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Twisted Good

I love learning about how technology came to be, the many predecessors and the many failures. Luckily I have a husband who knows this about me, so when he came across an article that spoke about the first camera, he forwarded that to my inbox for me to read. This article talked about the invention of the first photograph in the 1820s. What this article didn’t tell me was that some of the technology used in that first camera dates all the way back to a Chinese philosopher in 400 B.C. This philosopher noted that light from an illuminated object that passed through a pinhole into a dark room created an inverted image of the original object.

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Light travels in a straight line. When there is only a tiny pinhole for the light to pass through, each starting point of light can only go in one single line and make it through. This allows a clean picture of the starting image to be created. If there were a bigger hole, each starting point would be able to shine light in a number of different directions and still get into the box. This allows too much light which makes it impossible to make out the original image. (Imagine if each starting point on the right image were 4-fold like the purple. It’d be a mess.)

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Although they might not have been able to accurately describe the phenomenon, it fascinated great thinkers throughout the centuries. Greek philosopher Aristotle realized that a partial eclipse could be viewed by looking at the ground beneath a tree. The gaps between the leaves worked as the pinhole, and the crescent shape of the partially eclipsed sun was projected onto the ground. In the 11th century, the scholar Alhazen added a viewing screen to see the inverted image. He performed multiple experiments actually studying how the rays of light traveled.

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In the 16th century, one scholar thought to add a concave lens to the pinhole. Then in 1604, the famous astronomer Johannes Kepler was the first to use the term “camera obscura” when he used it for astronomical applications and created a portable version.

Then in the 1820s Joseph Nicéphore Niépce was the first to successfully fix the projected image without painting it himself. He used the technology of a camera obscura to allow a tiny bit of light to be exposed to a coated base (stone or metal). That coating reacted with the light so that when Niepce washed the base, any coating not exposed to much light would wash off and the areas hit with light would remain coated, resulting in the negative. His very first photograph has been lost throughout the years, but here is his oldest surviving photograph, a picture of his estate and the surrounding countryside from 1827.

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All of this was interesting to me, but I was most intrigued by the fact that we had to invert the original image to capture it. When I look at pictures, I don’t often think about the process of how that image got to be printed or whether it’s a reliable image. This technique made me think about the techniques of the devil. So often he takes something that God has created as good and pleasurable and he flips it upside down. He twists this good thing until it’s no longer something good. All too often, it is difficult for us to see the difference, our human minds can still see it as good, but in reality that is no longer true.

As an example, take sex. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “Sexuality is a source of joy and pleasure: The Creator himself . . . established that in the [generative] function, spouses should experience pleasure and enjoyment of body and spirit. Therefore, the spouses do nothing evil in seeking this pleasure and enjoyment.” (CCC 2362) The problem is when the devil twists this good. He tells us that it is okay to have sex at any time with anyone. He takes it away from the natural purpose for which it was created, a source of joy between spouses.

C.S. Lewis speaks of how the devil removes good things from its natural purpose in his book The Screwtape Letters. This book is a fictional collection of letters written between demons who are working in the world to sow chaos. They discuss different strategies and what works best on the humans. One section has a demon saying:

“Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural…”

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During creation, God called all of his creations “good”. Each and every one of us is good, and He wants us to have joy and pleasure, but he wishes us to have those joys in the natural and good way that He created. The devil wants to flip those good things on their head until they are no longer good. It is up to us to be vigilant, to truly look at the things around us and judge whether they are truly good or if we are being lied to.

Last week I told you that we had to have strong defenses, making sure that we allow no bad things to get through, but sometimes it can be difficult to distinguish what is good and bad. The devil can be very good at his job as “King of Lies”. How then are we supposed to be able to discern the difference? When we are close to God, we are more attuned to His will. We are better able to distinguish between truly good and a twisted good. I hope that you will take a look at different areas of your life this week: work, home life, hobbies, friends. I hope that you’ll take each one to prayer and ask if the things in your life are truly good or if the devil has twisted them and maybe they should be something that we work to keep out. Ask God to see as He sees. The more we pray to see the truth, the easier it will become. We must always be vigilant, always evaluating our lives to make sure we are following God’s way and are not deceived by the inverted image of a good that the devil is trying to give us.