The two kinds of romantic love

8096547973_367546a4eb_zOne kind of romantic love leads to life–to marriage, fruitful sexuality, children, family, virtue.  The other kind of romantic love leads to death–to sin, sterile sexuality, abortion, family destruction, ruin.

These two kinds of romantic love are explored in one of the most morally illuminating books of literary criticism I have ever read:  Love in the Western World by the Swiss Christian scholar Denis de Rougement.

A romance novel will often set up a triangle in which a woman has to choose between two suitors:  One is a good guy who cares for her, whom her parents like, and who would make a good husband.  The other is nearly a villain, an “anti-hero” who sometimes mistreats her, is a social outcast from her circles, and who even seems dangerous.  Young adults novels are often built around the same pattern,  with the choice between an all-American popular boy and a troubled, misunderstood, passionate “bad boy.”  Many literary novels have been about a happily married man who is lured away from his angelic wife by an exotic, sensual, forbidden beauty.

Sometimes the characters make the right choice in committing themselves to the good person.  But, more often than not, they choose the one who is bad “in society’s eyes,” but who offers them excitement, passion, and the thrill of transgression.  Romance and young adult novels often stop when the choice is made, imposing a “happily ever after ending.”  But honest works of literature, like Anna Karenina, show what happens next, with the forbidden love resulting in ruin, despair, and even death.

More importantly, the pattern keeps asserting itself in real life.   [Read more…]

C. S. Lewis, atheist

C. S. Lewis, one of the foremost Christian apologists, had been for 15 years a convinced and rather militant atheist.  My friend and former colleague Joel Heck has written a splendid study of Lewis’s atheism, published by Concordia Publishing House:   From Atheism to Christianity:  The Story of C. S. Lewis

There are many kinds of atheism, just like there are many kinds of Christianity, and Joel unpacks the influences, books, and ideas that defined Lewis’s particular variety of unbelief.  In tracing Lewis’s life and intellectual development from his school days through the early years of his academic career, the book is a compelling biography.

In his recreation of the intellectual atmosphere of pre-war Oxford, Joel shows the important influence of idealist philosophers, such as F. H. Bradley and Henri Bergson.  Most studies of early modernism focus on materialism and existentialism.  And yet, arguably, the idealists–who said things like “”the Universe begins to look more like a great thought than like a great machine” (James Jeans)–may have been even more important.  After all, T. S. Eliot, a founder of literary modernism, wrote his dissertation on Bradley.  Certainly the artistic modernists–Yeats and Joyce with their mythmaking; Stravinsky with his neo-primitive music; Picasso’s Cubism, Dalí’s Surrealism, and Kandinsky’s Abstractionism–are hard to reconcile with the definition of Modernism as an “age of reason.”  [Suggestion for graduate students:  Lots of good material for dissertations here!]

Both idealists and materialists could be atheist, and Lewis seems to have vacillated between the two, but idealism best accounted for his personal and aesthetic yearnings.  This new book also describes in detail how and why Lewis gave up his atheism, turning first to belief in a personal though philosophically-abstract deity, and then to the God of Abraham who became incarnate in Jesus Christ.

C. S. Lewis fans, apologists, intellectual historians, and atheists will all want to read this book.

[Read more…]

Letter from a Birmingham Jail 

512px-Recreation_of_Martin_Luther_King's_Cell_in_Birmingham_Jail_-_National_Civil_Rights_Museum_-_Downtown_Memphis_-_Tennessee_-_USATo observe Martin Luther King Day, read his classic “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”  It was written to fellow pastors who were concerned that a man of the cloth would engage in protests that would get him arrested.

The letter is interesting in itself for the case that it makes for civil disobedience, under certain very restrictive conditions.  Some of what he says will resonate with pro-lifers and religious freedom advocates.

The letter also shows how it was possible back then in 1963 to continually quote and allude to Scripture and to appeal to moral absolutes.  I don’t know if a person could do that today.  I don’t know if the Civil Rights Movement, with its moral appeal to the nation, could happen today.

Read “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” after the jump. [Read more…]

Legal rights for robots as “electronic persons”

I_Robot_-_RunaroundA committee of the European Parliament has passed a measure that would give legal rights to robots, classifying them as “electronic persons.”  It also imposes obligations, such as liability for any damages they might be responsible for.  The report also says that robots must not be made so as to appear “emotionally dependent” and must have a kill switch, should they go rogue.
That the committee is thinking in science fiction terms is evident in its implementation of Isaac Asimov’s Laws of Robotics, which he developed in his I, Robot series:
  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

The committee measure says, “A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm,” while allowing robots the right to defend themselves as long as this rule is not violated.  The measure specifically says that developers must follow Asimov’s laws.

The entire European Parliament will vote on the measure in February.  For the entire document in English go here. [Read more…]

Tolkien’s newly-discovered Christmas poem

6636682381_df5f18dd00_oA Christmas poem written by J. R. R. Tolkien was recently discovered.  Entitled “Noel,” Tolkien wrote it in 1936  for a Catholic girls’ school, which printed it in the school yearbook.  Scholars stumbled upon it last year.

The poem is quite lovely, with Tolkienesque imagery combined with a strong theme of Incarnation.  I’m not sure of its copyright status, so I’ll just link to it here.

 

Photo by NerdPatrol.  Creative Commons License.

HT:  Mary Moerbe

The tragedies behind “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day”

Henry_Wadsworth_Longfellow_by_Thomas_Buchanan_Read_IMG_4414Let me just let Jim Priest, writing in the Daily Oklahoman, tell it:

As Christmas carols were sung and Christmas bells rung, Henry thought back on two tremendous tragedies. His loving wife, Frances, had been fatally burned in an accident in their own home. His son, Charles, had been severely wounded in the war.

When Frances was caught up in a fire, Henry attempted to smother the flames by throwing his arms around her. He only succeeded in severely burning himself on his face, arms and hands. He was so ill from his own burns, he could not attend his wife’s funeral. He was obliged to grow a beard because he was unable to shave his burn scarred face.

Henry’s son, Charles, was the unfortunate victim of a war bullet. Permanently disabled, Henry had to care for Charles’ day-to-day needs. His double dose of death and disability blanketed Henry with despair.

At Christmas, Henry wrote in his journal, “How inexpressibly sad are all holidays. I can make no record of these days. Better leave them wrapped in silence. Perhaps someday God will give me peace.”

A year later at Christmas, he was still mourning when he wrote, “A merry Christmas say the children, but that is no more for me.”

Finally, the following year at Christmas, Henry decided to pour out his jumbled emotions on paper. But instead of penning an entry in his journal, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow put pen to poetry and wrote the well-recognized Christmas carol, “I Heard the Bells On Christmas Day.”

After the jump, you can read the poem that turned into a beloved Christmas carol.

[Read more…]