Tag Archives: human depravity

And they were supposed to be made up

Maybe the conquistadors reported relatively accurately the horrors of Tenochtitlan. (It also clearly explains why so many neighboring tribes joined the Spanish… at least they weren’t making skull mountains…  Maybe modern anthropologists ought to leave off the noble savage propaganda…

A stone  Tzompantli (skull rack) found during the excavations of Templo Mayor (Great Temple) in Tenochtitlan. New research has found the 'skull towers' which used real human heads were just a small part of a massive display of skulls known as Huey Tzompantli.



The Strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is perhaps one of the most subtle and truest investigations into human nature and the soul of man to be penned. (Incidentally, a book study for it is available under the book study tab in the collection ‘Monsters and Men’.) It is a little book, but it brings to life what is perhaps the most soul-shivering monster ever: the inner man. (Something I talked about when writing about Agnes Mallory.)  The inner man is Jekyll, stripped of all self control, and filled with every unbridled passion.

However, I actually wish to talk more about the TV series, Jekyll. The series comes from a man I am almost convinced is a true master. He has made the show Sherlock as well. I saw that first. While Sherlock is a complete (and very successful) transplanting of Conan Doyle’s work to modern London, Jekyll is subtler.

I don’t want to give away even the slightest about the show, although the basic conflict is exactly what you think: Jekyll vs. Hyde. The interesting thing I wanted to leave this post with, (other than a recommendation for the stout- hearted to watch the show) is the three instances when someone in the show gives their opinion of what Jekyll is, and the final instance when (not Jekyll but.. you know, Jekyll…) gives his.

Hyde is first said to be ‘a child’ in a super-powered body. And this is part of the truth, he is the un-trained, un-restrained, selfish passions of an occasionally spiteful, cruel, child. He is also then said to be evil… which is also partly true, it is undeniably true. Then again, he is described as love.; and this is the most shocking, and yet, the series makes its case. Love, corrupted human love, does frightening things.

However, the real truth shines when Jekyll/Hyde (they coexist in consciousness at one point) is talking to one of the villains who calls Hyde a psychopath. And at this moment, Jekyll/Hyde makes a comment that could easily be overlooked, but I think was the key to the whole show. He basically says ‘isn’t everyone?’

Hyde is unrestrained, undisguised, human nature, and, though there was not even a hint of God or Christianity in the series, Hyde is fallen man. (Jekyll is also sinful, but Hyde has all the love, passion, pleasure, hate, spite, cruelty that live in the soul of man.) And as such, Hyde too, can be saved.

Also, the first time we meet Hyde, it is superbly done, and terrifying. Be warned, but remember, fallen man is terrifying.

A Canticle for the Vatican

This article at National Review Online really struck a history buff nerve. It also reminded me of one of the great pantheon of ‘Good Books I Like’… The Vatican Secret Archive Unveiled.

Some of the documents — written on such various materials as parchment, vellum, paper, and birchbark (the medium for an 1887 letter from the Ojibwe Indians to the pope, “the Great Master of Prayer, he who acts in Jesus’s stead”) — bring to mind epic moments and historical turning points across ten centuries: the handwritten records of Galileo’s trial before the Inquisition; Pope Alexander VI’s bull Inter Cetera (which might be translated, “Among Other Things”), dividing the New World between Spain and Portugal; the 1530 petition from dozens of members of England’s House of Lords, asking Pope Clement VII to annul Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon so that the Tudor king might marry Anne Boleyn; Gregory XIII’s calendar of 1582 with the “missing ten days” in October, an excision that rectified the inaccuracies of the earlier Julian calendar; a letter from Mary Queen of Scots to Sixtus V just before her execution; Polish king John III Sobieski’s 1683 letter to Innocent XI, reporting his victory over the Turks at the Battle of Vienna; letters from Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln to Pius IX during the U.S. Civil War.

My favorite is the letter on Birchbark… but this all reminds me of the fantastic book ‘A Canticle for Leibowitz‘. In the book, mankind has decided after a horrific nuclear war that knowledge and learning were the ultimate cause of the war, and so, with true human blindness, they burn every book, and kill every scholar. (Although the book is set much later, the events of this time are very interesting to me.) Basically, a man named Leibowitz founds an order of Catholic monks to preserve as much knowledge and books as possible. Eventually, in one of the books three parts, the world’s new scholars come to a monastery of these monks to learn what is left.

And now back to the Vatican archives. They should strike a reminder that rather than suppress the truth of history, the Church has been a consistent ‘rememberer’ of the past. I am sure suppression of the truth has happened in the Church… obviously, the church is made of people. But by and large, the church was the repository of learning and reading and writing and what history they could keep during the dismally dark and horrific time when the Roman armies were no longer keeping the barbarians out of what is now Europe. And now again, we have a whole class of people who would rather forget the past which is embodied in these documents.

Well,  A Canticle For Leibowitz has much appeal, with deep understanding of the flaws of mankind, and the work of God in Sanctification. Also, the depiction of mankind returning and ever returning to the same bad and evil ideas is very compelling. At every stage, God saves His remnant. It is a good book, go read it, its summer… you should have time 🙂

Amoral Society

No, I will not be discussing the fact that large numbers of Americans feel morally ok with things like abortion, nor is this about anything else that is usually discussed when people talk about amoral societies. This is for one simple reason. I think that people who believe that killing an infant before it is born (or as it is born) is morally acceptable usually tend to be people suffering not from a lack of morals but from moral inversion. Thus, smoking cigarettes, and eating animals (or kosher slaughter in which the animal is not unconscious) is evil and wrong, while abominations like abortion are acceptable. This seems to be not a lack of morals, but an inversion of them. I do think that this moral inversion is a product of the actual amoral society, and so they are connected, but an amoral society is one that does not make decisions based on what anyone thinks is right or wrong. (Leftists usually use different words, but it amounts to the same thing.) A society that makes decisions based on what it (or a majority, or even a reigning minority) thinks is right and wrong is fundamentally based on morality. Of course that is not the same as a righteous society, which is a moral society based on true morals.

Unfortunately, what I think best describes much of the world is the amoral society. Let me illustrate with the example that got me starting thinking about this. A few months ago, I was listening to the radio (890 WLS out of Chicago) and I caught a little bit of a debate about putting a strip club next to a convent, and naturally the nuns were trying to keep that from happening. (I am a little fuzzy on the details.) The argument of the man being interviewed basically boiled down to this:  ‘The nuns have no right to object to this because the strip club will pay taxes and the convent does not.’ That is amoral, and it is a direct result of over sized overspending government which encourages people to think, not in terms of what they believe is right, but in terms of what can be taxed.

This argument is also frequently used by Ron Paul fans when advocating legalized drugs. ‘The government could then tax and regulate them, so it is a good idea!’ Unfortunately, being the brokest nation in history, being epically broke, and living in a world where it seems like every other government is also in debt, (strangely to each other… like the US is in debt to Japan… how does that work?) encourages everyone to think in terms of how they can collect money instead of what they believe is good and right. The deep flaw here is obvious, if it is something people are paying money for, you can justify anything. Imagine an important looking man in a suit on CNN telling you that child pornography and prostitution should be legal because then this state or that could collect x millions of dollars in taxes, which it needs because otherwise firefighters will have to be laid off… Yes, every disgusting thing that immoral people will pay for (which is anything…) can be legitimized this way.

The solution to this, I think, is fiscal sanity. Only in a fiscally sane world can people converse about what they think is right and wrong without the incessant distractions and threats of closing government which does provide necessary and useful services that individuals cannot (or should not) do. That is why a social conservative who spends like a socialist should not be tolerated even though his stance on things like abortion is sound. A society based on mercenary decisions, an inevitable effect of the welfare state, is a society that ultimately must tolerate any perversion, even the most despicable.

Instead, I think a local community should be able to say what kind of businesses they think are morally wrong and not allowed in that community. That is the glory of localized self-rule. If the people think it is indecent to have a strip-club next to a convent, they should be able to keep that from happening. If all the people in the area think it is acceptable to have a strip club anywhere, that is their decision, and we don’t have to move there. But if we do, we should be able to try to convince those around us that is it improper and immoral, instead of constantly be lectured on the monetary value of the institutions.

Agnes Mallory

It has become official; I am on a Klavan kick. I have now read 4-5 of his books, which are all well put together and enjoyable. Some are better than others, of course. The Identity Man was good, Corruption was just ok. The Uncanny was quite fun, as was Hunting Down Amanda, the first unpredictable and the second predictable, but both very enjoyable nonetheless. However, there is this one  that I have found to be excellent literature. I don’t think it falls for certain in any genre, but I suppose it would be classified psychological thriller perhaps. Agnes Mallory, I think, should, and perhaps will be remembered as an actual classic. A book whose content, storytelling, plot are so captivating, so well done: a book whose philosophy strikes so true, that it is can stand the test of time.

The narrator of Agnes is a loathsome man, Harry, who had been a relatively typical boy when he actually knew the eponymous Agnes (who is Agnes Sole as a child).  As one reads the book, you are ‘treated’ to the present day Harry, a man whose respectable outer shell has been removed, who has collapsed in on his own depravities as a recluse. You also get glimmers of the past, when as a child, Harry spent time with Agnes.

As I mentioned before, the narrator (and dare I say, the main character) is an ‘inner man’. He has many characteristics of Dostoevsky’s ‘Underground Man’ (Found as the nameless main character and narrator in Notes From Underground: a chillingly accurate look at the nature of man.) He is entirely self-absorbed, he is petty. He is… unmasked. In all too much of modern writing and movies, the false facade that people put up is considered the worst part of a person which is based upon the idea that societies constraints make a person untrue to themselves. This last is, perhaps ironically, true. The true nature of the man without the socially enforced facade of kindness, selflessness, and forbearance restraining the ‘inner man’ is one entirely consumed by corruption and petty, or not so petty, evil.

The other very important person is Agnes (of course). Agnes is a brilliant sculptor, and also, well, crazy. The book does not give reasons for her insanity, but instead shows glimpses of shadows of reasons. I believe that Agnes is crazy because she cannot reconcile the greatness of mankind with its utter depravity. (Seen in the contradiction between the art of the West and Auschwitz.)

In the end, Harry is unable to save Agnes, and the books real power comes with the realization that even if Harry had been a good an, even if he had not been incessantly thinking of sex, and the repercussions of his moral and political corruption, he would not have been able to save Agnes. In fact, no man or woman could have done so.

I do not want to talk at all about the plot in any more detail than this, the book deserves to be read and found afresh, without someone else’s imprint. Agnes Mallory is spooky, is unpredictable, and beautiful in the paradoxical, sad, beaten, and yet still glorious fashion that depicts so well the state of man: simultaneously made in God’s image and cravenly fallen.  The book is worth the time and worth incomparably more than the money. Give it a read (or two) sometime.

Stephen King

Obviously, Stephen King could have many blogs dedicated to nothing more than discussing and reviewing his books, their ideas and so forth. I am also quite sure that a good number of his works will appear here in the future. However, I have found that many people  (especially Christian women) immediately dismiss King as an author obsessed with horror and horrible things and therefore not worth reading. I have two different replies to this belief but for now, I will mention only one. (The other is its own point entirely.)

There certainly are many examples of vile and disgusting books by King, and many more that have so much objectionable content they seem to overflow with it. I attribute this to King having a split author’s personality. You could say that it depends on which King writes the book. Examples of books with nothing good in them, and with nothing true (in the ultimate sense) other than that man is evil, that they are not worth reading. Such titles include Cujo, Gerald’s Game, and Under the Dome. Unless the reader wishes to be revolted by the depths of human depravity and expects nothing more, these books can be safely left at the library. A slightly different case might be Pet Semetary a book so creepy it holds the award for being the only book to ever keep me up an entire night. Certainly the book had little in the way of redeeming characteristics, but it was well written, engrossing, and it showed the result of people trying to fight true evil on their own.

In stark contrast to these books, there are many books that are truly good. (I have not done a census, but I think these outnumber the other category.) In fact, there are books that King has written that really touch deep into the human soul. In his Dark Tower series King puts himself in it in the last book. (Probably to be discussed in its own review.) In it, King writes that his character has to keep writing the stories that the ‘Beam’ sings to him. For those who have not yet read the Dark Tower series, I certainly recommend it, but the beam is what hold all the various worlds together, King’s muse. And there are so very many times when reading King’s works that the reader can hear the song the muse has sung to him. This is an incredible talent and an absolutely amazing experience for a reader: something I would not miss at all. Books that sing the song of mankind, of its greatness, of its tragedy, of its ability and futility are rare, and King has several. Among those I found to be clearest are: The Eyes of the Dragon, The Green Mile, Lisey’s Story, The Dark Tower series (all 7!), Desperation The Shining, and others.

Of course there are some books between these two sides, and that leads me to my recommendation on how to read Stephen King. Pick up a book, any book, and read the first chapter, by then you should be able to tell which of King’s personalities wrote the book. If you don’t like it, throw it to the floor, if you think it is worth a shot, persist, and listen for the song of the beam!

If you have never read King before, I recommend starting with either The Eyes of the Dragon or The Green Mile. The former is very similar in style to C.S. Lewis, and the latter is deep and moving. Neither show King’s inclination for gratuitous horror or ‘literary elephantiasis’ as I think he put it himself.