Thursday, August 16, 2007

1984

I finished reading George Orwell's 1984 last night. Somehow I made it thorough middle school and high school without reading it, so this was my first time. It made me think a lot about government. A few key points from the book that I think are especially salient today:
  • Constant warfare provides a way to control popular opinion and protect the status of the upper class. (War on drugs, terror.)
  • Doublethink--believing something that you know is false--destroys people's sanity and rationality.
  • Mindless entertainment (produced for and distributed to the proles in 1984) keeps people from making any meaningful intellectual achievements. (MTV, anyone?)
  • Constant surveillance restricts free thought. (NSA warrentless wiretapping, NYC surveillance.)
Orwell was remarkably insightful. 1984 is almost sixty years old, but the world it portrays seems to be closer to reality now than when it was written. I don't think that the world will ever become like Oceania, but I do think that it's important that people think for themselves and participate in government to keep it open and free. It's too easy for those in power to grow too fond of it, at the expense of the rest of us.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Mere Christianity

As part of my goal to read a book a month, today I finished Mere Christianity, by C.S. Lewis. The book is Lewis's explanation of "mere" Christianity: the simple subset of Christianity that everyone can agree about. He adapted the book from a series of BBC radio talks that he gave during WWII.

Lewis is an interesting expositor of Christian belief because he claims no special authority for doing so. He writes not as the Pope or an ordained minister, but as a common layman, explaining his religion to his common friends. If anything, Lewis makes it clear that he is as much of a sinner as anyone else. The humble position from which he writes gives his words an authority more powerful than a scholarly title.
I enjoyed Mere Christianity. It was interesting to read from my perspective as a Mormon. I found that, true to the book's goal, there was very little that I disagreed with. I even realized that Ezra Taft Benson's well-known Beware of Pride talk, which I have read many times, was based on Lewis's analysis of the topic, and it quoted his words and ideas at length.

A few favorite quotes from the book (citations from the HarperCollins 2001 edition):
  • Becoming: "We might think that God wanted simply obedience to a set of rules: whereas He really wants people of a particular sort." (p. 80)
  • Heaven: "The point is not that God will refuse you admission to His eternal world if you have not got certain qualities of character; the point is that if people have not got at least the beginning of those qualities inside them, then no possible external conditions could make a 'Heaven' for them...." (p. 81)
  • Charitable giving: "I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.... If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charities expediture excludes them." (p. 86)
  • Faults: "The devil loves 'curing' a small fault by giving you a great one." (p. 127)
  • Humility: "Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call 'humble' nowadays: he will not be a short of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all." (p. 128)
  • Faith vs. works: "Christians have often disputed as to whether what leads the Christian home is good actions, or Faith in Christ. I have no right really to speak on such a difficult question, but it does seem to me like asking which blade in a pair of scissors is most necessary." (p. 148)
  • Those pesky facts: "We cannot compete, in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We are dealing with Fact. Of course anyone can be simple if he has no facts to bother about." (p. 165)
  • God's plan for you: "Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps you can understand what He is doing.... But presently he starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of.... You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace." (p. 205)
  • Thoughts vs. actions: "Fine feelings, new insights, greater interest in 'religion' mean nothing unless they make our actual behaviour better; just as in an illness 'feeling better' is not much good if the thermometer show that your temperature is still going up." (p. 207)