A Thought for the Annunciation

annunciationRecently, I read the Scythe Trilogy by Neal Shusterman. (For Girardians: Shusterman has shown much insight into mimetic desire and scapegoating in his many young adult novels.) This trilogy envisions a future where a massive computer called The Thunderhead runs the world: coordinating work, managing the healing of sick and injured people, everything except for one thing. Since people no longer die of natural causes, the population is lessened somewhat by the institution of Scythes who randomly kill people gently and without malice. This is called gleaning. The Scythes and the Thunderhead are separate and do not interact. What would a trilogy like this have to do with the Annunciation of Our Lady?

Not surprisingly, the Scythes eventually attract enough corrupt members to threaten the institution. The Thunderhead cannot intervene directly and must use very careful workarounds to counter this corruption. There are two incidents I can share without seriously spoiling the main thrust of the plot. These incidents offer helpful analogies to the Annunciation.

In the first incident, the Thunderhead decides it must inhabit a human being for a brief time as a necessary step to properly completing a project. Accordingly, the Thunderhead possesses a human. Although this is just for a moment or two, it is traumatic for the human and also for that person’s lover who shares the pain. This incident makes it quite clear that the Incarnation of the Son, the Logos, could not be accomplished by force and be a salvific event for humanity.

In the second incident, a woman, a very ordinary woman, but one who has done well in a pressure situation, receives plans for a highly ambitious project designed by the Thunderhead. This plan will go through only if this woman, representing humanity, gives assent to the project, which se does. The project then goes forward with momentous results. Here we have a strong analogy to the Annunciation. Only by way of a genuine free choice by a human being does the Incarnation of the Son, the Logos occur.

Mary’s fiat, her agreement to the angel, changed the world. The ordinary woman in the Scythe Trilogy and Mary, another ordinary woman in a pivotal situation, show us that, ordinary people like you and me never know how crucial each “yes” to God can be. But God knows.

Healiang the Gods and the Social Body

purpleFlower1Two major YA series have just been just been completed. One is The Heroes of Olympus by Rick Riordan, the other The Unwind Dystology by Neal Shusterman. With one being a rollicking romp filled with deities and mythological monsters, the other a sober social critique, the two are very different but one thing they have in common is concluding with a strong measure of hard won reconciliation. The final volume in Riordan’s set is The Blood of Olympus and the finale of Shusterman’s is Undivided.

The Heroes of Olympus is the second set of five books dealing with adolescent demigods so it is a relief to have finished a set that is enough to give ADHD to anyone who doesn’t already have it. This second set adds Roman deities and their offspring to the Greek deities and their offspring of the first set. Not surprisingly, the demigods on each side have been feuding for a lot of centuries. The deities themselves suffer some identity crises as they are pulled from Greek to Roman manifestation back to Greek, etc. As a resentful Chronos rose up in the first set, an even more resentful Gaia is rising up in the second, sucking in the power from the long-standing resentments of giants, monsters and neglected deities. Needless to say, the demigods have to get over their feud if there are going to stop Gaia. My review of the third book The Mark of Athena in my blogpost Arachne, Athena and a Thousand Princes” explores these themes.

I discussed Shusterman’s series in my earlier blogpost “Unwinding the Judgment of Solomon.” Shusterman envisions an American society where a civil war was ended with an agreement to outlaw all abortion but allow the unwinding of troubled and troubling adolescents for the harvesting of their body parts to implant on other people. This violent, sacrificial situation accelerates in the last two volumes and this final volume brings everything to the cusp of change where several people have to respond rightly at the right time to lead to a peaceful end and not a bloody one. From start to finish, it’s a riveting and wrenching tale.

In both of these concluding volumes, tons of hate and resentment must be overcome if catastrophe is to be avoided. Of the two, Shusterman’s series is much the deepest and probing. He is among the most perceptive among all YA authors on issues of mimetic desire and rivalry. Riordan is undoubtedly a lot more fun for younger readers and the message should come across. Both series have much to offer. I’m not writing this post to analyze either series further but to draw your attention to them as important resources for young readers to help with these same issues in their lives,

Unwinding the Judgment of Solomon

wreckedTrees1Among writers of Y/A novels, Neal Shusterman has shown some of the most acute insight into social processes. Nowhere is this stronger than in his novel Unwind and its sequel Unwholly. In this dystopian novel, a civil war in the U.S. over reproductive  was suddenly brought to an end with an agreement that abortion would be illegal under all circumstances, but that all young people between the ages of thirteen and eighteen could be handed over by parents or guardians to be unwound, a harvesting of 98% of body tissue for medical transplants to other people.

This scenario is a classic example of a violent society making peace at the expense of victims. In Unwind, a troubled teen boy whose parents found too troublesome when they had such an easy out, a girl raised in a state orphanage where many surplus babies go who wasn’t quite talented enough to be worth keeping when the facility needs space for other surplus children, and a boy who was a tithe, the tenth child in a family in a group that gave the tenth child in a family to be unwound as a gift back to “god” and society.

Although the reader may rightly react to the idea with horror, the dystopian “solution” is not that surprising to anyone who has studied René Girard and his colleagues who have demonstrated that this type of “solution” to conflict is common in almost all societies since the dawn of humanity. This novel and its sequels is as a midrash on the Judgment of Solomon, a story Girard cites as a prime example of the Hebrew Bible’s revelation of sacrificial violence. The two disputing mothers became indistinguishable mirror images of each other until Solomon asked for a sword and ordered that the baby be cut in half. One woman preferred the slaughter of the child to letting the other have it, but the other woman preferred the other woman have the child and so that it could live. The biblical story thus has a happy ending. Shusterman’s novel shows us what the triumph of the sacrificial woman is like for a society. As a mini-parable within the story, one of the boys on the run was signed over for unwinding because his parents were going through a bitter divorce and could only agree that they would rather nobody had their son than that the other had him and he lived.

Shusterman also shows, especially in the second book, how the culture has become highly sacrificial, with unwinding having become a way of life. The political advertising media pushes unwinding by encouraging a sense of entitlement not only to a new hand if the old is cut off, but of better, more athletic and better-looking body parts and a “brain-weave” to make one smarter. In Unwholly, a Frankenstein-like experiment has resulted in the creation of a “new” person out of unwound body parts. Sacrifice has created a sacrificial youth. Sacrifice of others has become an end in itself.

Abortion is a topic that many people have very strong opinions about. Even when one’s opinion is mixed, each part of the mix is powerful. The hazard of navigating such a severe debate is that of being so passionately sensitive to one potential victim as to harden one’s heart to others. The Judgment of Solomon and this series of novels is a solemn warning of the dangers of losing ourselves so deeply in conflict that we do not see the victims we create.  A violent situation such as the sacrificial system depicted here adds the problem of how to break the system without violence that creates more sacrificial victims. This growing problem is something Shusterman will be exploring in the subsequent volumes of the series.