Mere Christianity | My Bible Study So Far…

I mentioned earlier this week that my men’s Bible study is going through Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis. We just finished reading the first section of the book, “Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe.” As I always enjoy the discussions that arise from our readings, I thought I would share a bit with you.

I find if difficult (near impossible, really) to synopsize (new word I just made up) Lewis’ thoughts without trying to simply re-write the book word for word. He does such a good job of leading readers through the logical progression of a moral basis for the belief in a higher power that I suggest you just read the full version. However, since I set out to provide a bite-size version for my blog readers, I’ll have a go at it.

Chapter 1: The Law of Human Nature | Humans believe that some morality is universally shared (like broken promises are not good), but we don’t always adhere to these universally shared morals (people still break promises).

Chapter 2: Some Objections | Isn’t what we are talking about really just our herd instinct, something that evolution put there? No, we are talking about the abandonment of self-preservation (an evolutionary idea) in favor or doing something good for a higher reason.

Chapter 3: The Reality of the Law | Stones follow the Law of Gravity when they fall; they have no choice in the matter. Humans live according to the Law of Human Nature when they interact with each other; they choose whether to do good or not. Some people say that decent conduct is determined not on an individual basis, but by the human race as a whole, as in the example that it is better for everyone if everyone is unselfish. But this breaks down when the individual is concerned. If you ask “Why should I care what is good for society except when it happens to pay me personally?” then you will have to say, “Because you ought to be unselfish”, which is circular logic. Just like if a person asks, “Why should I play football?” and a person responds, “In order to score the most points.” That isn’t why at all, it is simply part of the game. The fact that the game exists is because someone came up with it. Accordingly, the concept of morality exists because something came up with it, and it cannot be ourselves because it existed before we were born, and it cannot be an evolutionary trait, because then we would always act as we ought to act (which we don’t).

Chapter 4: What Lies Behind the Law | The question is this: Is the universe the way it is for no particular reason or is there a power that designed it to be what it is? If it exists, the power cannot be part of what is observable any more than an architect of the house can be a wall or a fireplace in the house. So how can we find this higher power? If we observe nature scientifically, we can see the truth of how things happen, but not why things happen. The only evidence that we have about why humans behave as humans do is because we are humans. Is it a coincidence then that in the only place where we can observe whether a higher power created a system of ethics, we find that one exists? We aren’t yet to the point of believing in a Christian God yet, simply that some power has determined a system of morality for us to either abide by or feel bad when we do not.

Chapter 5: We Have Cause to be Uneasy | If you feel like I am tricking you into believing in the Christian God, that was not my intention. I am simply pointing out the way things seem to be. If you think that we have tried the religious thing before and we can’t turn the clock back, consider that when you are going the wrong direction, the most sensible thing to do is turn around. Secondly, all we have so far is that something like a mind that is outside of our universe has designed things in a way that proves morality by showing our immorality, nowhere near the Christian God yet. Thirdly, my reason for the roundabout way was to show the existence of depravity in order to show the need for forgiveness. You do not go to the doctor until you realize that you are sick. The Christian religion responds to the facts that we have been presented with, but they are not always the comfort that people imagine them to be. We still have to face the fact that the world is a dangerous place, that people both love goodness (when they experience it) and hate goodness (when they choose to be mean), and that if there is a higher power that provided us with a sense of morality, then we have bungled it up completely and we’ll have to answer to that in some way.

So, there’s what we’ve gone through so far. Mere Christianity is one of the few non-fiction books that I genuinely enjoy. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it. If you want to join our Bible study in an online way, comment below and we’ll include you in emails and such.

Do you have thoughts that you want to share based on my poor synopses above? Please do. Let’s start a discussion!

And if you find this sort of thing interesting, here are some links that you might like as well:

An Atheist Converts to Catholicism – Why? The Moral Argument

The God Debates: Genuinely Intelligent Discussion on Theological Questions

Mere Inkling: A place where faith, history & writing converge.

The C. S. Lewis Institute

Thanks for reading!

P. S.  I’m still looking for guest posts.

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A Call for Guest Posts

Isn’t she cute?

As some of you may know, my wife and I are expecting another little girl in a few weeks (or less). What you may not know is that new babies are a bit time-intensive. I’ve done well enough so far of making sure that there is new content everyday, but that will be difficult on little sleep and Daddy time.

I’ve never been too proud to ask for help, and here’s the proof.

I could use a hand with some guest posts. If you are interested in sending me a post that I could use sometime in the coming weeks, please send me something using the form below. I’d love for my readers to have new content and be introduced to new bloggers.

Please include your proposed blog subject and a link to your blog. I’ll get in touch with you if your proposal is something that I think I can use. Thanks!

Axe Cop in Narnia

My men’s Bible study group is reading Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis.

My co-worker Louis just did a post on the voice of C. S. Lewis.

C. S. Lewis is everywhere, it seems. But have you seen his most popular fiction series through the eyes of a child who writes webcomics for his 30 year old brother?

Probably not… until now. (Click the images for full-awesomeness)

Click for full size

Click for full size

I’ve mentioned Axe Cop before, but it is such a great web-comic, I thought I’d mention it again, especially with all the C. S. Lewis in the air.

Book Club Update

I am having trouble sticking to my 100 page per week goal in order to finish reading A Game of Thrones by mid-August. I can’t put the book down. I’m like 600 pages in and I know that I’m going to finish it soon.

Part of me says that I should slow down and savor the reading experience. I should be making notes about my thoughts as I read. I should be looking for writing devices and topics to discuss when the book club meets.

And then the other part of me says, “Read, you fool!”

I’ll give you one guess as to which part I am listening to.

Maybe I’ll have time to read it a second time before we meet and I’ll make good on my intentions.

So for those of you who wanted to join the book club but were scared off by the amount of reading there is to be done, rest easy. It is a fast read, and addictive.

Also, I’m pretty sure that we’ve decided on a location for the book club to meet.

Date and time have yet to be determined. It’ll depend on what the new baby will allow (she’s due in less than 3 weeks now).

I am a Celebrity in Southwest Montana. (2 stories)

It started in my senior year of high school. Graduation was approaching, which meant that open houses would be starting soon. I decided that as graduation gifts for my friends I would give t-shirts with a picture of my face and the words “I love Josh Mosey” proudly displayed. I wouldn’t want any of them to forget me after all.

Click for the CCBC Facebook PageWell, my friend Julie spent the summer after graduation working at Clark Canyon Bible Camp in Dillon, Montana (great camp, by the way). Since it was a great shirt for every occasion, she brought it and wore it regularly. When another camp staffer started borrowing the t-shirt, the camp nurse took note. But when my friend Kristy, who also got the t-shirt as a graduation gift, came out to visit Julie, bringing along her own t-shirt, the camp nurse thought that a trend was emerging.

One night, the camp nurse cornered Julie and expressed her frustrations with pop t-shirt trends and companies using impressionable children to express inane messages. “Like this,” she said, pointing at the t-shirt with my face on it. “This is exactly what I’m talking about. You probably don’t even know who this Josh Mosey is, much less what he stands for. That’s why I home school my kids. So they don’t have to be exposed to stuff like this.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

One year after Julie went out to Clark Canyon, I went myself. I was pursuing a degree in Recreation from Western Michigan University and I needed an internship in order to graduate. So I contacted the camp director, Dale, told him who I was (a friend of Julie’s and the guy from the t-shirt) and he invited me to come out and be the assistant director for the summer. He had never for had an assistant director and said that it sounded like fun.

Mine was no where near this cool.

I packed up my newly fixed 1980’s Chevy Blazer and drove three or four days across the country. I learned a fresh hatred for the length of Nebraska, but I got to Clark Canyon in more or less one piece a few weeks before kids would start showing up for camp.

Now, the camp provided me with free room and board, but they couldn’t pay me any money. So, I did what any sensible man might do, in addition to my full-time responsibilities at camp, I got two other jobs. Once a week, I was employed by the state of Montana in a program that helped kids who had one or more parents in jail. And a few nights a week, I was a short-order cook at the greasy dive about a half hour from the camp (a half hour drive is practically next door in Montana, where the nearest Wal-Mart was six hours away).

I was working in the restaurant the night that the carnival rolled into Dillon, but I heard all about it the next day. I had my guitar our and was fiddling with it while Dale and a fellow camp staffer told me about the rides, the rodeo, and the carnival workers.

Dale said, “We should write a song about the girls who work at the carnivals.”

“We should make it a love song,” I said.

So we took a few minutes and wrote the song, “She’s my Carny Girl,” an instant camp classic, with such lines as “She looks like a princess, but only from a distance / That’s why I try to keep her out of sight / The smell of her hair is like my underwear / After eating pork and beans all night.” You get the idea.

Now, Dale had connections. Within a few weeks of writing the song, we were strolling into the local radio station to record it in one of their sound booths. We got a couple of tapes of the song for our own amusement, but the radio station kept one for themselves.

And they played it every so often.

Now, I don’t know if they still play it (that was a decade ago), but I like to believe that they do. I like to believe that if I ever go back there, I will see people who have copied the shirt that bears my face listening to the song that I co-wrote.

Frugal Grooveshark Writes Like He’s Unshelved – or – Links!

Today’s links are aimed to make your writing life a bit easier and a bit more fun.

My buddy Bob wrote a guest post this week on Roger Colby’s blog about free tools for the frugal writer. He compiled a great list of resources, so rather than spoil the mystery and tell you what they were, here’s the link so you can find out for yourself.

If you are like me, you like to write (or work, or live) with a bit of music in the background. This link is to a site that provides access to full albums and lots of artists as well as radio stations for your favorite music genre. If you like Pandora, you’ll love Grooveshark, which only asks that you see one ad for every three hours of music, unlike Pandora which puts in an ad every three songs.

Are you fretting that you aren’t going to be the next Shakespeare? Maybe you are! If you haven’t tried out the online tool “I Write Like” yet, do it now. By the way, according to the site, this post so far says I’m the next Arthur Clarke. I could see that.

Lastly, if you love books and humor, you will probably enjoy this web-comic. I stumbled across Unshelved a few years ago, and since working in a bookstore is a lot like working in a library, I found it hilarious. Just don’t spend so long looking at it that you neglect your writing!

How I did this week. Also, fun links!It’s been a little while since I did a report card for myself. So this week, I’m going to give myself a B. I might have done better, but I had to take my laptop in to get fixed, and when it got returned, the keyboard didn’t work. As it happens, the guy who fixed it just forgot to reattach the keyboard cable inside the laptop. Easy fix, but it did mean that I didn’t get to write much on the night I went out to write. I did, however, manage to post everyday on my blog. I even have a new contest going! It is easier than the last one too, so don’t be afraid to try it out.

Thanks for reading!

4 Things Writers Can Learn from Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut
Nov. 11, 1922 – April 11, 2007
So it goes.

I am in love with the writing of Kurt Vonnegut. Let that be my disclaimer.

I first read Slaughterhouse-Five for an Ethics & Literature class offered by the Lee Honors College at Western Michigan University. Having never heard of Vonnegut before, I had no idea what I was in for. My previous reading interests consisted of The Lord of the Rings and spy novels.

Slaughterhouse-Five was my gateway drug to harder concepts like war, morality, pain, and patriotism.

I once suggested Slaughterhouse-Five to a friend who had never read Vonnegut. He read it, but didn’t think as much of it as I. He told me that he found the book a bit hopeless, depressing. I couldn’t disagree with that. Vonnegut wrote from his experience as a World War II prisoner-of-war who lived through the fire-bombing of Dresden. He prefaces the book with a promise to a war buddy’s wife that he wouldn’t glorify the war. He lived up to that promise.

If you haven’t read Slaughterhouse-Five, read it. I can’t promise that it will be an uplifting book, but it is excellently written and shows an author who put himself onto the pages, sometimes literally, in a way that will stick with you. Plus, it was included in Time magazine’s list of the 100 best English-language novels written since 1923, so I’m not alone in my convictions.

I’m not going to bother with an in-depth synopsis of the book, because I fully expect each of you to read it for yourself, but if you need something to go on for the rest of this post, here’s the one-sentence version for you: We follow the out-of-order life of Billy Pilgrim, a WWII POW who lived through the fire-bombing of Dresden (sound familiar?) and was abducted by aliens who taught him the true nature of time, free will, and acceptance; an anti-war novel.

Okay then.

4 Things Writers Can Learn from Slaughterhouse-Five

1. Form & Function | When you first start reading Slaughterhouse, you notice that the book is not laid out chronologically. Rather, it is broken up into little moments. It isn’t until the fifth chapter that you read this:

Billy couldn’t read Tralfamadorian, of course, but he could at least see how the books were laid out–in brief clumps of symbols separated by stars. Billy commented that the clumps might be telegrams.

“Exactly,” said the voice.

“They are telegrams?”

“There are no telegrams on Tralfamadore. But you’re right: each clump of symbols is a brief, urgent message–describing a situation, a scene. We Tralfamadorians read them all at once, not one after the other. There isn’t any particular relationship between all the messages, except that the author has chosen them carefully, so that, when seen all at once, they produce an image of life that is beautiful and surprising and deep. There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments when seen all at one time.”

Vonnegut wrote in the style of the Tralfamadorians, a device that he invented and integrated in order that we might receive something beautiful when seen altogether. There is no real suspense, as he tells you in the first chapter exactly how the book is going to end. It’s certainly a different approach to novel.

2. Author-Driven Narrative | Usually, books fall into one of two categories as far as what is driving the narrative: plot or character. Vonnegut, I would argue, does neither. In plot-driven narratives, the action of the story is what draws the reader in and keeps them reading. In character-driven narratives, the plot comes second to the development of the characters, creating realistic, fleshed-out characters that readers love. Most novels try to balance these two things. Slaughterhouse-Five breaks up the plot into non-chronological order, and we get to the know the characters over the course of the novel, but the reason we keep turning the page is because the author has laid out the book in a very specific way. We follow the author’s lead more than the plot or the character.

3. Writing from Experience | Vonnegut was there. In fact, he even makes a few appearances in the book. This is my favorite, but its a little graphic, so feel free to skip it if you are faint of heart or stomach:

Billy looked inside the latrine. The wailing was coming from in there. The place was crammed with Americans who had taken their pants down. The welcome feast had made them as sick as volcanoes. The buckets were full or had been kicked over.

An American near Billy wailed that he had excreted everything but his brains. Moments later he said, “There they go, there they go.” He meant his brains.

That was I. That was me. That was the author of this book.

The first chapter opens with a discussion between Vonnegut and a buddy from the war. The last chapter shows them both returning to Dresden in real life.

While I wouldn’t recommend this device for every novel, it is one of my favorite things about Vonnegut’s books. His platform, his authority comes from his experience. He just can’t stay out of his own books. Either he inserts himself by name, or he uses his alter-ego, Kilgore Trout. In Slaughterhouse, he does both.

4. Symbolism | Slaughterhouse-Five is rich with symbolism, but rather than point out every symbol, I’ll just talk about one.

Vonnegut could have named his character anything, but he chose the last name of Pilgrim. Pilgrims are travelers. Billy happens to be a traveler through time. But the symbolism goes deeper.

Back in the days when people only owned two books, they had a Bible and a copy of John Bunyon’s A Pilgrim’s Progress. Pilgrim’s Progress shows a man on the road to salvation who undergoes trial and hardship in order to get to the Celestial city. It is one of the earliest forms of allegory to describe the Christian life and the path to Heaven.

Vonnegut’s name choice puts his own Pilgrim in direct contrast to Bunyon’s, as Billy Pilgrim undergoes trial and hardship and is rewarded, not with Heaven, but with nothingness.

Billy is speaking before a capacity audience in a baseball park, which is covered by a geodesic dome. The flag of the country is behind him. It is a Hereford bull on a field of green. Billy predicts his own death within an hour. He laughs about it, invites the crowd to laugh with him. “It is high time I was dead,” he says. “Many years ago,” he said, “a certain man promised to have me killed. He is an old man now, living not far from here. He has read all the publicity associated with my appearance in your fair city. He is insane. Tonight he will keep his promise.”

There are protests from the crowd.

Billy Pilgrim rebukes them. “If you protest, if you think that death is a terrible thing, then you have not understood a word I’ve said.” Now he closes his speech as he closes every speech–with these words: “Farewell, hello, farewell, hello.”

There are police around him as he leaves the stage. They are there to protect him from the crush of popularity. No threats on his life have been made since 1945. The police offer to stay with him. They are floridly willing to stand in a circle around him all night, with their zap guns drawn.

“No, no,” says Billy serenely. “It is time for you to go home to your wives and children, and it is time for me to be dead for a little while–and then live again.” At that moment, Billy’s high forehead is in the cross-hairs of a high-powered laser gun. It is aimed at him from the darkened press box. In the next moment, Billy Pilgrim is dead. So it goes.

So Billy experiences death for a while. It is simply violet light and a hum. There isn’t anybody else there. Not even Billy Pilgrim is there.

Vonnegut’s worldview appears through his symbolic name choice, drawing contrast and refuting the Christian faith in favor of Humanism. So it goes.

Using symbolism is an effective tool to portray complex thoughts or to allow a deeper interpretation of your work.

If you haven’t read it yet, read the book with symbolism in mind and see what you come up with. If you have read it, read it again.

And as always, thanks for reading my blog.