Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis

The Screwtape Letters
C. S. Lewis
Published 1942

Here is another book I finished a long time ago, and if I do not write something about it, I shall forget everything.  Yesterday I took a twenty-five-question quiz on what I remember, and I received an F (40% correct).  So let's get going.

This little book is Christian satire, written in an epistolary style from Screwtape, Administrative Demon, to his nephew Wormwood, devil-in-training.  Wormwood has been given charge over a new Christian, and all of Screwtape's letters are aimed to teach Wormwood the typical temptations and weaknesses of faith and human nature.  Screwtape seeks to help Wormwood recognize these prime opportunities to trip up and cause the new believer to fall, in hopes of pulling him away from his faith forever and before it is too late.

Here are only a few suggestions from Screwtape to Wormwood about Mankind and human nature:

  • Truth no longer matters to man.
  • Keep men busy thinking about what will happen to him, not what he [must] do.
  • A moderated (watered down) religion is as good for [demons] as no religion at all.
  • Send [the new Christian] church shopping until he finds one that 'suits' him.
  • [Demons] can use a human belly and palate to produce querulousness, impatience, uncharitableness, and self-concern.
  • Cause [man] to believe that humans cannot practice abstinence or monogamy, and therefore may be easily sexually tempted.
  • Make them think love is the ONLY respectable grounds for marriage.  (See Mere Christianity.)
  • The whole philosophy of Hell rests on recognition of the axiom that one thing is not another thing, and . . . My good is my good and your good is yours.
  • [Demons] are directing the desires of men to something which does not exist -- making the role of the eye in sexuality more important and at the same time making its demands more impossible.
  • The sense of ownership -- own time, own money, own body, etc. -- is always to be encouraged (because it is the completely untrue).
  • If you cannot remove spirituality from the new Christian's life, corrupt it: distract his mind, and do not allow his Christianity to influence his politics.  What devil wants a just society?
  • Cause the new Christian to become horrified of the Same Old Thing in religion.  Fill their heads with new philosophies and psychologies.

I cannot tell you what happens to the new Christian in the end.

"Screwtape Proposes a Toast"

This is a final section where Screwtape lectured the graduating tempters on the quality of souls they are receiving in Hell, and why.

Screwtape explained that so long as man desires to conform to his social environment, to be like everyone else, and forgets history, he is easily fooled.  He recapped world history: the Revolutionary period ushered in an end to slavery, and tended toward religious tolerance, liberty and equality.

But "hidden in the heart of this striving for Liberty there was also a deep hatred of personal freedom." Enter Rousseau . . .
That invaluable man Rousseau first revealed it.  In his perfect democracy (UTOPIA), you remember, only the state religion is permitted, slavery is restored, and the individual is told that he has really willed whatever the Government tells him to do.  From that starting point, via Hegel, we wearily contrived both the Nazi and the Communist state. 
This is [Satan]'s counter-attack, and the little graduate tempters are instructed to use DEMOCRACY to lead mankind into their hands. How? By twisting language and changing the meaning of words. Never mind what it really means; indoctrinate men to think it means EQUALITY.
No one must be different from himself in voice, clothes, manners, recreations, choice of food.
[No man] has business to be different.  It's undemocratic.
People are easily tempted to reject free Grace because it would make them separate from the World.
To accept might make them Different, might offend again, the Way of Life, take them out of Togetherness, impair their Integration with the Group.  They might become individuals.
The World no longer needs Dictatorships to do Hell's job because man is (under the guise of Democracy) volunteering himself to "discredit and eliminate every kind of human excellence - moral, cultural, social, or intellectual."

Then Lewis digs at the education system.  Basically worthless people (idlers and ignoramuses) must not be made to look inferior to those who work hard.  Again, that is undemocratic. To do this, exams are altered for high marks, and it is made easier for most citizens to enter the universities, whether they care to be there or not. In fact, make the work simple and useless and call it something worthwhile.  "Whatever nonsense they are engaged in must have 'parity of esteem.'


(Yes, I am shouting.)

The goal is to eliminate incentives to learn and penalties for not learning. And the best way to do this is through state education, in which the government taxes its Middle Class citizens to death in the name of Equality.  After all, (as quoted by an English politician), 'A democracy does not want great men.'
For 'democracy' leads to a nation without great men, a nation mainly of subliterates, morally flaccid from lack of discipline in youth, full of the cocksureness which flattery breeds on ignorance, and soft from lifelong pampering.  And that is what Hell wishes every democratic people to be.
As Lewis reminds his readers: "the overthrow of free peoples and the multiplication of slave-states are for [devils] a means; but the real end is the destruction of individuals.  For only individuals can be saved or damned."

Side bar: I am reading Revelation these days, and according to my study, the seven churches that are listed in chapters 1-3 embody the different churches of the last 2000 years.  The final church, the Lukewarm Church of Laodicea, represents the modern, liberal church of today.  It is the Big Box Church that is rich in members and buildings, success and wealth, but they are poor in God's presence and His blessings. This church focuses entirely on the democratic process, not God. Incidentally, Laodicea means "rights of the people."  When this church arrives on earth, it will be the end of the Church Age.

In his toast, Screwtape does not leave out "Christians" because it is the lukewarm bodies, the watered down so-called Christians, the HYPOCRITES that take up space within the Church that Satan counts on. They will turn people away from the Truth; and the more who do not have Christ, the more there will be for Satan.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Peloponnesian War by Thucydides

The Peloponnesian War
by Thucydides, translated by Steven Lattimore
written 431 BC
The Well-Educated Mind (Histories), Back to the Classics (Translation), 

The only reason I read The Peloponnesian War by Thucydides was for my Well-Educated Mind Reading Challenge, and therefore I am recording the minor fact that I read it.  I feel like I cannot add much more than that - I read it; it is done - but if I ponder a bit, maybe I can come up with some opinions.


Oh, I know.  I can confidently say I preferred Peloponnesian War far less than Herodotus' Histories. Thucydides was dull, dry, and dull.  (Said that already.)

Some of the speeches given by generals or other leaders were engrossing, but not frequent enough.

I am reminded again: loyalties are a joke, men can be bought for a price, you cannot trust government, innocent citizens are always the pawns of selfish, greedy, arrogant leaders, and these wars were wasteful and motivated by pride (because while I would be the first to say that sometimes war is very necessary, this "one" was not).  

If I did not know any better, I would say that Lattimore, my translator, had a personal vendetta against Thucydides because in his footnotes he often times ripped Thucydides to shreds when he thought he was being unfair or untruthful or not thorough enough.  Maybe that is what you call an honest translator.

Toward the end there were philosophical discussions about democracy and oligarchies, and that was interesting - though a little too late.  Other than that, I cannot say I remember anything more that stands out; and in fact, the longer I wait to write this post, the more I forget I even read it.

So there it is.  Glad to be done.  I have great respect for minds that love this stuff, but I am ready to move on to Plato.  

It is done.

Monday, June 5, 2017

55 Men The Story of the Constitution: based on the day-by-day notes of James Madison by Fred Rodell

55 Men: The Story of the Constitution
Based on the day-by-day notes of James Madison
Fred Rodell
published 1936

This book was for sale at my library, and given that I am preparing for our Age of Revolution school year, I could not pass it up, especially because it is about the Constitution "based on the day-by-day notes of James Madison."  Notice it was first published in 1936; I think my copy is actually from 1936 because it is brittle and every page has separated completely from its binding.

James Madison - 
Father of the Constitution

I thought this would read like a diary, but it is actually written in a chronological story narrative.  It begins in May 1787, when delegates met in Philadelphia to "repair" the Articles of Confederation, then replaced it with something totally brand new.  It is certainly an interesting and intense retelling of what fifty-five "hard-headed" men fought for.

This is a perfect book for junior high and high school students, though not juvenile in the least, because it is easily readable, understandable, and there is a chance young people may form a small appreciation for what these men did. This book exposes the battles lost and won between small states and larger states, South and East, state and federal, federal and national, agriculture and business , as well as government and the People. Yet, they banded together to consider what to do when new wily states in the West would want to join the Union. There were details that needed to be worked out, such as term limits, proportional representation, and how to count slaves.  Some of these contentious battles looked like there would never be a conclusion.

Benjamin Franklin - 
I suggested prayer, but they suggested otherwise.

At one point, Benjamin Franklin suggested daily prayers and to request a local clergy of the city to officiate the service, but Alexander Hamilton objected because he pointed out that it might indicate there was trouble in the Convention.  According to Madison's notes, others "agreed that secrecy was more important than divine assistance," and they "continued without the benefit of prayer."  This is interesting because this is not the story others have told.

One of the longer arguments was over  how the president was to be elected. Numerous schemes were successfully demonstrated, showing how dangerous a direct election of the president by the people or by the Senate would be.  Hence, it was finally decided that neither would have the vote; rather the people would vote for electors in their state who would in turn vote for the president.

Alexander Hamilton -
 a strong proponent of federal government

It was amazing how they came to the agreement on the separation of power, each branch of government and its specific responsibility, and the checks and balances that each branch had on the other.  The purpose of the separation of power was to protect all the people from tyranny of a president turned dictator; and it was "to protect a part of the people * from a type of government the delegates themselves feared even more:" DEMOCRACY.  I am not kidding.  The author said Democracy is "soaked . . . with schemes tending toward a more equal distribution of wealth."   Distribution of wealth is legalized greed and theft, and both are wrong.  But I digress.

* So, that separation of powers deal "softened the strength of real majority rule in order to guard the property interests of less than half the people."

Toward the end of the Convention, the slavery issue and slave trade were drudged up again, and it was a bitter fight.  But it was agreed that Congress not pass any legislation against the slave trade for twenty years. The Convention needed those slave states to agree to the new Plan, and the South felt that in twenty years they would no longer need the slave trade.  Essentially, most envisioned slavery fizzling out on its own in the future.

George Mason
I suggested a Bill of Right, but they wouldn't listen.

After four hot months at the Convention, the delegates were eager to get home.  That may be why they declined a Bill of Rights smartly suggested by George Mason; yet, a few months later, a Bill of Rights was added.  Hard as it may be to believe, there was great hysteria after the result of the Convention was revealed; people were extremely skeptical about the newly formed government.  It took an entire year before the ninth of the thirteen states ratified the Constitution and it could go into effect.

In the end, the author asked what the Founders would think today of their new experimental government.  Rodell declares that our government looks a lot more like a democracy.  He said,
[The Founders] would find the powers they once put in the hands of national government, to protect the property rights of men of affairs, being used in exactly the opposite way--being used to limit those property rights in the interest of a majority of the people.
They would find very little remaining of their separation of powers, with its many checks to guard against popular laws.  They would find just one of their three main branches of government removed from the people, instead of two and a half as once they planned.
Included in the back of the book are copies of the original Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the remaining Amendments - a few which were added after 1936.

This is an excellent, thorough, and insightful look at the secret Convention and the contentious debates leading up to the final construction of the foundation of the United States government.  The author lists plenty of evidence as to why the Founders decided for or against an idea, as well as the personal tempers of certain members regarding specific topics.

It has been said that the Constitutional Convention brought together some of the greatest minds that have ever lived; I believe it.  55 Men: The Story of the Constitution is the inside story of that miracle.

Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States
- Howard Chandler Christy

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Personal Canon of Books

This idea was brought to me by Jillian, who encouraged me to make a list.  It has just taken me awhile.

Every avid reader has a particular and unique way of composing a personal canon.  The list is characteristic of who you are.  It says, "These are my books."

Some of these books have affected my worldview, some shook me to my core, some left an imprint on my heart, and others changed my life forever.  These books matter to me.  If I constructed my self-portrait using books, this is what it would look like; if I was marooned on an island, these are the books I would desire for my companion.  Over all, I measured my books based on how I responded to them, which makes them obviously personal.

Since every reader is distinct and every reading experience is personal, I can not stand by each one and promise that another reader would have the same encounter.  You may have a completely different result.  We may agree that a work is good because it meets certain qualifications or standards, but beyond that, it may end.  And that is ok, too.

This is my personal canon - an ever growing and evolving list that may forever be part of me.  I broke it up between fiction and non-fiction (the latter including biographies, histories, and miscellaneous).


Alcott, Louisa May:
Little Women

Austen, Jane:
Pride and Prejudice

Bronte, Charlotte:
Jane Eyre

Burnett, Frances Hodgson:
The Secret Garden

Bunyan, John:
Pilgrim's Progress

Cather, Willa:
O Pioneers!
My Antonia

Don Quixote

Crane, Stephen:
The Red Badge of Courage

Defoe, Daniel:
Robinson Crusoe

Dickens, Charles:
A Christmas Carol
A Tale of Two Cities
Oliver Twist

Dostoevsky, Fyodor:
Crime and Punishment

Ellison, Ralph:
Invisible Man

Fitzgerald, F. Scott:
The Great Gatsby

Flaubert, Gustave:
Madame Bovary

Forster, E.M:
Howards End

Golding, William:
Lord of the Flies

Grahame, Kenneth:
Wind in the Willows

Hardy, Thomas:
Far From the Madding Crowd
Return of the Native

Hawthorne, Nathaniel:
The Scarlet Letter

Hosseini, Khalid:
A Thousand Splendid Suns

Hurston, Zora Neale:
Their Eyes Were Watching God

Lee, Harper
To Kill a Mockingbird

Melville, Herman:

Miller, Arthur:
The Crucible

Mitchell, Margaret:
Gone with the Wind

Orwell, George:

Pasternak, Boris:
Doctor Zhivago

Remarque, Erich Maria:
All Quiet on the Western Front

Stowe, Harriet Beecher:
Uncle Tom's Cabin

Twain, Mark:
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

Tolstoy, Leo:
War and Peace
Anna Karenina

Wharton, Edith:
The Age of Innocence
The House of Mirth

Wilder, Laura Ingalls
Little House in the Big Woods
Little House on the Prairie
Farmer Boy
On the Banks of Plum Creek
By the Shores of Silver Lake
The Long Winter
Little Town on the Prairie
These Happy Golden Years
The First Four Years

Woolf, Virginia:
The Voyage Out

Zola, Émile:


The Bible


Bauer, Susan Wise:
The Well-Trained Mind 
The Well-Educated Mind 

Beamer, Lisa:
Let's Roll

Boom, Corrie Ten:
The Hiding Place

Bradford, William:
Of Plymouth Plantation 1620-1647

Capote, Truman:
In Cold Blood

Columbus, Christopher:
The Four Voyages of Christopher Columbus

Conway, Jill Ker:
The Road from Coorain

Douglass, Frederick:
The Life and Times of Frederick Douglass

Frank, Anne:
The Diary of a Young Girl

Gatto, John Taylor:
The Underground History of American Education

Hillenbrand, Laura:

Jacobs, Harriet:
Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Johnson, Paul:
A History of the American People

Lewis, C.S.:
Mere Christianity

Lewis, Meriwether & Clark, William:
The Journals of Lewis and Clark

Malcolm X:
The Autobiography of Malcolm X as Told to Alex Haley

Metaxas, Eric:
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery

Nafisi, Azar:
Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books

Sarton, May:
Journal of a Solitude

Schaeffer, Francis:
How Shall We Then Live?

Thomas, Clarence:
My Grandfather's Son

Thoreau, Henry David:

Washington, Booker T.:
Up From Slavery

Wiesel, Elie:

Woolf, Virginia:
A Room of One's Own

So . . . what is your personal canon?

Top Ten Tuesday: Summer Reads

Top Summer Reads

The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald

To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee

The Kite Runner - Hosseini

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich - Solzhenitsyn

The Republic - Plato

The Screwtape Letters - C. S. Lewis (already reading)

This Side of Paradise - F. Scott Fitzgerald

Maybe as many of the Little House books, by Laura Ingalls Wilder,
as I can manage, but I am not really sure it will happen. 
What do you hope to read this summer?

Friday, May 19, 2017

If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty

If You Can Keep It:
The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty
Eric Metaxas
published 2016

I have begun reading books to get me into the revolutionary spirit for my next school year.  The first is If You Can Keep It, by Eric Metaxas.  It is a quick read, which surprised me given the heavy topic at hand, and since Bonhoeffer and Amazing Grace, both by Metaxas, are much longer reads. Nonetheless, I am not complaining.  One may consider it a primer on the issue.

The title is from a question posed by a Mrs. Powell to Benjamin Franklin, after the close of the Constitutional Convention, in 1787: "Well, doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?" Franklin replied, "A republic, madam--if you can keep it."

Metaxas reminds his readers that America was an experiment, founded on an idea -- an idea that had never been tried before, and one that must be maintained by the citizens in order to last.  America is a promise to all future Americans that "the people themselves would have to do a lot to make it work.  A government in which the people would govern themselves would be fragile and would require the people's attention in a way that no other government would."  The experiment was in liberty, or more specifically: SELF-GOVERNMENT.  

You have heard of American exceptionalism.  This really boils the blood of some, but that is because they do not understand it.  American exceptionalism, according to Metaxas, demands that America be an example to the rest of the world.  It is a not just for our sake, but for others.  If we are to keep the republic (alive and well), we must live up to its standards.  It has nothing to do with privilege, but rather it is a principle we work toward, and in turn has enabled us to help others.

Government is necessary, but self-government is required to ward off tyrannous government.  This next bit of info was interesting: our Founders had an extensive understanding of biblical history.  They knew man was fallen and they knew he could be redeemed.  Therefore, because man was fallen, the structure of government must be limited so that "fallen and selfish human desire for power worked against itself."

Back to self-government: the Founders understood that free religion was essential to good government.  Truly religious people were less likely to break the law.  The first settlement in America was composed of a deeply religious people seeking religious freedom, and it is this freedom to believe -- and not coercion -- that makes people free and desire to excel.  The Founders understood that freedom and religion were synonymous in purpose and principle.  See, and right here I thought: that is what makes Islam incompatible with our Constitution because people must generally be coerced to follow Islam; there is no liberty in Islam.  But Metaxas did not discuss this; it just made sense to me.

The more one practiced self-government (obeying the law and practicing good will), the less need there would be for a burdensome, strong-armed central government.  But freedom in self-government does not give one license to do whatever he or she likes; and therefore, there must be limits on freedom.  At the same time, we cannot simply export American exceptionalism to other nations expecting them to convert into a mini-America.  Metaxas states,
so much needs to be in place to make what we call freedom and self-government to work than to simply tell someone he is free and bid him govern himself . . . There are tremendous responsibilities that come with self-government.
In addition, government cannot make people behave; but the less the citizens do for themselves, the more often government will pick up the slack.  Oh, boy!  How that has happened to America!  This is why Americans must guard their freedoms.  If a people do not exercise their opportunities and responsibilities, they will lose it, forget how, and finally fail to pass it on to the next generation.  It is why we simply cannot free people in other nations who have not the desires for or notions of the responsibilities of liberty and self-government.  Alexis de Tocqueville calls these desires and notions "habits of the heart," and it is why morality and true religion are so important for self-governing people.
If you take God and faith and morality out of the equation, everything inevitably falls apart.
If a people are not prepared for the great responsibilities of their freedom, it will not work.  For the American people of 1776 and 1787, the Founders believed "the citizens were prepared for what they had been given," and that "the great freedoms of the republic they had made possible required keeping.  The Founders were right in trusting that we would keep the republic and would cultivate the habits of the heart.  But it was impossible for the Founders to see where after two centuries the things that were secure in their day would change."  Metaxas then asks: "What, then, is now to be done?  What then, are we to do?"

The author then describes the Golden Triangle of virtue, faith, and freedom.  Virtue is a high moral standard, and was once extremely popular in America.  It was demanded of every citizen, young and old, male and female, and it was part of the American culture.  Faith was necessary to motivate people beyond the law.  Tocqueville recognized that there was "no country in the world where the Christian religion retains a greater influence over the souls of men than in America."  That was because the authority in men's hearts was to God, not a forced obedience to man or government of men.  And finally there is freedom, which had everything to do with religious liberty -- that is, to recognize God as Creator and His moral law, but to worship in his own way.

Next, there is a whole chapter on George Whitefield and his influence on America, which was fascinating.  There is another chapter on Heroes and how America has gone from venerating great men (and women) to now doubting them and focusing on their faults -- men like Nathan Hale and Paul Revere.  Oh, and there is a chapter on the Importance of Moral Leaders.  Wow, we have fallen short in that tradition.  Our republic was founded on the principle of moral men and women, people of character, with good "habits of the heart."  How can we expect to last if we continue in immorality and perversion and corruption, both leaders and citizens alike?  (I just threw that in there.)  If we are not following that higher standard demanded of us by our Constitution, who will be left to uphold it, protect it, defend it, and pass it on to other generations or even be an example to other nations and people?

Return to American Exceptionalism: Did you know it was that darn Frenchman, Alexis de Tocqueville, who coined the term in the first place?  Blame him!  He said our position in the world is what made us exceptional, "and it may be believed that no democratic people will ever be placed in a similar one."  But why?  

1.  Because America was founded on a universal creed that all men are created equal and that America exists only by consent of the governed.  We are a merit-based society where people are not treated based on family or race or beliefs, but rather one has mobility in society, as he pleases (and I would add, as God pleases);  2.  because America has thrived in freedom and extraordinary wealth; and 3. because America values the individual over the state, including leaders who are beholden to the same law as the citizen.*  (*Cough, choke.)

Then Metaxas talks about the Shining City on a Hill remark and how we are a beacon of light to those seeking liberty, freedom, and opportunity, in which so many immigrants have benefited.  Here I would like to add my own observations.  I am grateful to be an American and that my grandparents and all four sets of great-grandparents came to America from Italy.  But immigrants of the late 1800s and early 1900s were different: they wanted to assimilate to America, and they raised their children to be American.  Many of today's immigrants have no interest in incorporating into the distinct American culture, but instead are changing it.  Add that to the destructive sediment of American citizens that America is evil and her history is sexist, racist, homophobic, and transphobic, and essentially must die.  Don't worry; America is dissolving.  We cannot keep our republic under the current climate.  Those immigrating to America and the ones drastically seeking to wipe her clean will eventually find a very hostile place to live in time because there will be nothing to unite people any longer.  Like President Lincoln said, "
If destruction be our lot we must ourselves be its author and finisher.
But I digress.  

There is a final chapter on loving America.  Lincoln made a reference to "mystic chords of memory" when addressing the nation during his Inauguration, 1860.  Lincoln was talking about the things that unify people as a nation.  It is a love of country.  Here is a great question: if God calls us to love our enemies, can we not also apply that to our country?  I am reminded of Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn and his love of Russia, even when his Communist government sent him to Siberia for treason.  I think of Azar Nafisi and her love for Iran, the country she had to leave because those in leadership took away her freedom and individualism.

We can love our country, even with all her faults.  We are to love others the same way.  The key is to also admit there is good, too.  Be grateful God has given the gift of liberty and that you still have a country with freedoms left.  In the words of the author,
the love of what is good and true and beautiful in anything will become the portal through which we love all that is good and true and beautiful beyond it.
The bottom line is this: the Founders designed a government that was only as good as the  citizens who participated.  If the voters send inept, ignorant, unethical, self-serving, corrupted men and women to government, and in turn forget their own moral obligation to be virtuous citizens who understand the responsibility of liberty, then the experiment of self-government will surely fail.  Only if we maintain a citizenry always willing and able to rise to the occasion to protect and cherish our history, our country, and our neighbors, is there a better chance of us keeping the republic.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Mother's Day Freebie

Mother's Day Freebie: Books for a Mother's Soul

Of the books I own and have read, these first five books encouraged me - the (home schooling) mom - and have inspired my heart in some good way.  

The other seven (I know, I could not stop at five) also touched my heart (and not always in a joyful or peaceful way either): some were narrated by a child, some demonstrated the vulnerability of a child, and others featured the relationship between a mother (or foster mother) and a child.  These are books that may affect a mother quite differently than a reader who is not.  

1. Honey for a Child's Heart - Gladys Hunt

2. When You Rise Up - RC Sproul, Jr. 

3. The Mother at Home - John S.C. Abbott

4. "Don't Make Me Count to Three!
A Mom's Look at Heart-Oriented Discipline - Ginger Plowman

5. A Mom Just Like You: The Home Schooling Mother - 
Vickie Farris and Jayme Farris Metzgar

6. Anne Frank's Diary - Anne Frank

7. Uncle Tom's Cabin - Harriet Beecher Stowe

8. Little Woman - Louisa May Alcott

9. Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens

10. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn - Betty Smith

11. A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens

12. The Little House series - Laura Ingalls Wilder

Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Great Gatsby: A Read-Along via The Edge of the Precipice

Coming June 1, 2017

I don't know what you are doing this summer, but it is time for me to reread The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  Gratefully, Hamlette at The Edge of the Precipice is hosting this read-along, June 1-30, and I am super excited already.  Summer cannot come soon enough.  : )  No sign up necessary, but you can stop by Hamlette's blog for more info.  

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: "Judge a Book by Its Cover"

Cover Theme Freebie: "Judge a Book by its Cover"

I have to complain a little.  There are not many books I own in the specific editions I would have chosen had I purchased them brand new.  Most of my books are ex-library or used book sales.  I did find at least more than ten that stand out the most.  Obviously, I am drawn to painted artwork.  I prefer simple designs and rich color, but I do not have a great collection of books worthy to be judged based on their covers.  These are ones that I visually appreciate the most:

Monday, May 1, 2017

Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis

Mere Christianity
C. S. Lewis

Mere Christianity is a collection of wartime radio talks given by C. S. Lewis between 1942 and 1944. Lewis makes the case for Christianity by describing its universal and foundational principles.  He presents his case as an objective observer and uses logic to find truth.  It is divided into four books.

Book One:  Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe

People know basic right from wrong (the Law of Nature) because it is natural to them; and man was born with the Law written on his heart (italicized comment mine).  Different civilizations have understood the Law of Nature because people expect to be treated decently by others and "we feel the Rule of Law pressing on us so -- that we cannot bear to face the fact that we are breaking it, and consequently we try to shift the responsibility (blame others for our bad behavior)."

Lewis makes two important points:
First, that human beings . . . have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it.  Secondly, that they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it. 
The reality and dilemma are that man knows he must behave as a moral being, but he does not do so.

Lewis examines the Law.  He presents two basic beliefs: a materialistic (evolutionary) view that says everything just was and nobody understands why, and the other is religious, which says the universe was made by something like "a mind" - something with consciousness, purpose, and preferences.

Again, man knows he is under a moral law.  We know this because we are human beings who feel this influence within our selves.  We have a moral conscience that urges us to do right and makes us guilty when we do wrong.

Here is our dilemma:
If the universe is not governed by an absolute goodness, then all our efforts are in the long run hopeless.  But if it is, then we are making our selves enemies to that goodness every day . . . and so our case is hopeless again.
Man's situation is desperate, and the remedy is Christianity, explains Lewis.
[Christianity] "offer[s] an explanation of how we got into our present state of both hating goodness and loving it.  [It] offer[s] an explanation of how God can be this impersonal mind at the back of the Moral Law and yet also a Person.  [It] tell[s] you how the demands of this law, which you and I cannot meet, have been met on our behalf, [and] how God Himself becomes a man to save man from the disapproval of God.  
 Book Two: What Christians Believe

Christians believe in [a] God who created the universe and everything in it, though He is also separate from the universe.  God is good, and those things that are bad are "contrary to His will."

Next, Lewis introduces "Christianity-and-water," (what I call "watered-down Christianity"). Watered-down Christianity focuses on the easy and good truths, and "leaves out difficult and terrible doctrines about sin and hell and the devil, and . . . redemption."

God gave man free will - though free will is what makes evil possible - but it is also the only thing that makes any love, goodness, or joy worth having.  Meanwhile, man cannot be happy apart from God.  "He . . . is the food our spirits were designed to feed on."

Lewis demonstrates that Jesus claimed to be God; that He always existed; that He forgives sins: and that He is coming to judge the world at the end of time.
You must make your choice.  But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about [Jesus] being a great human teacher.  He has not left that open to us.  He did not intend to.
Next, Lewis deals with the question: What was the purpose for Jesus' coming?

The short answer: The central Christian belief is that Christ's death (and resurrection) allows man to be at peace with God.  I remind my children that the Christmas story about the birth of Jesus was not so there would be peace between men on earth - like so many misinterpret - rather, the angel proclaimed that Jesus brought peace between God and man, to all who obey Him.

Lewis explains that if God became man (Jesus), "He could surrender His will, and suffer and die, because He was man; and He could do it perfectly because He was God."

The conclusion of His work (on the cross) means a new life for man.  There are two different people in the world: the one who does not believe, but is trying to be good in hopes of appeasing God, if He exists (in one's mind), or at least to receive approval from man (if they do not believe in God); and the other, a Christian, who knows any good he does comes from the Christ-life (God's spirit) that lives inside of him.

Book Three: Christian Behavior

Next, Lewis describes morality as something that interferes and prevents us from enjoying [our natural inclinations].  Morality is important for justice and peace between individuals; balancing out our inner thoughts and ideas; and working out our general purposes in life.

There are seven virtues.  The first four, most civilized people agree on: prudence (common sense), temperance (self-control), justice (honesty), and fortitude (courage).  He talks about the last three later.

Lewis explains that God focuses on the heart-attitude of a virtue rather than the behavior of a virtue. He said, "the truth is that right actions done for the wrong reason do not help to build the internal quality or character called a virtue, and it is this quality or character that really matters."  In other words, it is not enough to just obey; obedience is not only for this world.  The heart must change completely, for good and forever.

Lewis reiterates that The Golden Rule is what every man/philosophy/civilization/religion has always known to be true - again, because the Law (says God) has been written (preprogrammed) on their hearts.

About that inward change, Lewis states:
I may repeat 'Do as you would be done by' till I am black in the face, but I cannot really carry it out till I love my neighbor as myself: and I cannot learn to love my neighbor as myself till I learn to love God: and I cannot learn to love God except by learning to obey Him.
"Human beings judge one another by their external actions; God judges them by their moral choices."  When a Christian grows, he understand more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him.

Under the virtue of temperance, Lewis expounds on charity, which includes loving our neighbor.  The key to loving our neighbor is having a desire to believe all the good you can of others and to put their needs before your own.

Regarding the excellent chapter on marriage, Lewis demonstrates that "being in love" is temporary, and should be taught as such.  Being in love (which is only a feeling) does not last forever, and when it is gone, then what?  Being in love is good, but it is not the most important; but "ceasing to be in love does not mean ceasing to love."
[Love] is a deep unity, reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God.  They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other; as you love yourself even when you do not like yourself.  
Being in love first moved them to promise fidelity: this quieter love enables them to keep the promise.
Lewis said his self-love makes him think himself nice, and that is why he loves himself.  But when he does things he hates, he does not cease loving himself. When he applies this to loving his neighbor, he remembers he does not have to like everything his neighbor does, but he may still wish him well and good.  That is what the Bible means about loving and forgiving our neighbor.

Of pride, the author says this vice leads to every other vice.  "It is the complete anti-God state of mind."  Pride is what makes us feel more important than all others.  Pride means you are at war with man and God.  It is "spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense."  Lewis warns: if you cannot admit you are conceited, that means you are "very conceited indeed."  It would be best if you would forget yourself, though that is not an easy to do. More on that later.

The final three virtues are faith, hope, and charity.  Returning to charity, Lewis describes it as Christian love.  He ties in the love we have for ourselves and reminds us that it means we always wish for our own good, even when we do not like ourselves.

Again, the secret to loving others is to forget trying to figure out if you love your neighbor: act as if you did.  The difference between a worldly man and a Christian is this: worldly man demonstrates affections for others depending on how they like them, whereas a Christian has only charity, treating all people with kindness.

Feelings are not what concern God, as much as obedience (which is directly connected with a heart attitude).  Treating someone as if you loved them will ultimately lead to a heart change.  If we aim to do God's will, obeying His Laws, God will change our hearts, if He pleases.  It is not our power to control our feelings, nor should we demand them as our right.

Lewis describes hope as a continual looking forward to the eternal world - God's promise to us.

And Lewis calls faith belief, which is "holding on to thoughts your reason has once accepted, despite your changing moods."  That is why Christians must daily pray and read Scripture, and go to Church to be reminded of what they believe.  A Christian recognizes that he cannot meet God's standards, no matter how much he tries.  There is a change from being assured of his own efforts to leaving it to God.  It means, trusting Him without worry.  It means not being obedient in order to be saved, but "because he has begun to save you already."

Book Four: Beyond Personality

In this last book, Lewis talks about theology.  He calls theology a map, and we must use it to make it work.

Lewis talks about the word "beget," which means "comes from."  Christ is the Son of God 'begotten, not created, . . . begotten by his Father.'  "What God begets is God; what man begets is man."  Christ is God, but man is created by God.

Then Lewis explains that man's purpose is to be "taken into the life of God."  Lewis compared the three persons of God to a cube.  Just as there are six squares that make up one cube, there are three persons that make one Being.
God is the thing to which [man] is praying - he is trying to reach (God the Father). God is also the things inside him which is pushing him on - the motive power (the Holy Spirit).  God is also the road or bridge along which he is being pushed to that goal (God the Son).  So the whole threefold life of the three-personal Being is actually going on . . . in an ordinary man . . . saying his prayers.
The Son exists because the Father exists.  The third Person of God is the Holy Spirit, which is the corporate behavior of God, which is what resides inside a person once he believes.

Lewis makes this case for the purpose of becoming a Christian:
We are not begotten by God, we are only made by Him: in our natural state we are not sons of God . . . that we can . . . come to share in the life of Christ.  If we do, we shall then be sharing a life which is begotten, not made, which always has existed and always will exist.  If we share in this kind of life we also shall be sons of God.  We shall love the Father as He does and the Holy Ghost will arise in us.  [Jesus] came to this world and became a man in order to spread to other men the kind of life He has.  
Lewis says the Son of God is working at your side, "injecting" His kind of life and thought into you. That is what the Bible means when it talks about 'having the mind of Christ,' being 'born again' or 'putting on Christ.'

Like I said before, I think, Lewis said, giving your whole self - your desires, your loves, even the things you hate about yourself - to God is difficult, almost impossible.  We love our personal happiness, and we want to let our own mind have its own way.  Nonetheless, we cannot be perfect, and the only help God offers us is to help us become perfect, His way.  Those who let Him change them will be made perfect, though not entirely in this life.  The more man tries to live on his own, without Him, the more he is controlled by his natural desires, which will ultimately result in his ruin.

The End

This is totally long, I know, and I do not blame anyone for skipping it, unless you are unreservedly interested in my interpretation of this work.  I absolutely enjoyed it so much that I could not cut down my notes.  I wanted to share as much of it as I could.  It is just amazing how someone can take a difficult, complex, unpopular topic and make it easy and pleasant to read and comprehend.  He explained the Trinity simply enough, which I have struggled to understand and explain since I have become a Christian.  And I am so grateful.  I loved everything about Mere Christianity.  Thank you, C.S. Lewis.

C.S. Lewis