Monday, November 28, 2016

The light and music of the universe

From C. S. Lewis's The Discarded Image (Ch. 5 on "The Heavens," 111–12, emphasis added):
[N]owhere in medieval literature have I found any suggestion that, if we could enter the translunary world, we should find ourselves in an abyss of darkness. For their system is in one sense more heliocentric than ours. The sun illuminates the whole universe. . . . Night is merely the conical shadow cast by our Earth. It extends, according to Dante (Paradiso, IX, 118) as far as to the sphere of Venus. Since the Sun moves and the Earth is stationary, we must picture this long, black finger perpetually revolving like the hand of a clock; that is why Milton calls it "the circling canopie of Night's extended shade" (Paradise Lost, III, 556). Beyond that there is no night; only "happie climes that lie where day never shuts his eye" (Comus, 978). When we look up at the night sky we are looking through darkness but not at darkness. . . . [S]pace is not dark, so neither is it silent. . . . The "silence" which frightened Pascal was, according to the Model, wholly illusory; and the sky looks black only because we are seeing it through the dark glass of our own shadow. You must conceive yourself looking up at a world lighted, warmed, and resonant with music.
The through-at distinction reminds me of Lewis's essay "Meditation in a Toolshed," in which Lewis describes the difference between looking at a beam of light versus looking along a beam of light.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

C. S. Lewis, ambition, and joining the great poets

In the preface to Selected Literary Essays, Walter Hooper explains how C. S. Lewis eventually joined the great poets in one way, although he never could in another way.

Hooper writes, "From his schooldays Lewis's major ambition was to be a great poet" (vii). But Lewis was not optimistic about it (vii), and he constantly tried and failed "to join the ranks of his favourite poets" (Hooper viii). Lewis once wrote that "it is impossible [for me] to be a poet" (ix), and Hooper writes that Lewis was "certain that he would never be a great poet" (xvi).

However, Lewis converted to theism and eventually to Christianity, and this religious shift allowed Lewis to join the great poets in another way. According to Hooper (xvi–xvii),
Lewis's conversion in 1931 and the publication of his theological and semi-autobiographical Pilgrim's Regress in 1933 [was a great milestone]. Lewis had long shared much in common with his favourite poets: he now shared with them that most binding of all beliefs. With his conversion, that little hard core of worldly ambition, evident on almost every page of his diary, seems to have dropped into oblivion. And with the dying of his old ambition he became more interested in what he wrote about than what he might become by writing. He continued to write short poems for the rest of his life but, beginning with "What Chaucer really did to Il Filostrato" (1932), and later in his imaginative works, his poetic insight and his critical reason seem to have flowed together and expressed themselves in one activity. Despite his disagreements [with T. S. Eliot] about some things, Lewis could at long last say, as he does in [his essay "Shelley, Dryden, and Mr Eliot"], "as Mr Eliot and I believe."

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Chronicles of Narnia and allegory

From John Warwick Montgomery's article "The Chronicles of Narnia and the Adolescent Reader" in Myth, Allegory, and Gospel: An Interpretation of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and Charles Williams (pp. 109–11):
Aslan is the Divine Christ—God revealed to creatures in a form in which they can at least partially understand him and love him. In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Aslan is not ultimately defeated when the Witch (i.e., the Devil) demands, on the basis of "deep magic from the dawn of time" (i.e., God's justice) that Edmund must pay with his life for his volitional allegiance to her. Aslan dies in Edmund's stead, and is resurrected through "deeper magic from before the dawn of time" (i.e., God's love). In Prince Caspian, Narnia is redeemed from a different evil—from human beings who would force themselves upon and assert control over those whom Christ has put under his own authority and under the authority of the ministers (the Kings of Narnia) whom he has chosen. The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader" indicates the perils which a man encounters in seeking Christ's kingdom; Reepicheep is a glorious example of the person who "seeks first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness." The Silver Chair gives further insight into the strategy of the Demonic, which would plunge us into a world of spiritual darkness by pretending to give us the things to which God has already entitled us by His grace. In The Horse and His Boy we see Christ's guiding hand over a person's life; at one point Aslan says to Shasta: "I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept . . . , and I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you." The Magician's Nephew draws back the curtain on Creation, and on the entrance of sin into a world through pride and presumption; and it shows us how easily a world can be destroyed through the ravages of such sin. In referring to the dying world which she visited, Polly asks, "'But we're not quite as bad as that world, are we, Aslan?' 'Not yet, Daughter of Eve,' he said. 'Not yet. But you are growing more like it. It is not certain that some wicked one of your race will not find out a secret as evil as the Deplorable Word and use it to destroy all living things.'" A timely warning in our age of atomic weapons! [Tolkien did not appreciate connections between the One Ring and the atomic bomb: see here and here.] In The Last Battle the Biblical story of the end of human history is graphically portrayed: the Antichrist, the battle of Armegeddon, death (represented by the Stable which is larger on the inside than on the outside), the General Resurrection, and the consummation of the Plan of Redemption in a New Heaven and a New Earth.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Pirates, emperors, and Augustine

In Chapter 19 of N. D. Wilson's YA fantasy novel The Chestnut King, an old pirate captain surveys a strange-looking ship approach him on the waters (emphasis added):
The captain stood on deck, watching the green and leafy galley chop methodically through the waves toward his own pair of ships. The galley was moving slower than he would have expected with so much cloth spread to the wind, but then he didn't know what to expect from a five-tiered craft sprouting with branches and flickering leaves. He was an old man, a sailor almost from his birth. His beard was whitened with sun and salt, his eyes had bleached to a pale blue, and his bones were as toughened as the ship's beams beneath him. He had been a ship's boy, a hand, a gunner, a mutineer, a merchant, a galley slave, a commander of fleets, all before he had become the pirate that he now was. He had gone down into the sea with a ship's wreckage more times than he could count, and had seen more of the sea's secrets than he cared to tell about. But he had never seen anything like this.
. . . Both of his ships flew the imperial flag. He could think of no reason why they shouldn't. It was his business to do to ships what the emperor did to countries. And he did not think of himself as a pirate. He was simply a servant of the sea, and he took whatever it gave him.
When I read this passage in The Chestnut King, I thought of a description of another pirate who faced an emperor. This description comes from Augustine's City of God 4.4:
[T]hat was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, "What thou meanest by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, whilst thou who dost it it with a great fleet art styled emperor."
Other writers, from John Gower to Noam Chomsky, have used this story in their writing.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Matterhorn pictures

These pictures were taken in the summer of 2003. Here is the mission team that I was on, with me in the top right corner, holding a Swiss flag.

The mighty Matterhorn.

Apparently, someone on my team thought that my finger would fit perfectly in this picture.

Here I am in the hills of the Swiss municipality of Hasliberg.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Review of Ryken's book on devotional poetry (Donne, Herbert, Milton)

This review is a continuation of my review from Goodreads.

Methought I Saw My Late Espouséd Saint
occasional poem re: a real person (Katherine Woodcock, Milton's second wife, whom he married 4.5 yrs. after his first wife had died; she died 1.5 yrs. later during childbirth, and the daughter died too); written the year of her death; real or imagined dream, and Milton's longing for reunion; narrative structure: narrative situation (l. 1), content of dream (ll. 2–12), and concluding narrative frame (ll. 13–14); paradoxically, Milton's sonnets often deal with real people while being rooted in literary conventions, such as a dream vision framework (romantic love, transcendental experience, alternate reality as in biblical Prophetic books; Milton's sonnet fits the first two—idealized love and vision of Heaven), love poetry on deceased loved ones (Italians: Dante's Beatrice and Petrarch's Laura; love sonnets about wives were uncommon, although Donne had written one; cf. the related archetype donna angelicata [angelica woman]), and separation-induced longing (see Song of Solomon); dream sequence has four parts: comparison of Katherine to Alcestis (ll. 2–4; rescued by Hercules, "Jove's great son"), classical and biblical parallels (ll. 5–6), hopeful reunion (ll. 7–8), and spiritual qualities of this angelic woman (ll. 9–12); ends with pathos (vision fades and blind poet wakes in darkness); Puritan move to use the portrait of virtue as a model; sanctification and glorification; "one of the functions of literature is to awaken longing"; see p. 91 for Ryken's untangling of the middle section of the poem; "literature is a concrete universal" (C. S. Lewis's image of literature as a net to catch universal truths [in "On Stories"])

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Review of Girard's I See Satan Fall Like Lightning

This review is a continuation of my review from Goodreads.

Part 3: The Victory of the Cross
Ch. 9: The Uniqueness of the Bible
103: modern critics of Christianity tried to show similarities to myths (relative and dismiss-able), but postmodern critics suppress resemblances (no unifying structure)
104: underlying structure for myths is the same as biblical stories (mimetic cycle): crisis, collective violence, and revelation (deification of the victim); the Gospels expose and condemn the mimetic contagion, which myths try to suppress; primitive cultures continue to function because of continuous ritual sacrifice (expelling victims and restoring order)
105: Girard wants to determine if the Gospels (which promote nonviolence) really are unique, when compared with myths; some Christians mistrust Girard's anthropological approach because anthropology has often weakened the view of Christianity's uniqueness
106: both myths and Christianity have mimetic cycles, so how are they different?; Girard will start with the Old Testament, which all true Christians should be devoted to; OT accounts have only parts of the mimetic cycle (no deifying the victim)
107: "God is never victimized, nor is the victim divinized" (the OT God isn't the product of the scapegoat process); Girard compares/contrasts the story of Joseph with the story of Oedipus; both begin with a crisis (double expulsion: beginning and end of the Oedipus story, and twice early in the Joseph story [mimetic rivalry of brothers—p. 112])
108: both make it to the top of the social ladder as foreigners (often suspected); the many similarities help us see a significant difference
108–09: the biblical story refuses to justify collective violence; in myths, the victims are guilty, but often in the Bible (which often identifies with victims), the collective persecutors are guilty
111: Joseph puts his brothers through a temptation that they had succumbed to earlier (abandoning a young brother, this time Benjamin); Judah resists [he had promised Jacob to care for Benjamin, etymology of Jew, Jesus is from Judah's line]; Joseph radically replaces vengeance with pardon
112: postmodern deconstructionists kill meaning by denying that any one theme emerges from multiple stories; but the biblical critique (in Joseph's story) of the mythic attitude can't be accidental, and though the Joseph story isn't responding directly to the mimetic contagion of the Oedipus story, it's at least responding to mimetic contagion in other myths
113: mythology lies, but biblical stories tell the truth [n2: even if the Joseph story were imaginary, it would be more true than the Oedipus story]
114: Nietzsche and Marx complain that biblical stories favor Jewish victims
115: "The Bible refuses to demonize or deify the victims of violent crowds"; ordinary speech correctly equates myths with lies; whether the biblical story ends happily (Joseph) or not (Jesus, at first), the perspective regarding barbaric mythic practices is the same (biblical stories interpret the mimetic war of all against one as evil)
115–17: psalms are the first place in history to legitimize a victim's lament (victims are heard, and persecutors are not); wearing a fur coat inside out—visible evidence of a skinned animal; Job as an extended ("super") psalm
118: the Bible undercuts the power of myths by questioning the innocence of violent crowds; Lévinas cites this Talmudic principle: if a violent crowd unanimously condemns a victim, the victim is likely innocent (unanimity is often mimetic tyranny)
118–20: the Bible refuses to demonize or deify Joseph (his Jewish brothers don't deify him); "Joseph is humanized" and idolatry is rejected; Girard wants to separate the divine from violence (see p. 21); polytheism may look jolly, and Nietzsche may want to paint monotheism as joyless, but polytheism proliferates gods only by sacrifice (as Heraclitus said, Dionysos is Hell)

Ch. 10: The Uniqueness of the Gospels
121: the Gospels include the third part of the mimetic cycle (the OT doesn't), where the victim is divinized (Jesus)—this raises the suspicion (for some) that the NT is regress back to mythology
121–22: Trinity issues (Judaism and Islam)
122: Christianity losing ground as pluralism gains ground
122–23: Christianity isn't a regression toward mythology because both the NT and the OT defends victims; Marcion wanted to separate the OT and the NT, but Christian orthodoxy refuses to do so; Christian revelation is unique in that the apostles reject the mimetic contagion (the crowd violence isn't unanimous); myths hide mimetic contagion, and the Bible reveals it
124: more than any other literature, the Gospels expose the mimetic war of all against one
125: women didn't have much authority in the historical setting of the Gospels; the resurrection subverts and unmasks mythology
126–27: because of ignorance, persecutors think that they're on the side of justice
127: hostility is an irrational product of mimetic contagion
128–29: modern scorn for prophecy; unfortunately, Pascal sees prophecy as a mechanical code that just needs the right key
130: the OT God is good and doesn't emerge from the single victim mechanism, but rather exposes it
131: true transcendence reveals the poison of mimetic contagion
132–36: the Gospel writers juxtapose false and true resurrection stories without fear of confusion, because the false resurrections show their own ineffective nature even in their impressiveness
134: no flashbacks in the Gospels except in the Matthew/Mark episode about the death of John the Baptist

Ch. 11: The Triumph of the Cross
137: notes (1–2) on representation (includes reflection) and interdividual (re: others and personal free will); Christianity reveals what the myths concealed—mimetic contagion and the single victim mechanism
137ff.: Col. 2 and the "triumphalism" of the cross
138: this revealing renders mythology powerless
139: Dante/Inferno/Satan (nailed to a cross)
139–40: background of the Roman triumph, which was a ritual after victory (e.g., Caesar's exhibition and execution of Vercingetorix); progressive Christians are proud of their humility (and they like to talk about "triumphalism" and the Church's obligation of humility)
140–41: paradox/irony of Christian "triumph" (Christ submits to violence); the rage/fury of violence is turned against itself as it's revealed
142–43: Satan is deprived of his power to expel himself—that destroys him; Paul's claim in 1 Cor. 2:2 that he wants to know nothing but Christ crucified is not "anti-intellectual"; "the powers are defeated because they are put on display"
144: Freud and Nietzsche think of Judeo-Christianity as having a "slave morality"; the Bible is the first revelation/exposing of mythic violence
145–46: the Dreyfus affair and anti-Semitism (19/20c)
147: Christianity gets blamed for talking too much about victimhood, but that's like shooting the messenger (myths are not innocent in their lack of violence—they are guilty for their concealment of violence)
149–52: Origen and other Greek Fathers refer to the duping of Satan, as if the Crucifixion were a trap laid by God (some think that this is a treacherous tactic that is beneath God); medieval and modern redemption theories make God too central a player in the Crucifixion (see pp. 21, 119), but the real cause is sinful humanity's mimetic contagion; in reality, Satan duped himself by not being able to conceive of self-sacrificial divine love

Ch. 12: Scapegoat
154: the mimetic cycle depends on participant ignorance—and the Gospel shatters that ignorance with its revealing/revelatory narrative; wherever Christianity spreads, sacrificial rites disappear
154–55: scapegoat from Leviticus 16 (cf. pharmakos); goat has a bad reputation (e.g., bad odor and high sex drive)
156: Christ is never called a scapegoat, but He is the "lamb of God" (sounds more innocent than a goat)
157: we hide our scapegoating today and feel guilty for "letting off steam" (p. 51)
158: our scapegoating is second-degree scapegoating—we condemn (hunt for) those who hunt for scapegoats
158–59: Hitler's extermination of European Jews
159: we get creative in our criticism so as to avoid be attacked for the same thing
160: three definitions of "scapegoat"; the barrier between archaic and modern societies isn't absolute; scapegoats multiply when people lock themselves in an identity (e.g., nationality, race, religion, etc.)

Ch. 13: The Modern Concern for Victims
161: lots of medieval church have a statue of an angel holding scales (weighing souls); "Our society is the most preoccupied with victims of any that ever was"
162: Voltaire had to invent an ideal society for Candide
162–63: social justice and modern humanism (developed first by Christians); Nietzsche hated hypocrisy; loving neighbors is a Christian virtue
164: Jesus (preaching about the kingdom of God) speaks against violence; paradoxically, concern for victims has become a competition (and we use that concern to condemn our neighbors); Peter and Paul condemned their own persecution first; Christianity always seems to be a scapegoat (the charge, "in a nobly suffering tone," that Christians haven't done enough)
165: it's ironic that our world has more victims today than ever before, yet we are more concerned with victims today than ever before; we seem to enjoy condemning ourselves for our lack of concern for victims (could be feigned humility)
165–66: "globalization"; giving aid is a source of pride
167: Christian charity and the origin of hospitals (houses of God) that don't discriminate based on any identities (see n1); "Ecce homo"
167–68: human rights
169: at least we are, unlike other societies, aware of our ethnocentricity; Montaigne's essay on cannibals; mammals mark their territory with excrement, and humans mark borders with scapegoats (human excrement)

Ch. 14: The Twofold Nietzschean Heritage
170–71: colonial conquest and 20c wars (the worst was the murder of the Jews by Hitler's German National Socialism—an attempt to eradicate the concern for victims); foundation for this genocide is Nietzsche
172–73: Nietzsche's insight is remarkable (Christianity is unique in its defense of victims), but when he pushes past that insight, he gets crazy; Nietzsche connected the lower class status of early Christians and said their sympathy for victims fed their resentment of the pagan aristocrats ("slave morality"); but the Christians are not prejudiced in their favoring the weak—they are heroic in their resistance to mimetic contagion; Nietzsche went insane
174: Christianity has made real advances in the world; Nietzsche justified human sacrifice (social Darwinism [survival of the fittest])
175: Nazis wanted Nietzsche's Overman now—no waiting peacefully through history; it's possible that Nietzsche's irresponsible rhetoric has been misinterpreted, but his followers are using his own words (he really is the spiritual essence of the Nazi Party); Heidegger as Nietzsche's successor
176: twofold heritage of Nietzsche's thought: concern for victims is both accelerated and demoralized; 18/19c optimism and 20c pessimism; abortion debate is about who the "real" victims would be, children (who get aborted) or women (who can't have abortions)
178–79: concern for victims has turned into a new totalitarianism; our world is increasingly anti-Christian (especially in universities); people are proud of their ability to sniff out hypocrisy in Christianity, but these "fine bloodhounds" are somehow unable to smell the rank violence in myths
180–81: to really escape Christianity would mean renouncing concern for victims; the new totalitarianism has appropriated Christian values in its concern for victims—it takes over this concern and paganizes it (and denounces Christians for not caring enough about victims); "totalitarianism presents itself as the liberator of humanity" (Christ is imitated, the way a rival wants to defeat his model)—see NT language of "Antichrist"; Antichrist boats of bringing peace, but really re-introduces pagan practices: abortion, euthanasia, sexual undifferentiation, etc.; "Faithful observance of the moral law is perceived as complicity with the forces of persecution that are essentially religious"; neo-paganism idolizes desires and suppresses prohibitions

182: Simone Weil sees no role for the OT, but she thinks the Gospels have more of a theory of humanity than a theory of God
182–84: recap of how Christianity exposed the mimetic cycle of mythology
184: theme of apocalypse in the NT
185: Satan falls like lightning (Luke 10:18); Satan falls to earth and is active, but his end isn't immediate [I thought Girard would say that the Satan-falling-like-lightning = the-exposing-of-the-mimetic-cycle]
186: two types of peace (the kind Jesus gives, and the false peace from scapegoats); Bultmann thought that demythologizing was necessary because of cars and electricity, but we are truly demystified by religions that lead us to idolatry
186–87: it's not unfair/intolerant (or offensive to the pluralists and multiculturalists) to say that Christianity has a unique key for understanding violence, because this "cognitive key" does not mean that we're better (all humanity has been affected by this)—we can't sacrifice truth for a false peace that temporarily halts religious wars
188: summary of how the mimetic cycle is broken in Christ's Passion
189: the only solution for mimetic violence is supernatural power (ancient society's weren't stupid for viewing the mimetic cycle as semi-divine)
189–90: the Holy Spirit is our Paraclete (defender), and He specifically defends us from the accuser, Satan
190–91: parallels between Peter's conversion and Paul's conversion (picture on front cover)
191–93: Girard's theory expands anthropology and takes nothing from theology (and really adds to it too); 1 Cor. 1:18–25 (the cross is a scandal)

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Rossetti and Donne on death

On September 8, 2016, I read the poem "Miss Me, but Let Me Go" at the memorial service of my maternal grandfather (whose middle name, Paul, I share) in Pennsylvania.
When I come to the end of the road
And the sun has set for me
I want no rites in a gloom-filled room.
Why cry for a soul set free?
Miss me a little—but not too long
And not with your head bowed low.
Remember the love that we once shared,
Miss me—but let me go.
For this is a journey that we all must take
And each must go alone.
It's all a part of the Master's plan,
A step on the road to home.
When you are lonely and sick of heart
Go to the friends we know
And bury your sorrows in doing good deeds.
Miss me—but let me go!
Apparently, this version is adapted from a poem by Christina Georgina Rossetti.

Compare with one of John Donne's sonnets on death:
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Best religious joke of all time?

Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, "Don't do it!" 
He said, "Nobody loves me." I said, "God loves you. Do you believe in God?"
He said, "Yes." I said, "Are you a Christian or a Jew?"
He said, "A Christian." I said, "Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?"
He said, "Protestant." I said, "Me, too! What franchise?"
He said, "Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?"
He said, "Northern Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?"
He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?"
He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region." I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?"
He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912."
I said, "Die, heretic!" And I pushed him over.
Here are a few more of Emo's religious jokes:
So I'm at the wailing wall, standing there like a moron, with my harpoon . . .
I'm not Catholic, but I gave up picking my belly button for lint.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

When an exceptional storyteller comes along...

From David Lyle Jeffrey's Christianity and Literature (Ch. 3 on "Our Literary Bible"), p. 110:
From a purely literary point of view, a loss of cultural memory is as disastrous as a loss of future hope and tends to go along with it. It means that, effectively, there is nothing much in many readers' minds for a great author to build upon, apart from a variety of ephemeral, diverting, typically ambiguous images. And if the images dominant in our imaginations are disconnected, or worse, mutually contradictory, it can seem that we live in a world that has lost its story. Nevertheless, even in such fragmented times, when an exceptional storyteller with a rich store of cultural memory comes along and creates a parallel story of human redemption, an instance of fictional grand narrative with inevitable obligations to the ideas, structure and ultimate truths of the biblical grand narrative, the work can meet a profound register of felt need in readers and authors alike. The extraordinary popularity of Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings is perhaps the greatest illustration of this principle in twentieth-century literature.