Three Recommendations for Spiritual Reading

A Christian ought to daily nourish his spirit with theology or the good example of the saints.  The Bible accomplishes both admirably; yet, it can sometimes strike one as too abstract or its familiarity blocks us from receiving new insights.  This is where spiritual books are an enormous help.

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St. John Bosco, pray for us!

Below, I have included three recommendations and write a little about what makes them unique.  Hopefully, one or more of these will make your reading list in the near future.

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1) Lord of the World by Robert Hugh Benson

This is probably the most prosaic version of the world’s end I have ever encountered.  Written prior to WWI, Benson actually predicted that war and posits that the world will end in the early 21st century.  Readers of the Apocalypse know that there shall be widespread irreligion at the end of the world: the religious shall be few and far between, and God’s punishments will cause the impenitent to curse God rather than amend their lives.  What is the primary cause for the world ending around the beginning of the 21st century?  The rise of communism and the culture of death.

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Rating the Anime of Fall 2016, Part 2

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(Here is the second part of my fall 2016 review.  Enjoy!)

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3) Izetta: the Last Witch – ★★★★

This show successfully combines elements from Strike Witches and Maria the Virgin Witch.  It provided us with two of the best heroines from this season.  (Only Kyouka of Bungo Stray Dogs struck me as a better heroine because of her greater moral struggle.)  The action was top notch, and all the WWII vehicles very realistic.  Aside from the magic, only a few moments in the show struck me as unrealistic: things like soldiers being able to provide Izetta with shorts while on campaign and Germanian guards being armed with Lugers rather than Mausers or MP 40s.  In other words, the show seldom rocked me from my suspension of disbelief.

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Anime of Spring 2016: Mid-season Review, part 2

Here is the second part of my mid-season review.  Looking at what’s written below, the general mood seems to be one of criticism, except for Kiznaiver, anyway.  With that note, let’s get into my thoughts on MayoigaKiznaiverHaifuri, and Flying Witch.

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5) Mayoiga (aka The Lost Village)

At this point, I’m sticking around merely to see the end of the show.  I had hopes of these characters overcoming their fears and behaving rationally, but no dice.  At last, we have discovered that a village adjoins Nanaki village beyond the tunnel and that the monsters are both produced by our characters fears and truly are able to interact with the real world.  Our heroes must overcome their fears lest their phobias cause them more than mental harm, but can they?

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Dragging Myself to 400 Anime: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

This enjoyable movie really only suffers from one defect: the presentation of this two and three quarter hour long tale causes it to drag.  It uses the sort of pacing we see in the TV series, but what works for a twenty-four minute segment suffices not for an almost three hour block of time.  One can’t treat the two the same way!  I ended up watching the movie in three sittings and do not think it detracted from my enjoyment.

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The central theme of the movie reminds me of a comment the hero’s father made in Dostoyevsky’s The Adolescent: “Life isn’t worth living without these little annoyances.” My intimate friends know that this is one of my favorite expressions, and Kyon knows this by instinct.  I almost wrote “comes to discover this over the course of the film,” but that is not precisely true.  He automatically sets about trying to restore the world as soon as he realizes Haruhi is gone.  *Spoilers from here on* But, he avoids admitting to himself that life is not worthwhile without Haruhi until the final third of the film. Continue reading

Thoughts on C. S. Lewis’ The Discarded Image

Here is yet another of the articles I promised as part of my Candlemas Resolutions.  I have only four days to review the theological work and the Japanese one; otherwise, I shall fail to keep my resolutions in the very first month I made them!  And I should send little e-mail to TWWK ere then too.  Vae!  Sunt multa facienda, sed tempus fugit!  

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At any rate, let me get on to C. S. Lewis’ The Discarded Image.  This work marks the last book of Lewis’s published while he still lived.  These two hundred and twenty-three pages refreshed my knowledge of Medieval Model of the universe.  Lewis both delineates the major features of the model and offers details which will please readers more versed in the Middle Ages.  By the way, medievals and yours truly have much in common, and I think that highlighting these similarities as I write about the major points of The Discarded Image will amuse my dear readers.

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Candlemas Resolutions and Joining Another Blog

For a long time, I have admired the work TWWK does on Beneath the Tangles and have been subject to equal admiration on his part.  (Much more than your humble otaku deserves.)  Our rapport has led to several guest posts, which are really quite good:

  1. How The Swan Princess Demonstrates that Lies are the Foundation of Evil
  2. Buddhist Detachment in Shikabane Hime vs. Christian Charity
  3. Suisei no Gargantia and How One’s Goal Dignifies One’s Life
  4. Contra Divitias: Kill la Kill’s Opprobrium of Wealth

Fight Another Day

For some reason, I have not guest blogged on Beneath the Tangles since the post on Kill la Kill.  This is a shame, because writing for another blog compelled me to make the extra effort to write polished articles.

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The Four Loves in Shingeki no Bahamut

I was delighted to learn that JP of Beneath the Tangles and Japesland was convinced by one of my articles to give Shingeki no Bahamut another look.  As I have another article on this show up my sleeve, I might as well give him and my other dear readers some more ideas to chew on from this Christian fairy tale.  At least, it has convinced me that it is such, but my readers may easily disagree.  After all, the Christian symbolism feels overwhelmed by pagan dualism and mythology.

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However, we have the example of Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis that Christian truths can be reaped from a pagan world.  I have already mentioned how Shingeki no Bahamut tells the truth about demons and temptation.   The present article will discuss how the show points to human love having a divine origin–not only the love of man for God, but each kind of love C. S. Lewis ponders in his book The Four Loves: Affection, Friendship, Eros, and Agape.

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An interesting thing about Christian theology is its emphasis on relationship, which has its foundation in God: “…God is love” (1 John 4:8).   The two things which characterize God’s relationship to his people are loving-kindness and faithfulness.  One becomes sanctified by maintaining a relationship with God, i.e. remaining in a state of grace, which enables one more and more to love as God does.  The Trinity itself can only be explained through relationship.  After all, everything the Father is, the Son is; everything the Son is, the Holy Ghost is; and everything the Holy Ghost is, the Father is.  The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Ghost is God.  Not three Gods but one and the same God.  But the Father is begotten of none and does not proceed, the Son is begotten of the Father, and the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, which Himself is the infinite Love of the Father for the Son and the Son for the Father.

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In a similar way that love is at the core of the mystery of the Trinity, our relationships and loves are how people define us.  People develop certain expectations of us from the company we keep, our parents, our beloved, and our relationship to God–in other words, our four loves.  Shingeki no Bahamut stresses its focus on the four loves through the four significant relationships of the show: Amira and her mother (affection), Favaro and Kaisar (friendship), Amira and Favaro (eros), and Jeanne and St. Michael (agape).  (Of course, few of the hallmarks of romance are apparent in Amira and Favaro’s relationship; but, most would agree that more would have followed had Amira been able to live beyond their parting kiss.)  Each one of these relationships is maintained despite the many factors threatening their dissolution.

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The immutability of these bonds imbue each with a divine aspect.  Death cannot sunder the bonds of Amira and her mother, Amira and Favaro, nor those of Jeanne and St. Michael.  St. Jerome commented once, “A friendship which can end has never been real.”  And the betrayals threatening to break Favaro and Kaisar’s friendship are resolved by the end of the show, and we can look forward to more of their antics should a sequel be indeed forthcoming.  Love transcends death, which shows love as one of the qualities which demonstrate man’s divine image and likeness.  The divine cannot die.

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Which brings up a flaw in this show’s mythology: its St. Michael, who is called a god, does in fact die.  How can the divine die?  The fact that he dies and that there is an afterlife in which he says that he shall still love Jeanne seems to show that the series acknowledges a God greater than the gods!  Of course, central to Christianity is the story of a dying God, Our Lord Jesus Christ, but only his human body died on Good Friday, which his divinity could raise up again on Easter.  It is impossible for the divine, pure Being, to die.  So, does the mythology of Shingeki no Bahamut in fact recognize a “God of gods”?  That’s a question for another time.

Rita, one of the most lovable characters of the past season.

Rita, one of the most lovable characters of the past season.

At any rate, this is a most cursory look at the topic.  If only Lewis’s The Four Loves had been more foremost in my mind, I might have been able to make more of it!  But, I hope that this idea adds more pleasure to your enjoyment of a truly fine series.

Fiction’s Raison D’Etre

Quite a long time has passed since anything has been posted, hasn’t it?  I can only excuse myself by saying that my attempts at writing a profound article on Elfen Lied have all failed thus far.  Some of you would likely reply to me that writing a profound article on Elfen Lied is like trying to write a profound article on Battle Vixens; that Elfen Lied made its name with gratuitous nudity and violence; and that it offers little besides that.  On the contrary, my article would reveal that the writer uses such things not simply in order to shock, but in order to highlight themes about the fallen nature of the world and humanity’s overwhelming desire for innocence.  Yet, despite the excellent material at my disposal, the article comes out flat.  Imagine me as a carpenter with all the materials necessary for a luxurious mansion, and yet, after all my hard work, a lean-to stands as the end result.  Then, a scruple keeps running through my mind: do I really want to convince anyone to watch it?  You see, even though the show contains many positive attributes, they truly do go too far with violence and nudity.  If this work were written as a novel, I should have no problem; but, the viewer must naturally see everything, and might find themselves tempted to lust or have their souls damaged in some other way.  Or is my scruple excessive?

Now to progress to the article proper: why do we bother reading or watching fiction?  Concerning books, a writer in the New York Times announced that fiction is dead.  Even though one still sees a sizable following, moderns do tend to prefer their newspapers and true accounts.  (I’m reminded of how Albert Camus said historians would describe the 20th century man: “He fornicated and read the newspapers.”)  We are much more greatly attracted to the exact truth than people of prior ages.  Where we use exact quotations, our ancestors of earlier historical epochs preferred indirect quotes and, if they used direct quotation, they used it to make passages more lively and were satisfied as long as they captured the general import of what the speaker wished to say.  Then, there’s also a religious bias against fiction that has existed since St. Augustine wrote his Confessions.  Why bother with fables and falsehoods when the Bible suffices?  In general, the modern man prefers his newspapers, books about current events, and history to a good novel or play–and even though fictional movies and TV shows are very popular, might not reality television and slice-of-life shows eventually win out?

So, what’s fiction’s major draw?  Entertainment?  I must say that the thought that one only watches such stories to be amused has bothered me of late.  Please note that the verb amuse derives from an Old French word meaning “to stare stupidly.”  If staring stupidly into a book or television screen sums up this activity, would it not be better to kill it in our lives and render it as dead as the writer from the New York Times claimed it to be?  History features plenty of entertaining personalities.  Travel narratives tell of many fascinating places around the world.  Would we not be better served reading these things for entertainment?  We should at least acquire the real benefit of enriching our minds about the world.

Aristotle and C. S. Lewis appear to give the most compelling reasons for us to continue this hobby.  Aristotle claims that fiction (yes, his Poetics concern tragedy, but the mythological tragedies he refers to are all fictional) stands superior to history because it teaches general truths, while history relates particular truths.  For example, a novelist will usually portray virtue as preferable to vice; on the other hand, history may relate the life of a ruthless individual who gained every material good before dying peacefully in his bed.  Certainly, the general truth of crime not paying is a better lesson to inculcate than the idea that backstabbing, lying, murder, adultery, and theft may offer a way to material happiness!  But, religion and philosophy also teach such truths, so this seems like an insufficient excuse to justify fiction’s existence–especially so since religions offer the combined knowledge of some of the most brilliant minds over the course of millenia.  The input of one flawed human being pales in contrast to that!

But, I do believe that C. S. Lewis gives us the best reason.  He states that we read in order to see the world using another mind.  In doing so, our own minds become larger.  Of course, one does prefer to read those who hold the same opinions one has, and it might be argued that certain authors may poison the minds of those reading them.  Although, the latter group tends to be formed of a small group of vicious men whom a well educated individual would have little trouble in perceiving–except in one case at any rate.  I mention the exception because most moderns have been subverted, and advocates of this poison have little trouble luring the majority of people into its net.  I am speaking of fornication.  If you don’t believe this can poison people, just watch the anime School Days.  It might offer a good perspective for those who have accepted the post-modern idea that fornication is not evil.

So, C. S. Lewis says that we ought to broaden our minds as much as possible by seeing it through other minds.  Each person is completely unique, and it is worthwhile to try to understand how they think.  Lewis went so far as to remark on how wonderful it would be if dogs could write so that we could see the world from their perspective as well!  Merely knowing someone’s philosophy does not suffice in giving us enough knowledge about him.  I might add that knowing only our own philosophy does not give us enough information to know ourselves either.  People are also a tangle of emotions, fears, idiosyncrasies, experiences, and God’s grace.  Only in fiction do we see how a man’s rational nature interacts with his intuitive/emotional nature.  One may know perfectly well that he should stand his ground combat and that flight is shameful; but, seeing one person after another mowed down, having bullets narrowly miss him, being deafened and shaken by the eruption of shells, and–worst of all!–watching someone else run for his life might have the accumulative effect of causing him to run.  An officer with understanding will think that this gentleman has a chance to recover and perform better in his next action.  One without this quality may have him shot.

Also, it’s easy to hate factions.  For example, one easily sees why a monarchical government is evil, and that anyone who supports it over a republic is a blithering idiot.  However, if we read books like Sir Walter Scott’s novels we might understand why a monarchy might appear attractive to someone, and we shall not only not hate such a person, but even take pains to bring such a person to our point of view rather than treating them as an idiot.  We might recommend some Alexandre Dumas to show how treacherous and bloodthirsty a monarchy can be.  And indeed, a novel might be more persuasive than a historical account.  For example, some people believe than Marxism can still work despite Communism killing about 94 million people in the 20th century.  Reading Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Cancer Ward might make them have second thoughts.  In summary, fiction is more useful than other modes of writing for helping us understand the psyche and allowing us to consider matters with emotion and intuition rather than just reason, which is why it refuses to die.  The entertainment we also receive is only a bonus.

So, does my reasoning miss the mark or did I get it about right?  I hope that you enjoyed this overlong article and that it makes up for my long hiatus!