Monday, November 29, 2004

Novels worth reading again

Hugh Hewitt is piqued by Jacob Weisenberg's statement that 'You may never put down a Tom Wolfe novel. But you never reread one, either.' On that basis, Hewitt asks which modern novels are worth reading twice.

If by modern he means 19th and 20th century writers, I have several masterpieces that beg to be read and re-read:

Top of the list: C. S. Lewis and Chronicles of Narnia.
This seven-book series was ostensibly written for children, but its depth of Christian philosophy makes it even more rewarding for a 'grown-up.' I read these books again at least once every year.

Close second: C. S. Lewis and That Hideous Strength.
So wrote Sir David Lyndsay in Ane Dialogue, describing the Tower of Babel.
That Hideous Strength is Lewis' artful exposure of the Tower of Babel, its tentacled and deep reach into modern society. It is his third and ultimate work in the Space Trilogy.
I have gleaned much wisdom from multiple readings of That Hideous Strength.

Big Favorite:
J. R. R. Tolkien and Lord of the Rings.
This one is so popular that it needs no introduction.
But another little work of Tolkien's that needs a word: Farmer Giles of Ham and other Stories.

Another re-read:
Fyodor Dostoevsky and Brothers Karamazov.
Patricide, atheism, agnosticism, and religious fraud contrasted with authentic faith and existential Christianity -- what more could a person ask?
The depth of Dostoevsky's work could be summed up in a post-Karamazov statement by the author: When mocked by the intelligentsia of his day for writing a novel that broached the worst of all possible arguments against God, yet turned out to be a novel about vital faith, Dostoevsky replied: 'Fools! You cannot understand the depth of my doubt, how then can you understand my faith?'
Brother's Karamazov is the best existential argument for faith in God that I have ever read. Read it. If you dare. It will change you...

Another to consider:
Henryk Sienkiewicz, With Fire and Sword.
This novel will make you laugh, and then bring tears to your eyes...contrasting the daily humor of human condition with its great calling. With Fire and Sword shows what it means to be a real leader in the most desperate of times, a faithful warrior who holds up light and sword even when the outcome seems lost!

These are some of my favorites, worth reading for gripping storyline and consistent philosophy.

Enjoy, fellow so-journer of truth!


UPDATE: The Paragraph Farmer reminded me of A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
Definitely one of the best books written in the 20th Century...

Also, one that I enjoyed several times as a teen: Rifles for Watie, by Harold Keith. It explores the forgotten role of the Oklahoma territories in the Civil War. Evocative writing.

Great reading!

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Kierkegaard: You have loved us first!

A Thanksgiving prayer that goes to the heart of it all -- from Soren Kierkegaard:


Great Companion, You have loved us first.
May we never forget that You are love,
So that this sure conviction might triumph in our hearts
Over the whirling of the world,
Over the inquietude of the soul,
Over the anxiety for the future,
Over the fright of the past,
Over the distress of the moment.
May this conviction discipline our soul
So that our hearts might remain faithful and sincere
In the love which we bear to all those we love as ourselves.


Teach us to remember this, O Lord. In our world, with our anxieties, frights and distresses. Teach us to embrace the discipline of soul, the humility and courage that comes from confessing your first all those we love!

Thank you, O God for all we are and have: To You we owe it all. You have loved us first...


Monday, November 22, 2004

Postmodern theology: an oxymoron?

Christopher, at Against the Grain, keys in on this story of atheistic philosopher Jurgen Habermas supporting Christianity against the attack of secular ideologies:
Habermas defines himself as, and is, "a methodical atheist." But to read his most recent essay translated in Italy, "A Time of Transition," published by Feltrinelli and available in bookstores since mid-November, Christianity, and nothing else, is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy, the benchmarks of Western civilization:
"To this day, we have no other options. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is postmodern chatter."
Habermas says he is "enchanted by the seriousness and consistency" of the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, the opposite of the feeble thinking that pervades current theology:
"Thomas represents a spiritual figure who was able to prove his authenticity with his own resources. That contemporary religious leadership lacks an equally solid terrain seems to me an incontrovertible truth. In the general leveling of society by the media everything seems to lose seriousness, even institutionalized Christianity. But theology would lose its identity if it sought to uncouple itself from the dogmatic nucleus of religion, and thus from the religious language in which the community's practices of prayer, confession, and faith are made concrete."
On relations with other civilizations, Habermas maintains that "recognizing our Judaeo-Christian roots more clearly not only does not impair intercultural understanding, it is what makes it possible."
That is just an amazing statement, by an incredibly incisive thinker. Some atheists have far more truth in them than some 'Christians.' Habermas is onto something. Read Thomas Aquinas or Chesterton or C. S. Lewis, and then read Bishop Spong [or any of the postmodern, leftist 'Christians' trying to rewrite Christianity -- its language, traditions and norms] ; then, read the current secularist arguments against Christian expression. It will be self-evident as to whom is approaching reality in faithfulness to the intellect God has granted. It will be self-evident as to whom is approaching reality in relation to Truth.

Pretty neat that God is raising up people [even among atheists!] to show the hollow nature of the *new age* house...a house of cards that seeks to replace Christianity by sleight of hand and mind.

But those who attack Christ will not prevail. Much sound and fury, but not victory.

It seems that somewhere the Lord of Glory said, "Upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it!"


Saturday, November 20, 2004

Kierkegaard on becoming self

Is the sin of human condition primarily egoism -- false self-assertion? Or is it rather more the refusal to become a real person, a true ‘self’ [as Kierkegaard puts it]?

In The Sickness Unto Death, Kierkegaard believes that most people never become selves. Here Kierkegaard highlights sin primarily in terms of self-abdication -- the refusal, denial of the task of becoming a real human, a self in the eyes of God.

In ‘Theology and Women,’ Carol Lakey Hess comments:

For Kierkegaard, human sin was not so much a result of inflated and self-possessing egocentrism, but rather the consequence of a person’s refusal to become a self, i.e., self-abdication. He viewed despair over becoming a self as the common human condition, and he emphasized the importance of the self choosing and becoming a self, contending that the ‘self has the task of becoming itself in freedom,’ and choosing itself before God.

This is a fascinating concept: does false grasping and false ‘will to power’ stem from a first refusal to become real self before God?

Is egoism first a denial of the task of becoming fully human? Is fallen human grasping a cover for not being real?

Hess notes that Kierkegaard recognizes the deep sin of pride, but roots it in self-despair.

For Kierkegaard there were three manifestations of human despair over becoming a self: 1. “spiritlessness,” the failure to realize one’s possibility; 2. “weakness,” the move to escape from one’s self; and 3. “defiance,” the attempt to affirm and master oneself by denying dependence upon God.

A riveting analysis of human condition! Is the sin of pride [self-aggrandizement and egoism and all its children] rooted in despair over becoming a real self before God...?

What would it mean to become the true self I was destined to be before the world began?

Prayer: O God, help me to become real before You, and to embrace all that this means for my world! Amen.

Friday, November 19, 2004

Sharansky on dissent

Natan Sharansky, 'former refusenik and Soviet prisoner, current Israeli cabinet minister, is one of the great men of our time.'

When Sharansky was released from the Gulag in a prisoner exchange engineered by the Reagan administration in 1986, he shared with Reagan the story of 'the beautiful moment' when the news of Reagan's Evil Empire speech echoed in the Soviet gulag. He told Reagan of the 'brilliant day' when the Pravda or Izvestia article found its way into their prison. The instant they heard of that Evil Empire speech, the 'whole block burst out into a kind of loud celebration' in the knowledge that 'the world was about to change.' Not forever could they be chained in darkness, unjustly!

Sharansky said that when he shared this story with Reagan, Reagan jumped out of his chair 'like a shot,' and 'lit up like a schoolboy.' Reagan started calling for his aides to come and hear what Sharansky had to say. Sharansky comments:
It was really only then that I started to appreciate that it wasn't just in the Soviet Union that President Reagan must have suffered terrible abuse for this great speech, but that he must have been hurt at home too. It seemed as though our moment of joy was the moment of his own vindication. That the great punishment he had endured for this speech was worth it.

Joel Rosenberg puts that Sharansky moment in context, with Sharansky's meeting last week in the Oval Office with President Bush. Echoing the Reagan language, here is Sharansky's account of what he told President Bush:
I told the president, 'There is a great difference between politicians and dissidents. Politicians are focused on polls and the press. They are constantly making compromises. But dissidents focus on ideas. They have a message burning inside of them. They would stand up for their convictions no matter what the consequences.'

I told the president, 'In spite of all the polls warning you that talking about spreading democracy in the Middle East might be a losing issue — despite all the critics and the resistance you faced — you kept talking about the importance of free societies and free elections. You kept explaining that democracy is for everybody. You kept saying that only democracy will truly pave the way to peace and security. You, Mr. President, are a dissident among the leaders of the free world.'

Food for thought: what does it mean to be a dissident?

Revolution is a word that comes too easily to our lips. It must be matched with a life, a vision unhindered by the clamor of the crowd.

Thank you, Natan Sharansky, for showing us that distinction, again.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Girl power!

This one will make you smile.

It seems that an Idaho car thief stole a woman's Eagle Talon, and she hunted him down and stole the car back, while her girlfriend proceeded to beat up the thief! Unbelievable! lol! But truth is stranger than fiction...I had a similar story once, where my car was stolen in Tulsa, and a friend and I chased down the thieves in his sports car. Only -- if we had been as powerful as these women, we'd have caught all four thieves and smacked the tar out of them!!

Check out the story:

She yelled, "Our car's being stolen!" but the thief drove off just as her husband ran outside. He got into his own car to give pursuit, while Cheryl called police, then had her friend Cami Gelles pick her up.

Husband, wife and friends — men in one car, women in another — combed the small city of 50,000 for the Talon.

After a couple of fruitless hours, Otero told Gelles she'd fill her tank for her trouble, and they pulled into a gas station.

Suddenly they saw a familiar pair of headlights. The women watched as the Talon pulled up to a bank of pay phones across the street. A strange man got out to make a call.

Gelles quietly drove up to the Talon. Otero hopped into the driver's seat, stuck her key in the ignition and sped off. Rap music instantly blared out of the CD player. Otero noticed that her collection of Christian-music CDs and other personal items were gone. "As I'm driving off in my car," she related to the State Journal, "I'm wondering if I hadn't gotten in the wrong car because the interior was so different."

Gelles was supposed to take off after Otero. But instead, she got out of her own car and marched over to the suspect.

"You stole my friend's car!" she shouted. "You're going to jail!"

He denied it, but she grabbed him and tried to hold him until cops showed up. The man started hitting Gelles, according to Otero, saying "I have warrants! I'm not going back to jail!"

"She started hitting him back," Otero added. "She gave as good as she got. I didn't know that side of her."

Finally, the suspect managed to wriggle out of the sweatshirt Gelles was holding him by just as an onlooker came up to help her. The suspect ran off.

"You should have seen my husband's face when we drove up in that car," Otero told the newspaper. "His mouth was dropped to the ground, and we were like, 'Girls rule!'"

lol! Read it here.


P.S. Moral of the story: Don't mess with determined women!


Friday, November 12, 2004

Tolkien and dangerous modernity

Brad Birzer highlights the warnings in Tolkien's Faerie: How we humans are prone to ignore Grace that abounds and surrounds us, forever enticed by the 'things.'
To enter Faerie, Tolkien wrote, was always perilous. One never knew what one would find, and the sheer beauty of even the smallest thing would overwhelm any mere human visitor, no matter how saved and sanctified. For Tolkien, Faerie is a sacramental understanding of life: Grace abounds, but we usually ignore it, more enticed by the things of this world. And, such enticements grow ever greater as we begin the 21st century: not just the Xboxes and Nintendos to numb our children, but the outrageously sexualized sitcoms and advertisements, appealing to the basest level of our physical selves. Indeed, it's hard to turn any direction without some thing, some noise, or some eye candy attempting to tempt us. Modernity, Tolkien believed, distracted us from that which is the only thing real and necessary: Jesus Christ.

Indeed. A powerful lesson that should ever be before our eyes.

Consider this danger, and live!

[Note: Thanks to Ratzinger Fan Club Blog for the link! Great site, that RatzingerFanClub Blog, btw!]

[Note: Also posted on Parkview Blog]

Monday, November 08, 2004

Transcendence and morality

Previously, I discussed the epistemology of Bill Maher. Today, Jonah Goldberg keys in on the same aspect of Maher and other leftists, who fail to realize that all morality is based on either transcendence or some lesser, human construct of utility. This is a powerful point, worth quite a bit of thought.

Here is the great divide between those who are left of center, and those center and right. It's not so much about favorite 'moral values' [as is being batted about now], but rather more about the foundation of morality: is it based in transcendence [i.e. God and revelation] or in human constructs [i.e. self and society]? Is it objective in origin, or subjective?

It is an age old argument that Socrates [via Plato] argued against the sophists. The sophists claimed that 'man was the measure' of all morality [i.e. subjective, temporal], but Socrates argued that something beyond mere self was the basis of moral action. Nietzsche railed against Christians [and Jews] for following Plato and denying the sophists. Nietzsche bitterly asserted that through Christianity, the Jews [and Socrates] had won. Jews and Christians, against the whole world, claimed that morality was based in relation to the Absolute, the One God.

The argument will continue until the end of time. But it is important to understand the distinctions in it.

Jonah Goldberg tells it well:

What Maher [and leftists] fail to grasp is that all morality is based upon transcendence — or it is merely based on utilitarianism of one kind or another, and therefore it is not morality so much as, at best, an enlightened expediency or will-to-power. It is no more rational to vote based on a desire to do "good" than it is to vote based on a desire to do God's will.
Love, in fact, is just as silly and superstitious a concept as God (and for those who believe God is Love, this too is a distinction without a difference). Chesterton's observation that the purely rational man will not marry is just as correct today, because science has done far more damage to the ideal of love than it has done to the notion of an awesome God beyond our ken. Genes, hormones, instincts, evolution: These are the cause for the effect of love in the purely rational man's textbook. But Maher would get few applause lines from his audience of sophisticated yokels if he mocked love as a silly superstition. This is, in part, because the crowd he plays to likes the idea of love while it dislikes the idea of God; and in part because these people feel love, so they think it exists. But such is the extent of their solipsism and narcissism that they not only reject the existence of God but go so far as to mock those who do not, simply because they don't feel Him themselves. And, alas, in elite America, feelings are the only recognized foundation of metaphysics.

This line of thinking is worth considering, and understanding.