Saturday, June 11, 2011

Faith and Fiction Roundtable: A Canticle for Liebowitz

This is one that's been on my TBR list for quite a while, but that I probably wouldn't have read any time in the near future, except that it was a Faith and Fiction Round Table book.  It's actually a pretty timely read: post-apocalyptic fiction with a Christian twist.  And by that I most certainly do not mean what you typically think about Christian fiction.  I mean that it centers around a future society that is dominated by the Catholic church after a world-wide nuclear holocaust.  So while the book focuses on Christianity and its impact on a devastated world, it isn't written with a set agenda or a lesson to teach. 

I enjoyed all of the discussion around the book, but one part in particular jumped out at me.  In the book, we see the development of society from the dawnings of a new civilization through several hundred years to another society on the brink of collapse.  The position of the church and its relationship to education/knowledge and humanity are contrasted throughout the book.  In the first section, we see the church desperately trying to retain the written word, education, and history in a society that doesn't value any of those things.  As time goes on, we see the church continuing to preserve the arts, but also lose their focus on humanity as a whole.  By the third section, what began as a monastery devoted to preserving knowledge for the purpose of preserving humanity has become so enthralled with scholarship and learning that they have neglected to care for people. 

I went to a Christian high school and one of my favorite classroom discussions centered around what our teacher referred to as a "monastic ghetto."  He was referring to a specific time period in church history as well as what is a common problem for churches.  The church as a whole (the body of Christ) and individual churches can become so centered on what is happening within their own four walls that, like the monks in the book, they can't see or empathize with the suffering of people outside the church walls.  There may be people who live in the shadow of the church building who never see compassion or mercy or even a second glance from the church itself.  Even in a church focused on the "good" things - missions, membership, knowledge, and Bible study, we can neglect the very things that should set us apart - eyes that see the suffering of the outside world, the world that is often only a few steps away.

I'd love to hear from my Reader Friends who read this book.  Did you think that the last section in particular was very reminiscent of the modern church and its insular tendencies?  Or do you disagree?  How should the church respond during times of war and suffering?

1 comment:

  1. "The church as a whole (the body of Christ) and individual churches can become so centered on what is happening within their own four walls that, like the monks in the book, they can't see or empathize with the suffering of people outside the church walls."

    Yes, yes, yes! I agree - and I'm so glad you chose to highlight this issue from the book. I've also had problems with the "church on a hill" mentality. Too often Christians take the command to not be in "the world" as to mean we shouldn't be a part of the world. Where as God doesn't want us to be enmeshed in worldly sins, he does want us to be Jesus' hands and feet to those who are hurting around us. Jesus ministered to sinners without becoming one - we need to remember that. Good post!

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