Tag Archives: worldview

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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 #32: A Free People’s Suicide by Os Guinness

The premise of this book is this paradox: “the greatest enemy of freedom is freedom” (19). Guinness continues saying that “Americans today are heedlessly pursuing a vision of freedom that is short-lived and suicidal. Once again, freedom without virtue, leadership without character, business without trust, law without customs, education without meaning and medicine, science and technology without human considerations can only end in disaster” (29).

A Free People’s Suicide is an outsider’s view of the strength of America (Guinness is an Irishman); the book is the same vein of Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville, which is heavily quoted in the book. While praising American freedom, he cautions that we will lose freedom when the freedoms we enjoy are not tethered to something larger than the idea of freedom itself.

I probably should have enjoyed this book more than I did. Even though I like Guinness’s perspective on issues, his writing feels unclear to me. Perhaps it is my lack of knowledge on the issues that Guinness raises. Or, maybe it was because I read this in the final days of the 2012 election, and we met in our Apologia book group after the results were announced. It’s an understatement to say that I wasn’t in the best mood that day.

Here’s a brief excerpt of the author discussing the “golden triangle of freedom”: freedom requires virtue; virtue requires faith; faith requires freedom.

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Ron’s #28: Tinkers by Paul Harding

I usually don’t take book recommendations from people. It’s not that I am arrogant about my book choices (OK, maybe I am a little!); rather, it’s because I always have too many books that I’ve already have picked out vying for my attention. Adding in book suggestions just get in the way. And, if I held to this, I would have missed out on one of my favorite books of the year, Tinkers by Paul Harding.

Over dinner at The Harbor, my friend Melissa told me about this book, and her brief overview of the plot sounded interesting: quiet prose, generational storyline, clock maker. Something about that hooked me, and I bought it the next day. I read it while being trapped inside for the weekend that Typhoon Jelawat visiting Okinawa, and this book was the perfect antithesis to the stormy, angry wind outside.

Tinkers begins with George Washington Crosby on his deathbed with this compelling sentence: “George Washington Crosby began to hallucinate eight days before he died.” These hallucinations take us through his life in herky-jerky starts and stops, and we as readers must piece together the fragments of snapshots that we see. The narrative crisscrosses between George as an old man, and George as a small boy, focusing on George and then on his father, Howard, a peddler-tinker trying to scrap together a living for his family. Howard is unable to stay due to medical issues. George tells us “he leaked out of the world slowly.”

The story is a sweet portrait of family hardships, of leaving and staying together, of love and work, and of fathers and sons. Simple and slow (but not in the dull meaning of the word), Tinkers gives us a tender picture of the Crosby family. But the best part of the novel is not the story; it is the way the story is told. Harding is a gifted writer who captures the family with his tender constructions. The fragmented timeline is propped up by the beautifully crafted sentences. This inner working of the prose adds to the motif of George’s career as a watchmaker. All this works together to create this memorable book. Melissa was right about the quiet prose.

Tinkers end with one of the most aching scenes I’ve read in a novel: it was a meeting between a young George and his new family and his estranged father. I won’t give anything away here, but we are told that this scene was “the last thing George Washington Crosby remembered as he died.” After I finished it, I thought of my own father and two sons. I put down the book, listened to the wind howling outside, and waited for the boys to wake from their naps. I had something that I really wanted to tell them.

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Ron’s #25: A Mind for God by James Emery White

A Mind for God by James Emery White is a book that I wished I could write. It makes a solid case for the active life of the Christian mind. Christians are often (and sometimes fairly) caricatured as backwoods simpletons who eschew logical thought in exchange for the ease of lazy faith. White describes the need for Christians to crave to develop our minds for the glory of Christ. We ought to seek to deeply understand our faith, our culture, our world. Living passively, whether a Christian or non-believer, is a wasted life.

The first step to engage our minds is simply to read. White makes a passionate plea to read often and read broadly. He tells an interesting story about a family trip to Disney World when, during a calm period between visits to the park, his family sat in the lobby reading books for an hour or so. A passerby commented that she wishes her family would do this ritual. His solution is simply to create the habit of reading. How often do we carve out time to intentionally read? I think of all the distractions and responsibilities that vie for my attention which take away my reading time. I need to heed White’s advice to make reading a priority in my life over television, the Internet, and other trifles. My favorite chapter in this book is titled, “The Library as Armory.” This puts reading and books in their proper perspective in our lives. Too often, we arm ourselves with pop-culture foolishness, and those weapons will never win a war. Reading hard books provides the proper training needed to interact with our culture today.

Another aspect of this book that I appreciated is the chapter titled, “Sacred Thinking.” In it, he describes the art of self-reflection between what we read and other areas of our life. It is incorrect to think that our thinking is compartmentalized. What we watch on television, what we read for pleasure, what we discuss over coffee, and what we hear in the Sunday sermon are not distinct areas of study. Do we allow ourselves time to contemplate how these areas fit together or how they are incongruent? This self-reflection is important in all circles, Christian or non-Christian. It’s an aspect that I want my students to do in a variety of readings in class, and I should do it with what I read as well.

The appendices are worth the price of the book alone. White offers three book lists to begin our quest toward a mind for God. The first list is “Ten to Start,” books that offer a basic overview to reading and to the Christian faith. Adler, Lewis, Packer, etc. The next is called “Twenty-Five Books Toward a Christian Worldview.” The third is “Entering the Great Conversation,” a compendium of great books that offer a broad education in world literature. These three provide readers of all levels to begin their diet of important texts to develop their minds for God.

I recommended many of the books on this list, but A Mind for God is really one of the best for an introduction to the importance of reading, learning, and thinking. If you are like me, you’ll appreciate the reminder to read and think more.

 

JRF

JRF’s #23 – City of Dreams by Mark W. Medley

This book is a collection of short reflections, observations, and ancedotes about Indonesia’s capital city, Jakarta.  They provide a street-level view of the crowded, gritty, humid urban life of the world’s densest metropolitan jungle as seen through the eyes of an expatriate.

Unfortunately, said expatriate is a horrible writer…seriously…really bad.  Virtually every paragraph had misspelled words, missing or inappropriate punctuation, or non-sensical grammar.

Most of the stories were interesting (if you could decipher the grammar), some were crude, many were bizzare, and all were informative.

When read through a missiological lens, there is much to chew on in this quick read.

But someone needs to send this in for a re-edit.

 

 

 

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