The Four Loves – Weeks 1 & 2

Cleo has been hosting a read-along of The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis, and happily I’ve been keeping up with it well, in spite of some reader’s block.  These are the parts I’ve read so far:

  • Week 1: “Introduction” and “Likings and Loves for the Sub-Human”
  • Week 2: “Affection”

First off, this book is not quite what I was expecting, and I say that not as a criticism but as an observation.  Lewis’s style is a little rambling, in some places like a sermon that switches from topic to topic fluidly but lacks the structure you’d expect from a book with such a structural title.  He focuses on certain aspects of each topic, rather than giving a detailed overview of the whole.  For example, my biggest takeaway from “Likings and Loves…” was his view on healthy vs. unhealthy patriotism; in “Affection,” it was more on “what to avoid” rather than “what to do.”  It doesn’t make the book any less readable, but a little more of a challenge to analyze.

Week 1

In “Likings and Loves,” Lewis talks about several different types of affinity or affection: “need-love” (love tied to needing the object of its affection), “gift-love” (love that must express itself in giving), and “appreciative love” (love that is nothing more nor less than appreciation of its object).  Most people can relate to all of these and have experienced them in different ways.

Lewis makes a particular case for Need-love being as important in Christianity as Gift-love, although, as he tells us, his original take on the subject was disparaging of Need-love.  Upon further thought, he came to realize that Need-love cannot be merely reduced to selfishness.  Instead, it’s an existential truth we cannot deny, whether it is found among human beings or between man and God.

If you haven’t read Cleo’s fantastic analysis for Week 1, I highly recommend it!  I’ll attempt to answer some of the discussion questions:

Lewis says that denying “Need-love” is a bad spiritual symptom.  Why do you think people would choose to deny it?
There is a popular quote around the internet, and also by Lewis, about how giving up all heartache and hurt would also necessarily cause you to miss out on love. Need-love in particular involves vulnerability – for Christians, it comes when you confess your sins to God and live your life knowing He sees everything you do and all you think and feel.  If we deny Need-love, then we don’t acknowledge our need to be saved or our need for human company (which God intended us to have).  Humans, however, don’t like to be vulnerable or hurt; it goes against our in-born pride and desire for self-sufficiency, especially on moral issues.  So that is why some people might choose to deny Need-love, or skirt around it by focusing on works and “self-improvement” to the detriment of mutually “needful” relationships with others.

It’s a paradox that the natural loves when they are at their best are in the most danger of blasphemy.  Can you elaborate on this or give examples?
Speaking from experience, I know you can love someone so much (platonically or romantically), and become disappointed in love so much, to the point of overwhelming and relentless depression if the relationship doesn’t go smoothly.  This actually becomes idolatry, when you cause yourself this kind of emotional harm over another human being.  You’ve allowed someone to get a hold on you that damages your well-being, and that is wrong, even if the source is a natural love.

Lewis’s truly awesome novel on this topic is Till We Have FacesKierkegaard’s Works of Love also goes into this a bit.

Can you think of ways that we can be strengthened by the past without aggrandizing it or allowing it to form mistaken impressions in our minds?
This is a topic that’s been on my mind lately, especially as I try to dig deeper into history through books and documentaries.  I’ve learned about some disturbing topics in U.S. history, everything from eugenics to Vietnam War tactics to the government’s questionable response to Japan’s human experimentation in WWII (stumbled across the latter right before July 4 last year, which made me feel awful).  That’s just the past; the present-day evils are also numerous.

How do you celebrate your country or be “patriotic” when these awful facts stare you in the face?  Lewis suggests a couple of things.

First that “The [historical] stories are best when they are handed on and accepted as stories.”  He says:

What does seem to me poisonous, what breeds a type of patriotism that is pernicious if it lasts but not likely to last long in an educated adult, is the perfectly serious indoctrination of the young in knowably false or biased history – the heroic legend drably disguised as text-book fact. 

In other words, history is one thing, and stories from history are another; one should instruct adults and the other should inspire children.  I understand where he’s coming from, but I don’t see how you can possibly separate the two for children’s sake, or even college students’.  It seems like it just sets you up for disillusionment.

His second thought is more palatable for me, and that is that if we don’t have some patriotism, then everything becomes global and we run the risk of virtue signalling.  We are also hyprocrites if we don’t express some favoritism towards our country, in the same way we express favoritism to our own house.  It is not that you don’t see morality and ethics on a global scale, but you should have a particular concern for those of your own country, Lewis suggests.

As with most things, I think moderation is key when it comes to patriotism, so overall I agree with Lewis.  There’s nothing wrong with taking pride in the good things our country has done; we should take those things as examples and inspiration.  On the other hand, we shouldn’t rest on our laurels when there is more that needs to be addressed.

Week 2

In “Affection,” Lewis considers three things associated with the concept: familiarity, jealousy, and its sometimes paradoxical accompaniment, hatred.

It was a little strange to see these last two negative emotions given so much focus.  He gave a couple of examples – of an overprotective mother’s love-hate for her family and a prideful college professor’s self-centered love for his students – and I think they were based on his real-life observations.

He did mention something which I find really true, and that is that true affection will only nurture as much as is actually needed, and then it will let go.  Letting go is actually critical to this kind of love being love.  In other words, a really loving parent teaches a child to discern right from wrong, rather than blindly following rules for the sake of rules.  When the child grows up, they will then be ready to face the world on their own and not be so wholly reliant on their parent.

In what way do you think that affection can work in friendship and romantic love?
In friendship, I think affection is best described as a feeling of “rightness” or happy contentment when you are with that person.  It enables you to overlook or put up with all the little things about them that annoy you (and vice-versa).  It can even make those traits endearing!  People use the term “friend” very lightly, but I don’t think you can have a true friendship without affection. 

It’s similar with romantic love, but here I think feeling affection is that moment you know you’d like to spend the rest of your life with that person, versus a temporary infatuation.  The person has become familiar like an “old friend,” or like family.  Romantic love without affection is more like lust, and then becomes unromantic.

Do you think the ability to show affection is built into our nature?  Or is it a choice?
I think it’s a kind of switch that’s “on” when you’re born, but circumstances and rejection can cause it turn “off,” or at least be very difficult to retrieve.  It’s something that needs to be practiced or else it becomes stale.

How can affection broaden our minds and widen our scope of understanding of others?
Affection requires some level of empathy.  Being affectionate towards a broad range of people helps to develop your empathy and emotional intelligence.  Without any affection, you never have to look sympathetically from anyone else’s perspective (which is quite a sad way to live).  Affection is not only good for the recipient, but it is good for the giver.

I was searching my memory for a song that makes me think “affection.”  I finally settled on “Halley” by one of my favorite indie folk bands, August and After. It’s about a boy and his dad watching a comet travel through the sky.

Battling Reader’s Block

Hope everyone is doing well this fine June… It feels like the month is FLYING by.  Tomorrow is going to be about 90 degrees where I live, so I’d say summer is here.

Albert Bierstadt - Matterhorn

Since I finished 12 Rules for Life, I’ve been having pretty bad reader’s block.  You wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell… Current status seems productive:

  • Still slowly plugging away at the Tesla biography (it’s interesting but very brainy)
  • On track for Cleo’s read-along of The Four Loves (Lewis), though I failed to post for part 1 (will roll it up into the next part)
  • Also reading Master and Commander (O’Brian) and The Scapegoat (du Maurier), both of which are pretty good books so far

I think recent “real-life” stress has zapped my attention span.  I hate it when that happens.

There are certain types of books that can get me out of that.  I will probably keep sampling books till I find one.  Till then, it might be kinda quiet around here…

The Time Machine: Then and Now

It’s been about fifteen years since I first read The Time Machine.  It was so unlike anything I’d read before.  Afterwards, I even wrote my own time-travelling story, which was more like fan-fiction than anything else.

I don’t often reread books, but as I build my H. G. Wells collection, I figured I’d reread each book and see how it held up over time.  (No pun intended!)  The Time Machine was the first book by Wells I’d read and seemed like a natural starting point.

The story begins in Victorian England.  A group of friends – a doctor, a journalist, a psychologist, and others – gather at the Time Traveller’s house for their customary meal and conversation.  The Time Traveller at this stage has just created a model of his machine which he says he can build at full-scale and use to travel through time.  The demonstration leaves his guests skeptical, but not long after that, the Time Traveller shows up to one of his own dinners, bedraggled and telling a wild story of adventure and romance.  The rest of the book is a flashback (or is it a flashforward?) which follows his exploits into the future, where the human race has become split into binary factions, the childlike, helpless Elois and the industrious, sinister Morlocks.

I’d like to think I was an astute child, but the sheer selfishness and stupidity of the Time Traveller was apparently lost on me.  For the most important trip of his life, he leaves very unprepared, which comes back to bite him later.  More disturbing is his romance with the woman-child named Weena.  The age difference is ambiguous, and if that wasn’t bad enough, he seems more interested in his own well-being than hers.  Overall he’s a terribly unlikable narrator, and the worst of it is, Wells doesn’t seem to realize that.

The story itself is still exciting, even this many years later.  Unlike the recent adaptations of Doctor Who, which follow a breathless plotline, Wells makes use of “negative space,” if you will, to highlight the more perilous moments.  There’s almost a pastoral bent to his descriptions of the futuristic countryside, forests, and rivers.  It makes for a poignant contrast between the appearances of peace and the realities of warfare (or rather, terrorism), which the Morlocks inflict on the peace-loving Elois.

Is the plot realistic or plausible?  Not really – but I’m not sure it was intended to be. It does, however, give you an insight on the late Victorian psyche, at least from Wells’s perspective.

If you like classic steampunk, then you have to read The Time Machine.  If you can rewind to childhood and read it then, all the better.