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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Reflections on Mardock Scramble and The Problem of Evil

As I was watching Mardock Scramble, I thought to myself that Catholic ideas heavily influenced this show.  I wonder whether Tow Ubukata is Catholic himself or at least admires the Faith.  After all, he is known for writing Chevalier D’Eon, which contains many references to Catholic motifs, but it also takes on a cultish quality.  This leads me to believe that Ubukata admires features of the Faith without being part of it, but I don’t know for sure.

mardock scramble pair

But, the Christian motifs of Mardock Scramble alongside the terrible evils committed in that show remind me of how atheists think that the Problem of Evil suffices to prove that God does not exist.  Believers must be living on cloud nine, happily removed from evil and suffering!  If only the Christians of modern nations instead lived in the violent regions of Africa where where the evils of cannibalism, rape, torture, murder, mutilation, etc. were common, then we should be forced to conclude that God was absent from the universe!

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Yet, believers often experience more evils than most people, not less.  African Christians suffer the very evils I mentioned above.  Even if Christians choose a life of exclusion, as ascetics like St. Guthlac and St. Anthony of Egypt have done, then devil comes after them–at least, with greater frequency than those living in human society.  Then again, who can forget the example of St. Pio of Pietrelcina, who endured persecution from demons, unbelievers, skeptics, Church authorities, and even distrust from members of his own community!  Of course, we should also look to our greatest examples, Our Lord and Lady, whose perseverance through hardships and manifold evils earned them the titles of the Man of Sorrows and Our Lady of Sorrows respectively.  We cannot but know that the more one strives to be good and to attain the truest goods the more evil and darkness one experiences.  If one delights so perfectly in God so that all one’s works and loves must refer to God as their final end, then the very presence of God may be taken away from one–as famously happened to Mother Teresa.

You'd never suspect that such a happy person experienced much darkness.

You’d never suspect that such a happy person experienced much darkness.

The reason why God permits such pain often escapes us.  I can only suppose that God wishes His followers to be so free as to choose righteousness in the complete absence of reward.  At such times, the atheistic ridicule that Christians believe in a figment of their imaginations–an imaginary friend–particularly hurts.  To draw a comparison to Mardock Scramble, the person whom Rune Balot completely relies on is Oeufcoque (The name “Egg cock” is ridiculous in itself), a talking golden mouse which can transform into a variety of tools.  Her complete reliance upon Oeufcoque is reminiscent of the reliance that a Christian is supposed to place in God.  And I could imagine an atheist ridiculing a Christian’s faith in God as being similar to hoping in a talking golden mouse.  After all, do their arguments involving a flying spaghetti monster pose any less ridiculous a concept?

Oeufcocque

At some of the darkest points in these OVAs, I doubt that Balot feels Oeufcoque’s presence.  This is especially so in the thick of her fights and when she experiences the evil memories of the person who tried to kill her.  Yet, her love for Ouefcoque counts as a lifeline for her at such times.  Similarly, a Christian must count on Christ at the times when He seems absent and hell seems ever-present.  One must keep the memory of God alive through all kinds of troubles, remembering that when Jesus Christ felt the most darkness–His Passion and Death–he effected the salvation of the world.

Rune Balot I

In the same way, God also produces the most good in us and others when we act with God despite darkness.  So, the Christian’s solution to the Problem of Evil is by conquering evil through faith in the love of God and good works.  Keeping faith in difficult times and continuing to do the works Christ would have us do is more than enough proof of God’s victory over the devil and all evil.

Review of Black Lagoon: Roberta’s Blood Trail

Here’s a general review of Black Lagoon: Roberta’s Blood Trail right after I confessed that writing general reviews was my weakest skill!  But, my efforts to write an article about the references to St. Mary in Roberta’s Blood Trail felt rather contrived.  And so, writing a review piece on this splendid OVA seems best.

Roberta and Garcia Lovelace

By the end of the OVA, I was ready to give it five stars, but the excessive gore convinced me to dock it half a star.  Otherwise, the action was thrilling, even if somewhat unrealistic; but, without this suspension of reality, we would never see things like Roberta shooting a .50 caliber from the hip and taking out a handful of FARC spraying fully automatic fire at her from 20 yards.  The plot of trying to save Roberta from her self-destructive course, on which she propelled herself with hatred, anti-depressants, and alcohol, could move a heart of stone.  Might I add that the magnanimity of the American soldiers Roberta is trying to kill plays a key role in the good guys’ fight to save her?  The NSA gets a bad rap (as it probably deserves), but one enjoys seeing a positive portrayal of American soldiers in anime.

Army Paladin

 

Impressive Collection

Anyway, the events of the OVA are brought about through the NSA assassinating the head of the Lovelace family.  This ignites Roberta’s, aka Terminator Maid’s, decision to take up the Lovelace family’s flintlock heirloom in order to seek vengeance.  (Using a customized flintlock against modern weapons exuded more than a little panache.)  Her quest leads her back to Roanapur in order to take the last of the ringleaders’ heads.  The young Garcia Lovelace travels there with his maid Fabiola in the hope of obtaining Rock’s help in convincing Roberta to return home.  Rock’s past disappointments in trying to help the people who’ve attached themselves to him renders him a little diffident before he at last agrees to help them.  Along with the action, the manipulation and scheming Rock employs to offer the best chances for Roberta to bring Roberta back home keep the viewers on the edges of their seats.  But, will Black Lagoon‘s predilection for tragedy allow for the good luck Rock hopes for come to pass?

Fabiola has a FMA mood about her, perhaps because her personality and height are the equivalents of Edward Elric's.

Fabiola has a FMA mood about her, perhaps because her personality and height are the equivalents of Edward Elric’s.

Relaxing at a Restaurant

While I would argue that the original Black Lagoon is essentially religious with its focus on light vs. darkness, the fallen nature of mankind, and the ardent desire of many characters for salvation, Roberta’s Blood Trail focuses on these themes much more minutely.  The series uses the Problem of Evil to build a case for atheism and people’s inner hunger for goodness, purity, or justice to argue for the existence of Providence.  It is also interesting that three of the characters try to find God inside people: Revy in Rock and Roberta and Fabiola in Garcia.  Roberta is simultaneously the most damaged and most religious character in the show, as we see her engaging in lengthy prayer and invoking St. Mary before initiating battle.  So, is the luck which Rock hopes for the Providence Roberta places her trust in?

The State of Roberta's Soul

The State of Roberta’s Soul

A Familiar Scene

Can’t have a new Black Lagoon without a gun fight at the Yellow Flag. Revy knows the best spot to be.

The animation of the Blu-ray disc is spectacular!  I watched the sub, and the voice actors deliver a marvelous performance, especially Megumi Toyoguchi as Revy.  I love the inclusion of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again” as an ending song, because that song describes the main hope of the series.  But, the main pleasure of watching the OVA is seeing the Black Lagoon team back together.  Definitely something one must see!

The Problem of Evil and Spiritual Envy

I just finished a short modern saga by Felix Dahn called The Saga of Halfred the Sigskald.  It concerns the tragic adventures of a fictional Norse skald, who accepts a challenge to win the hand of a princess by completing a set of challenges.  The action of the saga is very reminiscent of the Nibelungelied, a medieval tragic romance which I highly recommend all my dear readers to read.  Through overcoming all these challenges, Halfred weds the princess, who discovers that he undertook winning her hand for the fame of the conquest rather than out of love.  (When a woman sets up a series of contests to win her hand, might this not be expected?)  In great wroth, she curses Halfred at a feast, and her attempt to strike him leads to setting herself on fire and the slaughter of many of the guests in the ensuing confusion.  This begins a series of tragic events for Halfred which lead to him denying the existence of the gods.  On the whole, the story conveyed that tragic flavor which I love to see in traditional sagas.

Egil's Saga is an especially great read.

Egil’s Saga is an especially great read.

However, I feel that none of my dear readers will be interested in this saga, especially because so many more medieval sagas deserve to be read.  If you are, you may download it for free on Kindle, iBooks, or Project Gutenberg.   I found the work interesting for two reasons: how it dealt with the problem of evil and depiction of spiritual envy.  Feeling no need to avoid spoilers with such a work, here is the sequence of events which leads to Halfred denying the gods:

1.  Halfred is cursed by his wife and forced to slaughter his own kinsman.

2.  His pregnant wife is killed in the scuffle and their firstborn lost.

3.  Halfred finds happiness again with a new wife, but her beauty produces jealousy among his blood-brothers and the crew, leading to a slaughter.

4.  His new wife commits suicide.

5.  Halfred, going on a crusade against paganism, is unwittingly slain by his son, who, as it turns out, survived though his mother did not.

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If such events are possible–Halfred claims, then the gods cannot exist.  However, I would like to submit that perhaps Halfred’s madness at the end of the story makes him being killed by his son and thus finding peace more happy than if he had continued his crusade.  I particularly love how his son, then a shepherd, when asked whether he believed in the gods, responded that he believed in the one, triune God, and mortally wounded Halfred with his slingshot in a fashion reminiscent of King David.

At any rate, I have always found the mere existence of evil insufficient to deny the existence of God.  Look at these syllogisms:

1) If God were omnipotent, omniscent, and infinitely good, he would eliminate evil according to His omnipotence, i.e. completely.

2) There is evil.

Therefore, God does not exist.

But why should not the following syllogism be true?

1) There is good.

2) Without a good Creator, there could be no goodness.

Therefore, God exists.

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As a matter of fact, St. Augustine claims that the mere presence of evil actually shows God’s omnipotence; for, if God were not so omnipotent as to bring good out of evil, then He would never have allowed evil to exist in the first place.  So, I think that the problem of pain or evil is insufficient when arguing against God’s existence.  Rather, people who deny God’s existence on such grounds take to judging Providence because they think that He permitted evil where He should not have.  Perhaps, believers struggle with this question more than unbelievers, but the rewards for perseverance in faith, which in itself is an unfathomably immense grace, are to feel God’s love and goodness again and again.

Now to that most deplorable vice of spiritual envy.  I call it spiritual envy because people who struggle to lead a spiritual life, like the Italian monks in the abbey where Halfred’s son lives, are particularly subject to it.  One feels excessive grief or judgment against people who excessively indulge in the pleasures of life.  One might even rejoice more in hearing the downfall than conversion of sinners!  And yet, one calls oneself an upstanding Christian!  After Halfred’s son leaves the abbey, apostates, and perishes on the field of battle, the abbot actually rejoices in hearing of a vision of how this person has fallen into hell!  (In fairness to Dahn, he does give a positive portrayal of the Algo-Saxon monks and the prior Anglo-Saxon abbot, Aelfrik.  But this might just be due to the prejudices of the author, who seemed instrumental in the movement of German Nationalism prior to WWI.)  How contrary to the example of St. Benedict, who, upon hearing one of his disciples rejoicing in the death of St. Benedict’s clerical opponent, who had even attempted to murder the saint, rebuked his disciple and told him rather to pray for that person.

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The root of spiritual envy lies in a strange form of jealousy: this spiritual person, at the same time as he strives for higher goods and claims their superiority, envies the sinner’s enjoyment of material goods!  Rather than spiritual, this person ought rather to be called carnal!  Any yet, envy is an insidious cancer which most easily infects those who deem themselves immune.  The life of grace involves bitter trials.  Human beings, a combination of flesh and spirit, suffer from concupiscence, which renders physical joys more apparent than spiritual ones, for perception of which the grace of the Lord is necessary.

And yet, how deplorable is envy of all sorts?  How can Christians bring poor sinners into the fold if they see us, who are indeed sinners ourselves, contemning them and also jealous of the very things they enjoy?  Furthermore, how displeasing it is to our Divine Master, the Overflowing Fountain of Love Itself, to see envy in His followers?  But, by prayer for others and charity envy can be uprooted, and we learn the necessity of grace by overcoming these trials.

Created with The GIMPSo, the work provoked some very interesting thoughts, but I still can’t recommend it above other works.  I still imagine that it will be pleasing to some of my dear readers.