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How Chesterton led me to the Catholic Church

Zubair Simonson

“HAVE YOU EVER READ A BOOK THAT CHANGED YOUR LIFE?”

Have you heard this question before?  I have.  I wonder how often it is the case that between the lines, the real question is: “can you name for me a book that will reinforce what I already profess?”There are in fact several books that have changed my own life, by which I mean I have been influenced to make important life decisions after having read them.  There is even one particular author who penned several of these books. I am a Catholic today.  Prior to 2012, I was a member of a Presbyterian Church.  Prior to that, I had a brief stint of being merely a theist.  And I was raised as a devout Muslim.  In my own unorthodox religious journey from Islam to the Catholic Church, there was one particular fellow, though he passed away in 1936, who influenced me as much as any living person to go ahead and take that next step: G. K. Chesterton.

G.K. Chesterton was an eccentric man, to say the least.  He was tall and weighed in at around three-hundred pounds.  I have heard it said that when he died his casket was so huge that instead of being carried down the stairs of his Beaconsfield home, it had to be thrown out of the window.  He was fond of wearing a cowl and carrying a sword stick.  His tiny glasses hung from the tip of his bulbous nose.  Oftentimes a cigar would be hanging out of his mouth.

This particular author has cast an impressive shadow.  He is known to have influenced both Alfred Hitchcockand C.S. Lewis.  Alan Watts has lectured about him.  Neil Gaiman honored him with a character in the highly imaginative Sandman comic book series, and dedicated the novel Good Omens (which he co-wrote with Terry Pratchett) to him, going so far as to describe him as “a man who knew what was going on.”

But he is largely obscure today.  When Catholic peers have asked me “how did you go from Muslim to Catholic?” and I bring his name up as one of my influences, I have come to expect a follow-up question of “who?” I do not fault my fellow millennial Catholics when they have no idea who G.K. Chesterton is.  Although I firmly believe he is one of history’s great wits, and perhaps the most quotable writer in the English language after the Bard himself, I never heard of him until three years after I graduated college.  Perhaps it is the case that some authors, and certain subjects, are simply too challenging for academics to be up to the task of grappling with.

I first learned of G.K. Chesterton in 2007, while contemplating whether I should be baptized as a Christian.

My year between leaving Islam and being baptized as a Christian had rendered me spiritually rudderless.  I had subscribed to the view that all religions were equally useless.  At the time I was working in a marketing company, under a boss who helped me to realize that evil really does, in fact, exist.  There are some among us who lie, to ourselves and to others, so routinely that all bearing of truth gets lost, and the most fitting description for such a state is evil.  My life had become something of a mess in the other few aspects as well.  I was depressed and eager for some sort of a fresh start.  For the first time in my life, I was willing to lend an ear to the Gospel message, to consider what life would be like as a born again.

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