September 15, 2008

The Kingdom

In his book The kingdom of God is near, João César das Neves analises the history of mankind, from the point of view of our collective relationship with God, since the end of the Middle Ages until the turn of the Millennium. In his analisys he includes, for each century, a work that in some way reflects and summarizes the essence of that century. For the 20th century he chose Jurassic Park.

Unlike the other choices, I cannot agree with this one. In my personal opinion I would chose 3 different works to capture the spirit of the 20th century: The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and Harry Potter. If I had to cut it down to one choice I would stick to The Lord of the Rings.

One of the aspects that clearly unites these three stories is the fight between good and evil. Here there are three very different nuances, but they all reflect very clearly our collective story of the last century. It is impossible not to recognize in Darth Vader's Death Star the atomic bomb, not to see in the racism of the pure-blood Death Eaters the nazi racism, not to relate the feelings of the members of the Fellowship of the Ring, swept from the Shire to sneak into the depths of Mordor with the feelings of the WW2 soldiers, swept from british fields to fight in the devastating scenarios of the trenches. And this is a question that also pinpoints something essential of our epoch. After the two world wars it became completely impossible to maintain the naive notion of progress, to believe that the future would always be better, and the only reasons for the evils of the past were the technological underdevelopment and the material poverty. It became evident, except for the voluntarily blind, that the world is and will continue to be the stage of a gigantic fight between good and evil.

Another aspect common to these stories is magic. Magic can be strange as a summary for a time that has such a technological ethos, so much at odds with the spiritual, the transcendent and even the fantasy. But, in the end, and as we can see clearly through George Lucas' genial inspiration, technology is just another different attempt at doing magic. Not matter how many computers, lasers and automatic gadgets we have, what we really want is to force matter to obey our will. If there is a force ruling the universe, we want to be able to control it as we see fit. The same happens with Harry Potter. Harry Potter stories are interesting exactly because it would be much more fun if we had indeed a magic wand and we could change the world with a spell and a waving. With regards to the Lord of the Rings, I must compliment Tolkien, because I believe he managed to take the story much deeper, the magic in the Lord of the Rings makes us reflect much more and come to very different conclusions than the other two works.

George Lucas is able to transport us to the inside of a new mythology as he intended to, and also to make us think about the origin of evil (as we see young Anikin, a cute kid that surely none of us thought of when seeing the adult character in the older movies) and about what can cause people to be redeemed, to return to good (the final scene where Darth Vader saves his son, with the cost of his own life).

J. K. Rowling is able, in a more childish way, to make us think about the salvific power of love. And friendship. And the origin of evil, with the flashbacks into Voldemort's past. And death, which is the great taboo of our days, especially in books for a juvenile audience. And also, through Dumbledore, she manages to make you reflect on fatherhood and mercy.

But Tolkien leads us much further. Every time I read the book I find new meanings. Tolkien managed to find new ways to express old truths, in such a way that they become understandable for the vast majority of a population that is christian in label, but neo-pagan in essence. I could enumerate the immense number of christian symbols in the book. But I will mention only three aspects. The first is the triple representation of Jesus Christ as Priest, Prophet and King, respectively Frodo, Gandalf and Aragorn. The second is the truth that evil cannot be defeated by force, it is too strong and too widespread for that. But evil ends up destroying itself. That is what happened when the ring is destroyed in the lava. And that is what happened at the crucifixion of Christ. The brutality of the guards, the cold-blood of Pilate, the hipocrisy of the pharisees, the betrayal of Judas, the cowardness of the other apostles, the indignity of Herod, the ingratitude of the croud constitute an extremely clear manifestation of evil. And it brought the defeat of that evil in a way that could not have been so complete had that manifestation not happened in all its power. And that is also what happened in our century: the world wars were the consequence of stupid nacionalisms that had already existed for a few centuries, but had never been manifest in all their strength and wickedness. And only after that manifestation of evil, it became possible to write the declaration of the Rights of Men, to start building the European Union, to begin treating the Jews as our brothers. Lastly, the ring is a perfect symbol of the struggle we live: we can only really achieve victory when we give up the power of the ring. When we abdicate the power. Because what is characteristic of the century that has passed, in mankind's relationship with God, and therefore in mankind's history, is the return in all its strength of the old temptation: You will be like Gods. Nazism, communism, the World Wars, the Cold War, the other smaller wars and the tragedies in small scale that happen in each family, in each school, in each workplace, in each soul, are usually related to this. We want the power to the world according to our will. In the illusion that it would make us happy. It doesn't. It makes us destroy one another physically and it makes us destroy ourselves interiorly.

What makes us happy is a different thing. It is the genuine and generous gift of ourselves. And it is the acceptance of the gift of others to us. Happyness is not to be conquered, but to be received.

Here I am, Lord, I want to be happy. If it is going to be necessary that You control my life and make me happy, help me Lord for it is not going to be easy for me.

Let thy Kingdom come! Let our lives become the plan of love that You have for us, instead of this fraticide battle we get involved in, by trying to carry on our little personal plans. Let us be capable of accepting that You are the King, not us.

May 15, 2008

G. K. Chesterton

Now the whole parable and purpose of these last pages, and indeed of all these pages, is this: to assert that we must instantly begin all over again, and begin at the other end. I begin with a little girl's hair. That I know is a good thing at any rate. Whatever else is evil, the pride of a good mother in the beauty of her daughter is good. It is one of those adamantine tendernesses which are the touchstones of every age and race. If other things are against it, other things must go down. If landlords and laws and sciences are against it, landlords and laws and sciences must go down. With the red hair of one she-urchin in the gutter I will set fire to all modern civilization. Because a girl should have long hair, she should have clean hair; because she should have clean hair, she should not have an unclean home: because she should not have an unclean home, she should have a free and leisured mother; because she should have a free mother, she should not have an usurious landlord; because there should not be an usurious landlord, there should be a redistribution of property; because there should be a redistribution of property, there shall be a revolution. That little urchin with the gold-red hair, whom I have just watched toddling past my house, she shall not be lopped and lamed and altered; her hair shall not be cut short like a convict's; no, all the kingdoms of the earth shall be hacked about and mutilated to suit her. She is the human and sacred image; all around her the social fabric shall sway and split and fall; the pillars of society shall be shaken, and the roofs of ages come rushing down, and not one hair of her head shall be harmed.

(G.K.Chesterton, What's wrong with the world)

March 26, 2008

C. S. Lewis quotation (via Happy Catholic)

Happy Catholic: Well Said
To love at all is to be vulnerable… If you want to make sure of keeping your heart intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket of your selfishness. But in that casket -- safe, dark, motionless, airless -- it will change. It will not be broken -- it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable… The only place outside of Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from love is Hell.

C.S. Lewis

May 27, 2006

The life of the city which is no more (in translation)

Very well... now that May is ending, that all the accountant work that had to be delivered before the end of month is nearly finished, and that the stress is slightly reduced, let me try to write something with a bit more of content.
I would like to dedicate this post especially to my American friends. And taking advantage of a very well written article on a portuguese newspaper last summer, I will anticipate the reflections that are certain to happen in the media when we reach the first anniversary of the Katrina, in order to take that catastrophe as the starting point to write about life and its meaning, which is something we don't speak or write much about these days...


New Orleans is no more. An entire city, one of the most symbolic and rich in the world, has disappeared under the overwhelming disaster. Overnight, the town of rythm and warmth, the unique combination of cultures, the distinct personality has ceased to be. The Big Easy is no more.

It will certainly be rebuilt, but the new New Orleans will never be the old New Orleans. The new places will not replace the old alleys. The smell of fresh paint will cover up three centuries of History. Above all other things, the lost lives that used to give life to the old New Orleans will never come back. The new New Orleans will certainly be big and beautiful, will certainly have warmth and rythm, but it will no longer be New Orleans. New Orleans is no more.

In the wake of the disaster, the media culture engages in the most disgusting and useless of tasks: to denounce responsibilities and to admonish the guilty parties. It has performed these same tasks in that same way at every ocurrence of a natural disaster. In the portuguese forest fires, in the tsunami that swept the Indic Ocean for Christmas or in the hurricane of New Orleans. The guilt is to be assigned to the ministers, to the economic interests, to the mayors or to the national presidents. The Government is guilty of the drought, of the ageing, of the desertification process. Facing the calamity, one discusses politics and demands technical resources. As if those were the causes and the solution. Of course there were mistakes and of course resources are short. Of course efforts and new measures are required. But there is something much beyond all that.

One forgets that, no matter how good the hurricane or the tsunami detectors are, no matter how strong the dams or the firemen, no matter how much we clean our woods or how many fire-fighting airplanes we buy, there is a dimension of irreducibility and unavoidability in our vulnerability. The human power is tiny in the face of a catastrophe.

Plinius and the whole Roman Empire were schocked by the destruction of Pompey on August 24th of 79. Voltaire and the whole of the Enlightenment were shocked by the destruction of Lisbon on November 1st of 1755. Now we were all schocked by the destruction of New Orleans on August 29th 2005. Volcanoes, earthquakes, hurricanes. We haven't improved much in two thousand years. When the wealthiest and most powerful nation of all times loses one of its great cities in a few hours, there must be something much beyond all that.

What there is beyond all that is the supreme absurdity of losing a city in a few hours. All the beauty, all the uplifting and the elegance, all the boiling and animation, all the heat and rythm, all the life of New Orleans is no more. That is the supreme absurdity that remains beyond all the debates. But this absurdity is the absurdity of all life. What happened to New Orleans in a few hours is what happens to every city through the course of time. The old Rome is no more, just as the old Pompey. The old Lisbon is no more, yesterday's as the one of 1754. Those who die peacefully today in their beds are no more, just like New Orleans. The supreme absurdity is the loss, the change, the end, to which everything is subjected. There is nothing more certain than death. Suddenly or slowly; and sometimes the slow agony is even more absurd than the sudden one. The end is the supreme absurdity of all life.

But the meaning of everything comes from its purpose, just as the meaning of the journey is the destiny. The loss and suffering gain a meaning from what comes after. The horrible labour pains are justified by the birth. The surjeon that performs an amputation is not stupid, because he saves the entire body. The sower that buries food is not stupid, for it will blossom. Seen from the perspective of what death transforms it into, life gains a meaning. Like the seed.

Every age, every culture, have always understood that life, all life, only has a meaning when considered after death. Be it a slow or sudden end, life only gains a meaning when it goes beyond death. This is a universal truth, present in all cultures. All, except for this mediatic culture that watches New Orleans disappear without understanding where it has gone.

Published in Diário de Notícias, on 12/Sep/2005, by João César das Neves

May 21, 2006


Well... I have to admit this blog isn't working exactly they Iwould like it to. The problem is the lack of time, of course. But the truth is that it has been very rare for me to have enough time to write. And then, instead of a collection of real "soul transplants" (when one gets to the keyboard and types in what is going on inside), I have just made a collection of interesting things that I have found. Other times will come... and since so often I lack the time to be together with the people who are around me physically, I cannot steal that time to be in front of the computer. Therefore I am not stressing myself too much!