A Canticle For Leibowitz

Book Notes

In reading The Knowledge, several of the quotes at the beginning of chapters were ones from A Canticle for Liebowitz. Given the book was one of Paul's favorite books in high school, I thought I would read it again. I mean, really, it's been so long since I've read it that it is almost as if I hadn't read it, so it could be new for me again. Though, let's be real, reading a book as a kid, then reading it as an adult means you are reading a new book.

One of the defining ideas of the book is that, well, humanity pretty much destroys itself with a nuclear war, sending the world back to the dark ages where anarchy rules along with mutants and the church. No surprise there, the book was written in the sixties when the overt threat of nuclear war was far more in the front of people's consciousnesses. I would argue that the threat isn't really that much reduced, people as a whole have just moved on a bit. The threat of a nuclear bomb is sufficient, no one REALLY wants to use it.

In Canticle, people used it. People destroyed the world. Humanity survived. Humanity rebuilt. Humanity had the same stupid existential arguments, the same pettiness, the same everything that makes us human. Which means, of course, that we would regain the world, only to destroy it again.

In reading the book this time, I was struck with just how much of the discussions we had as a group in high school included the arguments and discussions from the book. I suspect just as my world was shaped more than I'd like to admit by the books I read in high school, this book shaped Paul's world. I could be projecting.

Many of the philopsophical discussions stuck with me, and I had to pause reading to think about them. I wish I had someone reading the book at the same time, so that we could talk about it.

My favorite quote: "No, you don't have a soul. You ARE a soul. You have a body."


I would argue with the quote as imprecise theology, at least Biblically speaking. We are a sould and a body. The Greeks would argue that we are a soul that has a body we have to get rid of, but that's not how the Bible describes things.

Yes, this was a pretty influential read for me. The issue of knowledge and whether we must and should pursue any/all knowledge, or whether we should be willing (or are we even able?) to pull away from knowledge that could be dangerous and detrimental is a critical issue for us as a species, but an issue with no easy answer. It's easy to say that you could shun a technology, but what if your enemy doesn't? You have to pursue any and all knowledge in order to ensure a certain level of autonomy - at least that's what we seem to think. We are - not surprisingly from a Biblical perspective - locked into a course of action that we can't escape from. There is no way that we ourselves can opt out of self-destruction. If I opt away from it, you might not. If you and I both opt away from it, some lunatic somewhere else in the world won't. I hope you enjoyed the read. I'd love to read it again with you if you wanted to discuss more!

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