Tag Archives: love

Why I refuse to love my enemies

In Matthew 5, Jesus is reported as saying, “‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies.'”

I disagree with this.

After meditating on the parable of the good Samaritan, I think there’s an apparent contradiction here and I’ve fallen on one side of it. That parable was told to answer the question, “who is my neighbour?” Yet all too often, stripped of his social and historical context, we treat it as a story of loving compassion from one human being to another, with an implicit criticism of the Jewish religious authorities.

I don’t read it like that. The parable has given rise to the use of the term ‘Samaritan’ as someone who does good, even to the extent of being the name of a national charity that does everything it can to give a listening ear to those in need and to do everything that can to prevent suicide. But this use of the word misses the cultural aspects to which Jesus was appealing. To a Jewish audience in the 1st century A.D. the inhabitants of Samaria were an anathema.

The whole parable relies on a presupposition of sectarian hatred. It’s a hatred that gets turned on its head in the course of the story. To portray the parable as being about how to be nice to people is to dilute its shock value. To the people Jesus was speaking to, there was nothing good about a Samaritan. If I were to try to update it to today, I would choose one of 2 scenarios. Instead of speaking to a Jewish audience about a Samaritan, I would opt for:

  1. An audience of UKIP supporters about an unemployed Romanian migrant who wishes to claim child benefit for his 3 children.
  2. An audience of disabled activists about Iain Duncan Smith.

The point of the story, as I understand it, is that even those people about whom every fibre of your being says is no good, is your neighbour. The term enemy isn’t used here. Who is my neighbour? My neighbour is the Robert Mugabe. My neighbour is Kim Yong Un. My neighbours are Westboro Baptist Church. My neighbours are members of the EDL. My neighbour is Katie Hopkins. My neighbour is Richard Dawkins. My neighbours have joined ISIS/ISIL/IS.

To define who my enemy is, is to create an ‘us and them’ mentality. Christians are great at doing this, despite how unhelpful it is. We set up discussions as ‘Christians v Atheists’, ‘Christians v Muslims’, ‘Christians v The World’. The language of alienation is itself alien to the christian ethic that sees only neighbours and which refuses to define anyone as its enemy.

If someone else calls me their enemy, so be it; I will not reciprocate the epithet.

In short, I refuse to love my enemies because I refuse to have enemies. I have only neighbours, and I am called to love them.

Incapable of love and prone to hate? (A Personal Catechism #5)

Link to previous part

Q: Canst thou keep all these things perfectly?

A: In no wise; for I am prone by nature to hate God and my neighbour.


This is stated with specific reference to the previous question in the catechism, so if you’re joining this series just here, then please do take a moment to step back and look at the context.

The point being made in this question lies at the heart of the one of the 5 points of Calvinism, that of “total depravity”. Although it’s very simply stated and here, the answer is also quite short, there is much behind it to consider from a number of viewpoints, though I only have space here to consider the direct biblical basis.

The catechism does provide references to back up the claim. To determine if it’s accurate we must ask whether it is a true and fair understanding of the passages cited. i.e. is this a case of texts being taken out of context or is it a fair exegesis? Then we ask whether it’s a complete picture. i.e. are these the only texts which speak on the subject or are there others which throw a different light on the matter?

The phrase “in no wise” the verses given as backup are Romans 3:10,20,23 and 1 John 1:8,10. If we look at these passages, one fails to see a straight line between what Paul wrote and the catechism’s conclusion. What these verses seem to point at is the fact that humans a) are not righteous (Romans) and b) are in a state of sin and that all sinned (1 John). Here, the link is easier to see between these two, though care must be taken not to equate a) and b). To my understanding, b) comes before a). In other words, we are first of all in a state of sin (how? That may be dealt with later) and as a result of that nature we are those who sin. That was the point I tried to make in the previous part. Because of this we are considered, in the judicial sense, unrighteous.

But does this indicate that we are incapable of fulfilling the two great commandments? I’m not convinced. To leap ahead slightly, if this is a statement about human nature, then if humans were incapable of keeping the commandments, then to state that Jesus was fully human would logically lead to the idea that Jesus could not have kept them. So one would be forced to conclude either than Jesus wasn’t fully human or that he failed to love God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength and failed to love his neighbours as himself.

If, however, we consider that the catechism is incorrect and that these passages are not indicative of an impossibility, then we may allow ourselves more scope when look at the nature of Jesus later on. One might think that I am trying to ‘cheat’ here by anticipating a later answer and rigging this now. However, I am not trying to build this catechism in terms of axioms and intermediary theories. This is simply looking at one aspect at a time, when really the whole thing ought to be kept in mind.

Looking at the second part of the answer, we are given the following scriptures:

Romans 8:7
Ephesians 2:3
Titus 3:3
Genesis 6:5
Genesis 8:21
Jeremiah 17:9
Romans 7:23

If we read through these, is it a true and fair view to say that they can be encapsulated by the statement “I am prone by nature to hate God and my neighbour”?

The first Romans passage doesn’t seem to endorse this. Of course, picking verses out of their context is a risky business, as one can easily misconstrue their meaning, failing to see the overall gist and the particular part the passage in question plays in achieving the author’s goal. The phrase (in the NRSV translation) is “the mind that is set on the flesh”. This does not imply to me “all minds”. The Ephesians passage back this up, referring to a past time, “All of us once lived among…” and “…we were by nature…” These imply a past tense. Titus says, “…were once foolish…”. The Genesis 6 passage is, I believe, a bad citation and not relevant for the discussion. The Genesis 8 passage is, though, more revealing. The key phrase being, “…for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth…”

The use of the Hebrew neurim is interesting in itself, as it seems to be correct to interpret is as “from youth”. One might wonder why not “from birth.” That may be worth exploring another time. If we pick verses out of their context then one might be able to sympathise with the expression in the catechism. But if we regard, as I do, Genesis as being the background, the opening salvo in the grand narrative of creation, Israel, exile, law, etc. then we come to see that what is described here is the ‘past sense’ that Paul talks about in the passages already mentioned.

The Jeremiah verse seems to be part of a poem, so while it reflects a kind of truthful insight, one should be cautioned against reading it too literally.

Returning to Romans,  I read it as part of a very tricky passage to understand (the whole argument of Romans 7:14-25). I cannot do justice to it here, for which I must apologise, but if we look at the catechism assertion to which it is used as backup, the question that must be asked is ‘Does the passage lend weight to this interpretation?’ – to which I would cautiously say ‘no’. Rather, Romans, though highly pertinent to the idea of the sinful nature, I think that the sinful nature is housed within the human nature.

Here, then the idea of human sinfulness being equated with what it means to be human is a mistake. Rather, the question is the one of the spirit which dwells within the human being. Looked at from this perspective, then Romans 7 comes into better focus as we can see that Paul speaks of a spirit of sin “dwell[ing] in my members”. As opposed to this we have the spirit of holiness (the Holy Spirit) which may dwell within us and which acts as an alternative  motivating force.

So then, with that having taken far too long to write, we have a tentative alternative of the way of looking at what we might refer to as “human nature”, “the human condition” or such similar terms. Not least because of the later questions that come up over the nature of Jesus, one needs to think carefully about we define “human” if (and this is an if, not an assertion) Jesus is fully God and fully human.

What then, might we give by an alternative answer in distillation of the above?

Alternative Answer

The “these things” reference denotes the great two commandments to love God with everything that we have and to love one another. In any person, a person can do both, so the crux really lies in the use of the term ‘perfectly’. If this love is to be perfect then it must be born of a spirit of love. To do this, one must be emptied of the sinful nature (a matter of ontology) which is within us, and which exhibits itself in the form of sin (a matter of action), and instead be filled with the Holy Spirit completely. This is the work of sanctification (i.e. making holy) which is begun in us, but which is not yet complete. So I do not think that we can, as yet, love perfectly, but that does make us wholly devoid of love. It is a work which will be completed, but hasn’t been yet.

The standard Valentine’s Day blog post by a 30-year old single christian man

So it’s Valentine’s day again. You’ve seen the title of the blog post and I wonder why you’re reading this. Is it out of some sense of pity for this oddball social pariah? Is the title a good bit of click baiting? Do you come armed with helpful advice or words of comfort? Do you want to gain an insight into how someone else lives, whose life seems so different from your own? Only you know why you chose to read this; but are you honest enough with yourself to state that reason?

Truth be told, it’s been nearly 8 years since I last went on a date. If such a thing were to ever happen again, I honestly wouldn’t know what to do. I’m sure the world of dating has moved on since then, not least the fact that the world of dating as a working professional is very different from dating as an undergraduate student. It’s simply not a world I inhabit. It’s something Other People do. Other People drive cars. Other People go on holiday every year. We all live in our own different worlds; sometimes they overlap in places. But these are worlds which I do not inhabit. I’m in the world where the working day is 7:30-7:30 including commuting, where I read a variety of books.

The relative paucity of dates is not necessarily indicative of a paucity of friendships, even close friendships. There have been a few over the years who have broken my heart, though it has been nearly a year since the last. She took a few months and a change of home to get over, but one moves on.

The fact is, someone whose “record” is as sparse as mine is unusual for someone my age in this society. I choose to look at it as though the few who have ever dated me are part of a group whose membership is more specialised than the group of people who have set foot on the moon. At times one can question “why?” But the answers aren’t great, if I’m honest with myself. The fact is, I have nothing to offer. I’m not good looking, not exceptionally rich, have no time and am a terrible conversationalist.

We each have to learn who we are. Once we do that, we can either fight against it or learn to accept it. While there are some bits I try to change, I’m mostly at peace with who I am and what I’m about. The things I like, such as reading, writing and hiking are best done alone. Some people can’t face that kind of lifestyle. As if being surrounded by people all day isn’t bad enough, I look forward to the relative peace and quiet of evenings and weekends. While there may, in theory, be room for someone else, it just doesn’t work in practicality.

As I get older, more and more people seem to accept that and I don’t get hassled like I did when I was in my 20s saying I ought to get married or at least go some way towards that. Looking at those younger than me, it makes me a little sad to see so many have their hopes pinned on some vague hope of marrying and having kids, as though they were an end to be aimed for that will solve all their problems. Yes, they may solve some, but they bring with themselves their own problems and stresses. And let’s not get hung up on who has the easier life; it’s a pointless argument of onedownsmanship, like the 4 Yorkshiremen sketch.

From the specific point of view of being a christian, it is especially sad to see such a lack of acceptance of one’s identity and wishing for it to be found in someone else. My identity is found as me, being a part of a global Church, entwined with the living God through the person of Jesus of Nazareth. When you think about it, it’s pretty amazing. To then say, “that’s not enough for me” seems to me as though someone hasn’t quite got it. Yes, human relationships can be fantastic as an addition to the relationship described above (but be careful about the r word, I’m not advocating the ‘Jesus is my boyfriend’ expression of the term – I’m more an advocate of the ecclesial-judicial use of the word) but we need to get a bit perspective to sort out what order things ought to be prioritised in.  You may disagree; you’re welcome to. That’s my plea over for those whose lifestyles aren’t radically different from mine. Sorry if that wasn’t relevant to your particular circumstances.

The plan for today is not to mope or complain. From my perspective, it’s like a national holiday in Argentina – a day of importance for some but of little relevance to me and those like me. I’ll go to work, do some food shopping afterwards, go home, cook dinner (for one, as always) and maybe watch a DVD or read a book. The same as any other Friday.

What about you?

The requirement of the law (A Personal Catechism #4)

Link to Introduction
Link to most recent post

Q: What does the law of God require of us?

A: Christ teaches us that briefly, Matt 22:37-40, “Thou shalt love the Lord they God with all thy heart, with all thy soul and with all thy mind and with all thy strength. This is the first and the great commandment; and the second is like unto it, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”


There’s really very little that I can say about this, other than “I agree” in a variety of different ways. Having done quite a bit of reading on the ‘new perspective’, I have changed my view somewhat on the nature of the law, which I sketched in part 3. But the law as it stands is best summarised as stated above.

Love is a tricky word in the English language, as it doesn’t always convey quite the senses that can be carried by the words in Hebrew, Aramaic or Greek. In the quote above, the Greek word is Agapeo. The concordance I have describes it as “in the N[ew] T[estament] usually the active love of God for his Son and his people, and the active love his people are to have for God, each other and even enemies.” The idea seems to be that it is a very practical action; love is not merely some sort of fuzzy feeling. It’s not affection or fondness. Though that doesn’t mean it is devoid of emotion (see below).

What are we to love God with? The list nature as it appears strikes me as a piece of rhetoric which seems to say “everything”, only in a more poetic way. If we can provide love, hands-on, with all that we have, then we are getting somewhere close to what was intended. Yet the list of ways does prompt another thought: that people who have different personalities love in different ways.

For example, I am not a particularly emotional sort of person. Even though I tend to go to fairly charismatic churches, which are generally known for a higher than average level of emotional engagement, I remain much more of a thinker than anything else. So one might well say I love with my mind more than anything else. Tendencies to love in one way or another may attract people to certain kinds of churches. So those who have a more emotional reaction may lean towards the charismatic churches. In my experience, Anglicans tend to be better than most at loving with all their strength. i.e. very practically, as are the Salvation Army. In a similar vein, of the Quakers I have come across, they are always very thoughtful and are amongst the deepest thinkers I know; they embody very well the idea of loving God with all your mind. I try to learn from each of these not only to embody such love in myself but to encourage those in the church around me (both a local community and the digital community) to do likewise.

The other thing I might point out is the phrase “hang on”. The Greek word which appears in Matthew is kremannymi, a word which doesn’t come up very often in the new testament. When it does, it appears to have the same connotations as we have in our modern English. For example, in Acts 28:4, it describes a snake hanging off Paul’s hand after it bit him in Malta. What it does not seem to say is that “These two commandments encapsulate the law and the prophets.” So these are the foundation of a Judeo-christian ethic. How we live in this world is a complicated matter, living in different climates, cultures, political and economic systems, but if you peel back any individual or any community behaviour within that, we can ask, does it meet these two criteria?

Yet in this personal catechism, recall that I haven’t really defined God. I’m not convinced that trying to fit God into a neat little pigeonhole so it can be examined really works. So for now the commandment stands as an instruction to love something we don’t quite know or understand. Yet if we love our neighbours as ourselves, is that really so very different? If our neighbours ultimately encapsulate all those who live around us, then I have several million neighbours within a 10 mile radius. Can I possibly understand each of them individually or even as a collective? Of course, the two cases aren’t identical. I hope you get the general gist of the point.

I must admit that I am troubled at times by the phrase “as thyself”. What if someone has lost any and all self-respect, having replaced it with self-loathing? There is an implicit assumption that people will want to live to act in their own self-interests, therefore it is good and proper to act in the interests of others. If the first part is true, then there may be a case for arguing capitalism; it would certainly be indicative of an insight into an element of human nature that spans cultures and time. Or maybe it was an assumption that is commonly true but not universally. If so, what if a person hates themself tries to love others as they love themselves? Does it not then become a command to hate others? I know this is thinking at the extreme edge of some circumstances, but I think christianity should stretch far enough to be able to encapsulate such extremes. To say it another way, if we are to reflect God to the world, then if our love does not extend to its most extreme ends, does that mean that those who inhabit those spaces are beyond God’s love? To this, I would answer ‘no’, though that is a kind of love which is easier said than done. To fully grasp what this kind of love is, is to look up a great mountain. You might climb for several hours, seemingly nearing the top, only to come over a ridge and see before you an even greater peak in an even more inhospitable climate.

But who ever said love was easy?

Alternative answer

It seems hard to present, an alternative answer, especially, as the original is a quote. But if you will forgive me for paraphrasing to something that is not found in scripture:

“Love God with everything that you have and everything that you are. If you have any self-respect, then love others as you would want to be loved. To be self-emptying in love is hard, but if a community is made of those who are so loving, then you will continually fill one another up to overflowing. This is the cornerstone of our communal ethic and a significant part of our identity.”

Why I love the EDL

I am not Tommy Robinson.

Yet I might well have been.

The self-styled leader of the English Defence League (EDL) and I were born in the same town, less than a year apart. Though I do not have memory of having known Tommy Robinson (aka Stephen Lennon) it is quite possible that our paths crossed as children, playing in the same parks, going to same shops in the Arndale centre, being fascinated by the flamingo fountain there, and repulsed by the fishy smell of the market which adjoined the shopping centre.

Luton was, and still is, I understand, a town divided. For personal reasons, I promised never to set foot there again; a promise I have kept for 10 years now. But one could hardly fail to spot the wildly different characters of the estates of Bury Park and Marsh Farm, not least in the ethnicity of those you would meet there. It is here that one finds the roots of the EDL, but it is also where I find my roots. For that reason, I take special interest in this group, their activities and their coverage; I can’t help but think from time to time, ‘there but for the grace of God go I.’  

One of the greatest weapons that is used in modern rhetoric is the demonization of The Other. Any person or group that does not match our demographic, our religious or political views, is visualised and spoken of as an enemy. The EDL employ this tactic when they talk of Islam. Yet at the same time, I also see generalisations made about the EDL which are equally as unhelpful. As long as we consider (and hence treat) them as The Other, then there will be little progress and much more antagonisation.

If we can slap a label on someone, it makes it all the easier to make generalisation based on that label; in effect, dehumanising them.

The EDL should not be treated as the bad guys, irrespective of what we think of their ideology. They are our brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, cousins and neighbours. [According to a Nov 2011 Demos report, there is an 81:19 ratio of men:women in the EDL] Incidentally, the rest of that report is well worth reading, in order get a better understanding of the EDL than one might otherwise gain from following any news coverage they may get.

In order to break the cycle of alienation that is felt by those on the far right, we must not shun them and push them further to the fringes of society. The people at the mosque in York, who offered tea and biscuits and a game of football were the ones with the right idea.

I didn’t get a chance to listen to the interview with Robinson/Lennon that the BBC broadcast on the Today programme the other day. If the reports I have read are faithful, then the interview was not that brilliant, with not enough challenges being made and some coming away with the impression that the BBC had provided a platform for propaganda. One interesting point hit me with a great deal of irony. Apparently, Robinson/Lennon claimed that the writing of ‘EDL’ that was allegedly found at the site of the burnt down Islamic centre in Muswell Hill in no way indicated that the EDL could be faulted for the fire. Instead, he posed the question “[what if someone had written ‘David Cameron’? Would that make him at fault?]”. In essence, his argument is that the arson was not sanctioned by the EDL, but may instead have been perpetrated by someone who sees in the EDL an ideology similar to their own and who then ‘claims the name’ – much as we have seen some violent people carry out horrific and vile acts whilst acting in what they saw as the name of Islam.

The term ‘extremist’ is frequently used in conjunction with the EDL, not without good reason. Yet the root word ‘extreme’ can only really be used in conjunction with another word; extreme what?  Extreme ironing? Extreme violence? Extreme hatred? What about extreme love? Why can’t an extremist be someone who is self-emptying and compassionate in the extreme?

So why love the EDL?

Is it because of their ideology? Certainly not.

Is it because the people are inherently warm-hearted and likeable? To some maybe, though I find it tough.

I love the people of the EDL because I am a christian and am therefore compelled to. There is no act of violence, intolerance or hatred that one human being can do to another which is unforgiveable. The scandal of the gospel of grace is that no one is persona non grata, no one is beyond the pale. In thinking through the parable of the Good Samaritan, I don’t think it’s outrageous to suggest that today’s Samaritans might well include the EDL. They are the last people we might think of as helping others. But that’s the point that Jesus gave in answer to the question ‘who is my neighbour?’

How can this love be demonstrated?

This is not a manifesto; I hope you can come up with your own (and better ideas) than I can.

To me, the first step in demonstrating love has to be a change in the language used when talking to and about the EDL. There may be good reason why the label of “extremist” might fit, but I do not think it helps. To do so only alienates them further.

I am painfully aware that even in the rest of this post I have used the language of ‘us’ and ‘them’, though I have done so more clarity than anything else. It’s only if we can move away from this that we can really hope to heal the wounds of social discord that have led to this group feeling liking persecuted outsiders in their own community, before then inflicting that feeling on others.

There are many issues to be tackled and there is much more that can and should be done. I understand organisation like Hope Not Hate have been fairly prominent in simultaneously denouncing violence and being open to discussion with the EDL.

My belief is that the church (as a whole) should be open to welcome in members of the EDL, even though that may cause ructions in some communities. Unless the church is open to welcoming the ostracised, the frowned-upon and the intolerant, we would not be faithfully practising the gospel of grace. Grace is costly, that’s a point driven home by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Maybe now we need another of his ilk; a voice of love, humanism and grace.

A Valentine’s Day special: The flawed romanticism of The Princess Bride

Happy Valentine’s Day, one and all!

There, that’s done. Now I can carry on a give you some miserly thoughts on the theme of love. Those of you who have met me may testify that I am about 5 foot 6 to 5 foot 8 in height. The observant among you will also note that my avatar is that of a mouse. Therefore, it may not be unfair to describe me as a Rodent Of Unusual Size (ROUS). We large rodents often feel prejudiced against, particularly when it comes to casting in films. There are just so few roles for us. While some may strive for equality in the realms of politics, and others have called for quotas of ROUS in company boardrooms, the cinema is what we really love.

A notable exception to this was the 1987 film, The Princess Bride, when Rodents Of Unusual Size were granted a small cameo role in a scene in the fire swamp. While some protested that it cast us in a villainous role, I was personally not offended by it. However, there is another aspect of that film which I wish to talk about today.

What was not so much offensive, as utterly baffling, was the opening story involving Buttercup and Westley. We are given a bizarre account whereby Westley declares his love by the simple use of a three word phrase, not one of which fitted into “I love you.” This declaration is less than straightforward, to say the least. I know men have difficulty finding the right words when it comes to expressions of love, affection or even modest fondness, but I really think he could have done better.

Then we have to ask ourselves, how did this arise? He may have seen Buttercup each day yet the two never held a proper conversation; unless you consider her ordering him around to be a conversation. Personally, I don’t regard that to be an adequate basis on which one might get to know the hopes & fears, likes & dislikes of another person. If anything, it shows Buttercup to be an extremely mild-mannered proto-dominatrix.

How can you claim to love someone if you don’t know them? Can “true love” be cultivated by the mere observation of how another person looks, moves and orders you about? Though some knowledge about a person may be gleaned from observation, a knowledge of the person requires an understanding that can only come by an intimate and personal conversation. Did Westley and Buttercup ever sit down at the kitchen table and talk about anything and everything over hot chocolate and toasted crumpets until the sun came up the next morning, not realising how much time had passed?

I’m honestly not sure which is more old-fashioned: this idea of love based on sight alone or my idea of actually getting to know someone a little before any such passions arise and take shape. There are times when a conversation may be held in complete silence, with a look of the eye, a tilt of the head or a half smile. Such an understanding, though, can only come once two people have already become accustomed to the minutiae of each other’s mannerisms, which takes quite some time to achieve; getting it wrong along the way can cause misunderstanding, laughter or tears. Only by getting it wrong do we eventually get to know one another well enough to get it right.

Well, I’ve wittered on for long and I’m sure you want me to stop.

As you wish.

Book Review: The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis

Those that know me know that I have a soft spot for C.S. Lewis. As a kid, I loved the Narnia books and as an adult I have been discovering some of his apologetics. I read Mere Christianity in my late teens though I recall being unimpressed with it and finding it a little limp-wristed. The Screwtape Letters, on the other hand, is one of my favourite allegorical writings. So I turned my attention to this fairly short book of his (the edition I have is from Harper Collins and is 170 pages long with a fairly large typeface). I know a few people who think of it as one of his best.

The book does have a sort of introduction, but it thrusts the reader straight into Lewis’ argument making it more like a first chapter than an outline of what the book is about. He wrestles a little with different types of loves as he defines them. He then goes on to try and break these down in relation to the likings and loves for things which are not human, with a particular focus given to the notion of patriotism.

He goes along the lines that patriotism is generally a good thing, but can become destructive if one views one’s own country or race as being in some way superior to another. So while the English may delight in tea and crumpets for breakfast, the French can equally be proud of coffee and croissants for theirs.  I would slightly disagree with his idea that patriotism is fine as a de facto state of mind unless there are other factors which may cause us to think negatively of our country and its actions.

Personally, I regard patriotism as wholly irrational and ought only to exist in joviality when it comes to sporting events. Lewis defends his position by asking what would replace patriotism were it to be abandoned. I think this is a false logic that Lewis employs though he goes even further wrong, in my opinion, to suggest that justice is an inferior notion.

The bulk of the book, though, is concerned with the 4 particular loves which the title implies. Namely, these are Affection, Friendship, Eros and Charity.

Each of these is quite tightly argued by Lewis, very much in the same style as he wrote The Problem of Pain. They are also slightly surprising. In other writings from Lewis, he had always come across as very conservative, yet this collection has smatterings of some refreshingly liberal thought, particularly when it comes to sexuality.

The essay on friendship is the longest, at around 40 pages, with each of the others around the 30 page mark. It’s not easy to summarise each one, so I won’t try. But I’d recommend them to you. They are by no means holistic, but they are immensely thought provoking; for that alone, they are well worth the price of the book.

Yet I couldn’t help feeling that the last chapter was a bit of a let-down. Through the first three essays, Lewis was keen to emphasise that for all the good that these loves are and do, that there is a risk of them ‘becoming gods’ in our lives, which was leading up the last chapter where all would be subjugated under charity. Yet the chapter seemed to lack coherence and the argument seemed to fall apart. I may just be too thick to understand it, but I put the book down feeling a bit disappointed, though not as much as I did with The Great Divorce.

That said, there is plenty of good, thoughtful writing here and I would recommend it. It’s just that I had extremely high expectations and it fell short of it, like a high jumper failing to get over the pole vault bar.

Book review: Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I came to this book not really knowing anything about it, other than the fact that it is comes highly recommenced and that it often appears of lists of ‘100 books to read before you die’ and their ilk. So other than expecting it to be good, I approached it with a relatively open mind.

What I discovered was not so much a novel as a love letter; it is a love letter addressed to love itself. The story focuses on three individuals and charts their experiences of love over the course of a lifetime. Many varieties of love are explored: faithful, unfaithful, obsessive, innocent and (a warning for the more cautious reader) this involves some descriptions of sex and, towards the end of the book, an account of paedophilia. That said, it was never pornographic or particularly vulgar; it was carefuly done.

Marquez writes in a very vivid way, with visceral descriptions of his characters and settings. So even though there is very little ‘action’ in the book, there are passages of extreme floridity, where the reader is just immersed in his world, drawn in by the beautiful phraseology. I read this as an English translation although it was clearly translated by an American, which has resulted in the book being punctuated by spelling and grammatical errors and one or two sentences that simply make no sense whatsoever, but don’t let that distract from overall quality of the book. Marquez’s writing is just too good to be ruined by the translation.

I cannot really recommend it enough to you. It is not a particularly short book, but reading it never felt like a chore. It was a joy to go through from start to finish and it is a book I am sure I will read again in the future.