Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Good Question

Why aren’t millions of believers saying, “Yes, I know my god is real because the universe is intelligently designed and I believe that the [Bible, Koran, or Torah] describes him accurately. However, based on the actions of this god. I cannot follow or worship him because I am a decent human being.”
Guy Harrison on "Where Are the Moral Believers?"

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


Perhaps this is the source of Lewis' enigmatic dwarves from The Last Battle:
The odd thing was that before God closed in on me, I was in fact offered what now appears a moment of wholly free choice. In a sense. I was going up Headington Hill on the top of a bus. Without words and (I think) almost without images, a fact about myself was somehow presented to me. I became aware that I was holding something at bay, or shutting something out. Or, if you like, that I was wearing some stiff clothing, like corsets, or even a suit of armor, as if I were a lobster. I felt myself being there and then, given a free choice. I could open the door or keep it shut; I could unbuckle the armor or keep it on. Neither choice was presented as a duty; no threat or promise was attached to either, though I knew that to open the door or to take off the corslet meant the incalculable.
(Excerpted from PBS site "Freud and Lewis")

The choice to acknowledge God or Heaven or Uber-Narnia is free.

That's Better

I remember finishing my reading of the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of John before it and starting the Epistles of Paul. Man, what a breath of fresh air! After the unflinching repetitiveness of the former two, the later retained a real, human voice. There was Paul of Tarsus speaking across the intervening millennia. This was a flesh and blood man with all his glories and faults (more than many are wiling to acknowledge.)

That is exactly how I felt while reading A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis. After hacking my way through seven Narnia books and with indigestible bits of Mere Christianity still clogging my brain, I felt I had finally met the man whom J. R. R. Tolkien had befriended all those years ago. Lewis produces pleasant turns of phrase. He wrestles with alternating bouts of despair, guilt and hope. Gone is the didactic and turgid prose of those other works. Present are a humility and openness. Even when Lewis comes full circle and re-engages a God who in some ways is just as catachismic as the one who seemed to abandon him in his greatest need, he does so without bombast and expecting to find that he has been mistaken in every one of his conclusions when he finally meets his Savior face to face.

Perhaps a re-read of Mere Christianity or one of Lewis' other apologist works would leave a kinder having seen the all-too-human man behind them. I think, however, that I am going to leave Dr Lewis for now as I encountered him in his last work - with a higher regard.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Mr and Mrs Straighttalk

Can we stop calling John McCain a straight-talking, maverick tough guy now that we know he hides his valuables behind his wife?

Friday, April 25, 2008

Calm Down

There is a great deal of angst out there among Democrats that somehow Barak Obama has lost his mojo and will be swiftboated into oblivion in November. This may be true but left out of the discussion is the man Barak would be running against.

The liberal hand-wringing continues whenever the fact that John McCain does not have an opponent for the nomination comes up. Oh my goodness, they whine, he is getting all this free air time to bash the Democrats. This, too, is true but who the hell is paying attention? Hillary is doing a fine job of bashing the Illinois senator. Everyone is talking about her. And when McCain does actually try to say something substantive, he blows it.

This brings me to my main point. John McCain is a terrible candidate. Once the main campaign starts and people start seeing him and hearing him speak, Barak and Hillary are going to look brilliant. For starters, McCain looks old. Sorry about that but it is true. Sometimes he looks tired. In an elder person this comes across as dazed. Sorry again. Even my life-long Republican father-in-law thinks so and he is over 80! On top of that McCain does not appear to be all that smart. His policies are simplistic when not completely disconnected from reality. He also has trouble speaking fluently in public. There are stories of him becoming unglued when the teleprompter fails. This is going to appear a little too Bushian to many. Now imagine John McCain in three presidential debates. It will not be pretty.

So, sure, Barak could get pummeled by the Republican dirty tricks brigade but who can walk away from that unscathed? McCain may snag some of the older voters that have supported Hillary but he won't get a single voter under 30 (if they show up). It will be difficult. The Oval Office was never guaranteed for the Democrats but let's not lose perspective.


John McCain should NEVER wear sunglasses!

Does he not look like he should be down on the beach with a metal detector?

Thursday, April 24, 2008


If I see one more photo of someone's breakfast/lunch/dinner/tea/supper/snack on their blog I will personally launch a cyber-attack on their account and leave a flaming bag of dog poo on their front stoop.

Are we clear on this?

Narnia - Fin

I’ll open up with a few questions.

  • Does Lewis intend to teach children that a demon can be summoned by an unbeliever by invoking its name? Or is this a bit of gothic horror that children seem to like?
  • Does Lewis actually believe in Platonic forms? I didn’t think anyone took those very seriously - even Plato.

I finished the last book in the Chronicles of Narnia, The Last Battle. This final outing combines a gloss of Revelations with some end times theology and a depiction of heaven in terms of Plato’s Theory of Forms. Let us just say that C. S. Lewis did not suddenly discover subtlety in 1956. The ape, Shift, is a kind of false Anti-Christ, albeit a manipulated one. The dwarfs cannot experience heaven because they are trapped by their own closed minds (what are they doing in heaven if this is the case). Susan is no longer a “friend of Narnia” because she becomes interested in “nylons, lipstick and invitations.” If he was not writing Allegory then what was he writing? Parody? Metaphor? I am at a loss.

Any who - So Lewis is a second rate fantasy writer. No big surprise there. However, he also comes off as a bit of a crank in the Narnia series. He keeps taking cheap shots at those with whom he doesn’t agree. Those who suffer at the pen of the Greatest Christian Apologist of the 20th Century are:

  • Educators – Over and over again, Lewis slams modern education, from Lord Digory’s exclamations of “What do they teach them at these schools!” to his depiction of the Experimental School where Eustace and Jill attend.
  • Scientists – See here.
  • Socialites – I find the argument that Susan failed to reach heaven because she “grew up” or matured sexually unconvincing. I think Lewis makes it clear that her problem was her turning toward superficial things of this world, appearing attractive and going to parties.
  • America – Is it coincidence that the last reference we had to Susan’s activities before she is struck from the list of Saved is that she travelled to America with her parents? Is Dr Lewis taking a swipe at my own fair country?
  • Liberal theologians – Any non-Mystical explanation of Christianity ever put forward seems to come under fire along with scientific approaches to studying religion (see scientists, above). Kind of ironic since Lewis himself attempted to use logic to prove the existence of God and the precepts of Christianity in Surprised by Joy and Mere Christianity.
  • Dwarfs(?) – What to make of the black dwarfs in The Last Battle? Who is Lewis trying to get at here? Skeptics? The generally closed-minded? The parochial? The amoral? The short?

Overall, I am thrilled to have these books behind me. C. S. Lewis’ work does not hold up well after half a century. Even those views that were not anachronistic at the time of their writing are mostly so now, for instance, his depiction of Calormen (“smelling of garlic and onions”) or his glorification of warfare. In fact it is disturbing how much violence is portrayed as a fitting way to serve Christ. I would not encourage my children to read these books for any reason other than a college level study of the author.

My next read will be A Grief Observed. Let us see where Professor Lewis ended up. I only hope the hype does not bode ill for this book as it did the previous seven (eight if you count Mere Christianity).

What's the Matter With Republicans

If true this is revealing:
In fact, while roughly the same number of Republicans and Democrats claim to believe in God, the number of Democrats that accept evolution is double that of the Republicans

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

More Reasons to Believe

My previous post concerning C. S. Lewis' endorsement of believing things that are appealing was preceded by a scene just as revealing. In it the witch attempts to put the heroes under an enchantment by combining magic smoke, the repetitive strum of a mandolin and reasonable sounding arguments delivered in a soothing voice. In trying to convince them that only her underground realm exists she argues that because they can not explain how the sun hangs in the sky it must just be a dream or a product of their imagining. Likewise with the Christ-Lion, Aslan. She states that they have only imagined something bigger than a normal cat with which they embue their highest virtues.

The latter argument is obviously a dig a rationalists arguments that God is a created in men's minds out of a need for an ultimate father figure. Perhaps Freud even said that. The former argument however reveals Lewis' view of science's procedural naturalism. Science, it seems, wants things to be explainable. If there is no explanation for an observable phenomenon, science digs for one. If a phenomenon is not observable than science offers at most guarded skepticism, at worst public exposure. After all, history is littered with grand sounding claims that proved untenable and, in hindsight, unrealistic.

Lewis will have none of it. He belittles science's prime virtue by placing it in the mouth of a despicable character. It seems he must have his mystery, at the cost of the greatest truth-producing mechanism yet devised by man. Science ain't perfect or sufficient to a well-balanced life, but mystery only covers ignorance with self-indulgent childishness. Perhaps that is it's appeal.

Credit Cards

Sometimes a quote is too good not to share...
... credit cards ... separate the pleasure of buying from the pain of paying.
Robert J. Samuelson
Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Monday, April 21, 2008

Reasons to Believe

C. S. Lewis places the following words in Puddlegum's mouth in the The Silver Chair.
Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things - trees and grass and sun and moon and stars ans Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made up things seems a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies making up a game can make a play world which licks your real world hollow. That's why I am going to stick by the play-world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as much like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia.

This is easily the most theological statement in a book that is remarkably free of theology (at least in the first 220 pages that I have read so far). This same character makes many statements claiming that nothing happens by accident - a pretty bold claim but less so in a fantasy setting.

From what I have read if Lewis' conversion to Theism the above quote seems almost auto-biographical. Lewis came to the conclusion that if you have a desire for something it must be real. Here he is saying that if what you want to believe sounds better than reality than it is worth behaving as if it were. There is a subtle difference - in the first case he was arguing for the actual existence of something while in the second he was arguing for governing your actions as if something existed. It reminds me of Pascal's Wager, "What do you have to lose if God turns out not to exist?" In Lewis example you should act as if Christ were real not just because it is an appealing thought but also because it makes you a better person.

I find this kind of interesting because I have long believed that one must choose to live as if Theism is true or as if God does not exist. Agnostics can talk about doubt at their dinner parties but they can not live doubt, they have to make a choice.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

I knew him, Horatio

The other day I found myself wondering what would replace Java as a programming language. Many are so entrenched in Java (or the latest cool new tool) that they just ignore the fact that all things come to an end. C seemed so entrenched that it was hard to imagine anything else eclipsing it (no pun intended).

What got me thinking about this was my philosophical frustration with String vs StringBuffer. String is the base class for handling text but to do anything even as banal as concatenation, you are supposed to use StringBuffer. I understand that immutable Strings were introduced for efficiency but they lie like a pustule festering in the heart of the language. Nothing will ever make them elegant.

And now we have Annotations in Java 5 (or is it Java 1.5?) We are told that XML is banished and deployment descriptors are a thing of the past (see here). The trend now is to entangle your code with deployment information (WebService and Entity annotations). Ironically, the instructor in the Core Spring class I recently took tried to sell us on the ways that Aspect Oriented Programming would disentangle our code. He followed this up by indicating all the Spring-specific annotations that we should add to our code! I can't escape the feeling that we are going to be deluged with new annotations when every framework will insist on their own, unique attributes. In order to port our so-called POJO to a newly released framework (or new version of an old one) we are expected to recompile our code. Imagine the stack of Annotations required to make our Plain Old Java Object deployable on the wide variety of possible environments our clients may be using. Alternatively we could try to tell CitiGroup that they have to use the technology that we chose to Annotate. Good luck! This smells like an attempt to solve a short-term problem (That Evil XML) with a long-term solution.

In Java 1.7, there is talk of multiple object return types. This may be the final sign that Java has Jumped the Shark. Are the developers of the language compelled to pile more and more stuff on the specifications to show that the language is growing or something.

And thus begins the gradual decline of Java.

More Stupid Programmer Tricks

Am I dense or just not one of the cool kids?

This is from JAX-WS FAQ page (
Q. What is the difference between JAX-RPC and JAX-WS ? One of the main difference between JAX-RPC and JAX-WS is the programming model. A JAX-WS based service uses annotations (such @WebService) to declare webservice endpoints. Use of these annotations obviates the need for deployment descriptors. With JAX-WS, you can have a webservice deployed on a Java EE compliant application server without a single deployment descriptor.
Excuse me, but the @WebService anotation is the deployment descriptor, except now the deployment is entangled with the implementation!!!

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Power of Self-Delusion

I was curious about the rumored doubts that C. S. Lewis expressed in A Grief Observed reflecting on the loss of his wife.

I came across this excerpt:
Meanwhile, where is God? This is one of the most disquieting symptoms. When you are happy, so happy that you have no sense of needing Him, so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as an interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him with gratitude and praise, you will be — or so it feels — welcomed with open arms. But go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence. You may as well turn away. The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence will become. There are no lights in the windows. It might be an empty house. Was it ever inhabited? It seemed so once. And that seeming was as strong as this. What can this mean? Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?
Is there a better expression of an experience where it is made clear that God is a creation of our own perception of our internal state. The shadow we took for a giant turns out to be an ancient oak tree when we are forced to approach it more closely. We create God in our image and find that he is not there when we actually need aid from outside ourselves.

In the flesh

I read somewhere else that C. S. Lewis defended accusations that he was writing "allegory" by saying that he was merely exploring how Christ might have incarnated in a world like Narnia. Fair enough. Although you can't really say that Aslan's Christ is a different Christ from Jesus' Christ so the application of Aslan's behavior to our world is direct (although Aslan implies that the children mush learn to understand him under "a different name" at The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.)

I think a slight extension to Lewis' description, above, would be that Aslan explores what the world would be like if Christ actually returned to Earth and hung around. There is no Holy Spirit as intermediary here. Aslan bails people out and advises them in the flesh, not as some feeling or strangely-warmed heart.

Perhaps this exactly what Lewis intended and makes this clear somewhere else.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

I read somewhere on the net that C. S. Lewis was “a first rate literary critic, a second rate fantasy writer and a third rate theologian.” In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Theology starts moving up the rail. Theology recedes further in to the background in Lewis’ third volume. More’s the pity. Another commenter has posited that Lewis had missed the previous 100 years of biblical criticism when he started his apologetic career. As evidenced by his Narnia series, he didn’t keep up with modern literary technique either.

By the fifth outing in the series (they were, of course, written out of order), I have become somewhat accustomed to the patronizing quality of Lewis’ writing. Perhaps I am not as familiar with children’s literature from the 1950’s (outside of Dick and Jane) but his way of addressing the reader seems to be archaic by at least a generation. Even the Hobbit, published in 1937 and noticeably written as a children’s book, does not wallow in the syrupy nostalgia as do the Narnia books. The closest analog with which I am familiar is Winnie the Pooh (1926). Furthermore, Lewis seems trapped between the nursery and Oxford. On the one hand he harps on about how familiar the good reader is with stories about dragons and dwarves but juxtaposes this against the Eustace character who serves as a caricature of everything that Lewis finds foolishly modern. Kind of awkward to explain to a young Winnie the Pooh fan.

All this was present in the previous Narnia books but The Voyage of the Dawn Treader introduces yet another archaicism. When I think of some of the books I read as a young person, some (i.e. Isaac Asimov and Tolkien) written in the 1950’s or before, I remember stories with overarching story lines and well crafted plots. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader we get a series of unconnected events, each one trying to dazzle us with bizarreness alone: the one-legged Dufflepods. Ramandu, the vacationing star (think astronomy, not Hollywood), the pool that turns objects to gold. Perhaps Lewis is consciously or unconsciously casting the story in the style of Danté’s Inferno. In any case, it made for dreary reading in this context.

As to the Theology of this book, I was not so surprised. Perhaps I have become as accustomed to thoughts on faith as to his style. Leaving aside Aslan’s Land which has no real theological content of interest, I groaned at the very end when a Lamb appeared to the children and offered them fish cooked over a fire and then appeared as their beloved Aslan! This story is weird enough in the Gospel of John. What is a child supposed to make of it? The claim that Lucy and Edmund have become too old for Narnia and must learn to find Aslan in their own world was pretty mild stuff. It came across as an acknowledgment that the nursery must be left behind. I can take that, may be even apply it to my own midlife wanderings. The most interesting theological motif, one that has appeared before in Lewis’ stories, is Aslan’s statement to Lucy when she causes him to appear via a magical spell, “Surely you think I would obey my own laws.” (paraphrased). If God/Christ is to be constrained by his own laws, then miracles such as the Virgin Birth become impossible. This is a whopper of a theological blunder and should be unsustainable by a serious religious thinker, at least one touted as the greatest Christian Apologist of the 20th Century. Alas.

I intended this post as a micro-review but apparently I had more to say than I had at first thought. As stated before, I intend to see Narnia through to the bitter end, or Last Battle. The later written volumes (The Horse and His Boy, The Magicians Nephew) were better than the earlier efforts so The Silver Chair may not be such a disappointment.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

C. S. Lewis and Theology

I have finished the fourth book in the Narnia series, Prince Caspian, and have had just about as much Thomas-the-Tank-Engine storytelling as I can stand. However, each book seems to be introducing new tidbits of C. S. Lewis' amateur theology. We have moved from the crudely told resurrection "analogy" to a story of Jesus (Aslan) forcing events by pretending to attack horses and riders to the previously visible Savior being invisible to his greatest supporters (and friends) because of their unfaith or something (the reason is not completely clear). I have developed a morbid curiosity to see what comes next. What will happen in the last book, ominously entitled, The Last Battle? I'm all a-quiver... or should I be dreading his clunky prose and awkward proselytizing?

It remains to be seen if all this will convince me to make another attempt at Mere Christianity, this time with the detachment necessary to prevent me from screaming and throwing the book across the room.


Another in my continuing ruminations regarding Wisdom.

Is Wisdom Meta-Intelligence?

Wisdom is ...

A) ... the knowledge of the limits of intelligence? (humility)
B) ... the knowledge of the situations where the application of intellect is appropriate?
C) ... the knowledge of which problem solving techniques are appropriate to a given task.
D) all of the above

This does not easily encompass an area that I have always considered a kind of wisdom: the ability to deal effectively and "intelligently" with irrational human beings. This may be where Solomon's "cleverness" in dealing with the two prostitutes and the baby falls.