Unfortunately, the mythic side of man is given short shriftnowadays. He can no longer create fables. As a result, a great deal escapes him; for it is important and salutary to speak alsoof incomprehensible things…
…We cannot visualize another world ruled by quite other laws,the reason being that we live in a specific world which has helped to shape our minds and establish our basic psychic conditions. We are strictly limited by our innate structure and therefore bound by our whole being and thinking to this world of ours. Mythic man, to be sure, demands a “going beyond all that” but scientific man cannot permit this. To the intellect, all my mythologizing is futile speculation. To the emotions, however, it is a healing and valid activity; it gives existence a glamour which we would not like to do without. Nor is there any good reason why we should.
Reason sets the boundaries far too narrowly for us, and wouldhave us accept only the known and that too with limitations and live in a known framework, just as if we were sure how far life actually extends. As a matter of fact, day after day we live far beyond the bounds of our consciousness; without our knowledge, the life of the unconscious is also going on within us. The more the critical reason dominates, the more impoverished life becomes; but the more of the unconscious, and the more of myth we are capable of making conscious, the more of life we integrate. Overvalued reason has this in common with political absolutism: under its dominion the individual is pauperized.
Carl Jung, from Memories, Dreams, Reflections; on the importance of myth
Myth, however, can conjure up other images forhim, helpful and enriching pictures of life in the land of the dead. If he believes in them, or greets them with some measure of credence, he is being just as right or just as wrong as some-one who does not believe in them. But while the man who despairs marches toward nothingness, the one who has placed his faith in the archetype follows the tracks of life and lives right into his death. Both, to be sure, remain in uncertainty, but the one lives against his instincts, the other with them.
So it looks like we are heading home. Back to Winnipeg appears to be where it is at. We will be home by the summer. There is all kinds of sad and happy wrapped up in this decision, but right now the sad and the happy are mostly being displaced by the busy. And learning French, because they tell me that it is much easier to find jobs in education back home if I speak it. So je dois essayer d’apprendre le français plus vite!
Lewis, on why it only makes sense that there be many ancient myths that sound similar to the Christian story
From God in the Dock
"To me, who first approached Christianity from a delighted interest in, and reverence for, the best pagan imagination, who loved Balder before Christ and Plato before St. Augustine, the anthropological argument against Christianity has never been formidable. On the contrary, I could not believe Christianity if I were forced to say that there were a thousand religions in the world of which 999 were pure nonsense and the thousandth (fortunately) true. My conversion, very largely, depended on recognizing Christianity as the completion, the actualization, the entelechy, of something that had never been wholly absent from the mind of man. (p. 132)"
"The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens — at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences. We pass from a Balder or an Osiris, dying nobody knows when or where, to a historical Person crucified (it is all in order) under Pontius Pilate. By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is the miracle. (God in the Dock 66)"
“Each of the redeemed shall forever know and praise some one aspect of the divine beauty better than any other creature can. Why else were individuals created, but that God, loving all infinitely, should love each differently? … For doubtless the continually successful, yet never completed, attempt by each soul to communicate its unique vision of God to all others (and that by means whereof earthly art and philosophy are but clumsy imitations) is also among the ends for which the individual was created.”—
“A pleasure is full grown only when it is remembered. You are speaking, Hman [human], as if the pleasure were one thing and the memory another. It is all one thing… . What you call remembering is the last part of the pleasure… . When you and I met, the meeting was over very shortly, it was nothing. Now it is growing something as we remember it. But still we know very little about it. What it will be when I remember it as I lie down to die, what it makes in me all my days till then—that is the real meeting. The other is only the beginning of it. You say you have poets in your world. Do they not teach you this?”—C.S Lewis in Out of the Silent Planet
John Cusack: Let’s go with Jesus. Not the gay-hating, war-making political tool of the right, but the outcast, subversive, supreme adept who preferred the freaks and lepers and despised and doomed to the rich and powerful. The man Garry Wills describes “with the future in his eyes … paradoxically calming and provoking,” and whom Flannery O’Connor saw as “the ragged figure who moves from tree to tree in the back of [one’s] mind.”
“The perfect human would never act from a sense of duty. One would always love the right thing more than the wrong one. Lewis says that duty exists to be transcended, that there is no morality in heaven; “the road to the Promised Land leads past Mount Sinai.” The more virtuous a person becomes, the more one enjoys virtuous actions.”—
“Lewis explains that there is one qualification for knowing good: being good. When a man is getting better, he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse, he understands his own badness less and less. We understand sleep when we are awake, not when we are sleeping, drunkenness when we are sober.”—
I’ve been reading a lot of book blogs lately, mostly because I’ve been reading more fiction than ever before, so I thought I would start processing some of what I read here, to join in the conversation.
Basically, I started trying to write fiction myself about two years ago. You haven’t see any of it because I am self-aware enough to realize that it is not very good. I’ve decided, however, to trust the creative writing profs I’ve been reading who reassure me that, to some extent, good writing can be learned - same as in any other discipline.
So one of the profs whose book I am reading (David Morley, The Cambridge Introduction to Creative Writing), is speaking my language. I have that sort of personality that responds well to an ass-kicking (conservative, religious father, I suppose), and at certain points in the book Morley puts on his boots. He mocks young students who think that they can improve at the craft of writing without being avid readers. Apparently you won’t write good fiction unless you read a lot of it. Same goes for any other genre. I am inclined to believe the man. He includes this quote from Anne Dillard:
Hemingway studied Knut Hamsun and Ivan Turgenev…Ralph Ellison studied Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. Thoreau loved Homer; Eudora Welty loved Chekhov. Faulkner described his debt to Sherwood Anderson and Joyce; E. M. Forster, his debt to Jane Austen and Proust. By contrast, if you ask a twenty-one-year-old poet whose poetry he likes, he might say, unblushing, ‘Nobody’s’ … he has not yet understood that poets like poetry, and novelists like novels; he himself likes only the role, the thought of himself in a hat.
For the last five years or so I have been a fairly voracious consumer of non-fiction, a habit which started with all the lectures I was listening to for my degree work. It was a good way to redeem my long commutes to work. For whatever reason though, I didn’t get much into fiction. I feel like this may have molded me into a strange creature as I am now the only person I know who considers it the height of relaxation to go on a long drive while listening to Nietzsche lectures. Or maybe there are others who just make sure never to mention such things in public.
At any rate, I am starting out on a project to listening to copious amounts of fiction. From the high literary names to the most popular paperback writers, I want to get a broad sample. A friend recently mentioned how gripped he was listening to Stephen King’s The Stand, so I picked it up. I got the extended version though, so it is a total of 52 hours on audiobook. That may be an insane way to start for a guy who knows nothing of Stephen King apart from his movie-adapted stuff (although I do really like his movies, esp. the Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption), but I am already a ways in, and not regretting it. Next time I’ll try to share some thoughts on this one.
“Even the most ardent secularists among us generally cling to notions of human rights, economic and social justice, providence for the indigent, legal equality, or basic human dignity that pre-Christian Western culture would have found not so much foolish as unintelligible. It is simply the case that we distant children of the pagans would not be able to believe in any of these things-they would never have occurred to us-had our ancestors not once believed that God is love, that charity is the foundation of all virtues, that all of us are equal before the eyes of God, that to fail to feed the hungry or care for the suffering is to sin against Christ, and that Christ laid down his life for the least of his brethren.”—David Bentley Hart in Atheist Delusions, a great book that is somewhat misnamed, as the author admits (publisher pressure apparently). He really doesn’t spend much time on atheism or atheists, but takes a focused look at the progression of morality in the history of the West.
“Hemingway studied Knut Hamsun and Ivan Turgenev…Ralph Ellison studied Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. Thoreau loved Homer; Eudora Welty loved Chekhov. Faulkner described his debt to Sherwood Anderson and Joyce; E. M. Forster, his debt to Jane Austen and Proust. By contrast, if you ask a twenty-one-year-old poet whose poetry he likes, he might say, unblushing, ‘Nobody’s’ … he has not yet understood that poets like poetry, and novelists like novels; he himself likes only the role, the thought of himself in a hat.”—Anne Dillard
“Get back into your cages, they are telling us. Return to watching the lies, absurdities, trivia and celebrity gossip we feed you in 24-hour cycles on television. Invest your emotional energy in the vast system of popular entertainment. Run up your credit card debt. Pay your loans. Be thankful for the scraps we toss. Chant back to us our phrases about democracy, greatness and freedom. Vote in our rigged political theater. Send your young men and women to fight and die in useless, unwinnable wars that provide corporations with huge profits. Stand by mutely as our bipartisan congressional supercommittee, either through consensus or cynical dysfunction, plunges you into a society without basic social services including unemployment benefits. Pay for the crimes of Wall Street.”—Chris Hedges (via revolutionofconsciousness)
“I say the gods deal very unrightly with us. For they will neither (which would be the best of all) go away and leave us to live our own short days to ourselves, nor will they show themselves openly and tell us what they would have us do. For that too would be endurable. But to hint and hover, to draw near us in dreams and oracles, or in a waking vision that vanishes as soon as seen, to be dead silent when we question them and then glide back and whisper (words we cannot understand) in our ears when we most wish to be free of them, and to show to one what they must hide from another; what is all this but cat-and-mouse play, blindman’s buff, and mere jugglery? Why must holy places be dark places?”—Orual (Till We Have Faces, by C.S. Lewis)
“In other words, as St Augustine makes plain (De Civ. Dei xii, cap. I), pride does not only go before a fall but is a fall—a fall of the creature’s attention from what is better, God, to what is worse, itself”—C. S. Lewis, Christian Reflections
“Theology, while saying that a special illumination has been vouchsafed to Christians and (earlier) to Jews, also says that there is some divine illumination vouchsafed to all men. The Divine light, we are told, “lighteneth every man.” We should, therefore, expect to find in the imagination of great Pagan teachers and myth makers some glimpse of that theme which we believe to be the very plot of the whole cosmic story—the theme of incarnation, death, and rebirth.”—C.S. Lewis in Weight of Glory
So then we must be wary of spending all our time poring over the words, talking about them, and memorizing them, for it could well be that such activities could mask the very Word that they bear witness to. Our task is not simply to return to the Bible, but to return to the life-giving Word that gave birth to the Bible and that speaks through it—hearing the message by living it out rather than merely rejoicing in its eloquence.
From The Orthodox Heretic by Peter Rollins
When people say things like this I tend to think they are right, but I’m still terribly bugged by it because I really like words….
All I have ever said is that the New Testament plainly implies the possibility of some being finally left in ‘the outer darkness.’ Whether this means…being left to a purely mental state…or whether there is still some sort of environment, something you could call a world or a reality, I would never pretend to know.
C.S. Lewis on Hell, in a letter to his childhood friend Arthur Greeves
I think this quote encapsulates what I consider to be a much more coherent attitude than currently exists toward ideas like heaven or hell, or even angels or demons, etc. Questions like, “Do you believe in a literal Hell?” or “Do you actually believe in demons?” make little sense, precisely because we are talking about realms that our outside of the reality of our basic senses. Because what does “literal” or “actual” or even “reality” mean outside of the one we are currently swimming in? How would we ever know? When you start talking about anything metaphysical, the line between “reality” and “metaphor” gets fuzzy.
And it would be a good thing if we could be comfortable with that.
“Christian Literature can exist only in the same sense in which Christian cookery might exist. It would be possible, and it might be edifying, to write a Christian cookery book. Such a book would exclude dishes whose preparation involves unnecessary human labour or animal suffering, and dishes excessively luxurious. That is to say, its choice of dishes would be Christian. But there could be nothing specifically Christian about the actual cooking of the dishes included. Boiling an egg is the same process whether you are a Christian or a Pagan. In the same way, literature written by Christians for Christians would have to avoid mendacity, cruelty, blasphemy, pornography, and the like, and it would aim at edification in so far as edification was proper to the kind of work in hand.”—C. S. Lewis,Christian Reflections
“I am gambling that there is a significant audience interested in a kind of rational spirituality that can nudge the world in a more tolerant and uplifting direction. I am gambling that, somewhere between the hardcore reductionists who explain all things as the sum of their parts and greet every suggestion of spirituality with a sneer, and the unquestioning faithful who receive their beliefs full-blown from prophets and preachers, there is a group of philosophical centrists-well-intentioned, open-minded, skeptical, but free spirits eager to investigate their own nature.”—
Again, along the lines of the book I was quoting yesterday, this is another quantum-science-for-dummies type book, written by an astrophysicist, that raises very interesting questions, from the perspective of a moderate (because the truth is almost always in the middle!!!)
Kuttner is a physicist at UCSC. Though he doesn’t buy the old philosopher Bishop Berkeley’s idea that God is the Great Observer, collapsing all the wave forms and bringing this universe into continual existence, he does admit that the weirdness of quantum physics opens doors that more adamantly naturalistic scientists had hoped were firmly shut. This also from his book:
It is sometimes implied that the sages of ancient religions intuited aspects of contemporary quantum mechanics. The argument can go on to claim that quantum mechanics provides evidence for the validity of such teachings. The reasoning is not compelling. However, the Newtonian worldview can be seen as completely dismissing such ideas. Quantum mechanics, telling of a universal connectedness and involving observation in the nature of reality, denies such dismissal. In this most general sense, one can see physics supporting some thinking of ancient sages. (When Bohr was knighted, he put the Yin-Yang symbol in his coat of arms.)
If you are a layman in science with an interest in things like this, Kuttner’s book is a pretty thoughtful and fair discussion.
Having sons is proving to be one of the most awesome things so far in this life o’ mine. I love how odd our discussions can get. Recently, they were asking me about some weird science question and if I could explain it better to them. I forget exactly what it was. But after I’d finished giving my best layman’s explanation, there was a short silence followed by the ten year old saying, “tell us something us really weird about science.”
So I thought ok, just about the weirdest thing I have ever heard in my extensive science-for-dummies reading has been from the world of quantum physics, the idea of observer dependent reality.
As soon as I started trying to explain it though, I realized that it might prove fruitless, seeing as I just barely have a grasp of it myself.
"Well, it seems to some scientists that the world might only exist when someone looks at it. Einstein didn’t want to believe it, but he was bothered by the facts that made it sound like this is the way the world is. He once said that he couldn’t believe that ‘the moon exists because a mouse looks at it.’"
Of course, they didn’t really get what I could be talking about, which I can understand because I felt exactly the same the first time I heard the idea. So I tried to go a concrete example.
"Ok, see that tree over there? It seems that if some sort of consciousness is not observing it, it doesn’t really exist as a tree like you see it - it is just a fuzzy mess of waves."
Of course this was a mistake because then I had to go into a further explanation of “observe” and “consciousness”.
"So like, it might be that when you or someone, looks at that tree, all those waves crunch together into a tree."
I was impressed when the ten year old quickly moved to concrete applications of this crazy idea. He said that just the previous day he had walked into a pole while looking the other way.
"I wonder who the jerk was who looked at that pole?" says he. "Because if they hadn’t looked I would have been fine right?"
Ok, so that last post indicates that it has been two months since I last posted something here. This will do nothing to improve my reputation as a pathetically inconsistent blogger.
The absence has primarily to do with a titanic battle with a black dog. I won’t go into that, as the explanation would surely just become even more metaphorical and confusing. And those sorts of explanations are better saved for song lyrics than blog posts.
But typhoon 15 blew summer away a few weeks ago, so I am gonna try to jump on this bandwagon of seasonal change.
“Insofar as the church has at its disposal no means whereby to corroborate its wildly implausible claim, except the demonstrative practice of Christ’s peace, it can scarcely be said to incontrovertibly to have proved its case.”—David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite (via invisibleforeigner)
“God neither obeys nor creates the moral law. The good is uncreated; it never could have been otherwise; it has in it no shadow of contingency; it lies, as Plato said, on the other side of existence. It is the Rita of the Hindus by which the gods themselves are divine, the Tao of the Chinese from which all realities proceed. But we, favoured beyond the wisest pagans, know what lies beyond existence, what admits no contingency, what lends divinity to all else, what is the ground of all existence, is not simply a law but also a begetting love, a love begotten, and the love which, being between these two, is also imminent in all those who are caught up to share the unity of their self-caused life. God is not merely good, but goodness; goodness is not merely divine, but God.”—C.S. Lewis in Christian Reflections
The interview with David Bentley Hart in Reform is excellent. And on a personal level, timely, as only last month I found myself searching for books that deal with similar themes, the notion that the values we default to now, like tolerance, equality, and human rights, emerge from the culture of western Christendom. The books I had tracked down so far consisted of mostly awful, right-wing-tract like stuff, so it was refreshing to hear Hart, who leans in a more scholarly direction. I’d also love to find some serious writers who challenge this position, so if you have ant good suggestions, please comment.
You can hear echoes of Lewis’s criticisms of “chronological snobbery” in what Hart says about the myth of progress that is currently so dominant. Because our scientific advances lead to improvements in technology, we tend to transfer the progress that is obvious there into all other realms. It leads to us looking down at previous ages like a parent patting the head of an innocent child. But our attitude of superiority, outside of the scientific realm, doesn’t follow at all. Believers in the myth of progress find it frustrating that, for example in the moral realm, we still struggle with the exact same problems that vexed the ancient Greeks.
In response to this you hear the priests of scientism scoffing at religion and even philosophy for it’s inability to match the progress that one sees in science and technology. It’s weird that people who are otherwise so sharp can’t see how dumb such condescension is.
It’s like a car mechanic saying, “I’ve consistently been able to build faster and more luxurious cars. I know every intricate detail about how my cars work, and that is what makes me successful. But you travel agents, when I ask which place is the best place to visit, you can give me no solid answers. So I am going to stay right here in my garage, tinkering and enjoying the perfection of my cars.”
I am a product of endless books. My father bought all the books he read and never got rid of any of them. There were books in the study, books in the drawing room, books in the cloakroom, books (two deep) in the great bookcase on the landing, books in a bedroom, books piled as high as my shoulder in the cistern attic, books of all kinds reflecting every transient stage of my parents’ interest, books readable and unreadable, books suitable for a child and books most emphatically not.
Nothing was forbidden for me.
In the seemingly endless rainy afternoons I took volume after volume from the shelves. I had always the same certainty of finding a book that was new to me as a man who walks into a field has of finding a new blade of grass.
“Unfortunately this is very much part of the underlying myth and ideology of modernity - that we are on the way to ever-better things - because our high definition televisions are getting better every year and therefore so is our morality.”—David Bentley Hart in an interview in this month’s issue of Reform Magazine
The Selfishness in Love... the good kind of selfishness...
We are very shy nowadays of even mentioning heaven. We are afraid of the jeer about ‘pie in the sky’, and of being told that we are trying to ‘escape’ from the duty of making a happy world here and now into dreams of a happy world elsewhere. But either there is ‘pie in the sky’ or there is not. If there is not, then Christianity is false, for this doctrine is woven into its whole fabric. If there is, then this truth, like any other, must be faced, whether it is useful at political meetings or no. Again, we are afraid that heaven is a bribe, and that if we make it our goal we shall no longer be disinterested. It is not so. Heaven offers nothing that a mercenary soul can desire. It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to. There are rewards that do not sully motives. A man’s love for a woman is not mercenary because he wants to marry her, nor his love for poetry mercenary because he wants to read it, nor his love of exercise less disinterested because he wants to run and leap and walk. Love, by definition, seeks to enjoy its object.
In the book I use an example of Mel Gibson, who made these antisemitic rants when he was drunk and then afterward wrote these letters of apology that seemed to be genuine. Everybody was arguing about whether he is an anti-semite or not an anti-semite. What I say in the book is, even though his behavior was despicable, are we obliged to think somebody is or is not something? Isn’t it possible for somebody to have both racist and non-racist parts of their brain that can be coexisting in a single person — where he might say things at one point and feel bad about it at another point?
To say that somebody has true colors — that there’s sort of one thing this person is — isn’t nuanced enough with our understanding of modern neuroscience.
”—David Eagleman, who I was going on about in the last post, in an interview with Wired Magazine. Do we have “true colours”? What would CSL think of all this….
For a while now I’ve been enjoying the brief philosophy-for-dummies sort of podcasts at Philosophy Bites. In this one, David Eagleman discusses how cognitive science discoveries are shedding some light on moral issues involving a person’s freedom to choose. I really enjoy a lot of what Eagleman has to say, but he probably overstates the importance of the new scientific research (as scientists are wont to do…). Still, I find it interesting how cognitive science and ancient theological topics are starting to intersect. In this clip he talks about the human temptation to choose a short term pleasure that is ultimately destructive over a choice that, though harder in the short term, ultimately brings more long term pleasure.
Isn’t this basically for moral choice that has faced humans since they became human? I find this theme to be absolutely central to my own moral life, and over such a broad portion of my life. Lots of cake and ice cream would be more pleasurable than healthy eating, but not in the long run. Lots of new sex with lots of different people looks like it might be fun in the short term, but I’ll never build a great marriage and a happy family by going that route.
You can basically apply the same principle to any appetite - food, sex, money, power, you name it. Immediate over-indulgence of your appetites is good in the short term, but it doesn’t bring about lasting health, wholeness, love, community - all the stuff that is really considered “good.”
There’s a theme that runs throughout Lewis’s works about humankind emerging from its animal origins, toward a divine endpoint. It’s a God-ordained progression - that of course involves a lot of freedom - but one that is ultimately intended to invite humankind to God-likeness. To ignore self-denial and always just give in to your appetites is to remain in the realm of the animal. To reign them in, finding balance in the enjoyment of creation while not being controlled by its pleasures, is to move in God’s direction.
Listen to the whole episode (and subscribe to the podcast) at the link below.