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

The Purpose of Money; Metaphysics determines morality

A bit more here from a recent article I read from America Magazine, “Metaphysics and Money

Charity is not simply about making things better on earth. It has an evangelical content. The renunciation of wealth helps the poor, to be sure, but it also reveals something about the shape of the world God has made and how we might flourish in it.

Are the poor short-changed in this view? I do not think so. For the deeper question to be asked is, what funds our thirst for social justice in the first place? Helping the poor was not a virtue in Greco-Roman culture, nor is it esteemed by many libertarians—a philosophy that is alarmingly popular among the young. The sociologist Christian Smith has argued that the concern for the poor that is so prominent in the West had its origins in biblical religion. This raises an alarming possibility: absent the church’s metaphysical claims about wealth, will such concerns continue? Perhaps the story of the rich young man provides the necessary condition for the possibility of social justice.

The issue here is not how I can achieve greatness but what kind of world God has made. Only when we have grasped what type of world we live in can we figure out a strategy for flourishing in it. The teaching is more metaphysical than moral.

When Gary Anderson, the writer, points out that the Bible’s teaching about money is more metaphysical than moral, I wish he added that those two things (metaphysics and morals) are much more related than we tend to acknowledge. Metaphysics is about the nature of reality, the world and how it works. Morality is about how to live well–in a good way, not just having stuff. Morality then depends on metaphysics because in order to live well in reality, we need to understand the nature of the reality in which we live. Ie- how to be a good fish will be very different from how to be a good bird as their physical worlds are very different, though both good.

Here we can see the philosophical disaster of ignoring or assuming metaphysics. For instance, if we assume philosophical materialism (as is so common today), any approach to morality is necessarily incoherent for in a world of mere atoms, what is there to give any meaning (such as goodness or badness) beyond that. I suppose we can cast some blame on David Hume who claimed that it is illogical to derive an “ought” from an “is.” Unfortunately, I think the opposite, following the tradition of Aquinas and Aristotle that “ought” comes precisely from the “is.”

Christian metaphysics holds that the world is both physical and spiritual, a view which I think is born out by our experience. We all experience the spiritual nature of reality very concretely through our free will. Will and intellect are the spiritual activities that we can perform because we have souls, not just atoms.

As the article’s quotes discuss above, Christian metaphysics makes concern for the poor intelligible. It is sad to me that this is so ignored in some pockets of society.

The purpose of money, from a Christian perspective, is not just to hoard or to purchase leisure goods, but to secure the necessary essentials of a good life for oneself and others. Money is a means, not an end. No amount of dollars in the bank bring happiness or lasting security. As the author notes, security is paradoxically only achieved in the detachment from money and the attachment to other humans that comes from giving the money away.

This is why having a bit more or less than someone else needn’t be cause for embarrassment or awkwardness. We are just two people living life; if we have basic needs met and can help others meet their needs, it’s just numbers in the computer.

Seeds of the Gospel: NYC’s Soda Ban – People know morality means discipling our desires

No longer available in “venti”

Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed ban on the selling of soda in sizes greater than 16 oz. has been pretty controversial and has been widely publicized on the internet. If you haven’t heard, here’s an article about it.

Before you think I’m endorsing it (based on the title) see my take at the bottom. But it’s interesting isn’t it? The goal is to help people live healthy lives by limiting the amount of damage they can do to themselves.

It makes sense, sort of. But the reason I listed it as a seed of the Gospel (or good news), is that classically, morality as been understood as the willful discipline of human desires that are disordered–that is, which don’t contribute to our overall well-being.

One obvious type of this is food. It’s pretty easy to desire a large pizza, soda, cheese fries, etc, etc when what we really need is veggies and lean protein. Of course there is also the flip side of being so focused on body-image that we don’t eat enough. Both inclinations have problems (hence they are disordered). It’s virtue that moderates between them.

So here’s part of what I think about the NYC soda ban, the mayor and people in general understand this concept of virtue-driven morality deep down inside. And they want desperately to live good, healthy (that is, moral) lives.

But the catch is Continue reading