Friday, December 16, 2005

In Defense of Narnia

I was recently listening, via satellite radio, to a discussion of the new Narnia movies. One of the discussants was an atheist who had enjoyed the books as a child but felt the author was cheating by smuggling Christianity into his story without providing due warning to the reader.

I too am an atheist. I too enjoyed the Narnia books as a child. I too did not spot the close analogy to Christianity when I first read The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Unlike the discussant, I regard that as a feature, not a bug.

One of the things good writers do is to present ideas in an unfamiliar context, permitting their readers to experience them without the usual intellectual baggage. I already know why I believe that Christianity is wrong. What I want to understand is why lots of people, including lots of intelligent and reasonable people, believe it is right. An author like Lewis--better yet Tolkien--helps me do that, by presenting the religious worldview not as a claim I have already rejected about my world but as a picture of a coherent and believable fictional world.

Which brings me to a question for my readers. Are there books that do the same thing, successfully, for other world views? Is there somewhere a Nazi equivalent? Communist? Buddhist? Muslim? In each case, what I am looking for is fiction that presents an attractive picture of the worldview in a setting sufficiently far from the one we usually associate with it so that the reader can experience it as something good before he recognizes it as something he already knows is bad--or at least wrong.

50 Comments:

At 2:06 PM, December 16, 2005, Anonymous Brad Warbiany said...

I'd say you can see the same sort of thing with Libertarian thought. Someone like Ayn Rand bashes you over the head with 30-page monologues about objectivism and individualism. You can tell quite quickly in her writing that her novels are little more than framework for her philosophical beliefs.

Contrast that with someone like Robert Heinlein. He is a science fiction writer, who uses fantasy worlds to exhibit some very libertarian ideals. However, in many ways you don't notice those parallels (unless, of course, you're already exposed to libertarian thought). Heinlein is able to get the philosophical underpinnings of his work through without laying it on too think, like Rand.

 
At 3:58 PM, December 16, 2005, Blogger Wirkman Virkkala said...

I hesitate to bring this up, since you know the reference so well, but Ursula Le Guin's "The Dispossessed" did a pretty good job of making anarchism of the anti-capitalist variety palpable and seemingly acceptable. William Morris's "News to Nowhere" charmingly covered similar territory, but was undramatic. It also made clear to me, inadvertently, before having read one word of economics (I read it as a teenager), that this form of anarchism wouldn't work. C.S. Lewis's "Till We Have Faces," by the way, strikes me as a far better explication of Christian themes than "The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe." It's basically Lewis's "answer to Job." Very moving, and philosophically very interesting. James Branch Cabell's "The Cream of the Jest" and a few other fantasies of his admirably explain how a skeptical person might still go along with a dominant religion like Christianity, even as the universe almost screams of a lack of evidence for said religion.

 
At 5:59 PM, December 16, 2005, Anonymous Mindwalker said...

I, too, enjoyed the Narnia books as a child. I was aware at the time that they were supposed to be Christian allegories, because my mother actually had a Sunday school class at their Episcopal church where they discussed the books. It bothered me to learn from her that it was a metaphor for Christianity, but I still enjoyed the books, even though I never really believed in that stuff. My cousin, who's also not religious, recently pointed out to me that if the Narnia books were supposed to promote religion, that they sure didn't work very well on us!

 
At 6:00 PM, December 16, 2005, Anonymous Siderea said...

Not quite what you are asking for, but I was particularly struck by how Tigana (by Guy Gavriel Kay) portrayed terrorism in the service of nationalism in a sympathetic light.

Similarly, V for Vendetta has a terrorist as a hero; he's allegedly an anarchist, but we don't seem much anarchism portrayed in the book.

Not exactly a recommendation: there's a pulp-y fantasy novel out there I think called The Glasswright's Apprentice. It's got your standard Western-European-Medievaliod-Fantasy setting -- with the twist that the culture has the Hindu caste system. And it is rather pro caste-ism (more details would be a spoiler). It's not deathless literature, or even much of a Sunday afternoon read, but I have to give the author credit for cheekiness of writing an anti-egalitarian, pro-aristocrat work.

 
At 6:02 PM, December 16, 2005, Anonymous dave orr said...

This sort of thing seems to be the purview of science fiction, so here are a few books worth reading -- and not just for their political or philosophical content.

Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy, as well as his Antarctica, are highly suspicious of capitalism in general and corporations in particular. Instead he explores the ideas around gift economies and other unusual economic paradigms. Well written, too.

Le Guin's The Dispossessed is worthwhile, as another poster suggested. Left Hand of Darkness also has some interesting things to say about how societies, biology, and economics interact.

The Star Fraction and others by Ken MacLeod explore a sort of modified socialism or communism, and why he thinks that might be better for things like space exploration. He definitly is opposed to current socialism in England, but seems to think that the problem is not with socialism per se, but rather with its implementation to date. On the other hand, he's not gentle with his characters' beliefs, and he certainly expects lots of problems with any political system.

Snow Crash, by Neil Stephenson, is fabulous and everyone should read it. It also depicts a world essentially without nations, and what it would look like. The Diamond Age also explores a similar space, politically speaking.

And of course, there are 16 tons of dystopias of various types, which are almost always political in outlook.

 
At 6:12 PM, December 16, 2005, Blogger David Friedman said...

Dave Orr suggest Ken Macleod. I'm familiar with Ken's work--he borrowed the title of my first book as a section title for one of his. He is an interesting writer, but I don't think he, or most of the other examples people have mentioned, do what I was asking for. Ken's anarcho-communism and anarcho-capitalism are presented as such, so anyone who already has views on those systems is going to view the systems in the light of those views.

[At a tangent ... . Ken apparently didn't know that Jonathan Wilde was a historical figure of some interest when he gave the name to his protagonist.]

A sympathetic portrayal of terrorism, on the other hand, set in a context that won't call up the feelings people already have on the subject, would qualify. I haven't read any of Guy Gavriel Kay, although I'm told I should. The Glasswright's Apprentice also sounds like a possibility-- a caste system is something we are used to seeing as obviously wrong, so it would be nice to see it portrayed favorably.

 
At 6:34 PM, December 16, 2005, Blogger Roy W. Wright said...

Being a religious person myself, I've always found Frank Herbert's "God Emperor of Dune" to be a pretty good exposition of some of the philosophical problems of godhood.

 
At 6:54 PM, December 16, 2005, Anonymous dave orr said...

A sympathetic portrayal of terrorism, on the other hand, set in a context that won't call up the feelings people already have on the subject, would qualify.

That's really easy to find. Pretty much and depiction of guerilla warfare by the protagonists qualifies, at least if you accept the definition of "terrorist" espoused by the current administration.

Tigana is good, but I'm not sure it shows people engaging in terrorism. The silly 80s movie Red Dawn is a much better example. V for Vendetta (the graphic novel, and presumably the movie) is unapologetic in its approval of terrorist attacks, not to mention vengeance killing and operant conditioning. Heck, even the Chanukah resistance that lead up to the eponymous miracle would probably qualify as terrorism under recent definitions.

All of the examples I can think of involve terrorism as part of a resistance to some sort of autocratic or otherwise evil society. It would be much more subversive and interesting if it were in resistance to a society that was not clearly in the wrong.

 
At 8:53 AM, December 17, 2005, Anonymous Brad Warbiany said...

Ahh, The Dispossessed. That brings up an interesting point.

One interesting think about that book, as well as much of Heinlein's work (such as The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress), seems to be very negative towards the idea of a libertarian (or anti-capitalist) society ever actually existing.

Both books force people into a harsh environment, where an anarchist society thrives. But The Moon is a Harsh Mistress shows that when the loonies start self-governing, they seem to suddenly start completely adopting statist tendencies. At the same time, in The Dispossessed, they seem to show that a communist society in a harsh environment can survive, but their view of the country representing the Soviet Union (I forget the name) back on Earth seems to be that it becomes corrupt and coercive in a way unlike the society Le Guin advocates.

Can a libertarian society truly exist in a crowded world such as ours? I ask myself that question quite often. All I know is that if there is ever a ship off this rock, I'll be buying a ticket on it.

 
At 10:16 AM, December 17, 2005, Anonymous Tom Courtney said...

The Hidden Key To Harry Potter argues that Rawlings is a modern Inkling, and that the books are full of Christian iconography and themes.

 
At 6:03 PM, December 17, 2005, Blogger Gary McGath said...

Doc Smith's Lensman series, especially Galactic Patrol, presents a police state in a positive light, and his Skylark novels present the extermination of sentient species in a positive light.

 
At 8:44 PM, December 17, 2005, Blogger Meaghan Walker-Williams said...

Orson Scott Card's --Enders Game -- in fact, the Entire Ender's Series is a fascinating sort of attempt at what you are driving at here.

I have met oodles of people who while they profess to be totally oppposed to Libertarianism, rant about how much they love the Ender books.

As for me, and Narnia, I recieved 2 series of books from my grandfather when I was 7 years old. Tolkein's works, and The Chronicles of Narnia.

I read all of these books to tatters. I think, because of my intense Anglican upbringing, when I read the Narnia books, I immediately recognized the Symbolism of Aslan sacrificing himself on the stone table, for the "sins" of "the Son of Adam" - who had been seduced into betrayal by the White Witch, (representing Eve and the Snake in the Garden) etc...

I later spent a long time going over CS.Lewis's other books on the subject of Christianity. The Shadowlands was particularly poignant for me.

As for more recent examples of authors presenting different ideologies or points of view, and disguising them slightly ---

I was shocked to discover that the Lemony Snicket author, Daniel Handler is a die-hard leftist... who actually wrote a broadway play called "Eat the Rich" -- There are numerous references to nihilism and communist philosophy in the Lemony Snicket books... For example -- The Snicket Children are The Baudelaire Orphans... see ref to Baudelaire's LES FLEURS DU MAL (The Flowers of Evil)But, I suppose you have to be pretty literate to get all the allusions he makes in the books.

Handler also wrote the screenplay of the movie "Rick" which is a very thinly veiled twist on Rigoletto as presented from a Marxist Liberation Theology point of view.

Another one of his books for teens (not children) delves into the fictional account of a group of teens who engage in a satantic ritual killing of their school teacher. It's called "The Basic Eight"

It's pretty chilling stuff.

So.. I'm not sure if these account for what you are looking for, but they spring to mind immediately when I considered your question.

 
At 10:32 PM, December 19, 2005, Anonymous light_in_motion said...

The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson fits the criteria you requested for a Buddhist worldview.

I found it a worthwhile read.

 
At 4:33 PM, December 20, 2005, Blogger robbbbbb said...

Someone mentioned The Glasswright's Apprentice, which I found to be a terrible book. And I'm not sure that you can't say Heinlein didn't beat you over the head with his beliefs. He goes off for pages at a time in Starship Troopers.

In terms of the Narnia novels, I think The Silver Chair (which is my favorite) has the most depth. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe is a good introduction to the world. The good stuff is later on.

 
At 8:02 AM, December 21, 2005, Blogger melodius said...

Naguib Mahfouz's "Children of the Medina" sort of does that for Islam. It's more a fable than Fantasy though, and the ending is quite ambiguous. Incidentally, the book was banned by Al-Azhar University.

What about fiction that "smuggles" atheism and anticlericalism into the story, e.g. Pullman's "Dark Materials" ? (which I quite enjoyed, btw)

 
At 11:02 AM, December 22, 2005, Anonymous Nick Weininger said...

The Dispossessed actually turned me off socialist anarchism quite skillfully; my impression was that here indeed was a very honest portrait of what a working anarchosocialist society would look like, neither whitewashed nor blackwashed (blackwashed? is that really a word?), and there was no damn way I'd ever want to live in it.

 
At 7:28 AM, December 23, 2005, Anonymous WhiskeyJuvenile said...

meaghan:

I actually just finished reading Ender's Game for the first time yesterday, and I must say I missed the libertarian theme in it. Individualism, perhaps, but libertarianism, certainly not.

 
At 12:49 PM, December 23, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Someone else mentioned a different Frank Herbert novel, but I had a similar experience to the one David describes with Dune, and the subject of Islamic Jihad.

As a teenager, I read Dune pretty much as a coming-of-age novel. Paul Maud'Dib is a sympathetic character and as a reader, I rooted for him as he came to realize his talents and used them to overthrow his enemies.

But re-reading the book after Sept 11, I was forcefully struck that in today's world, we'd unquestionably recognize Paul as an islamic terrorist. Paul is in many ways an Osama-a-like, a son of privilege who "goes native" and fights a successful religion-inspired war. The religion that Paul founds is a dead ringer for Islam - most of the religious language is in Arabic, and many of the terms are taken directly from contemporary Islam. He leads a ruthless guerilla insurgency against the rulers of Dune - and is none too concerned about any loss of life that his actions cause. When he succeeds in controlling Dune, he unleashes his followers in a wave of religious violence that leaves him the ruler of the galaxy.

Anyhow, Herbert wrote the book a decade before islamic terrorism really became a significant force in global events, so none of this was the author's conscious intention. But nevertheless, he does a good job of presenting a point of view that most of us would be inclined to reject in a contemporary context.

 
At 1:35 PM, December 23, 2005, Blogger Scott Cunningham said...

One of the reasons Lewis's book succeed, and maybe Rand's don't, is that Lewis claimed he was not writing Christian propoganda (ie, "allegory"). But rather, that he was presenting a fantastical world, and then asked (and answered) the question: what would sin and redemption look like in this world?

That seems key. It means the story is not a vehicle for the ideology. The ideology becomes incarnational to the story. Rand's books seem much more of an excuse to lecture on objectivism, rather than stories that work in their own right. A book with National Socialism as its core would need to ask a similar question - what would state-mandated eugenics look like in this fictional world?

...and, it also requires a worldview that has some flexibility to accomodate the requirements for good fiction. National Socialism, and Randian objectivism, both seem to lack that depth.

 
At 1:48 PM, December 23, 2005, Blogger Scott Cunningham said...

Oh yeah - Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyitch. That's a story built out of existentialism, and yet seems to me bigger than that simple idea.

 
At 3:14 PM, December 23, 2005, Blogger Moses said...

Sure, there are legion examples actually, just to riff off the last post, Existentialism = Camus's The Stranger or The Plague. You can switch genres to playwrighting and think of Sartre's No Exit. Or you can really go off into other genres, for example, music. For one great song that illustrates many themes, how about John Lennon's "Imagine" for Communism (no possessions), antireligion (no religion too), antinationalism (no countries), etc. . .

 
At 3:44 PM, December 23, 2005, Blogger unauthorized said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 5:07 PM, December 23, 2005, Blogger Meaghan Walker-Williams said...

"I actually just finished reading Ender's Game for the first time yesterday, and I must say I missed the libertarian theme in it. Individualism, perhaps, but libertarianism, certainly not."

You have to read the entire series... not just Ender's game. Speaker For The Dead, and Xenocide... Ender's game is just the set up.

 
At 7:18 PM, December 23, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What about Fight Club as anarcho-communist fantasy? Workers beaten down by their jobs, becoming class-conscious and then joining together to destroy institutions of capitalism.

 
At 3:48 AM, December 24, 2005, Anonymous Selden Deemer said...

Are there books that do the same thing, successfully, for other world views?

It's interesting that most of the suggestions here come from the genre of science fiction, which in its best form I view as speculative anthropology.

My vote goes for Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis series, which presents an alien and repulsive looking protagonist species, the Oankali, who intend to transform humanity, indeed all lifeforms of earth, into something else, thereby ending life as we know it. Quite a trick to pull this off in a way that does not make the Oankali seem monstrous.

See: http://biology.kenyon.edu/slonc/books/butler1.html

 
At 9:57 AM, December 24, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's a slipperly slope reading intentions into an author's work. Unless the author has come out and stated a position, it is just conjecture.

Regarding Herbert's Dune series. A comment above proposed that since Herbert wrote Dune so far in advance of Sept. 11 that his similarities to extremist Islamic terroism issues of the day were happenstance. I respectfully disagree. I think that was exactly his point. The core of the books revolved around the multiple forms of use of religion and extremism as a means to manipulate the population to get to the end point desired. In the books, his characters had compelling reasons for chosing such a chilling path after much soul searching, the end of the human race if that path wasn't chosen.

 
At 11:23 AM, December 24, 2005, Blogger Scott Cunningham said...

Also, WOody Allen's Crimes and MIsdemeanors is an excellent apology for agnosticism/atheism. I thought so, at least, and I'm a devout evangelical Christian. Ingmar Bergman's The Virgin Spring also struck me as excellent for similar reasons.

 
At 12:53 PM, December 24, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Early books by Russian sci-fi writers Arkadii and Boris Strugatsky would probably be the best description of communism. Not communism as "the soviet system" , but the utopian world communists were striving for. It's a world where people have learned to live in relative harmony, everything is free and people work for money but because they like their professions. There's still conflict and hard choices to be made, their world is anything but happy-go-lucky, it's just that people care about each other. After reading their books, one could begin to understand, why so many people in USSR were genuinely attracted to the communist vision, despite the rather bleak reality surrounding them.

Most of their English translations are unfortunately out of print, but Amazon still has a few copies lying around.

Come think about it, Star Trek, especially the original series, would come pretty close to describing the communist world too.

 
At 5:24 AM, December 25, 2005, Blogger Lagwolf said...

Unlike many I always thought that CS Lewis was over-rated at best and just rubbish at worst. I too read them when I was young as some one well meaning gave me the whole series as a present. However, I will probably see the film when it hits DVD.

Then again Rand's fiction was pretty terrible; even though her non-fiction is well written and interesting.

As someone mentioned above; Stephenson does a good line in libertarian themed cyberpunk; as I would argue does Gibson.

For an interesting take on nihilism there is always Lovecraft. His writing was the literary equivalent of that huge poster of the universe with a small pin-prick that says "you are here." I am rather fond (and one of his literary desciples) of his "humanity is a pimple on a knat's bum in the grand scheme of things" view of life and the universe. His take on far-advance technology = magic to less developed beings is most interesting as well.

 
At 8:49 PM, December 25, 2005, Blogger Anton said...

Defying precedent, I attempt to respond to David's question:

Some of Piers Anthony's early works postulate that some mystical system - tarot, astrology - is true. Melissa Scott's Five Twelfths of Heaven has spaceships that run on alchemical principles.

Are these close to what you have in mind?

 
At 5:29 AM, December 26, 2005, Blogger Lagwolf said...

For one great song that illustrates many themes, how about John Lennon's "Imagine" for Communism (no possessions), antireligion (no religion too), antinationalism (no countries), etc. .

I agree with all you have to say there but the word great. 'Imagine' is one of the most noxious and vile popular songs ever written. It one of the few songs I can hear on the radio that makes me want to vomit.

 
At 7:22 AM, December 26, 2005, Anonymous greg castillo said...

There's an entire genre of literature, now forgotten by everyone except Slavic Studies specialists, devoted to the celebration of Stalinism: socialist realism. The prototypical socialist realist novel is an excursus on how Stalinism forged a new kind of human (later on, derisively called 'Homo Sovieticus'). While most of these state-sponsored potboilers are long forgotten, most college libraries stock samples for scholarly use: 'How the Steel Was Forged' and 'Concrete' are classic examples. There's also a very good primer on the genre: 'The Soviet Novel'.

 
At 8:52 AM, December 26, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Heinlein was noted above for his many libertarian themed stories, but what was going on in "Starship Trooper"?

I read this recently and wondered why the author of "Moon is a Harsh Mistress" was promoting a military government. Was Heinlein still developing his ideas in ST, was he intentionally exploring ideas he didn't believe in, or is military rule somehow compatible with anarchy in a way that I can't understand?

 
At 5:34 PM, December 26, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

_Brave New World_ does so for conservatism (defending ideas such as value of tradition, value of religion, maleffects of /libertinism/ as opposed to /libertarianism/) yet there's no statement of the book's explicit conservatism.

Orson Card's _Ender's Game_ does a similar job for Mormonism (which should be regarded as separate from orthodox Christianity) and I can attest to that (having read the book prior to knowing that Card was a Mormon and seeing nothing explicitly Mormon about the book from a first reading).

Snow Crash does the same for anarcho-capitalism (even helping me see some of the anarcho-capitalist thinking: namely that 'an anarcho-capitalist society will be flawed, but not nearly as a state') although Cryptonomicon does not (libertarian themes are far more explicit in the book). Interestingly, Stephenson said in an interview that he considers himself politically agnostic (my words, not his) and when writing a book he (temporarily) takes on whatever belief the character(s) is(are) supposed to hold.

 
At 9:54 PM, December 26, 2005, Anonymous Paul Harrison said...

I'll second Meaghan Walker on "Ender's Game".

Go read some of Orson Scott Card's essays here:

http://www.ornery.org/essays/warwatch/index.html

Then re-read Enders Game. Notice eg all the bits about the rightness of having lots of children.

Card does a really good job of explaining what I would once have called the "right wing religious nutbag" position, and which I now disagree with no less forcefully but rather more respectfully. Turns out it's actually a fairly internally self-consistent position to take.

 
At 8:25 AM, December 27, 2005, Anonymous Alex said...

The "Ships of Earth" series, by Orson Scott Card, is evidently a coded retelling of the Books of Mormon. Not having read the latter I cannot say for sure; but they are very parallel to Narnia in that there is no explicit mention of the religion, just events, beliefs, and institutions which mirror those within the faith.

Knowing OSC, he did this completely on purpose and inspired by Lewis.

 
At 9:39 AM, December 27, 2005, Anonymous Clifton H. Jolley said...

When Shapiro argued against awarding the Bollingen Prize to Ezra Pound, he defended his opinion arguing that an artist's perversion ultimately vitiates his art, that Pound was a fascist, and that a Jew could not award a prize to Ezra Pound. Since the rise of the New Criticism (which postulates that works of art exist in a universe separate from the artist) Shapiro's is not a popular critical method...which may explain why Shapiro called the New School "the death of criticism." Although Shapiro's critical method has occasionally been promoted by the likes of Gardner in his book "On Moral Fiction," it certainly it is not acceptable as argument in the University of California system in which Friedman teaches and Shapiro taught.

What we know about psychological, sociological, anthropological, and ultimately archetypal influence instructs us that art cannot exist apart from the artist nor the artist from his opinions unarguably is true. And religious linguists such as Buber went so far as to identify "racial memory," arguing for the "I" as a genetic as well as sociological construct and the "thou" as...well, fascist: the means by which we prepare the justifications for segregation...and an evidence of agenda in so fundamental an expression as language.

I attended graduate school with Scott Card (whose work has been mentioned by several respondents for its Mormon influences). We were in a writing seminar together, although in separate schools (he in drama, I in English). His opinion and methods were as gifted and transparent then as now: his work is not merely influenced by his Mormonism; his Mormonism is central to his work. He is - if you will pardon the euphemism for the fundamentalist father of a dozen or so children - something of a flaming Mormon. So, we should be more surprised when there are no Mormon allusions in his work, and dig deeper (although deep is hard duty in Scott's work).

In this way Card - who has written a novel about Joseph Smith and a play about Moses - is different from Glen Larson, who created the first Battlestar Galactica series on which the revival is based. Larson was (is?) a lapsed Mormon who used his adolescent knowledge of Mormon symbolism to inform his series so transparently that it became the subject of academic papers on folklore as influence...and we all know that once something catches the attention of a folklorist (much less an academic), it has reached the "Watch Spot Run" level of the apparent.

So, a Freudian critic would argue that what Friedman is asking us to identify are occasions where influence is so apparent that a child could pick them out...but only subsequent his becoming a libertarian academic economist.

Regrets to Friedman, whose writing I find witty (if unhinged), and interesting if for no other reason than for the attempts it encourages to discover whether he is the logical extension of Supply Side economics, or the rebellion any father might expect of a son.

Now, class, your next assignment: find transparent although as yet unreported evidences of Milton in David...and return and report.

Or write the following essay: Every work of art is vitiated by the religion (or lack of religion) of its author...in much he same way that public schools contradict the First Amendent.

Or accept as incontrovertible argument the following interstices, which (if they were in a short story, novel, or TV pilot) would be charged with presenting a "picture of the worldview in a setting sufficiently far from the one we usually associate with it": The New School of Criticism was identified with the University of Chicago, where one of its chief framers and proponents was Wayne Booth, a Mormon (lapsed). The University of Chicago, of course, was the digs of Milton Friedman, father of David. Milton Friedman was economic advisor to Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, both of whom won elections in Utah and, although not Mormons, certainly acted the part. (Goldwater swore and Reagan couldn't spell, which separates both from Booth or Utah, in whom and where at literacy is alarmingly high.) Which brings me to my own confession of interest: I am a Mormon who has become a Jew...which has nothing to do with anything except itself.

Were it not for that seminar with Orson Scott Card....

 
At 9:44 AM, December 27, 2005, Blogger David Friedman said...

Anton writes:

"Defying precedent, I attempt to respond to David's question:

Some of Piers Anthony's early works postulate that some mystical system - tarot, astrology - is true. Melissa Scott's Five Twelfths of Heaven has spaceships that run on alchemical principles.

Are these close to what you have in mind?"

The Melissa Scott books, which I liked, come closest of the ones I know.

The problem with most of the books people have suggested is that, unlike the Narnia books read by a child, the reader knows that what he is getting is a description of a system of ideas that he already believes is false. A book describing terrorism sympathetically, in a context where it won't initially occur to the reader that what is being described is analogous to current Islamic terrorism, might do it--I'm not sure if any of the books mentioned that I haven't read succeed in that.

 
At 9:47 AM, December 27, 2005, Blogger David Friedman said...

Clifton H. Jolley writes:

"it certainly it is not acceptable as argument in the University of California system in which Friedman teaches and Shapiro taught."

I teach at Santa Clara University, which is a private university, not part of the U of C system. I did teach at UCLA for a few years, and briefly at UC Irvine, but both were a long time ago.

 
At 9:13 PM, December 27, 2005, Blogger Robert said...

Christianity informs virtually every page of Flannery O'Connor's stunning short stories, collected in "A Good Man is Hard to Find" and "Everything That Rises Must Converge."

Though I'm an agnostic, I can reread these stories endlessly.

 
At 3:33 AM, December 28, 2005, Anonymous subaru said...

you are in luck my young apprentice! you claim you want to understand the wonderful and positive perspective of each dogmatic system on earth, starting with christianity and continuing on your special journey to communism and progressing onwards to nazism, islam, and so on. communists were certianly atheists too, just like your fine self. and as of course everyone knows, once you claim to be an atheist you magically reach the pinnacle of reason and common sense. so yes, go and explore the nazi mindframe, im sure it will be wonderful, especially when it is cloacked as some fairy tail and presented to children; im sure it would be a blast.

 
At 3:57 AM, December 28, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lewis says it best.

"Human intellect," says Lewis, "is incurable abstract...Yet the only realities we experience are concrete--this pain, this pleasure, this dog, this man. While we are loving the man, bearing the pain, enjoying the pleasure, we are not intellectually apprehending Pleasure, Pain or Personality. When we begin to do so, on the other hand, the concrete realities sink to the level of mere instances or examples: we are no longer dealing with them, but with that which they exemplify. This is our dilemma - either to taste and not to know or to know and not to taste -or, more strictly, to lack one kind of knowledge because we are outside it. As thinkers we are cut off from what we think about; as tasting, touching, willing, living, hating, we do not clearly understand. The more lucidly we think, the more we are cut off: the more deeply we enter into reality, the less we can think. You cannot *study* Pleasure in the moment of the nuptial embrace, nor repentance while repenting, not analyze the nature of humour while roaring with laughter. But when else can you really know these things? 'If only my toothache would stop, I could write another chapter about Pain.' But once it stops, what do I know about pain? "Of this tragic dilemma myth is the partial solution. In the enjoyment of a great myth we come nearest to experiencing as a concrete what can otherwise be understood only as an abstraction. At his moment, for example, I am trying to understand something very abstract indeed - the fading, vanishing of tasted reality as we try to grasp it with the discursive reason. Probably I have made heavy weather of it. But if I remind you, instead, of Orpheus and Eurydice, how he was suffered to lead her by the hand but, when he turned round to look at her, she disappeared, what was merely a principle becomes imaginable. You may reply that you never till this moment attached that 'meaning' to that myth. Of course not. You are not looking for an abstract 'meaning' at all. If that was what you were doing the myth would be for you not true myth but a mere allegory. You were not knowing, but tasting; but what your tasting turns out to be a universal principle. The moment we *state* this principle, we are admittedly back in the world of abstraction. It is only while receiving the myth as a story that you experience the principle concretely. "When we translate we get abstraction - or rather, dozens of abstractions. What flows into you from the myth is not truth but reality (truth is always *about* something, but reality is that *about which* truth is), and , therefore, every myth become the father of innumerable truths on the abstract level. Myth is the mountain whence all the different streams arise which become truths down here in the valley; in hac valle abstractionis ('In this valley of separation'). Or, if you prefer, myth is the isthmus which connects the peninsular world of thought with that vast continent we really belong to. It is not, like truth, abstract; nor is it, like direct experience, bound to the particular." (God in the Dock : Essays on Theology and Ethics -- C. S. Lewis, Walter Hooper (Editor); Paperback.)

 
At 2:19 PM, December 28, 2005, Anonymous shannon said...

Patri was recently telling me about a book he was reading by Naomi Kritzer, "Fires of the Faithful" in which the dominant faction are pagans and the persecuted are modeled after christians.

 
At 2:52 PM, December 28, 2005, Anonymous John P. said...

Surprisingly, perhaps, Gone with the Wind appears to satisfy Prof. Friedman's criteria. I just read it in 2005, mostly out of curiosity. Its portrayal of life in Atlanta during Reconstruction had me (a Northerner) feeling, in spite of myself, hostile toward the occupying Union forces and the overarching federal effort to transform southern politics. That was not how I expected to react to the book.

 
At 2:23 PM, December 30, 2005, Blogger Sherrie Gossett said...

I think the real value here is not to be found in the seeking and reading of clever, artful and revealing allegories, but of staring into the naked issues of epistemology.

The beliefs of both the Christian and the atheist rest upon epistemologies that proceed from fundamental biases. The Christian has two modalities of knowledge: one that proceeds from creation (nature and the material world) and the other which springs from revelation and is induced by God. Revelation is ascendant for the believer because it explains the material world. The 'true' believer does not accept revelation upon faith, but gains faith in the substance of revelation after experiencing monergistic palingenesis. The most simple and perfect allegorical picture of this is "Flatland: A Romance in Many Dimensions." (I would also recomment Dr. Frank Houghton's description of Flatland in his book "Does God Play Dice?")

The atheist (and many others) believe the human mind in and of itself is able to come into essential knowledge sufficiently, reliably and thoroughly without intersecting the so-called spiritual plane.

There is no proof for the validity of either epistemology.

Of course, that does not mean that one is not superior to the other.

On another note: the Christian belief in the existence of Creator in addition to creation implies ownership. (Just as we 'own' what we create, be it a painting, a schematic, or a song. Ownership reveals character, in how we choose to create what we own: whether we tear it up, cherish it, develop it, hoard it, gloat over it, share it. )

One might also note, in a universe with an omnipotent Creator there are no such things as "rights" except for those the Creator would decide upon, choose to bestow. The Creator would have all "rights."

C.S. Lewis said he almost fought against his conversion because he loathed the idea of not belonging to himself.

(Modalities of knowledge other than the trad ones are of course, not just discussed solely in relation to spiritual matters.)

 
At 2:47 PM, December 30, 2005, Blogger Sherrie Gossett said...

I should also point out for anyone not familiar w/ FLATLAND, that much of it has to do with satire of British society. What I'm pointing to is his experience of the Sphere visiting Flatland, and how those who only lived in 2 dimensions could not understand, see or believe what had happened.

His experience of the Sphere was not based on wishful thinking or faith, but the inauguration into a new reality beyond his previous bounds of experience and knowledge.

Sir John T. Houghton [corrects my ref to Frank Houghton in previous post] would argue being ushered into the spiritual is like a 'Flatlander' understanding and experience 3 dimensions for the first time.

I might also note one can discuss this concept of extra-dimensionality in the material world. Houghton notes a mathematician who presented a model proving that in a world of 8 dimensions you could turn a basketball inside-out without puncturing it. This is not the faith of the mathematician, or wishful thinking. (Actually the latter is usually confused with the former).

 
At 12:04 PM, January 02, 2006, Blogger Dave said...

I found in James Hogan's Voyage from Yesteryear a sympathetic treatment of an anarcho-communist high-tech society, as well as a very good read.

 
At 3:10 PM, February 11, 2006, Anonymous R.L. said...

None of these concern a whole nother world, like Narnia; but to the list of some of the books that have been mentioned here, one might add
Tony Hillerman's Indian Country books
Charles Williams' 'spiritual thrillers'
Some 'magical realism' novels

 
At 2:13 PM, October 16, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Dispossessed does not disguise its anarcho-communism but made it attractive, at least to a lot of us in the '70s LP.

The Last Samurai is pretty clear nostalgia but Shogun snuck up on me.

Does anyone else see The Godfather as an example of competing defense agencies?

 
At 1:35 PM, November 30, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Since it hasn't been mentioned, I suggest the classic film 'Groundhog day, which is apparently a metaphor for Buddhism, and very enjoyable to watch.

 

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