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Book Review: The Great Divorce [Nov. 7th, 2012|01:42 am]
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The frame story of CS Lewis' The Great Divorce is sparse but cute: there is regular bus service from Hell to Heaven. The damned souls from Hell take a field trip to Heaven, where they meet their blessed friends and relatives. They have conversations about their past lives and about good and evil. It is revealed that any damned soul who wants to stay in Heaven is free to do so, but in the end most of them choose to get back on the bus to Hell.

There was some theological discussion, but it didn't seem very central. Lewis pretty much said all the Christian sects were simultaneously right about everything and it was a mystery exactly how.

So the setting was a straw dystopia and the theology was hand-wavey. The book was about morality. And like most of Lewis' writings about morality, it was really good.

The Sin of Pride

Pride is considered not just a deadly sin but the worst deadly sin, the one that ensnared the Devil himself. I have always been confused about this. In his Book of Ratings, Lore Sjoberg asks pretty much the same question I would:
I'm not sure how pride works. Do you go to hell for saying "this is a pretty tasty three-bean salad I've made, if I do say so myself," or do you have to say "why, I bet this is a better three-bean salad than GOD could make"? And what about self-esteem? My high school counselors were always pushing self-esteem on me. Were they pawns of the Adversary?

I've been watching Avatar: The Last Airbender recently, and Uncle Iroh said something that helped pride click for me:
You are trying to escape your shame with pride. But pride is not the opposite of shame. Pride is the source of shame, the other side of the same coin. It is deep humility that opposes both of them.

If I had to choose the exact passage of Lewis' that this reminded me of, it would be the one where one of the blessed is trying to convince one of the damned to stay in Heaven, and the damned soul keeps thinking up all of these worries - for example, that as a damned spirit it's grown ghastly and transparent, and finally the blessed soul asks “Could you, only for a moment, fix your mind on something not yourself?”

What I'm getting from Uncle Iroh's quote is that pride and shame are both about obsessing over yourself and your status - in the one case how great you are, in the other case how lowly you are. What he's calling humility is thinking about something outside yourself; devoting your life to some purpose other than self-promotion.

But the spirit in Lewis' book never answers the question, and I'm not sure what the answer is. How do you go about trying to think of something that's not yourself? If you think "Okay, gotta get to Heaven, so I'll start thinking about Jesus", you're focusing on how to get yourself to Heaven. If you think "I wanna be a nice person, so I'll give to charity", you're thinking about how to make yourself nicer. I wonder to what degree this is what the Protestants mean when they say that salvation is entirely by grace: you can't get there from here, if you're thinking entirely about yourself there's no way to bootstrap yourself to thinking about other things.

Am I reading this at a level of philosophical sophistication greater than that in the text itself? I don't think so. Lewis starts off with some boring straw men (the passage with the liberal clergystrawman was particularly grating) but then he does a commendably good job of examining the hardest possible cases for his theory of self-absorbedness. One of the damned souls is a mother whose son died when he was young; the mother spent the rest of her life mourning the son in the worst possible ways: refusing to do anything happy or fun, telling all her living children they could never live up to the dead son's example, chiding anyone who acted happy as being insensitive to her misery. And so she went to Hell. It sounds harsh to send someone to Hell for being excessively sad that their son died, but Lewis did a good job showing how what looked like caring about another person (the son) was really self-absorbedness: trying to prove to everyone how righteous and sensitive she was and give herself an entitled position as the Poor Grieving Mother. She had built an identity as a Wronged and Bereaved Person, and she continued mourning not out of love for her son but in order to protect that identity. Lewis' mantra that you have to shed your identities in order to become enlightened blessed was a constant theme, and the mother went to Hell not for loving her son but for loving her identity as the Wronged and Bereaved Person, which was in a way a sort of pride.

I interviewed at another psychiatric hospital yesterday, and we were discussing some of the cases there, and one thing that struck me was the similarity of Lewis' idea of pride to the psychological idea of the defense mechanism. You have something bad happen to you - some threat to your self-esteem - and instead of rolling with it and saying "Yeah, I guess I'm not quite as great as I thought" you come up with some narrative that preserves your self-esteem. One of Lewis' characters in Divorce is a good example: he was a poet, he wasn't successful right away, so he decided he was a soul too pure for this world and that everyone else saw his inherent goodness and envied him and was in a conspiracy against him and that's why they were mean to him. Or when some of the damned first found themselves in Hell, instead of admitting they had made a mistake they told themselves that because they had their freedom there and didn't have to worship God, it was the real Heaven, and the people in the place above who said they were in Heaven were just deluded goody-goodies trying to sound better than everyone else. Or another guy who had known a criminal in life, found the (repentant) criminal in Heaven, and then went back to Hell in a huff because going to Heaven would legitimize the system that said a criminal got better treatment than upstanding law-abiding citizens like himself. It helps clarify an idea I wrote in another article, that "people aren't just seeking status, they're seeking the ability to believe that they have status."

In Lewis' Hell, the reason people don't choose to go to Heaven even though the gates are open is that they'd have to abandon their defense mechanisms. They'd have to admit that there's no conspiracy of jealous people against them and maybe they just weren't that good a poet. Or that they're in Hell because they were bad people, not because Hell is super awesome.

It has nothing to do with making good three-bean salads. Lewis' Hell is full of people who are too proud to admit they were wrong.

I think I'm good at admitting I'm wrong in philosophical debates, but The Great Divorce made me realize how terrible I am at it in my personal life and in my quarrels. Once I had a good idea what pride was and what to look for, it was depressingly easy to find it in myself.

The Dark Side of Divorce

Other than the straw dystopianism and the hand-wavey theology, there was one much more substantive problem I had with Great Divorce. It is not directly a criticism, because I can see where it is coming from, but it left me profoundly uncomfortable.

One theme of the book - the quote on the back cover, in fact:
Narrator:Is it really tolerable that she should be untouched by his misery, even his self-made misery?….What some say on Earth is that the final loss of one soul gives the lie to all the joy of those who are saved.

Narrator's Spirit Guide: Ye see it does not.

Narrator: I feel in a way that it ought to.

Spirit Guide: That sounds very merciful: but see what lurks behind it.

Narrator: What?

Spirit Guide: The demand of the loveless and the self-imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy: that theirs should be the final power; that Hell should be able to veto Heaven….Either the day must come when joy prevails and all the makers of misery are no longer able to infect it: or else for ever and ever the makers of misery can destroy in others the happiness they reject for themselves. I know it has a grand sound to say ye’ll accept no salvation which leaves even one creature in the dark outside. But watch that sophistry or ye’ll make a Dog in a Manger the tyrant of the universe.

This reminded me of my attempts to come up with a theory of drama, one which I explicitly quoted Lewis in. The idea is that people use their misery in order to control and blackmail other people. At some point you just have to say "Nope, don't care" and walk away. That seems to be part of Lewis' theodicy; God allows Hell because the people there are deliberately making themselves miserable in order to gain power over others (think of the woman mourning her son mentioned earlier, or the poet talking about the conspiracy against him, or the upstanding citizen who refused to go to Heaven if he would have to share it with penitent criminals) .

But Lewis continues his policy of always choosing the cases most difficult for himself. One of his damned souls is a woman who was put in a terrible abusive nursing home where she was starved to death. She keeps complaining about this to all of the blessed souls in Heaven, leading the narrator's spirit guide to say what I interpreted, fairly or unfairly, as "Wow, what a grumbler. You can see why we keep her in Hell to prevent her from being a total downer up here."

I can almost understand a world in which a mother goes to Hell for mourning her dead son too much. But it's really hard for me to accept that you can go to Hell for complaining too much about being starved to death in an abusive nursing home.

I can sort of see where Lewis is coming from. You could say she's dead now, she needs to abandon her grudge, stop being so focused on wrongs done to herself and on her status as a victim and just accept God's eternal love and go up to Heaven. I can sort of see a world in which God offers her the healing forgetfulness-waters of the River Lethe, and she refuses because she wants to hold on to her anger at her maltreatment. I have certainly known people who are so fond of grumbling about their wrongedness that they make everyone around them miserable and are a far cry from Lewis' bright spirits of total joy who inhabit Heaven.

But I keep thinking of pride as a defense mechanism. And you know who develops defense mechanisms? People who have horrible experiences. Lewis is extremely evasive about whether everyone will be saved eventually, but taking him at his orthodox word and assuming they won't be, it seems extremely unfair for people who have worse experiences and so develop more mental defense mechanisms to get the short end of the salvation stick. If someone is abused for their entire life, and so they develop some unhealthy coping strategies to deal with it, then rejecting them from Heaven for those unhealthy coping strategies seems like adding insult to injury.

And on the one hand, I don't care. I'm not religious; the criteria for keeping people in or out of Heaven is a completely hypothetical thought exercise no more interesting than critiquing the color scheme of the Hell-Heaven bus.

But on the other, Lewis' theory of salvation has some very obvious political overtones. There are political groups that act a lot like that damned woman from the nursing home. They make a big deal out of feeling wronged and offended and spend large portions of their lives complaining about it and bringing everyone else down.

And it really is unpleasant, and Lewis' morality seems to think the answer is to dismiss them as being therefore unpleasant people. But what exactly are they supposed to do? Complaining works (well, sometimes). If people were nicer to them, they wouldn't have to complain as much. I've seen patients in hospitals complain to their families about the conditions there. Sometimes the patients just like whining and are looking for something to whine about (just so I don't look like I'm inferring this disposition from people I don't like: I used to like whining and look for things to whine about). Other times the hospital is really maltreating them and there's not really much they can do about it except whine to people who are still mobile and healthy and might be able to do something about it. And although I understand that "whine less in certain situations" may be a moral truth, I would hate for it to get mis-Schelling-fenced into "don't whine about things".

I had the same thoughts about a discussion where Lewis' spirit guide criticizes people with bad aesthetics - aesthetics that say broken, ugly things are just as good as righteous, beautiful things and that anyone who says otherwise is naive or prejudiced or whatever. On the one hand, I like beautiful things as much as anyone else. On the other, the project of questioning aesthetics - for example, trying to make our society have less of a knee-jerk revulsion to overweight people - seems like not only a potentially useful one, but one that could even be in accordance with truth, for example if it turns out that our revulsion to overweight people is totally contingent on images we get from TV and so on and that other societies find overweight people perfectly okay or even more attractive (as is indeed the case).

So I guess my problem with Great Divorce is that it talks about a very personal morality. But its personal morality doesn't translate very well into a political morality, unless maybe you're an extreme conservative, which for all I know Lewis might very well be (I think writing about the Great Divorce as a critique of liberal politics would be an interesting essay on its own). Yet I worry that personal morality and political morality are not so easily separated: that people just don't think finely-grained enough to understand that if you're in Heaven, you should stop annoying the angels with your self-absorbed victim-spiel about your abusive nursing home, but if you're on Earth then when someone complains about an abusive nursing home you take it frickin' seriously and if you're in an abusive nursing home you complain as loud as you humanly can to anyone who will listen.

This may be a special case of my worry that what is beautiful is not always true, and that the things that actually improve the world may give us an icky feeling inside when we do them. Lewis presents a compelling vision of morality and redemption, and in some ways the vision is enough, in that it solidifies some things we know are good and gets us to start questioning our pride and ego-defensiveness. In other ways, it suffers from exactly the problem that I would expect: that a moral system designed for dead souls in Heaven might not be strong enough for living people in a flawed world where there is very likely not a God.

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[User Picture]From: nancylebov
2012-11-07 07:12 am (UTC)
"an instinctive revulsion to overweight people"

I don't think it's instinctive. Whoever carved the Venus of Willendorf with stone age tools probably wasn't doing it as a joke. Mauritanians don't overfeed young women to make the young women less attractive.

I think it's a trained revulsion, especially considering that it's kicking in at lower and lower fat percentages.

I haven't missed the point of the rest of your essay, but I'm thinking about it.
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[User Picture]From: squid314
2012-11-07 07:15 am (UTC)
Yes, see the very next sentence: "...if it turns out that our revulsion to overweight people is totally contingent on images we get from TV and so on and that other societies find overweight people perfectly okay or even more attractive (as is indeed the case). "

Since the word "instinctive" is probably the wrong one to use there I'll edit it out.
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[User Picture]From: celandine13
2012-11-07 12:03 pm (UTC)

The discipline of trying to stamp out pride -- and then continually saying "oh, well, your humility is just a really subtle form of pride, start all over again" is common to all the Abrahamic religions. There's a lot of it in Rumi (for all that the hippies love him, he's still a Muslim). Here's the thing, Squid -- I actually tried to *do* it. I built the habit of constantly digging for a prideful thought. It's not a process that allows you to live in the world. You end up with paralysis. And let's be frank -- the guys like Lewis who are *telling* you to do this elaborate form of torture are hardly practicing it on themselves.

This is where I become something of a Randroid. This is where I notice that this discipline of systematically trying to destroy the Self is only practiced by people so conscientious that it's really *sad* to see them wasted in self-abnegation. The best minds of our generation, and the most ethical people too, have a real tendency to get stuck on a purity trip. And it's a damn shame. If you're OCD enough to try to purify yourself of pride, and smart enough to go up lots of meta-levels about it, both you and the rest of the world would be a hell of a lot better off if you just dropped the guilt trip, declared you were awesome, and went about doing awesome things.

And you say -- well, it's not really about self-abnegation, that's just another form of pride -- but as you say yourself, once you start framing it as a goal of Not Being Prideful, you never get out of that loop of finding prideful motivations under noble ones. It is an infinite regress, and not a pretty one.

There *is* a way out though. And it's the blessing of multiplicity. Thank Maude, the mind doesn't only do one thing, and there isn't only one self. Eventually, something other than the guilt trip *will* come to your attention -- you'll get curious about some question, or you'll notice a leaf falling from a tree, or you'll want to help someone. This is the moment where you have to make a choiceless choice. Think about the question, or the leaf, or the person in distress, and *not* about the guilt trip, but don't think about not thinking about the guilt trip. It's logically impossible if you're a single decision-theoretic agent, but it *is* possible in reality, and in fact happens all the time, precisely because we're not single agents. "Leaf-loving Sarah" is born in an instant and takes over "Guilt-tripping Sarah". It's hard to put into words how to do it, and I'm not sure how to do it more often, though I think vipassana helps.

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[User Picture]From: squid314
2012-11-08 04:08 am (UTC)
I think I agree with you about everything here. Powerful, willful attempts to escape pride don't work. What works for me is usually making myself genuinely happy (there's a different kind of happiness that comes from being successful and gaining status, but I'm starting to think that's totally unrelated). I can do that by listening to good music, taking a walk especially somewhere beautiful, spending time with people especially those I love, or reading a good book. For me happiness seems to be a state where I'm in the world and where I naturally stop focusing on myself. Your mention of "leaf-loving Sarah" sounds right.

But also worrying about thought too much might be downplaying the role of action. A lot of my pride problems involve me not being able to apologize or admit I was wrong. Once I'm able to notice I'm doing that, go up to the person involved and apologize, I might not have untied the whole Gordian knot but it seems like a good first step and then consistency bias drags my thoughts along kicking and screaming to catch up with my actions.

I'm sort of intrigued by your bringing up Rand here, in that I'm not sure I know what her answer to this problem would be. Her characters seemed proud of their legitimate accomplishments, but they didn't seem to constantly dwell on whether they were "good enough". On the rare occasions they got bested, they seemed to be pretty excited to meet someone who could beat them in a fair fight and willing to acknowledge their competitor's superiority while also hoping to improve themselves and win the next round. Maybe they were insulated from pride because they cared about their art - the art of business, or the art of architecture - more than they cared about their own status? But I don't know of any Rand stories about people who actually face real insurmountable ego threats - a crappy entrepreneur who keeps getting outcompeted, or an architect forced to accept that he's just not all that good at designing buildings. I can't imagine John Galt getting a D on some exam, or having the love of his life break up with him, and having to wonder whether he was really a decent enough person to achieve his goals - it just seems like something he would never allow to happen. There was one mediocre-but-virtuous character in Atlas - a servant (?) or something of Dagny's - who realized he would never achieve greatness himself and so dedicated himself to assisting someone who would and so helping build the world vicariously - but it seems psychologically unrealistic to expect that from the mediocre people.
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From: vilhelm_s
2012-11-07 04:22 pm (UTC)
Lewis' politics were indeed conservative. I was reading a two-in-one volume of The Screwtape Letters / Screwtape Proposes a Toast, which showed the contrast quite amusingly. The first book follows a small group of people, and you sort of nod along, thinking "ah yes, this advice about how to cultivate humility in your personal life is indeed very sensible". Then the next book branches off into how trade unions are, literally, a tool of the devil.

I feel there is a prisoner's dilemma situation here. For any given individual, it probably maximizes happiness to adopt a Christian/Buddhist attitude of equanimity and acceptance. But if _everyone_ does that, we end up with a society like medieval Europe, where everyone lives in squalor and gets screwed over by the ruling elite.
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From: (Anonymous)
2012-11-07 05:52 pm (UTC)
Very good point.

There is a long, long history of pointing out that Christian ethics don't work so well in statecraft (and we may take the ruleds attitude towards the ruler as a form of statecraft) but no one has really found out a good way of squaring the circle, other than a somewhat artificial division between politics and personal behavior.
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[User Picture]From: pktechgirl
2012-11-07 04:41 pm (UTC)
It seems horribly unchristian to not want to listen to the downtrodden because they make you sad.
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[User Picture]From: toothycat
2012-11-07 05:35 pm (UTC)
Actually, when I read the excerpt you posted, I didn't understand it to be saying "We can't have her here, we don't want to listen to her grumbling." What I understood it to be was an answer to a question I've wondered about before; if (say) I am in heaven but my friend is in hell, how can I be happy? So the guide was explaining that one cannot hold the joy of heaven ransom to people who choose to remain in hell ("I know it has a grand sound to say ye’ll accept no salvation which leaves even one creature in the dark outside.").
I haven't read the book, so it's highly likely I'm missing something, but that's how I understood it before I read the rest of the post. It doesn't explain why the lady from the nursing home was in hell, of course.
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From: deiseach
2012-11-07 06:20 pm (UTC)
Well, think about the situation we have here on earth, where someone may try blackmailing another person into either starting or continuing a relationship with "If you break up with me, I'll kill myself!"

No-one would, I hope, tell the second person in that situation "Oh, you have to stay with Bill or Jane, otherwise you will be to blame if they do anything!"

To give an absurd example out of my own experience, when it comes to fanfiction writing, you sometimes (and I've seen this in action myself) get the very young and/or over-sensitive reacting to constructive criticism (that is, criticism genuinely meant to help them improve as a writer, rather than merely telling them "You suck!") by stomping off in high dudgeon, then a couple of days later someone supposedly their sister or best friend comes back and tells us that So-and-So has killed herself so there, I hope you're all happy you drove her to it with your mean ways, you big meanies!

Of course So-and-So isn't dead, she merely popped up pretending to be her own sister/friend and was hoping to shock everyone. Does not work, by the way; the first time I saw this, I was genuinely startled, until I learned better.

That is what Lewis is saying about the damned; they are trying to force the blessed to be miserable because "If I'm not happy, you can't be happy, either!". But that doesn't work, anymore than "If Bob kills himself, it will be your fault!"
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From: (Anonymous)
2012-11-07 05:55 pm (UTC)
Your reading of Great Divorce is a lot different than mine, so thanks, yours was illuminating.

But like you, I took Lewis' attitude towards pity sto be bordering on heartless and poorly thought out:

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[User Picture]From: squid314
2012-11-08 03:34 am (UTC)
Thank you. It was good to see someone else with some of the same worries so I know I'm not completely missing the mark.
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From: deiseach
2012-11-07 06:27 pm (UTC)
I don't know if this helps any, but from St. Thomas Aquinas on Pride (pride is considered under the heading of the cardinal virtue of Temperance; the pairings are pride opposed to humility, with temperance being the middle way or balance we should all strive for):

"Reply to Objection 1. Pride [superbia] may be understood in two ways. First, as overpassing [supergreditur] the rule of reason, and in this sense we say that it is a sin. Secondly, it may simply denominate "super-abundance"; in which sense any super-abundant thing may be called pride: and it is thus that God promises pride as significant of super-abundant good. Hence a gloss of Jerome on the same passage (Isaiah 61:6) says that "there is a good and an evil pride"; or "a sinful pride which God resists, and a pride that denotes the glory which He bestows."

It may also be replied that pride there signifies abundance of those things in which men may take pride.

Reply to Objection 2. Reason has the direction of those things for which man has a natural appetite; so that if the appetite wander from the rule of reason, whether by excess or by default, it will be sinful, as is the case with the appetite for food which man desires naturally. Now pride is the appetite for excellence in excess of right reason. Wherefore Augustine says (De Civ. Dei xiv, 13) that pride is the "desire for inordinate exaltation": and hence it is that, as he asserts (De Civ. Dei xiv, 13; xix, 12), "pride imitates God inordinately: for it hath equality of fellowship under Him, and wishes to usurp His dominion over our fellow-creatures."

So what pride is, is inordinate or unbalanced self-esteem or self-glorification (or esteem or glorification of other things; saying "My country, right or wrong!" is the wrong kind of national pride, because if you really don't care that your country is in the wrong or doing wrong, merely because it's your country...)
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From: (Anonymous)
2012-11-08 12:52 pm (UTC)
I don't think that's what "my country, right or wrong" means. Its more a declaration of relationship, i.e., that my relationship to my country is not a contingent one based on a continually updated evaluation of my countries value. Its like saying 'my wife, healthy or sick."
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From: deiseach
2012-11-07 06:53 pm (UTC)
"One of his damned souls is a woman who (as best I understand) was put in a terrible abusive nursing home where she was starved to death."

I was surprised by this, because I honestly didn't remember any case like that, so I dug out an online version of "The Great Divorce" and I think you must be referring to the Grumbling Ghost in Chapter 9:

"I once said to her 'I do think I'm entitled to a little consideration because you at least lived out your time, but I oughtn't to have been here for years and years yet' - but of course I'm forgetting you don't know - I was murdered, simply murdered, dear, that man should never have operated, I ought to be alive to-day and they simply starved me in that dreadful nursing home and no one ever came near me and . . ."

Now, please remember this book was first published in 1945. Back then (and up to quite recently), if you had to go into hospital for an operation, it practically meant you had a death sentence. Operations were the last resort when nothing else would cure the ill. This woman - however old she is - expected seventy or eighty years of life, and she feels cheated out of her 'full share' (but none of us can guarantee we'll live to be as old as we expect we will live, so this is her first error). I didn't read it as being starved to death in an abusive nursing home, but as a very gravely ill woman who died (of cancer or who knows what) but who was so desperately clinging on to life, she blamed everyone and anyone for failing to keep her alive and make her better.

The operation didn't cure her? Then the surgeon "murdered" her! The nursing home didn't cure her? She was "simply starved", not that her condition was so poor, she couldn't eat solid food. No one ever came near her? And whose fault is it that she drove away all her friends?

The irony is that she claims her former friend, who died before her and whom she met again in Hell, "turned out to be so changed, absolutely selfish, and not a particle of sympathy for anyone but herself". That's her own case, and she can't recognise it. Lewis says "I am troubled, Sir," said I, "because that unhappy creature doesn't seem to me to be the sort of soul that ought to be even in danger of damnation. She isn't wicked: she's only a silly, garrulous old woman who has got into a habit of grumbling, and one feels that a little kindness, and rest, and change would put her all right." And George MacDonald answers, "That is what she once was. That is maybe what she still is. If so, she certainly will be cured. But the whole question is whether she is now a grumbler....The question is whether she is a grumbler, or only a grumble. If there is a real woman - even the least trace of one-still there inside the grumbling, it can be brought to life again."

In other words, the Grumbling Ghost is so fixated on the unfairness that she died ('I oughtn't to have been here for years and years yet') that she can't be happy anywhere; she first has to let go of the expectation that she was owed a certain amount of lifespan and that she shouldn't have gotten sick and died from a disease.
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From: deiseach
2012-11-07 07:01 pm (UTC)
There may also be a misunderstanding of the language used; Lewis is using "nursing home" to mean "convalescent home", not "residential home"; to give an online quote:

"Scottish convalescent homes, established between 1860 and 1939, provided short-term care for around two to three weeks for patients recovering from trauma, surgery, or illness either at home or in hospital."

So the Grumbling Ghost would have been sent from hospital after her operation to a short-term care home to recuperate, except that obviously she died there due to complications from the operation or because her disease was so far advanced.
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From: (Anonymous)
2012-11-07 08:57 pm (UTC)


Suggestion: when mentioning a book, and especially when writing a review, immediately name the author. You wrote this as if the reader already knew of the book, in particular knew who the author is.

I can imagine occasionally wanting to hide the identity of the author, particularly this author, from people who know of only a subset of his writing, but I'm pretty sure that was not what you were doing in using his surname but not initials.
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[User Picture]From: squid314
2012-11-08 04:18 am (UTC)

Re: dk

Good point, done.
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From: (Anonymous)
2012-11-07 09:15 pm (UTC)

Free will

>>>But I keep thinking of pride as a defense mechanism. And you know who develops defense mechanisms? People who have horrible experiences. Lewis is extremely evasive about whether everyone will be saved eventually, but taking him at his orthodox word and assuming they won't be, it seems extremely unfair for people who have worse experiences and so develop more mental defense mechanisms to get the short end of the salvation stick. If someone is abused for their entire life, and so they develop some unhealthy coping strategies to deal with it, then rejecting them from Heaven for those unhealthy coping strategies seems like adding insult to injury.

One of the big philosophical differences between you and Lewis is that you take for granted that humans don't have libertarian (= contra-causal) free will. For someone like Lewis who believes in souls with libertarian free will/ultimate, non-reducible agency, no matter how horrible your past experiences you always *can* break out of your defense mechanisms and embrace salvation. For a compatibilist it makes more sense to say that in some of these cases you have lost your (non-magical) freedom to choose to do otherwise than what you are doing, like it happens for drug addicts or brainwashed people.

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From: (Anonymous)
2012-11-09 03:06 pm (UTC)

Re: Free will

I don't know what Lewis' position is on libertarian free-will. But I don't think that's what the Great Divorce is about. The underlying philosophical concept isn't 'you deserve to be in hell because you have freely chosen to be.' Its more "deserve's got nothin' to do with it."
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[User Picture]From: Raymond Arnold
2012-11-07 09:41 pm (UTC)
I once had an idea for an MMO that starts with you dying and going to hell. Not *precisely* the Christian hell, since it isn't optimized for Game Design. But a Hell that is more in line with actual Christian concepts of Hell than an atheist's parody of it. (I thought this was a more interesting exercise).

The initial game is about the conquest of hell - there's a huge swarm of evil people all dumped into this shithole, and they all need to make alliances to survive but obviously can't trust each other very much. You get abilities and choose sides based on which sins resonate with you. The initial story-arc ends with Lucifer successfully putting himself on top.

Later expansions would include breaking out, manipulating mortals, fighting with angels, etc. To preserve some suspense, the second-to-last expansion ends with Lucifer convincing God to sign a contract, stating that He will not use omnipotent God-powers to just swoop in an defend his creation - if his creation is worth anything, it should be able to defend against the temptations and armies of Hell.

The last expansion would end with everything falling apart because yes, evil does in fact turn upon itself. Lucifer's carefully balanced stack of cards crumbles and consumes itself.

At the very end, Lucifer (and you, now as a ranking demon-lord) are given the option of ending it all and going to heaven. Lucifer refuses, of course, returning to an endlessly repeating fantasy where he maintains illusions of power.

Going to heaven means that you stop playing this fucking repetitive soul-sucking MMO and move on to real life.
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[User Picture]From: marycatelli
2012-11-08 02:02 am (UTC)
That's a cool concept.

It might work even better as a novel than a game. Ending it just before the narrator decides. . . .
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From: (Anonymous)
2012-11-08 07:58 pm (UTC)
As a teenager I was worried that I did good things in order to be seen as a nice person. I asked a friend in her eighties for advice, and she told me to keep doing the same things and eventually my motivation would change. The question of pride no longer bothers me, but I'm not sure how much is that my motivation really shifted and I and how much is that I now believe it's fine to pay attention to how your actions look to other people.
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[User Picture]From: st_rev
2012-11-08 08:19 pm (UTC)
Sounds like 1984 told from the other side: Winston Smith could stay in Heaven, if only he learned to love Big Brother.
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[User Picture]From: marycatelli
2012-11-09 04:24 pm (UTC)
yes, obviously, there is no difference between hating a totalitarian dictator, and hating food and resenting that you go hungry.
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[User Picture]From: houseboatonstyx
2013-01-06 11:17 am (UTC)
What you say about 'pride' and 'humility' sounds a lot like what Lewis said about them (in MERE CHRISTIANITY, iirc).
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From: (Anonymous)
2013-02-06 01:20 pm (UTC)

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