Halloween is today, and folks are celebrating in appropriately spooky ways. I don’t get bothered by all this being a lead in for serious witchcraft and Satanism: God understands when we’re playing make believe and I don’t think can ever accidentally consign ourselves to Hell because the sinful intention isn’t there. Go ahead and disagree if you think God is a lawyer.
Something I find frightening is some of the lists I’ve seen of “Books To Read Before You Die”. There are books there which are generally regarded as classics that not only shouldn’t be read as classics, but even not read seriously at all. Yes, I’m getting into a brief C. S. Lewis Abolition of Man style rant about English teachers propagating bad philosophy in the course of teaching good literature, and these books aren’t good literature in my view. The list isn’t exhaustive, but the creme de la creme, or the scum de la scum, if you wish.
Edgar Allan Poe started his poem Alone: “From childhood’s hour I have not been/As others were; I have not seen/As others saw; I could not bring/My passions from a common spring. . .” Granted this is all subjective; if you love and treasure one or more of these efforts, I won’t think badly of you. You might find some of my favorites ill begotten tripe best forgotten.
Left Behind by Timothy LeHaye and Jerry Jenkins.
–If the Rapture really happened, I think a lot of people would be convinced of Dispensationalism almost immediately, especially in America. Those that weren’t probably would be after a plague or two from Revelation unfolded. The information isn’t that hard to find. The Antichrist would have to be doing mass mind control to keep masses of people from converting to Christ; charm and spin doctoring wouldn’t be enough, even if Karl Rove were involved (snicker, snicker).
–I don’t think the Muslims would move the Dome of the Rock and/or Al-Aqsa mosque for any amount of money or other inducement. Destroying these places would probably unite the whole worldwide Muslim community in armed vengeance, starting something almost as bad as the Cold War version of World War III. Given that reality and the fact the Golden Gate to the Temple Mount is bricked shut, it would take the Jewish Messiah returning to rebuild the Temple, which is good enough for most of worldwide Judaism.
–The vast majority of Jews aren’t interested in rebuilding the Temple. Yom Kippur takes care of their need for atonement; if it didn’t, Judaism wouldn’t have lasted 2000 years since the Temple was destroyed. God is perfectly merciful and wouldn’t let the absence of a Temple get in the way of that for a segment of the world’s people. The State of Israel keeps the few who want to rebuild the Temple from doing anything, because they aren’t stupid about the consequences as already laid out.
–If I were the Vicar of Christ, Successor of Peter, Ruler of the Vatican State, Servant of the Servants of God, etc., what would be a promotion, other than entering Heaven? Even if I did decide to take charge of something better the Antichrist offered, the Curia would immediately confine and depose me for having lost my mind. And they’d be right. Of course, an American born Pope’s election would be more than a major miracle in itself.
–If the Antichrist took control, I wouldn’t be traveling by clandestine jets all over the world to be there in person to see what he’s doing. I would be on the fringe of society in the mountains or on an island staying off the radar until Jesus came back. Unlimited Internet access would be enough for me to keep track of things and keep in touch with people, if I felt I needed to do that, but if I needed to stay under cover I could give them up to stay safe. Why all this isn’t good enough for the heroes in these novels is amazing; it was good enough for Hal Linsday’s fictionalization of Revelation.
–If I were a demon, I wouldn’t participate in a Heavenly plague even if it were fun. I’m sure Satan would understand my refusal to obey Divine orders.
–The Antichrist in the novels is an idiot. He knows Revelation exists, and follows its plan anyway. He’s a rebel against God: why wouldn’t he try to leave the script to make things harder? It’s tough to fear a predictable fool like this.
–The guy who wants to assassinate the Antichrist in the middle of the series is an idiot. Why good does it do to take what the Antichrist does personally? Especially if you know he’s going to be assassinated and come back worse than ever: let someone else take the job, I’m staying undercover. Although a sacred kamikaze mission while in a state of Grace to escape the rest of the Tribulation doesn’t sound like such a bad idea.
I’ll tackle the Theology of the End Times more seriously during Advent. Actually, I enjoyed these books as Kitsch: I thought they were so bad they’re good. But I also like Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Altas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
No surprise to most of you, I’m sure.
–Every country becomes a People’s Republic before Objectivism triumphs, just in the nick of time to save the dear old USA. Is she saying Marxism is inevitable before Lassez Faire Capitalism can succeed? I think the history of the last 25 years is proof Marx was largely wrong and isn’t inevitable.
–What ports do the great pirate fleet of Dagnar Rannesköld operate from? Somalia doesn’t face the North Atlantic.
–What kind of jobs do the great creative intellects have that let them spend a month in Colorado every summer? Because they’re smarter than their worthless bosses? (Wait a minute, John Galt is working for Dagny Talbert although she doesn’t realize it.) Maybe they quit and count on getting a new job when they come back from their utopian hideout. Maybe they can do this in spite of being in a chaotic economy where work must be hard to find and about to collapse because they’re great creative geniuses. Or maybe they should stay in Colorado year round.
–What kind of mother living 100 years ago names children Dagny and Balph while giving other children ordinary names? Were there drugged out hippies of that time we never heard about? Now we know why two of the main characters are permanently scarred. And what “literary leader of the age” (Balph Eubanks) can only sell three thousand copies of any book? Does that mean fictional literary critics are more warped than real life literary critics?
–What three dynamic, creative, self assured, accomplished men visualize one woman their ideal life partner without being jealous of each other or caring much about whether she reciprocates or not? Why aren’t they camping on her door to persuade her they’re the right man and her best choice? Why aren’t they punching each other out and/or stabbing each other in the back for the right to pull this perfect woman off to their caves by her hair? That’s how business operates. This parallel reality must be a very long way from ours.
–By the way, these three great heroes are living lives of complete deception to an elemental level to get the world to give in to their agenda. And I’m going to trust them enough to do business with them after they get their way?
–Who is John Galt? A nobody for millions of people before he disappeared. Who is Morris Schmege? Who is Elsa Murtosky? What different does it make? Who should care?
–Ironically, this book seems to have more of a common tone to Left Behind than anything else. It surely has as much preaching as LB does.
Roark’s impassioned speech from The Fountainhead has a feel for an artist’s need to be true to his/her vision, but objectively good art isn’t measured by the creator’s passion for its integrity after it’s created. A great deal of objectively good art (if you accept there is such a thing) wasn’t considered the best work or most representative work by their creators.
Moral 1 (because I believe in morals and think stories should have one of some kind)
The moral of the first two works: bully pulpit philosophy or religion makes horrible fiction because there is no connection to ordinary life or authentic human experience. Three hour diatribes that generate huge popular support doesn’t even happen in good fiction, much less reality, even if they’re divinely inspired or witness to a superior morality. Like superior moralities are wildly popular at any stage in human history, unless you’re telling the people they’re the master race.
I’ve enjoyed fiction written by atheists, particularly Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series and Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series in, because they didn’t let an agenda get in the way of good storytelling or good insight on the human condition. Even though C.S. Lewis is one of my favorite authors and his ideas generated this rant, I found the Chronicles of Narnia to be mediocre, although that’s partly due to the fact I read it after The Lord of the Rings. I tried to write a novel to parody Atlas and destroyed it before showing it to anyone: it was awful and if you read it right, Atlas is its own parody, as is Left Behind.
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Conceded: it has one of the great last lines of any novel written and captures the spirit of the Lost Generation that were broken in the trenches of World War I and meandered through the Roaring Twenties almost perfectly. These characters are uninteresting and so is their flitting from society party to society party. They’re not crazy enough to be amusing or tragic enough for empathy. They also have no connection to an ordinary person’s life or aspirations. Gatsby isn’t the only fraud in the book: the entire upper class of the 1920s was guilty of fraud. I’ll let you decide if the upper class of today is.
Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
Conceded: it captures the ambiguity of being a teenager well. Holden Caulfield has no redeeming feature or great intelligence: the only thing I can identify with is the profound loneliness of being a young geek away from home. He has no great goal or even great foolishness to commit; he is neither hot nor cold, and doesn’t even seem to enjoy the decadence he reaches for so ineffectively. Picking fights you know you’re going to lose makes no sense and provides no insight into the human condition. He only seems to come to his senses when his beloved little sister wants to join his pointless meandering and he knows enough to protect her from making that kind of mistake. If this were the moral of the story, don’t be like Holden, then I wouldn’t think this book so awful, but I doubt if that was the author’s intent.
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
Conceded: bad things happened in ’60s Society, Nixon was a creep, and Thompson knew how to put together an all out, rolling party the participants wouldn’t be able to remember. Now, why should I care about a recreation where someone could die every five minutes from some kind of intoxication even if they’re not in a speeding car? Or being in Law Vegas without gambling, seeing a show, or finding immoral recreation? At least Holden Caulfield tries to get into a few nightclubs to listen to the music. Petty vandalism, disregard for other people and surroundings and colossal intoxication don’t seem to be that interesting to experience, much less read about.
Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Conceded: Huck goes through an interesting moral dilemma debating whether to turn his friend Jim in as a runaway slave. Nothing else in the book is nearly that interesting. Their river journey doesn’t really go anywhere, even a direction where Jim can find freedom and safety. Didn’t they know to follow the Drinking Gourd, at least? After reading this novel twice, once in High School (I couldn’t finish it) and once a couple years ago (I did finish it then), I didn’t get any great metaphorical meaning. Huck seems to find an equilibrium at the end of the book by accident.
Twain’s caveat at the beginning of the book should be taken more seriously: “Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.” I guess I should be prosecuted, banished and shot.
There is something different about Twain: I generally like his work, use his sound bites frequently, and I think the War Prayer is a masterpiece that should be much better known for its relevance to today. Can’t say the same about the works of any other author on this list, but I could be persuaded if pointed the right direction.
The moral of the second four books: pointless meandering by shallow people is not a story worth telling, even if the scenery is nice, the times are historic or you’re intoxicated.
I find the lists of “Books You Should Read Before You Die” say more about the prejudices of the compilers than the contents being essential reading. Go ahead and compile one of your own if you wish. Challenging how people view the world, think, pray, and act is a project I find more interesting and more compelling than putting together a list like this. Yes, of course I would say reading the Bible is extremely important, but nothing something to be done alone. All kinds of strange notions can be justified through Scripture that have nothing to do with Christ or living authentic faith.