Reading has not been cancelled

Cup of tea. I'm with C. S. Lewis who felt that a cup of tea could never be too big and a book too thick. They are magical ingredients.
I’m with C. S. Lewis on tea and books. They are magical ingredients.

I woke up early this morning and said to myself that C. S. Lewis was correct. He said once that he could never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit him. Fortunately I’m reading a long series at the moment, so it’ll take me a while to get to the end. I’m only on the 2nd of 21 books in C. J. Cherryh’s Foreigner series (the 21st is expected to be released in September this year).

I’m glad to have this series for many reasons. It’s a great story for starters, but I think the Covid 19 situation would be much harder without books. I could easily get cabin fever, because what do you do when there’s no sport anywhere, no concerts, closed libraries, closed schools, and people are strongly encouraged to stay home?

First of all, I don’t think it’s a good idea to stay at home all the time. I live in an area where there is a lot of space, so I can take walks without having to meet people, and when I do, we know to keep a certain distance. I do what I can to boost my immune system, and exercise is a part of that. Besides, sunlight may not kill the virus, but it is known to be an enemy of most viruses.

So what do you do when you come home? The basic cable package is a part the homeowners association fee where I live, but I’m not sure I would have bothered with it if I had to pay for those channels separately. There was a time when I enjoyed TV more than I do now. It could be that I have changed, but I think a lot changed when everyone was seduced by the dark side, aka reality shows. I’m not even that impressed by Netflix most of the time, so I’m glad to have books available.

I struggle with attention, so there are many days when I can’t read uninterrupted for hours, like I could some years ago, and when that happens, I switch between different things. These days I read some, spend some time thinking about the characters in the Foreigner universe, and I write some. We also have family activities, like playing board games and watching a film. Our film nights are like the TBS show Dinner and a Movie, except we do all the talking while the film is running. That makes them educational, because I don’t think you should stay away from films that include a message you don’t like.

My daughter likes musicals and dancing, and she had been curious about Grease for a while, so we watched that film last Friday. It’s a good story, and it gives you an opportuntiy to debate peer pressure, how boys and girls can see things differently, but also the importance of not pretending to be someone you are not, because you think that will make you happy. In other words, girls shouldn’t change for a boy, and vice versa.

This was the first Covid-19 weekend since my country shut down. Next week will be a challenge with closed schools and no afternoon activities for my daughter to go to, but I think there’ll be a lot of reading, because you can’t cancel books. I’m not going to shop like there’s no tomorrow, but although I sometimes have to make myself read when it’s hard to focus, I’m going to, because that makes my life pretty good. Life is by no means cancelled, neither is family.

The two sides of free will

Tolkien was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers in July 1915. It's remarkable that some of the men that saw a lot of evil created some of our finest children's literature. I'm also thinking of Roald Dahl and C.S. Lewis.
Tolkien was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers in July 1915. It’s remarkable that some of the men that saw a lot of evil also created some of our finest children’s literature. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

I like history and coming from a country that was invaded by the Nazis for five years in what feels like a near past I like reading about World War II. I was born 23 years after the war ended, but it feels near as both my parents had memories from the war. I especially like reading about the brave men and women working in the resistance movement. It’s also fascinating to take a look back in history and observe what happened after the war. How did these very evil times influence people?

We may feel that we are living in troubled times today and that our governments are not able/willing to offer us the stability and peace we desire, but imagine how the first half of the 20th century must have been like. World War I didn’t just happen in 1914, but there were many events leading up to this big war. It started many years earlier with the Franco-Prussian War (1870) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904).

Then Britain and France were concerned about Germany building up its military power, especially the navy. They counteracted this by signing a series of agreemnets and thus creating an alliance called Entente Cordiale (1907). The war really started getting closer with the Moroccan crisis (1905), the Bosnian annexation crisis of 1908, the Italo-Turkish war (1911), and the Balkan war (1912) where Serbia, Greece, Montenegro and Bulgaria formed the Balkan League, an alliance against the Ottoman Empire. This period of escalating violence ended with the assassination of  the Austro-Hungarian heir in Sarajevo.

After World War I ended in 1918 people had barely got back to a normal life when Hitler rose to power in 1933. That was the end of the Weimar Republic, the first German democracy. It came into existence after the German revolution and the following abdication of Emperor Wilhelm II in 1919.

We may feel that most people were innocent victims of the Nazis, but the truth is that Hitler had stronger support than many are willing to admit. We have a tendency to focus all attention on Hitler and none on the people that brought him to power. He is still responsible for what he did of course, but he wasn’t the only evil people were dealing with from the early 1930’s. There were weighty people that was actually convinced that Hitler was on the right track, but of course they couldn’t control the monster they had created. Hitler’s vision wasn’t much different from eugenics, which was developed in California long before the war, but they didn’t seem to realize that most of them would not have been a part of Hitler’s new world.

It may seem like a good idea to use a dictator as a part of a plan to execute an evil scheme, but you wouldn’t be dealing with a rational person. In other words, sooner or later all deals will be off. There were a lot of influential people around that time that seemed to have fallen outside our definition of nice. Most intellectuals at the time seem to have argued that the intelligent few should be encouraged to reproduce, while the “unfit” should be sterilized. This went on in Norway too and we actually had a sterilization law between 1934 and 1977. The law aimed to reduce the population of socially disadvantaged people, and didn’t target Romani people specifically, but they were over-represented.

This must have felt like incredibly dark times and to Christians it may have felt like the end of the world was getting closer. I am not that familiar with authors like Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, but from the little I know I believe they were strongly influenced by the baneful times they lived in. J.D. Salinger was born in 1919 and his most famous work, The Catcher in the Rye, may have been coloured by what he saw as a soldier in World War II-Europe. These authors were either directly involved in war or had contact with the American expatriate community in Paris. This was the negative impact of war, but there is also a positive side.

I’m not sure how C.S Lewis came to identify as an atheist already at the age of 15, but being born in 1898 he would have seen evil growing stronger and stronger across Europe, and it happened again in his 30’s and 40’s. He converted to Christianity in 1931, and interestingly enough the evil that was just about to throw the world into the abyss, didn’t make him doubt. C.S. Lewis went on to write some great Christian apologetic books like Mere Christianity, The Abolition of Man and The Great Divorce, but his most beloved books are of course The Chronicles of Narnia. They were written between 1949 and 1954, which is a remarkable testimony such a short time after the great war.

I recently came across the 1920’s youth movement referred to as the other KKK. I’m not sure what to make of The Kindred of the Kibbo Kift. Their goal was to create a society without war, poverty and wasted lives. Everything looks innocent on the surface, but there is something disturbing about this scout-like organization at the same time. I considered embedding a video from the 1920’s, but the young men and women were raising an arm in a way that resembles what the Hitler Jugend did some years later. It could be that Hitler later corrupted something innocent of course, but their views on religion is a bit disturbing too. It appears to have been very pagan. They are ambiguous, but appear to have had the best intentions.

But all those movements, like the later hippies, have a tendency to demonstrate human weaknesses. Many people have convinced themselves that Christianity is evil too because a few Christians are, but I don’t agree with that hopelessly flawed way of thinking. Atheists like to point to the Crusades, kings going to war under the pretense of acting on behalf of God, or the Inquisition. But it’s all us. Evil is present in the churches too, but to call all Christians and all churches evil would make as much sense as calling all right-wing political parties a security threat. Politics is divided into left and right, and the Republican Party in the USA and the Conservative Party in Britain are examples of two parties that belong to the right-wing. Does that mean they are like the Greek party Golden Dawn, which has been described as a Nazi and a fascist party? Of course not!

Everything can and will be corrupted. I’m afraid that’s what we do. That’s what free will lets us do, but it also gives us the freedom to do good. I’m a great fan of a few men that are far from perfect, but authors like J.R.R. Tolkien, Roald Dahl, A. A. Milne and C.S. Lewis have created some of the best moments I had reading books as a child and teenager, and they created this after seeing the other side of free will.

We are fast approaching the time when I get into the Christmas spirit and one of my traditions is to read Letters from Father Christmas by Tolkien. These are illustrated letters he wrote to his children between 1920 and 1942. In addition to the love for his children these letters also reveal a love for mythology, and it’s pretty clear that he had started thinking about The Lord of the Rings. It may be troubled times again, but there is hope. Evil won’t win if we choose our freedom of will to fight it. I find Lady Galadriel words from The Lord of the Rings encouraging: Even the smallest person can change the course of history.

I often feel like a hobbit, small and average, and I don’t especially want to leave my Shire, but I also don’t want to give up the fight. Giving up is never and option.

Kibbo Kift
Eugenics
Events leading up to WW I
J.D. Salinger

 

The law of nature

Nowadays when we talk of the laws of nature we usually mean things like gravidtation or heredity or the laws of chemistry, but when the older thinkers called the law of right and wrong the law of nature, they really meant the law of human nature. The idea was that just as all bodies are governed by the law of gravitation and organisms by biological laws, so the creature called man also had his law, with this great difference, that a body could not choose whether it obeyed the law of gravitation or not, but a man could choose either to obeye the law of human nature, or to disobeye it.

… He cannot disobeye those laws which he shares with other things, but the law which is peculiar to his human nature, the law he does not share with animals or vegetables or inorganic things, is the one he can disobeye if he chooses. This law was called the law of nature because people thought that everyone knew it by nature and did not need to be taught it. C.S. Lewis i Mere Christianity

If I have understood C. S. Lewis correctly, his point is that everyone has the law of nature, but that no one obeys it. I think he’s on to something there. We expect a certain behavior from others, and get irritated if they fail us, but we aren’t doing much better ourselves. Personally I frequently feel tired and/or angry, and this interfers and makes things worse. After a while I can usually think straight and see that other people get tired too, but initially I don’t always allow for that.

This argument can be used for most things, and C.S. Lewis must have had the evil Nazi regime in mind, as this book was published in 1952 and was based on radio talks he did on BBC between 1942 and 1944. I don’t think the slave owners in the US for example (1619-1865) could argue that they didn’t know what they were doing. Nor do I think the Germans could say the same in 1945, or the European countries that have committed major atrocities in their former colonies in the Americas, Africa and Asia. Those who have supported 100 years of communism in Russia can hardly declare themselves innocent. The same could be said for the people involved in wrongdoings committed by Norwegian authorities (such as lobotomizing and sterilizing travellers/minority group in Norway, assimilation of the Samis etc). They were all well aware of the fact that they broke the human law of nature. Everyone knows what is right, but we frequently choose to do what we know is wrong.

the judas kiss
The Judas Kiss (Mark 14:45) by Gustave Doré. Judas kisses Jesus in order to betray him to the guards.
Wikimedia Commons

I came to think of this after some comments that had crossed the Atlantic between me and Heather, known as the blogger Where Grace Abounds. I asked her about Judas from the Bible, and she asked whether Jean Calvin’s philosophy (predestination) had influenced christians in Norway. This is her latest comment:

Judas is an enigma, isn’t he?

Perhaps it is possible that he was both selected by God and that he chose the role he played.

I’m not sure why a betrayal was incorporated into the plan, but it was prophesied in Psalm 41:9 and Jesus referenced it in John 13:18. So, in a sense, it was necessary for someone to fill the part in order to fulfill everything God predicted would happen.

But I don’t believe that Judas was forced to do anything against his own will. It appears that his love of money was stronger than any affection he may have had for Jesus.

Do Norwegian believers struggle to reconcile the concepts of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility?

It wasn’t that easy giving a quick answer, but I have been pondering the subject today. We have free will. That’s one of the things that separates us from other animals, we can choose a moral or decent behavior. It was perhaps God’s desire that Judas would play a role in the execution of Jesus, but we are not mindless zombies. Even if God, contrary to expectations, had executed a vicious plan, where Judas was supposed to betray Jesus and then be left to deal with this himself, Judas had still a choice.

The law of right and wrong is not one we think much about, and we are not willing to admit that we constantly violate this law. Perhaps the fact that we try so hard not to talk about it suggest that we do feel an obligation to obeye it?  We just choose not to do it. This is the free will, but if you use this free will to become a Christian, I do believe you have some obligations. The moral law is perhaps not as strong as the physical laws of nature, but I think it still commits. This view has been in sharp decline in recent years, however. We may be fighting a losing battle, but it is a battle we must fight against ourselves. I wonder if this is what the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen meant when he said that “to live is to fight with the trolls in the vault of your heart and brain” (my own translation and may not do justice to a great writer).

Part of what‘s wrong in the world today is prejudice against Christians. We have been through a development in Norway that many other countries have completed a long time ago, and a couple of years ago parliament changed the constitution. This supposedly separated state and church, but in my opinion we have something worse. The government still finances what it calls the people’s church and the priests are still government employees, but there is an increased expectation that what the majority of the people think is right, should be the church doctrine.

As a society we seem to be locked into an elite thinking. Some talk about conspiracies, and maybe it is, but in a more sober language we can say that we are being ruled by an economic, political and religious elite. These relatively few inividuals are not aware of our challenges and probably don’t care either. They live so far removed from the rest of us that they don’t understand.

It’s easy to say that everything was better before. Many things are of course much better today, mostly if we think materialistically. We have more things that make our lives easier, entertainment has better quality and we have more food, but I still think we have lost something along the way, and it’s not just because we live virtual lives. I am the last of three children mom got in the 1960s (1963, 1965 and 1968). We were poor, but I don’t think I’m romanticizing too much if I contend that there was more solidarity before, that I showed more solidarity myself. I have never been good at expressing it, and I probably do it to a lesser extent than ever. I feel like a pretty selfish Christian because I don’t pay much attention to other people. This is perhaps an influence of the spirit of the age (not sure this expression is used in English). We are still poor and being poor isn’t any easier compared to when I was growing up in the 70s. It might even be more dangerous because many pull the ladder up as they climb themselves. It makes me a little sad thinking back on a childhood that could have been much better, but in some ways that lost world is also more appealing.

We are hardly as members of society predestined to become civilized people. There is nothing in our DNA that makes us good citizens. The western civilization we have developed must be taught and learned for each new generation, and if the transfer of knowledge is broken in only one generation, we regress to savages again. I think I’ve read somewhere about a theory stating that we are one generation from being savages. We can lose everything quickly. We may not lose everything, but quite a bit. I find it strange that many have turned their backs on Christendom and no one seems to realize that it was Christianity that built many of the values we are living by today. I believe Christianity is still  the best tool we have to counteract the danger of regression.

Christians have lived very well together with secular people in society, but now we see a growing conflict. The secular want to distinguish themselves from Christians. They don’t want to live in the same society, and they often use rowdy methods. These stories frequently appear in media. Many believe that priests that don’t feel comfortable wedding gay couples should get fired. Many believe that doctors that don’t prevent women from getting an abortion, but don’t want to refer them themselves, has no future as a doctor. There’s been cases where people have been forced to remove a necklace with a cross because this is a violation of the no “expressions of religion in the public sphere-law.” They have removed crosses from burial chapels because that will offend atheists, and atheists are so angry that they almost foam at the mouth when they talk to Christians. It’s not enough for them to choose to ignore religion anymore. They are determined to attack those of us who make a different choice.

Christianity disappears. Morality disappears. We regress to savages. There is indeed a risk of regression. That is why it is important for parents to learn, not only to learn a profession and the skills they need themselves, but to transfer something to the next generation. The strange thing is that when atheists attack Christianity they like to show what the church has done in the past, and there is no doubt that it has made many mistakes. That is precisely what I mean by moral law. Christians who don’t follow the law of God, can’t really represent God. If atheists were to subject themselves to the same standard, they couldn’t exclude people like Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedung when they summarize what atheism can offer. In both cases the human free will has been used to break the moral law that C. S. Lewis called the law of nature.

Open Doors monitors persecution of Christians worldwide. It is on the increase where you’d expect it, but also elsewhere. It is also difficult being a Christian in Europe and the USA. One of the reasons is the many opinons that wouldn’t get you any friends, but bad representatives of God is not helping. Maybe we need to do damage control? When there’s a scandal and a politician or some public person have done something wrong (stolen money, sex scandal etc), the best strategy seems to be to communicate with the outside world. Denying everything isn’t necessarily the best approach if you are clearly guilty.

I think one of the problems with the Catholic method is that they tend to hide the criminals, and stop talking. The victims have only the whole church (or God) organization to aim their anger at, no individual. This is how many churches respond, also when the scandal is smaller. Even when we don’t have these evil men among us, maybe we ought to admit our wrongdoings, flaws? In short, we need more honesty. Everyone seem to focus on how easy and painfree life will be when you join a church. I think life will be better for many people, if they get enough support from their fellow believers, but this is often exaggerated. That’s how it feels like for me at least, but I have to admit I have some issues.

There is however a problem with solidarity among Christans as well. The government is increasingly becoming less reliable in the welfare state too. This isn’t just related to the separation of church and state. The church used to handle many of these jobs. They helped parents raising the children to becoming good citizens. There are many examples of parents asking the authorites for help, with the result that the Child Welfare Service take the children. That’s the help they offer.

Where is the solidarity? Is it gone in the church as well?