Here’s another article I wrote a few years back, sort of the sequel to yesterday’s post on animal suffering.
What if it is not just sentimental fantasy that we may see our beloved departed animal companions again in a happy place? Do all dogs really go to heaven? C.S. Lewis, at least, gives us reason to think the answer may not be a resounding “no.”
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When a beloved pet dies people can feel desperate to know if animals, at least some animals, have an eternal destiny. The Bible does not answer this question one way or the other, but C.S. Lewis uses his compassionate reasoning to give animal lovers reason to hope. CSL acknowledges that his ideas are only guesses, but what compelling guesses they are, and how comforting to those of us who have loved an animal. Lewis discusses animal immortality in Chapter 9 of his book The Problem of Pain, in which he discusses the theological issues involved in animal suffering. Lewis asks the question of how we can reconcile God’s justice with the pain of innocent creatures who can neither benefit from nor understand their suffering, and finds no answer in this world. Therefore, he ventures forth to consider the mystery of animal immortality and how it might work.
Lewis jokes that he has been warned, presumably by his colleagues in academia, that expressing theories about animal immortality will put him in “the company of old maids” – in other words, saddle himself with the dreaded stigma of sentimentality. After defending the value and intelligence of old maids, CSL states that he has no objection to their company, and then proceeds to present his ideas on the topic: “The complete silence of scripture and Christian tradition on animal immortality is a more serious objection,” he says.
However, silence about a fact does not necessarily mean it is not true. God simply does not reveal any information to us about the purpose or destiny of the animals: “…the curtain has been rent at one point, and one point only, to reveal our immediate practical necessities and not to satisfy our intellectual curiosity.”
Animal immortality connected with a sense of self
CSL explains that conscious immortality must depend on a sense of self: immortality would have no meaning to a newt if the newt had no sense of self. However, a higher animal with some level of self awareness might benefit from continued existence after death. There has to be something of an individual entity there in order to have something to continue on. Lewis conjectures that as Man is understood by his relation to God, perhaps beasts can be understood by their relation to Man, and through Man, to God. The naturalist view seems to assume that taming animals interferes with their rightful natural state. CSL presents an alternative view of the relationship between human and beast:
“Man was appointed by God to have dominion over the beast, and everything a man does to an animal is either a lawful exercise, or a sacrilegious abuse, of an authority by Divine right. The tame animal is therefore, in the deepest sense, the only ‘natural’ animal—the only one we see occupying the place it was made to occupy…”
That is, animals can receive a sense of self through association with humans! We give our pets names and they answer to those names (hopefully), and perhaps recognize themselves by them. “If a good sheepdog seems ‘almost human’ that is because a good shepherd has made it so.” CSL suggests, acknowledging that he is going out on a theological limb, that animals “attain a real self in their masters in a sense similar to the way human attain real life in Christ.” “And in this sense,” he suggests, “it seems to me that certain animals may have an immortality, not in themselves, but in the immortality of their masters.”
The picture of the good man/dog relationship, admits CSL, is an ideal one. It does not explain the destinies of wild animals or of badly treated domestic animals. But in his view, this is the natural relationship between man and beast, the relationship that would be normal in an uncorrupted world.
Immortality for wild beasts?
CSL admits that immortality may seem like a rather clumsy solution to the problem of animal suffering. Even if animals that suffer pain in the wild or ill treatment by humans are granted happy pastures in an afterlife, this sort of compensation does not seem quite worthy of a just God who might have prevented the suffering to begin with. But if, he suggests, animals naturally receive immortality through a relationship with man, it is not necessarily an injury/compensation system at all, but rather, the natural way the system is designed to work: “…part and parcel of the new heaven and new earth, organically related to the whole suffering process of the world’s fall and redemption.”
CSL says however, that his theory does not allow him to believe that many animals in the wild state attain a self that is sufficient to achieve immortality. However, it may be God’s pleasure to endow beasts with qualities such as courage or humility that can survive into eternity. Even if such is the case, CSL believes that the animals’ immortality would somehow relate to the value humans place on it for certain perceived spiritual values that it embodies.
Hope for animal immortality
CSL readily admits that all of this is guesswork: “When we are speaking of creatures so remote from us as wild beasts, and prehistoric beasts, we hardly know what we are talking about.” For all we know, these beasts have a corporate self: it will not be the individual lion that survives, but some sort of “Lionhood” that will enter into eternal life. This surviving entity may be something that is simply beyond the scope of our corporal understanding. Animals that have enjoyed a positive personal relationship with a human, CSL believes, have a better theological chance at immortality.
So we just don’t know for sure whether our dog went to heaven, but scripture does not deny the possibility, and C.S. Lewis gives us some imaginative ideas to give us hope that we may see Bruno or Casey again, running toward us across a green field in Paradise, tail wagging.
Lewis, C.S. The Problem of Pain. Kindle edition. HarperCollins e-books, 2009.
As promised, here is one of my articles on the writings of C.S. Lewis. I did expand on the original in a few points since here on my very own blog I do not have to comply with anyone else’s word count.
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In his book The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis deals with the difficult theological problem of pain and suffering. For many people this is the greatest obstacle to believing in God. If God will not stop it, the argument goes, he cannot be good. If God cannot not stop it, he must not be all powerful. In the first eight chapters of the book, C.S. Lewis presents a plausible argument for both the existence and goodness of an all-powerful God. In Chapter 9 he gets to the ancillary but even stickier theological problem of animal suffering. Animal pain presents a new layer of problems because arguments relating to free will to make choices and eternal destinies do not work for animals.
Animal pain: A theological mystery
CSL acknowledges that many people do not have the time, energy, or inclination to care about animal suffering. But for those who do care, the existence of any kind of suffering in the world, especially the suffering of innocent sentient creatures, it is a serious problem. The dilemma is that the problem cannot be definitively resolved simply because we do not have enough information. When you think about it, the nature of animal consciousness is nearly as mysterious to us as whether there is life on other planets in distant galaxies, not to mention whether there is a higher purpose for animal existence. Do all earth animals have the same reason for existing, or does each species or type have a different ultimate destiny?
I am not talking necessarily about their roles in the ecosystem, but rather about their individual or species existential purpose. For example, as a certified member of the human species, I have good reason to believe the humans have a purpose for existing beyond eating, accumulating wealth, and having a good time. But even the most intense scientific observation will not tell me if animals have a purpose beyond acting according to their natural instincts and surviving. As CSL puts it,“…we must never allow the problem of animal suffering to become the center of the problem of pain; not because it is unimportant—whatever furnishes plausible grounds for questioning the goodness of God is very important indeed—but because it is outside the range of our knowledge.”
Both scripture and science are silent about the purpose and ends of the animal kingdom, although both abound in observational data. We know a great deal about the “what” and the “how” of our fellow creatures but virtually nothing of the “why.” We cannot deny that animals do appear to suffer both in the wild and in domestic environments (think factory farming and dog fighting). Human suffering to some extent can be mitigated by understanding, hope, faith, and character improvement, but this is not true for animals.
After making the case that God is good, CSL begins Chapter 9 with the premise that if animal suffering seems to indicate that God is not good, we must assume there are things we do not understand about reality. CSL begins with the premise that God is good and that we do not see the whole picture. “After that,” he says, “everything is guesswork.” He then proceeds to present some compelling guesses to help us begin to understand animal suffering.
What is animal suffering?
CSL points out that the perception of suffering may be entirely different to an earthworm than to an ape, positing that different types of animals experience different levels of consciousness, a quality he distinguishes from the idea of sentience. Sentience is the ability to feel sensations. Consciousness is that something that is aware that the sensations are occurring, a something that Lewis says can be thought of as the self or the soul. If an animal lacks sufficient consciousness to be aware that it is feeling pain, then it is difficult to say the animal is suffering, because suffering implies mental awareness.
Lewis conjectures that the lower animals such as insects and perhaps amphibians are sentient without being conscious, while higher animals give the appearance of having at least a rudimentary level of consciousness: “How far up the scale such unconscious sentience may extend I will not even guess. It is certainly difficult to suppose that the apes, the elephant, and the higher animals have not, in some degree, a self or soul which connects experiences and gives rise to rudimentary individuality.”
What is the origin of animal suffering?
In addressing the origin of animal suffering, CSL ventures into deep theological waters. Unlike earlier generations, he says, we cannot blame all animal suffering on the fall of man, because now (The Problem of Pain was published in 1940) it is commonly believed that animals existed on the earth and were eating each other long before humans came on the scene. However, the scriptures do not say that evil began with man; rather, many scriptures indicate that evil entered the world when an earlier creature, an angel, rebelled against God. Although our current cultural mood is resistant to the concept of a personal evil being, we have no real grounds to assume this doctrine is false. After all, if we believe in the existence of God and if we grant any credence to the Bible, we find that the angels are woven firmly into the spiritual fabric of both scripture and tradition.
CSL does not think it at all philosophically unreasonable to suppose there was an evil power at work on the planet before the appearance of humanity, and that somehow, this power might have corrupted the nature of the beasts. In response to a colleague after the publication of The Problem of Pain, CSL expands on his idea of animal corruption: “If Dr. Joad thinks I pictured Satan ‘tempting monkeys,’ I am myself to blame for using the word encouraged…In fact, I had not supposed that ‘temptation’…was the only mode in which the Devil could corrupt or impair…Moral corruption is not the only kind of corruption. But the word corruption was perhaps ill-chosen and invited misunderstanding. Distortion would have been safer.”
Animal suffering and God’s justice
Reconciling the fact of animal suffering with God’s justice is the toughest issue, and one to which there is no answer in this life. When an animal has suffered and died, there is no sense (that we know of) in which it could have deserved it, benefitted from it, or been redeemed by it. It could not have learned anything from it, because it could not understand it. It is at this point that we reach the limits of our understanding—that solid white wall of silence.
CSL acknowledges that we do not have sufficient information to answer this question and must rely on faith that God is good and that there are things we are simply not given to understand. But this does not stop him from reflecting on the possibility of an afterlife for animals. For if there is an answer, it is there that it must be found, and CSL gamely launches into some intriguing ideas about how animal immortality might work. And that, by the way, is what I love about C.S. Lewis. Here was a respected academic who was not afraid to risk the ridicule of his colleagues by publically writing seriously about something as “out there” as animal spirituality.
Lewis, C.S. The Problem of Pain. Kindle edition. HarperCollins e-books, 2009.
Lewis, C.S. and Hooper, Walter. God in the Dock. “The Pains of Animals.” Wm. B. Eardmans Publishing, 1994
Just a quick post before historical events leave me even more hopelessly in the dust – as usual I am a few weeks late to the party. Nevertheless I wanted to say something in the wake of all the memorial hoopla around the 50th anniversary of the JFK assassination. What I wanted to say, and this is the first chance I’ve had to take breath enough to say it, is that there was another great man who died that same November day in 1963, whose death was overshadowed by the horror and drama of that historic event in Dallas. That same day in England, Clives Staples Lewis died quietly in his bed.
My parents, particularly my mother were Kennedy fanatics, so from early childhood I knew all about the JFK assassination, and due to subsequent news events concerning Robert Kennedy, MLK, and George Wallace, as well as the news from Vietnam, I got the idea that that war and assassinations were common events, just more terrors in a confusing world. But it was not until my mid-thirties that I knew C.S. Lewis had died the same day. I mention it because it seems that just as his death was overshadowed, so was its 50th anniversary: no 24-hour news commentary, no pious memorial speeches, no conspiracy theories for C.S. Lewis.
And yet, of these two men, CSL (let us be fair and give him a catchy initial nickname too), has had a profound impact in my life, and it would be accurate to say that JFK has had close to zero impact. Yes, the moon landing was impressive but it was sort of just another thing on the TV and anyway, I was perfectly happy for the moon to a faraway lovely light in the sky. Although I could not prove it, my guess is that CSL has had a more profound impact on the real lives of many more souls than JFK ever did. For one thing, CSL wrote many more books, and we can be sure that he wrote every word of all of them himself. His books are about things that are real, meaningful, and relevant to all human beings interested in seeking ultimate truth.
I never get tired of re-reading his books, although I am much more fond of his grown-up works than his Narnia series, charming though they are. He wrote his books in humble yet elegant language and they address eternal things exactly as we can comprehend eternal things in the here and now. As much as I love Pascal, I think CSL is an improvement on exploratory theology insofar as he does less agonizing about all the things we cannot know and deals head-on with reality as it presents itself to us on the human level. His writing is brilliant and his books are a service to humankind and he deserves to be remembered on the 50th anniversary of his death as least as much as JFK deserves memorials.
So memory of CSL I will post several articles I happened to write on him a few years ago for a now defunct website. At that time I was interested in some ethical issues
relating to the animal kingdom, and when it comes to animal philosophy, I have not found anyone who has written on this subject with more insight and creativity in his
novel Out of the Silent Planet and other writings, than C.S. Lewis. But I believe I talk about all that in one of my articles I am going to post this week.
I am going to try this again: National Novel Writing Month. I tried it last year for the first time and just could not get my novel off the ground. Of course last year I started November 1st without any definite plan and had never tried writing a novel before, but it sounded like people were having so much fun. So two weeks ago when the great event began again, I figured I’d sit this one out because once again I wasn’t ready. Then yesterday I changed my mind because I realized, in fact I have been writing all this year and one of my many notebooks contains something that could loosely be classified as a novel and I might as well use the motivating force on NaNoWriMo to get it a draft typed up.
I have no idea if there is a marketable genre for this thing I am writing, but I like it and if you’re going to type 50,000 words it had better be something you like. Whether anyone else will like it I have no idea, and right now, that is not the important thing. In fact, I am not completely sure I want anyone else to read it. I think I may be a kind a post mortem novelist. Like Kafka, but less depressing. Anyway, for some reason it is important to me is to get it typed up since anyone editing my work after my death may not be able to read my handwriting.
And what a thrill it is posting that word count on the NaNoWriMo website! In one day I am up 8000 words and the whole thing is already written in longhand, so it’s just a matter of typing, although I do tweak and edit on the fly. I also joined my local NaNoWriMo group and they seem like a fun bunch so far. The working title is The Meditations of Margaret Amelia. If I had envision the cover blurb it might say, “The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius meets Bridget Jones” a sort of metaphysical novel. This Margaret person is, among other things, an aspiring poet. Here is an excerpt from my work in progress, a poem written by the main character:
Abolishing the moon
Take the moon:
A light in the sky,
a face, a clock,
a marker of months,
a child’s story.
Then break it down to
a dusty rock, a mottled surface,
to plant a flag,
an orbiting body –
and the light is gone.
Then diminish it further
to perception only in our
minds, an object we cannot know and
doubt is there and
soon we are in hell
where all sight is lost.
Lift us out of the swirling pit
and place us on the solid floor
by the window.
Let the bright disk meet our miraculous eye
and tell us again you have placed it there
a light for the night.
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Not bad. I wish I could write a poem like that. But it is not an all-poetry novel. It is a novel with some poems in it that I hope move the story forward. Wish me luck; if you are also participating in National Novel Writing Month I wish you luck too.
Lately my writing rhythm has been a bit disrupted by surgery. No big deal – just foot surgery, interpositional arthroplasty to be exact. Once it’s all healed the theory is I will be able to bend my toe and walk without pain for the first time in years. Anyway, I have every intention of getting the writing rhythm back on track and am getting some clarity on the sort of essays and books I want to write next; but in the meantime, I’ve decided the post this article I wrote several years ago for a now-defunct website. Of course I couldn’t help changing it here and there. These days even an article on reading the classics needs to be updated. I think I wrote this sometime in 2010, at least two years before I dreamed of owning a iPhone, let alone having access to all my books on an iPhone.
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Why Make the Effort to Read the Classics?
Actually if you really and truly have to ask that question, you may not be interested in reading further. But many of us feel like there are gaps, or perhaps gaping chasms, in our reading of literary and philosophical classics. Sometimes these books were not taught thoroughly in our schools, or maybe we were distracted by other things when the books were taught. How much attention did you pay to the poetic brilliance of Hamlet or the literary themes in Great Expectations?
The older we get the more apparent it becomes (to some of us) that reading the best thinkers of past centuries would be an excellent way to achieve new insights and gain a deeper understanding of the human species and the world we live in, and that we are missing out on something if we neglect to drink deeply at the springs of literature. So maybe we just need to reflect and remind ourselves that all of the humanity’s big questions have been considered, weighed, and discussed by brilliant scholars who devoted their lives to thinking it all out – thinkers like Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and numerous others.
The Real Problem is Time and Priorities
In the midst of our busy demanding lives, it can be hard to find the necessary time and intellectual muscle to tackling the classics. But reading is like anything: if you want to do it and feel it is important you will find the time. If you watch two hours of TV shows per week, maybe you have at least one hour to dedicate to reading. We only have so much time. Which is a better use of your time: an hour spent watching “The Walking Dead” or the an hour spent reading a great book you’ve always wanted to read.
Classics are pleasant to read
Some people have the idea that a text written in the distant past will be obscure and difficult to read. Though some books may be challenging, they are generally easier to understand than you might imagine. Most often, when you sit down to read a classic, you will be pleasantly surprised: the ideas and stories are fresh and the language, even in translation, is sharp, precise, and often beautiful.
In his essay On the Reading of Old Books, C.S. Lewis says, “The student is half afraid to meet one of the great philosophers face to face. He feels himself inadequate and thinks he will not understand him. But if he only knew, the great man, just because of his greatness, is much more intelligible than his modern commentator. The simplest student will be able to understand, if not all, yet a very great deal of what Plato said; but hardly anyone can understand some modern books on Platonism.”
Reading classics is worth the time and effort
But reading a classic takes time and we are busy people. Unless we are professional academics, it is difficult to find long stretches of time to immerse ourselves in books that demand our full attention. It is a good idea to approach this kind of reading differently than you do the kind of casual reading you sneak in here and there as time permits.
Approach the classics as you would a serious hobby such as photography, genealogy, or painting. In her book The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had, Susan Wise Bauer explains how to embark on journey of self education using time-tested methods of classical scholarship. Bauer says, “In fact, reading is a discipline: like running regularly, or meditating, or taking voice lessons.” It’s a matter of priority.
Why should we give up our well-deserved entertainment time and invest it in reading old books? After all, we live now and want to participate in our own culture. We want to watch the current TV shows and read the latest novels so that we can discuss them with our friends and co-workers. I can guarantee that the classics will help you understand your own culture more deeply and enjoy it more fully.
These books are classics for a reason. They have survived the clouds of obscurity through the ages because they are lasers of brilliance that are continually able to break through the darkness; their words find relevance and strike familiar chords in our minds no matter the century. In most cases, they are not boring. True, many people have read a passage from Plato or play by Shakespeare merely because it was a school assignment. But throughout the centuries people have been delighted to read and discuss these books voluntarily, or else they would not have ended up being taught in school.
Classics provide historical perspective
Well, you say, it’s hard enough to keep up with current news and books. Isn’t it more important to keep up with the literature of our own time? Yes, of course – there is great value in reading contemporary literature. I make an effort to read as much of it as I can. But to achieve the best understanding of the present, it is best to find time to read literature that has been vetted by time.
Many of the old books have had a profound influence on the thought of subsequent generations. It is fascinating to see how ideas infiltrate minds and then translate into opinions, laws, and actions throughout history. Without reading the classics you miss the underlying interplay between the mental and physical history of the world. Once someone records an idea in writing that is compelling enough to “take hold” of imaginations, it never goes away. It is difficult to achieve an accurate understanding of your own time and culture when you are standing in the middle of it. Reading classics enables us to stand back and get a better perspective on the current situation.
Albert Einstein said it well: “Somebody who only reads newspapers and at best books of contemporary authors looks to me like an extremely near-sighted person who scorns eyeglasses. He is completely dependent on the prejudices and fashions of his times, since he never gets to see or hear anything else.”
Classics help us clarify our thoughts and beliefs
In addition to gaining a better understanding of history, classics give us a better understanding of ourselves and help clarify our beliefs. Classics make us realize that human beings several centuries ago, were pretty much the same as human beings now. Do you wonder why you should bother thinking about what happens after you die when you can’t do anything about it anyway? Try reading Pensees by Blaise Pascal.
Do you wonder why people tend to look for scapegoats when things go wrong? Try reading the first 10 chapters of The City of God, in which St. Augustine discusses why the Romans blamed the Christians for the sack of Rome by the Visigoths and whether it was fair to do so. Do you wonder why families become dysfunctional? Try reading King Lear or Pride and Prejudice or Anna Karenina or perhaps the ultimate in dysfunctional family lit, The Brothers Karamazov.
If you want a guided plan, there there are a variety of of “100 best books” type lists you can find easily on the Internet. There is a great book called 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die by Peter Boxall. If you are interested in classics from the classical Greek period, Who Killed Homer? by Victor Davis Hanson and John Heath, a fascinating book in itself, is worth the price just for its extensive yet accessible bibliography of Greek classics. Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose also includes an excellent bibliography of more recent classic lit.
So you as you can see, you had better get started, or perhaps accelerate. I know I will never be bored in this lifetime (and certainly not the next). as there are more books than time left to me. My gosh, even in a long grocery store or waiting for a long train or bridge lift I have a whole library inside my iPhone. I also make use of audio books during exercise, walking, or driving time.
Quick note for Columbus Day 2013. First a confession: it’s early evening as I write and this is the first time all day Columbus has crossed my mind. Sorry….. vague image of guy in tights and big floppy hat looking out on the horizon across the big blue sea with Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand standing in the background…..okay there – now I have thought about Columbus.
So how did I spend my Columbus Day? Well I was off work and I got up early but not as early as I would have liked. Seven am is oversleeping to me. I cleaned the kitchen, did laundry, and then did a Pilates workout while listening to and audio book of Walden by Henry David Thoreau, because this is the next thing up for my son’s English curriculum. AJ is going to love this one!
But I realized that my past reading of Walden has been spotty – an essay here, an essay there. Until this morning I had completely missed Thoreau’s brilliant dissertation on the importance of reading classic literature; I’m so glad he mentions he has The Iliad on hand during his stay in the woods since my son is half struggling through and half enjoying The Iliad right now. I notice that when I am reading or listening to a work of literature for my son’s education it doubles my enjoyment to imagine how it will work on his young and probing mind, the life of the mind still so new to him.
Well then of all things I had a dentist appointment. What a way to spend a holiday. But I didn’t want to use up leave and my dentist was working so I bit the bullet and made the appointment. One hour of discomfort and it’s done and I never have to worry about it again. I do love my dentist though. He is a true pro and does make it as pleasant as humanly possible. He even had swing era tunes playing for me instead of usual classic rock because being stuck in a dentist chair while being forced to listen to Stairway to Heaven for the 10,000th time in my life is pretty close to my idea of Hell.
After the dentist I came home and cooked some homemade dogfood. We are trying to eat healthier at my house and our dogs are getting older so AJ and I have decided that it is time for Cocoa and Pippin to eat healthier too. After doing a little research on canine nutrition and Googling some recipes, I have been experimenting. Tonight Cocoa and Pippin will be dining on a rice and spinach mixture with chicken broth and beef bouillon. Picky Cocoa rejected my last effort which included mashed pumpkin, so I tried adding some fish oil to this entree, which is supposed to healthy for dogs, and let her try a sample. I am happy to report she gobbled it down in a fit of tail-wagging ecstasy.
Next I worked on AJ’s lessons for the week including his Mere Christianity questions for the next chapter and his test on The Law by Frederic Bastiat. And now here I am writing this post. I’d say it’s been a reasonably productive day. Thoreau himself had days in which he sat and contemplated the horizon and other days on which he hewed planks or hoed beans. And apparently, although he hasn’t mentioned the most important way he spent his time, he must have spent an awful lot of time writing. Otherwise we’d never know about all that hewing, hoeing, and contemplation.
A while back, about a month ago, I wrote that next post I would share my homeschool curriculum for my son’s senior year of high school. I didn’t. I know that I should do what I say I am going to do but I didn’t do it. It does not matter if not one of my readers was waiting with bated breath for this information. Following through is following through and typical human being that I am, I did not follow the moral law. I have excuses of course. I got too busy doing the curriculum to do much of anything else outside of my day job and wrote nothing for several weeks, and then two other posts that were not the promised curriculum popped out of my head and onto my blog.
Eventually I will share that curriculum and make it available to others who might be interested in a more or less classical education for their teen. Today I will just share a sample: one lesson from our theology course. Theology to my great surprise seems to be the subject AJ enjoys most so far. I would have predicted Human Anatomy would be his favorite. These surprises are one of the pleasures of homeschooling – you never know what is going to light the pistons in the student’s mind.
As part of his theology study he is reading Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis and has has like it so much he as even gotten an adult Sunday School class at church to order books and use it as a study. He actually asked to go through the book a second time and for me to give him questions on each chapter so that he is sure he fully understands it. Surprises. AJ is not a particularly weird kid – he is fairly typical. Likes skateboarding, bike riding, hanging out with friends.
- So here are my questions for Chapter 3: The Reality of the Law:
- Can a tree or rock really be a “bad tree” or a “bad rock’? (page 17)
- People say things like “Because of the law of gravity, a rock falls to the ground.” Do they mean there is a law that orders the rock to fall to the ground or are they only describing what actually happens when a rock falls? The word “law can be used in different ways. Describe the difference between the word law as applied to stones and trees and the law of human nature. (page 17)
- Is decent behavior in other people the same thing as behavior that is useful to us? (page 18)
- Is decent behavior in ourselves always behaviour that is profitable or convenient to us? (page 19)
- If you behave in a way that benefits society as a whole that that the same thing as following the moral law? Why or why not? (pages 19-20)
Extra Credit thought question: Could *Cocoa really be a “bad” dog? Why or not?
*Cocoa is AJ’s dog.
I will probably go ahead and post all my questions by chapter for Mere Christianity but the others will be available from the menu rather than as daily posts. Coming soon.
I am not sure if reading The Trial by Franz Kafka is the healthiest book choice in this politically charged time government shutdowns and weird international relations and drones and spying programs but I am reading it anyway because I feel like I will discover some new insight if only I persevere. So I feel compelled to read it to the bitter end and do feel some curiosity as to how Joseph K’s case will end.
The genius of the book is that you keep hoping that if you keep reading through senseless maddening incident after senseless maddening incident you will find out something specific, some solid facts, some reason that will tie the whole thing together and make sense of it all; and yet even halfway through the novel I have the sinking feeling that I will get no more clarity on the case than Joseph K gets as he moves blindly through the unpleasant mechanisms of a vague bureaucracy of people without context.
So I keep reading hoping against hope that at some point I will find out why Joseph K was arrested, who arrested him, what law he violated, what his chances of getting acquitted, or what the consequences are. And I realize that one of the things I want most desperately is for things to make sense. Joseph K seeks some solace in love but seems to find that in a disjointed world with no clear connection to anything true or real even this becomes a free-floating source of anxiety. It’s existential in the worst way. Existential in a good way, I suppose, is when you get to determine your purpose based on your internal needs and desires and the circumstances of the solid world in which you live and breath. Existential in a bad way is when forces over which you have no control and that have no discernible context or reason determine your purpose, behavior, and future.
As I said I am only about halfway through and am finding it one of the more painful things I’ve ever read, perhaps due to my inherent distaste for bureaucracy, and yet I am finding here ideas I need to think about and that I will be able to take into account as I deal with life in the near future. One thing I notice is that once this government reaches its invisible tentacles into Joseph K’s life, it soon begins to dominate his thoughts. No longer can he enjoy a morning coffee and then walk to the office thinking only of the day’s work, the people he will see, the things he is looking forward to after work. Low level government officials have visited him and informed him he has been arrested but that he may go on with his life as usual until such time as he is summoned; this he attempts to do but slowly he perceives that everything and everyone he encounters may or may not have some bearing on his case, may or may not know about it, and what he does and what he says may or may not make a difference in the outcome. At first he is aware of this mental invasion and attempts to think about other things and live as normally as possible. But pretty soon his life is all about the impending trial – trying to discern clues about what it is about and what he can do to benefit himself. In fact he is told by several people that the worst thing he can do it not take “it” seriously enough. He is told “it” is very serious indeed and not told what “it” is.
So, I realized, when you watch CNN or Fox News all day you begin to unconsciously absorb the false narrative that what is going on in the government is “it” – all that is, the universe. You have to remind yourself that this is deception. The dome of government may be large but it is only a dome outside of which is a vast universe full of activity where God is in control and birds are building nests and squirrels are gathering nuts, unaware and unconcerned that the U.S. government is gridlocked. Man-made systems, especially those that have accumulated great power and massive size, have a sort of mental gravity and if we are not vigilant about projecting our thoughts beyond the immediate we can sucked in to these orbits and go round and round dancing to their tune, reacting to their nonsense, fretting about their alarms, cringing at their dire threats.
But human consciousness is not restricted to what is under the dome. It easily penetrates upward and outward. There are many ways to project our consciousness beyond the immediate – such as doing a creative project for pure enjoyment, interacting with animals and children, listening to or playing music, reading (something other than a newspaper or The Trial), exercising, dancing, watching an old movie, contemplating the beauty of nature or other meditation, prayer. We need to make sure we do these sorts of things every day.
Here is a solution for how to fix the government – federal, state, and local – that ought to make everybody happy. Other than real crimes such as theft or murder – actions that violate another person’s life, liberty, or property, and the defense of our national borders which is an extension of the same – compliance with all other laws and regulations is declared voluntary! That way those who like government programs can keep them and those who like freedom get to be free. Everyone is happy! Have public schools but enrollment is voluntary, including the choice of which school in which to enroll; keep Obamacare but participation is voluntary – no penalties for choosing not to sign up; keep TSA pat downs but travelers who feel this practice is offensive or invasive can opt out.
By all means, keep programs that help the poor but make contributing time or money to them voluntary. I think programs that help the truly needy would be quite popular of among the volunteers; people would get the deep sense of satisfaction that comes of knowing they used their free will to make a good choice and are really making a difference. I also think the programs would soon increase in effectiveness in lifting people out of poverty. I imagine many small training and coaching programs would spring up based on personal relationships and mutual benefit.
Keep the income tax system but make paying taxes voluntary. Well maybe we better start with the income tax. After everyone who wants to pay sends in their checks, the government can count up how much they have to work with and go from there. There would be nothing wrong with promoting a suggested percentage and disseminating information about how much different programs cost. I would also allow people to specify how they would like their money to be used. Under such a system I for one would be happy send money because it is in my best interest to be able to pay people like police officers, emergency personnel, and military people who defend the borders. I also like to have drive-able roads. I would then feel good about supporting my community rather than feeling oppressed because some faceless bureaucratic monstrosity is forcing me under penalty of harassment and imprisonment to hand over my money so it can use it in the way it sees fit.
Yes, I know I am dreaming. And yes, I know that even if I weren’t dreaming there are a few details to be worked out. But has this system ever been tried anywhere or anytime? Actually I think this concept is quite similar to the original plan for the United States and I believe we went for a number of years operating with a system built on the original plan. The primary and tragic flaw was our country’s continued use of slavery. After a short time, 80 or so years after the founding, this horrible practice of slavery undercut and ultimately destroyed this unique and almost successful attempt to maintain a society based on freedom.
I hope that someday, somehow, we can try it again and see how it works. It is possible of course, that the system we have now will eventually collapse under its own weight, and that someday we may have the opportunity to start all over again. If that should happen I hope we do it right next time.
As I see all the first day of school excitement this week, the smiling hopeful pictures on front porches posted all over Facebook, the picked-over back-to-school shelves in the stores, the backpack-burdened children waiting for the bus, I am filled with fond memories and also the feeling of being on the outside of something. This annual ritual, so deeply embedded memory both from my own school days and those of my children, is an important one for so many. In past years I fully and joyfully participated in it – in fact, gloried in it. I loved the new clothes and the smell of new books and school supplies, the very idea of education, the promise of autumn, and feeling of something fresh beginning.
Now as I voluntarily stand outside the little red schoolhouse with my back to the door, the ritual has become a symbol of how I and my family have turned down another path: one that is quieter, away from the mainstream, wilder, and perhaps just a little dangerous. Our youngest child is a senior in high school this year so there is no chance we will be turning back. I think the mainstream path has a lot of value and I had plenty of fun while I travelled it. But somehow, that path gradually lost its relevance and became more a burden than a joy, partly through circumstances, but mostly through a sort of congenital personality flaw that I think had been taking root in my all my life and that I seem to have passed on to my children. It is sort of progressive allergy to bureaucracy with a driving compulsion to continually question assumptions. I call it a flaw, because it makes it increasingly difficult to function as a member of community: to join organizations or political parties, to commit to a religious denomination, to send the kids to standardized schools, etc. However, it does induce me to call on God’s help more often, and I am sure I will not be expelled from His organization.
So AJ, my high school senior, will graduate first in his class from our home school, Apple Academy Class of 2014. AJ attended public school from K through 3rd grade, private school from 4th through 7th grade, home school for 8th grade, and back to public school for 9th and 10th grades. All of these experiments in education had their advantages and disadvantages. For his last two years of high school AJ has chosen to home school. To make a long story short, we find that going to school makes us grumpy, stressed out, and focused on the expectations of others while home schooling makes us happy, relaxed, healthier, and focused on the joy of learning. So I am pleased with his choice but if he had chosen to graduate from public school I would have fully supported his decision. One of my weird ideas is that by the time a person is 16 or 17 they ought to be able to make their own major choices, although they also ought to be smart enough to realize they are still inexperienced about the world and should choose to seek guidance whenever necessary.
While my 17-year-old is not yet a full-fledged adult, he is miles closer to being an adult than being a child. The joy of home schooling him is getting to see one light after another flicker on in his wonderfully unique mind. I see mind and character as being intimately connected, and all of our emphasis is on developing both. We have eliminated all distractions such as transportation to school and packing lunches (how many times in the past has the rush-rush search for socks and gym shorts, the traffic, the forgetting of lunches or homework, gotten our day off to a jangled start), signing papers to feed the bureaucratic machine, socializing, and sports. Yes I said socializing. And sports. AJ has several close friends with whom he spends plenty of time, and he keeps fit through kayaking, bicycling, and running. You would be hard put to find a fitter, healthier, less lonely kid. But his school time is devoted to enriching his mind, and this is the part of his ongoing development into adulthood that most involves me.
I have no special qualifications as a teacher other than a BA in English and a lifetime of reading and also that I happen to know the student well and care intensely about his education and wellbeing. I also work full time so although I guide AJ’s studies and give him weekly assignments or learning goals, he does his schoolwork mostly independently.
But what will be he be learning? We have made sure we fulfill the requirements of the State of Virginia plus extras. Next post I will share our senior year curriculum, a program that excites both my son and me. Last year we used on online school, but this year we have created our own custom curriculum. I will happy to share what resources we are using with anyone who might be interested. Since helping AJ complete high school and prepare of the adult world will be my top priority until next June, I will be posting periodic updates about our experience.
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