I must not deny my opponent’s faith is to say I must not discuss it.”1 In a similarly barbed aphorism, Chesterton describes tolerance as “the virtue of a man without convictions.” The early Church, in its missional refusal to regard the Faith as true only for Christians, rightly scandalized pagan...

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6--The Bane and Blessing of Civilization: Torture, Democracy, and The Ballad of the White Horse

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pp. 155-186

Despite the patriotic militancy of his great hymns, Chesterton came to have doubts about English nationalism. He discerned that his democratic vision of social and political life was possible only in small city-states such as the Greeks inhabited. He regretted that England had come to be called “a nation of shopkeepers,” and he despised the “industrialized individualism” that William Cobbett had both feared and prophesied...

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7--The Nightmare Mystery of Divine Action: The Man Who Was Thursday

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pp. 187-222

Chesterton’s most famous novel has almost as many interpretations as it has readers. I confess, in fact, to having reached different conclusions about the novel’s central mystery on each of the several times I have read it. That there is nothing approaching a consensus about the meaning of The Man Who Was Thursday may be a sure sign of its artistic richness. All great works of art are subject to diverse and even contradictory interpretations...

Appendix to Chapter 1: Chesterton as the Daylight Scourge to the Ghoulish Dream of Eugenics

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pp. 223-226

Appendix to Chapter 4: Chesterton, Dawson, and Bernanos on the Setting Sun of the West

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pp. 227-236

Appendix to Chapter 6: Tolkien and Chesterton on Northernness and Nihilism

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pp. 237-240


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pp. 241-332

Index to the Works of Chesterton

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pp. 333-334

Index of Names

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pp. 335-338

Subject Index

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pp. 339-342

E-ISBN-13: 9781602584426
E-ISBN-10: 1602584427
Print-ISBN-13: 9781602581616
Print-ISBN-10: 1602581614

Page Count: 358
Publication Year: 2011

Edition: 1st
Series Title: The Making of the Christian Imagination
Series Editor Byline: Stephen Prickett, general editor See more Books in this Series

OCLC Number: 769189745
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Chesterton

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Subject Headings

  • Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith), 1874-1936 -- Religion.
  • Theology in literature.
  • Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith), 1874-1936 -- Themes, motives.
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