The last two books I read were both thought-provoking.
Delirium is about a world where love (amor deleria nervosa) is seen of as a disease. At the age of 18, each person is given the treatment which shuts off this emotion. It cannot be earlier than this age due to health issues and bodily formation. Before the age of 18 there are curfews and strict gender separations in place. Some who receive the “cure” do not receive its “healing” effects. Those outside the secure borders of this place are thought of as savages who live in the “Wilds”. They love. The book follows the story of one girl, who at 17 begins doubting the system, and discovers it many lies and horrors. It is an interesting read. It reminded me of The Invasion, a film in which some kind of bacteria takes over human bodies and shuts down their emotions entirely. This does, however, mean that they feel nothing. As I have put it many times on my blog, it is surviving, not living. And even with war and pain, what is the point of simply surviving, if you feel nothing?
Though I still do not find myself able to completely draw this parallel to the problem of suffering and an all-loving God, I see the point made by those who point it out. Without pain, I would not know joy or relief.
At the beginning of each chapter are quotes from The Book of Shhh, clever phrases from their version of a Bible. For example:
The devil stole into the Garden of Eden.
He carried with him the disease– amor deliria nervosa–
in the form of a seed. It grew and flowered into a magnificent apple tree, which bore apples as bright as blood.
The book I read the following fortnight was Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals, an examination of factory farming and its issues. The blurb told me that I would become a vegetarian. I have not, though I have come to see the merits to what he calls being a selective omnivore. There are major issues in the farming system, like in many systems we have developed in this age which we believe to be efficient, when in fact they are not at all efficient in the long-term, only really good for perhaps a hundred years before supplies are exhausted. Though “good” is perhaps not the best word to be using.
I have never been a vegetarian, apart from half-an-hour where I determined to be so, and then found myself unable to turn down chicken nuggets. I like animals though. I want them to be treated well. I want them to have good deaths and lives. Then I can see it as a sharing of energy. But it is complicated. And unfortunately, it is difficult now to find meat which is not the product of pretty horrible conditions. And the conditions is not just a problem for the animals, but also for us. Too much waste is produced, too high a demand, too little land to cultivate crops. The modifications we have made to plants and to animals over the decade has weakened out immune systems.
I am not an expert. But I would certainly say that our current attitude towards animals, and to other people in other lands, is not very human. Certainly not very Christ-like. And as Jonathan Safran Foer puts it, there should not be this choice available to us. Ignore the suffering and the difficulties for future generations and enjoy this so-called efficiency? Governments do not allow us to choose whether or not to buy medication with unlabelled side-effects or give children toys made with hazardous glue. Perhaps an extreme example from Foer, but perhaps not. Ignorance may be viewed as bliss at times, but ultimately too much ignorance in these times is going to lead to worse times in the future.
To close this post I’ve copied down a story from Foer’s grandmother, told to him as a boy (found on pp.15-17):
“We weren’t rich, but we always had enough. Thursday we baked bread, and challah and rolls, and they lasted the whole week. Friday we had pancakes. Shabbat we always had a chicken, and soup with noodles. You would go to the butcher and ask for a little more fat. The fattiest piece was the best piece. It wasn’t like now. We didn’t have refrigerators, but we had milk and cheese. We didn’t have every kind of vegetable, but we had enough. The things that you have here and take for granted. . . . But we were happy. We didn’t know any better. And we took what we had for granted, too.
“Then it all changed. During the war it was hell on earth, and I had nothing. I left my family, you know. I was always running, day and night, because the Germans were always right behind me. If you stopped, you died. There was never enough food. I became sicker and sicker from not eating, and I’m not just talking about being skin and bones. I had sores all over my body. It became difficult to move. I wasn’t too good to eat from a garbage can. I ate the parts others wouldn’t eat. If you helped yourself, you could survive. I took whatever I could find. I ate things I wouldn’t tell you about.
“Even at the worst times, there were good people, too. Someone taught me to tie the ends of my pants so I could fill the legs with any potatoes I was able to steal. I walked miles and miles like that, because you never knew when you would be lucky again. Someone gave me a little rice, once, and I traveled two days to a market and traded it for some soap, and then traveled to another market and traded the soap for some beans. You had to have luck and intuition.
“The worst it got was near the end. A lot of people died right at the end, and I didn’t know if I could make it another day. A farmer, a Russian, God bless him, he saw my condition, and he went into his house and came out with a piece of meat for me.”
“He saved your life.”
“I didn’t eat it.”
“You didn’t eat it?”
“It was pork. I wouldn’t eat pork.”
“What do you mean why?”
“What, because it wasn’t kosher?”
“But not even to save your life?”
“If nothing matters, there’s nothing to save.”