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Ayn Contra Tau
March 27, 2013 12:05 PM   Subscribe


 
Even the stopped clock is right twice a day.

Honestly, I wish this could have been like matter and antimatter and they could have just Enoch Soamesed each other out of existence.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:10 PM on March 27, 2013 [23 favorites]


These insults and more can be found in her marginal notes on a copy of Lewis’ Abolition of Man, as printed in Ayn Rand’s Marginalia: Her critical comments on the writings of over 20 authors, edited by Robert Mayhew.

Critical in the common sense, not the literary criticism sense, apparently.
posted by eviemath at 12:11 PM on March 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


There is something oddly charming about the thought of Rand writing "the abysmal bastard!!" in the margins of a book. I really need to start keeping my own marginalia.
posted by Think_Long at 12:11 PM on March 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


It seemed to me to be nothing so much as a series of notes depicting Rand missing the point, over and over again.
posted by oddman at 12:12 PM on March 27, 2013 [44 favorites]


The Unsatisfiable Urge to Yawn
vs.
A Construction Worker Incessantly Hammering Five Houses Away

Annoyance Fight!!!
posted by gurple at 12:12 PM on March 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


Is a woman not entitled to the rant of her pen?
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:12 PM on March 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


Now I am gripped with the unspeakable wish that these two could have been Metafilter members. Oh the epic threads, the unspeakable flameouts! Thunderdome indeed.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:13 PM on March 27, 2013 [53 favorites]


The Screwball Letters
posted by Atom Eyes at 12:14 PM on March 27, 2013 [16 favorites]


C.S. Lewis shrugged.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 12:14 PM on March 27, 2013 [66 favorites]


Atlas Shrugged: It seemed to me to be nothing so much as a series of notes depicting Rand missing the point, over and over again.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 12:16 PM on March 27, 2013 [30 favorites]


Oh boy, one author I hate ripping on another author I hate!

This is gross:
"For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique;"

Fie on the wise men of old! Conforming the soul to reality never saved anyone from the plague. I'd rather have some Golden Rice than a copy of the Bible.
posted by JoeBlubaugh at 12:17 PM on March 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


Oh this was fun to read, they were so very much alike
posted by Blasdelb at 12:18 PM on March 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


This makes me wonder what sort of sprawling, nonsensical children's fantasy epic Rand would have written in answer to Lewis, if she'd had the inclination.

(Other than Atlas Shrugged, of course.)
posted by Strange Interlude at 12:20 PM on March 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


Well, she seems like such a lovely and pleasant person.
posted by jbickers at 12:20 PM on March 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


Rand missing the point, over and over again.

She kept pushing on the back wall of the wrong wardrobe.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 12:22 PM on March 27, 2013 [11 favorites]


I really need to start keeping my own marginalia.

Or hire Myles to do it for you.
It will be remembered (how, in Heaven's name, could it be forgotten) that I was discoursing on Friday last on the subject of book-handling, my new service, which enables ignorant people who want to be suspected of reading books to have their books handled and mauled in a manner that will give the impression that their owner is very devoted to them. I described three grades of handling and promised to explain what you get under Class Four--the Superb Handling, or the Traitement Superbe, as we lads who spent our honeymoon in Paris prefer to call it. It is the dearest of them all, of course, but far cheaper than dirt when you consider the amount of prestige you will gain in the eyes of your ridiculous friends. Here are the details:

'Le Traitement Superbe'. Every volume to be well and truly handled, first by a qualified handler and subsequently by a master-handler who shall have to his credit not less than 550 handling hours; suitable passages in not less than fifty per cent of the books to be underlined in good-quality red ink and an appropriate phrase from the following list inserted in the margin, viz:

Rubbish!
Yes, indeed!
How true, how true!
I don't agree at all.
Why?
Yes, but cf. Homer, Od., iii, 151.
Well, well, well.
Quite, but Boussuet in his Discours sur l'histoire Universelle has already established the same point and given much more forceful explanations.
Nonsense, nonsense!
A point well taken!
But why in heaven's name?
I remember poor Joyce saying the very same thing to me.
posted by Iridic at 12:23 PM on March 27, 2013 [31 favorites]


"Missing the point" is a great description for her entire life.
posted by seanmpuckett at 12:23 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is the very best thing I have heard about C.S. Lewis in a long time.
posted by gauche at 12:24 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'll take Philip Pullman's critique of Lewis over this any day. At least he seems to have bothered to understand Lewis a bit.
posted by gurple at 12:24 PM on March 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


Nothing more fun than imagining thousands of First Things readers wringing their hands until their knuckle skin rubs off trying to figure out which of their false gods to ally themselves with.
posted by Apropos of Something at 12:28 PM on March 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


bah, they were both idealistic perverts, but i will say i enjoyed hearing her say 'and how!', which i thought only existed in the three-stooges universe.
posted by facetious at 12:29 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


they were so very much alike

In the infinitude of possible universes, there is at least one in which Rand and Lewis got married. They'd be that couple everyone knows at least one of, breaking up wretchedly every other week and passionately getting back together just as quick.
posted by echo target at 12:29 PM on March 27, 2013 [11 favorites]


In the infinitude of possible universes, there is at least one in which Rand and Lewis got married. They'd be that couple everyone knows at least one of, breaking up wretchedly every other week and passionately getting back together just as quick.

AKA Who's Afraid of Dagny Taggart?
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 12:32 PM on March 27, 2013 [9 favorites]


In the infinitude of possible universes, there is at least one in which Rand and Lewis got married. They'd be that couple everyone knows at least one of, breaking up wretchedly every other week and passionately getting back together just as quick.

As it turns out, the long-running comics-panel The Lockhorns is in reality a window into this very universe.
posted by Strange Interlude at 12:33 PM on March 27, 2013 [18 favorites]


Somewhere, Ken Levine is dancing a happy dance at this.
posted by Apocryphon at 12:34 PM on March 27, 2013


I bet she's half giant and half jinn.
posted by Artw at 12:35 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Kent Gramm has a fantastic chapter on Lewis in his book November.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:35 PM on March 27, 2013


Boy, for someone so purely and completely objective, she sure uses a lot of exclamation points.
posted by Flunkie at 12:44 PM on March 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm guessing she didn't pick up the book out of intellectual curiosity, but solely for the purpose of getting her hate on.
posted by acb at 12:46 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's an Objectivist friend of a friend I sometimes get into Facebook scrapes with, and he tends to describe his idealogical foes the same way Rand does here. Now I see where he gets it from.
posted by brundlefly at 12:46 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


"So when you cure men of TB, syphilis, scurvy, small pox and rabies – you make them weaker!!!"

I like little moments where I find myself agreeing with someone who I think is wrong about just about everything. It's a reminder that I shouldn't give into ad hominem arguments. Besides which, I enjoy having a momentary feeling of kinship with someone I otherwise despise.

I also like the fact that Rand herself would despise that sentiment.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:50 PM on March 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


C.S. Lewis shrugged.

Surely Aslan Shrugged?
posted by Atom Eyes at 12:51 PM on March 27, 2013 [43 favorites]


I still have no grasp of the LOLgoeswithoutsayingamirite Ayn Rand hate-on, perhaps stronger than anywhere right here on me-fi.
posted by herbplarfegan at 12:52 PM on March 27, 2013


Came here to say what Sidhedevil said in his first sentence. Rand was, of course, quite dreadful. And so was Lewis; just in a different way.

It's depressing how many young Christians I come across who tell me that if I were only to read "Mere Christianity" I wouldn't be so sure about my opposition to Christianity. Quite apart from their youthful presumption in assuming I haven't read it, it grieves my bitter old heart to know that there are still so many woolly heads being taken in by that execrable pile of piss-poor logic and naked wishful-thinking.
posted by Decani at 12:54 PM on March 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


I still have no grasp of the LOLgoeswithoutsayingamirite Ayn Rand hate-on, perhaps stronger than anywhere right here on me-fi.
posted by herbplarfegan at 8:52 PM on March 27


That is unfortunate.
posted by Decani at 12:56 PM on March 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


I still have no grasp of the LOLgoeswithoutsayingamirite Ayn Rand hate-on, perhaps stronger than anywhere right here on me-fi.

Start here.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 12:58 PM on March 27, 2013 [13 favorites]


Though, I guess I ought to just keep quiet like everyone else (few as they may be?) among MeFites who realize it's kind of like being an atheist who happens to really enjoy the articles at the 700 Club website.

/sincere shrug
posted by herbplarfegan at 12:59 PM on March 27, 2013


I love the Narnia Chronicles. I will say CS Lewis believed a lot of nonsense in my opinion, but Ayn Rand apparently created a legion of horrible people who claim to admire her- I can't help but think her legacy was more detrimental to humanity at large than an old man's foolish and often seemingly heartfelt wish for God.

I've read Mere Christianity and found that I disagreed with the speculations, but nowhere did he argue against compassionate aid or a hand out even to those he believed lived in sin so much as Rand. I find it amusing that (spoiler for Narnia Chronicles) in the end of the fantasy series his God is the RIGHT true god and others who practice compassion are permitted to join the right team. He doesn't consider that his God could in fact be the one with more brutal policies that he should have seen through as a man of compassion? A god who would kill his son for the sake of the many? Don't we see religions that celebrate human sacrifice as barbaric?

Still foolish, wrong, these are things I might be fine attributing to CS Lewis, but deliberately malicious, cruel and heartless, no I wouldn't ascribe such qualities to him. Ayn on the other hand...

My mother mentioned the other day that she (Ayn) died using most of the programs she argued against the existence of. Bizarre. And harmful to real people if her influence changes policies the way she wanted.
posted by xarnop at 1:03 PM on March 27, 2013 [13 favorites]


This makes me wonder what sort of sprawling, nonsensical children's fantasy epic Rand would have written in answer to Lewis, if she'd had the inclination.

I would love to see a collection of parody Objectivist children's stories.

"See Spot run! Spot is a mediocrity, a parasite, and he holds back Dick from realizing his true potential. See Dick take the red ball. It's his now; Jane will have to fight with the other children if she wants to play."
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 1:03 PM on March 27, 2013 [38 favorites]


thanks for the link.
As always, it doesn't really address the fundamentals of the philosophy, but, again: "say, Pat Robertson, you know there's no God, right? Let's discuss it productively!"

Not you're bad. I'll just remember not to visit these threads.

and I'm only now seeing my unintentional "shrug" reference.
posted by herbplarfegan at 1:04 PM on March 27, 2013


CAGE FIGHT!!!
posted by blurker at 1:08 PM on March 27, 2013


Nothing more fun than imagining thousands of First Things readers wringing their hands until their knuckle skin rubs off trying to figure out which of their false gods to ally themselves with.

If you do a search on their website for "Ayn Rand" you find articles that are almost all negative and critical and dismissive of Rand.
posted by straight at 1:08 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Now I'm going to spend the next who-knows-how-long waiting to work the statement "I remember poor Joyce saying the very same thing to me" into a conversation.
posted by Greg_Ace at 1:14 PM on March 27, 2013


And regarding her fiction.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 1:16 PM on March 27, 2013


Rand finishes by classifying Lewis’s value judgments as being part of unscientific “whim.” She complains that when Lewis says science is wrong to try and reduce every mystery to formulae, he is secretly upset because seeing reality for what it is gets in the way of what he would like to believe.

I agree that Lewis’s values are unscientific. Rand’s objectivism (rational egoism) is definitely a value system that could be described as “scientific-reality-based” in that it bases value solely on what the average observer prefers. I think an honest scientist (or any thinking person) is forced to choose: between (a) something like Rand’s way and (b) admitting that he or she has “religious faith” in the intrinsic higher value of love (altruism, compassion, vicarious joy) .

Just to be clear, although Lewis may not have said so clearly enough, I think more scientific knowledge is always good since it always affords new tools to be used in altruistic service.
posted by TreeRooster at 1:18 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Came here to say what Sidhedevil said in his first sentence. Rand was, of course, quite dreadful. And so was Lewis; just in a different way.

Hmm. Not for me. I certainly would disagree with Lewis on a lot, and his and Tolkiens past-hugging worldview seems twee and stuffy, but he's never seemed, well, actively evil. He also lacks a modern day cult of lunatics.
posted by Artw at 1:18 PM on March 27, 2013 [11 favorites]


Ayn Rand hates him, but First Things apparently loves him. I think that's a wash.
posted by edheil at 1:28 PM on March 27, 2013


One difference between them is that Rand did not admit to being a fantasist.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:28 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Love C.S. Lewis. As for Rand dumping on him, well, "bless her heart." (And one of the funny little quirks about Metafilter that I find so endearing is its unbridled animosity for all things Lewis.)
posted by BurntHombre at 1:32 PM on March 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


Oh, that is delightful.

The really funny thing is, this probably shows both of them at their best. C.S. Lewis was right that some people see science only as a route to power, although he was wrong to blame scientists as opposed to businessmen and management consultants and politicians; Ayn Rand - whatever her faults - really did idealise what science could do to benefit mankind.

And, oh how they suit each other. Ayn Rand filled her fiction with rape-loving heroines, cruel men stamping on nature and ladies being traded to ever more dominant partners; her work heaves with submissive arousal at the thought of emotional coldness, inflexible will. Then there is C.S. Lewis, writing lovingly about the overbearing, sweet-breathed Aslan who strips the skin off naughty boys, puts wicked witches deliciously in their place... The woman who fantasized about a serial killer and the man who wrote of whipping a friend's sister for "the good of her soul" and who signed his letters philomastrix ("whip lover") - it's a partnership made in some twisted literary hell or heaven.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the closest I ever intend to get to writing slash fiction.
posted by lucien_reeve at 1:32 PM on March 27, 2013 [21 favorites]


One of the reasons I love this is that Abolition of Man is one of Lewis's best and most interesting (non-fiction) books (and of course Rand seems to have no idea at all what he's talking about).

Greg Egan has written a bunch of science-fiction stories (including "Appropriate Love," "TAP," "Reasons to be Cheerful," and Permutation City) in which he imagines worlds where people have the technology to edit their own basic personalities. He imagines characters confronted with the knowledge that their most basic desires, motivations, and morals are "purely" biological, gives these characters opportunities to change them, and confronts them with questions like: If you choose to shape your desires, how would you decide what to want? If you could choose your basic moral convictions, what moral convictions would you use to make that choice? I find Egan's attempts to deal with such questions pretty lame.

C.S. Lewis in Abolition of Man is writing about a similar kind of scenario, except he points out that (if history is any guide), if such technology were developed, it's unlikely that it would be limited to people freely using it on themselves. It's far more likely to be used to shape others without their consent. But he also argues that whoever is given such power (over themselves or others) over such completely basic values (including whether to care even about rationality, curiosity, sexual pleasure, self-preservation, our own children) could not base their choice on one of those values. But how then would they choose?

(Argh. I'm oversimplifying because I have to run. I'll try to follow up later.)
posted by straight at 1:35 PM on March 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


I would love to see a collection of parody Objectivist children's stories.

"See Spot run! Spot is a mediocrity, a parasite, and he holds back Dick from realizing his true potential. See Dick take the red ball. It's his now; Jane will have to fight with the other children if she wants to play."
I am the Lorax; I chop down the trees.
posted by Flunkie at 1:37 PM on March 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


Sidhedevil: “Honestly, I wish this could have been like matter and antimatter and they could have just Enoch Soamesed each other out of existence.”

Eh, I'm not really too sure about that. The man who said homosexuality isn't a sin because it is done in love, the man who did more than any other to introduce paganism into Christianity, is not worth counting as an enemy. But I guess people are likely to disagree.

I still like C S Lewis quite a bit.
posted by koeselitz at 1:40 PM on March 27, 2013 [12 favorites]


oddman: “It seemed to me to be nothing so much as a series of notes depicting Rand missing the point, over and over again.”

So it's basically identical to any of her published works.
posted by koeselitz at 1:43 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm not really sure why we should take it as a given that we all "hate" C.S. Lewis.

The Narnia stories are pretty great in a lot of ways. And guess what? I was an atheist when I started reading them, and I was still an atheist when I finished. The Aslan stuff is a little bothersome, story-wise, because of the deus ex machina of "let's just dick around for a while until Aslan bails us out," but still: they're beloved by generations of children and adults for a reason.

One way I judge art is to see what its influence produces. I doubt anyone influenced by Rand has given us much I'd want to look at, but Narnia led very directly to Lev Grossman's brilliant Magicians books, just to name one example.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:45 PM on March 27, 2013 [9 favorites]


Reading those comments felt like sitting next to the crazy person on the bus.
posted by Segundus at 1:47 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


My god, Iridic, that Flann O'Brien was fantastic.
posted by benito.strauss at 1:48 PM on March 27, 2013


the man who wrote of whipping a friend's sister for "the good of her soul" and who signed his letters philomastrix ("whip lover")

That is rather unfair to Lewis, as after reading the linked article it is more accurate to say "the man who as a spotty teenager wrote of whipping a friend's sister for "the good of her soul" and who signed his letters philomastrix ("whip lover")". The article even goes on to say that "that as an adult Lewis was somewhat embarrassed by his interest"
posted by fimbulvetr at 1:54 PM on March 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


"let's just dick around for a while until Aslan bails us out,"

s/Aslan/Jesus/ and you've got a great bumpersticker.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:54 PM on March 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


There is something oddly charming about the thought of Rand writing "the abysmal bastard!!" in the margins of a book. I really need to start keeping my own marginalia.

Hilarious. My first thought reading this article was There is something snivelly and gross about the thought of Rand writing "the abysmal bastard!!" in the margins of a book. I really need to make sure to never write my own marginalia.
posted by carsonb at 1:54 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I think there's a common trajectory people take which inevitably ends in them hating C S Lewis, and that's unfortunate. They read the Narnia stuff when they're young, and then when they get older at some point someone points out the Christian allegory. Feeling somewhat betrayed, they cast about for another Lewis book to check out to see whether they were right to love him when they were children – and they hit upon his book which is most popular among Christians – The Screwtape Letters. (Incidentally, this is his absolute worst book, and he expressed some regret about it himself.) They read this sort of weird "demons are all around us, repent immediately!" hellish morality tale and throw it away in disgust, thinking Lewis is a writer to be scorned and ignored.

Which is sad. I think he's worth a closer look; he's immensely interesting, not least because he was thoughtful and unpretentious and felt his spirituality deeply.

If one would like to know more about C S Lewis' more interesting sides, it's worth reading his better fiction; for one thing, Till We Have Faces, a pagan story which doesn't actually mention Christianity at all and which he regarded as his greatest book. (It was also the last book he wrote.) That Hideous Strength is also a fantastically good story which features the modern-day reanimation of Merlin the Wizard. I think people don't realize that the man was genuinely a pagan, and felt himself to be pagan to his bones, until Tolkein convinced him of the essential truth of the Christ-story. He never really let go of that side of himself, and I think it served him well.

And then, if you really want to go off the deep end, read a few of the novels of Charles Williams, which influenced Lewis, and which somewhat resemble a fantastical mashup of The X-Files with The Exorcist.
posted by koeselitz at 1:55 PM on March 27, 2013 [19 favorites]


Lewis' contorted apologist arguments are still alive and well, so it's hard to think of him as totally benign. But I wouldn't feel compelled to stab him if I met him on the road. Can't say I feel the same about Ayn Rand.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 1:55 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maybe, on today of all days, we could try not to shame people for their non-normative sexual interests.
posted by mmmbacon at 2:00 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


So I'm reading The Lion The Witch and the Wardrobe with the kid and we just got to a bit there, upon discovering some cute woofland animals having a Christmas picnic, the witch throws an utter shitfit and turns them all to stone.

Seems oddly apropos.
posted by Artw at 2:00 PM on March 27, 2013


On further thought, seriously, how much of an asshole do you have to be for your freakin' marginalia to make you seem like an awful person? That's just a kind of refined asshole-ness that almost makes me feel like it is somebody doing an Ayn Rand impression like that fake chat from a few months back.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 2:01 PM on March 27, 2013


I gotta say I'm surprised at all the C.S. Lewis hate here. Not in the sense that I expect people to like him but that I'm surprised that people care enough to have an opinion.

It's not like Rand where her disciples are running around annoying everyone.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:02 PM on March 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


I've gotta say I'm surprised at the hatred for Lewis too. I can understand an atheist thinking he's a rube or guilty of weird logical leaps, but he was certainly a gentle soul for much of his life, and nobody's ever going to use those words to describe Rand. I think I have a soft spot for him because I discovered him at a time as a young adult when I was deeply religious, and it was because of "Mere Christianity" that I discovered I am not a Christian. (That's an irony I would love to know his thoughts on.)

He certainly was a great writer, theology aside, and if you're interested in his less apologetic, more thoughtful stuff, I highly recommend "A Grief Observed," in which he asks some tough questions about his faith, and "Letters to Malcolm." The Space Trilogy is pretty darn good IIRC, too. (Of course, if you're not interested, no big deal, nobody has to read anything.)
posted by jbickers at 2:06 PM on March 27, 2013 [9 favorites]


I still have no grasp of the LOLgoeswithoutsayingamirite Ayn Rand hate-on,...

Read her stuff.
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:17 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I loathe CS Lewis, even though I'm awfully fond of certain aspects of his books, and could probably quote bits and pieces of them. I do really love the parts in Perelandra where Ransom is wandering under the mountain.

Why? The endless snobbism in the Narnia books and their naked hatred of democracy (consider the island in Dawn Treader and its governor); the racism and orientalism; the nasty little swipes at anything he deemed "progressive" (the school in Silver Chair, for instance, and even the artistic tastes of Eustace's parents); the nasty little swipes generally - his books are full of pettiness; and of course, the never-fucking-ending misogyny, at its appalling worst in That Hideous Strength and his short story "The Shabby Lands" (in which the narrator has a kind of hallucination of a vague, foggy, nightmare world in which the only clear objects are flowers, jewelry, women's clothes and men's faces - and he realizes that this is because....he's inside a woman's brain!!). And all the religious writings of his I've read (not many, just Screwtape letters, Mere Christianity and a few odds and ends) seem to me simpily, smirkingly ultra-pi in a way that grates intensely - although I suppose this is an aesthetic choice.

The passage linked above about the spanking seems right in line with everything else - sort of smirkily self-impressed at its own naughtiness, with a little gross misogyny on top. CS Lewis can't even do BDSM in a non-gross way, I guess.

Oh, and the homophobia! Or really, misogynist lesbophobia (Fairy Hardcastle, extinguishing her cigarette upon whats-her-name's breasts! Surely a nasty little erotic moment for Lewis since he gets to revile/fantasize about Hardcastle and dish out punishment to the protagonist because she is Bad and Selfish and Not Subservient to Her Husband, which is why the Second Coming did not happen, 'cause she was supposed to give birth to Jesus but she wanted a career instead. No, I'm totally serious, it's in the book. )

And the cruelty, the pleasure with which he writes about the grotesque and terrifying ends met by the "bad guys" in That Hideous Strength. Ugh. A thousand times ugh.
posted by Frowner at 2:37 PM on March 27, 2013 [20 favorites]


I have seesawed wildly with Lewis...as a kid I loved him because he opened a much-needed window into the stifling room of evangelical fiction. Say what you will about him, but when all you have to choose from is Narnia or the Left Behind series, you are damn grateful for Narnia.

I suspect many nerdy Christian kids, desperate for an intelligent conversation and respect for the imagination, glom on to him for the same reason.

Once I left that world, I discovered much better thinkers and writers, many without his weird hang ups about women (Till We Have Faces is fascinating in this respect, but infuriating) he fell in my esteem.

It was shocking as an adult to find out many kids didn't get the Narnian allegory, nothing could have been plainer to me, steeped as I was in Jesus World.

Rand will always be the first writer I ever read who was so bad that I was incapable of finishing her book. I was 15 and had never met a book I couldn't power through, but then I met The Fountainhead.
posted by emjaybee at 2:38 PM on March 27, 2013


Even the stopped clock is right twice a day.

Honestly, I wish this could have been like matter and antimatter and they could have just Enoch Soamesed each other out of existence.


What's wrong with Lewis? From what little I know of him he at least approached religion from a place of compassion, whereas Ayn Rand's doctrine of selfishness only hurt people.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 2:41 PM on March 27, 2013


Tell Me No Lies: "I gotta say I'm surprised at all the C.S. Lewis hate here. Not in the sense that I expect people to like him but that I'm surprised that people care enough to have an opinion.

It's not like Rand where her disciples are running around annoying everyone.
"

This may be partly my fault for my early snark upthread. I had a really specific group of people in mind. The average First Things reader (in my mind) is the intellectual Catholic paleocon (see also places like ISI) that would have voted for Pat Buchannan in 1996, who longs for the days of agrarian culture and what they'd think of as "small-town values." For this person, the realization that Rand's atheistic non-communitarian ethos is at odds with the foundations of their conservatism (if coincidentally aligned with it on tax policy) is bound to be a little bit of a wakeup call.

But if you're looking for those kids who love CS, they're still hanging out at Catholic U, at Franciscan U of Steubenville, in the right corners at Notre Dame and getting their "law" "degrees" from Ave Maria as we speak.
posted by Apropos of Something at 2:41 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Frowned that is my favorite bit, where Merlin tells Jane that Her wicked birth control prevented the Messiah. God can impregnate virgins but is utterly defeated by a diaphragm.
posted by emjaybee at 2:41 PM on March 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


It's funny, because I read all the Narnia books as a 12-14 year old, basically atheist Jew, and I had no idea that there was any Jesus imagery there at all. It just went right over my head.
posted by benito.strauss at 2:44 PM on March 27, 2013


I am a Christian, and indeed an active member of the Anglican Communion, and that's why I hate C. S. Lewis. As I've said here before, I cried out in rage as a little girl when I realized that Aslan was Jesus.

In my own life, an approximately equal number of pompous assholes have trotted out the "lunatic, liar, or Lord" garbage argument as have trotted out the "is a man not entitled to the sweat of his own brow" nonsense. Both arguments are just embarrassing, self-satisfied sophistry.

C. S. Lewis was infinitely better as a writer than Ayn Rand, though that's not setting the bar too high.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:44 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's funny, because I read all the Narnia books as a 12-14 year old, basically atheist Jew, and I had no idea that there was any Jesus imagery there at all. It just went right over my head.

Not Jewish but basically raised without religion so all that Jesus Lion stuff -whoosh!- right over my head, I was left with good memories of a few scenes, the stag pleading for its life, the witch in London, whole chunks of voyage of the dawn treader, that I hadn't really thought about until a friend told me she wasn't allowed to read Narnia as a kid cause her parents consdierated it Christian propaganda.
posted by The Whelk at 2:50 PM on March 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


That Hideous Strength is so, so horrible. I have rarely felt so intensely hated by a dead stranger for the crime of being female than when reading that book. And I wrote a long paper on Henri de Montherlant in grad school.

But I should have realized that was always there in Lewis from my childhood, when Susan didn't get to be a Queen in Heaven because she thought about lipstick and silk stockings.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:51 PM on March 27, 2013 [6 favorites]


What I remember too, when I was little, was reading "The Shabby Lands" and, later, That Hideous Strength and feeling just absolutely baffled and betrayed. I'd really, really liked the Narnia books (since I'd totally ignored the "Susan, monster of vanity who does not get to go to heaven" part) and encountering Lewis's contempt for women and belief that we were intellectual inferiors who should submit to men - I still remember the hurt and upset I felt.
posted by Frowner at 2:53 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sidhedevil: “As I've said here before, I cried out in rage as a little girl when I realized that Aslan was Jesus.”

Why? I've always wondered why that bothered people so much. Lewis is (as I've said) an inveterate paganist; symbolic stories and allegories are his stock in trade. I'm not sure why realizing he had a hidden meaning should be a source of anger.
posted by koeselitz at 2:53 PM on March 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


(And I guess I'll have to reread That Hideous Strength. I only thought it was entertaining, but apparently it was also awful.)
posted by koeselitz at 2:56 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Aslan as Jesus was so sloppily handled that it broke the kayfabe for me---it threw me out of the universe and broke my suspension of disbelief. The characterization of the children is not fantastic (not terrible, but not up to, say, Arthur Ransome or E. Nesbit) but the animals are SO REAL and then boom, stupid Aslan Jesus so boring and the worst kind of William Holman Hunt infinitely kindly yet warrior Jesus. I hate that Jesus. My Jesus has a sense of humor.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:01 PM on March 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


So Aslan is *A* Jesus, but that opens the was for multiple Jesii which is kind if an interesting take... Does that mean Mithras and Osirus and all the rest are legit? Could they form a Justice League? Whats all this business about an Emperor Across the Sea and where was he when The Magicians Nephew was going on?
posted by Artw at 3:03 PM on March 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


And being a little kid and reading what you thought was Wind in the Willows meets Lord of the Rings and then to be sandbagged with fucking Jesus stuff out of nowhere---I felt cheated, and talked down to, and like some smuggo had given me a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:04 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


He is a very boring Jesus, mind.
posted by Artw at 3:04 PM on March 27, 2013


Father Christmas is totes real in Narnia too, in full on pagan form - hows that all add up?
posted by Artw at 3:05 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


In the CS Lewis multiverse Jesus is pretty busy showing up on Perelandra, in Narnia, etc., and constantly in an entirely different form.

Wait if Lewis's Jesus doesn't have a specific corpus doesn't that make Lewis a deist of some sort?
posted by shakespeherian at 3:05 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Well, this is the other thing, Artw; it's a super lazy allegory.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:06 PM on March 27, 2013


She may be a spinning ball of hate but the Witch is much more interesting - she's part giant, like Loki! And part daughter of Lilith, like evil feminists! And she comes from a weird Clark Ashton Smith dimension with a giant dying sun where everyone is a necromancer! She's super fun as a villain.
posted by Artw at 3:13 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Honestly, I wish this could have been like matter and antimatter and they could have just Enoch Soamesed each other out of existence.

You know, I've always a little nervous when I visit the that two people will have just return Atlas Shrugged and something by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and that they'll accidently touch on the shelving cart, causing that very reaction.

I guess C.S. Lewis and Rand might work, but I think they can at least agree on not liking women very much.
posted by Gygesringtone at 3:15 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Early Narnia appears to have a Garden of Eden in it - do they spring into existance for every world? What's that about?
posted by Artw at 3:17 PM on March 27, 2013


Perelandra would seem to suggest so.
posted by shakespeherian at 3:18 PM on March 27, 2013


Considering that Tolkien converted Lewis to Christianity, this beautifully closes the loop on the the other one is about Orcs joke.
posted by localroger at 3:19 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I can't remember the details of That Hideous Strength, but I'll try to come to Lewis' defense just a bit and say he seemed have a deep loathing of shallow women in particular -- this was the message I got from "The Shabby Lands" -- but not women generally. Jill Pole's viewpoint is very much the main one in The Silver Chair, as Lucy's is in Lion and Dawn Treader. But I admit I simply may not have read him widely enough.

As an aside, the fate of Susan isn't the worst thing about the appalling The Last Battle. If you buy the series for a kid, burn that one before you give it to him or her.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:21 PM on March 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


What I think is interesting about Rand is the sheer power of her rhetoric. What is the secret of its charisma?

She seems to the poorly-informed to be such a staunch advocate of "common sense," the only person willing and courageous enough to not speak in wishy-washy terms. She says what she thinks is right and says it forcefully. She slashes with her words. That's what draws people to her, no? That certainty, that sense of being able to feel completely in the right based on "reason" alone, and of being entitled to regard with dripping contempt wiser people and complex, subtle views.
posted by shivohum at 3:23 PM on March 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


TBH I'm not seeing a great need ti continue past Wardrobe.
posted by Artw at 3:23 PM on March 27, 2013


It is pretty clear to me that C S Lewis was a perennialist – that is, that he believed that the truth is perennially springing up among the multitude of all true religions.
posted by koeselitz at 3:24 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Rand...bases value solely on what the average observer prefers. I think an honest scientist (or any thinking person) is forced to choose: between (a) something like Rand’s way and (b) admitting that he or she has “religious faith” in the intrinsic higher value of love (altruism, compassion, vicarious joy).

Here's a (c). J.S. Mill argued that some pleasures are better than others on the grounds that people who have tried both would be willing to give up a lot of one to get even a little of another. I don't need religious faith to know that I'd prefer one bottle of 1516 Bavarian Lager to any quantity of Coors Light. It doesn't matter to me what the average American observer prefers. Anyone's willingness to drink drink Coors Light indicates ignorance and a warped system of values.

Hypothesis: atheists who have read both Rand and Bertrand Russell will prefer Russell over Rand. Russell is a far, far better logician and he also had a far greater positive influence on the world (among other things, The Russell-Einstein Manifesto).
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:26 PM on March 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


"Here’s where the Kor­zybski comes out in him."

Oh come now, many fine people have dabbled in a little Korzybski now and then.
posted by homunculus at 3:27 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


9 year old got super bored super fast right after The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader but there are some parts of The Silver Chair that I can still recall ( the gnomes! Whatever explaining how horrible it would be to be on the surface like " flies on an orange" stuck in my brain). And it's apparently possible to read up to that without getting any indication that Aslan is just this chill magical lion that likes hugs and likes to show up whenever he pleases.
posted by The Whelk at 3:27 PM on March 27, 2013


(Also, incidentally, the story is apparently actually called "The Shoddy Lands," not "The Shabby Lands." And I'm off to read it...)
posted by koeselitz at 3:27 PM on March 27, 2013


Lewis' female characters (in Narnia, at least) might have been occasionally problematic, but they were interesting and had adventures. Aravis in The Horse of his Boy runs away from home to escape an arranged marriage. And I loved Jill in The Silver Chair because she seemed so average (like I felt) but was still considered worthy of an excursion to Narnia.

I think it's also worth noting that it's not just females who are subject to punishment for moral failures in the books. Eustace's conversion The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is only possible after he endures great pain--he literally has to rip his (dragon) skin off. I think it's important to realize that he's writing from an era with vastly different assumptions about the role of pain/corporal punishment in the development of moral discipline.
posted by mmmbacon at 3:28 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


For the life of me I cannot recall a single thing about The Silver Chair except that I think it was underground?

Also A Horse and His Boy had a talking horse is the extent of my memories about it.
posted by shakespeherian at 3:30 PM on March 27, 2013


That's what draws people to her, no?

I think people are drawn to Rand because she tells them that selfishness is praiseworthy.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:30 PM on March 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


Oh god they totally have a Odesyysus with the Minotaur scene and the grumpy swamp guide and sad magical harps!
posted by The Whelk at 3:31 PM on March 27, 2013


he seemed have a deep loathing of shallow women in particular...but not women generally

I dunno, this really doesn't redeem him in my mind. That he only approves of women who behave in precisely the way that he prescribes doesn't make him less misogynist. "Shallow" is a very loaded word to use when he's the person crafting the character with all the trappings of traditional femininity to also be boring / superficial / apathetic. He apparently can't envision a Susan that would like stockings and make-up and boys and still have imagination and faith and spiritual fulfillment, which tells you enough about how he views the behaviour of women in real life.

I read the series once when I was 11 and then again when I was 17, and those two experiences were like night and day. I'm glad I didn't see any of the allegory the first time around and could just enjoy the story, but the second time 'round it was just exasperating.
posted by Phire at 3:32 PM on March 27, 2013 [8 favorites]


I think people are drawn to Rand because she tells them that selfishness is praiseworthy.

Greed, for lack of a better word, is God.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:35 PM on March 27, 2013


Ayn Rand's biggest sin aren't being wrong, sloppy, arrogant, dishonest, or mean. She was, to an extent all of these things. Instead her biggest sin was her influence. If it wasn't for her outrageous influence she could enjoy the company of scores of courageous and often insightful people who thought they had it all figured out but didn't. Many of these people are intellectually and morally superior to Rand but probably even more of them are worse. I think Rand is often inappropriately reviled, what do you think the actual ratio of those who suppose themselves to be great philosophers to those that are? Thousands to one? Millions? People ought to be able to approach her with sympathy, skepticism, and curiosity.
posted by I Foody at 3:36 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


George_Spiggott, I have a lot of issues with the "women who don't act like the women I think are icky are OK" kind of presentation of female characters (Ransome is guilty of this, too). I think it's something Lewis and Rand definitely had in common.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:37 PM on March 27, 2013


The problem of Susan

The thinly veiled Narnia world in The Magicians also has epic retconning to fix their Not!Susan ( the books where just stories, what really happened was....)
posted by The Whelk at 3:37 PM on March 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


It's true that he doesn't find vanity and preening in male characters so damning; at least he doesn't write about them as such. I mean there's Reepicheep but I guess we're meant to forgive him because he's a mouse and therefore tiny, and also a kind of Cyrano character.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:39 PM on March 27, 2013


Phire said that better than I did! But seriously, the whole "women are gross and silly but this particular woman is pretty cool, which we know from how men praise her" approach is common to both writers. Dagny Taggart didn't want to settle down into the expected marriage, either, because she's not like Lillian Rearden...
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:41 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sidhedevil: “George_Spiggott, I have a lot of issues with the ‘women who don't act like the women I think are icky are OK’ kind of presentation of female characters (Ransome is guilty of this, too). I think it's something Lewis and Rand definitely had in common.”

Be that as it may, the trouble with The Shoddy Lands as an example of this is that the narrator seems to be intended to be the icky one in the story. And I'm not kidding. C S Lewis believed, more than any other school-boy fantasy nerd of his generation, that scholarship is a hindrance and not a help as far as knowing truth is concerned. It's not really that odd that he would write a story like this indicating what a struggle he'd had in realizing that, and indicating that scholarship is supremely limited and that those who aren't scholars ought to be paid more attention to – and that the scholarly are victims to their own lack of self-awareness.

I don't think he ever wrote another story more easily misread, however.
posted by koeselitz at 3:43 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Lewis grew up without a mother, a distant dad, and was best friends with his brother. He was sent off to a horrible boys' school that apparently wasn't even academically good, then later had to catch up with the help of a "crammer" an irascible old grouch who he later adored. Then he became a don at Oxford, surrounded mostly by men.

His life was very poor in women, by his own admission, none who were his equals. Meeting his wife shook up a lot of his notions, as she was not at all submissive. Till We Have Faces can be read as a struggle between his notion of gender as complementary but unequal and the challenge posed by his main character, who is a fascinating, rebellious, powerful woman who seems to be fighting the story of submission she is in so strongly that by the end, you are entirely on her side and against God's.

And then he died, so we don't know if he would have pursued that path any further.

Rand actually has a fascinating biography as well, and if she had realized her dreams of Hollywood fame or remained a sci fi writer, the world would be a different place.
posted by emjaybee at 3:49 PM on March 27, 2013 [7 favorites]


Interesting that Narnia has sin and redemption for male characters: Edmund in Lion and Eustace in Dawn Treader, but not for female characters. Susan falls and is lost, Lucy is tempted but Aslan interdicts (the spell book in Dawn) and is thereby prevented from sinning. It never occurred to me before.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:50 PM on March 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think people are drawn to Rand because she tells them that selfishness is praiseworthy.

I think it's a little bit more than that... Rand was a bitter, auto-didactic nerd whose insecurities, resentments and social inadequacies led her- through a convenient stroke of dubious philosophical inspiration - to something on the order of intellectual megalomania. Her books are therefore catnip to adolescent misfits, in that the books reflect the absolute power and vengeance that would be theirs in a world that was not, alas, controlled by their lessers/schoolmates/parents.
posted by hap_hazard at 3:50 PM on March 27, 2013 [11 favorites]


Suffering this misfortune of being born generations before online comment threads, Rand had to confine her disingenuous troll posts to the margins of books.
posted by EatTheWeak at 3:54 PM on March 27, 2013 [8 favorites]


The thing about Lewis's good female characters is that they are all young girls. As soon as they develop any kind of adult interests or sexuality, they are either evil (Fairy Harcastle, White Witch, Silver Chair witch) or godawful wise naives (the Star's Daughter in Dawn Treader; the first woman in Perelandra)

I realize now that I'd always assumed Lewis was some weird kind of gay and that his discomfort around women was about internalized homophobia - but all the creepy spanking stuff linked above just makes me really angry, since he apparently thought it perfectly okay to want to sleep with those awful, shallow creatures while accepting their intellectual inferiority, etc. Seriously, I kind of wish I had not read the linked article, since it sank my opinion of the dude even lower.
posted by Frowner at 4:03 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


homunculus: "Oh come now, many fine people have dabbled in a little Korzybski now and then."

I still do!
posted by Hairy Lobster at 4:04 PM on March 27, 2013


I'm familiar enough with Rand to expect nothing but awful from her. But still, this link, wow.

Now, I don't know anything about Lewis except what I've absorbed from reading threads like this. Never read Narnia as a kid. My impression is that he's not to my taste.

But take, for example, the excerpt in the OP link about generations closer to the extinction of the species having less forward influence than their ancestors did. It's sane and at least a little insightful. It acknowledges that humanity has an expiration date, which you'd never catch Rand doing, for all her supposedly clear-eyed scientific materialism. And it recognizes that each generation is born into a world shaped by its predecessors, which necessarily shapes the environment, resources, and options available to it.

Which should be obvious and completely uncontroversial. We can't unburn the oil that our parents burned, after all, and we're each born with certain tribal bonds. But it makes Rand flip the fuck out. Her vitriol here is jarring, just utterly weird. I'm thinking, did I miss some context here? Did I not read the same passage she did?

But of course, she has to reject any kind of continuity of human experience. Her whole schtick is about mercilessly condemning people for moral failings. And to make that kind of morality work, every individual must be a pure moral agent, completely outside of and unsullied by the stream of history.

Because otherwise their failings might not be 100% their own fault. And then heaping scorn on them would just make you, well, kind of an asshole.
posted by zjacreman at 4:07 PM on March 27, 2013 [11 favorites]


The thing about Lewis's good female characters is that they are all young girls.

Dryads, Digory's mother, Queen Susan, Queen Lucy, Hwin, Mrs. Badger, Jane Studdock, Grace Ironwood (a total badass), Mrs. Dimble, Mrs. Bultitude, the green woman (naive at first, but not later.)
posted by michaelh at 4:42 PM on March 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


To everyone complaining (rightly) about Lewis's female characters, I strongly recommend Till We Have Faces, because the guy seems to have had a serious change of heart (probably not unrelated to his marriage to Joy Davidson).

It follows the life of the main character, Orual, from young girl to elderly queen, a woman who is neither uninterested in men nor defined by her relationship(s) with them, largely telling the story of how she becomes a respected (and feared) ruler in a world where women are not typically respected, mostly through her own intelligence and tenacity. It's about a sympathetic character who does morally questionable things. It's a book about wrestling with hard religious questions, rather than Lewis trying to demonstrate that Christianity has all the answers.

Till We Have Faces is weird and beautiful and tricky in ways that I think most fans of Gene Wolfe would enjoy.
posted by straight at 4:45 PM on March 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


Aslan Shrugged
posted by wobh at 5:16 PM on March 27, 2013


qxntpqbbbqxl: I would love to see a collection of parody Objectivist children's stories.

So would I. Years ago I made a list of kids' books that could be repurposed to have a libertarian outlook. So far the internet has failed to make the materialize.
posted by sgranade at 5:47 PM on March 27, 2013


The thing about Lewis's good female characters is that they are all young girls. As soon as they develop any kind of adult interests or sexuality, they are either evil (Fairy Harcastle, White Witch, Silver Chair witch) or godawful wise naives (the Star's Daughter in Dawn Treader; the first woman in Perelandra)

And let's not forget that Susan, the eldest, doesn't get to go to Heaven because she develops an interest in lipstick and silk stockings and being a fucking adolescent. I think that's the premier example of Lewis's issues with women.
posted by devinemissk at 5:48 PM on March 27, 2013


It is pretty clear to me that C S Lewis was a perennialist – that is, that he believed that the truth is perennially springing up among the multitude of all true religions.

I'm not terribly convinced that his perennialism is that much different from the Catholic doctrine that everyone might be given a chance to know Christ sooner or later. It doesn't strike me as an ecumenicism based on plurality, but on the idea that everything really points to Christianity in the eschatological end. (This strikes me as different from Aldus Huxley's perennialism which points to atman as a cultural universal.)
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 5:50 PM on March 27, 2013


I still have no grasp of the LOLgoeswithoutsayingamirite Ayn Rand hate-on, perhaps stronger than anywhere right here on me-fi.

if you've read her, i guess there's nothing i can say to you

if you haven't read her, get yourself a copy of atlas shrugged and see how long you last*

even if you think she's 100% right, it's still a bad novel and it's glorification by many who don't know a damned thing about good literature is appalling and worth some hate in itself - if you'd strike out all the philosophy and lecturing, what you would have left is a mediocre harlequin romance with pretensions

*i made it through once - but i've made it through barbara cartland books, too - at least barbara cartland made me laugh
posted by pyramid termite at 5:53 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


>"So when you cure men of TB, syphilis, scurvy, small pox and rabies – you make them weaker!!!"

I like little moments where I find myself agreeing with someone who I think is wrong about just about everything.


There's stuff I would argue with in the book, but here I'm guessing he was thinking less about vaccination here and more about other kinds of technology (and given our current dependence now on, say, gasoline and the internet, one could argue prescience).

Bear in mind that Abolition of Man was written by a badly wounded veteran of the First World War, and published in 1943, a time when a thoughtful man might well see a down side to the Brave New World hype.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:01 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


Now I am gripped with the unspeakable wish

!

that these two could have been Metafilter members.

step step step step step step step step step....

Oh the epic threads,

step step step step step step step step....

the unspeakable flameouts!

step step step step step step....

Thunderdome indeed.

(pant) Oh, can't we (wheeze) just get (gasp) beyond Thunderdome?
posted by JHarris at 6:36 PM on March 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


We don't need another hero.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 6:49 PM on March 27, 2013


CBrachyrhynchos: “I'm not terribly convinced that his perennialism is that much different from the Catholic doctrine that everyone might be given a chance to know Christ sooner or later. It doesn't strike me as an ecumenicism based on plurality, but on the idea that everything really points to Christianity in the eschatological end. (This strikes me as different from Aldus Huxley's perennialism which points to atman as a cultural universal.)”

I don't really know what your quibble is here, but this conviction of mine about C S Lewis is informed by a lot of reading in his essays. I'll try to find a good citation, if you wish.
posted by koeselitz at 6:57 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Backward clock is right four times a day. I should fucking trademark that.
posted by localroger at 7:02 PM on March 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


"I haven't any right to criticise books, and I don't do it except when I hate them. I often want to criticise Jane Austen, but her books madden me so that I can't conceal my frenzy from the reader; and therefore I have to stop every time I begin. Everytime I read 'Pride and Prejudice' I want to dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone."

—Mark Twain in a letter to Joseph Twichell, 13 September 1898
posted by NedKoppel at 7:11 PM on March 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


I like this. It reads to me like this:

The abysmal bastard!

The cheap, awful, miserable, touchy, social-meta­physical mediocrity!

The bastard!

This is really an old fool – and nothing more!

Ad hominem!

posted by Bunny Ultramod at 7:26 PM on March 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


devinemissk: And let's not forget that Susan, the eldest, doesn't get to go to Heaven because she develops an interest in lipstick and silk stockings and being a fucking adolescent. I think that's the premier example of Lewis's issues with women.

Susan finishes the series alive, and the books don't really cover what happens to her in the end.
posted by Mitrovarr at 7:40 PM on March 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


I don't really know what your quibble is here, but this conviction of mine about C S Lewis is informed by a lot of reading in his essays. I'll try to find a good citation, if you wish.

The key distinction rests in the following questions (which also underlie the earlier discussion about Christian appropriation of Jewish rituals.) Is humanity estranged from god, does that require an intercessor, and is Christianity most true of all the religions?

I see a fair gap between the Christian view that virtuous pagans will miraculously be saved by Christ from hell (estrangement from god) and the perennialist view that mystical traditions all point to the same panentheist reality. (My biases lean strongly toward the latter.)
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:01 PM on March 27, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think Lewis was more toward the former. He did say in multiple ways that he believed God was somehow involved in non-Christian religions, but he also believed the death and resurrection of Christ had cosmic, universal significance for everyone.
posted by straight at 8:24 PM on March 27, 2013


Yeah, well, just wait 'til she see the marginalia I've written in her books!
posted by elmer benson at 8:30 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


CBrachyrhynchos: “I see a fair gap between the Christian view that virtuous pagans will miraculously be saved by Christ from hell (estrangement from god) and the perennialist view that mystical traditions all point to the same panentheist reality. (My biases lean strongly toward the latter.)”

So do Lewis'. I'll try to find a citation for you.
posted by koeselitz at 8:32 PM on March 27, 2013


(And mine, for what it's worth.)
posted by koeselitz at 8:32 PM on March 27, 2013


(Also, while this is obviously not evidence, it seems worth pointing out that C S Lewis was friends with a number of avowed perennialists – Martin Lings, for instance.)
posted by koeselitz at 8:38 PM on March 27, 2013


Well – here's the pertinent passage from Mere Christianity everyone quotes, although there are others I am still trying to recall to mind:
There are other people who are slowly becoming Christians though they do not yet call themselves so. There are people who do not accept the full Christian doctrine about Christ but who are so strongly attracted by Him that they are His in a much deeper sense than they themselves understand.

There are people in other religions who are being led by God's secret influence to concentrate on those parts of their religion which are in agreement with Christianity, and who thus belong to Christ without knowing it. For example, a Buddhist of good will may be led to concentrate more and more on the Buddhist teaching about mercy and to leave in the background (though he might still say he believed) the Buddhist teaching on certain other points.

Many of the good Pagans long before Christ's birth may have been in this position. And always, of course, there are a great many people who are just confused in mind and have a lot of inconsistent beliefs all jumbled up together. Consequently, it is not much use trying to make judgments about Christians and non-Christians in the mass.
So I suppose the question is how one takes this. You seem to be saying that this is just the same old "God will miraculously save some pagans" thing – which, by the way, doesn't seem uncomplicated to me either (since perennialism has been an aspect of Christianity throughout history) – but I'm not so sure; it does seem interesting at least that Lewis seems to be saying that Buddhism does in some sense contain the teaching of Christianity within it.
posted by koeselitz at 8:50 PM on March 27, 2013


Reading her exhaustive use of hyperbolic terms like abysmal, monstrous and bastard, I could only imagine her being played by Kristen Wiig.
posted by heliostatic at 9:10 PM on March 27, 2013


I'm very glad that I never read a single word of CS Lewis aside from the Narnia books, which were great companions of my childhood and which I still love, even recognizing the problems. I recognized them, mostly, when I was a child, too, but was able to sail right past them somehow, for the sake of being part of those worlds.

Susan didn't get to be a Queen in Heaven because she thought about lipstick and silk stockings.

I know this criticism is brought up all the time but I have to disagree: in the book (and The Last Battle is a really odd and uncomfortable and didactic and disagreeable one, which I never liked, so I'm not defending it in itself) the problem isn't that Susan has become interested in powdering her nose and going to parties, but that she rejects her memories of Narnia, referring to her adventures there as "that silly game we played as children". She gets shut out because she has shut herself out: the rest of the worldly trivialities are symptoms, not the cause. So it's not quite as simple as to say that she's excluded because she is interested in typically feminine things (though I didn't have any problem with that, I have to admit, having already committed myself to a book-nerd existence which rejected fashion and "femininity" with a vengeance). I never realized that Aslan was supposed to be Jesus until my cousin told me so, pointing to the death and resurrection sequence in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, whereupon I was taken aback and didn't bother to reread it. The books I came back to over and over where the adventures: The Silver Chair, The Horse and His Boy, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, back to the characters I loved: Jill and Aravis and Lucy. Today I stumble over the Orientalism, the racism, etc., but those books were magic for me as a child and I'm grateful to have read them.
posted by jokeefe at 9:27 PM on March 27, 2013 [3 favorites]


I read Lewis as a kid, like right after Tolkien. I think I must have actually started with the Out of the Silent Planet books before reading the Narnia stuff.

I'm sure my parents explained to me that both sets of books were Christian allegory. I remember really loving the Narnia material, and some images from those books (in conflation with some of Madeleine l'Engle's) rattle around in my head to this day.

The Silent Planet stuff, I basically don't remember it except an impression of a difficult writing style for me as a, what, first grader? Later on, discovering the British New Wave writers, I somehow felt like there was a stylistic commonality somehow, but every time I would pick up the Lewis books my eyes would slide off the page.

I reread the Narnia stuff a whole bunch though, surely more than Tolkien, until my teens. Since then I have picked them up several times but just can't focus on them.

I must admit, and this is probably a function of having read them so young, I never recognized the misogyny inherent in the books so clearly and accurately diagnosed in this thread. I have a general feeling of affection for his stuff, as one has for a childhood toy.

Finally, I want to express my appreciation for this thread, which has been delightful and illuminating. My favorite part? The way we've basically just ignored Rand and instead focused wholly on Lewis. Well, say 90% on Lewis.
posted by mwhybark at 9:42 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


There are other people who are slowly becoming Christians though they do not yet call themselves so. There are people who do not accept the full Christian doctrine about Christ but who are so strongly attracted by Him that they are His in a much deeper sense than they themselves understand.

There are people in other religions who are being led by God's secret influence to concentrate on those parts of their religion which are in agreement with Christianity, and who thus belong to Christ without knowing it.
Ouch. That's the kind of stuff Lewis wrote? Put me back on the Dawn Treader.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:54 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


benito.strauss: “Ouch. That's the kind of stuff Lewis wrote? Put me back on the Dawn Treader.”

What exactly is wrong with this bit? Seriously, it seems very good to me. If you believe that Christianity is true, it makes sense. And I do – it makes sense to me.
posted by koeselitz at 10:15 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


mwhybark: “... the misogyny inherent in the books so clearly and accurately diagnosed in this thread...”

Er – I'm holding off on buying that until I get a chance to reread his books. Honestly, I am not convinced.
posted by koeselitz at 10:19 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, it seems notable that all the criticism directed at him here has completely ignored his last and best book, which is actually a story told from the perspective of a woman that absolutely isn't a caricature or a sexist reduction. straight made the astute point above that Lewis' views may have evolved on these issues.
posted by koeselitz at 10:27 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


koeselitz: It's the "certain other points" that I see as the key problem. A Buddhist is good, if they emphasize those values that they coincidentally share with Christianity, but "leave in the background" the ethics and metaphysics behind what makes metta central to Buddhist practice. When those concepts conflict, there's no question about who is in the right in Lewis's writing.

If you believe that Christianity is true, it makes sense.

And if you don't think Christianity is true on certain theological claims, the question (and answer) of whether non-Christians "belong to Christ" doesn't make a lot of sense.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 11:25 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


What exactly is wrong with this bit? Seriously, it seems very good to me. If you believe that Christianity is true, it makes sense. And I do – it makes sense to me.

Well, yes, if you believe Christianity to be true, it should make sense to you. And in fact, among all the statements one could make that are consistent with Christianity, it seems like one of the kinder ones. If Christianity being true is an irremovable pre-condition, it'll probably seem like a very tolerant attitude to take.

Me, I don't believe Christianity to be true. Certain tenets that I hear stated to be central to Christian belief strike me as just wrong. If you're willing, rather than me telling you why I said "Ouch", can you think what it would be like to not be a Christian and read that?
posted by benito.strauss at 11:30 PM on March 27, 2013 [5 favorites]


Finally, I want to express my appreciation for this thread, which has been delightful and illuminating. My favorite part? The way we've basically just ignored Rand and instead focused wholly on Lewis. Well, say 90% on Lewis.

I just can't help but imagine that Rand would gnash her teeth into powder at that.

And that makes me smile.
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 12:47 AM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Um, all I have to add is that I liked the one where a severed head tries to take over the world. I'm sorry to hear that it evidently contained lots of misogyny which would have been below my radar at the time I read it. But Ayn Rand should have really appreciated that one: that's pulling yourself up by your bootstraps when you don't even have feet!
posted by XMLicious at 12:59 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Finally, I want to express my appreciation for this thread, which has been delightful and illuminating. My favorite part? The way we've basically just ignored Rand and instead focused wholly on Lewis. Well, say 90% on Lewis.

I love how the thread all got their kicks at an intelligent, compassion man who they disagree with about religion. Meanwhile, I can make an HP Lovecraft thread a month with only a few comments about his bitter racism.

I don't believe people should strive to present all points of view. They should present their own, strongly, and let people bounce off that. I'm not religious but I respect the religious worldview.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 1:06 AM on March 28, 2013 [6 favorites]


I loved Narnia as a little kid (except for The Last Battle), found out about the Christian allegory when I was a teenager, went: "Huh," and kept loving the Narnia books. It didn't make a whole lot of difference to me who Aslan was supposed to be, maybe because Christianity is (and was) so profoundly irrelevant to my day-to-day life. I loved the Greek myths and the Chinese stories about the Monkey King too. The fact that those stories also had a whole world view behind them that was unfamilar to me didn't bother me either. I have been re-reading Narnia again in a foreign language, and I have been struck as an adult by the beauty and clarity of some of his descriptions, even though the plots seem clunkier than they did when I was a kid.
posted by colfax at 3:41 AM on March 28, 2013


That Hideous Strength is when I started loathing Lewis, too. The argument really was that women should submit to men because we are inferior. It is explicitly laid out several times.

Anyone who doubts it, feel free to pick up the book and read it. It's short.
posted by winna at 4:37 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Lewis was pretty adamant that Aslan was not Jesus, and that the Narnia books were not intended as allegories. There are definitely parallels, but Aslan, and the entire Narnia cosmology is far too shot though with pagan concepts and religious symbols to be useful as a Christian allegory. Lewis's real interest was in a synthesis of several mythologies he dearly loved - Norse mythology, Greek mythology and Christianity.

Lewis is problematic in multiple ways - the racism and misogyny in his fantasy works being among them, but not any more racist of mysogyinist than an average person of his time, which doesn't excuse that stuff, if course.

He is worst at apologetics, which is how many people know him. He also evolved quite a bit from his youth to his old age; he began life as an elitist atheist and ended it as a nearly-socialist universalist Christian. His marriage changed his mysogyinist views about women considerably, which is why Til We Have Faces is his best fiction work - the main character, who is a stand-in for him, is a woman monarch in love with her own sister (who is a stand-in for his recently-deceased wife) and angry with the gods for taking her. That Lewis could move from the person who wrote the women characters in the Space Trilogy to being the writer who wrote the lead character in TWHF, while not excusing him from the former, suggests a great deal of personal evolution.

I have nothing at all to say about Ayn Rand.
posted by eustacescrubb at 4:51 AM on March 28, 2013 [8 favorites]


if you haven't read her, get yourself a copy of atlas shrugged and see how long you last

I'd be loath to do so lest it should, however infinitesimally, advance the goals of her followers or whoever collects royalties from her books.

Perhaps if I saw one in a thrift shop; I'm guessing that a copy sitting on a thrift shop shelf would be more likely to infect a naïve adolescent with Objectivist zeal than save an Ayn Rand fan from paying for a new copy.
posted by acb at 5:20 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


jokeefe: "she rejects her memories of Narnia, referring to her adventures there as "that silly game we played as children". She gets shut out because she has shut herself out: the rest of the worldly trivialities are symptoms, not the cause."

I've seen this line of reasoning elsewhere, as well, and it always seemed incomplete to me, somehow. I mean, sure, it's possible that Susan herself consciously chose to reject Narnia, but we can never really know that, because we never hear from her again. When we do, it's through the mouths of her sisters and cousins, who are clearly disdainful of the fact that she's "keen on invitations".

I come back again and again to the point of Susan being a character that Lewis created, rather than a real person that he's observing. Why did he choose to have her turn her back on Narnia, if she indeed did? We're not given any clues except for her worldly trivialities, which indicated to me that to Lewis these worldly things precluded you from being a valuable person. I mean, what makes her alone unworthy, when so many other humans at the end of The Last Battle (who, if I recall correctly, had no connection to Narnia at all) were given free passage to Aslan's land, as long as they had lived by a sort of Narnian morality? Even if Susan convinced herself that Narnia was little more than an imaginary game, does that make her so immoral and unsalvageable as to be turned away from what Lewis described as the greatest story of all?
posted by Phire at 7:13 AM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


All I know of Lewis is the Narnia books, which I've always enjoyed (especially "The Horse and His Boy"). And from what I know of Rand, she seems like the sort of person who argued and yelled all the time. No fun to be around at all. Win for Lewis.

Still, I kind of like the line "Here’s where the Kor­zybski comes out in him." My first thought on reading that was, "Hey, that happens to all of us sometimes." The struggle to contain one's Korzybski is part of what makes us human.
posted by tallmiddleagedgeek at 7:42 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


herbplarfegan: thanks for the link. As always, it doesn't really address the fundamentals of the philosophy, but...

Huh? It seems to me that it completely demolishes the fundamentals of the philosophy, via the critiques of Nozick and Hook. You can't derive factual information from logic, and everything in Rand rests on that axiomatic method, per Rand herself. It also does a good job of exposing her shaky logic and her ignorance of the foundations of mathematics and much of philosophy. So I can't figure out what you're not seeing here, unless this is a case of unwillingness to acknowledge the existence of a message you don't like. What would a discussion that addresses the fundamentals of the philosophy look like, if not this?
posted by rodii at 9:56 AM on March 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


> I love how the thread all got their kicks at an intelligent, compassion man who they disagree with about religion. Meanwhile, I can make an HP Lovecraft thread a month with only a few comments about his bitter racism.

That's easy to explain. No-one goes in to a Lovecraft thread trying to defend his racism. It's done, it's settled — the racism is a bad stain on an otherwise very talented man. You can have an interesting discussion about how much of it is of the time and how much of it is of the man, or how it affected the writings, but not even the trolliest of MetaFilter trolls will try to defend its contents.

But Lewis's religious junk is still considered valid by some. Even some of the nicest and sincerest people here think that it's good. So it's worth spending energy to argue against it.

> I don't believe people should strive to present all points of view. They should present their own, strongly, and let people bounce off that.

You realize that the people "getting their kicks in" are presenting their own views, strongly?
posted by benito.strauss at 10:29 AM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


If you believe that Christianity is true, it makes sense.

My problem is that I'm not even sure what this means. There are so many versions of "Christianity," almost as many as there are professors of it, that declaring it to be true as a general statement is next to meaningless.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:38 AM on March 28, 2013


Lewis' views on Susan were not simply misogyny (though that was there ) but related to his views (I think he talks about this in Surprised by Joy) about how, as a child, we have more direct experiences of divinity/the imagination, and then as an adolescent we disown them and try to ape everyone around us (he describes himself doing exactly this) to seem more "grownup". And then how, if we're lucky, we stop trying to pose as adults and actually allow ourselves the same imaginative pleasures we had as a child. Susan is stuck in the phase where you disown your childhood truths. What ultimately happens to her is unknown.

I don't really think the story "The Problem of Susan," is a fair attempt at grappling with her as a character or with Lewis. It is using her character in an entirely different story set in a universe where either Narnia was simply an illusion or it was a cruel alternate reality with no real good in it, certainly not in Aslan.

I did not actually intend to come in and defend Lewis here, honestly, because I can't really engage with him in the way I used to. But I do think if you're going to criticize him you shouldn't do it from one isolated perspective. I have heard lots of criticism of his essays, but no acknowledgement that he frequently discussed both his own intellectual shortcomings and his doubts about what was true, even while he tossed off reasoning that doesn't hold up to us now.

What's interesting in comparing him to Rand is that while both of them have been used as ideological mallets by those who came after them (Rand by conservatives, Lewis by evangelicals), he is the only one who would have objected to that treatment.

Rand wanted to be a mallet; she wanted to wield the mallet herself, while she was alive.
posted by emjaybee at 10:39 AM on March 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


Lewis: “There are other people who are slowly becoming Christians though they do not yet call themselves so. There are people who do not accept the full Christian doctrine about Christ but who are so strongly attracted by Him that they are His in a much deeper sense than they themselves understand. There are people in other religions who are being led by God's secret influence to concentrate on those parts of their religion which are in agreement with Christianity, and who thus belong to Christ without knowing it.”

benito.strauss: “Ouch. That's the kind of stuff Lewis wrote? Put me back on the Dawn Treader.”

me: “What exactly is wrong with this bit? Seriously, it seems very good to me. If you believe that Christianity is true, it makes sense. And I do – it makes sense to me.”

benito.strauss: “Well, yes, if you believe Christianity to be true, it should make sense to you. And in fact, among all the statements one could make that are consistent with Christianity, it seems like one of the kinder ones. If Christianity being true is an irremovable pre-condition, it'll probably seem like a very tolerant attitude to take.”

It's not an "irremovable pre-condition;" it's just the condition Lewis happened to be in.

“Me, I don't believe Christianity to be true. Certain tenets that I hear stated to be central to Christian belief strike me as just wrong. If you're willing, rather than me telling you why I said 'Ouch', can you think what it would be like to not be a Christian and read that?”

I can think what it would be like. There have been times when I haven't been a Christian. There have also been times when I've been a Christian around Muslims, or around Jews. They disagreed with me. They believed what they believed fervently. It wasn't always easy or simple, but if I recoiled in horror every time someone talked about the world and about the souls of the people in it in a way that didn't quite square with mine, then I wouldn't be able to hang around much with religious people (or people in general.)

But, as I said, if a person believes that the Absolute and Divine is a transformative principle which interjects itself into the finite, limited stuff of the universe and becomes one with it at every point of space and every moment of time, then it is perfectly natural to believe that that Absolute and Divine is a living principle at work in all souls, not just one's own. It would be difficult, probably impossible in fact, to devise a Christianity that only applies to me. And it seems worthwhile to note that Lewis' formulation of Christianity here is not Evangelical; much to the contrary – he is plainly stating that it's very difficult, if not impossible, to know the state of the souls of others, so one doesn't really have to worry that he'll try to shove his beliefs down the throats of others, by word or by force.

So – while I can understand why some people might wince at a phrasing that speaks of people "belonging to Christ without knowing it," there is ultimately nothing really discomforting about what he says here beyond the fact that he's saying something people might disagree with. And, yes, encountering points of view that are different from ours can sometimes be uncomfortable. However, I get the feeling that people tend to indulge their discomfort with Christianity a whole lot more than they indulge their discomfort with other religions nowadays. I think that has to do with us growing up around it and having to put up with family members who are awful about it. Still, that doesn't mean it makes sense to recoil at Lewis simply stating openly that he is a Christian.
posted by koeselitz at 10:57 AM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]


Mental Wimp: “My problem is that I'm not even sure what this means. There are so many versions of 'Christianity,' almost as many as there are professors of it, that declaring it to be true as a general statement is next to meaningless.”

I can appreciate people having this sense of it if they aren't Christians, although people who are Christians obviously disagree – that is, we believe Christianity is actually a thing, that it is both a set of real and continuous traditions and also a community of people who believe in common things.

In the same way, I believe that there is such a thing as "science," which is to say both that there are a set of commonly agreed upon scientific principles (chiefly, that experimental repeatability or its equivalent is the approximation of truth) and that there is a community of scientists who do science by acting on those principles. You could claim that there are hundreds of different definitions of the word "science," and therefore there can't be any such cohesive thing, but I would disagree and argue that there are enough commonly agreed upon principles to constitute a working definition that allows people to do science in concert with each other while aiming at the same goal.

But of course – I believe that; that is, I believe science is a legitimate goal, and a set of real and legitimate principles. If I didn't think that, and if I thought science was just a big ball of generally contradictory nonsense, then I wouldn't really be able to accept that there is such a thing as the common project of science.

Similarly, I can understand that, if a person believed that Christianity is mostly just a collection of contradictory nonsense, it would be hard for them to accept that there is any community of faith gathered around any common traditions at all. It would just look like a steady stream of random people believing random things who just happened to use the same word to describe themselves, through no necessary similarity or commonality at all. So I can understand why non-Christians would find the whole ordeal an incoherent mess.
posted by koeselitz at 11:06 AM on March 28, 2013


I haven't read all the comments, but I will say that I've liked a lot of C.S. Lewis. I liked Till We Have Faces very much, and after a loss I got a lot out of A Grief Observed, though he lost me at the last third of the book, being rather Christian and all.

The Chronicles of Narnia were the only fantasy I was allowed to read in my fundamentalist household (temporary insanity on the part of my parents, though unfortunately the period in question was my entire childhood), and although The Last Battle was terrible even by little kid standards, there are other books I remember vividly. In The Silver Chair what I most remember was the witch gaslighting her prisoners by asking them to describe their "fictitious" real world, and using their own words to convince them that they've fantasized the sun, Aslan, the sky.... That and her convincing the prince that his captivity (the chair) was his "only source of safety."
posted by small_ruminant at 12:27 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fwiw, a lot of children's authors really screwed the pooch, especially older ones. I HATED how Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising ended, and I don't remember being too impressed with her female characters either.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:32 PM on March 28, 2013


"Belonging to Christ" only makes sense if you start with certain assumptions about theology which are unique to Christianity. Setting aside my own views about those assumptions, the "all roads lead to Christ" strikes me as a radically different type of perennialism than "all roads lead to the Divine." Part of the latter includes the possibility that Jesus of Nazareth may have just been a particularly gifted moral human being.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:54 PM on March 28, 2013


Just to briefly follow-up what I was saying about Greg Egan's stories (and yes this does relate directly to the linked article): In his novelette TAP, Egan imagines a computer-assisted language in which words have total isomorphic correspondence with the experiences they represent:
Words in TAP -- which included the entire sensorium-descriptor vocabulary of VR -- could evoke images ten thousand times more vivid and precise than the densest poetic English ... or they could be held at arm's length and scrutinized dispassionately, as easily as any English-speaker could contemplate the phrase "a flash of blinding radiance" or "the overpowering stench of ammonia" without experiencing anything of the kind. In the jargon of the implant's designers -- English words, predating TAP itself -- every TAP word could be scanned (understood analytically), or played (experienced subjectively) -- or interpreted in a manner lying anywhere at all between those two extremes.
Later a character describes the experience:
With the implant, you can play words -- or scan them. Experience them, blindly -- or understand them, completely...

"If I play this word ... I feel a boundless sense of loyalty and pride towards my team ... my city ... my State ... my nation!" Her face shone with fervent, agonized, almost hysterical joy...But if I scan it ... " Her expression faded into one of faint amusement -- as if someone had just tried to dupe her with a very old, and very obvious, scam.

"This word plays as what many religions call 'faith'." Her face was radiant, but tranquil now. "The peace that defies understanding." She smiled apologetically. "Except, of course, it doesn't. Scan it, and the mechanics are transparent: one foot down hard on an entrained neurochemical feel-good pedal -- with cognitive, aesthetic, and cultural echoes linked to the context in which the training was acquired."

"And this is ... sexual love, desire? Call it what you like, but if you scan it -- "
This is almost precisely what Lewis is talking about when he talks about "seeing through." Lewis realized what Egan (or at least his character) apparently doesn't, that there can be no bottom to this sort of reductionism. This same process would "reveal" that even such things as curiosity, self-preservation, rationality itself, are all "tricks" that our bodies play on us. A TAP user would seem to be left with no reason to do anything that wasn't completely arbitrary.

Now obviously there are philosophers more sophisticated than Egan who have responded to the kinds of things Lewis was saying. I just found it fascinating to run across this contemporary science-fiction writer (Egan, whose work I love) trying to grapple with what seem to be beyond-cutting-edge issues of the moral implications of how computers might someday affect our consciousness, only to discover that Lewis had already been there and thought about it (in some ways) more perceptively. (And it's particularly ironic given Egan's story Oracle, in which a nasty caricature of Lewis is almost converted to atheism by a "more rational" version of himself from another universe.)
posted by straight at 12:58 PM on March 28, 2013 [3 favorites]


Scan it, and the mechanics are transparent: one foot down hard on an entrained neurochemical feel-good pedal -- with cognitive, aesthetic, and cultural echoes linked to the context in which the training was acquired.

Yeah, this argument is always so silly. Knowing the mechanics of a radio doesn't mean the radio isn't playing a transmission. That the eye can view drug-induced hallucinations doesn't mean that there is no such thing as actual vision.
posted by shivohum at 1:11 PM on March 28, 2013


(Another really good Greg Egan story on this theme is "Reasons to Be Cheerful" in which a man unable to feel pleasure of any kind is given a computer prosthesis to fix his problem. With the default setting, everything is pleasurable: every meal is delicious, every painting beautiful, every woman desirable, every person lovable. Then he's asked to calibrate the machine and decide which things will be pleasurable and which will be painful, what he will love and what he will hate. Egan is kind of the SF version of Oliver Sachs. I also sometimes almost suspect him of being a secret Christian writing reductio ad absurdum refutations of materialism.)
posted by straight at 1:12 PM on March 28, 2013


Fwiw, a lot of children's authors really screwed the pooch, especially older ones. I HATED how Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising ended, and I don't remember being too impressed with her female characters either.

I forget - is it a big old reset and mindwipe after the final conflict?
posted by Artw at 1:23 PM on March 28, 2013


yes
posted by small_ruminant at 1:40 PM on March 28, 2013


I forget - is it a big old reset and mindwipe after the final conflict?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:55 PM on March 28, 2013 [7 favorites]


I can forgive Cooper that because the whole magic secret war was introduced from the start, and the mindwipe had not been quite so badly abused as a way out in 1977.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:01 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


metafilter - I forget - is it a big old reset and mindwipe after the final conflict?
posted by pyramid termite at 5:41 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


CBrachyrhynchos: “‘Belonging to Christ’ only makes sense if you start with certain assumptions about theology which are unique to Christianity. Setting aside my own views about those assumptions, the ‘all roads lead to Christ’ strikes me as a radically different type of perennialism than ‘all roads lead to the Divine.’ Part of the latter includes the possibility that Jesus of Nazareth may have just been a particularly gifted moral human being.”

The trouble with eschewing the notion that all roads lead to Christ is that it doesn't really strike me as perennialism at all – at least as far as more noted perennialists / traditionalists (Rene Guenon, Frithjof Schuon, Martin Lings, etc) have defined it. The essential thing about the philosophia perennis is the belief that religions are true. If you think "belonging to Christ" isn't a legitimate expression of a divine truth which can be found in other religions as well, you're not actually a perennialist, I would say. Guenon, Schuon, and the rest all insisted that perennialism means being part of a tradition, and not simply standing outside the traditions looking in.

In other words – if you don't believe that "all roads lead to Christ" and "all roads lead to the Divine" are identical statements, then there's no way you can be a Christian. And if you believe there's no way those two statements can mean the same thing, then I don't think you can believe that Christianity might be true. Which would make it hard to be a perennialist – unless you're a perennialist who believes that all religions except Christianity are true.

And I would note this point, by the way: Lewis is intentionally insisting that there is no necessary identification between those who claim to be Christians and those who "belong to Christ." He even states that good Buddhists who follow Buddhist teachings can "belong to Christ." What he means by this is clearly not that there's some magic way that Christ has put a secret stamp on them; what he means is that by following the Buddhist teaching they are intuiting the truth of the Christ-story.

To explicate this a little further: I think people here are hearing "belonging to Christ" in a different way than Lewis meant it. "Belonging to Christ" only means being so attuned to the absolute which makes itself part of reality at every instant that one succeeds in communing with that divine absolute. It has almost nothing to do with possession, which I think is what trips people up about this.
posted by koeselitz at 6:38 PM on March 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Which would make it hard to be a perennialist – unless you're a perennialist who believes that all religions except Christianity are true.

This is actually a sensible position and not nearly as hypocritical as it sounds at first, because Christianity and its derivatives (including Islam) are actually very exceptional religions. Nearly all other world religions are syncretic, and can (and very often do) fuse with other religions to create hybrids which neither parent religion would consider scandalous. Even the early Jews didn't think of their god as unary and absolute, just that they were His chosen people and he forbade to form such syncretic hybrids. There is no hint that they thought other religions were illegitimate for their followers. The idea that god is unary and exclusive is almost unique to Christianity, and makes it incompatible with most other religious thought in ways that most other religious thought is unsimilarly mutually compatible -- and that has more to do with Constantine than Christ, but that's another rant.

So if Lewis is using Christ as a substitute for some amorphous overarching "divine" toward which all religions bend, that's a very different vision of Christ than the one peddled by nearly all Christian churches. It sounds like rather than being converted to Christianity by Tolkien, Lewis was persuaded to play a word game wherein he replaced certain ineffable absolutes that are implicit in the idea of an ecosystem of gods with "Christ" or "the Trinity." That is frankly not Christianity in a form most Christians would recognize, just as most don't recognize Mormons as being Christian and for almost exactly the same reasons.
posted by localroger at 7:24 PM on March 28, 2013


I apologize in advance for writing such a long response; it's been a long time since I thought about these things, but they've been coming back to me recently, and it seems worthwhile to write them out.

localroger: “So if Lewis is using Christ as a substitute for some amorphous overarching 'divine' toward which all religions bend, that's a very different vision of Christ than the one peddled by nearly all Christian churches.”

Well – I don't think it's really amorphous like that. I do think this a complicated issue, and I don't pretend to speak with a great deal of authority.

However, I believe there are several important points here:

First, Lewis was a pretty deep esoterist, and a strong believer in a number of very mystical strains of Christianity. The modern Evangelical movement has whitewashed him of this and mostly forgotten it; and to be fair, he made it easy to forget, because his philosophy was largely based on the idea that divine truth can be found in the common, meaning ordinary people living ordinary religious lives (in contradistinction to spiritualist monks or something). So one sees him over and over fight as hard as possible to make his messages clear in the most basic of terms. He did this not because he believed being a popularizer was in itself a fine thing, but because he believed with some deference that scholarship (his own world) is further from the divine path than simple religious practice is. His considerable theological and philosophical depth is apparent in his more unguarded works like his Letters to Malcolm.

Second – to tackle the larger point here – I believe strongly that this esoterism which fosters a kind of syncretism is something that is part and parcel with Christianity as it was taught from the time of Christ to now. St Justin Martyr was the first to say that the truths of Christ were accessible to the pagans; nor was he the last to emphasize this. Teachers of the Church have repeated this over and over again.

There is this essential problem, then – which is Christianity apparently so anti-syncretic? Frithjof Schuon made the very interesting argument that this is because Christianity, alone among the religions, seeks to intermix and blend the inner and the outer in presenting its teaching. This is something we see over and over in the Gospels, where Christ constantly says things which are taken one way but apparently meant an entirely different way; this is (I think) the essence of his penchant for parables as a teaching method. So we have his pronouncement: "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except by me." There is an obvious external meaning, and it is the 'literal' meaning that stubborn and proud Christians have been repeating for millennia – only those who call themselves Christians and follow the little rules set out to delineate them as such are part of the kingdom of heaven. But it is my firm conviction that this external meaning is not the true meaning of that pronouncement.

And I am apparently not alone. In the passage I quoted above from Mere Christianity, Lewis is clearly contradicting that notion that only those who call themselves Christians and follow the proper rituals may meet with the Divine.

“It sounds like rather than being converted to Christianity by Tolkien, Lewis was persuaded to play a word game wherein he replaced certain ineffable absolutes that are implicit in the idea of an ecosystem of gods with ‘Christ’ or ‘the Trinity.’”

From what I have gathered about those few fervid nights when Lewis and Tolkien talked over what Christianity meant, the nights which eventually led to Lewis' conversion, this is not really the case. It seems as though Lewis was quite attracted to the schema you lay out from the start, as it was easy for him to slip into; it was his conversations with Tolkien which convinced him that it wasn't possible to do that. Lewis adored paganism, and he wanted to see Christianity in the same light: as a parable, a meaningful story with multiple interpretations which was not literal but which pointed to the truth.

The trouble with that is that it utterly undermines the story and makes it completely meaningless. Christianity cannot simply be a nice parable with some symbolic meanings, because then it ceases to have any significance at all; or rather, it's proven to be a lie. This is, I think, what Lewis was trying to get at with that "lunatic, liar, or lord" stuff that so many of us find silly on the face of it.

The story of Christianity is that the Absolute and Divine actually comes down into the finite and limited and becomes a part of it. That's not the meaning of the story of Christianity; that's what the story literally says. If it's not literally true that the Absolute and Divine comes down into the finite and limited and becomes part of it – then the story becomes meaningless, because (for one thing) knowing truth becomes impossible.

This is in contradistinction to all the pagan and heroic stories, which we may take as stories which say something very deep about our spiritual experience but which might not be "literally true." Christianity carries with it a demand that its story be true, because it insists that all truth is predicated on the literal truth that God was made flesh.

That is my reading of C S Lewis' realization, anyway. He made it clear many times that he viewed the pagan stories as very, very different from the Christian story, for this very reason: that the Christian story demands that it must be taken as true else it becomes meaningless.
posted by koeselitz at 8:37 PM on March 28, 2013 [5 favorites]


koeselitz: It has almost nothing to do with possession, which I think is what trips people up about this.

Agreed, which is why I'm baffled as to why you're bringing this concept into the discussion.

It's not a matter of possession, it's a matter of what are the fundamental claims you're making about god. Is it reasonable to say that I am god, and so are you? Because that is a claim that needs to be considered in any kind of perennialist project.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:49 PM on March 28, 2013


CBrachyrhynchos: “Agreed, which is why I'm baffled as to why you're bringing this concept into the discussion.”

Sorry – in that remark I was really thinking more about benito.strauss' comment to me earlier where he asked me to think about why a non-Christian might find it odd or discomforting to hear that she or he "belongs to Christ." I think that's part of it – it sounds oddly possessive. But I agree that it has little to do with your point.

“It's not a matter of possession, it's a matter of what are the fundamental claims you're making about god. Is it reasonable to say that I am god, and so are you? Because that is a claim that needs to be considered in any kind of perennialist project.”

Heh. Well – that is a difficult question, because that statement ("I am god, and so are you") can be meant in a lot of different ways. I'm not entirely sure whether you're talking about the "belonging to Christ" thing or whether you're just using that as an example of a difficult question in a perennialist project which you're not sure Lewis would ever have considered. I guess I feel like maybe I shouldn't say too much about this, although I will remark that the explicit and public teaching of the Church is that Christ became not just a human but our humanity, which means that he is crucified, buried, and rises again at every moment within us. It's hard not to see that as at least indicating that the Divine is an inherent part of us.
posted by koeselitz at 8:57 PM on March 28, 2013


Lewis realized what Egan (or at least his character) apparently doesn't, that there can be no bottom to this sort of reductionism. This same process would "reveal" that even such things as curiosity, self-preservation, rationality itself, are all "tricks" that our bodies play on us.

I'm pretty sure Egan gets this even if his characters usually don't; see his story Mister Volition in which (IIRC) someone is able to perceive his own mental processes and becomes aware through this that his sense of volition is an illusion.

Now, with Egan the extent to which any given story is more than just the hard-sf rush of it can be pretty limited, but I think the broad thrust of stories like TAP (which I haven't read), or RtbC, or Mister Volition, or his other neuroprogramming stuff is that they're about how how you might reconcile yourself to the radically materialist world that tech is forcing us into. Or rather, how we're being forced to viscerally understand the materialist underpinnings of our selves, our feelings, etc, that were always there.

I also sometimes almost suspect him of being a secret Christian writing reductio ad absurdum refutations of materialism

I dare you to go to Australia and tell him that. I'll be wearing a raincoat and carrying an umbrella for when the Scanners thing happens.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:43 PM on March 28, 2013 [2 favorites]




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