Jun 202016
 
Sailboats by skeeze via pixabay.

Sailboats by skeeze via pixabay.

In his classic Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis attempts to explain the basics of Christianity – the parts on which all Christians agree. Leaving the complex and controversial theological arguments to the experts, Lewis concentrated on what “has been common to nearly all Christians at all times.” That he succeeded is proven by the status Mere Christianity has achieved since it was first published in 1943.

The success of Mere Christianity also owes much to Lewis’s writing style and observations. Perhaps the most famous quote from the book concerns progress. “If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”

Liberals, progressives, and especially Marxists adopt a view of history which sees Man forever marching onward and upward towards perfection. (This is actually a corruption of the Christian view of history.) Unfortunately, a real study of history shows Man can move forwards, sideways, and even fall backwards, not just in technology, but in morality as well.

Minimum Morality: The Golden Rule

C.S. Lewis points out most cultures in most times have had some form of the Golden Rule as a moral compass. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Treat others the way you want to be treated.

Many – perhaps most – believe this is as far as morality should go. Morality sets boundaries, defines the limits, outlines the rules for interaction between people. Morality simply provides a way for people to interact constructively, beneficially, safely.

But in Mere Christianity, Lewis points out interaction is only one realm of morality, and not even the most important realm. Those who insist, “It’s OK as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else,” miss the big picture.

A Fleet in Formation

Lewis uses the example of an armada sailing to a distant shore. The ships must stay in formation. To do so, they must obey rules as to how far to stay from each other, what position they should take relative to the other ships, who to avoid collisions if they need to change direction of speed.

But each ship, in order to follow the rules necessary to travel together, must itself be seaworthy and controllable. How can a ship unable to steer sail in formation with other ships?

How can an individual, unable to exercise self-control, successful interact with other individuals. The alcoholic, the pedophile, the self-centered SOB who only looks out for number one – how can these individuals successfully interact with the rest of humanity?

Does it really matter if I eat a little more than I should? What’s wrong with a little gluttony? But if I can’t control my appetite for food, what other appetites might I lose control over? Self-discipline makes it possible for us to sail the seas of human interaction. Self-control is the first step in avoiding collisions with others.

As C.S. Lewis points out, ships which aren’t seaworthy or controllable soon collide, and ships which regularly collide are soon unseaworthy and uncontrollable.

The Final Destination

But in Mere Christianity, we find we haven’t even reached the most important realm of morality. While interaction with others and control of ourselves certainly cover the majority of morality, the most important consideration is the destination.

What good does it do to have an excellent fleet sailing in fine formation and arriving in New York when the destination was Bombay? The most important issue isn’t how we should treat towards others and how we should treat ourselves, but what are we trying to achieve?

Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia both had a highly developed code of moral behavior. So does North Korea under the Kim dynasty. Everyone knows – or knew – how to behave and what to do. But somehow, even for many of those living under such a system, something doesn’t seem right.

If you don’t think it matters, if it is all just relative, if morality changes with the times and the places, millions died defeating the Nazis for no good reason. Hitler’s extermination of the Jews and other “undesirables” was no big deal and should have been allowed to continue. After all, as some would say, it isn’t our place to judge.

Perhaps we can’t judge individuals, but we can judge societies and their moral codes – including our own. And if we find we have set sail in the wrong direction, or made a mistake in our navigation and are steaming full ahead towards the wrong port, the sooner we change direction the sooner we will once again be making progress.

What do you think? Does our morality need a course correction?

May 022016
 

What I’ve been reading and the reason for it goes a long way in explaining why you might have noticed a significant gap in posting to this blog. You might think C.S. Lewis and Bridget Jones’s Diary might be incongruent, or just a fine example of my eclectic taste, and you would be right, but digging deeper you will find much more to the story.

C.S. Lewis

First, we should narrow down just what I’ve been reading from the many works of C.S. Lewis. Thanks to the major motion picture adaptations, The Chronicles of Narnia have become familiar to a vast audience. Unfortunately, far fewer have read the books – especially those which never have made it to film, like The Magician’s Nephew, The Boy and His Horse, or The Silver Chair. This is especially true of the final book in the series, The Last Battle, which has the most depressing happy ending I have ever read.

But what I’ve been reading is not C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narina, I’ve been reading C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy. While everyone seems to know Lewis and his good friend J.R.R. Tolkien wrote fantasy – or at least what came to be considered fantasy – few remember Lewis also wrote three science fiction novels.

Space Trilogy

Actually, while science plays an important role in the stories (one might even say science is the antagonist, but that would be unfair), they might be more properly classified as spiritual fiction than science fiction, philosophical rather than speculative, theological rather than theoretical. And while Tolkien, a life-long and devout Catholic, wrote his Lord of the Rings trilogy to be a sort of pre-Catholic European mythology, Lewis, who was a late convert to Christianity, was hardly orthodox in his speculation about what lies beyond Earth’s moon.

Still, the three books – Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength – do what great science fiction and great literature in general are supposed to make you do: Think. Written at the outbreak and during World War II, they were not bound by later scientific discoveries any more than Robert Heinlein’s Red Planet, or Stranger in a Strange Land, allowing Lewis to freely create whatever reality he desired.

The central character of the trilogy is Elwin Ransom, who seems to be modeled in part on Tolkien. A most unlikely hero for a science fiction novel by anyone other than a medieval scholar like Lewis, Ransom is a philologist – a student of languages. His skill proves useful in communicating with inhabitants of other worlds. In another clear connection to Tolkien, the third book makes reference to Numenor and the True West.

I don’t intend to give anything away about the plot, I simply want to peak your interest. But I will say the last two books in particular seem to provide a clear vision of Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body at a time before the future pontiff had even been ordained a priest. You might ask why this is important, so I’ll tell you.

Bridget Jones’s Diary

I read Bridget Jones’s Diary as part of an effort to read several books written in diary format (including The Princess Diaries, and Flowers for Algernon) in preparation for writing my own fictional novel in a similar format. It always helps to explore what other have done in a particular format before trying it yourself – like art students studying the great masters.

Actually, Bridget Jones’s Diary (and The Princess Diaries) served two efforts, because I have also been reading some romance novels in an effort to study plot development. Romance novels are a great genre for studying plot, because the plots are so formulaic. You can almost predict the exact page at which something will happen to shatter any chance of the two lovers ever finding a happily ever after. (That’s HEA in Romance jargon, and it is a requirement. Hell hath no fury like a woman who reads a Romance which does not have a HEA.)

Theology of the Body

How does Bridget Jones’s Diary, Lewis’s Space Trilogy, and John Paul II’s Theology of the Body tie together? If the later two demonstrate what the true nature of the relationship between man and woman is meant to be, the former demonstrates clearly the results of ignoring that true nature.

Lewis clearly knows the relationship between the genders, even the understanding of the nature of gender, is distorted in the modern world – even if his modern world at the time he was writing was the early 1940s. In fact, it is integral to the plot of the third book. For him, restoration of the natural order of things is a good to be desired.

While Helen Fielding clearly intended her novel to be comedic, over-the-top exaggeration of the trials and tribulations of the thirty-something single woman (particularly in Britain but applicable anywhere sexually liberated modern culture has infiltrated), the agony Bridget Jones and her circle of friends endures could easily be alleviated. Unfortunately, Fielding and her readers are most likely clueless when it comes to the Theology of the Body.

Even if they were introduced to the idea, they would likely write it off as old-fashioned, antiquated, anti-feminist, patriarchy nonsense and continue to wallow in their misery. This is something Lewis also addresses in his Space Trilogy.

Someone once said we laugh when it hurts too much to cry. Bridget Jones’s Diary strikes me as that kind of humor.

And the Reason Is

If you read between the lines, you might have realized one reason I have not been posting consistently has been because I am doing a lot of reading, and what I’ve been reading has been trying directed towards writing fiction. Also, I needed a break from politics. This site was becoming becoming dominated by current political events rather than the eclectic mix of topics I intended. In the future, the politics will be more focused and the topics more varied. That said, what sort of topics should I write about?