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Posts Tagged ‘C.S. Lewis’

moving truckWell, it finally happened.  I knew it would eventually, or at least I suspected it.

I also knew that once the event in question became a sure thing, it would be hard.  But I wasn’t exactly ready for how hard. (more…)

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Please note: This is a follow-up to the post titled “What We Can Learn From Drug Addicts and Alcoholics” — but it can be read on its own.

HeroinIf there is, or were ever to be, a theology of addiction, my guess is that it would follow an Augustinian anthropology.  Addressing God, St. Augustine of Hippo had this to say:

You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in You

(Confessions, I:1)

“You have formed us for Yourself…”

Man’s soul is a vast cavern, bigger by far than anything in the created universe.  It is made for God as a lock is made for a key, an outlet for a plug, a certain kind of hat for a certain-shaped head, etc.  Any time we try to hook our infinite desire for God onto something less than God, inevitably it fails to satisfy.

Nevertheless, we do get some semblance of joy the first time we use or experience the object in question.  The more this initial feeling eludes us on subsequent occasions, the harder we will strive — and the more extreme measures we will take employ — to reproduce it. (more…)

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If you are going to accuse me of anything on the basis of this post’s title, let it be lack of originality (a charge I would gladly accept, as I think originality is overrated): I have chosen to construct my title out of those of not one, but two previously existing works — namely, Clint Eastwood’s recent blockbuster film “American Sniper” and popular Christian apologist C.S. Lewis’ 1940 essay “Why I am not a Pacifist.”

First, the movie.  I won’t go into great detail, other than to say that it is based on the true story of Navy SEAL sniper Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) — hailed as the deadliest shooter in American military history — his experiences in the Iraq War, and his struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder upon his return home.

Ben ReedAt the beginning of the film, me meet a young Chris Kyle (Cole Konis), who fights a group of bullies in defense of his younger brother.  Chris’ father, Wayne (Ben Reed), tells his young sons that there are three kinds of people in the world.  Most people, he says, are sheep — that is, people who “prefer to think that evil doesn’t exist in the world.”  And then there are the wolves, who prey on the weak and thrive on violence.  Finally, there are the sheepdogs, the strong who defend the vulnerable against the wolves.

Wayne, a Christian father raising a Christian family, intends for his sons to be the latter.  His goal in this instance is to make sure that Chris was acting as a sheepdog rather than as a wolf.

C.s.lewis3

“C.s.lewis3”. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:C.s.lewis3.JPG#/media/File:C.s.lewis3.JPG

It is with that in mind that I cite the following passage from Lewis’ essay (which is published along with a number of others in “The Weight of Glory“):

The relevant intuition [used in support of pacifism] seems to be that (…) helping is good and harming bad.  (…) [T]hat intuition can lead to no action unless it is limited in some way or other.  You cannot do simply good to simply Man; you must do this or that good to this or that man.  (…) [W]hen B is up to mischief against A, you must either do nothing (which disobeys intuition) or you must help one against the other.

Between these two citations — the scene from “American Sniper” and the snippet from “Why I am not a Pacifist” — we can gain a pretty decent understanding of how a Christian can choose to go to war, or use force in any instance.

americansniperposterIt is not my intention to get into a discussion of whether the Iraq War meets Just War criteria, nor whether sniping, as a practice, constitutes a form of just warfare.  But a lot of people tend to make this automatic, knee-jerk assumption that to fight in a war or use any kind of force is ipso facto incompatible with being a faithful Christian.

But, as Lewis and the elder Kyle suggest, part of one’s Christian duty is to defend the weak.  And sometimes, this requires force — on individual, communal, and sometimes even national and international levels.  To be sure, such force should always be as minimal as possible, restraint must be preferred to killing, and the death of a “wolf” should be avoided whenever reasonably possible.  But if we want to issue a wholesale condemnation of all warfare, it should give us pause that the weight of reason, history, and even Christian tradition itself is against us.

Needless to say, I am only scratching the surface of Lewis’ essay.  But since my main intention is a treatment of Eastwood’s film, I think I’ll just encourage you to read it yourself and leave it at that.

As for the movie, more to come.

Photo of C.S. Lewis from Wikipedia; remaining images obtained through a Google image search

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I thought I might be able to have my post-retreat reflections ready for tonight…alas, it didn’t work out.  I’ll try for tomorrow.  In the meantime, hopefully this will more than make up for its absence tonight:

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NOTE: Entire video embedded merely for visual aesthetics; for just the relevant portion, which is about two and one half minutes long, click here.

“The night is dark and full of terrors!”

So speaks Melisandre, the “Red Woman” (Carice Van Houten), priestess of the “Lord of Light.”  Apart from the scoundrels of House Lannister, she is probably the character in HBO’s “Game of Thrones” that everyone most loves to hate.

Rather than attempt an in-depth character analysis, I want to limit my focus to Melisandre’s religion.  I must admit, when I was first introduced to it, I thought it was a crack at Christianity, given it’s emphasis on there being only one true God and on issues such as sin and righteousness (not to mention the destruction of idols).

MelisandreSo let’s break it down: How is Melisandre’s religion similar to Christianity, and how is it different?

First, the similarities.  Like I said, it insists on the worship of one God.  Names and titles applied to the God of the Bible — such as “Lord of Light” and “Our Lord” — are applied here also.  Like Jesus Christ, Melisandre’s god also performs visible miracles — most notably the raising of the dead.

Okay, now for the differences.  The priests and priestesses of the “Lord of Light” practice blood magic and human sacrifice, which are very much repugnant to the Judeo-Christian worldview.  Furthermore, Melisandre is a seductress and an adulterous woman.  She very quickly persuades the lord Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) to make love to her by promising him an heir (something Stannis’ barren wife can’t give him).

Melisandre_ShireenBut the defining moment thus far happened in the third episode of the current season.  In this episode, Melisandre comes to share her faith with Stannis’ secluded young daughter, Shireen (Kerry Ingram).  She starts by telling Shireen that there are not seven gods (as her father’s religion taught), but only — get this — two gods: The Lord of Light, and the Lord of Darkness…and they are always locked in battle with one another.

To me, this came as both clarification and relief.  This is not Christianity.  This is Manichaeism.

ManicheansI won’t give you a history lesson, never fear…except to say that Manichaeism was an ancient religion declaring a dualistic universe in which a supreme good divinity and a supreme evil divinity — both equally powerful and equally divine — were engaged in perpetual struggle.  The turmoil in the world and in each human heart could essentially be traced to that. (St. Augustine of Hippo vigorously opposed this philosophy in the fourth century, as is well documented in his “Confessions.”)

But, as C.S. Lewis argued in “Mere Christianity,” this worldview is untenable.  If the two gods in question are both equal in power and opposed to one another, that means they are finite — which, in turn, means that they are contained by and dependent on Someone or Something Else.  Christian philosophers have long held the monotheistic worldview to be more logically consistent: 1) There is one God, Who is infinite, eternal, and all-good; 2) He created everything good, and that includes the material world; and 3) Goodness is therefore absolute, and evil is to good what the cavity is to the tooth.

melisandre-fire-3Would this explain Melisandre’s questionable morality?  Perhaps.  After all, if her dualistic worldview is true, then right and wrong are relative to one another; good is only good because it is not evil, and vice versa.  What is more, there’s really no question of either side being better than the other; which side you are on is a matter of preference.  One can much more easily justify the use of evil in the service of good as a Manichean dualist.

But this is only the tip of the iceberg.  Wait ’till next time.

Image of Manicheans from Wikipedia; other images obtained through a Google image search

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Noah2014Poster

Note: If you are interested in reading part one, click here

In his great book — which I have referenced before, and which I highly encourage people to read — “Love is Stronger Than Death,” Peter Kreeft makes the following observation about modern man’s scientific/technological dream:

The (immortality) Pill will be the fulfillment of one of our deepest and darkest dreams, the Oedipus complex.  Now we will be able to kill our father (God), and marry our mother (earth).  For without death, and with an earthly technological paradise (. . .) (w)e can now return with our phallic power of technology into our birth canal.”

Neither I nor Kreeft are suggesting that modern technology is bad.  But our technological pride and idolatry of “progress” has led to a certain rape of nature.

Original Sin

What we tend to forget, however, is that this is merely one manifestation of a phenomenon that has been going on since the beginning of human history.  When the first human beings defied God and thus fell from grace, they brought a curse upon the earth.

The harmony in which (our first parents) had found themselves, thanks to original justice, is now destroyed: the control of the soul’s spiritual faculties over the body is shattered; the union of man and woman becomes subject to tensions, their relations henceforth marked by lust and domination. Harmony with creation is broken: visible creation has become alien and hostile to man. Because of man, creation is now subject “to its bondage to decay”.  (CCC 400 — bold added)

The Bible is very clear that humankind has dominion over the earth.  But this is not, was never, and never will be a dominion of selfish use.  The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way:

Animals (. . .) plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present, and future humanity. Use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe cannot be divorced from respect for moral imperatives. Man’s dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation.

Animals are God’s creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory. Thus men owe them kindness. We should recall the gentleness with which saints like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Philip Neri treated animals.

God entrusted animals to the stewardship of those whom he created in his own image.

(CCC 2415-2417 — bold added)

Ray WinstoneDarren Aronofsky, co-writer/director of “Noah,” gives us a key example of the opposite impulse — the one given rise to by the Fall of Adam and Eve — in Tubal-cain (Ray Winstone).  At one point, we see him grabbing a live animal and biting off its head; he defends his action by saying that God put mankind at the top of creation, and therefore all other creatures on this earth serve man.

The implication is that as masters, we can do whatever we want with the rest of creation, no matter the cost to it.

Noah_Steward

But again, this is not the Divine directive.  The true nature of man’s dominion over the earth is more clearly reflected in the lives of Noah (Russell Crowe) and his wife Naameh (Jennifer Connelly).  Their family takes on the role of stewards, or caretakers, of God’s creation.  They use only what they need, and they devote themselves to tending the earth and its creatures as they would the Garden of Eden.

Why am I talking about all of this?  Believe it or not, it’s not because today is Earth Day.  The timing of this post is fitting, but purely coincidental (at least as far as my intentions go; I can’t say that God did not, in His providence, have something to do with it).  Many Christians took issue with “Noah,” labeling it vegan propaganda and a mistreatment of God’s Word by imposing modern environmentalist ideas onto it.

I hope, however, that I have demonstrated the film’s portrayal of concern for creation to be, in fact, perfectly Biblical and authentically Christian.

If not…

Jrrt_lotr_cover_design …take a look at J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings”…

Chronicles of Narnia…or at C.S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia.”

Tolkien and Lewis were both deeply Christian and very much immersed in the Biblical worldview.  They saw the connection we have been exploring very clearly, and it comes across powerfully in their work.

Let’s end with a bottom line that goes back to the Kreeft quote: Sin is about making ourselves God; when we make ourselves God, we become selfish and domineering; when we become selfish and domineering, our fellow human beings and the world entrusted to our care suffer.

I do have a little bit more to say about this subject in relation to the movie “Noah.”  But in the interest of a certain kind of “stewardship” over my readers’ eyes and patience, I’ll wait ’till next time.

All “Noah” images other than film poster obtained through a Google image search; remaining images from Wikipedia

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LOTR_Hobbits

Okay, okay…let’s start with a concession: This is a big time of year for the premiere of all kinds of movies.  But as a viewer, I have always felt it strangely appropriate that all three “Lord of the Rings” films came out at Christmastime.  And now the “Hobbit” films are coming out during the holiday season as well.  Somehow, it just feels right.

And maybe it’s providential…if for no other reason, because of the Hobbits.

TreebeardThere is an interesting scene in “The Two Towers,” the second book in Tolkien’s “Rings” trilogy, in which Hobbits Merry and Pippin tell Treebeard the story of their journey.  Here is Treebeard’s response:

There is something very big going on … By root and twig, but it is a strange business: up sprout a little folk that are not in the old lists (of creatures), and behold! the Nine forgotten Riders reappear to hunt them, and Gandalf takes them on a great journey, and Galadriel harbours them in Caras Galadon, and Orcs pursue them down all the leagues of Wilderland: indeed they seem to be caught up in a great storm. (‘The Two Towers,” Book III, Chapter 4 — bold mine)

I highlighted the bold section for a reason.  With “little people” appearing during the Third Age of Middle Earth, Tolkien’s Christianity seems to be peeping through the rafters.

NativityOne of the best commentaries on Christmas comes from C.S. Lewis, who said — I believe in “Mere Christianity” — that Christ’s coming into the world as an infant, born into poverty at that, was a deeply subversive act.  Coming to reclaim mankind and the world and to free them from the tyrannical power of the devil, he had to slip into enemy territory — behind enemy lines, as it were — unseen.

And, like the Hobbits, Christ was pursued by those seeking His death from the moment of His birth.  Those familiar with the New Testament will recall the slaughter of the innocents and the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt.

The Third Age of Middle Earth, unbeknownst to its inhabitants, would witness cataclysmic events that would decide the fate of the world.  Against the threat of Sauron, the Dark Lord, the might of Men and Elves would not avail.

Perceiving the oncoming storm, Gandalf the Wizard intuits that Middle Earth will need the help of a people with a whole new “skill set.”  Hence, he gets the Hobbits involved.

Still from The Hobbit: The Desolation of SmaugWhether it is Bilbo Baggins slipping into the dragon Smaug’s lair as a “burglar” or Frodo and Sam slipping into Mordor, the Hobbits are perfect “weapons” by virtue of their smallness and ability to creep into enemy territory unnoticed.  In this way, they are able to overthrow the usurpers that possess, or seek to possess, what is not theirs.

As we approach Christmas Day, let us celebrate Hobbits…and the birth of the Little King Who slips into the lair to defeat our Smaug.

Images of Treebeard and the Nativity from Wikipedia; others obtained through a Google image search

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les-miserables-dawnTom Hooper’s adaptation of “Les Misérables” ends with a re-gathering of all the characters — including those who have died — in some mysterious “new dawn” accompanied by the song “Do You Hear the People Sing?”

I have two things to say about this:

1) We notice that the song is reconfigured a bit from its performance earlier in the film, going from an anthem to an earthly utopia to a testament to man’s greater hope.

2) This moment is in some sense prefigured not only by the earlier performance of “Do You Hear the People Sing?” but also in the general use of music throughout the film.

We notice at various times that different characters in different physical locations are singing the same song, or else singing different songs with a very similar thematic structure…

lovers

…whether it is Marius and Cosette pining for one another…

rebels

…the rebels seeking a new order…

anne-hathaway-les-miserables

…Fantine weeping for her lost innocence…

Javert…Javert seeking justice…

Valjean_Prayer

…or Jean Valjean seeking redemption.

However different our circumstances in this world, however different our roles and goals, whatever our worldly destinies, and however different our paths through life, we are all ordered to the same destiny.  We are all meant to form the family of God eternally, to the crowning glory of the New Heavens and New Earth — or the summation of all things in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:10).

This is God’s desire for all humanity. It is for this reason that He sent His only Begotten Son to become a man, like us human beings in all things except sin, to bear our sins in His own body, to die for us, and to restore our life by His Resurrection.

There are none left out of this destiny except those who are excluded by their own choice, by their refusal of God’s call to repentance and conversion.  In the case of “Les Misérables,” this includes Javert (see my post “Act II, Scene 2/3” — https://intothedance.wordpress.com/2013/06/08/les-miserables-dvd-review-act-ii-scene-23-the-small-stuff/) and Monsieur and Madame Thénardier, the devious innkeeping couple who use poverty as an excuse for behavior that is inimical to community.

On that Final Day, we will know all we need to know.  We will finally see how and in what ways our actions, our sufferings, our prayers, and our very presence in this world affected others.  We will learn why some had to suffer more than others.  We will see the whole of history and creation fulfilled, its meaning disclosed.  Made to share by grace in the very life of God, we “will shine like the sun in the kingdom of (God the) Father” (Matthew 13:43).

Until then, we must strive to help one another reach this sublime destiny.  As C.S. Lewis wrote in his book “The Weight of Glory”:

It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.  All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.

Such is the song — the “dance,” if you will — of daily life.  So let us be people of hope, not despair; virtue, not vice; kindness, not cruelty; moderation, not self-indulgence; generosity, not possessiveness…

…Let us sing.

SUPPLEMENTAL VIDEO

In closing, here is a video that in some way bears witness to the higher hope I have touched on.  Most of you have probably already seen Minnesota teenager Zach Sobiech’s moving music video, which he made after learning that he had only months to live — nevertheless, here it is:

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tree

Yeah, it’s a little late in the day.  Earth Day will be over by the time many readers get to this.  Sorry to be so late…but life does tend to get busy, as you undoubtedly know.

I want to start with a quick reflection on biodegradable urns, which seem to have become popular of late.  My understanding is that these allow the ashes of the deceased to be mixed with seeds and planted in the ground so that, basically, our loved ones’ graves are marked with trees instead of headstones.

The rationale goes something like this: “If you become a tree, at least you’re giving back to the earth.  What good is your body if it’s just rotting in a casket?”

Can we say this perspective is understandable?  Sure.  But I would like to present another perspective for consideration.

We have all dealt with the death of loved ones at some time or other.  As we mourn their passing, we remember them as unique individuals, of the times we enjoyed with them, etc.  When you think about it, don’t your loved ones mean more to you, even in death, than material to be used as fertilizer?

tombstone

It is good for us to bury our dead.  It fulfills an emotional need that humans have to know that they can always come to a certain spot and say, “George (hypothetical name) is here.”  Whether we visit George’s tombstone every year on his birthday, bring flowers to lay on his grave, etc., we bear witness to a vitally important element of the human experience: When our fellow human beings die, our relationship with them goes on.  It changes, but it somehow abides.

Okay…I know this all probably sounds very anti-environmental, catering to human neediness rather than promoting good stewardship of our planet.  But this is not the case at all…and that’s precisely where I intend to bring my faith into this discussion.

We human beings are both physical and spiritual creatures.  So we can ask, “What is it our connection with the material world?”

The answer: Our bodies.

Resurrection

Christian belief in the Resurrection could hardly be any more affirmative of the body’s dignity and importance.  Jesus Christ, as true God and true man, rose bodily (see my post “Jesus’ Resurrected Body — What’s the Difference?” for more on this: https://intothedance.wordpress.com/2013/04/06/jesus-resurrected-body-whats-the-difference/) after having undergone death and burial.

As Christians, we bury our dead in the earth in coffins because this is our way of following Christ, Who endured bodily death before rising again.  This is a witness to the expectancy of our own resurrection, which will come at the end of time.

It is true that we will be raised to a whole new life — in fact, a whole new kind of life.  We are born into the natural world, but we are destined for the supernatural.

But does this mean that the material world doesn’t matter, or that we should neglect it?  Emphatically not.  Anyone who knows, for example, of our recent Pope Benedict XVI’s many addresses on the Christian responsibility to exercise good stewardship over creation will see this for the falsehood that it is.

Here is what the Catechism has to say about it:

The seventh commandment enjoins respect for the integrity of creation. Animals, like plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present, and future humanity. Use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe cannot be divorced from respect for moral imperatives. Man’s dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation. (CCC 2415) (italics mine)

But the way to do this is not by allowing ourselves to be absorbed into the earth, thus in some sense forfeiting our humanity.  Rather, we must exercise the stewardship that God entrusted to Adam in Eden with a view to the coming of “a new heaven and a new earth” (Revelation 21:1).

That said, I should return to my comment about humanity being made for something higher than this world.  This does not mean that we are destined to forever leave the earth behind.  Rather, the world we currently know becomes — to borrow an analogy that Peter Kreeft uses in his great book “Love is Stronger Than Death” — as the womb becomes for us after we are born.  It is still a part of our world, but it is just that — a part of something much, much bigger.

Kreeft cites an interesting passage from C.S. Lewis’ book “Miracles” in the fourth chapter of his book.  I’d like to close with that:

… Come out, look back, and then you will see … this astonishing cataract of bears, babies, and bananas: this immoderate deluge of atoms, orchids, oranges, cancers, canaries, fleas, gases, tornadoes and toads. … Offer her neither worship nor contempt.  Meet her and know her.  If we are immortal, and if she is doomed (as the scientists tell us) to run down and die, we shall miss this half-shy and half-flamboyant creature, this ogress, this hoyden, this incorrigible fairy, this dumb witch.  But the theologians tell us that she, like ourselves, is to be redeemed.  The “vanity” to which she was subjected was her disease, not her essence.  She will be cured, but cured in character: not tamed (Heaven forbid) nor sterilized.  We shall still be able to recognize our old enemy, friend, playfellow and foster-mother, so perfected as to be not less, but more, herself.  And that will be a merry meeting.

All images from Wikipedia

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I am hard at work on an article for the newspaper, so for tonight I’ll give you another video.

This one is from “Theater of the Word,” and it dramatizes an early debate between J.R.R. Tolkien (creator of Middle-Earth) and C.S. Lewis (creator of Narnia), back when Lewis was still an atheist.  I figured it would be apropos, given our recent reflections on fairy tales in contemporary culture.  Enjoy!

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