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Book Title: Lord of the World|
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Reader ratings: 7.8
The author of the book: Robert Hugh Benson
Edition: Skyros Publishing
Date of issue: November 24th 2015
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Format files: PDF
The size of the: 14.58 MB
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In the real world of the early 21st century, the Western world, which dominates the rest of the world economically and politically, is similarly dominated internally by a ruling wealthy political and cultural elite. That elite is united behind a worldview that serves them as a de facto state religion, the basic tenets of which are: materialistic atheism that rejects any concept of a transcendent God as not only misguided but evil; idealization (and idolization) of a deified Mankind, while denying any inherent rights or dignity to any individual human; absolute centralization of political and economic power; and "rationalization" of economic and social processes to maximize profit and control. Although large numbers of the subservient population of workers, consumers, taxpayers and nominal "voters" don't share this belief system, the power elite largely dominates all levers of political, economic and judicial decision making, mass education and communication (and therefore also dominates perception and access to information about events) and uses economic coercion, bribery, brainwashing and manipulation of the electoral process to ensure its agenda. Many of us (including, but not only, traditional Christians) view this state of affairs with dissatisfaction and genuine fear. Christian believers especially perceive an agenda on the part of the elites (sometimes avowed openly), and a trend towards, the elimination of even vestigial legal safeguards for religious and other freedoms, and the establishment of open totalitarianism and persecution with the intent to exterminate religious believers.
In 1907, the intellectual currents that would lead to this state of affairs were far less advanced than they are now. But they were there, and already clearly expressed in germinal form in much of the "Utopian" thought of that day. (Obviously, what an adherent of this worldview sees as "Utopia" would pretty much be everybody else's dystopia.) Robert Hugh Benson, former Anglican priest turned Roman Catholic priest, extrapolated from those currents with incredible prescience to create a Christian response to them in fictional form. Set apparently in the early 21st-century (mention is made of the legislation in 1998 establishing legal euthanasia, some years before the characters' present) it describes a world where the materialistic Utopia is largely a reality, save for the galling persistence of a small minority of religious believers. This is social science fiction, subject to the limitations of its time; future technological developments here aren't portrayed exactly as they turned out (though some are pretty close!), and nobody in 1907 (or even 1967) foresaw the Internet. But what we have in the main is a chillingly realistic and plausible portrait of the secular world, that is in its essentials basically not much different than the one we live in, or could reasonably expect to live in very soon.
However, this is more than dystopian SF, because Benson recognized the real issues as spiritual rather than sociological, and the answer to the problem as coming from God's action, not ours. So this is a novel that takes very seriously the reality of Christian eschatology, of a climax of history in which God Himself will act to replace the present world order with an eternal one based on justice and righteousness, as adumbrated in Bible prophecy --and Benson takes some aspects of Bible prophecy more literally than most Catholic expositors have, although without the bizarre distortions of prophecy featured by the dispensationalist writers of, for instance, the Left Behind series. (This isn't a spoiler; it's foreshadowed from the Prologue on, and it's the essential core of Benson's message.)
This is very much a novel of ideas; but it also has a very real, taut plot, focusing mainly on three viewpoint characters who represent very different takes on the events of their world. All three are drawn very realistically, and in such a way that we can truly get inside their heads and understand how they think. (Nonbelievers aren't necessarily treated unsympathetically --Mabel is actually one of the most sympathetic characters in the book.) Events move swiftly, with a mounting degree of menace and suspense. The Edwardian diction features some big words, including Catholic ecclesiastical vocabulary and some lines, especially near the end, in untranslated Latin (which educated readers in 1907, of course, could translate) and complex sentences; and there can be at times more description of physical settings than I'd have preferred. But I didn't have any problem reading this, and finding it to be an extremely powerful and meaningful reading experience.
I've recommended the book to Christian readers. Some nonbelievers might find some food for thought here, but I don't think Benson saw them as his audience. He addressed it to his fellow Catholics, to strengthen them in the face of coming persecution (and both Pope Francis and his predecessor have urged their flock to read it). In keeping with his own early 20th-century milieu of very conservative English Catholicism, the author sees his denomination as largely coextensive with Christianity. In his fictional early 21st-century, Protestantism is largely extinct, distinctive Catholic ideas are often expressed in the text, and Catholic mysticism (which Protestant readers might find somewhat alien) is prominent here. Nevertheless, I think this is worthwhile reading for Protestant readers too, for the same reason as for Catholic ones; what unites us, in the face of a world that rejects God, is more important than what divides us, and we all need the reminder that our salvation comes ultimately from Jesus Christ, not from cultural power or political action.
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Read information about the authorRobert Hugh Benson (18 November 1871 – 19 October 1914) was an Anglican pastor who joined the Roman Catholic Church (1903) where he was ordained priest in 1904. Youngest son of Edward White Benson (Archbishop of Canterbury) and his wife, Mary, and younger brother of Edward Frederic Benson, he was lauded in his own day as one of the leading figures in English literature, having written the notable book Lord of The World.
Benson was educated at Eton College and then studied classics and theology at Trinity College, Cambridge, from 1890 to 1893.
In 1895, Benson was ordained a priest in the Church of England by his father who was the then Archbishop of Canterbury.
After his father died suddenly in 1896, Benson was sent on a trip to the Middle East to recover his own health. While there he began to question the status of the Church of England and to consider the claims of the Catholic Church. His own piety began to tend toward the High Church tradition and he started exploring religious life in various Anglican communities, eventually obtaining permission to join the Community of the Resurrection.
Benson made his profession as a member of the community in 1901, at which time he had no thoughts of leaving the Church of England. As he continued his studies and began writing, however, he became more and more uneasy with his own doctrinal position and, on 11 September 1903, he was received into the Catholic Church. He was awarded the Dignitary of Honour of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre.
Benson was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 1904 and sent to Cambridge. He continued his writing career along with his ministry as a priest.
Like both his brothers, Edward Frederic Benson ("Fred") and Arthur Benson, Benson wrote many ghost stories, collected in The Light Invisible (1903) and The Mirror of Shallott (1907). Seven of these stories are included in David Stuart Davies' (ed) The Temple of Death: The Ghost Stories of A.C. and R.H. Benson (Wordsworth, 2007) along with nine by his brother Arthur. His 1907 novel, Lord of the World, is generally regarded as one of the first modern dystopias (see List of dystopian literature).
As a young man, Benson recalled, he had rejected the idea of marriage as “quite inconceivable”. Then, in 1904, soon after his ordination as a Roman Catholic priest, he formed a chaste but passionate friendship with Frederick Rolfe. For two years this relationship involved letters “not only weekly, but at times daily, and of an intimate character, exhaustingly charged with emotion”. All letters were subsequently destroyed, probably by Benson’s brother.
Benson was appointed a supernumerary private chamberlain to the Pope in 1911 and, consequently, styled as Monsignor.
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