Tag Archives: religion

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Ron’s #34: Candide by Voltaire

I reread this novel before teaching it again in my 10th grade class. I love this unit, as it allows for discussions on the problem of evil and the nature of God. Here’s my past review.

In a satire against the optimism of Leibniz, Candide has its young philosopher traveling the world searching for his love and attempting to see if his tutor Pangloss is correct in that this world is the best of all possible worlds that God could have created.

The story begins as Candide is expelled from the Edenic castle in Westphalia for his scandalous kiss to the baroness, the fair Cunegonde. He travels across continents meeting a variety of common people and royalty; priests and sinners; wealthy and poor. Candide continues to struggle with the question of whether Pangloss (and ultimately Leibniz) is correct that this world, the one filled with greed and murder and hypocrisy and cruelty, is the best possible one out of the mind of God. He fights with what he believes and what he sees, and cannot justify the two. Candide is left to “cultivate his garden” rather than waste any more time thinking through these issues.

For the Christian, this book explores one of the key objections to a theistic faith: how can a good God allow suffering in this world? While that question is not specifically addressed, is it at the heart of Candide’s uneasiness. What happens when our world is filled with pain, disappointment, and horror? Can we reconcile a God with our life experience? This is a topic that Christians must not only address to those around who question the claims of Christianity, but we must also have an answer for ourselves when the horrors come.

It would be the height of hubris to state a simple answer to this issue, but we must begin our search for one in the gospel itself. We must remember that God the Father knows suffering and murder, as his Son hung on the cross to die for the sins of the world. He watched as Jesus was tortured and killed to become the payment for sins that we not his own. When we are trying to justify a good God with suffering, our question must begin with God himself. Candide met a cast of characters spewed from the bowels of humanity, but never discussed sin.

Christian doctrine teaches that Adam’s sin brought this world from perfection to the wastelands with people corrupted in the downward spiral. Leibniz’s optimism is wrong: this world is depraved and men have the capability to act like animals to one another. Candide’s observations should bring us back to the God who has provided his Son as a sacrifice to restore humanity to our true image-bearer state. The murderers, the rapists, the thieves in Candide’s journey point us back to a God, one who is perfect because we see that man is not. Corrupt men in the world show a moral structure beyond us that defines what corrupt men act like.

Candide’s decision to focus only on his own garden shows a hopelessness that Christians ought not have. Even in the light of pain and difficulty, we should see our “gardens” in light of the larger garden, the only that has the Tree of Life swaying. Because of this, we can have hope in that other world that is the best of all possible worlds.

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Ron’s #13: Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Animals. Religion. India. Philosophy. Shipwreck. Friendship. Stories. Survival. Canada.

Life of Pi tells the story of sixteen-year-old Pi Patel, a unique young man growing up at a family zoo in India. As an act of faith, Pi takes on Hinduism, Islam, and Catholicism without any problems of contradiction. Soon, his faith is tested as he is shipwrecked in the Pacific with a strange companion to share a lifeboat.

There is much to this book. It’s an easy read in terms of story, but there are many aspects that require reflection and discussion. While I disagree with some of the notions of Yann’s religion and his worldview, I do feel like it is an excellent portrayal of struggling to live and struggling to believe.

Yann Martel is a formidable writer who created a wonderful story that you’ll think about long after you close the book. In fact, you’ll even question whether the story you just read really is the story you just read.

The movie version is coming out 12/2012. I’m eager to see how it will work considering much of the novel is philosophical musing. I’m also eager to see how Tobey Maguire can play a teenaged Indian boy.

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Ron’s #52: Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis

The story begins with this excellent opener: “I am old now and have not much to fear from the anger of gods.  I have no husband nor child, nor hardly a friend, through whom they can hurt me.  My body, this lean carrion that still has to be washed and fed and have clothes hung about it daily with so many changes, they may kill as soon as they please.  The succession is provided for.  My crown passes to my nephew.”

I decided on this novel as my final book of 2011 after reading Mere Christianity. I love Lewis’s writing style, and I wanted to finally read this. This book is one that I’ve owed for some time. I bought this on my birthday in 1997. I know this because I still have the receipt in the book for a bookmark. I’ve started Till We Have Faces many times, but never getting beyond a chapter or two. I was frightened away by the subtitle—“A Myth Retold.” This is a version of the myth of Cupid and Psyche. If you are like me, you know little of that story. I kept telling myself that I’ll learn the myth before reading the Lewis version. I never did the first so I never got to the second. I grew tired of avoiding it, so I wanted to read it. To hell with the Psyche story (there’s a bit of a joke in that…)!

This is Lewis’s most challenging work; it is the one that he stated was his favorite, one that he has mentally worked on for years. It tells the story of Queen Oruel, her beautiful sister Psyche, and their beloved Greek tutor know as the Fox. Psyche is sacrificed to the god Ungit (Aphrodite), where she becomes more real and alive. Oruel, unwilling to believe that she is happy with her amorphous husband, challenges and defies the gods.

The novel is filled with dualities. Orule is ugly while Psyche is beautiful; Fox is rational, and the King is romantic; Lord Bardia has two “lovers”; the world is divided with Gnome and the Grey Mountains; Oruel fights to stay alive and not consumed by herself as the queen. There are even two books in this.

I wish that I could report that an understanding of Cupid and Psyche is not needed to fully enjoy this novel, but that is not true. While I did enjoy the story and the writing, I often felt like I was missing a greater portion of the tale because of my ignorance. However, readers can still find great value in reading this novel because Lewis is so vivid and clear in his style.

In addressing how insignificant our lives are next to the gods, Oruel adds this comment that I have been thinking about since yesterday:

(On the death of her father) “Yet I have often noticed since how much less stir nearly everyone’s death makes than you might expect. Men better loved and more worth loving than my father go down making only a small eddy” (214).

Till We Have Faces was a challenging end-of-the-year read, and I was glad to end with this work. If you have read it and can offer insight into the ending, I’m all ears.

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Ron’s #51: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis

As I have mentioned before, C. S. Lewis is my favorite author. I understand that this is not a novel pick; most Christians would say the same if asked. It’s been said that Lewis is the only patron saint of Evangelicalism. There is something about his writing that is irresistible. One may disagree with his claims, but it is difficult to deny his gifted writing style. Because of the latter, it is often hard to do the former.

Mere Christianity is a must-read for Christians (See a few others I posted before), and it makes a clear treatise for the logic of both theism and Christianity. It was birthed from a series of radio talks that Lewis made on the BBC during WWII, and later edited for publication. Whether or not you call yourself a Christian, this slim volume will offer a clear, concise case why Christianity makes sense.

This is not actually the best apologetics book if you are looking for answers to specific difficult questions in the Christian faith. Rather, it takes on general topics such as: is Jesus who he says he is; is there such a thing as absolute morality?; and is Jesus Christ God?

No other writer has had the impact on me as a reader and a thinker as Lewis has. His books change, strengthen, inform, and inspire me. In my post for #48, I discussed the influence that Robert Cormier had on my reading life. If that is true, then C. S. Lewis had an even far great influence on my Christian reading life. To him, I’m grateful. Because of this, I’ll be reading and rereading Lewis for as long as I’m alive. There is no other author about which I can make the same claim.

Except maybe for the guys who write Spiderman comics.

For those in Okinawa: We have our monthly Apologia meeting on Wednesday, January 25, to discuss the second half of this book. Read it and join us!

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Ron’s #36: The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

I put my goal to read Moby Dick on hold in order to read The Scarlet Letter as I prepare to teach it with my AP Language & Composition class. As Hawthorne and Melville were friends, I didn’t think that Melville would mind.

While I read and taught The Scarlet Letter before, I never had the appreciation for it as I did in this reading. I was captivated by the story, but the language and style of its writing was preeminent for me. Hawthorne crafts a beautifully written story that tells the familiar tale of Hester Prynne’s public shame and Reverend Arthur Dimmesdale’s private tormented guilt after an adulterous affair set in the backdrop of Puritan Boston. The story is simple, as Hester faces a judgmental crowd in the town, and Dimmesdale suffers from a burning conscience as he does not admit to his sin. One man, Roger Chillingworth—Hester’s husband—knows the secret and is bent on revenge against them both.

While The Scarlet Letter is often used to criticize and demonize the Puritan era, it rather shows the importance of what the consequences of sin lead to within our hearts. The public consequences are temporary, but the private consequences are far longer reaching as the “Hound of Heaven” chases after us to confess and repent. While Hawthorne does not condemn adultery as a sin, we see the destruction causes by infidelity with the Prynne family. Hester Prynne is indeed a model of feminine strength and virtue in accepting responsibility and guilt, but she also provides us a picture of the results of our sin and the need for redemption in a Savior.

The book begins with this excellent line, showing the coldness of the scene and the tone of the entire novel:

 A throng of bearded men, in sad-colored garments and gray, steeple-crowned hats, intermixed with women, some wearing hoods, and others bareheaded, was assembled in front of a wooden edifice, the door of which was heavily timbered with oak, and studded with iron spikes.

In our first picture of Hester, Hawthorne contrasts the ugliness of sin with the beauty of the woman:

 On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth, surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold thread, appeared the letter A. It was so artistically done, and with so much fertility and gorgeous luxuriance of fancy, that it had all the effect of a last and fitting decoration to the apparel which she wore; and which was of a splendor in accordance with the taste of the age, but greatly beyond what was allowed by the sumptuary regulations of the colony.

If you are looking to read novels that you should have read in high school but didn’t, I heartily recommend starting with this one.

 

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