educational, homeschool, philosophy

An Ongoing Conversation

Someone thought I was equipped -dare I say intelligent enough?- to entrust with  leadership in one of the rooms where a segment of The Grand Conversation is being unfolded. That’s my fancy way of saying that for a remunerative pittance, I have agreed to teach a class at a level of academic accountabilty and rigor that is beyond the standard cooperative that springs to mind when most people think of homeschooling.

Of course, we’ve never been engaged in what typically springs to mind when one considers Chrisitan homeschooling as it was done by the pioneers who paved the way 30-40 years ago.

The good news is that it’s in a subject that I have steadily grown in appreciate of and passion for. The bad news is that it’s in a subject where there isn’t a cohesive and developmentally appropriate collection of material and curriculum for the grade level I am teaching. This means I am in the process of building one from the ground up. If I was simply interested in the disseminating of information, this would be a piece of cake.

However, as a family who has enbraced the Classical philosophy of education, we view every subject as interconnected and woven together in such a way that the whole person is fed; not ony intellectually, but spiritually, emotionally, and rationally. In effect, a true education is simply the beginning of a conversation on the lifelong journey to discover truth, beauty, and the strands which connect the past, present, and future to eternity.  Building a curriculum and itinerary that disseminates the facts and information in a way that brings the subjec to life, connecting it to the whole is daunting, even as I feel relatively confident that it is doable.

Despite that confidence, some inspiration is helpful and I can always count on finding educational inspiration when I click on Circe Institute. And since I am relatively certain that anyone who reads this relatively mundane corner of the web is equally interested in intellectual stimulation and the wider conversation, I figured it would be fitting to share the links from Circe which inspired me over the past few days as I began my project.

The first is Round is a Shape, by Lindsey Brigham Knott. My favorite excerpt:

And then come the genetic tendencies and environmental factors—hardest of all to discern, diagnose, and deliver care. As anyone knows who has struggled with allergies or autoimmune disease, bodies are mysterious things, and what nourishes one person’s health may destroy another’s. This mystery is encountered in the classroom, too: even when a uniform diet, lifestyle, and exercise can be enforced upon students, these will not affect them all in the same ways. Some students complete assignments decently, are fairly obedient at home, and seem like generally good kids, but never approach the zeal and love that, like the glow of health, are the marks of being truly fit in soul. Some students reject all we have sought to teach them, set out to discover the truth they think we’ve denied them, and then, like Chesterton discovering Britain, eventually learn in the only way they ever could have done that it was all true after all, and give to it their hard-won love.

From the uniqueness of every student’s soul flows the mystery and wonder of the teaching vocation; its unruly currents and unforeseen eddies often frustrate our best efforts to direct them in an even course, but to dredge and straighten the stream would be to kill its bubbling inner life. Only wisdom, patience, and prayer can finally aid the teacher who seeks the health of her students’ souls.

The next is Do not read that now; You will read it in 5th grade by Joshua Gibbs, which is heavily relatable as our 4th grader has already read many books that she will encounter or be assigned in the next couple of years:

If an elementary school student is a voracious reader, he will often set his eyes on books which are part of school curriculum from forthcoming years. His teachers or parents will say to a 3rd or 4th grader, “Oh, don’t read that book yet. You’ll read it in 5th grade.” But often enough, this is unfortunate advice.

I will grant that some books are thrill rides and mysteries best experienced for the first time in community. The same is true of films. If a room full of people is watching The Game or Memento and no one in the room has seen the movie except one fellow, that fellow will likely ruin it for everyone else with pointed sighs and gasps and repeated claims of, “This all makes so much more sense the second time through.” No one can stand that fellow.

That said, everything does make more sense the second time through, which is a thoroughly classical point to make to students, and very few children’s books contain twist endings. Barring one-off stories with unusual endings, I see no reason to tell 3rd graders not to read 5th grade curriculum simply because “you will read that in two years”, and here’s why:

You can read the “why” over at Circe Institute.

Whether your kids are homeschooled, traditional schooled, or like our kids, hov’ring somewhere in the middle, we are all probably experiencing a bit of spring fever and anticipating the respite of summer. I hope this bit of educational inspiration helps us to hang in there and finish our school year strong.

Happy Monday!

 

 

 

Advertisements
Culture, nonfiction, philosophy, politics

Life at the Bottom

life at the bottom book

Life at the Bottom, Kindle Edition, by Theodore Dalrymple. Originally published in 2001. Print edition: 263 pages.

I became interested in this book solely on the force of Thomas Sowell’s recommendation of it. I didn’t know anything about Theodore Dalrymple, but Sowell’s endorsement was enough to intrigue me. His concise description of the book was as follows:

An incisive and brutally honest eye-witness account of the social degeneracy created by the welfare state among the white underclass in Britain– remarkably similar to the social pathology in American ghettos but without such supposed causes as slavery or racism.

Indeed, Dalrymple himself made it clear very early on in this book that his frame of reference was separate, distinct, and unrelated to the perception of lower socioeconomic life commonly held by average Americans. In fact  his documented experiences were relegated almost solely to Britain’s white underclass with a small percentage of Muslim immigrants.

Before buying this, I read the Amazon reviews of “verified purchasers”. Very few of those who reviewed this book liked it. However, the tone of the negative reviews almost immediately indicated that I might like this book for the same reasons that Thomas Sowell recommended it. It wasn’t politically correct, and it summarily dismissed poverty alone as an excuse for bad behavior and life choices.

Many of the stories Dalrymple recounts from his years of practice in the London’s tougher neighborhoods are heart rending. His attempts to offer help and counsel to those who repeatedly make terrible decisions bear no fruit most of the time.  He points out that what we consider poor is hardly poor when compared to those in less developed parts of the world:

“This underclass is not poor, at least by the standards that have prevailed throughout the great majority of human history. It exists, to a varying degree, in all Western societies. Like every other social class, it has benefited enormously from the vast general increase in wealth of the past hundred years. In certain respects, indeed, it enjoys amenities and comforts that would have made a Roman emperor or an absolute monarch gasp. Nor is it politically oppressed: it fears neither to speak its mind nor the midnight knock on the door. “

The result?

“It is the prerogative of the unthinkingly prosperous to sneer at the bourgeois virtues.”

The people who reviewed Dalrymple’s book negatively accused him of blaming the poor for their plight. In reality, his book did no such thing. While it is true that Life at the Bottom repeatedly notes that many of the perils of Dalrymple’s patients are a result of their own poor decisions, in the end, he places the ultimate blame elsewhere:

“And if I paint a picture of a way of life that is wholly without charm or merit, and describe many people who are deeply unattractive, it is important to remember that, if blame is to be apportioned, it is the intellectuals who deserve most of it. They should have known better but always preferred to avert their gaze. They considered the purity of their ideas to be more important than the actual consequences of their ideas. I know of no egotism more profound.”
I agree with him.

Grade: B-. The content is good, but the writing is a bit disjointed.

 

Florida History, intriguing authors, marriage and relationships, philosophy, Uncategorized

Zora Hurston confirms Solomon’s declaration.

There are a couple of book reviews being drafted, but in the meantime, I was recently reminded of this story from Zora Neale Hurston’s Mules and Men.

In 1935, ZNH laid bare what was obvious about relations between the sexes and where they were headed even back then.  It has only been amplified over the past 50 years. Totally worth grasping the dialect.

You see in de very first days, God made a man and a woman and put “em in a house together to live. ‘Way back in them days de woman was just as strong as de man and both of ’em did de same things. They useter get to fussin ’bout who gointer do this and that and sometime they’d fight, but they was even balanced and neither one could whip de other one.

One day de man said to hisself, “B’Iieve Ah’m gointer go see God and ast Him for a li’l mo’ strength so Ah kin whip dis ‘oman and make her mind. Ah’m tired of de wa things is.” So he went on up to God.

“Good mawnin’, Ole Father.”

“Howdy man. Whut you doin’ ’round my throne so so dis mawnin’?”

 “Ah’m troubled in mind, and nobody can’t ease mah spirit ‘ceptin’ you.”

 God said: “Put yo’ plea in de right form and Ah’ll hear and answer.”

“Ole Maker, wid de mawnin’ stars glitterin’ in yo’ shin crown, wid de dust from yo’ footsteps makin’ worlds upo worlds, wid de blazin’ bird we call de sun flyin’ out of you right hand in de mawnin’ and consumin’ all day de flesh and blood of stump-black darkness, and comes flyin’ home every evenin  to rest on yo’ left hand, and never once in yo’ eternal years, mistood de left hand for de right, Ah ast you please to give me mo’ strength than dat woman you give me, so Ah kin make her mind. Ah know you don’t want to be always comin’ down way past de moon and stars to be straightenin’ her out and its got to be done. So giv me a li’l mo’ strength, Ole Maker and Ah’ll do it.”

“All right, Man, you got mo’ strength than woman.”

So de man run all de way down de stairs from Heben he got home. He was so anxious to try his strength on de woman dat he couldn’t take his time. Soon’s he got in de house he hollered “Woman! Here’s yo’ boss. God done tole me to handle you in which ever way yo’ boss please.”‘

De woman flew to fightin’ ‘im right off. She fought ‘im frightenin’ but he beat her. She got her wind and tried ‘irn agin but he whipped her agin. She got herself together and made de third try on him vigorous but he beat her every time. He was so proud he could whip ‘er at last, dat he just crowed over her and made her do a lot of things she didn’t like. He told her, “Long as you obey me, Ah’Il be good to yuh, but every time yuh rear up Ah’m gointer put plenty wood on yo’ back and plenty water in yo’  eyes.

 De woman was so mad she went straight up to Heben and stood befo’ de Lawd. She didn’t waste no words. She said, “Lawd, Ah come befo’ you mighty mad t’day. Ah want back my strength and power Ah useter have.”

“Woman, you got de same power you had since de beginnin’.”

 “Why is it then, dat de man kin beat me now and he useter couldn’t do it?”

 “He got mo’ strength than he useter have, He come and ast me for it and Ah give it to ‘im. Ah gives to them that ast, and you ain’t never ast me for no mo’ power.”

 “Please suh, God, Ah’m astin’ you for it now. jus’ gimme de same as you give him.”

God shook his head. “It’s too late now, woman. Whut Ah give, Ah never take back. Ah give him mo’ strength than you and no matter how much Ah give you, he’ll have mo.

De woman was so mad she wheeled around and went on off. She went straight to de devil and told him what had happened.

He said, ” Don’t be disincouraged, woman. You listen to me and you’ll come out mo’ than conqueror. Take dem frowns out yo’ face and turn round and go fight on back to Heben and ast God to give you dat bunch of keys hangin’ by de mantel-piece. Then you bring ’em and Ah’ll show you what to do wid ’em.”

So de woman climbed back up to Heben agin. She was mighty tired but she was more out-done than she was tired so she climbed all night long and got back up to Heben. When she got to heaven butter wouldn’t melt in her mouf.

“0 Lawd and Master of de rainbow, Ah know yo’ power. You never make two mountains without you put a valley in between. Ah know you kin hit a straight lick wid a crooked stick.”

 “Ast for whut you want, woman.”

 “God, gimme dat bunch of keys hangin’ by yo’ mantel befo’ de throne.”

“Take em.”

So de woman took de keys and hurried on back to de devil wid ’em. There was three keys on de bunch. Devil say, “See dese three keys? They got mo’ power in ’em than all de strength de man kin ever git if you handle ’em right. Now dis first big key is to de do’ of de kitchen, and you know a man always favors his stomach. Dis second one is de key to de bedroom and he don’t like to be shut out from dat neither and dis last key is de key to de cradle and he don’t want to be cut off from his generations at all. So now you take dese keys and go lock up everything and wait till he come to you. Then don’t you unlock nothin’ until he use his strength for yo’ benefit and yo’ desires.”

De woman thanked ‘im and tole ‘im, “If it wasn’t for you, Lawd knows whut us po’ women folks would do.”

She started off but de devil halted her. “Jus’ one mo’ thing: don’t go home braggin’ ’bout yo’ keys. jus’ lock up everything and say nothin’ until you git asked. And then don’t talk too much.”

De woman went on home and did like de devil tole her. When de man come home from work she was settin’ on de porch singin’ some song ’bout “Peck on de wood make de bed go good.”

When de man found de three doors fastened what useter stand wide open he swelled up like pine lumber after a rain. First thing he tried to break in cause he figgered his strength would overcome all obstacles. When he saw he couldn’t do it, he ast de woman, “Who locked dis do’?”

 She tole ‘im, “Me.”

 “Where did you git de key from?”

“God give it to me.

He run up to God and said, “God, woman got me. locked ‘way from my vittles, my bed and my generations, and she say you give her the keys.”

 God said, “I did, Man, Ah give her de keys, but de devil showed her how to use ’em!”

“Well, Ole Maker, please gimme some keys jus’ lak ’em so she can’t git de full control.”

“No, Man, what Ah give Ah give. Woman got de key.”

“How kin Ah know ’bout my generations.

 “Ast de woman.”

So de man come on back and submitted hisself to de woman and she opened de doors. He wasn’t satisfied but he had to give in. ‘Way after while he said to de woman, “Le’s us divide up. Ah’Il give you half of my strength if you lemme hold de keys in my hands.”

De woman thought dat over so de devil popped and tol her, “Tell ‘im, naw. Let ‘im keep his strength and you keep y’ keys.”

 So de woman wouldn’t trade wid ‘im and de man had to mortgage his strength to her to live. And dat’s why de man makes and de woman takes. You men is still braggin’ ’bout yo’ strength and de women is sittin’ on de keys and lettin’ you blow off till she git ready to put de bridle on you.

Yes, I realize it’s not Biblical but, this is folklore. It still proves that there really is nothing new under the sun. Which is why it is so vital to read books. They are not a substitute for THE Book, but still. The older, the better.

 

Culture, philosophy, politics

The Righteous Mind

righteous mind book

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt. Published in 2012. 448 pages.

The Benevolent Dictator took his kids to work today. It was allowed, so he did it just for fun and so that they can have some idea what he does all day. This means I have a bit of time to try and present a concise review of a book which tackles a pretty complex subject.

This book sets out to do exactly what its title implies, delve into the reasons and more importantly, the impulses, which send normally sane people off the deep end when the subjects of religion or politics are raised.

Haidt’s seminal focus is in the area of moral psychology, of which I understood little before I picked up his book. Nevertheless, many of his points resonated with me even though he clearly approached the topic through a very progressive lens. Even with this caveat, and with the additional note that this is not a Christian themed book, I still think Haidt did a sufficient job of presenting his case. His case can essentially be summed up in a few quotes.

“Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second.”

As I read this book, I was keenly aware how often my reasons for even the most minor things were crafted after my initial instinct or emotional impulse had decided that it was the direction I wanted to go in or the argument I wanted to make.

“The mind is divided, like a rider on an elephant, and the rider’s job is to serve the elephant.”

Haidt uses the metaphor of an elephant and its rider to describe this process, The elephant represents our innate leanings, whatever they are and on whatever they are based. Our conscious mind is the rider, which serves the purpose of articulating the rationale behind that which we already believe, or at least want to believe, is true.

“Anyone who values truth should stop worshipping reason.”

This hardly bears analysis for anyone who has faith in things beyond what we see. However, our culture and our psyches are complex and so:

“Our moral thinking is much more like a politician searching for votes than a scientist searching for truth.

Given that this is exactly what our culture has evolved into, an altar to reason, that is, it makes perfect sense that people are easily divided into vitriolic camps based on whatever their moral reasoning has deemed the true and right way.

The Internet makes this possible on a level that our grandparents could never have imagined. Even when one considers the assertion that our dogma is based on reality and science we quickly figure out how to manipulate even that. Kellyanne Conway took a beating in the media for the use of the phrase “alternative facts”, but she was closer to the truth than anyone was willing to admit:

“science is a smorgasbord, and Google will guide you to the study that’s right for you.”

This book changed the way I view Internet commentary and debate in ways I will never forget. It was very instructive on how we become relative experts and feeding our respective elephants to the point that we are not open to the truth even if it becomes abundantly clear. We simply hunker down and regurgitate our “well-established” and”factually supported” beliefs using those facts, and time devoted to collecting them as evidence that what we believe is true:

“People who devote their lives to studying something often come to believe that the object of their fascination is the key to understanding everything.”

To be sure, there were plenty of nits to pick in this book, but there was also lots to learn. This is the takeaway for those not inclined to go through the 448 pages:

“If you think that moral reasoning is something we do to figure out the truth, you’ll be constantly frustrated by how foolish, biased, and illogical people become when they disagree with you. But if you think about moral reasoning as a skill we humans evolved to further our social agendas—to justify our own actions and to defend the teams we belong to—then things will make a lot more sense.”

That includes me. And you too.

Grade: B-

gratuitous caveat: pretty sure Haidt’s an atheist, for those who care about it. There’s still some interesting stuff here, particularly in light of this age of constant debate and vilification of people who are different from us in myriad ways.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Culture, philosophy, politics

A worthy muse.

Muse: As a verb, to muse is to consider something thoughtfully.

Hearth recommended a reading of the introductory chapter of the book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. She has been heavily considering the increasingly divisive and vitriolic discourse which dominates political and religious discussion in our country and thought we might find it interesting. I did find it interesting, and am planning on reading the book sometime this spring. Yes, it is pushing other planned works further down the queue.

I am inviting anyone else who has an interest in discussing such a book to join me and read the book to completion by May 1. I will post a review of the book at that time. To -hopefully- pique interest, I am including a few quotes from the introductory chapter.

“This book is about why it’s so hard for us to get along. We are indeed all stuck here for a while, so while we’re waiting, let’s at least try to understand why we are so easily divided into hostile groups, each one certain of its righteousness.”

“I could have titled this book The Moral Mind to convey the sense that the human mind is designed to “do” morality, just as it’s designed to do language, sexuality, music, and many other things described in popular books reporting the latest scientific findings. But I chose the title The Righteous Mind to convey the sense that human nature is not just intrinsically moral, it’s also intrinsically moralistic, critical, and judgmental.”

“The central metaphor of these four chapters is that the mind is divided, like a rider on an elephant, and the rider’s job is to serve the elephant. The rider is our conscious reasoning—the stream of words and images that hogs the stage of our awareness. The elephant is the other 99 percent of mental processes—the ones that occur outside of awareness but that actually govern most of our behavior.”

Already in the introduction, I can find areas of disagreement with the book’s author, Jonathan Haidt. The point isn’t to promote the book as a solution to the problems. What I am hoping to find within its pages is a fairly detached exposition of the situation.

Even if it fails that test, I consider it a worthy muse.

Culture, nonfiction, philosophy

Generation Me

generation-me-book

Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled–and More Miserable Than Ever Before,   by Jean M. Twenge. Originally published in 2006, updtaed in 2014. 304 pages.

At first glance of the title, you might think this is a book criticizing the character and behavior of millennials. Your first glance would be wrong. While millenials are certainly a part of Generation Me, the author makes it abundantly clear that the patterns and problems this book addresses encompass generations earlier than millenials.

It’s not about the boomers either. Although they take a bit of the responsibility for the mindsets they ushered in and the insanity that followed, they were raised by a generation of parents who had mostly instilled in them the tools to live a productive, reality based life.

No, this book takes aim first at my generation ( GenX), and then subsequent generations who drank our self-interested, self-centered Kool-aid and enhanced it with steroids.This author hits on some important insights about the way most of us have been conditioned to live, how unrealistic are our expectations of life, and how we are ill prepared for the realities of the way most of us will go through life: living an ordinary existence doing ordinary things.

Unfortunately for me, my curiosity was so piqued by this author’s work, that I went looking for other articles she had written only to find that while she did a superb job of diagnosing our post-modern problem, she is no closer to a solution to it than anyone else. Nonetheless, her book has several quotable points:

Why the label Generation Me? Since GenMe’ers were born, we’ve been taught to put ourselves first. Unlike the Baby Boomers, GenMe didn’t have to march in a protest or attend a group session to realize that our own needs and desires were paramount. Reliable birth control, legalized abortion, and a cultural shift toward parenthood as a choice made us the most wanted generation of children in American history. Television, movies, and school programs have told us we were special from toddlerhood to high school, and we believe it with a self-confidence that approaches boredom: why talk about it? It’s just the way things are. This blasé attitude is very different from the Boomer focus on introspection and self-absorption: GenMe is not self-absorbed; we’re self-important. We take it for granted that we’re independent, special individuals, so we don’t really need to think about it.

This is a pretty good introductory synopsis to what follows as you read through Generation Me. It is simply expanded upon through interviews, extensive research of generational surveys, and commentary from fellow cultural critics. One of the first things we note is the way media has shaped our collective delusion with respect to our specialness:

In the animated movie Planes, Dusty wants to be a racing plane. “You are not built to race; you are built to dust crops,” his friend Dottie warns him. But Dusty enters an international flying race—and wins. In another movie released the same year, Turbo is a snail who yearns to race. Close to the finish line in the Indianapolis 500, his once-skeptical brother urges him on: “It is in you! It’s always been in you!” Turbo wins, “proving,” as Luke Epplin observes in the Atlantic, “that one needn’t be human nor drive a car to win the country’s most prestigious auto race.” Epplin notes, “The restless protagonists of these films never have to wake up to the reality that crop-dusters simply can’t fly faster than sleek racing aircraft. Instead, it’s the nay-saying authority figures who need to be enlightened about the importance of never giving up on your dreams, no matter how irrational, improbable, or disruptive to the larger community.”

These movies are just the most recent example of the relentless cultural message to young people: you can be anything you want to be, as long as you believe in yourself. In the Google database of American books, the use of the phrase you can be anything increased 12 times over between 1970 and 2008.

Thankfully, there are parents out there who are cognizant enough of the realities of life to help temper their children’s delusions and try to guide them into a path commensurate to their abilities and talents, but for the most part, we are a generation (or three generations) trapped in a maze of circus fun house mirrors:

This ethos is reflected in the lofty ambitions of modern adolescents. In 2012, 58% of high school students expected to go to graduate or professional school—nearly twice as many as in 1976. Yet the number who actually earn graduate degrees has remained unchanged at about 9%. High schoolers also predict they will have prestigious careers. Sixty-eight percent of 2012 high school students expected to work in professional or managerial jobs, compared to 40% in the 1970s. Unfortunately, these aspirations far outstrip the need for professionals in the future; about 20% of Americans work in professional jobs, about the same as in the 1970s. Short-term ambitions fare little better: In 2012, 84% of incoming college students in the United States expected to graduate in four years, but only 41% of students at their universities actually do so. In The Ambitious Generation, sociologists Barbara Schneider and David Stevenson label these “misaligned ambitions,” and another set of sociologists titled their paper “Have Adolescents Become Too Ambitious?” Apparently the kids learned the lesson “you can be whatever you want to be” a little too well. This might benefit some, but many others will be disappointed.

Our young adult kids are in that lofty 41% of 4-year or less graduates (one graduated at age 20 and the others will be done by 22), but they did it on the cheap and at a social cost. Of course, they’ve known since they were pre-teens that none of us get to have “it all”. Despite economic realities, many people of our generation and subsequent generations have lofty career goals:

Young people also expect to make a lot of money. In a 2011 survey, 16-to-18-year-olds expected their starting salary to be $73,000, which they assumed would rise to $150,000 once they were established in their career. However, the median household income in 2009—for all adults—was $50,000, or around a third of the teens’ aspirations. Overall, young people predicted a bright future for themselves, even during the years of the late 2000s recession and its aftermath. Fifty-seven percent of high school seniors in 2012 predicted that they would own more than their parents; only 10% thought they would own less. In the 2011 survey, 59% believed they would do better financially than their parents.

Some people might argue that this is just youthful hope—after all, hasn’t every generation dreamed big during adolescence? Maybe, but GenMe’s dreams are bigger. While our parents may have aimed simply to leave their small town or to go to college, we want to make lots of money at a career that is fulfilling and makes us famous.

In other words, reality bites, and too many of us don’t know it because we’ve been fed a media diet for the past 40 years that has told us that reality is what we make it.

One of the most popular television shows among Christians from the mid-90’s until it ended in 2007, was the religious family television show 7th Heaven. The show, based on the family and life of a Christian pastor, his wife, and family of seven children was not immune to the propaganda:

In an episode of the family show 7th Heaven, 21-year-old Lucy gives a sermon to the young women in the congregation: “God wants us to know and love ourselves. He also wants us to know our purpose, our passion. . . . So I ask you . . . ‘What have you dreamt about doing?’ . . . What you are waiting for is already inside of you. God has already equipped us with everything we need to live full and rich lives. It is our responsibility to make that life happen—to make our dreams happen.” So if you want to do it, you can make it happen. But what if your dream is to be a movie star or an Olympic athlete? Or even a doctor? What if we’re not actually equipped with absolutely everything we need—say, a one-in-a-million body, Hollywood connections, or the grades to make it into med school? Well, you should just believe in yourself more. Yes, some people will achieve these dreams, but it will likely be due to their talent and hard work, not their superior self-belief.

One professor encountered the GenMe faith in self-belief quite spectacularly in an undergraduate class at the University of Kansas. As she was introducing the idea that jobs and social class were based partially on background and unchangeable characteristics, her students became skeptical. That can’t be right, they said, you can be anything you want to be. The professor, a larger woman with no illusions about her size, said, “So you’re saying that I could be a ballerina?” “Sure, if you really wanted to,” said one of the students.

The book will hardly provide revelatory information for many of the people who read here, but it is something most young people read as they strike out into the world. A little grounding is always in order so that we can do the best we can with hard work and ethical behavior within the scope of our reality.

Grade: B for good content.

 

Christian, philosophy

The Problem of Pain

problem of pain The Problem of Pain, by C.S. Lewis. Orignaly published in 1940.

It’s a question as old as time and religion themselves: How do we reconcile the truth that God is good with the counter truth that life is often filled with pain?

“If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty, He would be able to do what He wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both.” This is the problem of pain, in its simplest form.- p.26

With this statement at the beginning of the second chapter of his short book, C. S. Lewis begins to take his readers on a mental exercise in which we arrive at the ultimate conclusion that God is good, even when life doesn’t appear good. Good that is, from the context of what the human creature defines as good.

Lewis makes it clear that any acknowledgement of God as all knowing, all loving and all powerful must necessarily coexist with an acknowledgement that we can’t possibly be so arrogant as to assume our definitions of good, bad, right or wrong can ever perfectly match God’s. Selah.

Ultimately he comes to the conclusion that greater men and Biblical writers before him have reached, and anyone who reads here certainly knows the answer.

However, Lewis does -in contemporary language- offer many notable thoughts we can take with us as we round out our journey with him through the “problem” of pain. Pain serves a purpose and a loving one at that:

The human spirit will not even begin to try to surrender self-will as long as all seems to be well with it. Now error and sin both have this property, that the deeper they are the less their victim suspects their existence; they are masked evil. Pain is unmasked, unmistakable evil; every man knows that something is wrong when he is being hurt.

He points out the inherent problem with assuming that God’s allowance of pain speaks to some limitation of His goodness or power:

If you choose to say, “God can give a creature free will and at the same time withhold free will from it,” you have not succeeded in saying anything about God: meaningless combinations of words do  not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prefix them with the two other words “God can”.

On the nature of pain Lewis writes:

“Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken.
In the end we all have a choice to make whether to glorify God in the midst of this seeming paradox which is not. The conclusion of the matter remains the same regardless of our choice:
A man can no more diminish God’s glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word ‘darkness’ on the walls of his cell.
The Screwtape Letters has no been supplanted as my favorite C.C. Lewis work on the nature of the relationship between human frailty  and the Divine.
 I always appreciate the opportunity Lewis affords me to think about things from vantage points and in ways I hadn’t considered.* Even if I had considered them, Lewis expressed it so much more eloquently.
Grade: B+
* Speaking of eloquently expressed questions of life and faith, I will leave y’all  with the question my husband asked me today on the nature of pain and grief:
“How much more time would any one of us need with our  loved ones where we would say was ‘long enough’ before they leave us? How much more would we be satisfied with?”