Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Fool Hath Said: Part 2

Fool's assertion #2: Lewis' arguments are meant to convince Christians, but not atheist. "Lewis concludes the 'Preface' by saying that the he sees Christianity as a great house with a large hall. Different rooms leading off the hall are the different denominations. He said that he is not primarily concerned about which room Christians occupy, but he is concerned about getting them into the hall. The Fool realized [upon seconding reading] that Lewis might have been writing to the people in the rooms, and possibly even to those in the hall, but the Fool found no convincing reasons to move into the hall from outside the house, and certainly nor into any of the rooms, on the book's account...Most of Mere Christianity is devoted to what Christians believe, to Christian behavior, and to Christian homilies that may be of interest to Christians, but are only incidentally so to the Fool."
Fool's reasoning for assertion #2:
  1. There is no such thing as "mere" Christianity. "For instance, either the Virgin Birth is valid or it is not. Either it is essential to Christian Belief or it is not. Lewis discusses and then avoids conclusions about such issues as being too controversial. If he believes in historical Christianity, then he must take a stand one way or the other and be willing to justify and/or explain the reasons for his conclusions."
  2. Lewis' "Jesus Argument" is too limited. "The Fool finds that Lewis' comments about what one must believe about Jesus to be not at all persuasive. He gives only two options in a crucial sentence on page 41. 'Either this man (Jesus) was, and is, the son of God, or else a madman or something worse.' Even the Fool knows that there are so many more options than these two that he can only be sorrowful for the maker of such an oversimplified and dogmatic statement.
  3. Lewis' reasoning and rhetoric is shoddy. "Take for example the first paragraph in the chapter on 'The Rival Conceptions of God'...This writing is very seductive, but the stinger is deceptively buried in the last sentence, 'There is only right answer to a sum, and all other answers are wrong.' Just because the 'majority' that Lewis speaks of in the next paragraph 'believe in some kind of God or gods,' does not indicate anything other than that all of the different ideologies of the 'majority,' except possibly one, are themselves wrong.
  4. Lewis' reasoning for God is not convincing. "The Fool is not persuaded by the childish anecdotes in Lewis' attempt to establish a 'Law of Human Nature' somehow based on 'The Law of Nature' which leads to a 'power' that is soon spoken of as a 'Life-Force,' but which finally is to be called 'God.'"
  5. Lewis' view of God is contradictory. "This thing Lewis calls God is then defined in double-talk: 'God is the only comfort, He is also the supreme terror: the thing we most need and the thing we most want to hide from. He is our only possible ally, and we have made ourselves His enemies.' This kind of argument has no meaning to the Fool..."
Vowell's movement for assertion #2: This "hall" image by Lewis was not meant to set up the tone of the book, but merely clear up any confusion regarding the book's purpose: "The reader should be warned that I offer no help to anyone who is hesitating between two Christian 'denominations'. You will not learn from me whether you ought to become an Anglican, a Methodist, a Presbyterian, or a Roman Catholic." His reason for this is quite obvious: "Ever since I became a Christian I have thought that the best, perhaps the only, service I could do for my unbelieving neighbors was to explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times." Lewis clearly states that Mere Christianity is meant for a explanation and defense to unbelievers (which includes atheist), an explanation and defense that doesn't get them bogged down in "points of high Theology or even of ecclesiastical history, which ought never to be treated except by real experts." Lewis' point should be clear: he is not trying to give some sort of theological treatise covering every minute detail and nuance of Christendom. He is talking to the everyman, the common man. Thus, he is giving the basics of the basics. The Fool doth protest too much; his assertion reveals a clear misunderstanding of Lewis' intention for this book. The Fool was looking for a deep well but found only still waters, which is just as refreshing even though it is not as deep.
Vowell's movement for the reasoning of assertion #2:
  1. Yes there is a "mere" Christianity, and Lewis already stated it: "the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times." For the Fool to claim that Lewis "avoids" the issue of the Virgin Birth is flatly dishonest. Lewis did not avoid discussing the Virgin Birth for the sake of the Virgin Birth. He avoided discussing the Virgin Birth for the sake of the Roman Catholic idea of the "Blessed Virgin". Lewis explains: "Some people draw unwarranted conclusions from the fact that I never say more about the Blessed Virgin Mary than is involved in asserting the Virgin Birth of Christ. But surely my reason for not doing so is obvious? To say more would take me at once into highly controversial regions. And there is no controversy between Christians which needs to be so delicately touched as this. The Roman Catholic beliefs on that subject are held not only with the ordinary fervour that attaches to all sincere religious belief, but (very naturally) with the peculiar and, as it were, chivalrous sensibility that a man feels when the honour of his mother or his beloved is at stake. It is very difficult so to dissent from them that you will not appear to them a cad as well as a heretic. And contrariwise, the opposed Protestant beliefs on this subject call forth feelings which go down to the very roots of all Monotheism whatever. To radical Protestants it seems that the distinction between Creator and creature (however holy) is imperilled: that Polytheism is risen again. Hence it is hard so to dissent from them that you will not appear something worse than a heretic--a Pagan. If any topic could be relied upon to wreck a book about 'mere' Christianity--if any topic makes utterly unprofitable reading for those who do not yet believe that the Virgin's son is God--surely this is it." Though the Virgin Birth is an essential "Christian" belief, it is not an essential "mere Christian" belief. Remember what Lewis is trying to do: speak the basics of the basics. Whether Jesus' earthly mother was divine or not is a matter of "high Theology." That God came in the flesh is "mere Christianity," and Lewis gives a great bit of the book to the Incarnation. For the sake of clarity for the common man, he is trying to avoid "side eddys."
  2. First of all, the Fool says that Lewis only gives "two" options when he actually gives three: "Son of God," "madman," and "something worse." But let's not quibble over small potatoes. The real problem with the Fool's statement is that he claims that "there are so many more options than these two [or three]," but he never gives any of those other options. I've noticed that atheist do this a lot when they address Lewis' Jesus Argument, and it bugs the fool at of me.
  3. The Fool mistakenly believes that Lewis, by lumping Christianity into the "majority" of religions, is claiming that Christianity is right because it is in the majority. This is not what Lewis is doing. Again, he is trying to explain "what Christian's believe" (as the section of the book implies) and to do that he most start with the "basics of the basics". He is saying what Christianity is, not whether it is true. Whether it is true or not is an assumption the reader makes after they read the book. Also, the Fool avoids Lewis' major points to atheists in that chapter, such as an atheist's restricted ability to view religion ("If you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through. If you are an atheist you do have to believe that the main point in all the religions of the whole world is simply one huge mistake. If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all those religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth. When I was an atheist I had to try to persuade myself that most of the human race have always been wrong about the question that mattered to them most; when I became a Christian I was able to take a more liberal view.") and their inability to explain morality wholly ("My argument against God [as an atheist] was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet. Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too--for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist--in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless -I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality--namely my idea of justice--was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.") Lewis would actually agree with the Fool that just because the majority believes something, doesn't make that something true. Therefore, the Fool ignored crucial issues, and instead prattled on about absolutely nothing. (The Fool did try to claim that "the similarity of all of the theistic beliefs in making assertions that can not be proved" means that they are wrong, but this ridiculous assumption was wonderfully addressed in Lewis' book Surprised by Joy and the essay "Myth Became Fact," among other things)
  4. If he's not persuaded, then that's just too bad. It should be said that Lewis' moving from moral ideals to personal ideals to a personal Ideal and then to a personal God is a compression of his entire journey to the faith (from atheism to idealism to pantheism to monotheism to theism to Christian). If you want the full flow of this reasoning, read Surprised by Joy along with Mere Christianity (also, read The Pilgrim's Regress).
  5. Lewis' view of God is paradoxical, which can look like contradictions (or "double-talk") to a fool. A paradox is an apparent contradiction that expresses truth. If you want to know how Lewis' "double-talk" actually makes sense, then read the book again (and read it carefully this time). That God's nature is paradoxical is a bedrock Christian belief, a well thought out belief that has never shaken the faith of any Christian who has understood them.
All in all, the Fool is what he says he is. His approach to Lewis' book was assumptive, dismissive, shoddy, and far too simple. We should not be surprised, however; for as Lewis put it in Mere Christianity, "Atheism is too is a boy's philosophy." To quote Bunyan, "A child in the faith could answer such questions as these." A child can, but not a Fool.

Monday, October 22, 2007

The Fool Hath Said: Part 1

I found this review of C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity done by an atheist who calls himself "the Fool". Naturally curious as to what an atheist would say to the words of a former atheist, I decided to take a peak. After reading his (I'm assuming it's a "he") somewhat short review of C.S. Lewis' book, I give my review of the review:

Fool's assertion #1: Lewis was never a true atheist. "The Fool doubts that Lewis ever was a convinced and dedicated agnostic or atheist."
Fool's reasoning for assertion #1:
  1. Lewis' atheism was immature. "It is true that while still a young man, he professed to have no religion and maintained that 'All religions, that is all mythologies, to give them their proper name, are merely man's own invention - Christ as much as Loki.' (C.S. Lewis, A Biography , p. 48), but the tone of his objection to religions seems more the schoolboy realization of religious errors and inconsistencies than that of a mature thinker who has considered the atheist or agnostic positions extensively and sympathetically and who accepts the inevitability of one or the other of both positions."
  2. Lewis showed a sympathy for religious thought through his love of mythology. "As a youth he had an apparent fascination with elaborate systems of mythology, and his later fiction, the Narnia saga and stories of the planets, is filled with poetic symbols of power and morality."
  3. Sympathy can easily leads to concession. "It is a small step from contemplating a deity to bowing before it."
  4. Therefore, if Lewis had been a mature atheist, he would never have conceded. "In one account of his conversion, he said, 'In 1929 I gave in and admitted that God is God.' Had Lewis been a comfortable atheist or committed agnostic, he would not have had anything to 'give in' to."
Vowell's movement for assertion #1: Far be it for me to take exception for bold statements, and it should be recognized that the Fool did proceed to explain (in a manner) why he made his assertion. Nevertheless, the Fool begins by questioning Lewis' integrity, and is assuming that he was either dishonest or ignorant about himself.
Vowell's movement for the reasoning of assertion #1:
  1. It needs to be stated up front that this reasoning is a huge assumption, not a fact. Furthermore, his example for proving his immaturity is (at best) an opinion, and (at worst) a ridiculous reading. When you hear Lewis' statement, "All religions, that is all mythologies, to give them their proper name, are merely man's own invention - Christ as much as Loki," does that seem like an immature or mature statement, the words of an immature or mature thinker? Would you see a child (i.e., "schoolboy") saying such a thing and understanding it? Would you see a child connect mythology with religion on any level, not just "their proper name"? Would you see a child even know who "Loki" is, or how Loki can be compared to Christ? The Fool is assuming a lot about what is an immature thought and an immature thinker (note: we can correctly assume that the Fool sees Lewis' statement as an immature thought because he juxtaposed and contrasted such thinking with the phrase "a mature thinker").
  2. The Fool is making another assumption here, viz., that fascination equals sympathy. One can be quite fascinated with something and still conclude it's rubbish. One's aesthetic taste does not necessarily determine one's logical conclusion. (I love Catholic art, but I am not a Catholic).
  3. Another huge assumption, viz., sympathy leads to concession. I may feel sympathy for a crying child and still not concede to him eating dessert before dinner. In addition, there is another assumption made here, i.e., that there is "a small step" between sympathy and concession. I may have sympathy to Marx's ideas on economy or Derrida's ideas on language, but it in no way follows that I am anywhere near agreeing with them. In between sympathy and concession are the monstrous steps of logic, reason, inquiry, and (in the case of religion) faith. Other things can come in between as well, such as cultural, social, political, and historical elements (e.g., does it necessarily follow that a Muslim who has sympathy and/or a fascination with Judaism is one small step away from conceding to their beliefs?).
  4. That Lewis was not a mature atheist is nothing more than another opinionated assumption. That if Lewis was a mature atheist he would not have conceded to religion is yet another opinionated assumption. See this for further review and inquiry on whether or not "mature" atheist can concede to religion. The Fool is making assumptions about not only Lewis, but also atheist in general.
As a side note, I would say that if I had to pick, I'd prefer to be a "committed agnostic" as opposed to a "comfortable atheist." If an atheist is "comfortable," then he has stopped thinking. If an agnostic is "committed," then he never stops seeking and asking. Thus, if Lewis was a "comfortable atheist," of course he would never "give in"; he would have gone intellectually cold on the issue a long time ago. In addition, it does not follow at all that a "committed agnostic" would never reach the same conclusion that Lewis did (i.e., "God is God."). The Fool seems to be assuming that an agnostic is one who ceaselessly questions without seeking for an answer, a direct contradiction to how he later describes agnostics: "...[one who] does not want to come to any conclusions without adequate evidence..."

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Mr. Lewis on Glory

From Mr. Lewis' essay "The Weight of Glory," to be read in conjunction with blog entry "Righteousness and Peace":

"Glory, as Christianity teaches me to hope for it, turns out to satisfy my original desire and indeed reveal an element in that desire which I had not noticed. By ceasing for a moment to consider my own wants, I have begun to learn better what I really wanted. When I attempted, a few minutes ago, to describe our spiritual longings, I was omitting one of their most curious characteristics. We usually notice it just as the moment of vision dies away, as the music ends, or as the landscape loses the celestial light. What we feel then has been well described by Keats as "the journey homeward to habitual self." You know what I mean. For a few minutes we have had the illusion of belong to that world. Now we wake to find that it is no such thing. We have been mere spectators. Beauty has smiled, but not to welcome us; her face was turned in our direction, but not to see us. We have not been accepted, welcomed, or taken into the dance. We may go if we please, we may stay if we can: "Nobody marks us."
A scientist may reply that since most of the things we call beautiful are inanimate, it is not very surprising that they take no notice of us. That, of course, is true. It is not the physical objects I am speaking of, but that indescribable something of which they become for a moment messengers. And part of the bitterness which mixes with the sweetness of that message is due to the fact that it so seldom seems to be a message intended for us, but rather something we have overheard. By bitterness I mean pain, not resentment. We should hardly dare ask that any notice be take of ourselves.
But we pine. The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longing to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret. And surely, from this point of view, the promise of glory, in the sense described, becomes highly relevant to our deep desire. For glory means good report with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgment, and welcome into the heart of things. The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last...
"Apparently, then, our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation. And to be at last summoned inside would be both glory and honor beyond all our merits and also the healing of that old ache."

Mr Chambers on the Forgiveness of God

The following is from Mr. Chamber's book Shadow of an Agony:

"Forgiveness means not merely that I am saved from sin and made right for heaven (no man would accept forgiveness on such a level); forgiveness means that I am forgiven into a recreated relationship, into identification with God in Christ.
"The background of God's forgiveness is holiness. If God were not holy, there would be nothing in His forgiveness. There is no such thing as God overlooking sin; therefore if God does forgive, there must be a reason that justifies His doing so. If I am forgiven without being altered by the forgiveness, forgiveness is a damage to me and a sign of the unmitigated weakness of God. When a man is convicted of sin, he knows God dare not forgive him; if He did, it would mean that man has a bigger sense of justice than God. God, in forgiving a man, gives him the heredity of His own Son, that is, He turns him into the standard of the Forgiver. Forgiveness is a revelation--hope for the hopeless; that is the message of the gospel."

God's holiness means that He has to deal with sin, not overlook it. Christ's atonement is the only way God could forgive sin and remain holy.

Saturday, October 20, 2007


As a follow up to "Nitpickyism," here are my picks for worst theological invention ever:
  1. Gnosticism, i.e., God only speaks to special people in private.
  2. Deism, i.e., God is not intimate with His creation (which rules out the Incarnation).
  3. Monotheism (Islam), i.e., God is one (as opposed to Trinitarian, i.e., God is three in one).
  4. Atheism, i.e., God is not. I don't know how much worse you can get.

Friday, October 5, 2007


This was an interesting article. In a nutshell, the guy is having a contest of sorts as to what is the worst theological invention of all time. Some of the suggestions I found to be good choices, such as: papal infallibility, prosperity gospel, limited atonement, predestination, original sin that makes all our sexual desires to be evil, the Purpose Driven anything.
There were some that, though I did not agree with them, I found them to be inevitable and interesting, such as: the rapture, Congregationalism, Christian Zionism, King James Onlyism (that was my favorite).

However, there were some that boggled my mind, and made me wonder if these people commenting on this blog entry knew any ounce of theology at all. This are the main ones:
  1. Penal Substitutionary Atonement; so I'm guessing by the addition of the word "penal" that we are dealing with what my brother called "squishy people," or people like Dorothy Sayers mentioned in her essay "The Dogma is the Drama," i.e., people who think this doctrine treats God as a sadist and Christ as the innocent victim. If this is what they are thinking, then they need to read Romans again (actually, they probably need to read all of the Pauline epistles again).
  2. Biblical Inerrancy; I'm not sure what they mean here. Somebody mentioned something about "19th century Victorian conservative reactionism," so I'm guessing what they mean is somebody in the 19th century pointed out something like the writer of First Samuel said, "500,000 soldiers," but the writer of First Kings said, "300,000 men," but the writer of First Chronicles said, "a great host." Seeing as how the writers all disagree, then the Bible has an error in it; and since it has an error in it, the it is not inerrant (or infallible, as some put it). I'm not sure if the people who listed "biblical inerrancy" realize the Pandora's box that is "the bible has errors in minor details, therefore it is not all true." Biblical inerrancy/infallibility means (as I understand it) that the truths that the Bible speaks are true, because it is the word of God, and God cannot lie.
  3. Bodily Resurrection; Whose bodily resurrection? If ours, then you have no understanding of the context of Jewish tradition and the role it played in Christian belief (in other words, you have never read the New Testament...or the Old). If Christ's, then you clearly haven't read the gospels, especially the end of the Gospel of Luke.
  4. Hell; Part of my wanted to place this under the "I should have expected this" category, but I just couldn't. How can anybody who reads the Bible (if they are awake) not grasp that their is some sort of necessary retribution for sin? What is this wussy Christianity that denies God's justice and holiness. On the other hand, do these people simply mean "literal hell," as in literal fire and such?
  5. Sola Scriptura; Am I sensing some disgruntled Catholics? Are these people saying that the Bible isn't our finally authority? Perhaps this ties in with "biblical inerrancy"?
  6. Sola Fide; If salvation is not "by grace through faith," then what is it through?
A question I must ask myself is, "What would I have posted as my nomination?" I'm not sure about "theological invention," but I have one for "worst Christian invention." I call it "Nitpickyism." The nominations posted were primarily examples of "Nitpickyism" for the following reasons:
  1. NONE of the nominations were theological inventions. I think one person nominated "Arianism," i.e., the belief that God created Jesus, and therefore Jesus is not God. Even that, however, is more Christological than theological. In short, nobody actually met the contest's requirement: provide a theological invention. One or two people noticed this trend (one commenter said people were just spouting their "hate lists"), but their concern fell on deaf ears. Apparently, no one was getting that this was about nominating a true theological disaster, not their opinions on what belief they believe is bullcrap or not.
  2. MOST of the nominations given were nothing but pathetic potshots: Demonology (of the Frank Peretti kind), "Jesus as my personal Saviour," all forms of Protestantism, Jack Chick Comics, people saying "Amen" and "Preach it Brother" during services, and so on. Even Christian Zionism, the superiority of the KJV, and the Rapture boiled down into unChristlike mudslinging.
This is "Nitpickyism": sweating over your opinion of the minor details instead of dealing with the larger truths (i.e., throwing potshots at Jack Chick instead of seriously considering horrible theological inventions). It affects all traditions and sects, and is another one of those things that makes Modern Christendom so dad gum annoying.