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 simple...it 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.