Posted on July 23, 2016


Some of us change at the drop of the proverbial hat. Others of us cringe at the possibility of change. Change is part of the human condition, and as I was doing some reading in my family’s past, or genealogy, I was reminded of how often my people had to, or chose to, change.

They changed places, changed jobs, changed wives, or husbands as the case may be, changed religion, and some changed countries and changed nationalities.

My father’s people migrated down from Virginia and other places up north into the upstate region of South Carolina, along with thousands of others, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and settled in places like Pendleton, Liberty, and Pickens. Once settled in, many then picked up again and left, wandering across the mountains to the “west,” places like Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas, looking for their fortune and future. So much for settling in.

My mother’s people left a stagnant economy, war and no future in Germany and wandered across the Atlantic Ocean, into the Pacific, and settled in the north of Chile, where the mining of nitrates, guano, and soon copper gave them good employment. So they became Chileans, even though their surname remained good German, Reichel.

Some of my people on my mother’s material side were probably converted Jews who got chased out of Rome under the persecution of the Church. They already had changed from Jew to Christian to survive, but as converts they were always suspect of a true conversion.

So they changed, went to Switzerland where their ancestral name of Levi, one of the twelve tribes of Israel, was transformed into Lema. Then they migrated to Spain, and ended up in Chile.

The old French saying, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, is a bit cynical, but there is probably some truth to it. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Partners fight and go to counseling, but nothing changes. A new sheriff is elected, but crime continues. Today the many presidential candidates promised vast new, and, of course, improved changes, but can they really bring them to pass? Is human nature truly “changeable?”

I am reading a book by Joseph Loconte “A Hobbit, a Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-1918.” about the effects of the First World War on the West. It is an extraordinary story of heroism, myths, and the collapse of a belief system which held that man was uniquely capable to end war and embark on a new era of peace and progress, based on rational, progressive thinking and acting.

In other words, while the West, and some of its great thinkers like Sigmund Freud, thought men capable of true changes, the Great War, and the immolation of millions of men fighting and civilians caught up in this immensely senseless war, seemed to remove any doubt that men had truly not changed for the better.

But Lewis and Tolkien, especially Lewis, did change, rather dramatically. Lewis slowly abandoned his old agnosticism and embraced Christianity even in the near rabid anti-Christian, anti-religious atmosphere of the 1920s.

Intellectuals and literati gathered, at places like Oxford and Paris, and were presided over by the likes of a Gertrude Stein, the doyen of the “lost generation,” born Jewish, turned gay, and profoundly anti-religious. Tolkien and Lewis fought to make sense of their world and did change, Lewis writing some of the great apologies/defenses and explanations of Christianity in his lifetime.

The young seem more given to changing than the old, which is probably natural and following the old entropy rule of declining energy. This is not universally true. Bernie Sanders, the pied piper of the Millennials, is 74 and immensely vigorous, determined to “change” America. Peru just elected a 77-year-old, Pedro Pablo Kuczynsky, over his 41 year old rival, Keiko Fujimori.

But faced with change, from as small a change as sitting in a different pew in your church, or losing your first job and having your small family to support, can be intimidating and most unwelcome.

When I face change, I have a simple rule, although the change may not be so simple or welcome on the surface. I ask my God what to do. He never fails me.

Gertrude Stein would think I’m a simpleton and believe in myths. C. S. Lewis would probably pray with and for me. I prefer the latter.

Published as Is Human Nature Really Changeable? on Sunday July 10, 2016 in The Tusccaloosa News.

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