Tag Archives: C.S. Lewis

10 books that stayed with me throughout the years…

This was a Facebook meme, but since things disappear faster into nothingness on Facebook than on this humble blog I will post it here too in an ‘extended remix’ with some description for each book in the top-ten.

This was the original FB meme, stolen from a FB friend -I wasn’t tagged myself-:

In your status, list 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take more than a few minutes and do not think too hard. They do not have to be the “right” books or great works of literature, just ones that have affected you in some way. These are in no particular order. Tag 10 friends, including me so I can see your list.

So I made a list of 10 books that stayed with me. A very diverse list:

Astrid Lindgren – Ronja Rôvardotter
RonjaOne of the books I remember from when I was a child, and one that I’ve reread several as an adult. I also own the Swedish series on DVD.  A story about a young girl living in a magical forests, 2 competing clans of robbers, and love and friendship. You should just read it.

Franquin – Guust Flater (Gaston Lagaffe) series 
Comic series about the completely un-heroic office helper Guust, who is also a crazy inventor.  Maybe I’m too much like him sometimes.

David Wilkerson – the cross and the switch-blade
As a pentecostal kid I read a lot of Christian books, a lot of which I’ve completely forgotten by now and which would not interest me at all anymore. But this story about an American rural preacher who goes to the gangs of New York to preach about the love of Jesus to the unlovable whom no-one wants will always stay with me. It showed me something bigger than this world, and bigger than the meaningless priorities of humans. It made me go on a search for what it means to love God above all and love my neigbor as myself, a search that isn’t finished yet…

Antoine de St-Exupéry – Le petit prince
Not much comment, just read it, if you can in French. If you don’t understand why I like it there’s no way I can ever explain it..

J.R.R. Tolkien – the hobbit
Yes, I like fairytales, and I like ‘the hobbit’ a bit more than LOTR, although that’s very brilliant too. Not much explanation needed I think.

David Quammen – the song of the dodo
This is also a book that everybody should read. About the scientific field of island biogeography, evolution and extinction. But also filled with very interesting anecdotes about weird species, strange scientists and the life story of Wallace, who was working on the same theory of evolution as Darwin and possibly was kind of ripped off by him.
One of the few books I read about evolution in my teenage years that were fascinating (The other one would be Stephen Jay Goulds ‘Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History “, both are much more convincing that any 6-day-creationist I’ve ever read.)

Bill Watterson – Calvin & Hobbes series
Another comic, and one of the most brilliant ones ever made.

C.S. Lewis – the abolition of man
A lot of Lewis’ books stayed with me, but this weird, sometimes almost unreadable philosophical tract might have had even more influence on me in the end than the others. It put things into words that I felt but could not name. But the guy has written a lot of stuff that has influenced me a lot. (The thing I disagree most about with him is gender roles though). It’s probably Lewis who has helped me to not get too modernised..

Shane Claiborne – the irresistible revolution
And here we enter the new millennium, and my clumsy search for love that is more real than anything we can make up as humans.  I was deep into investigating Christian anarchism for a while (Ellul didn’t make this list, but het would be in a top-50).  Shane Claiborne, a dreadlocked new monastic was a bit more practical and down-to-Earth. He also is an amazing storyteller and one of the other examples of people who have sparks of the ‘love that is bigger than anyone we know’ in their life.

Terry Prachett – small gods
Terry Prachett is unique as a fantasy-writer. His books are completely weird sometimes and you shouldn’t take anything serious, way too funny and very intelligent. A lot of stuff to think about though in this one that really expanded my way of thinking about the spiritual world. (And the concept of slavery). Not for anyone with no sense or humour or for anyone who’s easily offended.

Strange and slightly inconsistent list  now I come to think about it…

Note that I wrote the title in the original language, no matter in which language I read the book. Several of them I have read in 2 languages anyway.

Note also that they are more or less in the order that I read them in my life, and that  I’ve read all of them  except for 2 in for the first time the last millennium. The exceptions are “the irresistible revolution’ in the ’00’s and ‘small gods’ in the ’10’s.

And lastly note that I did include comics but not the bible -don’t ask why-, and only added one book/series per author, otherwise it would have been mostly Tolkien ans Lewis. Runner-ups would be more C.S. Lewis books, The Lord of the rings, the Harry Potter series, the ancient epic of Gilgamesh, the Edda, the Flora of the Netherlands and Belgium, Karl May’s Winnetou I, some Brian McLaren and Neil Postman’s ‘amusing ourselves to death’.

And oh, the hitch-hikers guide to the galaxy.

Strange how no book originally written in my own language ended up in the list.  English, French, German and Swedish but no Dutch. I have to think about what exactly that means. I’ve read a lot of interesting Flemish books as a kid (René Swartenbroekx, Jan Terlouw, Thea Beckman, …) that I might need to reread; But they didn’t stay with me.

Also, 9 women and one man. None of my big Ursula Le Guin books made the list for some reason .

so do you have an interesting list?



Believing things on authority (C.S. Lewis)

What are the implications of this paragraph from C.S. Lewis in ‘mere Christianity’? Or is there a way to disagree with this?

Do not be scared by the word authority. Believing things on authority only means believing them because you have been told them by someone you think trustworthy. Ninety-nine per cent of the things you believe are believed on authority. I believe there is such a place as New York. I have not seen it myself. I could not prove by abstract reasoning that there must be such a place. I believe it because reliable people have told me so. The ordinary man believes in the Solar System, atoms, evolution, and the circulation of the blood on authority–because the scientists say so. Every historical statement in the world is believed on authority. None of us has seen the Norman Conquest or the defeat of the Armada. None of us could prove them by pure logic as you prove a thing in mathematics. We believe them simply because people who did see them have left writings that tell us about them: in fact, on authority. A man who jibbed at authority in other things as some people do in religion would have to be content to know nothing all his life.



I don’t care how ‘big’ you are…

babelThis world seems to be obsessed with celebrity sometimes. Everybody wants to make a name for themselves, or follow those who have made a name for themselves as if they are very important. Sometimes to the point that I wonder if the cult of celebrity is some replacement of the pagan worship of all kinds of minor deities, or the exaggerated saint worship of some of our medieval Christian ancestors.
Which is quite weird to me, because the objects of this worship are humans after all. We all are just humans. It’s not because someone is more known that he or she has more to contribute to humanity, or is more interesting. Au contraire, we have a phenomenon in our Western world of people who seem to be known just for being known. Or what would you say is the reason Paris Hilton is famous?

Sure, there are a lot of people who are known for good reasons. There are some good musicians who sell a lot of records, and those are known for good reasons. There are also a lot of people who sell millions of books because they are good at writing or have ideas that should be known to more people. But this should not at all be reversed: there is no guarantee that celebrity means quality… And it is, sadly enough, also not true at all that quality or substance will lead to celebrity or having a platform that can share your message to the world. Some of the greatest artists of all time have only become known after their death anyway, like Vincent Van Gogh, and probably some of the most important thinkers and artists have died unknown.

Being known means nothing except that you’ve made a name. It does not mean that you have quality, nor it does not mean that you don’t have quality either…(Furthermore, celebrity can be detrimental to quality, and those who are too interested in it and obtain it do sometimes even destroy the reason why they might be of any real interest to people, beyond their mere state of celebrity… A lot of people sacrifice quality for celebrity)

A lot of the best things might be unknown. A lot of the best music is never heard on the radio or found in the CD-store. The psalters for example are one of the best bands ever in my opinion, and one of the most impressing examples of religious music; even though unknown by most people. I do have a lot of lesser known artists in my library who have made songs that are better than the songs on the radio, sometimes even better than a lot of songs in our lists of ‘timeless classics’. Yes, I know, all of this is subjective, but exposure to it might increase the chance that people will like something, but it won’t change the quality… The guitar-riff of Soul-junks ‘may my tongue be stuck up on the roof’, for example, a psalm 137 song about the rivers of Babylon has a killer riff like ‘seven nation army’. But it’s completely unknown…

Same with writings things like blogs. (btw, I do generally have more readers as a ‘christian blogger’ than I do have listeners as a musician, although I don’t have a big audience anywhere.- I do have some links in my blogroll here, and those are just chosen because I like what those people are writing. I actually don’t even notice how ‘big’ a blog is when I read it, link to it or recommend it. If someone says things worth reading I will read and quote them, makes no difference be it a completely unknown guy with great ideas or one of the most-known thinkers on the earth.
I’d quote a friend as much as I would quote Plato if his saying is true and says what I wish to communicate. Truth is not linked to celebrity.
Staying in the field of Christian blogs, I don’t have more respect for a blog with 100ths of comments or one with a comment here and there, if they have something to tell that’s worth reading I’ll read it and recommend it. No matter if it’s Scot McKnight, Andrew Jones, Morgan Guyton, Lana Hope, or Rachel Held Evans, or some enormous star (I do like the new series on the bible by Rob Bell here, who seems to be a Christian celebrity for example) or someone no-one has ever heard of. I frankly don’t even have a clue who the big Christian blogs are, and I probably wouldn’t even interested in those. But I can recommend everyone to read the monthly post of Vinoth Ramachandra, or the weekly post of Eric from the Jawbone of an ass. Those are blogs I learn from! Even though I hardly see anyone quoting them.

C.S. Lewis describes an interesting scene in ‘the great divorce’, a weird book about a guy who visits heaven with a bunch of people from hell, and meets some interesting people there and sees other from a distance without interacting with them. One of them, who seems to be an enormously important saint, happens to have been a simple unknown woman during her life on Earth. She is honored as the greatest saint of all, while big figures here on earth are just shady and deluded ghosts there.
It is this way in the kingdom of God anyway: the least are the most important, and those who think they are big might turn out to be not much…

So it might be true that celebrity gives you a bigger audience, which is good if you indeed bring something that’s good, but which is quite bad if what you bring is bad. And actually, there is no reason at all to think that louder voices are more valuable and more worth hearing. (I even think that there’s good reason to be very careful with them…) Maybe the little kid next door has some wisdom that none of the rockstar preachers, academic masterminds and other mighty idea leaders will ever tell you because they don’t know it themselves.

Stardom is so relative, and it has cost a lot of people their soul…



C.S. Lewis, Ayn Rand, and science and magic as twins

CSLewis_PipeYesterday I came onto this blog post, in which Ayn Rands marginal notes are quoted like  she has scribbled them into C.S. Lewis book ‘the abolition of man’, a book that I’ve read several times in my life. As someone who knows the ideas of this book, I was quite surprised not only by the vitriol of her comments, but also by how irrelevant some of them are to the text they’re criticising. Update: the complete marginal notes from Rand can be found here (thank you Arend Smilde for the link)

For those who don’t know the book (which can be read online here): Lewis is mostly known for his Christian books, but this is a more a philosophical book that’s actually not particularly Christian. The main point of the book is 2-fold: First there is an Orwellian critique to the modernist project of man conquering nature, in which Lewis states that the final step of this conquering will be ultimately self-defeating on the part of man. The second point is that there is a more or less absolute set of values inherent to this world, which he calls the tao,  with a word borrowed from Eastern philosophy, of which all meaningful human values in all cultures are derived. I do not agree with every detail, and I don’t get more than half of his references, but  I’ve always found the basic ideas of the book, and it’s critique to modernism, quite compelling. (But you need to read the whole book to understand his conclusions, including some weird parts that are hard to read.)

(I also have the idea that some of her remarks about middle ages and the renaissance would not have been made if her issue of the book would have included, like the Dutch version does,  De despcriptione temporum, his inaugural lecture from the chair of mediaeval and renaissance literature at Cambridge University (1954).)

One of the things Rand reacts quite strongly to is the idea that magic and modern science are related:

The serious magical endeavour and the serious scientific endeavour are twins: one was sickly and died, the other strong and throve. But they were twins. They were born of the same impulse. I allow that some (certainly not all) of the early scientists were actuated by a pure love of knowledge. But if we consider the temper of that age as a whole we can discern the impulse of which I speak.

There is something which unites magic and applied science while separating both from the wisdom of earlier ages. 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; and both, in the practice of this technique, are ready to do things hitherto regarded as disgusting and impious—such as digging up and mutilating the dead.

Lewis as a scholar of medieval and renaissance literature (see also the ‘de descfriptione  temporum’ text I’ve linked to) knows what he is talking about, and anyone who knows something about the life of Isaac Newton for example, who was both a scientist and an alchemist who did weird studies in the occult (and a Christian who wrote bible commentaries)  should know what he’s talking about. Newton can indeed be considered as one of the last great Western magicians as well as one of the first great scientists…

Very important here is what Lewis means with the words science and magic. Both are not means of mere knowledge for him, but of power, power over reality, including power of the one who has it over other humans. Magic is a way to get power using the supernatural, science (and technology) is a way to get power using the natural world. Note also that ‘magic’ as used here is the opposite of astrology, which has the purpose of conforming to the influences of the stars and the supernatural!

Lewis himself does not deny the existence of science as a search for knowledge, and indeed explicitly notes that there are scientists who are seeking for pure knowledge, but that’s not the goal of most applied science both in the 16th century and the momdern time, which shares indeed the goal of magic: to subdue reality to the wishes of men.

I don’t think Lewis would say that this is always a problem, he’s not a luddite and used technology himself, and never rejects it. But what he wants to show us is a dark side that is inherent to modern (applied) science. A dark side that might remind us to the lie of the snake, that told the first couple that they would be like God.

And indeed, science has been used for ‘playing God, and abused in a lot of abominable ways to get power, not only over nature, but also over other humans. Most science nowadays is subdued not to those who want pure knowledge, but to those who want power and money.  This is how we came to have the atom bomb, genetically engineered crops that are very handy in making multinationals richer, etc, (While some other scientific fields not useful for securing power and money are underfunded!)

So what happened to magic? It lost because it didn’t seem to work the way science worked, and was pushed out of the modern worldview which became more and more hermetically naturalistic. But its goal is still the same goal of a lot of modern science.

The point of self-control to be able to conform ourself to reality is also something we should not forget. We are not the creators of the universe, and there are things higher than us we should conform to, like certain laws of nature. I do not mean this deterministically, we should not let every thing we meet rule over us, man is indeed able to fight back when reality is hostile and evil, but we moderns should not forget that we can never be free without self-control

what do you people think?



Why do we need a State?

There’s a lot of discussion about the role of the state in some circles nowadays, and sometimes when we look at world politics like there are a lot of ‘higher goals’ which are very important, so important that a lot of people can be sacrificed to it.

(In reality most of those goals boil down to money and power of certain people or groups of people though, and most likely this means trouble for other groups of people…)

I’d surely add a responsibility for the rest of creation, for the nature and all of the non-human earthlings to the ordinary human beings, but besides from that, if there is any need for a state, it would be something like what C.S. Lewis describes here:

“It is easy to think the State has a lot of different objects — military, political, economic and what not. But in a way things are much simpler than that. The State exists simply to promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life. A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub, a man reading a book in his own room or digging in his own garden — that is what the State is there for. And unless they are helping to increase and prolong and protect such moments, all the laws, parliaments, armies, courts, police, economics, etc., are simply a waste of time.” -C.S. Lewis (mere christianity)

And I’m afraid that they are not just a waste of time, but of energy, money, and sometimes lives of people or whole masses are wasted for our shabby human politics…

If you high and lofty goals do not “promote and to protect the ordinary happiness of human beings in this life” and take care of nature and our non-human fellow earthlings, they’re not even worth considering…

what do you think?



Some interesting things elsewhere III

Yes, that’s me, sitting at the beach at the mouth of most Southern estuary of the river Schelde in the North Sea, in the Netherlands, where we were with the people of our Vineyard church from Antwerp yesterday. As you can see the weather was changing at the moment of taking the picture, and not for the better…

Now onto the new list of ‘Some interesting things elsewhere': I know I’m not disciplined enough, and not able to give my blog enough priority to do this every week like some bloggers do, but here is a new list:

Dianne Anderson  has written an interesting series on C.S. Lewis and platonism(part I, part II, part III) and complementarian use of the shadowlands metaphor. I think she has an interesting point that is much broader than her feminist application, and important in other ways too.  And then Sarah moon has a post on ‘intangible christianity‘, and I understood much more why her point is so important. Christian salvation is not something vague and mystical (in the pejorative sense) that means that somewhere in the heavenly realm your status has been changed, and your sins (actually the punishment for them) has been ‘washed away’ without anything happening here and now, but it is the Inbreaking of the Kingdom of God, ‘already and not yet’, that will only be complete after the Judgment with erasing of all evil. But salvation is something very real here and now!

Josh Hopping has a post about scriptures, politics, and the bootstrap myth, confronting the myth of the ‘do-it-yourself’-person that is even more pervasive in America but endemic to (neo)liberal Western thought but completely unchristian. Something similar from Bill Guerrant on sustainable traditions about American virtues and the seven deadly sins. (And again, what’s said about the US can be broadened to our Western culture in general…)

These stats on the sex industry from treasures in Los Angeles make me very very very sad… Kyrië Eleison! 

Related, Kurt Willems on the Pangea blog asks question ‘can porn be used responsible’, and gives an interesting observation about freedom: “God invites us to allow the Holy Spirit to shape our character to make us look more like Jesus, free from the shackles of longing for someone other than a spouse. Porn never accomplishes this aim in any circumstance.

And for something completely different, Scott Morizot wonders about the influence of Islam on the Western renaissance in general and calvinism in specific. Intriguing idea.



C.S. Lewis: I’m not a fundamentalist

This is a C.S. Lewis quote about how to read the bible that is probably equally irritating to fundamentalists and modernist/liberal christians, but it makes a lot of sense to me:

“I have been suspected of being what is called a Fundamentalist. That is because I never regard any narrative as unhistorical simply on the ground that it includes the miraculous. Some people find the miraculous so hard to believe that they cannot imagine any reason for my acceptance of it other than a prior belief that every sentence of the Old Testament has historical or scientific truth. But this I do not hold, any more than St. Jerome did when he said that Moses described Creation “after the manner of a popular poet” (as we should say, mythically) or than Calvin did when he doubted whether the story of Job were history or fiction. The real reason why I can accept as historical a story in which a miracle occurs is that I have never found any philosophical grounds for the universal negative proposition that miracles do not happen.”

C.S. Lewis, reflections on the psalms

I have no problem with accepting insights from bible criticism and modern theology (although there’s a lot of reductionistic rubbish too, that seems to be written from the point of wanting to believe everything but a ‘traditional’ reading), but I’ve never had any interest in the idea that miracles are a mark that a story is myth, and cannot have happened. I do have not only philosophical but even experiential reasons to believe in the possibility of miracles even…

There might be othere reasons to doubt that certain (OT) stories are more likely more or less mythical and not completely historical (or completely not, I wouldn’t care if Job was just a literary story to convey its philosophical message…) Not believing in the supernatural is one modern error, but thinking that a bible verse can only be inspired and to our benefit if it’s completely historical is another one from the opposite side….

What do you people think?