Book Review: C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength – The Real of Religion

that-hideous-strengthThat Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis opens with a grumbling wife and goes onto weave in realities of marriage, science, the supernatural, morality, magic, politics, violence and animals, all under the auspices of exploring, through story, what a well-lived life looks like. The answer it settles on is surprisingly warm and domestic.

This was the first of the Space Trilogy (which began with Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra), which grabbed me from the beginning and pulled me right through the pages; it is far more character-driven and less allegorical than the others, while equally thoughtful. It is one of those life books that encompasses so many experiences, states in life and realities that it is grand and revelatory such that every page seems to reveal more to me of own soul. Another book I have read like this was The Once and Future King by T.H. White, which was my book of the year for 2015. I loved it so much I couldn’t decide what to write about it, so I never wrote anything, a tragedy.

Anyway, the themes addressed in That Hideous Strength were manifold, though very pointed and specific, such that I wouldn’t be surprised if many readers did not connect with this book because it does feel located in a very concrete time and place, with very precise philosophical concerns–those of C.S. Lewis–a small university in a quiet, English town and the rising onslaught of scientific materialism. While I find the academic setting relatable and generalizable, not all readers might agree.

Here is a short list of themes worth noting; their breadth is the pleasure of the novel: Continue reading

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Objections Series: Killing in the Old Testament: How Can It Be Just?

[This post appeared originally in my series on The Truth and Charity Forum]

One of the most troubling objections made to the Faith is regarding the instances in the Old Testament when God commands the killing of human beings who have committed no obvious wrong. There is the commandment that Abraham kill his son Isaac, though God ultimately rescues the young man (Gen. 22). There are also the commands to slaughter entire groups. In 1 Samuel, God commands King Saul as follows:

‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’” (1 Samuel 15:2-3).

abraham_sacrificing_isaacAdmittedly, this is one of the most difficult aspects of the Faith because it stems from a very natural proclivity towards valuing human life. And it bears mentioning that this is a secondary or even tertiary consideration after the question of the existence of God in general and the meaning of Scripture have been broached. To understand the Christian answer, both prior aspects are required. We believe in a loving God who is the source of all goodness and truth, even of all life and existence itself. The Catechism, drawing on the Old Testament and New, says:

“God, ‘HE WHO IS’, revealed himself to Israel as the one ‘abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness’. These two terms express summarily the riches of the divine name. In all his works God displays, not only his kindness, goodness, grace and steadfast love, but also his trustworthiness, constancy, faithfulness and truth. ‘I give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness.’ He is the Truth, for ‘God is light and in him there is no darkness’; ‘God is love’, as the apostle John teaches (1 John 1:5, 4:8).” (CCC 214)

Theologically, the answer to the question about the supposed murders lies in the application of natural law, “If murder is always wrong, how can God command it?” Natural law is man’s guide to goodness through reason, which St. Thomas Aquinas says is “promulgated by the very fact that God instilled it into man’s mind” (ST I-II, 90, 4). By it, we know that killing innocents is wrong; this is also the fifth of the ten commandments.

However, the Natural Law has both primary and secondary precepts, the latter of which God can rescind according to specific circumstances, the former of which He cannot as it would create a contradiction in His unity (Summa I-II, 94, 5). As God is the source of the bindingness of laws, it belongs to Him to make these laws valid. In the case of killing innocents, killing is forbidden because God both creates and destroys all human life; it does not belong to man to take this upon himself. Because God is the true author of life, He can delegate that authority, to beyond that.

Continue reading

A Reflection on the Connecticut School Shooting

I haven’t blogged in a while. It’s because I had a baby back in August. And once the not-writing starts, it’s hard to stop.

But today’s terrible, inexplicable tragedy broke through. I remember the Batman shooting this summer; but this time, I am a parent and the victims are the beautiful, innocent bundles-of-joy of other mothers, just like me.

I cried for them today. For the little ones; for the mothers; for the fathers; for all the family, friends and teachers. Each one of lost held infinite value, as all lives do, as my son’s life does.

I cuddled him close and gazed gratefully into his gleaming gray eyes. And bless his three-month-old-heart, he just grinned back at me. He doesn’t know about evil yet or suffering. He has known nothing but love and gentle care. That is what every child deserves. Not death at the hands of a madman. Today we remember the truth that every moment with our moms, brothers, friends and daughters is a blessing.

Why did this happen? We feel compelled to ask this question as though the answer could make it all better. But it won’t.

There is no answer because there is nothing reasonable about murdering children.

And why have there been so many shootings this year? This is America; this is where men and women flee to escape violence in other parts of the world; this is the “land of opportunity.” We live on Main Street. This isn’t where citizens fear attending school.

I deeply believe that evil has no explanation. It is simply the negation of a good. Evil attacks good to pull it down and destroy it.

Nonetheless, I will hazard my best attempt at understanding these painful events. It’s not lack of harsh gun control laws that cause these attacks. Gun laws are an appealing, simple solution. But weapons are tools. Access to rifles did not lead a man to open fire in a classroom.

Why did a human being choose to end the lives of his young neighbors? Why did the Colorado gunman kill folks attending Batman? Why did another man shoot Congresswoman Giffords?

At one level, these attackers suffer deeply from mental and emotional trauma and irrational thoughts. I don’t say that by way of excuse, but just as a statement of how injured a mind and spirit they must have in order to commit these atrocities.

On another level, we as a society, as a community of neighbors are letting each other down. It’s so easy to live comfortably in general anonymity. I know I do. The social safety net of families and communities has been gradually ebbing away and along with it the cultivation of virtue and accountability. We stay out of other people’s business, “as long as it’s not hurting anyone.” But sadly, as we have seen far too often this year, eventually, it does hurt someone.

What if we really reached out to our neighbors? What if we offered ourselves when a friend or friend’s child was in need—before they asked for help?

I certainly don’t have a lot of answers, but I think we nowadays don’t see other people as relevant to us unless they are a friend or family member. What if we did?

God does. Jesus taught us to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. How pitifully short we fall. How pitifully short I fall. God, who watched his own son die from the malice of ruthless men, is with us. He is with the mourning families and He is with the departed children in Heaven.

He weeps for our sins, for our fallenness, for the way we hurt one another. Through Jesus, he has taught us another way, and He yearns for us to follow it.

Explaining the Batman Massacre: It’s not “violence in the media”

[Note: I apologize for the long gap in posts. It’s been a hectic month and I’ll be striving to avoid such sizable gaps from now on.]

I want to say that I think the new Batman movie was really good.

However, I’ve noticed a lot of reviews and comments slamming the “gratuitous violence” of the film. And I think that the focus is hyper-sensitive about that because of the Colorado massacre, which—don’t get me wrong—was horrible, nonsensical and tragic.

However, is violence in media really the cause? I don’t think so. [The shooting in Batman isn’t really any worse than other movies.] I don’t think there would be fewer of these terrible shootings if the only thing on TV was My-Little-Pony and classical music. We so often want to have something to blame, something that explains these horrible occurrences, but there isn’t. The disappointing answer is the evil is always senseless and unjustifiable. It always violates the Natural Law, which is how the reasonable human being understands he is supposed to act in order to live well.

Human beings have free will, and we choose what we do regardless of the temptations and influences that effect our environment.

Obviously, we want to make art (including film) that communicates meaning and builds up society. But that doesn’t mean we should stay away from difficult topics all the time. War is real. Evil is real. Good is real too. And good must stand against evil.

It’s not about gun control either. This young man had no criminal history or indication of violence. Access to guns is just another red herring. The real problem is that someone chose to do a horrible thing and that no precautions can prevent all such acts.

Of course, that doesn’t mean we throw guns in the street for anyone to pick up or that we don’t pay attention to messages in our art, but we have to remember that we can’t prevent people from making bad decisions simply through laws and regulations.

The only way that we can do that is to encourage and nourish well-developed consciences that endow us with senses of right and wrong. We can show love to our fellow human beings so that people don’t feel abandoned and hopeless if something goes wrong in their lives. That is the best we can do. And it won’t fix everything because we still live in a fallen world filled with fallen humanity. But it would help.