Comments on ‘A Clockwork Orange’

A Clockwork OrangeA Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

[Spoiler Alert] Dark, haunting, disturbing. I enjoyed reading the full, original version–the one published in the UK. That is not where the book ends off in the American version or the movie for that matter.

This is not exactly an end-of-the-world book, but it does show you England in a state of decline under a decadent, socialist (?) government. The violence towards humans and the license afforded the entitled and, to be frank, useless Alex (and his droogs) will ring a bell with some of youth culture today. In this Burgess was able to glimpse the shape of future things to come.

At the end of the book Alex starts to think about the permanent things in life–family, work, marriage, children. In this, I think, he was wrong. The shape of our modern post-WW2 ‘liberal’ world order is one of the disenchantment–teaching people not to love anything at all, with the assumption that people will not fight. After all, people only fight about things they care about. And if people don’t care about anything–their homeland, their people, their heritage, their god, their future–then we will have that twisted vision of peace which assumes that peace is nothing more than an absence of violence. The revival of populism (Trump) and nationalism (Brexit) reveal the disintegration of this program for disenchantment.

But Alex (and Burgess) was living in a world wherein marriage and family still had a sort of enchantment to them–a sense that they were among the permanent things. But we, in the West, have destroyed that enchantment. The only thing truly wicked anyone can do anymore is tell someone else that what they are doing is wicked. We have traded meaning for power. But a rootless power carries within it the seeds of its own destruction. Ergo, the West: a civilization without a future and unable to consider its past, and is actively breeding itself out of existence. Call it unnatural desolation, if you will.

If anything, our present is darker than the world of Alex because redemption and maturation were options for Alex. Not so for the droogs of today, who are more mediocre in their pernicious acts just as they are beyond redemption in our disenchanted saecula.

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Review of ‘A Canticle for Liebowitz’

A Canticle for LiebowitzA Canticle for Liebowitz by Walter M. Miller Jr.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am continuing with my trek through all the end-of-the-world type books I can find. And this is one of the most famous.

There is not a single main character throughout the whole book. Rather, it follows the history of a Roman Catholic monastic order (think monks living together for worship and scholarship). The order was founded by an engineer turned monk after a great nuclear cataclysm that killed most of humanity. Learning and books had become despised and dangerous, so Saint Leibowitz founded his community to gather and safeguard the few books that had not been destroyed after the cataclysm. His hope was that once humanity had recovered from its state of barbarity the preserved books would then be of use again.

One might compare it to Asimov’s Foundation, except that here the community is explicitly religious and it is formed after civilization has been eradicated. It is a pleasure to see how, with many twists and turns, the vision of St Leibowitz comes to fruition–sort of.

Strengths: there is a lot of philosophy and ethical reasoning in the book. I like philosophy. I like religion. I find both topics interesting, so I enjoyed the fact that the author focused on these topics more deeply than other books in the sub-genre, like The Dog Stars or Earth Abides.

Note to readers: If you know anything about Roman Catholicism before the second Vatican Council (1962-5) it will help. The form of Roman Catholicism envisioned by Walter M. Miller Jr. was very clearly the continuation of the Church before the major changes introduced at Vatican II.

As noted, the overarching narrative continues for centuries in the book. I found it satisfying and surprising. My main complaint is that I didn’t realize we’d be jumping centuries down the road every now and then. But once I got used to it, it was fine. Some of the secondary characters felt a little flat to me.

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New book alert: Identity Crisis

The folks of the Lausanne Movement recently have let us know about what appears to be a valuable, new book: Identity Crisis: Religious Registration in the Middle East (Gilead Books, 2016) by Jonathan Andrews (likely a pseudonym, I’m guessing).

The books addresses an important issue I noted on multiple occasions in Living among the Breakage, especially in my chapter on liberation theology in the texts of ex-Muslim Christians (Chapter 5).

I have not yet read the book, but I did read the Lausanne synopsis which looks promising. Here is a section from that synopsis:

It is often claimed that Islam is a religion of peace. What is meant by ‘peace’? Armed conflict can be stopped by one party surrendering unconditionally to the other. This brings ‘peace’ in the sense of an end to conflict, although the victors are able to impose whatever conditions they choose on the vanquished. It does not guarantee peace in the sense of stable, harmonious, and respectful community relations.

In Egypt, inter-communal strife is often followed by a ‘reconciliation meeting’. In situations involving Christians and Muslims, what typically happens is that Muslims seek draconian terms that marginalise and disadvantage the Christians, irrespective of the rights and wrongs of the situation. In such cases, criminal behaviour is overlooked, even exonerated. Religious registration is at the root of such practices, creating a context in which those who think of themselves as the majority feel that they are entitled to exploit others. The system undermines the rule of law.

This is indeed accurate and happens not only in Egypt but also in Israel-Palestine, and probably elsewhere too. The difficulty is that the system of organizing Muslims under Muslim rule into dhimmis is as old as Islam itself.

Anyway, I’m always happy to hear about new research about the challenges facing ex-Muslim Christians and the issue of religious registration is one of the main ones.

Read the whole Lausanne synopsis HERE.

Fred Farrokh reviews ‘Living among the Breakage’ in IJFM

Fred Farrokh recently reviewed Living among the Breakage: Contextual Theology-making and ex-Muslim Christians for the International Journal of Frontier Missiology (33:3, Fall of 2016).

I am happy to see such positive and insightful comments. Here is a brief section:

Duane Miller has entered the world of ex-Muslim Christians. It is not a simple world, but a complex one of trauma and breakage, trial and triumph. Through his research, Miller must be commended for not only identifying the key issues facing CMBs, but probing the very pain and open shame that sets the backdrop against which CMB life is painted. Indeed, Miller has painted a picture of CMBs who share with Jesus both the fellowship of His sufferings and the irrepressible power of His resurrection. (p. 141)

Read an entire PDF of the review at the IJFM website.

My review of Peter Heller’s ‘The Dog Stars’

The Dog StarsThe Dog Stars by Peter Heller

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The main strength of this book is that it is beautifully written. One really feels like he is fishing or flying with the protagonist.

The weaknesses are substantial. The plot moves along very slowly. If you are glad to enjoy beautiful prose without much action, this book is for you. If you like apocalypse and action, check out Lucifer’s Hammer.

It is difficult to envision a post-apocalyptic setting like this without a person–especially a literature man like our protagonist–reflecting rather deeply on the question of God and the ultimate (or primordial) nature of humanity. But aside from a brief narrative about meeting a fundamentalist, anti-Semitic Christian on a ski lift, there is almost nothing. I relished the brief reflections on Ecclesiastes in Earth Abides, not to say anything of brilliant, devastating theological tome A Canticle for Leibowitz. Heller was capable of more.

While the book does end with a slight hint of hope, what we are waiting for is new life from his new Eve. Why does the author not provide this? Is he so negative about the nature of humanity? Is it his way of promulgating the late modern narrative that one can be happy while denying their biological drive to procreate? The same late modernity that led to the near-eradication of humanity, I would note.

The book was worthy of my time. It represented to me a slow induction into the uncertainty and precariousness of existence in Heller’s wasteland. The loneliness is palpable. The depravity of Heller’s demonic humanity is painful. He reveals to us the paradox of the human state: our profound depravity and our ability to venture forth in humble heroics. But he fails to even humbly suggest an explanation.

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Review of Keith Laumer’s ‘It Could be Anything’

It Could Be AnythingIt Could Be Anything by Keith Laumer

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I read this during a day of traveling and airport layovers. For a travel novella where you are jumping in and out of reading, it was suitable and I enjoyed it.

This is a dystopic, reality-challenging novella. I suspect that it was originally published as a series of short stories, as it certainly reads that way. But that is not a weakness. If you are looking for character development, don’t look here. Also, if you looking for a novella that finally resolves, as in the great 1998 film ‘Dark City‘, don’t look here.

What is reality? Who are we? Could some version of solipsism obtain? These are the questions that Laumer addresses in this book. The setting is not good enough for a full-length novel. But Laumer, a skilled and experienced author, understood that. And so, he gave us this brief novella.

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Earth Abides by George Stewart: a review

Earth AbidesEarth Abides by George R. Stewart

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have a PhD in divinity, have taught and published on the Roman and Ottoman Empires, and have conducted anthropological research throughout four continents. This book challenged me in all of these areas.

Let me first say that the book is not dated. There is a certain timelessness to it that the greatest books have–I think of The Lord of the Rings and Lord of the Flies. Indeed, I kept on going back to meta-metaphor of the hammer in Earth Abides in relation to Piggy’s glasses in Lord of the Flies.

But this book touched me on a deeper level: I am like Ish. I am the kind of person who is always asking. Or as one former girlfriend asked me a long time ago: don’t you ever stop thinking? Like Ish, I cannot.

This book is set apart from other ‘end of the world’ books, like Lucifer’s Hammer or The Stand, in that it extends decades beyond the apocalypse, which in this book is a plague which eliminates very close to 100% of humanity. While those other books focus on the preservation of technology, this book gets to the primordial question: is civilization better than primitivism? Does reason, and so science, and so applied science–technology–make life better? What is progress? Is it, in fact, good?

Enjoy the audio book version I listened to. It is narrated by Jonathan Davis and he does this masterfully. The language is refreshingly clean, so let your children listen too while you’re on a trek from, say, San Antonio (where I live) to Denver (where my dad lives).

I will, in closing, note that the main character’s name is Isherwood, but he is always called ‘Ish’. It is a Hebrew word. It means ‘man’.

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