Dear Paul Elie,

Has fiction lost its faith? Not quite. Come take a gander!


Matthew Lickona

p.s. Very glad to hear that you’ve got skin in the game these days.

[Thanks to IC for the tip.]


  1. He just wasn’t looking in the right places. Even New York might surprise him.

  2. Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

    It’s like he’s never even heard of Left Behind.

  3. #crying

    • Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

      #oobydooby < #ohprettywoman < #dreambaby < #idroveallnight < #runningscared < #itsover < #lovehurts < #crying < #onlythelonely < #indreams


  4. Thanks, m, for the link. Not something I would have found on my own.
    Anyone for considering “Hunger Games” a Catholic work? Maybe in that “end of the world gone mad, and God is nowhere, but you cannot finally suppress the hunger for the good” sort or sense?
    I like Harry Dresden, as a character I mean. But I have not read enough of the novels (I am on 3 of something lie 13) to get the angle on the Catholic aesthetic. Perhaps he just has Catholic issues. He definitely has a conscience, which is a plus nowadays.
    Then there is Odd Thomas. Definitely some serious Catholic stuff happening there. And a better conscience than Harry Dresden. The fact that the Odd series is popular fiction makes it smack of a surreptitious entry of novelistic grace into an arena that only a Pope on Twitter could admire.
    Whatever. As my niece would say. There is stuff out there, but it might be hiding in the act of showing us what happens when the graceful is banished from the human playground.

    • I strongly disagree about the Hunger Games. Yes, it shows clearly where a fully de-Christianized society leads, but to me the books are thoroughly neo-pagan. God is so thoroughly absent from the book (which to Christian readers seems almost to make him present), that even at the very worst moments of crises, where good and evil, life and death, sin and innocence all lie in the balance, there is not one single thought of God by *any* of the characters, not even to curse him. To me there was no whiff of any good other than mere survival, and maybe romance (but even that came down to survival in most cases). I found that lack of the question of God to be one of the most unrealistic aspects of the book. Doesn’t seem to mirror human nature at all. Then, of course, there’s the fact that there’s not a single character who’d rather sacrifice himself than kill an innocent (we have Rome and the gladiators, basically, but never anything like a Christian martyr — not even the “good” characters). And, in fact, I thought there was very little in that world that seemed worth fighting for. You get all of the suffering and evil there can be in life, but precious little of the beauty. I wondered often why the characters thought survival was worth the effort. I think the Hunger Games is definitely a page turner, very creative, and instructive in many ways (certainly its portrayal of how barbarity and civilization can meet side by side is a hunting commentary on our times), but to a great extent I think that what a Christian can get out of it is extracted by looking at what is missing. The book reminds me much of O’Connor’s comment about wingless chickens.

      • Bernando–
        I haven’t read the Hunger Games but they were recommended to me as a way to think about/teach natural law theory. Thoughts?

      • Bernardo, Yes, you may be right. But maybe we are living in an age where the battleground of grace is nature itself. Kind of like the age right before the martyrs appeared. The gladiators and slave-victims before the age of the martyrs had to hold on to some sense of a transcendent good, otherwise neither would have had a capacity to be amazed by what the martyrs actually did when they showed in flesh and blood what wounded nature really needed. But perhaps our age is worse. If the barbarity of our time shows itself as an attempt to dispense at convenience both the human good of survival (through the suicide rate and legal euthanasia) and the human drive to reproduce itself (through the contraceptive mentality and abortion on demand), then the Catholic question becomes “just how much of the natural law can human beings actually re-write?”. Both modern barbarities are by-products of cultural despair, itself the smoke that fills a room evacuated of God’s grace. But the books take us to a place where the evacuation is complete; God is so absent that He cannot even receive a curse, much less a prayer. It is amazing that the characters in the books found it worthwhile to survive, much less reproduce. The end of the third book surprised me greatly. The modern candidate for conversion from neo-paganism knows there is something worth dying and living for, but simply does not know what that might be. Grace has a stake in nature’s harrowing exposition.

  5. In the meantime, the most Catholic film in ages will win 10 Oscars this year (Les Miz). Yes, I know its from the 19th c novel. But it will make huge money. There is a market.

    • Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

      Step 1: Write Catholic novel (Bird’s Nest in Your Hair, Alphonse, etc).
      Step 2: Invent time machine.
      Step 3: Send novel back in time for publication in 19th century.
      If novel becomes a classic in decades/centuries between publication and the present day, proceed to Step 4.
      Step 4: Adapt your now-classic novel into musical play.
      Step 5: Adapt musical into major motion picture event.
      Step 6: Profit.

  6. Let’s pull a heist and skip to the profit. We’ll be famous!

    • The Malaise says

      Fie. Fast and loose reading, says I.

      The first refusal has nothing to do with followers, contra Critchley’s paraprhase. There is no one else in the desert to see the proposed miracle. The temptation for Jesus is to feed himself, not his followers. In fact, he DID feed his followers via miracle when given the opportunity – hello loaves and fishes.

      The second refusal is not a refusal to participate in mystery. If performed before fellow believing Jews, it would not have amounted to a thing which defies explanation, contra Critchley. The Jews were acquainted with divine intervention in their earthly affairs. It would not have been mystery to them, but proof that God was on Jesus’ side. And Jesus was certainly not above doing miracles for everyone to see. See the whole rest of the Gospels.

      The third refusal is not a refusal of authority. It is a refusal of worldly authority.

      What’s more, Christ offers freedom, but it is a particular sort of freedom, one that very much involves following a shepherd, giving up one’s own will, etc. He knows his sheep, and his sheep know him. Sheep. Critters that follow.

      • Good stuff, thanks.

      • Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

        And that, folks, is why they call it the Korrektiv.

      • Yes, all true … Critchley gets the gospels all wrong, even bass ackwards.

        I did like Critchley’s take on the Grand Inquisitor, as I think he does a good job of summarizing the polarities set up by Dostoevsky. If all happiness were diabolicol and all freedom unendurable, Critchley (or the Grand Inquisitor) could be taken as gospel, as indeed many readers have. But in the rest of the novel there is also Alyosha (and Zosima), and of course beyond the novel we do have the gospels, with Take up thy cross and follow me & For my yoke is easy and my burden light.

        Critchley doesn’t make the Grand Inquisitor gospel, but his distortion of the actual gospels is bad enough.

        Thanks, Malaise!

        • Merry Christmas.

        • I think it would have been a much more interesting and edifying essay if, after claiming that “Dostoevsky in no way wants to defend the position that Ivan Karamazov outlines in his poem,” Critchley had gone on to explain what Dostoevsky’s own position actually was.

          Instead, he says that “Dostoevsky’s great virtue as a writer is to be so utterly convincing in outlining what he doesn’t believe and so deeply unconvincing in defending what he wants to believe.” I, for one, am pretty darn convinced–and charmed–by characters like Alyosha and Father Zossima, who, as you’ve pointed out, Brian, are very present in the novel as well.

          But maybe I’m not seeing the point of Critchley’s piece?

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