altA Book of Narnians: The Lion, the Witch and the Others by C. S. Lewis, text compiled by James Riordan, illustrated by Pauline Baynes (HarperTrophy, 1994)

When I read a book, it's the words I care about. I confess that I rarely look at illustrations; even when reading picture books to our grandchildren I mostly ignore the pictures. (You can guess how I feel about the "wordless books" that were popular for children at one time.) My view is that if you can't tell a story without illustrations, you're not really telling the story. So much for "a picture is worth a thousand words," at least as far as my reading habits are concerned.

On the other hand, in A Book of Narnians the illustrations are the book, and as far as I'm concerned are the whole worth of the book. Sadly, James Riordan's descriptions of the various Narnian characters, even though taken largely from the books themselves, make me cringe. I'm not certain why, except that—unlike Lewis' words in their original context—they feel condescending, as if someone decided that because this is a picture book, it should be written on a childish level. That's an attitude no intelligent and self-respecting child would put up with.

But it doesn't really matter. The star of the show here is Pauline Baynes' paintings, full color and worth taking time to study. Included as well, to my everlasting delight, is a reproduction of the original published map of Narnia, a poster of which hung for years, alongside a similar map of J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle Earth, in whatever house or dorm room I happened to inhabit.

(The map of Narnia now resides with our daughter, who takes better care of it than I, alas, ever did. I'm sorry to say I don't know what happened to the Middle Earth map, which was just as delightful.)

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altOn Stories and Other Essays on Literature by C. S. Lewis, edited by Walter Hooper (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1982; originally written between the mid-1940's and the early 1960's)

This is a surprisingly delightful, eclectic collection of essays. They are less informal than Mere Christianity, which was originally a series of radio broadcasts, but more accessible than his deeper, more philosophical works, like Miracles: A Preliminary Study. Not that these are any less intellectually honest, but the shorter lengths and the variety of subjects make On Stories a joy to read, with relatively little effort.

Table of Contents

On Stories
The Novels of Charles Williams
A Tribute to E. R. Eddison
On Three Ways of Writing for Children
Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What's to Be Said
On Juvenile Tastes
It All Began with a Picture
On Science Fiction
A Reply to Professor Haldane
The Hobbit
Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings
A Panegyric for Dorothy L. Sayers
The Mythopoeic Gift of Rider Haggard
George Orwell
The Death of Words
The Parthenon and the Optative
Period Criticism
Different Tastes in Literature
On Criticism
Unreal Estates

From "On Stories"

Lewis is speaking of a film version of H. Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines, but he captures much of my complain about the film version of The Lord of the Rings.

At the end of Haggard's book ... the heroes are awaiting death entombed in a rock chamber and surrounded by the mummified kings of that land. The maker of the film version, however, apparently thought this tame. He substituted a subterranean volcanic eruption, and then went one better by adding an earthquake. Perhaps we should not blame him. Perhaps the scene in the original was not "cinematic" and the man was right, by the canons of his own art, in altering it. But it would have been better not to have chosen in the first place a story which could be adapted to the screen only by being ruined.

It is usual to speak in a playfully apologetic tone about one’s adult enjoyment of what are called "children’s books." I think the convention a silly one. No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally (and often far more) worth reading at the age of fifty—except, of course, books of information. The only imaginative works we ought to grow out of are those which it would have been better not to have read at all.

[N]othing can be more disastrous than the view that the cinema can and should replace popular written fiction. The elements which it excludes are precisely those which give the untrained mind its only access to the imaginative world. There is death in the camera.

It is very difficult to tell in any given case whether a story is piercing to the unliterary reader's deeper imagination or only exciting his emotions. ... The nearest we can come to a test is by asking whether he often re-reads the same story.

It is, of course, a good test of every reader of every kind of book. An unliterary man may be defined as one who reads books once only. There is hope for a man who has never read Malory or Boswell or Tristram Shandy or Shakespeare's Sonnets: but what can you do with a man who says he "has read" them, meaning he as read them once, and thinks that this settles the matter? 

From "The Novels of Charles Williams"

Good characters in fiction are the very devil. Not only because most authors have too little material to make them of, but because we as readers have a strong subconscious wish to find them incredible.

From "On Three Ways of Writing for Children"

A children's story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children's story. The good ones last.

Since it is so likely that [children] will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker. ... I side impenitently with the human race against the modern reformer. Let there be wicked kings and beheadings, battles and dungeons, giants and dragons, and let villains be soundly killed at the end of the book. Nothing will persuade me that this causes an ordinary child any kind or degree of fear beyond what it wants, and needs, to feel.

The question "What do modern children need" will not lead you to a good moral. If we ask that question we are assuming too superior an attitude. It would be better to ask "What moral do I need?" for I think we can be sure that what does not concern us deeply will not deeply interest our readers, whatever their age. But it is better not to ask the questions at all. Let the pictures tell you their own moral. For the moral inherent in them will rise from whatever spiritual roots you have succeeded in striking during the whole course of your life. But if they don't show you any moral, don't put one in. For the moral you put in is likely to be a platitude, or even a falsehood, skimmed from the surface of your consciousness. It is impertinent to offer the children that. For we have been told on high authority that in the moral sphere they are probably at least as wise as we. Anyone who can write a children's story without a moral, had better do so: that is, if he is going to write children's stories at all. The only moral that is of any value is that which arises inevitably from the whole cast of the author's mind.

The child as a reader is neither to be patronised nor idolized: we talk to him as man to man. But the worst attitude of all would be the professional attitude which regards children in the lump as a sort of raw material which we have to handle. We must of course try to do them no harm: we may, under the Omnipotence, sometimes dare to hope that we may do them good. But only such good as involves treating them with respect. We must not imagine that we are Providence or Destiny. I will not say that a good story for children could never be written by someone in the Ministry of Education, for all things are possible. But I should lay very long odds against it.

From "Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What's to Be Said"

In the Author's mind there bubbles up every now and then the material for a story. ... This ferment leads to nothing unless it is accompanied with the longing for a Form: verse or prose, short story, novel, play or what not. When these two things click you have the Author's impulse complete. It is now a thing inside him pawing to get out. He longs to see that bubbling stuff pouring into that Form as the housewife longs to see the new jam pouring into the clean jam jar. This nags him all day long and gets in the way of his work and his sleep and his meals. It's like being in love.

From "On Science Fiction"

Speaking of the charge of "escapism" in some literature:

I never fully understood it till my friend Professor Tolkien asked me the very simple questions, "What class of men would you expect to be most preoccupied with, and most hostile to, the idea of escape?" and gave the obvious answer: jailers.

From "A Reply to Professor Haldane"

I am a democrat because I believe that no man or group of men is good enough to be trusted with uncontrolled power over others. And the higher the pretensions of such power, the more dangerous I think it both to the rulers and to the subjects. Hence Theocracy is the worst of all governments. If we must have a tyrant a robber baron is far better than an inquisitor. The baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity at some point be sated; and since he dimly knows he is doing wrong, he may possibly repent. But the inquisitor who mistakes his own cruelty and lust of power and fear for the voice of Heaven will torment us infinitely because he torments us with the approval of his own conscience and his better impulses appear to him as temptations. And since Theocracy is the worst, the nearer any government approaches to Theocracy the worse it will be. A metaphysic, held by the rulers with the force of a religion, is a bad sign. It forbids them, like the inquisitor, to admit any grain of truth or good in their opponents, it abrogates the ordinary rules of morality.

From "Different Tastes in Literature"

In literature the characteristics of the "consumer" of bad art are [easy] to define. He (or she) may want her weekly ration of fiction very badly indeed, may be miserable if denied it. But he never re-reads. There is no clearer distinction between the literary and the unliterary. It is infallible. The literary man re-reads, other men simply read. A novel once read is to them like yesterday's newspaper. One may have some hopes of a man who has never read the Odyssey, or Malory, or Boswell, or Pickwick: but none (as regards literature) of the man who tells you he has read them, and thinks that settles the matter. It is as if a man said he had once washed, or once slept, or once kissed his wife, or once gone for a walk.

From "Unreal Estates"

A book's no good to me until I've read it two or three times.

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altMere Christianity by C. S. Lewis (Macmillan, 1978; originally published 1944)

Mere Christianity grew out of a series of radio talks Lewis gave in the 1940's. Consequently, although he reworked them slightly to be more suitable for the print medium, they still retain an informal, easy-to-read flavor. I don't want to say Lewis dumbed down his talks for the sake of the average BBC listener (and me) but ... he did. There's none of the head-spinning intricacies of philosophy and literary criticism found in some of his other books. As with the others, there are some allusions that made more sense to a mid-20th-century Englishman than to a 21st-century American, but they're minor and easily puzzled out—or ignored. There's nothing dated about the content of this very worthwhile book. [Emphasis in the quotes below is mine.]

Table of Contents

BOOK I. RIGHT AND WRONG AS A CLUE TO THE MEANING OF THE UNIVERSE
  1. The Law of Human Nature
  2. Some Objections
  3. The Reality of the Law
  4. What Lies Behind the Law
  5. We Have Cause to Be Uneasy
BOOK II. WHAT CHRISTIANS BELIEVE
  1. The Rival Conceptions of God
  2. The Invasion
  3. The Shocking Alternative
  4. The Perfect Penitent
  5. The Practical Conclusions
BOOK III. CHRISTIAN BEHAVIOR
  1. The Three Parts of Morality
  2. The "Cardinal Virtues"
  3. Social Morality
  4. Morality and Psychoanalysis
  5. Sexual Morality
  6. Christian Marriage
  7. Forgiveness
  8. The Great Sin
  9. Charity
  10. Hope
  11. Faith
  12. Faith
BOOK IV. BEYOND PERSONALITY: OR FIRST STEPS IN THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY
  1. Making and Begetting
  2. The Three-Personal God
  3. Time and Beyond Time
  4. Good Infection
  5. The Obstinate Toy Soldiers
  6. Two Notes
  7. Let's Pretend
  8. Is Christianity Hard or Easy?
  9. Counting the Cost
  10. Nice People or New Men
  11. The New Men

From the Preface

[This book] did at least succeed in presenting an agreed, or common, or central, or "mere" Christianity. In that way it may possibly be of some help in silencing the view that, if we omit the disputed points, we shall have left only a vague and bloodless H.C.F. [Highest Common Factor, for those who have left elementary mathematics far behind]. The H.C.F. turns out to be something not only positive but pungent; divided from all non-Christian beliefs by a chasm to which the worst divisions inside Christendom are not really comparable at all. If I have not directly helped the cause of reunion, I have perhaps made it clear why we ought to be reunited. Certainly I have met with little of the fabled odium theologicum from convinced members of communions different from my own. Hostility has come more from borderline people whether within the Church of England or without it: men not exactly obedient to any communion. This I find curiously consoling. It is at her centre, where her truest children dwell, that each communion is really closest to every other in spirit, if not in doctrine. And this suggests that at the centre of each there is something, or a Someone, who against all divergences of belief, all differences of temperament, all memories of mutual persecution, speaks with the same voice.

We must therefore stick to the original, obvious meaning [of "Christian"]. The name Christians was first given at Antioch (Acts 11:26) to "the disciples," to those who accepted the teaching of the apostles. There is no question of its being restricted to those who profited by that teaching as much as they should have. There is no question of its being extended to those who in some refined, spiritual, inward fashion were "far closer to the spirit of Christ" than the less satisfactory of the disciples. The point is not a theological, or moral one. It is only a question of using words so that we can all understand what is being said. When a man who accepts the Christian doctrine lives unworthily of it, it is much clearer to say he is a bad Christian than to say he is not a Christian.

I hope no reader will suppose that "mere" Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of the existing communions—as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else. It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted. But it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in. For that purpose the worst of the rooms (whichever that may be) is, I think, preferable.

It is true that some people may find they have to wait in the hall for a considerable time, while others feel certain almost at once which door they must knock at. I do not know why there is this difference, but I am sure God keeps no one waiting unless He sees that it is good for him to wait....

When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall. If they are wrong they need your prayers all the more; and if they are your enemies, then you are under orders to pray for them. That is one of the rules common to the whole house.

From Book 2, Chapter 5: The Practical Conclusion

Do not think I am setting up baptism and belief and the Holy Communion as things that will do instead of your own attempts to copy Christ. Your natural life is derived from your parents; that does not mean it will stay there if you do nothing about it. You can lose it by neglect, or you can drive it away by committing suicide. You have to feed it and look after it: but always remember you are not making it, you are only keeping up a life you got from someone else. In the same way a Christian can lose the Christ-life which has been put into him, and he has to make efforts to keep it. But even the best Christian that ever lived is not acting on his own steam—he is only nourishing or protecting a life he could never have acquired by his own efforts. And that has practical consequences. As long as the natural life is in your body, it will do a lot towards repairing that body. Cut it, and up to a point it will heal, as a dead body would not, A live body is not one that never gets hurt, but one that can to some extent repair itself. In the same way a Christian is not a man who never goes wrong, but a man who is enabled to repent and pick himself up and begin over again after each stumble - because the Christ-life is inside him, repairing him all the time, enabling him to repeat (in some degree) the kind of voluntary death which Christ Himself carried out.

From Book 3, Chapter 2: The "Cardinal Virtues"

Prudence means practical common sense, taking the trouble to think out what you are doing and what is likely to come of it. Nowadays most people hardly think of Prudence as one of the "virtues." In fact, because Christ said we could only get into His world by being like children, many Christians have the idea that, provided you are "good," it does not matter being a fool. But that is a misunderstanding. In the first place, most children show plenty of "prudence" about doing the things they are really interested in, and think them out quite sensibly. In the second place, as St, Paul points out, Christ never meant that we were to remain children in intelligence: on the contrary, He told us to be not only "as harmless as doves," but also "as wise as serpents." He wants a child's heart, but a grown-up's head. He wants us to be simple, single-minded, affectionate, and teachable, as good children are; but He also wants every bit of intelligence we have to be alert at its job, and in first-class fighting trim. The fact that you are giving money to a charity does not mean that you need not try to find out whether that charity is a fraud or not. The fact that what you are thinking about is God Himself (for example, when you are praying) does not mean that you can be content with the same babyish ideas which you had when you were a five-year-old. It is, of course, quite true that God will not love you any the less, or have less use for you, if you happen to have been born with a very second-rate brain. He has room for people with very little sense, but He wants every one to use what sense they have. ... God is no fonder of intellectual slackers than of any other slackers.

Temperance is, unfortunately, one of those words that has changed its meaning. It now usually means teetotalism. But in the days when the second Cardinal virtue was christened "Temperance," it meant nothing of the sort. Temperance referred not specially to drink, but to all pleasures; and it meant not abstaining, but going the right length and no further. It is a mistake to think that Christians ought all to be teetotallers; Mohammedanism, not Christianity, is the teetotal religion. Of course it may be the duty of a particular Christian, or of any Christian, at a particular time, to abstain from strong drink, either because he is the sort of man who cannot drink at all without drinking too much, or because he wants to give the money to the poor, or because he is with people who are inclined to drunkenness and must not encourage them by drinking himself. But the whole point is that he is abstaining, for a good reason, from something which he does not condemn and which he likes to see other people enjoying. One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he cannot give up a thing himself without wanting every one else to give it up. That is not the Christian way. An individual Christian may see fit to give up all sorts of things for special reasons—marriage, or meat, or beer, or the cinema; but the moment he starts saying the things are bad in themselves, or looking down his nose at other people who do use them, he has taken the wrong turning.

From Book 3, Chapter 3: Social Morality

The first thing to get clear about Christian morality between man and man is that in this department Christ did not come to preach any brand new morality. The Golden Rule of the New Testament (Do as you would be done by) is a summing up of what everyone, at bottom, had always known to be right. Really great moral teachers never do introduce new moralities: it is quacks and cranks who do that.

From Book 3, Chapter 5: Sexual Morality

The Christian rule of chastity must not be confused with the social rule of "modesty" (in one sense of that word); i.e. propriety, or decency. The social rule of propriety lays down how much of the human body should be displayed and what subjects can be referred to, and in what words, according to the customs of a given social circle. Thus, while the rule of chastity is the same for all Christians at all times, the rule of propriety changes. A girl in the Pacific islands wearing hardly any clothes and a Victorian lady completely covered in clothes might both be equally "modest," proper, or decent, according to the standards of their own societies: and both, for all we could tell by their dress, might be equally chaste (or equally unchaste). Some of the language which chaste women used in Shakespeare's time would have been used in the nineteenth century only by a woman completely abandoned. When people break the rule of propriety current in their own time and place, if they do so in order to excite lust in themselves or others, then they are offending against chastity. But if they break it through ignorance or carelessness they are guilty only of bad manners. When, as often happens, they break it defiantly in order to shock or embarrass others, they are not necessarily being unchaste, but they are being uncharitable: for it is uncharitable to take pleasure in making other people uncomfortable. I do not think that a very strict or fussy standard of propriety is any proof of chastity or any help to it, and I therefore regard the great relaxation and simplifying of the rule which has taken place in my own lifetime as a good thing. At its present stage, however, it has this inconvenience, that people of different ages and different types do not all acknowledge the same standard, and we hardly know where we are. While this confusion lasts I think that old, or old-fashioned, people should be very careful not to assume that young or "emancipated" people are corrupt whenever they are (by the old standard) improper; and, in return, that young people should not call their elders prudes or puritans because they do not easily adopt the new standard. A real desire to believe all the good you can of others and to make others as comfortable as you can will solve most of the problems.

Reading this out of context might lead one to think that Lewis would approve of the relaxations of the rule of chastity itself that have taken place since his time; I think it's clear that he would not. He remains firm on chastity—it's modesty or propriety he considers flexible. What struck me was the part I highlighted, with regard to language, and it works both ways. I should think better than I do of young people who use casually (and frequently!) language that not that long ago marked one as scum of the earth, and I wish they would think more kindly of their elders who grew up in a time when certain racial terms, now only used by the "scum of the earth," were in many circles considered normal and not improper. "A real desire to believe all the good you can of others and to make others as comfortable as you can will solve most of the problems" would do the job well.

You can get a large audience together for a strip-tease act—that is, to watch a girl undress on the stage. Now suppose you came to a country where you could fill a theatre by simply bringing a covered plate on to the stage and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let every one see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food? And would not anyone who had grown up in a different world think there was something equally queer about the state of the sex instinct among us?

...There is nothing to be ashamed of in enjoying your food: there would be everything to be ashamed of if half the world made food the main interest of their lives and spent their time looking at pictures of food and dribbling and smacking their lips. I do not say you and I are individually responsible for the present situation. Our ancestors have handed over to us organisms which are warped in this respect: and we grow up surrounded by propaganda in favour of unchastity. There are people who want to keep our sex instinct inflamed in order to make money out of us. Because, of course, a man with an obsession is a man who has very little sales-resistance. God knows our situation; He will not judge us as if we had no difficulties to overcome. What matters is the sincerity and perseverance of our will to overcome them.

I've heard before the comparison of our appetite for sex and our appetite for food; what I note now is how much the latter is now veering off course as well. We may not actually have food stripteases, but I've seen cooking shows and food videos and bizarre recipes that could almost be called food pornography. There's more to food than nutrition, just as there's more to sex than reproduction, but when the basic purpose of an appetite is almost forgotten, and when any instinct is kept inflamed for profit—it's a sure sign we're on the wrong track.

A repressed desire or thought is one which has been thrust into the subconscious (usually at a very early age) and can now come before the mind only in a disguised and unrecognisable form. Repressed sexuality does not appear to the patient to be sexuality at all. When an adolescent or an adult is engaged in resisting a conscious desire, he is not dealing with a repression nor is he in the least danger of creating a repression. On the contrary, those who are seriously attempting chastity are more conscious, and soon know a great deal more about their own sexuality than anyone else. They come to know their desires as Wellington knew Napoleon, or as Sherlock Holmes knew Moriarty; as a rat-catcher knows rats or a plumber knows about leaky pipes. Virtue—even attempted virtue—brings light; indulgence brings fog.

From Book 3, Chapter 6: Christian Marriage

Before we consider this modern view [of marriage and divorce] in its relation to chastity, we must not forget to consider it in relation to another virtue, namely justice. Justice, as I said before, includes the keeping of promises. Now everyone who has been married in a church has made a public, solemn promise to stick to his (or her) partner till death. The duty of keeping that promise has no special connection with sexual morality: it is in the same position as any other promise. ...

To this someone may reply that he regarded the promise made in church as a mere formality and never intended to keep it. Whom, then, was he trying to deceive when he made it? God? That was really very unwise. Himself? That was not very much wiser. The bride, or bridegroom, or the "in-laws"? That was treacherous. Most often, I think, the couple (or one of them) hoped to deceive the public. They wanted the respectability that is attached to marriage without intending to pay the price: that is, they were imposters, they cheated. If they are still contented cheats, I have nothing to say to them: who would urge the high and hard duty of chastity on people who have not yet wished to be merely honest? If they have now come to their senses and want to be honest, their promise, already made, constrains them. And this, you will see, comes under the heading of justice, not that of chastity. If people do not believe in permanent marriage, it is perhaps better that they should live together unmarried than that they should make vows they do not mean to keep. It is true that by living together without marriage they will be guilty (in Christian eyes) of fornication. But one fault is not mended by adding another: unchastity is not improved by adding perjury.

From Book 3, Chapter 7: Christian Forgiveness

I remember Christian teachers telling me long ago that I must hate a bad man's actions, but not hate the bad man: or, as they would say, hate the sin but not the sinner. For a long time I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life—namely myself.

Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery. We ought to hate them. ... But it does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it is anyway possible, that somehow, sometime, somewhere, he can be cured and made human again. ...

The real test is this. Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out. Is one's first feeling, "Thank God, even they aren't quite so bad as that," or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies as bad as possible? If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. 

From Book 3, Chapter 9: Charity

Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible.

From Book 4, Chapter 8: Is Christianity Hard or Easy?

When [Jesus] said, "Be perfect," He meant it. He meant that we must go in for the full treatment. It is hard; but the sort of compromise we are all hankering after is harder—in fact, it is impossible. It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad. ... This is the whole of Christianity. There is nothing else.

It is so easy to get muddled about that. It is easy to think that the Church has a lot of different objects—education, building, missions, holding services. Just as it is easy to think the State has a lot of different objects—military, political, economic, and what not. But in a way things are much simpler than that. The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life. A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub, a man reading a book in his own room or digging in his own garden—that is what the State is there for. And unless they are helping to increase and prolong and protect such moments, all the laws, parliaments, armies, courts, police, economics, etc., are simply a waste of time. In the same way the Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose.

From Book 4, Chapter 11: The New Men

No man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.

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altPast Watchful Dragons: The Narnia Chronicles of C. S. Lewis by Walter Hooper (Macmillan, 1971)

No other analysis of the Narnia books stands a chance with me now that I've read Planet Narnia. And both books are best read only by those who have already absorbed and fallen in love with the Chronicles. But for such people there is value. I didn't find Past Watchful Dragons nearly as interesting this time as when I first read it—several decades ago, I believe—possibly because through my "C. S. Lewis Restrospective" I've already absorbed much of what Hooper says here, sometimes several times over.

For me, the best part of the book—the reason I recommend it—is Hooper's inclusion in Chapter 5, "Inspiration and Invention," of a long fragment of the only substantial Narnian manuscript that survived Lewis's decluttering fervor. The story never saw publication, though many elements show up in other Narnian tales, most notably The Magician's Nephew. But in this case the boy Digory has a special gift: the ability to talk with animals and trees in our own world—until he tragically loses it. I would really like to have seen what Lewis would have made of that part of the story had it continued. Of course it made me think immediately of my friend Diane, who talks with trees and would probably approve of the reason Digory lost his gift.

Reading it also made me appreciate how much work must go into getting a book from the initial idea to the final version, as this fragment, despite the good story line, sounds amateurish, clearly lacking the beauty and polish of the other tales of Narnia.

I'll end with one of my favorite quotations. I had no idea it was from C. S. Lewis until I found it here, quoted a couple of pages before the story fragment.

There are only two times at which you can stop a thing. One is before everyone is tired of it—and the other is after!

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altaltThe Armchair Economist: Economics and Everyday Life by Steven E. Landsburg (Free Press, 2012)
More Sex Is Safer Sex: The Unconventional Wisdom of Economics by Steven E. Landsburg (Free Press, 2007)

Steve Landsburg was a classmate of mine at the University of Rochester who, like my friend and roommate Kathy, went on to graduate school at the University of Chicago. He always was bright, and what I remember most about him is his ability to think outside the box. Kathy graduated after four years with simultaneous bachelor's and master's degrees in mathematics; Steve did essentially the same thing, but took the master's degree alone, thus avoiding the foreign language and physical education classes that were at that time required for an undergraduate degree.

Eventually, he returned to his roots and became a professor of economics at the same University of Rochester, perhaps because economics gives him so many opportunities to demonstrate (1) how economically illiterate most ordinary people, media commentators, and political leaders are, and (2) how often careful economic analysis leads to results that are unexpected and contrary to what we might like to believe.

Both of these books are filled with examples. They are illuminating, witty, and fun to read. They are also proof that no one in his right mind would make decisions solely on economic principles. At the same time, those economic principles, even when applied in grossly simplified situations, shed invaluable light and provide ways of thinking about problems that are otherwise hopelessly fuzzy.

I enjoyed The Armchair Economist so much I immediately bought a copy for our 15-year-old grandson. I enjoyed More Sex Is Safer Sex as well, but (1) the former is more basic and has been more recently updated; although the principles of the latter are still sound, the technological examples from only 12 years ago positively creak with age; and (2) I have to answer to his parents. He can get it (and/or others of Mr. Landsburg's books) out of the library if he wants more.

 

The Armchair Economist

Table of Contents

I. What Life Is All About

  • The Power of Incentives: How Seat Belts Kill
  • Rational Riddles: Why U2 Concerts Sell Out
  • Truth or Consequences: How to Split a Check or Choose a Movie
  • The Indifference Principle: Who Cares If the Air Is Clean?
  • The Computer Game of Life: Learning What It’s All About

II. Good and Evil

  • Telling Right from Wrong: The Pitfalls of Democracy
  • Why Taxes Are Bad: The Logic of Efficiency
  • Why Prices Are Good: Smith versus Darwin
  • Of Medicine and Candy, Trains and Sparks: Economics in the Courtroom

III. How to Read the News

  • Choosing Sides in the Drug War: How the Atlantic Monthly Got It Wrong
  • The Mythology of Deficits
  • Unsound and Furious: Spurious Wisdom from the Media
  • How Statistics Lie: Unemployment Can Be Good for You
  • The Policy Vice: Do We Need More Illiterates?
  • Some Modest Proposals: The End of Bipartisanship

IV. How Markets Work

  • Why Popcorn Costs More at the Movies: And Why the Obvious Answer Is Wrong
  • Courtship and Collusion: The Mating Game
  • Cursed Winners and Glum Losers: Why Life Is Full of Disappointments
  • Random Walks and Stock Market Prices: A Primer for Investors
  • Ideas of Interest: Armchair Forecasting
  • The Iowa Car Crop

V. The Pitfalls of Science

  • Was Einstein Credible? The Economics of the Scientific Method
  • New Improved Football: How Economists Go Wrong

VI. The Pitfalls of Religion

  • Why I Am Not an Environmentalist: The Science of Economics versus the Religion of Ecology

From "The Power of Incentives"

Occasionally people are tempted to respond that nothing ... is worth any risk of death. Economists find this objection particularly frustrating, because neither those who raise it nor anybody else actually believes it. All people risk death every day for relatively trivial rewards. Driving to Starbucks for a Mocha Frappuccino involves a clear risk that could be avoided by staying home, but people still drive to Starbucks. We need not ask whether small pleasures are worth any risk; the answer is obviously yes. The right question is how much risk those small pleasures are worth.

From "Truth of Consequences"

Smoking habits are a quick and easy indicator of general health consciousness. They reveal your type in a publicly observable way. Insurance companies use that information by offering lower premiums to nonsmokers. If you take advantage of such an offer, your discount reflects more than just the health benefits of not smoking. It reflects also that, as a nonsmoker, you are more likely than average to be watching your cholesterol.

Insurance companies know that people cheat, and they account for that when they set the nonsmoking premiums. If you are truly a nonsmoker, you pay a little more because some "nonsmokers" are sneaking cigarettes where the insurance company can't see them. But do not jump to the conclusion that if cigarettes were banned, your insurance rates would fall. As a voluntary nonsmoker, you implicitly notify you insurance company that you are probably cautious in a lot of ways they can't observe. As a nonsmoker in a world without cigarettes, you might be indistinguishable from everybody else, and be charged accordingly.

From "The Indifference Principle"

Call it the Indifference Principle: Unless you're unusual in some way, nothing can ever make you happier than the next best alternative. You might prefer cheddar cheese to provolone, but if all your neighbors share your preference, then the price of cheddar cheese must rise to the point where you're just as happy to buy the provolone. Fortunately most of us are unusual in a great variety of ways, which is what allows us to benefit from choosing one activity over another. The Indifference Principle calls our attention to the fact that the greatest gains in life come in the areas where we're most unusual. [my emphasis]

From "Telling Right from Wrong"

During his years in the White House, President George Bush occasionally wished out loud for lower interest rates to ease the burden on young home buyers. For heaven's sake, everybody already knows that lower interest rates ease the burden on home buyers. Everybody also knows that lower interest rates can devastate people who are saving for their retirement. To call attention to one side of the cost-benefit ledger while ignoring the other is plain dishonest. If a politician wants to argue legitimately for lower interest rates, he needs to explain not why it is good to help borrowers, but why it is good to simultaneously help borrowers and hurt lenders.

From "Choosing Sides in the Drug War"

Our insistence on counting all individuals equally has some striking implications. One implication is that a change in price is never either good or bad. Whatever buyers gain, sellers lose. Price changes often result from changes in technology or in the legal environment, which can simultaneously affect production costs or consumption levels in ways that can be good or bad. But a price change in and of itself is neither a good nor a bad thing.

From "How Statistics Lie"

In a world of many prices that fluctuate independently, there is no way to construct a single meaningful index that is not biased in one way or another. The U. S. government actually reports several different measure of inflation, each with its own built-in biases, and economists try to be careful about selecting the right index for the right purpose. Particularly in times of high inflation, the media tend to focus on the [Consumer Price Index], perhaps because it serves their purpose of making things look bleak. Journalism is the dismal art. [My emphasis. This is a play on economics frequently being referred to as "the dismal science."]

For three decades in the United States of America, the income gap between the rich and the poor appears to have been widening. If you looked just at a snapshot of the numbers, you might be forced to conclude that while the rich have gotten richer, the poor have done nothing but stagnate. But there are several reasons to take those numbers with a grain of salt.

Landsburg goes on to explain that in detail; I'll include just two of his reasons—because I'm getting tired of typing.

Second, income tax rates were cut dramatically in the 1980s and again in the 2000s under Presidents Reagan and Bush. Those tax cuts had important real effects, but they had important illusory effects also. When tax rates fall, people devote less effort to hiding their incomes. For that reason alone, reported incomes go up, especially at the high end. ... Any tax cut tends to create an exaggerated appearance of a growing income gap.

Third, family breakups create statistical illusions of falling income. When a household has two $50,000 wage earners, it gets counted as one $100,000 household. When the family breaks up, suddenly there are two $50,000 households, even though no individual's income has changed.

This matters a lot. For example, between the years 1996 and 2005, according to U. S. census data, the median household income (after adjusting for inflation) rose only 5.3 percent. But if you correct for changing household sizes, the increase was a far more substantial 24.4 percent.

The gross domestic product, or GDP, is the most frequently reported measure of general economic well-being. As such, it has some obvious deficiencies. It counts the value of all goods and services produced in the economy, but not the value of time spent relaxing on the beach.

It also has some less obvious deficiencies. First, it really doesn't count the value of all goods and services produced in the economy. Many goods and services are produced within the household. Whether you wash your own dishes or pay a maid to wash them, the net benefit is a cabinet full of clean dishes. If you pay the maid, the GDP reflects this benefit; if you wash them yourself, it doesn't. ...

This observation is particularly important when GDP is compared across countries. In less developed countries there is usually more household production and consequently a greater discrepancy between reported GDP and actual output. When you read that per capita GDP in the United States is over 100 times as great as it is in Liberia, remember that people in Liberia grow their own food and make their own clothes and get no credit for it in the national income accounts. They are much poorer than we are but not as much poorer as the statistics seem to indicate.

Another deficiency is that increased output of goods and services can be either a good or a bad thing. A construction boom that creates thousands of desirable new houses is a good thing; a construction boom that replaces thousands of old houses destroyed by a hurricane consists of running as fast as possible just to stay in one place. The GDP counts them equally.

From "Cursed Winners and Glum Losers"

It is a fair assumption that people who run auctions for a living know what they are doing, and that if there is some discrepancy between their behavior and the prescriptions of the economic theorist, then it is the theorist who is missing something. Our job as economists is not to tell auctioneers how to run their business. It is to assume that they know how to run their business and to figure out why their strategies are the right ones. [emphasis mine]

Amen! I'd say that applies to more professions than auctioneering, and more experts than economists. Think teachers/educational theorists, or parents/child psychologists, for example.

 

More Sex Is Safer Sex

Table of Contents

Preface: Unconventional Wisdom

PART I: The Communal Stream

  • More Sex Is Safer Sex
    Addendum
  • Be Fruitful and Multiply
  • What I Like about Scrooge
  • Who's the Fairest of Them All?
  • Children at Work

PART II: How to Fix Everything

  • How to Fix Politics
  • How to Fix the Justice System
  • How to Fix Everything Else
    How to Fight Fires
    How to Fight Crime
    How to Prevent Accidents
    How to Fight Pollution
    How to Solve the Kidney Shortage
    How to Fight Grade Inflation
    How to Shorten Waiting Lines

PART III: Everyday Economics

  • Go Figure
  • Oh No! It's a Girl!
  • The High Price of Motherhood

PART IV: The Big Questions

  • Giving Your All
    A Defense of Pure Reason
  • The Central Banker of the Soul
  • How to Read the News
    Racial Profiling
    Disaster Relief
    The Sack of Baghdad
    Global Warming, Local Crowding
    An Outsourcing Fable
    The New Racism
  • Matters of Life and Death
  • Things That Make Me Squirm

Appendix

From "Be Fruitful and Multiply"

For many of the comforts we enjoy today, we can be grateful to the inventors of cable television, video recorders, and the personal computer—and to the stroke of good fortune that prevented their parents from joining Zero Population Growth.

The engine of prosperity is technological progress, and the engine of technological progress is people. The more people, the more ideas. The more ideas, the more we prosper.

Some families prefer to have wealthy descendants; others prefer to have lots of descendants. But as long as our choices don't impinge on each other, that's not a policy issue; it's an opportunity to celebrate diversity.

In the 1930s, we had a Great Depression, when income levels fell back to where they’d been about twenty years earlier. For a few years, people had to live the way their parents had always lived—and they considered it almost intolerable. The underlying expectation—that the present is supposed to be better than the past—is a new phenomenon in history. ...

Not only are we richer than ever before, we also work less and have better-quality products. One hundred years ago, the average American workweek was over sixty hours, today it’s thirty-five. One hundred years ago, only 6 percent of manufacturing workers took vacation; today it’s 90 percent. One hundred years ago, men entered the full-time labor-force in the early teens; today labor-force participation by young teenagers is essentially zero. One hundred years ago, only 26 percent of male workers retired by age 65; today over 80 percent of 65-year-old males have retired. One hundred years ago, the average housekeeper spent twelve hours a day on laundry, cooking, cleaning, and sewing; today it’s about three hours. ...

Today in the United States of America among the very poorest of the poor—those with household incomes under $15,000 a year—99 percent have refrigerators (83 percent of them frost-free); 64 percent have air-conditioning; 97 percent have color TVs and over two-thirds have cable; 60 percent have washers and dryers. ...

The probability that a 20-year-old has a living grandmother today is higher than the probability that a 20-year-old had a living mother a hundred years ago.

The moral is that increases in measured income—even the phenomenal increases of the past two centuries—don't accurately reflect improvements in our economic condition. The average middle-class American might have a smaller measured income than the European monarchs of the Middle Ages, but that does not prevent the American from leading a more luxurious life. I suspect that Henry VIII would have traded half his kingdom for modern plumbing, a lifetime supply of penicillin, and access to the Internet. 

From "Children at Work"

Dr. David Livingstone, the African explorer, medical missionary, and hero of the Victorian Age, began his career at age ten, working 84-hour weeks at the local cotton mill. In other words, his was a rather typical upbringing for a British child in the 1820s.

Dr. Livingstone, we may presume, would have been rather bemused by modern American college students, with PDAs in their pockets, iPods on their hips, and $20,000-a-year educations [feel free to substitute your own updated examples] on their résumés, gathered on campus to share a keg, toss a few Frisbees, and raise their voices in the annual spring ritual of protest against third-world child labor.

The student protesters' message to African children on the edge of starvation comes down to this: kick back, relax, and take life a little easier. That, after all, is the content of the protesters' call for trade agreements that "protect" third-world children by limiting the number of hours they can work and the environmental conditions they can work in. David Livingstone, whose childhood labor financed his medical education, and who genuinely cared about the welfare of Africans, might have advised them differently. ...

People in the third world are poor; they're about as poor as the English and Americans of the mid-nineteenth century. Being poor means making hard choices, such as whether to work more or to eat less. Neither alternative is terribly palatable, but it requires more than a bit of hubris to suggest that middle-class American and European demonstrators can choose more wisely than the African and Asian families who have to live with the consequences. ...

The question, then, is whether third-world parents really do have their children's best interests at heart. The answer seems to be yes. Multiple studies have shown that in developing countries, most parents take their children out of the labor force as soon as they can afford to. ... When decisions are made by people—in this case loving parents—who have to endure the consequences, there's rarely any basis to override them. This is particularly so when those who would override have exactly zero experience with similarly dire conditions. [my emphasis]

From "How to Fix Everything"

When were you last bumped from an overbooked airplane? It used to happen all the time—until an economist named Julian Simon came up with the crazy idea of bribing passengers to give up their seats. Gone are the days when you relied on the luck of the draw to make it to your daughter's wedding.

In those same bad old days, African elephants were hunted almost to extinction. Hunting bans never had much effect against determined poachers—until Zimbabwean officials came up with the crazy idea of giving the elephants to rural villagers. Unlike the poachers, who would poach and then move on, the villagers know that the elephants they preserve today will still be theirs tomorrow. So unlike the poachers, the villagers harvest at a sustainable rate—and make it their business to drive the poachers away. The result? Villagers have prospered and the elephant population has soared.

 From "Giving Your All"

American corporations are essentially immune to charitable impulses. This is for the good and sufficient reason that stockholders don't want corporate executives to choose their charities for them. You hire a tailor to make your clothes, you hire a carpenter to fix your roof, and, if you're a stockholder, you hire executives to run your company. Your tailor, your carpenter, and your executives might be very good at what they do, but it doesn't follow that they'd also be good at figuring out how to give away your money.

So, for the most part, corporations eschew charity completely. Instead, they truckle to the public-relations circus known as the United Way.

Nothing could be less charitable than giving to the United Way. Among the several dozen agencies that receive United Way handouts, surely you can identify—with essentially zero effort—at least one that, according to your own beliefs and values, will make better than average use of an extra dollar. ... Allowing the United Way to split your contribution among thousands of less-worthy causes is the very opposite of charity. Your employer's public-relations department might love you for it, but you purchase that esteem by diverting resources away from the worthiest recipients, a complete perversion of what charity is supposed to be about.

From "Things that Make Me Squirm"

Most of the time, we're not forced to choose between prosperity and economic freedom, because the two go hand in hand. Canada's Fraser Institute, in cooperation with several dozen think tanks around the world, assigns each country an economic freedom rating from 1 to 10. High ratings go to countries with limited government, low taxes, well-enforced property rights, functioning markets, and free trade. Currently, Hong Kong ranks first, followed by Singapore, and then we have a three-way tie among New Zealand, Switzerland, and the United States. Myanmar brings up the rear. ...

The general upward trend [of a scatter plot of economic freedom versus per capita income, with each dot representing a country] is obvious. Of course, that doesn't prove anything about causation, but it's awfully suggestive—and we have plenty of theory to support that suggestion.

Incidentally, if you carry out the same experiment with political freedom—including scheduled elections, robust opposition parties, freedom of speech and religion, and so forth—on the horizontal axis, the dots look almost completely random. Political freedom is, in my opinion, a good thing, but unlike economic freedom it seems to have almost no link to prosperity.

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, May 4, 2019 at 10:28 am | Edit
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altC. S. Lewis on Scripture: His Thoughts on the Nature of Biblical Inspiration, the Role of Revelation and the Question of Inerrancey by Michael J. Christensen (Abingdon Press, 1979)

When this book was written, there was a lot of fur flying in the Christian world over the nature of Biblical inspiration. Christensen's book is an attempt to ferret out what C. S. Lewis thought about the matter, though it's perfectly clear that if Lewis had still been alive during that time, he would have determinedly steered clear of the controversy. With the imprimatur of a forward by Owen Barfield and an introduction by Clyde S. Kilby, however, I suspect this book hits pretty close to the mark.

In any case, as far as I can tell from the Lewis books I've read, it seems a fair explanation. Moreover, I learned a lot here and respect Lewis's views even more—though I don't pretend to understand all the ins and outs of the philosophy and the literary criticism.

Many colleges, and sometimes even high schools, offer a course called "The Bible as Literature." I've never taken one, the very title sounding to me like a course in "what you can get out of the Bible if you don't actually believe a word of it." C. S. Lewis on Scripture makes me realize that such a course taught by Lewis would be a totally different experience altogether.

I won't attempt to summarize his ideas, nor even to summarize this summary of his ideas. But in a nutshell, Lewis believed that we cannot properly interpret Scripture without approaching it through both rational thought and imagination. Leave one out, and you miss the point. Thus he will not be put into a box when it comes to his views on the inspiration of the Bible. In short, to no surprise, he is very ... Anglican.

C. S. Lewis on Scripture is worth reading, though not as valuable as reading Lewis himself.

Partial Table of Contents

  1. IN WHAT WAY IS THE BIBLE INSPIRED?
    Are there errors in the Bible?
    What does the Bible say about itself?
    Revelation: Personal Encounter or Propositional Truth?
    Where does Lewis stand?
  2. LEWIS: LIBERAL OR CONSERVATIVE?
    Religious tolerance: we are not to judge
    Heaven and hell: the choice is ours
    Purgatory: our souls demand it
    The Eucharist: the very life and grace of God
    Theistic Evolution: animal raised to higher life
    Immortality of animals: a heaven for mosquitoes
    Christ's Atonement: fact and theories
    Is the Bible historically true?
    Biblical criticism: friend or foe?
    Modern theology: Christianity-and-water
    Lewis: Liberal, Conservative, or Fascinating Mixture?
  3. LITERARY CRITICISM OF THE BIBLE
    Good literature compels good reading
    Good poetry is artistic imitation of reality
    A "baptized imagination"—the key to ultimate reality
    Human language falls short of the reality it seeks to describe
    The human predicament
  4. MYTH, REVELATION AND SCRIPTURE
    We see through a glass darkly
    Myth converys the inexpressible
    Wishful thinking or the truly real?
    God's revelation assumes different forms
    Scripture as inspired literature
  5. THE QUESTION OF INERRANCY
    What did the early church believe?
    What did the medieval church believe?
    What did the reformers assert about Scripture?
    What happened after the Reformation?
    With the Age of Reason came the liberal position
    Neoorthodoxy: return to orthodoxy or religious cop-out?
    Evangelicalism: A house divided
  6. A TREASURE IN EARTHEN VESSELS
  7. How should the Bible be read?
    The problem of authority: we are not content
    Conclusion: a treasure chest of truth

APPENDIX A. TWO LETTERS FROM C. S. LEWIS
APPENDIX B. LEWIS: THE RATIONAL ROMANTIC

From the Preface

Most evangelicals believe in the inerrancy of Scripture. C. S. Lewis, who said "most of my books are evangelistic," did not. The Bible for him was human literature, divinely inspired and authoritative, but not verbally inspired or without error.

Should evangelicals simply dismiss Lewis as too "liberal" or "naive" because he failed to affirm a particular notion of inerrancy? Or, should they give him a fair hearing and withhold judgment until they have thoroughly considered his literary understanding of the nature of Scripture? In light of Lewis's firm evangelical commitment and acknowledged orthodoxy, I support the latter.

From Chapter 2: Lewis: Liberal or Conservative?

A self-confessed romantic converted to Christianity halfway through life, he is neither theologically liberal nor conservative; he defies classification.

From Chapter 4: Myth, Revelation and Scripture

The notion of progressive revelation suggests that God discloses himself to man in a way that is best suited to man's particular stage of religious development. For pagan culture, divine revelation took the form of mythology. For the Hebrew culture, God spoke through the Law and the prophets. Christianity is the grand culmination of progressive revelation and religious maturity in both cultures.

How are Christians to understand the obvious similarities between pagan myths and Christianity? Either pagan mythology is essentially demonic and functions as counterfeit revelation for the purpose of confusing mankind, or else it is the dim foreshadowing of God's supreme revelation in Christ. Lewis identifies with the latter view.

It can be concluded at this point that Scripture for Lewis functions as myth, as well as historic fact. It has most of the qualities of imaginative literature and all the characteristics of myth, requiring an imaginative embrace to perceive meaning.

Myth, it must be remembered, does not mean lie, error, illusion or misunderstood history. The term has little to do with fact or history but transcends both. Properly understood, myth is a medium of divine revelation bringing a level of understanding superseding that which can be known through facts and history. To regard a portion of Scripture as myth, far from being less than true, is to acknowledge a higher truth and a deeper reality than could otherwise be expressed.

From Chapter 6: A Treasure in Earthen Vessels

This divine message, Lewis would have us remember, is not confined to the medium of Scripture. God, the Source of all truth, in the process of "reconciling the world unto himself," has used many means to call his sheep back into the fold: He has inspired great myths and literature throughout history, created in us immortal longings, spoken to us through conscience and religious experience, and given us Holy Scripture to convey his message. And finally, he has revealed himself in human form, died, and risen again so that we might die and live with him.

Because of God's initiative in revelation, we possess a treasure chest of truth that is of eternal value. God's Word is the "treasure" revealed through "earthen vessels," as 2 Corinthians 4:7 implies: "But we have this treasure in earthen vessels to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us." Let us not mistake the vessels for the treasure nor fail to find the treasure in the vessels.

From Appendix A: Two Letters from C. S. Lewis

[Quoting from a page of Lewis's notes] That the over-all operation of Scripture is to convey God's Word to the reader (he also needs his inspiration) who reads it in the right spirit, I fully believe. That it also gives true answers to all the questions (often religiously irrelevant) which he might ask, I don't. The very kind of truth we are often demanding was, in my opinion, not even envisaged by the ancients.

From Appendix B: Lewis: the Rational Romantic

As a rationalist, Lewis approached the message of the Bible as a truth to be believed. As a romantic, he approached the message of the Bible as a reality to be received. Lewis's literary view of inspiration encompassed both his rational faculty for understanding and his romantic intuition to find meaning.

Reason and imagination for Lewis are the complementary human faculties for knowing. In the realm of facts, empirical evidence, sense objects, particulars, and so on, truth is known through reason. But transcendent Reality—knowledge of universals in the eternal realm—if it is to be known at all, must be grasped by imagination.

Such is Lewis's rational-romantic synthesis of truth and meaning, reason and imagination. Reason alone cannot lead us to truth. But neither can truth be understood apart from reason. Both reason and imagination, seemingly at odds with one another, are necessary for truth to be meaningful.

The appendix ends with this poem, from Lewis's novel, Till We Have Faces.

O who will reconcile in me both maid and mother,
Who make in me a concord of the depth and height?
Who make imagination's dim exploring touch
Ever report the same as intellectual sight?
Then could I truly say, and not deceive,
Then wholly say, that I BELIEVE.
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, April 18, 2019 at 6:51 am | Edit
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altUnplanned
The Movie

About once a year or so we actually go out to a theater and watch a movie. I knew I wanted to see Unplanned, and did not have any confidence that it would eventually make it to Netflix. So Porter bought tickets online for our local AMC theater, and we made a date of it.

"Date" is an appropriate word, because despite the seriousness of the subject and a couple of horrifying scenes that probably earned it its "R" rating, Unplanned is basically a love story: The unconditional love of parents for a child who has made lifestyle choices in complete opposition to their own deeply-held values; the steadfast love of a man in support of his wife despite his conviction that her chosen career path is an immoral one; the love that leads us to embrace our common humanity in the face of chasmic differences; and the relentless love of God for his hurting world—"unresting, unhasting, and silent as light."

Abby Johnson's desire to make a difference in the world, to support the rights of women, and to help women in crisis situations led her, beginning as a student volunteer at the local Planned Parenthood clinic, to a promising career with that organization. She became one of the youngest-ever clinic directors, and won an Employee of the Year award in 2008.

And then that same heart-felt desire to help women led her to quit. Unplanned is her story.

The story is well told. The movie is beautiful—except of course where it's ugly. I particularly like the fact that it is not a black-and-white, one-dimensional story of a sudden conversion, despite the "what she saw changed everything" subtitle. As much as can be done in a movie less than two hours in length, we see Abby's growth through time and experience. Her change of heart seems more of a tipping point than a crisis, though there are certainly elements of the latter as well. Abby at the end of the movie is more knowledgeable, more experienced, certainly less naïve, and moving in a different direction in more than one area of her life—but still Abby.

The only fault I find is the portrayal of Abby's boss, who is indeed one-dimensional; we never see her human side. It reminds me of what C. S. Lewis said about George MacDonald, that he was rare among authors in being able to portray good much better than evil: "His saints live; his villains are stagey." It's certainly possible that this woman was as nasty as she seems, and as I said, it's a short movie, but I would like to have seen something redeeming about her character.

Do I recommend seeing Unplanned when you have the chance? Absolutely, 100%, a hundred times over. Do I recommend it for our grandchildren? Eventually. They're all under age for the rating at this point, anyway. Maybe the oldest one or two could handle it well, if their parents watch the film first and agree. Anyone younger than that would be traumatized, maybe scarred for life—if they understood it at all. At first I wondered about the R rating, given the horrible things I've seen in PG-13 movies, but I believe the MPAA got it right in this case. Unplanned is a beautiful movie, and an important one, but there's no denying that it's disturbing in a way no child should be asked to handle. Not that so many kids haven't already seen worse. And it's rather bizarre to require parental consent for a child watch a movie with a few abortion scenes, when that same child could actually have an abortion without it.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, April 11, 2019 at 11:11 am | Edit
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altThe Abolition of Man: or Reflections on Education with Special Reference to the Teaching of English in the Upper Forms of Schools by C. S. Lewis (Macmillan, 1978; originally published 1947)

Don't be put off by the occasional dated and UK-based references: this is very important material, definitely still applicable today. It is a good book to read either before or after That Hideous Strength, the third book in Lewis's space trilogy, in which the same ideas appear in the form of fiction. You must also get over Lewis's use of the term Tao. You can see why he uses it, but the meaning is not exactly the same as in Chinese philosophy. 

As the review is short, so the quotations are few. Lewis is not easily reduced to sound bites. The bolded emphasis is mine, though I'm not sure it's a good idea, because it separates them from their context, which is just as important.

From Chapter 1, "Men Without Chests"

I doubt whether [the authors of a particular English literature textbook] really planned, under cover of teaching English, to propagate their philosophy. I think they have slipped into it for the following reasons. In the first place, literary criticism is difficult, and what they actually do is very much easier. To explain why a bad treatment of some basic human emotion is bad literature is, if we exclude all question-begging attacks on the emotion itself, a very hard thing to do. ... To "debunk" the emotion on the basis of a commonplace rationalism, is within almost anyone's capacity. In the second place, I think [they] may have honestly misunderstood the pressing educational need of the moment. They see the world around them swayed by emotional propaganda ... and they conclude that the best thing they can do is to fortify the minds of the young people against emotion. My own experience as a teacher tells an opposite tale. ... The right defence against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments. By starving the sensibility of our pupils we only make them easier prey to the propagandist when he comes. For famished nature will be avenged and a hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head.

Until quite modern times all teachers and even all men believed the universe to be such that certain emotional reactions on our part could be either congruous or incongruous to it—believed, in fact, that objects did not merely receive, but could merit, our approval or disapproval, our reverence, or our contempt. 

Where the old [education] initiated, the new merely "conditions." The old dealt with its pupils as grown birds deal with young birds when they teach them to fly: the new deals with them more as the poultry-keeper deals with young birds—making them thus or thus for purposes of which the birds know nothing. In a word, the old was a kind of propagation—men transmitting manhood to men: the new is merely propaganda.

It still remains true that no justification of virtue will enable a man to be virtuous. Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism. I had sooner play cards against a man who was quite sceptical about ethics, but bred to believe that "a gentleman does not cheat," than against an irreproachable moral philosopher who had been brought up among sharpers. ... Reason in man must rule the mere appetites by means of the "spirited element." The head rules the belly through the chest—the seat ... of Magnanimity, of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments. The Chest—Magnanimity—Sentiment—these are the indispensable liaison officers between cerebral man and visceral man. It may even be said that it is by this middle element that man is man: for by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal. The operation of [this textbook] and its kind is to produce what may be called Men without Chests.

And all this time...we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.

From Chapter 2, "The Way"

[The authors of this textbook] will be found to hold, with complete uncritical dogmatism, the whole system of values which happened to be in vogue among moderately educated young men of the professional classes during the period between the two wars [World War I and World War II]. Their scepticism about values is on the surface: it is for use on other people's values: about the values current in their own set they are not nearly sceptical enough. And this phenomenon is very usual. A great many of those tho "debunk" traditional or (as they would say) "sentimental"values have in the background values of their own which they believe to be immune from the debunking process.

This thing which I have for convenience called the Tao, and which others may call Natural Law or Traditional Morality or the First Principles of Practical Reason or the First Platitudes, is not one among a series of possible systems of value. It is the sole source of all value judgements. If it is rejected, all value is rejected. If any value is retained, it is retained. The effort to refute it and raise a new system of value in its place is self-contradictory. There never has been, and never will be, a radically new judgement of value in the history of the world. What purport to be new systems or (as they now call them) "ideologies," all consist of fragments from the Tao itself, arbitrarily wrenched from their context in the whole and then swollen to madness in their isolation, yet still owing to the Tao and to it alone such validity as they possess. If my duty to my parents is a superstition, then so is my duty to posterity. If justice is a superstition, then so is my duty to my country or my race. If the pursuit of scientific knowledge is a real value, then so is conjugal fidelity. The rebellion of new ideologies against the Tao is a rebellion of the branches against the tree: if the rebels could succeed they would find that they had destroyed themselves. The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of imagining a new primary colour, or, indeed, of creating a new sun and a new sky for it to move in.

From Chapter 3, "The Abolition of Man"

In what sense is man the possessor of increasing power over Nature?

Let us consider three typical examples: the aeroplane, the wireless, and the contraceptive. In a civilized community, in peace-time, anyone who can pay for them may use these things. But it cannot strictly be said that when he does so he is exercising his own proper or individual power over Nature. If I pay you to carry me, I am not therefore myself a strong man. Any or all of the three things I have mentioned can be withheld from some men by other men—by those who sell, or those who allow the sale, or those who own the sources of production, or those who make the goods. What we call Man’s power is, in reality, a power possessed by some men which they may, or may not, allow other men to profit by. Again, as regards the powers manifested in the aeroplane or the wireless, Man is as much the patient or subject as the possessor, since he is the target both for bombs and for propaganda. And as regards contraceptives, there is a paradoxical, negative sense in which all possible future generations are the patients or subjects of a power wielded by those already alive. By contraception simply, they are denied existence; by contraception used as a means of selective breeding, they are, without their concurring voice, made to be what one generation, for its own reasons, may choose to prefer. From this point of view, what we call Man’s power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument.

For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means, as we have seen, the power of some men to make other men what they please. In all ages, no doubt, nurture and instruction have, in some sense, attempted to exercise this power. But the situation to which we must look forward will be novel in two respects. In the first place, the power will be enormously increased. Hitherto the plans of educationalists have achieved very little of what they attempted and indeed, when we read them—how Plato would have every infant “a bastard nursed in a bureau”, and Elyot would have the boy see no men before the age of seven and, after that, no women, and how Locke wants children to have leaky shoes and no turn for poetry—we may well thank the beneficent obstinacy of real mothers, real nurses, and (above all) real children for preserving the human race in such sanity as it still possesses. But the man-moulders of the new age will be armed with the powers of an omnicompetent state and an irresistible scientific technique: we shall get at last a race of conditioners who really can cut out all posterity in what shape they please.

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altMiracles: A Preliminary Study by C. S. Lewis (Macmillan Books, 1978; first published 1947)

This is another book in my C. S. Lewis retrospective. It's hard to imagine that it has probably been 40 years or so since I read Miracles. I can't be sure, since I began keeping track of my reading only in 2010, but the book is covered with clear contact paper, a practice I used in college and for a little while thereafter. The cover is clean and almost new, but protecting it did not help the binding—many of the pages are falling out and I think I'm due for an upgrade.

If you're looking for a book full of examples of purported miracles—faith-healing stories out of Africa, perhaps, or an examination of testimonies from Lourdes—this is not your book. Lewis's approach is much more academic and philosophical, from careful definition of terms, to examination of the presuppositions inherent in different worldviews, to analysis of the type and function of various miracles in Christianity.

For me, the book started slowly, a bit of a slog. Lewis spends a great deal of time laying the philosophical groundwork for his study of miracles. Philosophy makes my head spin more than physics ever did, and I don't pretend to have a clear grasp of all his arguments. But I can testify that the end of the book is well worth the work at the beginning. The last three chapters, the Epilogue, and the two appendices are especially worthwhile. Here's the Table of Contents:

Chapter 1 The Scope of this Book
Chapter 2 The Naturalist and the Supernaturalist
Chapter 3 The Cardinal Difficulty of Naturalism
Chapter 4 Nature and Supernature
Chapter 5 A Further Difficulty in Naturalism
Chapter 6 Answer to Misgivings
Chapter 7 A Chapter of Red Herrings
Chapter 8 Miracles and the Laws of Nature
Chapter 9 A Chapter Not Strictly Necessary
Chapter 10 “Horrid Red Things”
Chapter 11 Christianity and “Religion”
Chapter 12 The Propriety of Miracles
Chapter 13 On Probability
Chapter 14 The Grand Miracle
Chapter 15 Miracles of the Old Creation
Chapter 16 Miracles of the New Creation
Appendix A: On the Words “Spirit” and “Spiritual”
Appendix B: On “Special Providence”

I didn't mark many quotations this time, and almost none in my favorite chapters—not because there was little worthwhile, but because it all hangs together in a way I find difficult to dissect into independent pieces. But here are a few.

From "Answers to Misgivings"

It is no accident that parents and schoolmasters so often tell us that they can stand any vice rather than lying, the lie being the only defensive weapon of the child.

If we are content to go back and become humble plain men obeying tradition, well. If we are ready to climb and struggle on till we become sages ourselves, better still. But the man who will neither obey wisdom in others nor adventure for her [that is, for wisdom] himself is fatal. A society where the simple many obey the few seers can live: a society where all were seers could live even more fully. But a society where the mass is still simple and the seers are no longer attended to can achieve only superficiality, baseness, ugliness, and in the end extinction. 

From "A Chapter Not Strictly Necessary"

Everything becomes different when we recognize that Nature is a creature, a created thing, with its own particular tang or flavour…. It is not in her, but in Something far beyond her, that all lines meet and all contrasts are explained. It is no more baffling that the creature called Nature should be both fair and cruel than that the first man you meet in the train should be a dishonest grocer and a kind husband. For she is not the Absolute: she is one of the creatures, with her good points and her bad points and her own unmistakable flavour running through them all.

To say that God has created her is not to say that she is unreal, but precisely that she is real. Would you make God less creative than Shakespeare or Dickens? ... The theologians certainly tell us that He created Nature freely. They mean that He was not forced to do so by any external necessity. But we must not interpret freedom negatively, as if Nature were a mere construction of parts arbitrarily stuck together. God's creative freedom is to be conceived as the freedom of a poet: the freedom to create a consistent, positive thing with its own inimitable flavour.

From "Christianity and 'Religion'"

We who defend Christianity find ourselves constantly opposed not by the irreligion of our hearers but by their real religion. Speak about beauty, truth and goodness, or about a God who is simply the indwelling principle of these three, speak about a great spiritual force pervading all things, a common mind of which we are all parts, a pool of generalized spirituality to which we can all flow, and you will command friendly interest. But the temperature drops as soon as you mention a God who has purposes and performs particular actions, who does one thing and not another, a concrete, choosing, commanding, prohibiting God with a determinate character. People become embarrassed or angry. Such a conception seems to them primitive and crude and even irreverent. The popular "religion" excludes miracles because it excludes the "living God" of Christianity and believes instead in a kind of God who obviously would not do miracles, or indeed anything else.

The stillness in which the mystics approach [God] is intent and alert—at the opposite pole from sleep or reverie.

From "The Grand Miracle"

The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation. They say that God became Man. Every other miracle prepares for this, or exhibits this, or results from this. Just as every natural event is the manifestation at a particular place and moment of Nature’s total character, so every particular Christian miracle manifests at a particular place and moment the character and significance of the Incarnation. There is no question in Christianity of arbitrary interferences just scattered about. It relates not a series of disconnected raids on Nature but the various steps of a strategically coherent invasion—an invasion which intends complete conquest and “occupation.” The fitness, and therefore credibility, of the particular miracles depends on their relation to the Grand Miracle; all discussion of them in isolation from it is futile.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, April 5, 2019 at 5:45 am | Edit
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I have a new favorite cooking show, and no one is more surprised than me. It's called Struggle Meals and features a crazy young person (probably one of those Millennials, born on Bastille Day in 1990, somewhere between our youngest daughter and our oldest nephew) whose audience is a world vastly different from my own, a world of potty-mouthed youngsters who claim to be struggling financially yet who almost never cook at home, preferring restaurant food, most often in take-out or food-truck form, because they "don't have time" to do otherwise. They probably also pay for cable TV, but that's a rant for another time. In any case, I'm clearly not his intended audience.

But hey, food is food! Cooking is cooking, and Struggle Meals is full of great ideas. Frankie Celenza is highly entertaining (if also, like much of his audience, a bit of a potty-mouth), and the Struggle Meals shows are short (five to fifteen minutes) and to the point. The link above takes you to the YouTube channel, but if you have access to Facebook, you can follow Struggle Meals there, with the advantage that the comments always include recipes for his featured dishes.

The point of the show is that inexpensive, high-quality, homemade food is within reach of almost everyone. Each show features the creation of (usually) three attractive, healthful meals on a theme (such as wraps, chicken, coconut, breakfast, street food, etc.), all of which can be prepared with minimal effort for under $2 per serving. And without special equipment: for example, he uses the "Struggle Whisk 9000"—a fork. Or "Struggle Plastic Wrap"—a plate on top of a bowl.

One feature of most of the shows is his famous "packet drawer," which is where I first got the hint that his audience lives on take-out food. Frankie has one kitchen drawer dedicated solely to those tiny packets of soy sauce, sugar, butter, mustard, mayonnaise—even sriracha—that usually come in excess with take-out orders. This is "free flavor" and he makes liberal use of it, a significant savings of both money and food over tossing them into the trash. "Normal people" won't have this resource, but that doesn't hinder the recipes—nor the fun—in any way.

Here's an example, Episode 1 of the first season. Warning: gratuitous violence in the introduction. I've learned where to close my eyes.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, February 28, 2019 at 6:23 am | Edit
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altA Preface to "Paradise Lost" by C. S. Lewis (Oxford University Press, 1942)

When C. S. Lewis writes a preface, it isn"t just a few pages stuck on the front of a book.  His A Preface to "Paradise Lost" is itself a book.  It's not one we have in our large collection of books by and about Lewis, but I was able to find it in PDF form and read it on my Kindle.

Confession:  I have not read Milton's Paradise Lost.  I'm sure my education is the worse because of that omission, and I could certainly see books that my teachers did inflict on me that Milton should have replaced.  When, if ever, it will climb to the top of my current, very long reading list, I don't know.  But at least now it is on my radar, and I know that I am better prepared for having read Lewis first.

I only have two quotes, not because there isn't much more of value in the book, but because the format made it a lot harder to keep track of them.

pp 62-65

How are [the] gulfs between the ages to be dealt with by the student of poetry? A method often recommended may be called the method of The Unchanging Human Heart. According to this method the things which separate one age from another are superficial. Just as, if we stripped the armour off a medieval knight or the lace off a Caroline courtier, we should find beneath them an anatomy identical with our own, so, it is held, if we strip off from Virgil his Roman imperialism, from Sidney his code of honour, from Lucretius his Epicurean philosophy, and from all who have it their religion, we shall find the Unchanging Human Heart, and on this we are to concentrate. I held this theory myself for many years, but I have now abandoned it. ... How if these are not really the most important elements in the actual balance of the poem we are reading? Our whole study of the poem will then become a battle between us and the author in which we are trying to twist his work into a shape he never gave it.... I do not say that even on these terms we shall not get some value out of our reading; but we must not imagine that we are appreciating the works the old writers actually wrote.

Fortunately there is a better way. Instead of stripping the knight of his armour you can try to put his armour on yourself; instead of seeing how the courtier would look without his lace, you can try to see how you would feel with his lace; that is, with his honour, his wit, his royalism, and his gallantries... To enjoy our full humanity we ought, so far as is possible, to contain within us potentially at all times, and on occasion to actualize, all the modes of feeling and thinking through which man has passed. You must, so far as in you lies, become an Achaean chief while reading Homer, a medieval knight while reading Malory, and an eighteenth century Londoner while reading Johnson. Only thus will you be able to judge the work "in the same spirit that its author writ"....

We must therefore turn a deaf ear to Professor [Denis] Saurat when he invites us "to study what there is of lasting originality in Milton"s thought and especially to disentangle from theological rubbish the permanent and human interest." This is like asking us to study Hamlet after the "rubbish" of the revenge code has been removed, or centipedes when free of their irrelevant legs, or Gothic architecture without the pointed arches. Milton's thought, when purged of its theology, does not exist. Our plan must be very different—to plunge right into the "rubbish," to see the world as if we believed it, and then, while we still hold that position in our imagination, to see what sort of a poem results.

This puts me in mind of the way I've heard that actors prepare for their rôles:  To play Richard III one must as much as possible become Richard III.  I see why acting can be a spiritually dangerous profession!  I read recently of an incident where actor Michael Weatherly was accused of making sexually inappropriate comments to one of his coworkers.  No matter what one might think of his supposed comments, I don't see how anyone can be shocked that he might say something inappropriate given thirteen seasons of total immersion in the NCIS character Tony DiNozzo—whose stock-in-trade was just such language and actions.

Pages 100-101

In all but a few writers the "good" characters are the least successful, and every one who has ever tried to make even the humblest story ought to know why. To make a character worse than oneself it is only necessary to release imaginatively from control some of the bad passions which, in real life, are always straining at the leash.... But if you try to draw a character better than yourself, all you can do is to take the best moments you have had and to imagine them prolonged and more consistently embodied in action. But the real high virtues which we do not possess at all, we cannot depict except in a purely external fashion. We do not really know what it feels like to be a man much better than ourselves. His whole inner landscape is one we have never seen, and when we guess it we blunder. It is in their "good" characters that novelists make, unawares, the most shocking self-revelations. Heaven understands Hell and Hell does not understand Heaven, and all of us, in our measure, share the ... blindness. To project ourselves into a wicked character, we have only to stop doing something, and something that we are already tired of doing; to project ourselves into a good one we have to do what we cannot and become what we are not.

It is worth noting that elsewhere Lewis praises George MacDonald for being that very rare writer who can portray goodness much better than evil.

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altThe Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien edited by Humphrey Carpenter (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1981)

It may seem as if I've copied the whole book, but is a lot of value in those 463 pages.  It's too long, perhaps, for anyone not a Tolkien fan, but it's a fascinating look not only into the life and mind of the creator of The Lord of the Rings, but into his times and society as well.

Herewith only a small sample.

Page 17

An American publisher showed interest in The Hobbit, adding that they would like more illustrations and suggesting the employment of good American artists. Tolkien was amenable but had one concern:

It might be advisable, rather than lose the American interest, to let the Americans do what seems good to them—as long as it was possible ... to veto anything from or influenced by the Disney studios (for all whose works I have a heartfelt loathing).

Page 46

At any minute it is what we are and are doing, not what we plan to be and do that counts.

Page 68

[C. S. ] Lewis is as energetic and jolly as ever, but getting too much publicity for his or any of our tastes. [One publication], usually fairly reasonable, did him the doubtful honour of a peculiarly misrepresentative and asinine paragraph.... It began "Ascetic Mr. Lewis"—!!! I ask you! He put away three pints in a very short session we had this morning, and said he was "going short for Lent." I suppose all the stuff you see in print is about as accurate about Tom, Dick, or Harry. It is a pity newspapers can't leave people alone, and don't make some effort to understand what they say (if it is worth it): at any rate they might have some standards that would prevent them saying things about people which are quite untrue, even if not actually (as often) painful, angering, or indeed injurious....

Pages 97-98

Both the sexual and the sacred [curse] words have ceased to have any content except the ghost of past emotion. I don't mean that it is not a bad thing, and it is certainly very wearisome, saddening and maddening, but it is at any rate no blasphemy in the full sense.

Page 98

I include the following fan letter excerpt simply for the name of the school, which will have meaning to our family.

Dear Mr Tolkien, I have just finished reading your book The Hobbit for the 11th time and I want to tell you what I think of it. I think it is the most wonderful book I have ever read. It is beyond description ... Gee Whiz, I'm surprised that it's not more popular ... If you have written any other books, would you please send me their names?

John Barrow 12 yrs.
West town School, West town, Pa.

Page 111

Jive and Boogie-Woogie [are] essentially vulgar, music corrupted by the mechanism, echoing in dreary unnourished heads.

The appalling destruction and misery of this war mount hourly: destruction of what should be (indeed is) the common wealth of Europe, and the world, if mankind were not so besotted, wealth the loss of which will affect us all, victors or not. ... There seem no bowels of mercy or compassion, no imagination, left in this dark diabolic hour. By which I do not mean that it may not all, in the present situation ... be necessary and inevitable. But why gloat! We were supposed to have reached a stage of civilization in which it might still be necessary to execute a criminal, but not to gloat, or to hang his wife and child by him while the orc-crowd hooted. The destruction of Germany, be it 100 times merited, is one of the most appalling, world-catastrophes.

Pages 122-123 (from a letter to his publisher)

The thing is to finish the thing as devised and then let it be judged. But forgive me! It is written in my life-blood, such as that is, thick or thin; and I can no other. I fear it must stand or fall as it substantially is. It would be idle to pretend that I do not greatly desire publication, since a solitary art is no art; nor that I have not a pleasure in praise, with as little vanity as fallen man can manage (he has not much more share in his writings than in his children of the body, but it is something to have a function); yet the chief thing is to complete one's work, as far as completion has any real sense.

Page 128

I write only because I find it easier to say such things as I really want to say. If they are foolish or seem so, I am not present when they fall flat.

Page 131

This university business of earning one's living by teaching, delivering philological lectures, and daily attendance at "boards" and other talk-meetings, interferes sadly with serious work.

Page 218

My work did not "evolve" into serious work. It started like that. [The Hobbit] was a fragment, torn out of an already existing mythology. In so far as it was dressed up as "for children," in style or manner, I regret it. So do the children.

I avoid hobbies because I am a very serious person and cannot distinguish between private amusement and duty.

I am affable, but unsociable.

Page 220

I am (obviously) much in love with plants and above all trees, and always have been; and I find human maltreatment of them as hard to bear as some find ill-treatment of animals.

Page 249

I find that many children become interested, even engrossed, in The Lord of the Rings, from about 10 onwards. I think it rather a pity, really. It was not written for them. But then I am a very "unvoracious" reader, and since I can seldom bring myself to read a work twice I think of the many things that I read—too soon! Nothing, not even a (possible) deeper appreciation, for me replaces the bloom on a book, the freshness of the unread.

Page 257

[The completion of The Lord of the Rings] still astonishes me. A notorious beginner of enterprises and non-finisher, partly through lack of time, partly through lack of single-minded concentration, I still wonder how and why I managed to peg away at this thing year after year, often under real difficulties, and bring it to a conclusion.

Pages 266-267

In 1958, Tolkien and his publisher were considering a film proposal that eventually fell through.

[The story line document] is sufficient to give me grave anxiety about the actual dialogue that (I suppose) will be used. I should say [Morton Grady] Zimmerman, the constructor of this s-l, is quite incapable of excerpting, or adapting the "spoken words" of the book. He is hasty, insensitive, and impertinent.

He does not read books. It seems to me evident that he has skimmed through the L.R. at a great pace, and then constructed his s.l. from partly confused memories, and with the minimum of references back to the original. Thus he gets most of the names wrong in form—not occasionally by casual error but fixedly (always Borimor for Boromir); or he misapplies them: Radagast becomes an Eagle. The introduction of characters and the indications of what they are to say have little or no reference to the book....

I feel very unhappy about the extreme silliness and incompetence of Z and his complete lack of respect for the original (it seems wilfully wrong without discernible technical reasons at nearly every point). But I need, and shall soon need very much indeed, money, and I am conscious of your rights and interests; so that I shall endeavour to restrain myself, and avoid all avoidable offence.

Page 271

In another letter, Tolkien sets out in detail some of his objections.  I fear he would also apply the following judgment (as well as many others that I won't take the space to quote here), to Peter Jackson's version, had he had the chance to see the film that is now nearly synonymous with his book.

He has cut the parts of the story upon which its characteristic and peculiar tone principally depends, showing a preference for fights; and he has made no serious attempt to represent the heart of the tale....

Page 297

When I published The Hobbit—hurriedly and without due consideration—I was still influenced by the convention that "fairy-stories" are naturally directed to children (with or without the silly added waggery "from seven to seventy"). And I had children of my own. But the desire to address children, as such, had nothing to do with the story as such in itself or the urge to write it. But it had some unfortunate effects on the mode of expression and narrative method, which if I had not been rushed, I should have corrected. Intelligent children of good taste (of which there seem quite a number) have always, I am glad to say, singled out the points in manner where the address is to children as blemishes.

Page 310

Children are not a class or kind, they are a heterogeneous collection of immature persons, varying, as persons do, in their reach, and in their ability to extend it when stimulated. As soon as you limit your vocabulary to what you suppose to be within their reach, you in fact simply cut off the gifted ones from the chance of extending it.

Page 321

There was a great tree—a huge poplar with vast limbs—visible through my window even as I lay in bed. I loved it, and was anxious about it. It had been savagely mutilated some years before, but had gallantly grown new limbs—though of course not with the unblemished grace of its former natural self; and now a foolish neighbour was agitating to have it felled. Every tree has its enemy, few have an advocate.

Page 323

Well here comes Christmas! That astonishing thing that no "commercialism" can in fact defile—unless you let it.

Page 336

Years before I had rejected as disgusting cynicism by an old vulgarian the words of warning given me by old Joseph Write. "What do you take Oxford for, lad?" "A university, a place of learning." "Nay, lad, it's a factory! And what's it making? I'll tell you. It's making fees. Get that into your head, and you'll begin to understand what goes on."

Alas! by 1935 I new knew that it was perfectly true.

Page 394

The "protestant" search backwards for "simplicity" and directness—which, of course, though it contains some good or at least intelligible motives, is mistaken and indeed vain. Because "primitive Christianity" is now and in spite of all "research" will ever remain largely unknown; because "primitiveness" is no guarantee of value, and is and was in great part a reflection of ignorance. Grave abuses were as much an element in Christian "liturgical" behaviour from the beginning as now. (St. Paul's strictures on eucharistic behaviour are sufficient to show this!) Still more because "my church" was not intended by Our Lord to be static or remain in perpetual childhood; but to be a living organism (likened to a plant), which develops and changes in externals by the interaction of its bequeathed divine life and history—the particular circumstances of the world into which it is set. There is no resemblance between the "mustard seed" and the full-grown tree. For those living in the days of its branching growth the Tree is the thing, for the history of a living thing is part of its life, and the history of a divine thing is sacred. The wise may know that it began with a seed, but it is vain to try and dig it up, for it no longer exists, and the virtue and powers that it had now reside in the Tree.

Page 396

I have only since I retired learned that I was a successful professor. I had no idea that my lectures had such an effect—and, if I had, they might have been better. My "friends" among dons were chiefly pleased to tell me that I spoke too fast and might have been interesting if I could be heard. True often: due in part to having too much to say in too little time, in larger part to diffidence, which such comments increased.

Pages 401-402 (written in November 1969)

What a dreadful, fear-darkened, sorrow-laden world we live in—especially for those who have also the burden of age, whose friends and all they especially care for are afflicted in the same way. Chesterton once said that it is our duty to keep the Flag of This World flying: but it takes now a sturdier and more sublime patriotism than it did then. Gandalf added that it is not for us to choose the times into which we are born, but to do what we could to repair them; but the spirit of wickedness in high places is now so powerful and so many-headed in its incarnations that there seems nothing more to do than personally to refuse to worship any of the hydras' heads.

Page 403

I am wholly in favour of the "dull stodges." I had once a considerable experience of what are/were probably England's most (at least apparently) dullest and stodgiest students: Yorkshire's young men and women of sub-public school class and home backgrounds bookless and cultureless. ... A surprisingly large proportion prove "educable": for which a primary qualification is the willingness to do some work (to learn) (at any level of intelligence). Teaching is a most exhausting task. But I would rather spend myself on removing the "dull" from "stodges"—providing some products of [B to B+] quality that retain some sanity—a hopeful soil from which another generation with some higher intelligence could arise. Rather—rather than waste effort on those of (apparently at any rate) higher intelligence that have been corrupted and disintegrated by school, and the "climate" of our present days. Teaching an organized subject is simply not the instrument for their rehabilitation—if anything is.

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, February 19, 2019 at 5:48 am | Edit
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altThe Weight of Glory and Other Addresses by C. S. Lewis (Macmillan Books, 1980; talks originally given from the 1930s through the 1950s)

Once again, this is not a review—though I highly recommend the book—but a collection to replace the sticky notes I had affixed to this book as I re-read it recently. With some comments. The emphasis is my own.

 

From "Learning in Wartime"

A cultural life will exist outside the Church whether it exists inside or not. To be ignorant and simple now—not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground—would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren.... Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered. The cool intellect must work not only against cool intellect on the other side, but against the muddy heathen mysticisms which deny intellect altogether. Most of all, perhaps, we need intimate knowledge of the past. Not that the past has any magic about it, but because we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the present, to remind us that the basic assumptions have been quite different in different periods and that much which seems certain to the uneducated is merely temporary fashion. A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village; the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age.

There are always plenty of rivals to our work. We are always falling in love or quarrelling, looking for jobs or fearing to lose them, getting ill and recovering, following public affairs. If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work. The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that the seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable. Favourable conditions never come.

From "Why I Am Not a Pacifist"

Why I am not a fan of the movement to "not impose our moral and religious values on our children, but leave them free to make up their own minds."

Human beings must be trained in obedience to the moral intuitions almost before they have them, and years before they are rational enough to discuss them, or they will be corrupted before the time for discussion arrives.

We have seen that every moral judgment involves facts, intuition, and reasoning, and, if we are wise enough to be humble, it will involve some regard for authority as well. Its strength depends on the strength of these four factors. Thus if I find that the facts on which I am working are clear and little disputed, that the basic intuition is unmistakably an intuition, that the reasoning which connects this intuition with the particular judgment is strong, and that I am in agreement or (at worst) not in disagreement with authority, then I can trust my moral judgment with reasonable confidence. And if, in addition, I find little reason to suppose that any passion has secretly swayed my mind, this confidence is confirmed. If, on the other hand, I find the facts doubtful, the supposed intuition by no means obvious to all good men, the reasoning weak, and authority against me, then I ought to conclude that I am probably wrong. And if the conclusion which I have reached turns out also to flatter some strong passion of my own, then my suspicion should deepen into moral certainty. By "moral certainty" I mean that degree of certainty proper to moral decisions; for mathematical certainty is not here to be looked for.

It may be asked whether, faint as the hope is of abolishing war by Pacifism, there is any other hope. But the question belongs to a mode of thought which I find quite alien to me. It consists in assuming that the great permanent miseries in human life must be curable if only we can find the right cure; and it then proceeds by elimination and concludes that whtever is left, however unlikely to prove a cure, must nevertheless do so. Hence the fanaticism of Marxists, Freudians, Eugenists, Spiritualists, Douglasites, Federal Unionists, Vegetarians, and all the rest. But I have received no assurance that anything we can do will eradicate suffering. I think the best results are obtained by people who work quietly away at limited objectives, such as the abolition of the slave trade, or prison reform, or factory acts, or tuberculosis, not by those who think they can achieve universal justice, or health, or peace. I think the art of life consists in tackling each immediate evil as well as we can. To avert or postpone one particular war by wise policy, or to render one particular campaign shorter by strength and skill or less terrible by mercy to the conquered and the civilians is more useful than all the proposals for universal peace that have ever been made, just as the dentist who can stop one toothache has deserved better of humanity than all the men who think they have some scheme for producing a perfectly healthy race.

From "Is Theology Poetry"

We should distinguish Evolution in the strict [biological] sense from what may be called the universal evolutionism of modern thought. By universal evolutionism I mean the belief that the very formula of universal process is from imperfect to perfect, from small beginnings to great endings, from the rudimentary to the elaborate, the belief which makes people find it natural to think that morality springs from savage taboos, adult sentiment from infantile sexual maladjustments, thought from instinct, mind from matter, organic from inorganic, cosmos from chaos. This is perhaps the deepest habit of mind in the contemporary world. It seems to me immensely unplausible, because it makes the general course of nature so very unlike those parts of nature we can observe. You remember the old puzzle as to whether the owl came from the egg or the egg from the owl. The modern acquiescence in universal evolutionism is a kind of optical illusion, produced by attending exclusively to the owl's emergence from the egg. We are taught from childhood to notice how the perfect oak grows from the acorn and to forget that the acorn itself was dropped by a perfect oak. We are reminded constantly that the adult human being was an embryo, never that the life of the embryo came from two adult human beings. 

From "Membership"

This lecture was given in 1945. Read the next paragraph and try to imagine what Lewis might think nearly 75 years later.

When I first went to Oxford the typical undergraduate society consisted of a dozen men, who knew one another intimately, hearing a paper by one of their own number in a small sitting-room and hammering out their problem till one or two in the morning. Before [World War II] the typical undergraduate society had come to be a mixed audience of one or two hundred students assembled in a public hall to hear a lecture from some visiting celebrity. Even on those rare occasions when a modern undergraduate is not attending some such society he is seldom engaged in those solitary walks, or walks with a single companion, which built the minds of the previous generations. He lives in a crowd; caucus has replaced friendship. And this tendency not only exists both within and without the university, but is often approved. There is a crowd of busybodies, self-appointed masters of ceremonies, whose life is devoted to destroying solitude wherever solitude still exists. ... If an Augustine, a Vaughan, a Traherne, or a Wordsworth should be born in the modern world, the leaders of a youth organization would soon cure him. If a really good home, such as the home of Alcinous and Arete in the Odyssey or the Rostovs in War and Peace or any of Charlotte M. Young's families, existed today, it would be denounced as bourgeois and every engine of destruction would be levelled against it. And even where the planners fail and someone is left physically by himself, the wireless has seen to it that he will be ... never less alone than when alone. We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and privacy, and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.

I have wanted to try to expel that quite un-Christian worship of the human individual simply as such which is so rampant in modern thought side by side with our collectivism, for one error begets the opposite error and, far from neutralising, they aggravate each other. I mean the pestilent notion ... that each of us starts with a treasure called "personality" locked up inside him, and that to expand and express this, to guard it from interference, to be "original," is the main end of life. This is Pelagian, or worse, and it defeats even itself. No man who values originality will ever be original. But try to tell the truth as you see it, try to do any bit of work as well as it can be done for the work's sake, and what we call originality will come unsought.

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Here are four poems that struck me in particular from a book of C. S. Lewis' collected poems.

 

Irresponsible actions have consequences.

Pan’s Purge

I dreamt that all the planning of peremptory humanity 
Had crushed Nature finally beneath the foot of Man; 
Birth-control and merriment, Earth completely sterilized, 
Bungalow and fun-fair, had fulfilled our Plan; 
But the lion and the unicorn were sighing at the funeral, 
Crying at the funeral 
Sobbing at the funeral of the god Pan.

And the elephant was crying. The pelican in his piety 
Struck his feathered bosom till the blood ran, 
And howling at humanity the owl and iguanodon, 
The bittern and the buffalo, their dirge began, 
But dangerously, suddenly, a strange ecstatic shuddering 
A change that set me shuddering 
Through all the wailful noises of the beasts ran.

No longer were they sorrowful, but stronger and more horrible, 
It had only been a rumour of the death of Pan. 
The scorpions and the mantichores and corpulent tarantulas 
Were closing in around me, hissing, Long Live Pan! 
And forth with rage unlimited the North Wind drew his scimitar 
In wrath with ringing scimitar 
He came, with sleet and shipwreck, for the doom of Man.

And now, descending, ravening, loud and large, the avalanche, 
And after it the earthquake, was loosed upon Man.
Towering and cloven-hoofed, the power of Pan came over us, 
Stamped, bit, tore, broke. It was the end of Man; 
Except where saints and savages were kept from his ravaging, 
And crept out when the ravaging 
Was ended, on an empty earth. The new world began.

A small race — a smiling heaven — all round the silences 
Returned; there was comfort for corrected Man. 
Flowered turf had swallowed up the towered cities; following 
His flocks and herds where nameless, untainted rivers ran, 
Leisurely he pondered, at his pleasure wandering, 
Measurelessly wandering... 
Clear, on the huge pastures, the young voice of Man.

 

Shades of the Irish Rovers!

The Late Passenger

The sky was low, the sounding rain was falling dense and dark,
And Noah’s sons were standing at the window of the Ark.

The beasts were in, but Japhet said, “I see one creature more
Belated and unmated there comes knocking at the door.”

“Well, let him knock or let him drown,” said Ham, “or learn to swim.
We’re overcrowded as it is; we’ve got no room for him.”

“And yet it knocks, how terribly it knocks,” said Shem. “Its feet
Are hard as horn—but oh the air that comes from it is sweet.”

“Now hush!” said Ham, “You’ll waken Dad, and once he comes to see
What’s at the door, it’s sure to mean more work for you and me.”

Noah’s voice came roaring from the darkness down below,
“Some animal is knocking. Let it in before we go.”

Ham shouted back, and savagely he nudged the other two,
“That’s only Japhet knocking down a brad-nail in his shoe.”

Said Noah, “Boys, I hear a noise that’s like a horse’s hoof.”
Said Ham, “Why, that’s the dreadful rain that drums upon the roof.”

Noah tumbled up on deck and out he put his head;
His face went grey, his knees were loosed, he tore his beard and said,

“Look, look! It would not wait. It turns away. It takes its flight.
Fine work you’ve made of it, my sons, between you all to-night!

"Even if I could outrun it now, it would not turn again
—Not now. Our great discourtesy has earned its high disdain.

"Oh noble and unmated beast, my sons were all unkind;
In such a night what stable and what manger will you find?

"Oh golden hoofs, oh cataracts of mane, oh nostrils wide
With indignation! Oh the neck wave-arched, the lovely pride!

"Oh long shall be the furrows ploughed upon the hearts of men
Before it comes to stable and to manger once again,

"And dark and crooked all the roads in which our race will walk,
And shrivelled all their manhood like a flower with broken stalk,

"And all the world, oh Ham, may curse the hour when you were born;
Because of you the Ark must sail without the Unicorn.”

 

It's presented as a poem, but to anyone familiar with the hymn, "Lead Us, Heavenly Father, Lead Us" it's a song that sings itself.

Evolutionary Hymn

Lead us, Evolution, lead us
Up the future's endless stair;
Chop us, change us, prod us, weed us.
For stagnation is despair:
Groping, guessing, yet progressing,
Lead us nobody knows where.

Wrong or justice, in the present,
Joy or sorrow, what are they
While there's always jam-tomorrow,
While we tread the onward way?
Never knowing where we're going,
We can never go astray.

To whatever variation
Our posterity may turn
Hairy, squashy, or crustacean,
Bulbous-eyed or square of stern,
Tusked or toothless, mild or ruthless,
Towards that unknown god we yearn.

Ask not if it's god or devil,
Brethren, lest your words imply
Static norms of good and evil
(As in Plato) throned on high;
Such scholastic, inelastic,
Abstract yardsticks we deny.

Far too long have sages vainly
Glossed great Nature's simple text;
He who runs can read it plainly,
"Goodness = what comes next."
By evolving, Life is solving
All the questions we perplexed.

On then! Value means survival-
Value. If our progeny
Spreads and spawns and licks each rival,
That will prove its deity
(Far from pleasant, by our present
Standards, though it may well be).

 

And finally,

The Apologist's Evening Prayer

From all my lame defeats and oh! much more
From all the victories that I seemed to score;
From cleverness shot forth on Thy behalf
At which, while angels weep, the audience laugh;
From all my proofs of Thy divinity,
Thou, who wouldst give no sign, deliver me.

Thoughts are but coins. Let me not trust, instead
Of Thee, their thin-worn image of Thy head.
From all my thoughts, even from my thoughts of Thee,
O thou fair Silence, fall, and set me free.
Lord of the narrow gate and the needle’s eye,
Take from me all my trumpery lest I die.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, February 1, 2019 at 9:07 am | Edit
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altGo Wild: Free Your Body and Mind from the Afflictions of Civilization by John J. Ratey and Richard manning (Little, Brown and Company, 2014)

I've neither the time nor the inclination for a full review of Go Wild, which I borrowed from the library while waiting for them to acquire Spark, another book by John Ratey, which was highly recommended by a friend. Fortunately, the friend said about Go Wild that she found it good but not worth paying for, so I'm still looking forward to Spark. I found Go Wild too annoying to call "good," but I am glad I read it, as there's a reasonable amount of inspiring information in it.

To begin with, the author pushes several wrong buttons for me, from the trivial to the overwhelming. As an example of the former, there's this (emphasis mine):

Even the child's song knows that the leg bone is connected to the thigh bone; we mean to press this idea a lot further to provide some appreciation of the enormous complexity and interconnectedness of the various elements of human life.

I'm sure he's referring to the spiritual, Dem Bones, which is not a child's song, even if it might end up in a collection of songs intended for children. And I know there are different versions, as there always are with songs of the people, but all the versions I've found acknowledge that the thigh bone is connected to the knee and the hip, not the "leg bone" (or "shin bone" as I know it). Yes, it's trivial—but to me it points to carelessness on the part of the author, which doesn't increase my confidence in what he says. (Or maybe I should blame his proofreaders.) There are other occasions where I get the same feeling.

Then there's this, which to me undercuts all his arguments: I'm fine with evolution as a scientific theory of origins and change. I'd go so far as to say it does an excellent job of explaining much of the available data. But I am not okay with evolution personified and deified, which is what happens in this book. All over, everywhere: "Evolution endowed," "evolution created," "evolution designed." Not only is evolution the basis for all the book's arguments, but the language makes evolution seem like a living, sentient, personal entity—though not, the authors are careful to point out, a loving one.

I was late in coming to the appreciation of religion, but I've always loved science. The religion of science horrifies me, however, and with that this book abounds. Add to that a significant dose of Eastern spirituality, and the feeling that the authors have been, perhaps, a little too selective in the studies they choose to believe—well, I wasn't too happy with the book.

It's also hard to take too seriously someone who—although he loves the outdoors and runs ultramarathons, will also drive 45 minutes to find a gym in the middle of nowhere.

That said, it's almost amazing that I found much of value here, but I did.

The authors cover a lot of ground. Here's a brief summary, although it doesn't come close to doing the ideas justice.

Overall

  • Do what works for you. There is no one-size-fits-all. Take the first step in any of the areas they recommend changing, and you will find yourself gradually taking on more and more.

Food

  • Don't eat sugar in any form.
  • Eat no wheat, rice, oats, or any other grain, not even in whole-grain form. No high-carb vegetables like sweet potatoes. No manufactured fats, no processed food, no fast food.
  • Eat eggs, grass-finished beef, cold-water fish, nuts, simple fresh fruits and vegetables—but no fruit juices.
  • Variety is important—as long as you avoid the long list of don'ts.

Movement

  • Find a form of exercise you like, and do it.
  • Exercise that invovles a variety of movements, the whole body, and lots of variation is best.
  • Exercise is better out in nature.
  • Exercise is better with other people.

Sleep

  • Get more sleep. If you live in 21st century America, it's guaranteed you're not getting enough sleep.
  • Sleeping in the same room with the rest of your family is more healthful. (And we thought better sleep at the Maggie P. was due to the salt air.)
  • Don't make your babies sleep alone.
  • Soothing sounds, such as a crackling fire, or trusted adults moving around and talking quietly, lead to more satisfying sleep.
  • Sleep doesn't have to happen all at once. Naps are fine. If you find yourself lying awake in the middle of the night, don't fight it, but get up and do something. Go back to bed later.

Awareness

  • The authors clearly admire Eastern spirituality, and thus promote the practice of meditation. But what they are trying to replicate is the relaxed hyper-awareness common among hunter-gatherer peoples, an ability to calm the brain of distractions while being alert—even more alert than otherwise. This turns out to be good for both brain and body health.

Nature

  • Being out in nature is enormously healthful. Even an indoor potted plant helps.

People

  • We need other people. We need our own "tribe."
  • I wish he had dealt with the differences between introverts and extroverts in this section. We all need people, but they way we need each other is very different for the different personality types, and the authors appear to consider only the extrovert point of view.

As usual, this started out as the place to record a few interesting quotations, and ended up being a long review after all, though my summary did peter out at the end. There's a lot to think about here. I steadfastly reject the authors' extremes: for example, when it comes to food I am an omnivore by inclination but even more by principle, and I would no more adopt this no-carb regimen than I would go vegetarian. At the same time, it's good to eat a lot of vegetables, and it's also good to reduce our intake of carbohydrates, at least of the empty variety. I won't become a marathon runner, much less tackle an ultramarathon—but the book's thesis on the importance of movement is not only convincing, but provides inspiration to do things I've known for a long time that I should be doing.

Here are the random quotes:

Cows evolved to eat grass, but mostly we no longer feed them grass; we feed them the corn and soybeans that are the prime products of our industrial agriculture system. The practice of fattening beef in feedlots and the preponderance of factory beef in the fast-food system passes this omega-3 shortage into our bodies. ... [T]his is also why eating red meat itself has gotten a bad rap, with endless strings of studies linking it to heart disease and a variety of other issues. The beef that is the basis of these conclusions is factory beef, and no wonder.

Although I agree with the authors' complaint that the studies were made with the wrong kind of beef, they provide no evidence that beef from grass-fed cows does not have the same bad effects. I suspect that to be the case, but a citation of some evidence would have been nice.

[W]e begin to understand why social sleeping seems to be a nearly universal characteristic of cultures.... While we are sleeping, we continue to monitor our surroundings for cues of safety: relaxed conversation, relaxed movement of others, popping fire. Those cues, subtle sounds signaling safely, tell us we can retreat to our deepest sleep.

Many cultures are, in fact, conscious of all of this and the importance of these arrangements, and no place is the importance more pronounced than in the case of infants. ... All of this helps explain ... an almost universal perplexed response among most other cultures upon hearing of the Western practice of making babies sleep alone. "They think of this as child abuse. They literally do."

A very recent paper correlates an increase in the incidence of autism with receiving Pitocin during delivery. [Neurobiologist Sue Carter] says that Pitocin is routinely administered to delivering mothers in, she estimates, 90 percent of cases, although there are some signs that this practice is waning.

Why does aggression persist beyond reasons for it? Why are we so riven with senseless killing and warfare?

I picked up on that last one just because it highlights the central problem for people who have no sense of the reality of sin, only of its consequences.

The vagus nerve links up all the tools we need to respond to an existential threat, and so the vagal brake is a signal sent through the system for everything to stand down and engage—at ease. ... There is a simple measure of this. It can be read in the tension or lack of tension in facial muscles, heard in voice timbre and edge, and counted in rate of respiration. ... There is such a thing as vagal tone, completely analogous to muscle tone—and the tone shows how clear and distinct a given individual's ability to apply the brake is.

The vagal brake can be driven by breath, a clear connection readable as blips on a chart. You are in control of your breath, to some degree. Thus, this is not simply a point for measuring or sensing arousal; it is a point for controlling arousal and, downstream, the health problems that stem from lack of control.

If you force yourself to smile, the specific spots in the brain that register depression suddenly say your depression is better. ... It turns out that a halfway, forced smile won't do the trick, because it won't light up the neurons of increased happiness in your brain. But if that forced smile goes so far as to engage the little muscles in the corners of your eyes—that is, if you do what socially adept people understand instinctively—these neurons do indeed light up. And the muscles at the corners of your eyes are within the reach of the vagus nerve.

[The breath] exerts control through the alarm system that is the autonomic nervous system. [Researcher Stephen Porges] says he realized a long time ago—because he is a musician, specifically a horn player—that the act of controlling the breath to control the rhythm of music and at the same time engaging the brain to execute the mechanics of music works like a mental therapy. To his mind, it has all the elements of pranayama yoga, a form of yoga that stresses breath control.

The act of controlling the breath has a parallel brain response of calming our instincts for fear and danger. It's easy enough to see this in deliberate practices like yoga, but the same idea applies in many more time-honored practices: choral singing, Gregorian chants, even social music like bluegrass or blues derived from the chants and work songs that African slaves developed to help them tolerate oppression.

Music or evidence of music appeared fifty thousand years ago in that sudden flourish of evidence of cultural evolution that defined humans as humans—and ever since, music has loomed as a cultural universal. All known cultures and people make music. Yet all of this also suggests that we lose something when the crane's leg bone gets replaced by an iPod. We lose the benefits of sitting in a circle of fellow humans and driving the breath and beat that drives the music. [Emphasis mine]

As my friend said, Go Wild is worth reading—but not worth buying. If what I can only describe as bizarre spirituality—bizarre for a book that claims to be scientific—doesn't bother you, and if you can overlook the extremities, which are at their worst in the section on food, there are a number of interesting and worthwhile points.

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, January 16, 2019 at 7:40 am | Edit
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