Chaos; Child and the Creator-Creature Relationship

Theological questions are rather muted in Chaos; Child until the depths of Onoe and Takuru’s relationship is revealed at the end of the series.  The odd and poorly Englished subtitle to Chaos; Child reads: “If you are God, and the delusion becomes reality.  About what kind of noids you get?  Is it the sensual world?  The despotic society?  The destructive sanctions?  Or…”  Or, will your lust to solve a convoluted and macabre mystery materialize?  By the end, I realized that Takuru is essentially a God character and Onoe is his creature, created by his psychic powers during his hour of need in the Shibuya earthquake set off by the events of Chaos; Head.  For this reason, Takuru holds himself responsible for Onoe’s murders: they were committed to fulfill Takuru’s subconscious desire for solving a complex mystery and being a hero.

CC 4

The first thing to notice about Takuru’s Haruhi Suzumiya-esque existence is his intrinsically flawed godhood.  The real God does not need His creatures (Psalm 50:6 – 13) and His care of them is for the sake of their happiness, even if God delights in the happiness of His creatures.  Conversely, Takuru needs Onoe, and she exists for him to be happy and rejoices in Takuru’s happiness.  This reversal must happen whenever one incomplete being takes another incomplete being for its god.

Continue reading

Battles and Hope

Angry Thrust

We’re in the eighth week of the season, and I should write my mid-season review soon–perhaps this Sunday.  Yet, so many shows are about to expire on Hulu: Tide Line BlueProject ArmsMagic Knight Rayearth, etc.  My determination to at least sample from these fine old shows has inspired me to write the following article on Magic Knight Rayearth.  (Also, I did finish the Dirty Pair OVA, which I hope to review soon–and no, that show is not as bad as the title makes it sound.)  This series falls into the genres of shoujo and fantasy, along the lines of Pretear and Escaflowne.  (I apparently have completed five shows which fall into both categories, all of which have a rating of four stars or higher from me.)  Magic Knight Rayearth has greatly amused me by the realistic reactions of Umi and Fuu when faced with monsters: scream and run away!  (There is a reason why history has not recorded conquering armies of high school girls.)  However, Hikaru is much more spirited than the other two, and they are gradually rising to the challenge of saving the world from the evil Il Pallazo Zagato and his minions.

Shadowy Zagato

This manga from which this show is adapted was published in 1993, but its focus on hope, following one’s dreams, and the importance of will power manifest strong influence from the eighties.  The eighties were an incredibly upbeat time, which can be felt especially in its popular music, and that quality draws may people to have a fondness for that decade.  What made it so upbeat?  From an American perspective, I can point to two reasons: 1) economic prosperity and 2) Ronald Reagan.  The latter reason probably made someone’s eyes roll, so I shall endeavor to explain the mood of the country prior to his election, as I have gleaned it from books, my parents, and others who experienced them.  (I myself only lived through four of those years.)

Continue reading

Whether to Emphasize God’s Justice or His Mercy

This topic came to the fore of my mind recently while having a talk with my father on the burial of suicides.  I brought up the fact that suicides were much fewer in number when they were forbidden a place on hallowed ground.  This very practice highlighted the gravity of suicide, i.e. damning in and of itself.  My father brought forward that there may be many extenuating circumstances (mental illness, extreme pain, or the threat of extreme pain) in each individual case, which diminish the suicide’s culpability.  Also, the mercy of God is beyond imagining.  Contrary to the opinion of the Church of the Middle Ages, we cannot be sure that every suicide is in hell.  I countered, but, does that not diminish the seriousness of the sin in most people’s eyes?  I might have even added that we now have people who hold suicide as a natural right or that suicides might now understand that they can gain the Kingdom without carrying their cross.

image

We went forth back and forth on this issue, I emphasizing justice and my father mercy, which leads us to the interesting topic of which of these attributes should be emphasized.  (If you were curious, yes, I was playing devil’s advocate above: suicides ought to receive a Christian burial because God’s mercy is infinitely greater than human wickedness–even in the case of something as final as suicide.) Many say that we can reasonably assume that most are saved.  Others, however, contend that this lackadaisical attitude toward salvation causes many to be damned.  Rather, it is reasonable to assume that most or even all penitents are saved, but most of humanity do not seek or even want God’s forgiveness.

image

Continue reading

The Virtue of Bloody and Violent Tales

For this post, my dear readers, I’ll let you into the workings of my scrupulous mind.  You see, for a long time now, I worried whether manga like Akame ga Kiru and Silencer actually carry a benefit to the reader.  In general, a fascination with blood and violence for their own sakes obviously manifests a disorder of the soul.  At the opposite extreme, squeamishness at the sight of blood and the refusal to countenance the existence of violence must also count as defects.  So, do Akame ga Kiru and Silencer fall in the mean between these two extremes?  And if they are in the mean, what is their particular virtue?

vlcsnap-2014-08-13-16h03m43s185

A couple of quotes I found recently appear to show the value of such works.  One derives from Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s Leftism: from de Sade and Marx to Hitler and Marcuse and the second from one of Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries.  After describing a horrific and monstrous scene from the French Revolution. Kuehnelt-Leddhin writes the following:

Continue reading

Hanayamata and God the Father

My liking for Hanayamata came as a surprise to me, as the show falls very solidly in the slice-of-life genre.  I often find that I enjoy shoujo more than slice-of-life!  However, like GJ-bu, the characters were endearing, which made me feel a genuine interest for their ordinary struggles, especially the difficulties within their own families.  As an added bonus, the last episode of the series struck me with the inspiration to write this article on how many people hold a distorted vision of God the Father.  Curiously, it was Hana’s mother who drew my thoughts to Our Father with her going halfway around the world to meet her child and her statement: “Who will listen to their child’s selfishness if not their parent?”  How a mother becomes an icon pointing to God the Father reminds me of how God’s love is often compared to a mother’s for her children, whether one reads Scripture or the lives of certain saints.

vlcsnap-2014-10-18-14h55m33s119

But, I should like to focus my meditation on three Fathers: Tami’s, Naru’s, and Hana’s.  Everyone acknowledges that one’s father has a great influence as to how they view Our Father in heaven.  Sometimes, one’s father is an excellent image for Our Father, other times imperfect, and rarely it is necessary to completely discard the idea of father imparted by our earthly fathers.  (But, usually the father must be a total villain for that to be necessary.)  So, how might we expect Tami, Naru, and Hana to imagine God the Father based on their relationships to their fathers?  Might any of us be like them?

vlcsnap-2014-10-18-15h00m38s131

I wish to group Tami’s father and Naru’s dad together for the purpose of discussion.  “What?” you say.  “How can you compare that strict, rigid, and aloof father of Tami to the gentle, solicitous, and understanding father of Naru?  Naru’s father might even be called the anime dad of the year!”  (I saw that last bit as a comment on Crunchyroll.)  I compare them through their daughter’s perception of them.  For all the secrecy and diffidence with which Naru treats her father, we might imagine that she thinks of her dad as if he were like Tami’s father!  She keeps secrets from him because she thinks that he will only approve of her if she adheres to a specific path and group of interests.  Any deviation will meet with his frown.

vlcsnap-2014-10-18-15h02m11s51

In a similar way, most people believe that God is strict, aloof, and uncaring.  They see God’s demand for our perfect moral goodness juxtaposed to our lack of virtue as calling down His just anger.  We often might believe that God does not care how we suffer or even sends us sufferings from a sense of vindictiveness.  Our dreams lie fallow, and we believe that God cares not a fig to aid us.  Some souls imagine that God is like Tami’s father, who sets a stifling way of life as a duty and for whom love seems conditional.  This duty is impossible to meet, and so God not only does not love them but may never be pleased.  Is it any wonder that so many souls run away from their sole Salvation and perish despite God’s infinite mercy and love?

God is no Machi after all!

God is no Machi after all!

But, the fact of the matter is that souls with the legalistic image of God do not know God as He really is.

But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things;
    and you overlook sins for the sake of repentance.
For you love all things that are
    and loathe nothing that you have made;
    for you would not fashion what you hate.
How could a thing remain, unless you willed it;
    or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?
But you spare all things, because they are yours,
    O Ruler and Lover of souls,
for your imperishable spirit is in all things! (Wisdom 11:23-26)

vlcsnap-2014-10-18-14h56m01s208

Who is it that restores people’s understanding of God and removes their fear of approaching Him except God Himself?  It may be something as simple as Naru’s father saying “Where are you going?” in episode 12.  Naru becomes nervous–perhaps as fearful as Eve when she heard the words “Where are you?” in the garden–and joins her explanation of her involvement with the yosakoi club to an apology for not practicing iaido as much as she should, fearing that her father would be upset.  Might she not be compared to a soul which neglects Mass and saying its prayers?  Instead of condemnation, Naru finds that her father is pleased that she is expanding her world and wishes to see her dance.  In a fit of joy, Naru realizes that her father’s love is unconditional, and she embraces him in a fit of joy.

Naru's Otosan

Or kind of embraces him. I don’t know what the proper term for that gesture of affection is.

In the same way, our sins and way of life do not diminish the love of God for us.  In the first case, there have been as many ways of life as there are persons.  Of each of the saints, it will be said “there is not another like him/her.”  (I forgot the Latin expression I’ve seen used for this.  Oh, well.)  And, God’s mercy is abundantly seen when one reads the Scriptures or the Lives of the Saints.  God is ever ready to forgive as long as we come to Him.  After all, which child wrenches his father’s heart more: a son who commits a crime and gets locked up for it or a son who believes his father’s love has ceased with the commission of the crime?  Obviously the latter!  And yet people are so willing to believe that the love of God ceases when we commit grave sin.  Perhaps, a father like Tami’s just might, but not the Father of fathers!  St. John Vianney even told of a soul who willingly committed suicide and yet was saved in the very act!

Tami's reaction to being accused of having an Electra complex is priceless.

Tami’s reaction to being accused of having an Electra complex is priceless.

Actually, might not God be much more like Hana’s father, though with more dignity?  Hana’s father is overjoyed merely to see his daughter happy.  Does not God desire our happiness above all things?  What else is our salvation and perfection?  We ourselves are the causes of our own unhappiness as we deviate away from these things, which is the Will of God.  That God wills for us to be happy is often a shock to some souls, especially those who have experienced or are experiencing suffering and evil.  But, God promises happiness: “Give, and it will be given to you.  A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38).

Need to include another picture of Hana Fountainstand somewhere!

Need to include another picture of Hana Fountainstand somewhere!

But, so many things militate against a soul realizing the goodness of God.  We must keep in mind that all our efforts must be adduced to the attainment of heaven.  Then, when perfect love has driven out all fear, we shall see the Merciful Father as He really is and wonder why we ever doubted Him.

Is it Possible to Love Indiscriminately?

I was watching Mike Wallace’s 1959 interview of Ayn Rand recently.  Concerning government and economics, I find myself in much agreement with Rand’s philosophy, but many of her views on love and selflessness are intolerable.  Yet, she makes an interesting point in this section of the interview: it is impossible to love indiscriminately.  To love without standards, for her, would be a meaningless kind of love.  In particular, those without virtue cannot be loved.  Her interviewer, Wallace, found this view problematic because, human nature being what it is, only very few people would deserve to be loved.

Jesus teaches the People

Of course, such a view neglects that most people–probably all people in reality–are loved in spite of their defects.  What causes one person to love another is often rather mysterious, isn’t it?  But, Rand was onto something when she said that loving indiscriminately is impossible.  You see, love requires the lover at least to know his beloved.  Also, of the many kinds of sympathies, love is unique that it can only exist where there is intimacy and knowledge of a person’s individuality.  Max Scheler (whose work I connected to Attack on Titan) classifies five kinds of sympathy:

  1. Identification
  2. Vicarious
  3. Fellow-Feeling
  4. Benevolence
  5. Love

Max Scheler

The other four kinds of sympathy or affection don’t require knowledge of someone’s individuality.  One can identify with someone merely through their humanity, vicariously place oneself in another’s shoes with whom one’s never spoken, have a degree of fellow-feeling in regard to people who’ve experienced similar events, and it is perfectly possible to feel benevolent toward a Mongolian shepherd, though one has no intention of ever meeting a Mongolian let alone visiting Mongolia.  No one can love that Mongolian shepherd unless they meet him or become pen pals or something.  Some kind of self-revelation is necessary in order to love a distinct personality!

Can't say that I love him, but owning a tame eagle is pretty cool.

Can’t say that I love him, but owning a tame eagle is pretty cool.

How can we square this with Christ’s command in John 13:34: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.”  You can be sure that Christ did not only mean that we should love people we know personally: “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” (Matt. 5:46)  Of course, you can say that Christ wished for us to love one another on the order of benevolence–“willing the good” for one another.  Often, the word charity is treated as a kind of love based on action or willing the good.  But, in the Greek version of the above texts, the verb αγαπαω is employed, from which the word agape is derived in English.  I have seen the word agape defined as the love of God for man and the love each Christian should have for one another.  Having a great goodwill is essential to the concept of agape, but this kind of love goes beyond willing and doing good for them.  So, how can we αγαπωμεν all men?

sacredheartjesus

The solution lies in meditating on the nature of the Word–or rather, Christ’s two natures, human and divine, united in His Person–and the nature of mankind.  Each human being is created in the divine image and likeness.  Each one of us reflects God in our own unique way.  If a soul is lost and falls into hell, a singular and never again to be created reflection of God is lost forever.  But, what can we say about the humanity of Christ, which is so perfectly united to his divinity?  What sort of human being is not only the image and likeness of the divine, but divinity itself?  O divine humanity!  Jesus Christ perforce has all the perfections of mankind within Himself and is the very source and foundation of our own goodness.

Since Jesus Christ has whatever goodness we find in ourselves in Himself, we are led to the inescapable conclusion that we find ourselves–our true selves–in Christ.  Apart from Christ, we shall never find our true originality.  But extension, we cannot perceive the true individuality of others unless we see them in Christ.

Jesus on Trial

Now, you see the solution to how to love all men unconditionally: to love Christ in loving His brothers and sisters–all mankind.  An individual’s personality may be unknown to us, but we can see the person as God, whom we love in loving that person.  Even people who irritate us or do us harm may be loved in this way.  And who knows but that by loving the naturally unlovable, they may become great human beings?  St. Stephen loved the people who stoned him to death because he loved Christ who desired their salvation.  St. Stephen’s prayer “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” (Acts 7:60) perhaps gained for St. Paul the gift of his conversion on the road to Damascus.

So, in order to love all mankind, we must love one individual: Jesus Christ.  One need not stop short at a general feeling of goodwill toward all men, but we may love them all as we love Christ.  So, in a curious way, I agree with Ayn Rand that we cannot love indiscriminately; yet, this proves no obstacle to loving all in Christ, that unique individual who united all mankind within Himself.

Jinbee Tsukishima as a Model of Sainthood

The more I read the Mushibugyo manga and watch the anime based on it the more fond of it I become. One of its greatest moments occurs in chapter 33 of the manga–covered within episode 8 of the anime. Our hero, Jinbee, discovers that Mitsuki has abducted Haru, his love interest, in order to draw him into a trap. Once Mitsuki has him inside a cavern crawling with giant bugs and lined with debris and buildings from a destroyed village, Haru finds a way to escape her bounds. But, Mitsuki still intends to crush both of them by bringing down the house on them–literally dropping houses from the cavern’s ceiling! Rather than lament his predicament, Jinbee quickly hits upon the plan of using the houses as a means to ascend to the top and escape! Not only does he not utter a single lamentation for his situation, but he even excuses Mitsuki of any wrongdoing–claiming that she must be being manipulated somehow!

Falling House

How many lessons this short chapter holds for a Christian! Those of you familiar with the series know that Jinbee and Haru are not the sharpest knives in the drawer, but their very simplicity allows them to act without hesitation. Curiously, intelligence can actually produce barriers to right action. Dostoyevsky’s underground man states that a truly intelligent man would never do anything. A man of action must be stupid. Why? The intelligent man tends to overanalyze and complain because their very intelligence allows them to see more difficulties. The knowledge of these difficulties stymies action. In Jinbee’s case, on the other hand, he seizes upon what he considers the best course of action and follows it without hesitation.

Great Idea

Some of the best Christian saints were also some of the simplest people. Sure, Christ has need of intelligent people, and the ranks of the Doctors of the Church are filled with them. Also, few religions have placed the same emphasis on learning as Christianity. However, when God needs something done, he often turns to the simplest individuals. Once God showed St. Francis of Assisi a room filled with thousands of swords and spears, and told him that he should win as many swords for God. The next day, St. Francis immediately bought some armor and set about to raise a company of soldiers for the Crusades! Fortunately, another dream that evening described that St. Francis would be responsible for raising spiritual warriors rather than Crusaders to the Holy Land. Like the good and single-hearted man St. Francis was, he returned to Assisi and set about creating the foundations for the Order of Friars Minor.

Happiness in Struggle

Neither St. Francis nor Jinbee allowed the struggles to daunt them from achieving their purpose. Haru also immediately consents to the plan of house climbing. If we take houses to symbolize temptations and difficulties, should not their ascent indicate walking the royal road to paradise? Temptations and obstacles ought to be met with cheer because overcoming them causes growth and sanctification. God permits temptations and obstacles in our lives so that we can triumph over them. As much as it may appear to the contrary, God would never permit temptations so great that we could never overcome them. We have no reason to be angry with God for the difficulties in our lives–though God is understanding of our frustration.

e005

For that matter, we should avoid becoming angry at the people who place stumbling blocks and temptations before us. As Mitsuki sends houses crashing down on him and giant bugs after him, Jinbee claims that she must be being forced against her will. Flabbergasted by these excuses and the cheerful attitude of Haru and Jinbee–they essentially treat the attempts to kill them as a game, she vehemently asserts her malevolence, which produces more resolute denials of her wickedness from Jinbee. In a like fashion, Christians should make excuses for the people that wrong them and remember both that Christ died for that person and that their enemies possess the spark of divinity as creatures made in the image and likeness of God.

e011

Lastly, we cannot ascend to heaven on our own strength. No one is saved alone. At times, we must like Haru accept help; at other times, we must like Jinbee help others for the increase of our charity. John Donne puts it very well in his seventeenth Meditation:

…for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it. No man hath afflicion enough, that is not matured and ripened by it, and made fit for God by that affliction…Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it. Another may be sick too, and sick to death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels, as gold in a mine, and be of no use to him; but this bell that tells me of his affliction, digs out, and applies that gold to me: if by this consideration of another’s danger, I take mine own into contemplation, and so secure myself, by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security.

e018

But, other people and our own efforts can only help us along so far. Our good deeds and patient suffering increase our merit and fortify our good will, but God Himself must draw us up to heaven as heaven is so far above our deserts. We often sin and must have recourse to God in straightening out our crookedness or indeed even infusing supernatural charity back in our souls after we do a grave wrong. And, we might say that that ever-present need of God’s salvation is symbolized by Jinbee’s associates breaking into that chasm to rescue Jinbee and Haru from Mitsuki, who would surely have killed them had not the warriors of Mushibugyo dropped in at the right time.

To the Rescue

Sometimes, samurai anime can be remarkably fruitful for contemplation!

Plenary Indulgence This Sunday!

This is a last reminder that this Sunday, Divine Mercy Sunday, offers the Faithful a chance to gain a plenary indulgence.  The conditions are described as follows:

The plenary indulgence is granted (under the usual conditions of a sacramental confession, Eucharistic communion and a prayer for the intentions of the Supreme Pontiff) to the faithful who, on Divine Mercy Sunday, in a spirit that is completely detached from the affection for a sin, even a venial sin, recite the Our Father and the Creed, and also adding a devout prayer (e.g. Merciful Jesus, I trust in you!).

So, go to confession this Saturday or that Sunday if your Church offers it then, receive communion, have a strong resolution to turn from sin, pray the Our Father, the Apostles’ Creed, and “Jesus, I trust in you.”  Should you die immediately after that, you’ll go straight to heaven without a moment of Purgatory.

teniers-la-crucifixion

How many of my dear readers balked at this bold assertion?  A villain becomes a saint in the space of one or two days?  And quite painlessly?  No, they should have to suffer more!  Forgiveness should be more difficult!  But, we are forgetting the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, where those who worked one hour are given the same reward as those who bore the day and the heat.

We forget one more thing: mercy is unearned.  At least, mercy was not earned by us.  It was earned by Jesus Christ for all that would receive His mercy.  Either through the instrument of His Church or without the instrumentality of His Church, Our Lord can apply mercy to whomever He wishes.  Our very willingness to receive mercy, our tenderness of heart, is something Jesus Christ earned for us.  Therefore, we have no right to be like the Prophet Jonah and sulk because Our Lord shows mercy in a manner which doesn’t meet with our human values.

jonah_undertree

But, we are so quick to doubt God’s Mercy and Love for us!  In the Parable of the Prodigal Son, the Father does not have the wayward son weep for a week outside of his door and fast on bread and water before taking him into His house.  Rather, He does so immediately.  To use an example from the life of St. Gertrude, she once wished to gain a plenary indulgence, but illness or business kept her from being able to obtain it.  The Lord asked her if she wished to have it, to which she responded yes.  After the Lord’s blessing, she doubted the very purity which she felt in her soul.  Knowing her doubts, Our Lord recalled to her that the sun can bleach dyed cloth to a pure white.  Our Lord said to her: “If I have given such power to a creature, how much more can I purify souls?”

And so, let us allow the Lord to shine down as much mercy as He wishes upon us two days from now on Divine Mercy Sunday.

Divine Mercy Image

Forgetting One’s Sins

Dear Readers, the idea for this article came from my reminiscences about my Alma Mater, Hillsdale College.  I feel that I was too shy to take proper advantage of the great minds and personalities which surrounded me there.  Among my reminisces, one professor stands out: Dr. Reist.  He was a hoot.  A professor not easily forgotten.  I’ll never forget the first time he walked into my classroom:

He says: “My wife broke her leg.”  The students collectively gasp.  Then, Dr. Reist says: “I told her having sex standing up was dangerous.”

image73

That’s a masterful way to break the ice!  One day, when he noticed people were not participating or had not done the readings, he told us that we weren’t free.  Which is an interesting way to put it!  And sealing one’s lips as one looks down at an unfamiliar text hoping that the professor won’t call on one may be compared to slavery.  After all, how much more preferable is it to be able to gaze steadily upon the teacher confident in being able to provide an answer to any question and being free to participate or not as you list?

flying-eagle-1

This professor, a fellow New Jerseyan, had once been Catholic but converted to a variety of Protestantism–even became a minister.  I suspect the reason for his conversion lay in that he felt Catholicism’s emphasis on faith and works placed too much emphasis on personal merit than on God’s election.  (But, even our merits are God’s gifts to us.  The idea of cooperation between grace and free will tends to overcomplicate matters from most Protestant perspectives.)  However, he seemed grateful for many of the lessons he learned as a Catholic.  For example, he once told us: “Do you know that it’s a sin to forget your sins?”

2530762241_4350140d5d

And it certainly is: the sin of pride.  In our unending process of repentance, we ought always remember where we have been and all the patience God has shown us and continues to show us despite our iniquity and lack of amendment.  Even if we claim that we have progressed far from where we once were, that does not cancel out the fact that we did not deserve to be extricated from our wicked ways of living–that it was pure Mercy which brought us out of each vicious circle.  Even after confession where our guilt is washed away, can we ever stop mourning for the wounds we have placed on Christ’s body or forget that we still deserve temporal punishment and have deserved everlasting flames?

Crucifixion+scene+Christ+on+the+cross+with+Mary+and+John-1024x768-116

So, whenever a non-believer claims that Christians have a nonchalant attitude toward sins because God is so ready to forgive, you can tell him that this is the attitude of the proud or the ignorant.  An educated Christian knows that he ought never stop pouring tears into his pillow or cease remembering the wounds of Christ until Christ himself has wiped away every tear  and welcomes us into Our Father’s house.

The Timeliness of Books and the Insidiousness of Vanity

My TR Quote App came up with a great passage today.  Here it is along with some thoughts of mine about it:

“A book must be interesting to the particular reader at that particular time.  But there are tens of thousands of interesting books, and some of them are sealed to some men and some are sealed to others, and some stir the soul at some given point of a man’s life and yet convey no message at another time.  The reader, the booklover, must meet his own needs without paying too much attention to what his neighbors say those needs should be.  He must not hypocritically pretend to like what he does not like.  Yet, at the same time he must avoid that most unpleasant of all the indications of puffed-up vanity which consists in treating mere individual, and perhaps unfortunate, idiosyncrasy as a matter of pride.”  – from Teddy Roosevelt’s autobiography

This quote brings up a couple of points on which I’d like to remark: 1) The importance of timing in a book’s effectiveness and 2) how easily people become infected with various forms of vanity.  Concerning the first point, a novel called Oblomov by Ivan Goncharov comes to mind.  Among the classics, this work rates so low that I cannot in good conscience recommend it; but, it aided me a great deal in changing my attitude toward friendship and socializing with others, which rather approximated that of Squall from Final Fantasy VIII, Allanon of The Sword of Shanara, Raskolnikov of Crime and Punishment, or–to use a current reference from pop culture–Twilight Sparkle in the first episode of My Little Pony.  (And my readership suddenly plummets. 🙂  Let me just say that this is an amusing little show, and I’ve only watched four or five episodes.)

Squall’s the guy looking at his shoes in the lower left.

Ivan Goncharov’s only successful work spawned the term Oblomovism, which is defined as indolent apathy or benign self-neglect.  (Apparently, the Russian form of this word is still often used in that country.)  Oblomov, the main character of this story is said to have answered the question “To be or not to be?” by saying “No!”   This story contains a sagging middle and may be summed up as follows:

A young nobleman with a large inheritance spends his days collecting dust on his bed and only gets up to eat.  He also passes the time by complaining to his only valet–often about certain pests, to which his valet responds “Did I invent them?”  One day, a friend from his university days comes to see him.  Seeing his horrid state of indolence, he cajoles him to reenter society and read books, which Oblomov dutifully accomplishes until his friend leaves him for a time in order to do business.  Oblomov relapses into his indolence and cements this state by marrying a homely German woman who cooks good food.  His friend and his friend’s fiancee find Oblomov thus and lament that there is no longer any hope for him.  Oblomov vegetates in obscurity to his last days.

This rather lame sounding work moved me to tears!  Finishing this work the day before I left for college, I resolved not to end my days in a similar manner, and went on to form many friendships at college, being much more active than I would have been otherwise.  Unfortunately, I slipped back into a form of Oblomovism in my last two years of college which continued until May last year.  But, fear not, dear readers, my life has turned much more interesting since then and promises to become even more so in ten days.  And ironically, if my next steps in education turn out successful, I will not have to worry about slipping back into Oblomovism until retirement.

So, even though this work stands as one of the most influential in my life, I do not want to read it now and will not recommend it to anyone–unless you’re an Oblomov.

On to the second point: how easily people may be moved to vanity, especially concerning their tastes.  Concerning this kind of vanity, your writer happens to be rather guilty.  I can only console myself by remembering how G. K. Chesterton remarked that most men are made of petty vanities and, fortunately, most are harmless.  To use myself as an example again, I tend to prefer subs to dubs, but I pride myself at being willing to watch a good dub.  So, I consider myself a discriminating individual who doesn’t blindly prefer one or the other.  I particularly enjoy it when someone who refused to listen to my advice is forced to change the audio track after listening to what is usually an awful dub–though, there are times when the dub is really better.  In any event, this vanity leads to me being annoyed with the other viewer or viewers, silently grumbling against them, and maintaining an unchristian attitude of superiority.  But, I must confess that I don’t see an easy way out of this vanity besides refusing to watch foreign films with other people.  Any ideas?

And the inability of escaping from many forms of vanity without drastic change stands as one of the worst things about them.  If one considers this quotation from the Imitation of Christ: “Vanity of vanities and all is vanity, except to love God and serve Him alone,” this indicates that only lifestyles which are entirely focused on serving God can be entirely free of vanity.  Such lifestyles are characterized by poverty, self-sacrifice, charity, and self-effacement.  Any striving to gain one’s own comfort or to rejoice in one’s achievements or talents opens the door to vanity.  While the excellence of such a life is apparent to all, only a few achieve it perfectly, and these require special graces from God.  So, I suppose the most we weaklings can do is to recognize our vanity and not think too much of ourselves.

So, what books have come at opportune moments to change your life for the better?  Any vanities you want to share? 🙂