A Book Lover’s Look at Universal Studios’ Wizarding World of Harry Potter

Brenton Dickieson:

This is a super fun blog from one of my blog friends!

Originally posted on Stories & Soliloquies:

Universal Studios is really all about movies. But when you have a movie based on a book that really celebrates books and stationary, it can be quite fun. I recently went to Universal Studios with the express purpose of enjoying one attraction in particular: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.


While everything was amazing, from the sets to the food to the lines leading up to the rides (I get motion sick, so the rides will never be a highlight for me), here are some photos of what really appealed to me as a writer and reader.

They had the most incredible street puppet theatre, showing two stories from The Tales of Beedle the Bard. It was beautifully illustrated and acted:



A few very inviting bookshops, which were – so sadly – just sets:



And my favorite storefront, which was also sadly just a facade:


But they were…

View original 32 more words

Posted in Reflections | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why do Evangelicals Really Reject the Environmental Movement?

On Earth Day ­­­­I posted about my “water woes,” and how the struggles I have with poverty and environment are really spiritual problems. I argued that Christians are to resist the curses of Genesis 3, that we are to resist poverty, alleviate toil, heal our world, and mend relationships—both human and divine. There are hundreds of people with flooded houses right now in my community, many of them poor or old and with limited resources to deal with the damage. I just dropped an industrial fan off at a senior’s house. She was wearing a sling and her husband was in the hospital and her entire basement is wet.

I appreciate the personal notes of support I got, as well as some toilet replacement advice—not the normal response to my blogs. But I also got some puzzled notes. If you are right, some asked, that Genesis tells us first that we will have environmental woes, and second that we should resist those woes, why have evangelicals largely resisted the environmental movement?

Good question.

First, it isn’t true that all or a majority of evangelicals resist the environmental movement. In an Evangelical Alliance survey of British evangelicals, they found that 94% agree that “it’s a Christian’s duty to care for the environment.” A study released in BC Christian News shows that Canadian evangelical leaders see the environment as a growing concern, and an area where Christians can agree with the general public. In Canada, the question of the environment and evangelicals is less a right-left question, but a regional one. Evangelicals on the prairies and industrial areas are less driven by environmental concern and generally more skeptical. On the coast we see a different picture.

Even in America, the picture is more mixed than the media often portrays. This survey shows that more than half of evangelicals think the earth is warming, but they are split on the cause (human or cyclical). Still, one-third of evangelicals think humans are causing climate change; the result is higher if black evangelicals are included.

I cautiously suggest a diversity among evangelicals in the United States on these issues. My caution is more about the application of belief in real life. All though most think the climate is shifting, this study by the Public Religion Research Institute suggests that actual concern among evangelicals is lower than the larger population. This Yale study suggests the opposite, and this Barna study shows the diversity of opinions among evangelicals. But it also shows that despite evangelical skepticism, evangelicals do engage in practical environmental ways.

Despite this diversity, I think we can agree that among the skeptics of climate change doctrine and resisters of environmental movements, evangelicals have a strong voice. From Rachel Carson’s Silent Springs through the Al Gore religion to the growing public consensus on climate change, evangelicals have had doubts.

Why the skepticism? And if the Bible suggests we “tend the Garden”—as I argued on Earth Day—why do they resists pro-environment measures that could help in small ways with little cost?

I think the media has really answered this question by suggesting that evangelicals are anti-science. The logic is pretty elegant: 1) scientists say the climate is changing and humans are contributing to that; 2) evangelicals disbelieve these reports; therefore 3) evangelicals are anti-science. This is an easy generalization to support. Evangelicals, after all, reject the vast agreement about evolution among scientists. Evangelicals believe that the world began 15,000 years ago and the Big Bang is bunk. Certainly they are anti-scientific.

I think this a kind of media bait and switch.

First, evangelicals are less united on the question of young earth creationism than one might think. This Pew Forum survey shows the resistance that evangelicals have to human evolution. Still, though, one quarter to one third of self-identifying evangelicals think humans have evolved. Asked less pointedly, like “how old is the universe?,” and we see even more diversity. The surveys also fail to divide fundamentalism and evangelicalism—communities that have overlap, but are distinct in foundational ways.

Second, the media uses the issue of creationism as a symbol of what evangelicalism is like as a whole. A picture of some guy that build Noah’s ark in his backyard, or a clip of Ken Ham talking about the grand conspiracy of the scientific elite, or a teen heartthrob Kirk Cameron watching mustachioed Ray Comfort peeling a banana, and you have your story. Once we know what these guys think, we know what all evangelicals think.

This metonymic bait and switch is poor journalism with a profound effect. What it ignores is the real story of American evangelicalism. In David Kinnaman’s You Lost Me, for example, he talks about how churches and Christians are struggle about the role of science and faith. It ignores leading evangelical scientists like Francis Collins and Alister McGrath. And, especially, it ignores the millions of evangelicals in the scientific fields, working as nurses, doctors, researchers, teachers, professors, engineers, and astronomers. These mothers, brothers, friends, and lovers tap into the long Christian tradition of using scientific knowledge to resist death and disease throughout all the world in all the generations.

No, what the media and pop culture miss when they say that evangelicals are anti-science is this basic fact: evangelicals aren’t anti-science; they are anti-media and pop culture.

What evangelicals resist in resisting global warming conversations is not so much the scientific data, but the mass culture’s blind acceptance of it. How often have you heard someone in the media say, “the scientific consensus on climate change?” Now, how often have you seen the media show data for that consensus? Or, shockingly, how often do they present the reason for the consensus? My guess it is 10:1—for every ten times someone says “consensus” on CNN they only present evidence of that once. Perhaps the ratio is 100:1.

No, evangelicals resist dominant culture. I was an environmentalist as a young believer. It was the blind consensus that made me doubt that my Christian commitment to environmental care was true. I doubt I am alone on that point.

Now, I believe this so-called consensus. I think we are in a warming cycle that is exacerbated by human activity. I think our addiction to materialism, to comfort, has the unintended consequences of global warming. I think we should resist, making wise choices and pressuring industry, government, and consumers to make, rule, and buy differently. I haven’t joined Al Gore’s apocalyptic cult, but I am otherwise in agreement with his Nobel-winning powerpoint presentation.

More personally, I think that evangelicals who write off the environmental movement as a grand conspiracy are doing great damage. They have forgotten the principles of Genesis and God’s second command to humans. More than that, they have lost a chance to stand with neighbours on a moral issue that matters. And even more than that, American (and Canadian) Christians have gained the whole world in material goods, but in doing so have sold out the world.

Still, I think that evangelical culture is wise to resist media and pop culture. They are right to avoid social media shaming techniques of dominant culture. They are probably right to look for common sense solutions in their own worlds rather than just at the grand statements of the great men and women of our day. And they are right to ask for better information from media, activists, and scientists. Skeptics can often be won over.

Why do so many American evangelicals reject global care conversations? Because we as intellectuals, writers, pundits, scientists, and activists have not demonstrated with clarity and integrity the real need. It is not that we have to get through a wall of skepticism, though that is there. It’s that we haven’t made our way through the wall of mass culture nonsense—a mass culture that has no problem disdaining evangelicalism by equating it with crammed arks, abortion clinic bombers, and Dr. Ray Comfort with his banana.

There is in evangelicalism a “Creation Care” movement, represented by popular authors (e.g., John Stott and Jonathan Merritt), signalled by a Christianity Today study guide by that name, and supported by the Evangelical Environmental Network (EEN), environmental activists since 1993, and The Evangelical Climate Initiative (ECI), a group of prominent American Evangelical leaders. The ECI’s first claim is unambiguous:

“Human-Induced Climate Change is Real and increasing international instability, which could lead to more security threats to our nation.”

The ECI Statement continues to argue that the hardest hit will be the poor and marginalized, so it is the Christian’s moral responsibility to act. Finally, they argue, the need to respond is urgent.

Resistance remains. Wayne Grudem, is a Senior Fellow of the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation (CA), which resists the ECI and mass culture environmentalism. The Cornwall Alliance also has a statement: “An Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming.” They are likewise unambiguous:

“We deny that Earth and its ecosystems are the fragile and unstable products of chance, and particularly that Earth’s climate system is vulnerable to dangerous alteration because of minuscule changes in atmospheric chemistry. Recent warming was neither abnormally large nor abnormally rapid. There is no convincing scientific evidence that human contribution to greenhouse gases is causing dangerous global warming.”

The CA response is not significant, and it is mounting its pressure upon the public discourse. A recent CA book, Resisting the Green Dragon: Dominion, Not Death by Dr. James A. Wanliss, drives the conversation forward. The promotional video uses phrases like,

  • “one of the greatest deceptions of our day”
  • “this so-called Green Dragon [Environmentalism] is seducing your children in our classrooms and popular culture, its lusts for political power now extends to the highest global levels, and its twisted view of the world elevates nature above the needs of people—even the poorest and the most helpless”
  • “environmentalism … is your enemy”
  • and in the context of “resist the Devil” (James 4:7) the host urges the listener to “rise up, slay the Green Dragon.”

Militant language and violent images are used throughout; the CA believes that environmentalism is the threat of a generation.

Conservative evangelical novelist and philanthropist Randy Alcorn indicates that resistance to environmentalism in evangelicalism may continue despite a shift in public opinion. In his foreword to Gardening Eden: How Creation Care Will Change Your Faith, Your Life, and Our World (2009) by architect and urban designer Michael Abbaté, Alcorn describe a recent speech he gave to thousands of conservative evangelical college students. He was speaking on eschatology, describing a new creation perspective, and adlibbed a rhetorical question: “of all people, as stewards [of creation], don’t you think we ought to have reasonable concern for our environment and try to take care of it?” A single person broke into spontaneous applause, and then stopped, awkwardly, apologetically. No one joined in to support the lone clapper—there was not even a token clap-along. Alcorn continued his speech, joking that one person actually applauded to “a pro-environment statement at a conservative evangelical gathering.”

Besides the lack of support for the solo clapper in Alcorn’s audience, what is intriguing is the great pains Alcorn goes to so that the reader understands that he really is theologically conservative, and generally conservative on social and political issues. This point is not insignificant, as evangelicals are concerned with avoiding a liberal label. Alcorn argues that the resistance to environmentalism among evangelicals is that it is viewed as part of “the liberal agenda.” And, therefore, “What sounds socially liberal sounds theologically liberal. And, understandably, biblical conservatives don’t want to sound liberal.”

So we see the real concerns of many evangelicals:

  1. The media and mass culture don’t understand them, so they resist the media and mass culture.
  2. There is a perception that support on this issue will mean evangelicals align themselves with the wrong people.

Evangelical environmental resisters are correct on both points. I think, though, that they miss the point on each.

On the first point, it is up to the intelligent, engaged skeptic to push through the media fog and find out if the claims of the environmental movement are true. I believe they are mostly in the right direction.

On the second point, evangelicals should never be concerned that they are connected to the wrong people. They really will be “tagged.” When an evangelical stands up and says to her church that she is an environmentalists, all kinds of images will flit through the minds of her congregation. This will include Al Gore and his million dollar speech. It will include fuzziness about Rachel Carson and DDT, failed climate accords like Kyoto, extremists like PETA covered in blood on the street, and a general sense of the “liberal” world.

But evangelicals claim to both serve and emulate the “man of no reputation.” The first concern is truth, not that our hands get dirty. Like Jesus, telling the truth may find us friends with lepers and liberals.

That’s sort of the point, actually.

Posted in Original Research, Thoughtful Essays | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

Water Woes

The smell of damp towels is distinctive, and I’ve nearly had enough.

It is Spring, and we live in an old house, so things can get damp in our basement. Basements are damp, I suppose, but this is where my office is. This is where the magic happens, on days when magic happens!

Because it is a cold Spring, we are still using the woodstove. Otherwise we would already be relying on dehumidifiers to keep the moisture down until about mid-Summer, when humid heat turns to dry heat. We knew what it meant to buy an old house—an old house just a half block off of “Spring Park Road”—in the rich, moisture-filled environment of Prince Edward Island.

Still, it is tiresome to think about.

It is perhaps more tiresome this year because of some other reasons. There’s a towel on the floor behind the toilet upstairs. There is a little drip-drip-drip leak, what we first thought was condensation but we now know is the tick-tick-tick of time: time until we have to buy a new toilet. When you sit down, as one does from time to time on a toilet, it adds a little water to the tank. That day is coming soon.

And I have a double anxiety about it. It is money that I don’t have. I feel okay about replacing an older 14L toilet with a new 6L one. I’m glad to help reduce the environmental costs of our clean water systems. I just don’t have the money. So I’m scanning Youtube videos to see how hard replacing a toilet is. And that’s my second anxiety: finding the time to do the job, and then figuring out if I can pull it off.

Which also makes my wife anxious.

After all, it isn’t the only problematic plumbing we’ve got. In the basement shower room, I just pulled out a couple of damp towels from the linen closet, which is nestled right up against the hot and cold water pipes. Now this might really be condensation, but I don’t think so. I think it is water transfer from the shower.

That’s okay, though, because the entire shower plumbing is messed up. The taps have worn enough that the little cartridges cannot seal properly. So we either have a drip-drip-drip in the stand-up shower, or we have to over-torque them closed. The cartridges are wearing out super quickly—I can replace them, but it is time and money—so now the cold water tap has a tendency to “slip,” to turn the cold water off from time to time. There’s not much space for a human to flee in a stand-up shower when hot water shoots down upon them.

One more job for the plumber.

There’s more. The washing machine is already half-filled with damp towels. One of us overflowed the kitchen sink this week, turning on the water and forgetting about it. And another of us showered with the little corner of the shower curtain hanging outside the shower, so that a thick pool of water was waiting for them after their shower—the shower where they are always vigilant against a sudden stream of hot water.

So the smell of damp towels is tiresome. As I fill the washing machine up to full, I remember I don’t have hot water. Something’s wrong with the washing machine so that only the cold water works, another thing I have to fix that I don’t know how.

Our water woes are diverse.

And all along the rain pounds against the windows, against the roof. I can hear the cold, hard tink-tink-tink of rain sleeting sideways into our chimney. The two sump pumps sing out ever few seconds, often taking turns like dueling banjoes or foxes answering one another in the night. They pump the water out into the rain-soaked ground. This is the very ground that has only just been relieved of most of the 17 feet of snow we received this winter. It wasn’t a record, but it was only a couple of inches shy of the most snow we’ve ever received. After a green Christmas the snow came in waves, shutting schools and closing roads. It felt like the snow would never stop, mountains and mountains of snow all around, all the time. And now that it has stopped snowing, we are just praying it will melt slowly.

Because last year, on the third biggest snowfall ever, the quick melt caused the City’s storm drain pushed back against our sewer system, blocking the backflow valve. The result was that our shower water had nowhere to go, besides the floor. More damp towels, but industrial fans and wet vacs too. No damage, but time and towels.

It’s true, the accidents have just made all the normal stuff feel worse. And the normal stuff isn’t totally normal: record snowfalls chased by record rainfalls. There is also the added worry of a 35-year-old hot water heater, galvanized water pipes, a weak seal on one of the car windows….

All of this would be fine if we had the money to fix it. But the maintenance of poverty is expensive, isn’t it?

Really, it feels as if Sister Nature is conspiring against me. It isn’t true, but it is close to true.

Today is Earth Day. It is a little artificial as a holiday, but it serves to remind us of our relationship with nature. After Hiroshima, we woke up to a nuclear age when we realized that humans had the ability to shape the ecological destiny of our planet. For those of us who grew up on farms, we realized early what the modern world meant for our environment. Before conversations about extreme weather—really, the droughts of the 30s felt like some sort of curse rather than a weather pattern—we saw the results of pollution, urbanization, and changing make-up of ground water. Now farmers find themselves constantly adjusting to a weather system far beyond their abilities to predict.

Climate change scientists and political prognosticators—with not a few activists thrown in—have reminded us again and again that the way we live could go badly. This is not news, or a conspiracy. It is the basic human predicament.

We see the story in Genesis 3. Adam and Eve, living in a Garden of complete ecological, economic, and relational equilibrium, choose to disregard God’s warning about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They partake of the forbidden fruit; they break compact with God and the Garden and each other. Adam blames Eve, Eve blames creation, and creation winces.

It is perhaps this generation that reminds us most poignantly about the truth of the Garden of Eden story. As the curses come, they reflect the three broken relationships. From that point on, there is a break between humanity and God, humanity and humanity, and humanity and creation.

Earth Day is a poignant reminder of that break between humanity and its Garden. It feels like Sister Earth is out for revenge. It feels like the Earth is fighting back against abuse. Extreme weather, shifting ecosystems, and changing seasons reminds us of the consequences of massive urbanization, fossil fuel dependency, and the sheer comfort in which we life.

Like the comfort of a nice, long, hot shower in a warm, dry house in the beautiful garden province that is Prince Edward Island.

I don’t think that Nature is fighting back. This is just part of that primeval brokenness that Genesis tells us about. Wet towels and water woes are the thorns we were promised when we broke faith with God, our neighbour, and the Garden all those generations ago—and how we break faith still.

For Christians, Earth Day reminds us that we are meant to fight against the brokenness of the curses in the Garden of Eden. We do not allow the thorns to conquer our gardens. We pull the thorns, and lick the wounds. We do not allow the relational chaos of human difference to separate us. No, we cling together, trusting against human reason that we can form beautiful relationships in this difficult world. We wipe the sweat off of our brow and keep working. We fight against hunger, anesthetize against pain, and hold out against evil. We do not bow to the curses: we conquer them.

Likewise, we tend creation—the Earth—fighting against the antipathy inherent in our global Garden since the Fall. No, we may not win. We may lose against global warming. The Al Gore religion may be right and we may be able to do nothing about it. The seas may rise, and humans descend into a global clan battle for resources.

It doesn’t matter. We are called to resist the curse anyway. As Christians we are always asking ourselves if what we are doing is aiding the curse in its destruction of the Garden, or if we are resisting the curse. Are we living in simplicity or contributing to chaos? Are we trying to make up for humanity’s destruction of creation, or are we shrugging our shoulders and fitting in with the pattern of our world system?

It is all true, but I still have my water woes.

What Earth Day does is give me some perspective. The water woes hit our household and I am reminded of the curse, of how we are in rebellion against the Garden. I resist with damp towels and Youtube tutorials.

But these curses don’t exist in isolation. When the sweat of my brow become too much, when the thorns become too prevalent, I yell at my family. When I am defeated by the break between humanity and creation, I end up affirming the break between human and human. In fact, I make it worse. And it all shows me the depth of the break between humanity and God.

So I think that Earth Day, as lame as it is as another day on a crowded special interest calendar, has value as a holiday in the older sense. It is a holy day, not quite a fast, but a reminder of the implications of our feasts.

Now please excuse me. My sump pump is calling.

Posted in Reflections, Thoughtful Essays | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Surprised by Joy: How Joy Davidman Shaped C.S. Lewis by Dr. Crystal Hurd

This weekend was the 100th anniversary of Joy Davidman’s birth. An important American poet and writer in her own right, I know about her because she was married to C.S. Lewis. This late, surprising marriage absolutely took over Lewis’ life and transformed his understanding of love. An atheist, Jewish, Marxist, playwright, poet, critic, mother and love–I’ve been struggling to come to terms with this enigmatic and attractive figure. On top of her sheer colour and intrigue, I have the image of Debra Winger in Shadowlands in my mind’s eye. 

I’ve also been struggling to write a post about it. I’ve reading Lyle W. Dorsett’s Surprised by Love, an early biography of Joy. Still nothing has come. When I saw this brilliant blog by Crystal Hurd, though, I knew I could do nothing better than direct you to her site. In this case, the blog is a talk by Dr. Hurd about the shaping influence that Joy’s presence had upon Lewis. Enjoy this talk, and props to Crystal!

Surprised by Joy: How Joy Davidman Shaped C.S. Lewis

Dr. Crystal Hurd

Given on April 18th, 2015 at the Inklings Fellowship Retreat in Montreat, North Carolina

In 1922, a young Oxford scholar named C.S. Lewis scribbled some verses to a narrative poem that he would later title “Dymer.” The poetic reinvention of “Dymer” was based upon a prose version originally written in 1916 (when Lewis was a mere eighteen years old) called “The Redemption of Ask.” The poetic version, which was published in 1925, chronicles the odyssey of a young man out of the territory of his youth and into a dense forest where he meets a mysterious and enchanting woman.

“He entered into a void.
Night-scented flowers
Breathed there – but this was darker than the night
That is most black with beating thunder showers,
A disembodied world where depth and height
And distance were unmade.
No seam of light Showed through.
It was a world not made for seeing.
One pure, one undivided sense of being
Though darkness smooth as amber, warily, slowly
He moved. The floor was soft beneath his feet.
A cool smell that was holy and unholy,
Sharp like the very spring and roughly sweet
Blew towards him
The same night swelled the mushroom in earth’s lap
And silvered the wet fields: it drew the bud
From hiding and led on the rhythmic sap
And sent the young wolves thirsting after blood,
And, wheeling the big seas, made ebb and flood
Along the shores of earth: and held these two
In dead sleep till the time of morning dew…”

After having an intimate encounter with his enigmatic lover (marked by a sensation he calls “holy and unholy”), she disappears and Dymer, over the next several cantos, searches for her. Eventually, he is killed by his own offspring, a product of that evening together, and becomes a god.

…. keep reading, click here!

Posted in Guest Blogs, Lewis Biography | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Letters to the Editor in Response to C.S. Lewis’ “Dangers of National Repentance”

Mar 15 '40 TOCOn Palm Sunday, March 17th, 1940, C.S. Lewis wrote to his brother who was at war in France. C.S. Lewis had had an article appear in The Guardian the previous Friday called “Dangers of National Repentance.” This is the newspaper that went on to print The Screwtape Letters in 1941 and launch Lewis into his public career. But Lewis had begun in 1939 to slide into that public profile by writing The Problem of Pain and a few articles for Theology magazine. He also began sending notes to the Anglican weekly, The Guardian, beginning with this article.

God-in-the-Dock by lewis“Dangers of National Repentance” is a short, witty piece that ends up in his famous essay collection, God in the Dock. Lewis is responding to a trend among young Anglican intellectuals at the outset of WWII to call for England to repent of her contribution to the evils of WWI. It is obvious to most that even though the Nazi regime was clearly evil, the context that allowed Nazism to flourish was partly caused by how Europe and North America finished WWI. Lewis allows that the national Church of England may undertake a project of national repentance, but he argues that for young people to do so is to miss two key things.

First, the young people were just children at the outbreak of WWI, that brutal clash of military flesh that began a century ago. They had no voice in WWI, and so were not the “sinners” that need to repent. Therefore, they are repenting on behalf of others, repenting for the sin of their neighbours. Spiritual health, Lewis reminds, is repenting of one’s own sin.

“The first and fatal charm of national repentance is, therefore, the encouragement it gives us to turn from the bitter task of repenting our own sins to the congenial one of bewailing—but, first, of denouncing—the conduct of others.”

Mar 15 '40 TOC-cropSecond, the sentiments of the generation have moved on. For an older patriot to repent of England’s sin, there is a price to pay because the patriot truly loves England. It is painful for him to repent; it requires mortification of the flesh to do so. But young, urban intellectuals at the height of social conversation in WWII have different cultural feelings.

“When a man over forty tries to repent the sins of England and to love her enemies, he is attempting something costly; for he was brought up to certain patriotic sentiments which cannot be mortified without a struggle. But an educated man who is now in his twenties usually has no such sentiment to mortify. In art, in literature, in politics, he has been, ever since he can remember, one of an angry and restless minority; he has drunk in almost with his mother’s milk a distrust of English statesmen and a contempt for the manners, pleasures, and enthusiasms of his less-educated fellow countrymen. All Christians know that they must forgive their enemies. But ‘my enemy’ primarily means the man whom I am really tempted to hate and traduce. If you listen to young Christian intellectuals talking, you will soon find out who their real enemy is. He seems to have two names—Colonel Blimp* and the business-man’. I suspect that the latter usually means the speaker’s father, but that is speculation. What is certain is that in asking such people to forgive the Germans and Russians and to open their eyes to the sins of England, you are asking them, not to mortify, but to indulge, their ruling passion.”

It is not repentance if it is easy. One cannot repent for the sins of another person’s subculture (or “his own age and class” as Lewis calls it). And there is a cost to focussing on the sins of others, a kind of willful self-blindness that can be spiritually deadly.

“If a man cannot forgive the Colonel Blimp* next door whom he has seen, how shall he forgive the Dictators whom he hath not seen?”

If we can translate the context, the subculture, the “age and class,” I think this critique applies suitably well in today’s social conversation.

Intriguingly, there were three letters to the editor on March 29, 1940, responding to this note of Lewis’. I’m certain they have not been printed. I had the opportunity to go through the WWII-era Guardian in the summer of 2012, and stumbled upon this letter. It is written by the Very Rev. R.H. Malden, Dean of Wells, classical scholar, and author of several ghost stories. He begins by saying he generally agrees with Lewis but wants to challenge one of the presuppositions. After quoting from the paragraph above, Malden writes**:

Mar 29 '40 response to Natl Rep crop

It is a witty and poignant respond to Lewis’ own thesis written in the same vein.

The second letter, by M.A. Binstead (a pseudonym?), takes singular exception to Lewis’ essay:

“May I venture to say, on behalf of the “youthful national penitents” (his own description) on whom the vials of Mr. C.S. Lewis’s wrath are poured out, that many of us—old and young—who “repent” of certain parts of England’s foreign policy since 1919, are repenting the acts, not only of our neighbour, but of ourselves, as presumably represented by an electoral government?”

Mar 29 '40 response to Natl Rep binsteadIt is a powerful sentence. I think the correspondent completely misses Lewis’ tone. It is anything but angry. But let’s look at his critique:

“Not that I should say—as does Mr. Lewis—that “repentance” must presuppose condemnation. We ‘repent’ of un-wisdom, of lack of charity and foresight, quite as often as of actual sin, and of such lack we all know there has been in evidence in the Allied policy since the Armistice of 1918, ‘whose pledges were violated in important respects by the peace of 1919 and by its sequel’ (as we were reminded by the Archbishop of York last December).
“In such cases there is less to condemn than to regret, but such regret is poignant, for, as T.E. Lawrence wrote, ‘When we achieved, and the new world dawned, the old men came out and took from us our victory, and re-made it in the likeness of the former world they knew.’
“It was these same elderly men who were to mould the ‘new world’. ‘Can we wonder at a certain bitterness felt by the young at the overthrow of their fond belief that humanity would never again resort to its historic paraphernalia of secret treaties, economic injustices and balances of power?’ To read Mr. C.S. Lewis’s article is to make one realize the generosity of their outlook as against his own narrower one.”

I wonder if the author knew that Lewis was one of the young man of WWI rather than elder men if that might have helped him understand his tone. I don’t know, but the author is right that there is a lot to be disappointed by post-1918.

Mar 29 '40 response to Natl Rep PACLewis and his two critics were approaching the meta-sins of culture—the underlying attitudes that can create a series of consequential actions and ills. The last letter writer, “P.A.C.”, goes to the ills themselves.

“In regard to these dangers, is not the greatest that of unreality? Should we not first of all repent of our real sins?—gambling; football pools; drink; the craze of cosmetics in women, which means egotism and selfishness, lust, as seen in divorce court, and, too often, in cinema and other shows; and, most of all, neglect of God, and indifference to the way in which education has been separated from the true teaching of religion.
“As a nation we are not cruel, and do not hate our enemies, thanks to past teaching on this subject, but the above are our real sins and should be acknowledged as such. The prevalence of such ideas as Dorothy L. Sayers pillories in Strong Meat, shows how little the teaching of Christ and His Church is understood in modern England.”

I think Dorothy Sayers would find it humorous that a fundamentalist would use her as a source! I wonder if aboriginals oppressed by England’s imperial advance, or the children that worked in the factories, would have agreed with “P.A.C.,” that England is not cruel.

Screwtape-Letters18062lgAs far as I know, Lewis did not respond to any of the three letters. It do find it intriguing, though, that his approach in The Screwtape Letters—written within a f

ew months of this note—is the precise opposite of the sentiments in the last letter. Screwtape’s focus in temptation is not the social sins like drinking, gambling, dancing. Certainly he could use “football pools”—I’m planning to lose in a hockey pool here in Canada—for his nefarious purposes, but only in so far as it draws the believer away from Christ and works against his own humanity. I do not know if Lewis even read the letter, but he certainly did not share the point of view of the third letter-writer.

Otherwise, we wouldn’t be visiting The Eagle and Child, a bar, when we visit Oxford.

*Colonel Blimp was an editorial cartoon character who represented haughty, arcane, elite traditional society.

RH Malden**Full text of cut out: 

“Anyone over forty (the age which Mr. Lewis regards as the dividing line) who casts his mind back will recognize that these words were as true twenty, thirty or even forty years ago as they are today.
“Go back further—say to Thackeray, Clive Newcome and Arthur Pendennis show that, in the earlier part of the Victorian era, the views of ‘Young England’ on art, literature, and politics were very much as Mr. Lewis finds them now. Earlier again, the opinions held by Lord Saltire in his youth (as recorded in Ravenshoe) were not dissimilar.
“The truth appears to be that there has never been a time when young men in their twenties were not restless and prone to distrust all wisdom but their own, and to despise all interests which they do not share and all results to which they have not contributed. Probably it is to be hoped that there never will be.
“To attempt to consider how far this perennial attitude of mind is tinged with the self-complacency which, in the comfortable conviction of its exponents, is always the peculiar characteristic of their immediate predecessors, would be, I feel, to embark upon a vast and dangerous sea of speculation.”

I have attempted to find the original publisher of The Guardian or the owners of copyright and have been unsuccessful. 

Mar 15 '40 Dangers of Nat Rep1

Posted in Memorable Quotes, Original Research | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

I Don’t Want my Son to be a Stupid Girl

Pink black dress too fatPink is in the news again. No, it isn’t because she has sold more than 14 million albums, or created music that has asked real social questions and influenced younger artists. It isn’t because she has been caught in public supporting science research. It isn’t even because her ideas have crossed some sort of boundary or challenged the status quo. No, Pink is in the news because she is too fat.

There is Pink on the right at an public event. This is the photo that let critics know she was too fat. Not one to shrink away from a fight, Pink responded with a sarcastic open letter to these “concerned” fans and critics.

“You’re referring to the pictures of me from last night’s cancer benefit that I attended to support my dear friend Dr. Maggie DiNome. She was given the Duke Award for her tireless efforts and stellar contributions to the eradication of cancer. But unfortunately, my weight seems much more important to some of you.’

pink most beautiful peoplePink does admit that it isn’t a very photogenic outfit. She is someone who most of us agree photographs well, even making the “Most Beautiful Women” list on People. After the admission of a fashion gaff, she proceeds to tell these public critics to shove off. And so she should.

Setting aside the obvious question–when did that become “too fat?”–what sort of social contract allows this conversation even to take place? I mean, seriously, what sort of world are we in when innuendo, fat shaming, twitter slamming, and digital creeping are considered morally righteous, while pulling back from a size “0” is a social sin?

Well, it’s a Stupid Girl Society, and we’ve already been down this road.

One of Pink’s most hilarious and incisive songs is “Stupid Girls.” It is also a sad song. In a series of courageous vignettes, Pink plays the part of the dumb blonde, the 50s beauty school candidate, and the envious gym-chick with a “Die Hipsters Die” t-shirt. She parodies the Paris Hilton-Lindsay Lohan Clueless Hollywood ditz, Jessica Simpson violating a Charager, and the sex tape “scandals.” The central image is of Pink on the operating table h\as her bits are sliced up or augmented. In this image a woman is not a human being but a series of parts, like cuts of beef.

The entire video is a critique of a push-up bra, spray tan, Barbie doll culture for girls. As profound as the video is, the lyrics push even further. Pink critiques the conflicting skinny bitch/super boobs demands and pin-up model images of beauty that dominate Cover Girl spirituality. But everyone from fundamentalists to feminists have agreed that this is sheer idiocy. Pink goes further in this 4 minute pop song, slicing to the core of this cultural moment:

Maybe if I act like that, that guy will call me back
Porno Paparazzi girl, I don’t wanna be a stupid girl
Baby if I act like that, flipping my blond hair back
Push up my bra like that, I don’t wanna be a stupid girl

Stupid_girls pink dogPink contrasts the various images of Stupid Girls with herself in the role of a Presidential rant or playing football, as well as with a few carefully placed common sense women in the background. America is on the verge of considering a “girl President,” but not much else has changed in the 13 years since this video won the MTV music video award. Most of all, the key question that Pink asks remains relevant: What are you willing to do to be liked? Are you willing to sell out your creativity, your intelligence, your common sense, your true interests, and your core beauty in order to fit an image of what you are supposed to be?

Where does my 10 year old, Nicolas, fit in?

stupid girls choiceWell, I certainly don’t want him to be a Stupid Girl. The story of the video is of a little girl in pig tails holding a Barbie and wearing a football jersey. The “Be Yourself Angel” in white and pink is battling the “Stupid Girl Demon,” a brunette in flames. The girl watches the vignettes, at first trying out the popular images of feminine beauty, but then laughing at the Stupid Girls as they bump into glass doors or run over pedestrians while checking their hair in the rear-view mirror. In the end, she is given the choice between a tabletop full of learning–music, science, reading, exploration, and sports–and a tabletop full of disembodied girly images, creepy baby doll stares, and a rip off of My Little Pony.






While I wouldn’t want to press the stereotypes too much–they work for a music video, but often fail in real life–I know what I want my son to choose: art, learning, exploration, creativity, science, and even football (though he is really digging karate right now). While he is not particularly tempted by dolls–I don’t think his Lego table, or the random Knights, Pirates, and Star Wars figures he has collected are an exact equivalent–the picture I would have to put on the right for this generation would be an iPod. It is his iPod–you could substitute in an iPad, cell phone, video game system, social media platform, or computer–is the thing that threatens most his ability to choose well.

pink die hipster scumEven then, it is not an exact parallel. The problem with the Barbie dolls and creepy bunny rabbit on the right is not that they necessarily pull kids away from the learning and growth in the picture on the left. On their own, they are as good as the child’s imagination is–far better than most electronic toys. The problem is that these dolls are tied to an image of the feminine that bends the bright girl in a Stupid Girl direction: a young woman that would sell her soul to be liked. Although Nicolas’ action figures have problematic images of the masculine embedded in them, they don’t bend him to become a Stupid Boy, willing to sell his soul to become a Great American Hero or to throw off the oppressive intergalactic Empire. I suppose that comparison says a lot, doesn’t it?

At the core, I don’t want Nicolas to be a Stupid Girl–or Stupid Boy in this case–because at the core I want him to be himself. I want him to have an incontrovertible sense of humour and the ability to make fun of himself. I want him to be aware of culture, and aware of the space he occupies in the world, but not to be dominated by it. I don’t want him to be owned by the world.

pink for presidentI want Nicolas to do great things–amazing things. If he is to make art, I want him to make good art. If he is to critique culture, I want him to do it well. If he is to serve, I want him to serve well. He will never become a “girl President”–or any President, being Canadian. But there is no reason he couldn’t counsel the future Hillary Clintons and Pinks of our world. And if he does, I want him to be able to think about issues in a complex and incisive way–more like Pink’s brilliant “Stupid Girls” than her preachy “Dear Mr. President.”

More than anything, I want him to be the kind of person who creates a space in the world where girls don’t feel like they have to be Stupid Girls, and where boys are never tempted to be Stupid Boys.

Is there anything better than that?

Pink - Stupid Girls

Posted in Reflections | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

A Sarcasta-Review of the Ransom Trilogy by J.B.S. Haldane

JBS Haldane smoking jacketJ.B.S. Haldane was one of the last renaissance men. A polymath, writer, and public intellectual, his Possible Worlds helped give C.S. Lewis a model for writing theological fiction. While Lewis relished in the model–science fiction as a platform for thinking about God, humanity, and the nature of the universe–he disagreed with Haldane’s “scientism.” In unpublished notes, Lewis wrote that scientism is:

“the belief that the supreme moral end is the perpetuation of our own species, and that this is to be pursued even if, in the process of being fitted for survival, our species has to be stripped of all those things for which we value it—of pity, of happiness, and of freedom” (now in Of Other Worlds 77).

Haldane, with H.G. Wells and Olaf Stapledon, were in Lewis’ mind an oligarchy that tyrannized social thought, transforming the science of Darwinism into a cosmic myth with frightening moral consequences. Embedded in the Ransom Cycle is a war of worldviews, a narrative that puts pressure against the philosophical fiction of Wells-Stapledon-Haldane.

Of Other Worlds by CS LewisAs it turns out, neither Lewis’ idea of humans made in the image of God nor scientism’s philosophy of humanity as the ultimate of evolution prevailed. But their stories have remained, and where they were good stories as stories, they are still read by lovers of literature and fans of early science fiction. This was something they recognized in each other. Lewis was clearly a lover of this scientistic Triumberate, and Haldane speaks highly of Lewis’ skill.

It is this latter move–Haldane’s praise of Lewis–that provides a bit of fun. In “Auld Hornie, FRS”–a witty, sarcastic reference to the devil in a Screwtapian mode–J.B.S. Haldane says of Lewis’ science fiction books, the Ransom Cycle:

“The tale is told with very great skill, and the descriptions of celestial landscapes and of human and nonhuman behaviour are often brilliant. I cannot pay Mr. Lewis a higher compliment than to compare him with Dante and Milton…” (Mark R. Hillegas, ed., Shadows of Imagination, 16). 

It sounds like an impressive response to pretty humble books, but it is also a backhanded compliment. Haldane would go on to shred Lewis’ understanding of science.

HG Wells smilingHowever, Haldane did miss the import of what Lewis was about. First, Lewis’ interest wasn’t in science but scientism. He was fine with science, from the pen he was using to the cancer treatments his wife would one day receive and his mother did not. Haldane said of Lewis that, “The application of science to human affairs can only lead to hell” (Shadows of Imagination, 18). This misses the point. Second, Lewis’ interest wasn’t in science, but in story. He admitted the theoretical framework of his science fiction was weak (Of Other Worlds, 87). This may have been something that Arthur C. Clarke saw as a weakness in Lewis’ work. Clarke worked so hard at tight, consistent fictional universes; Lewis’ universes leaked.

But something of that correspondence between Clarke and Lewis highlights Lewis’ view. It was (probably) Lewis’ first letter to Clarke. He wrote:

I don’t of course think that at the moment many scientists are budding Westons [the evil proponent of scientism in Ransom]: but I do think (hang it all, I live among scientists!) that a point of view not unlike Weston’s is on the way. Look at Stapledon (Star Gazer ends in sheer devil worship), Haldane’s Possible Worlds and Waddington’s Science and Ethics. I agree Technology is per se neutral: but a race devoted to the increase of its own power by technology with complete indifference to ethics does seem to me a cancer in the universe (Walter Hooper, ed., Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis: Volume 2, 594).

I agree with Haldane (and Clarke would agree too) that Lewis’ story would have been stronger if his science was better. But there are a lot of gaps in Haldane’s essay. I want to leave the reader, though, with a great quotable: a four-paragraph sarcasta-summary of the Ransom Trilogy.

JBS Haldane possible worldsMr. C. S. Lewis is a prolific writer of books which are intended to defend Christianity. Some of these are cast in the form of fiction. The most interesting group is perhaps a trilogy describing the adventures of Mr. Ransom, a

Cambridge teacher of philology. In the first volume Ransom is kidnapped by a physicist called Weston and his accomplice, Devine, and taken in a “spaceship” to the planet Mars, which is inhabited by three species of fairly intelligent and highly virtuous and healthy vertebrates ruled by an angel. Weston wants to colonise the planet, and Devine to use it as a source of gold. Their efforts are frustrated, and they return to earth, bringing Ransom with them.

In the second volume the angel in charge of Mars takes Ransom to Venus, where he meets the Eve of a new human race, which has just been issued with souls. Weston arrives, allows the devil to possess him, and acts as serpent in a temptation of the new Eve. Ransom’s arguments against the devil are inadequate, so he finally kills Weston, and is returned to earth by angels, with thanks for services rendered.

In the final book two still more sinister scientists, Frost and Wither, who have given their souls to the devil, are running the National Institute of Co-Ordinated Experiments. Devine, now a peer, is helping them. The only experiment described is the perfusion of a severed human head, through which the devil issues his commands. They are also hoping to resurrect Merlin, who has been asleep for fifteen centuries in their neighbourhood. Their aim appears to be the acquisition of superhuman power and of immortality; though how this is to be done is far from clear, just as it is far from clear why a severed head perfused with blood should live longer than a normal one, or be a more suitable instrument for the devil. However, Mr. Ransom is too much for them. He obtains the assistance not only of Merlin, but of the angels who guide the planets on their paths, and regulate the lives of their inhabitants. These angels arrive at his house, whose other inhabitants become in their turn mercurial, venereal (but decorously so), martial, saturnine, and jovial, but fortunately not lunatic. Merlin and the angels smash up the National Institute and a small university town, Frost and Wither are damned, and Ransom ascends into heaven, bound for Venus, where he is to meet Kings Arthur and Melchizedek, and other select humans who escape death. One Grammarian’s Funeral less, in fact.

You can find this article in a number of places. My thanks to Arend Smilde, who transcribed the entire article here, as well as gave a good introduction and included another anti-Lewis article Haldane wrote. Arend Smilde’s Lewisiana website is a singularly useful resource. 

Posted in Fictional Worlds, Memorable Quotes | Tagged , , , , , , | 20 Comments