Book Meme 2012 Week 10: Books for the Post-Apocalypse

Alas, ’tis upon me! Obscenely late, but here nonetheless — the end of the 2012 Book Meme! ‘Twas scheduled for but ten weeks…but it never specified which ten! I just…spread them a bit apart, is all. Nonetheless, I bring my participation here to a close. May next year’s Meme be as fruitful, but more timely!

Topic: Which books would you bring if the world was destroyed and we had to restart civilization? (i.e. the basis of human knowledge, thought, and civilization)

I take the premise of this topic to be the utter destruction of human society wherever it exists, survived only by small and incomplete groups of people who, lacking any clear leadership and way forward, must join together to reform themselves into a healthy society that can not only self-perpetuate, but grow, and provide for the welfare and happiness—physical, emotional, intellectual, artistic, and spiritual—of its members. Had they but a very few (we’ll say in the single digits) books recovered from our current civilization, which ones might be the most helpful for the rebuilding of society? Which ones would advise them best against the pitfalls that could scuttle their endeavor, show them how to avoid various tyrannies and injustices, and reveal the best way, the ideal, that they should strive for?

To proffer an answer to such a question, we must know what is the purpose of human society, of all human relationships, and indeed of our very existence.

I reject offhand all philosophies and worldviews that claim there is no purpose or meaning to human existence. To build a successful society, one must have a goal that one is working towards, and these—whether relativisms, existentialisms, Postmodernisms, or other intellectually bankrupt ismatic[1] forms—offer none.

Now, there are many other philosophies that do indeed offer an answer, and I reject all but the one I know by experience and revelation to be true. The Westminster Catechism may say it best:

 Question 1: What is the chief and highest end of man?

Answer: Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.

Ergo, the purpose of human society and civilization is to enable all people to glorify God and fully enjoy Him forever. This is the real standard by which a civilization can be deemed more or less successful.

Thus, the only book that would be truly necessary in the Post-Apocalypse is the one book that has, completely and perfectly, as its great theme the glorification of God and the communication of Him to humanity:

The Bible.

So there you go.

However, the topic question is in the plural. While the Holy Bible is the only necessary and all-sufficient book, and indeed contains in it all the principles by which mankind must ever need to live, it is not the only book which can be useful to us. God has gifted us the ability and desire to communicate and to share our communications, even across the age; the gift of Literature, that we would be foolish not to take advantage of while we can, but never, of course, forgetting that the chief end of Literature is also the enabling of mankind to glorify God and fully enjoy Him forever.

So, acknowledging the embarrassing deficiencies of my personal education (including the fact that I simply don’t read much literature of a political or even philosophical nature, not as much as I should), I’ll suggest another book that could, if read intelligently, discussed wisely, and applied humbly, aid in the building of “a more perfect union.” There are many others, but it’s painful to think of choosing so few books at the exclusion of others, and this meme has been delayed long enough, so I’ll stick with this one “honorable mention” for now.

Politics by Aristotle

 Man, when perfected, is the best of animals; but if he be isolated from law and justice he is the worst of all.

-Politics I.2.1253a25

I choose the Politics over Plato’s Republic mainly because it’s been absolutely ages since I read Plato, and then only a few selections, and frankly it hasn’t stuck well in my memory. Aristotle, in contrast, I studied fairly rigorously over an entire course, reading his Politics, Poetics, and Nicomachean Ethics, and then comparing them to the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas. That was still a few years ago, so I have to rely on my margin notes and underlined passages of the book, but I still think the Politics is one of the best texts for inciting useful debates about the most important aspects of human society.

Just as for Christians everything comes back to glorifying God through Christ and His act of redemption, for Aristotle everything comes back to eudaimonia, or a life consisting of the best and truest happiness. Aristotle’s wisdom comes from his attempts to reconcile the ideal with the practical. He knows that there is a perfect, moral absolute by which mankind can be judged, but he also knows that we can’t completely live up to it.

The ideal form of government, in his opinion, will be the one which best fulfills the highest purpose of a government; that is, the common interest.  Since the common interest is what is best for all citizens, and since what is best for individual citizens is virtue, then the best government will be that which can foster the most virtuous citizens (presumably both in quality and quantity), as well as maintain “a perfect and self-sufficing existence” for them (III.9.1280b33).  “The good life,” Aristotle says, “is the chief end, both for the community as a whole and for each of us individually” (III.6.1278b23).

He talks about who should make the laws (ideally, only the most morally upright men no matter what rank of society they come from), how the economy should be structured, how and when wars should or should not be conducted, how to avoid a culture of petty jealousies and political squabbling, and why it is imperative that they not just settle for a mediocre society, but actively strive for the best one possible. And should these survivors of the apocalypse ever become existential and suicidal, they might remember this:

But people also come together, and form and maintain political associations, merely for the sake of life; for perhaps there is some element of good even in the simple fact of living, so long as the evils of existence do not preponderate too heavily. It is an evident fact that most people cling hard enough to life to be willing to endure a good deal of suffering, which implies that life has in it a sort of healthy happiness and a natural quality of pleasure.

-III.6.1278b28

The group of post-apocalyptic survivors would find much to debate in Politics, and if they are wise, they will learn from his logical and methodical processes while still being able to critique him, hopefully from a biblical viewpoint. Many of his views, such as the ones on slavery, they should not adopt, although I think Aristotle was rather progressive for his time for insisting that not all who were physically slaves should have been, and that some who physically were among the elite deserved to be slaves! But he understands the interconnectedness of society: the importance of individual virtue and self-regulation, of families maintaining healthy relationships, of neighbors caring for each others’ welfare, and of a people that respects its government because its government is composed of morally upright and wise men who try their best to serve the people humbly and selflessly. That’s the ideal. We’ll never quite get there on this earth, and we’ll probably stay very far away, but Aristotle knows this and still insists we must strive for this ideal. In post-apocalyptic stories, we usually see the survivors dissolving into petty power-struggles and jealous squabbles, but if they had Aristotle’s Politics, they’d learn a bit about how to deal with some of the specific problems they come across.

In the end, what it comes down to is this: a government’s “intrinsic strength should be derived from the fact, not that a majority are in favor of its continuance (that might well be the case even with a poor constitution), but rather that no section at all in the city would favor a change to a different constitution” (IV.9.1294b13).

Of course, if the survivors had only Politics and not the Bible, while they might succeed in recreating something similar to a decent Greek city-state, they would not fare nearly as well as if they were pursuing Christ. God blessed Aristotle with perhaps the best of worldly wisdom, but even that cannot compare to the penetrating truth of the gospel, which lays bare all men’s hearts .

N.B. Ideally, this would be paired with the Nichomachean Ethics and the Poetics, for they all are designed to complement and explain each other. You’ll understand Politics much better if you know all the internal debates Aristotle goes through to understand eudaimonia in the Ethics, and Art in the Poetics.


[1] Taking the form of an “-ism,” that is, of theories and schools of thought that try to squeeze the grandness of the universe into their narrow field of vision, without success. To my knowledge, I have coined the word. There is probably a better one out there, but I’m too lazy to look it up.

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Book Meme 2012 Week 7: Literary References to Win My Heart

Topic: Which literary references would win your heart?

This is a difficult meme topic for me because I don’t tend to conceive of literary references in this way. I worry about how to woo, not how I might be wooed. There are some references that I dream of using in wooing a woman, and many that a woman could use while capturing my heart, but the effectiveness of any of these would be determined entirely by the context of the relationship and the situation. There is no literary reference a woman could make that, on its own, would cause me to fall in love with her. Some could impress me, perhaps. Perk my interest at the possibility of a kindred spirit, even. Make me want to know more about her. But that hardly means my heart is pounding, my mind’s eye full of her beautiful face, and my mind concocting grand shows of virtue by which I hope to win her admiration.

But maybe that’s it, then. Not allusion as a love potion, but as a revealer of character. What sort of literary reference could an eligible young lady make that would open my eyes to her amazingness and make me desire her for my lifelong lover and companion?

…I think I have it.

The Song of Solomon in the Bible, containing poems of dialogue between King Solomon and his wife.

…for love is as strong as death,
            its jealousy unyielding as the grave,
It burns like blazing fire,
            like a mighty flame.
Many waters cannot quench love;
            rivers cannot wash it away.
If one were to give
            All the wealth of his house for love,
            it would be utterly scorned.

~Ch. 8:6-7

A beautiful illumination done by a good friend of mine.

The Bible is not typically thought of as a romantic book, nor as one that celebrates passionate, sensual love. And for good reason – most of God’s instructions on the subjects of love and sex are warnings against how not to do it. It makes sense, when you consider what powerful emotions they involve. It also makes sense when you realize that God values them so highly that He designed them for the most intimate of human relationships, marriage, in which two people become as one, and which is the foundation of the family. Romantic love is intended to complement a holy marriage, not to be taken lightly. God goes to great lengths to show us how to avoid screwing it up.

But He also shows us pictures of how it should look when done right. Nowhere is this picture of holy romantic love so prominent – and so unbelievably sensual – as in The Song of Solomon.

There are so many things I love about this book:

1. How Solomon and his wife are best friends as well as lovers.

This is my lover, this is my friend.

~Ch. 5:16

Like a lily among the thorns
            is my darling among the maidens.

~Ch. 2:2

2. How they are so comfortable with each other that they can quite frankly praise each others’ God-given bodies, in such a way that becomes an act of praise to God as well as of each other…

How beautiful you are, my darling!
    Oh, how beautiful!
    Your eyes behind your veil are doves.
Your hair is like a flock of goats
    descending from the hills of Gilead.
Your teeth are like a flock of sheep just shorn,
    coming up from the washing.
Each has its twin;
    not one of them is alone.
Your lips are like a scarlet ribbon;
    your mouth is lovely.
Your temples behind your veil
    are like the halves of a pomegranate.
Your neck is like the tower of David,
    built with courses of stone[a];
on it hang a thousand shields,
    all of them shields of warriors.
Your breasts are like two fawns,
    like twin fawns of a gazelle
    that browse among the lilies.
Until the day breaks
    and the shadows flee,
I will go to the mountain of myrrh
    and to the hill of incense.
You are altogether beautiful, my darling;
    there is no flaw in you.

~Ch. 4:1-7

Listen! My lover!
            Look! Here he comes,
leaping across the mountains,
            bounding over the hills.
My lover is like a gazelle or a young stag.
            Look! There he stands behind our wall,
gazing through the windows,
            peering through the lattice.
My lover spoke and said to me,
            ‘Arise, my darling,
            my beautiful one, and come with me.’

~Ch. 2:8-10

3. …even when they don’t match the fashions of the day.

Dark am I, yet lovely,
            O daughters of Jerusalem,
            dark like the tents of Kedar,
            like the tent curtains of Solomon.
Do not stare at me because I am dark,
            because I am darkened by the sun.
My mother’s sons were angry with me
            and made me take care of the vineyards;
            my own vineyard have I neglected.
Tell me, you whom I love, where you graze your flock
            and where you rest your sheep at midday.
Why should I be like a veiled woman
            beside the flocks of your friends?

Ch. 1:5-7

4. How they rest comfortably in each others’ arms.

Strengthen me with raisins,
            refresh me with apples,
            for I am faint with love.
His left arm is under my head,
            and his right arm embraces me.

~Ch. 2: 5-6

5. How they bring peace to each other, describing the effect each has on the other with metaphors of beautiful gardens, gentle deer, dependable towers, pure doves, and shading fruit trees. (skip to any verse at random and you’ll see some such imagery)

6. How they don’t neglect their friends, but their friends are active supporters of their love.

Where has your lover gone,
            most beautiful of women?
Which way did your lover turn,
            that we may look for him with you?

~Ch. 6:1

7. How they sometimes seem hopelessly idealistic with their dramatic declarations of love…

You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride;
            you have stolen my heart
        with one glance of your eyes,
            with one jewel of your necklace.

~Ch. 4:9 [N.B. No, it’s not incest. “Sister” here is used to emphasize how utterly close in spirit the lovers are—they aren’t just romantic “partners,” but are actual family.]

8. …while still being wise.

Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you
            by the gazelles and by the does of the field:
Do not arouse or awaken love
            until it so desires.

~Ch. 2:7 and 3:5, both times said by the woman

It’s this last point which impresses me so much. Here are these two lovers – throughout the poem often in each others’ arms and in various states of undress – pausing to tell we readers not to force love, nor to seek it out, nor even to make it an unduly important part of your life. They know well how reckless our passions are. When you fall in love, your logic and good sense may as well just shut up because your heart sure isn’t going to want to listen to them. Which at times can be good, of course – human reason is faulty and often cannot understand what a heart led by God can sense. But likewise our hearts are faulty, and reason led by God can become wisdom, which is not at all the enemy of romance, but rather its protector, and hopefully its cultivator.

God doesn’t just want romance for us – He wants the best romance for us. The kind that leads to a lifelong companionship, a union of lovers who glorify Him and are thus free to glory in each other. God doesn’t give us easy, clear-cut steps, because He knows that each individual is different. But He does give us Himself, and the principles on which He designed life and love. I’m still struggling to understand this kind of wise romance, this God-led approach to love, courtship, and marriage. I want it badly. And I want a woman who wants to struggle to understand it alongside me.

What’s this? Wisdom is sexy? Yes. Yes it is.

Book Meme Day 30: Favorite Book of All Time

Well if you are going to deal in absolutes, then fine. The Holy Bible. Old and New Testaments. Not a word more nor a word less. Preferably the New American Standard translation, but as long as a translation is meticulously accurate, it counts as my favorite. You see, there really is no book nearly as important or wonderful or perfect as the Bible. It sheds Light on every aspect of human existence, and it is always invariably correct.

Oh, what’s that? Yes, I know I excluded the Bible from this meme at the beginning to prevent it from sweeping all the positive “awards.” But the phrasing of today’s topic—the final topic—left me no choice. Favorite book of all time? All time? If we are speaking about eternity, then all books will fade away but this one, because it is the Scripture bearing the gospel of the infinite God. It all seems quite simple to me—with the qualification “of all time,” literally no other book can even be considered a candidate, because all other books are the words of finite men trying, whether they realize it or not, to grasp at the mind of God.

In fact, it is the word “favorite” which is irrelevant in this topic. What has my opinion got to do with anything relating to eternity? The Bible is The Book of All Time, and it is my good fortune (and grace from God) that I wholeheartedly love it.

Are you not satisfied yet? What did you expect me to write about, my favorite novel? That’s not the meme topic, now is it? And besides, you already know my favorite series, my favorite story by the author of my favorite series, my favorite books by my favorite authors, my favorite “classic” book, my favorite male and female characters, two of my favorite quotes, my favorite romance in a book, my favorite childhood book, and my favorite book title.

It would be ungenerous of me to call these an overabundance of favorites, for the very concept seems ludicrous to me, especially concerning books, where each one may prove more dear than others to a person at different points in their lives, and it is very possible for multiple books to be on a shelf of favorites, as it were, all at the same time, with none taking particular precedence. When ranking such subjective things like books and movies, I prefer to think of them that way—a highest level of “great” stories that are among the best ever told and which are the most important to me personally, and then successive levels below. The number of stories which may occupy any given level is, theoretically, infinite.

By reading these month’s posts, you have already gained a pretty solid idea of my favorite stories. However, since I do love title-dropping, I’ll indulge in just a little more. If you want more information or discussion on any of the titles below, just ask. They make for great discussion!

The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff (my review!)
Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff
The Lantern Bearers by Rosemary Sutcliff
Phantastes by George MacDonald
Mossflower by Brian Jacques
Watership Down by Richard Adams
The Odyssey by Homer
Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle
Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas
Mere Christianity by Lewis
Miracles by Lewis
Chronicles of Narnia by Lewis

(and so. many. more.)

Oh, and yes, this is the end of the meme. Unfortunately I shall not be updating every single day. However, I do have a few new reviews in the pipeline, so fear not, the month of June will not be an empty one!