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Monthly Archives: March 2013

You Animal, You!

I read an interesting article this weekend in The Wall Street Journal by Frans de Waal, primatologist at Emory

The Elephant Fiasco

The Elephant Fiasco (Photo credit: locket479)

University in Atlanta. Titled “The Brains of the Animal Kingdom,” it offered many interesting examples of the intelligence of such animals as chimps, elephants and octopuses, some of them pretty amazing. The point? Nothing new really. As de Waal puts it, “science keeps chipping away at the wall that separates us from the other animals.” The implication being that humans are nothing special, just another animal.

Sigh.

This just gets so tiring, but it offers an example of why it is good to read books and not just the newspapers. I take you back to 1967 and a book written by the late, great Mortimer J. Adler. “The Difference of Man and the Difference it Makes” (Holt, Rinehart & Winston) explores the many areas in which humans are not “just another animal.” Adler even quotes evolutionists such as George Gaylord Simpson, Theodosius Dobzhansky and Julian Huxley as referring to man’s uniqueness. As Dobzhansky put it, ” Human intellectual abilities seem to be not only quantitatively but also qualitatively different from those of animals other than men.”

In one of his Frankenstein novels, author Dean Koontz has a character state that “to fight bad ideas is a life’s work.” Well, the idea that humans are nothing but animals needs a good butt-kicking.

 
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Posted by on March 27, 2013 in Ideas, Quotations, Worries

 

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The Wisdom of Hobbits, Wizards and Lions: Part 2

Reading a book on the virtues would not be most people’s idea of a good time. Who would want to read a 220

English: Map of Narnian world as described in ...

English: Map of Narnian world as described in The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

page book about how you should behave and why? I’ve done that. “The Practice of Godliness,” by Jerry Bridges was over 260 pages of enlightening but somewhat tedious reading. I read it willingly because I wanted to learn more about the subject, but I can’t imagine that it’s a big bestseller.

“On the Shoulders of Hobbits: the Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis,” by Louis Markos, is nothing like that book. Trust me. This book deserves to be a big bestseller, both in the secular market and, especially, the Christian market. Markos joins such writers as C.S. Lewis, Dallas Willard, N.T. Wright and Richard Foster in arguing that being a Christian means more than holding a belief. His path to illustrating this truth is not theological, however. Being an English professor, he takes us down the Story road.

“On the Shoulders of Hobbits” is divided into four parts: The Road, The Classical Virtues, The Theological Virtues, and Evil. After a nice foreword by philosopher Peter Kreeft on how people become good or evil, Markos explains his purpose in an introduction titled “Stories to Steer By.” Being an educator, he is very aware of the rampant secular humanism that has saturated our school systems and culture in America today. This secular worldview is not much concerned with creating good human beings. It wants to produce career-ready people who fit into a secular society with a minimum of friction. The increasing emphasis in our schools today on science, math and technology testifies to this. Pretty much the only “virtues” taught to our children are environmentalism, multiculturalism and, of course, tolerance, which these days means (incorrectly) that anybody’s lifestyle is just as good as anybody else’s. This is a form of egalitarianism: all people, all ideas, all cultures are the same. According to Markos, this trinity of postmodern virtues will produce “a colorless, passionless, amoral existence.”

So how can we avoid this dreary, utilitarian future that the secularists are trying to force on us? Markos’ answer is simple: we need stories. Not the politically correct drivel that is dished out to our children (and us) daily in television and movies, but the grand heroic narratives Western civilization has long cherished and passed on to countless generations. Epics such as The Iliad, The Odyssey, and The Divine Comedy. Epics like J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. And stories bearing eternal truths like C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. Markos likens Tolkien and Lewis to knights of old, carrying on the old understandings of good and evil, right and wrong, through their stories. Thus The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia are the tales used in this book to examine the virtues our culture so needs in these times.

Throughout my delving into this wonderful book in future posts, I’m going to have to resist the impulse to quote Markos too often. He makes it difficult, however, because of his plentiful insights and observations. Thus I will give in to temptation and finish this post with a quote that, to me, makes clear the great need for the ideas in this book:

Our modern (and now postmodern) age has cast off – sometimes deliberately, but most often unthinkingly – many of the beliefs and virtues and disciplines that are necessary to the continuation of civilized life and the preservation of individual dignity and purpose.

To that I can only add, “Amen!”

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2013 in Book Review

 

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Gee, Who Knew?

. . . we sometimes ascribe . . . intolerant behavior to religious prejudice – as though

English: photo of Loren Eiseley at age 15

English: photo of Loren Eiseley at age 15 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

there had been a clean break, with scientists all arrayed under the white banner of truth while the forces of obscurantism parade under the black flag of prejudice.

The truth is better, if less appealing. Like other members of the human race, scientists are capable of prejudice. They have occasionally persecuted other scientists, and they have not always been able to see that an old theory, given a hairsbreadth twist, might open an entirely new vista to the human reason.

Loren Eiseley, from “The Firmament of Time” (Atheneum Publishers, 1962)

 
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Posted by on March 17, 2013 in Quotations

 

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The Wisdom of Hobbits, Wizards and Lions

Over the past few months I’ve found myself becoming interested in the subject of wisdom. Biblical wisdom in

English: C.S. Lewis Plaque on the Unicorn Inn ...

English: C.S. Lewis Plaque on the Unicorn Inn C.S. Lewis author of the famous Narnia series of children’s books came to school in Malvern. He later returned for hill-walking holidays. The walks frequently ended at the Unicorn Inn. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

particular, but also the everyday wisdom of ordinary life. Some might call that “common sense.” Whatever you choose to call it, I think we can agree it’s in short supply these days.

I’ve been thumbing through some of my Bible commentaries and reading about the sources and types of wisdom literature. I’ve also been keeping my eyes open when I go book hunting for works dealing with virtues, values, morals and wisdom. But not ethics. I’ve tried reading books on Christian ethics and they work better than Melatonin on me.

Then just after Christmas I stumbled across a website and an author who had a new book coming out in February 2013. The author is Louis Markos and the book is “On the Shoulders of Hobbits: the Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis,” (Moody Publishers.) Needless to say, I ordered it.

I’m glad I did. This is one of the most enlightening books I’ve had the pleasure of reading. There was so much to learn in it and I enjoyed every bit. It was obviously written by a natural teacher, someone who knows his material and knows how to share it. Plus, Markos uses the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis to illustrate his points; indeed, he immerses us in Middle Earth and Narnia, granting insights into the moral thinking of these two great authors. My copy is proudly dog-eared and underlined. Yours will be too if you follow my advice and purchase this book.

As I wrote in my previous post, this book deserves more than a one-shot review. I believe I used the word “delve” to describe how I’d like to approach this. So let’s get started.

The obvious place to start is with the author, Louis Markos, PhD. I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that there are so many brilliant people out there that I’ve never heard of. I mean, who has time to keep up on everything being written today? But once in a while, I come across a writer that just floors me and I wonder, “Why haven’t I heard of this person sooner?” Dr. Markos is one of those. He’s an English professor and Scholar in Residence at Houston Baptist University, as well as an expert on C.S. Lewis (one of his heroes), and J.R.R. Tolkien. He’s also well versed in film criticism, which I found out by reading the bibliographical essays at the end of the book. The back cover says he’s also a highly requested speaker. How he found time to write this book, I can’t guess. I encourage you to go to his webpage and read some of his essays and biographical information.

But the main thing that hooked me right from the start is that this man “gets” the importance of Story, as evidenced by the title of the book’s introduction, “Stories to Steer By.” To Markos, “stories provide not only models of virtuous and vicious behavior but a sense of purpose – a sense that our lives and our choices are not arbitrary but that they are ‘going somewhere.’” As a theologian once put it, we humans live our lives swimming in a sea of story.

That’s all for now. Next time I’ll begin to explore the actual subject matter of On the Shoulders of Hobbits. I hope you’ll join me for the trip.

 
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Posted by on March 14, 2013 in Authors, Book Review, Education, Favorite Books

 

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The Amoral Virtues

In our public schools today, there are only three virtues taught: tolerance,

Virtue

Virtue (Photo credit: Leonard John Matthews)

multiculturalism and environmentalism. Really, there is only one: inclusivism or, better, egalitarianism – all people and ideas should be treated the same; all cultures are equally valid; man is not distinct from nature but merely another species. . . When all other virtues are reduced to a bland egalitarianism, our humanity is likewise reduced to a colorless, passionless, amoral existence.

- Louis Markos, from his book “On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis” (Moody Publishers, 2012)

I have nearly finished reading this wonderful, and important, book. You can bet that I will have much more to write about this soon. Markos writes so many important things in such a clear and engaging style, the pages just slip by. Plus he illuminates many important passages from The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia, and includes some nice background information on J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis.

This isn’t a book to be reviewed. It is a book to be delved into. I’ll try to do that in future posts. In the meantime, do yourself a favor and get this book.

 
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Posted by on March 11, 2013 in Authors, Quotations

 

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Holy Chip!

The rear LCD display on a Flip Video camrea

The rear LCD display on a Flip Video camrea (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So I was reading an article in the Wall Street two weekends ago about yet another technological revolution heading our way. Titled “Is Smart Making Us Dumb?” it explored the new wave of “smart” technology we’ll be seeing soon. There’s a trash bin that analyzes your recycling efficiency and posts the results on Facebook if you’re not “green” enough. There’s a fork that monitors how fast you’re eating and signals you to slow down if needed. Computer scientists are even working on a “smart kitchen” where you’ll be surrounded by video cameras and computers guiding your every move. It’s like Disney’s Tomorrow Land on steroids.

Fortunately, the article’s author, Evgeny Morozov, approaches the subject from a skeptical, critical viewpoint. He’s not all pie-eyed at the new shiny things. In fact, he calls attention to a frightening trend in the futurist, technology camp: fixing things like us.

Morozov quotes Google CFO, Patrick Pichette, as telling an Australian news program that his company’s computer scientists “see the world as a completely broken place” that can be fixed by technology. He also points out that Jane McGonigal, a game designer and futurist, often talks about how “reality is broken.” Finally, Morozov makes it clear that the word “smart” is “Silicon Valley’s shorthand for transforming present-day social reality and the hapless souls who inhabit it.” The religious overtones are hard to miss.

“The serpent said to the woman . . . ‘you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’” (Gen. 3:5, ESV)

Over a half century ago, scientist and visionary Loren Eiseley, wrote in his book, “The Firmament of Time,” that technology will change man, and not for the better. “The rise of a science whose powers and creations seem awe-inspiringly remote . . . has come dangerously close to bringing into existence a type of man who is not human. He no longer thinks in the old terms; he has ceased to have a conscience. He is an instrument of power.”

We’d best open our eyes.

 
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Posted by on March 5, 2013 in Ideas, In The News

 

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