Thursday, March 27, 2008

"Supposed details about celestial furniture..."

I was as giddy as a school boy after reading and mulling over this article by an atheist (we'll call him Mike), because it gave me the opportunity to give practical application to something I read by C.S. Lewis. How nice to know that all my readings of his works were not in vain!
Mike summed up his own point better than I could, so here it is: "As long as Christianity pushes theology...as the dogmatic bases for the truth, then any modern society is doomed to have its scientific advances hobbled to an anachronistic mythical religious past." His reasoning for this is that theology "is of itself a very flawed reasoning system drawn from a pre-scientific ancient world view." The example he gives to demonstrate this is that Christianity (to this day) still speak of the "heart" (among other things) as something Jesus must "come into" in order for someone to be saved. Mike theorizes (or just bluntly states) that Christians say this because there theology in this area (i.e., salvation) is based upon the flawed assumptions that ancient people (those uncivilized morons) had about the heart, i.e., that it was the emotional center of a man, not only the seat of physical life but also of spiritual life. Mike's conclusion is that because the theology is based on flawed assumptions, then the theology itself is flawed, an therefore erroneous.
I could berate Mike for his rather arrogant assumption that ancient people could not distinguish between the literal and the metaphorical, but I have a much more delicious attack: I will accuse him of committing his assumed error of the ancients, i.e., being unable to distinguish between the literal and metaphorical.
Mike has committed what I'll call the "imago-literal correlation" fallacy, a fallacy committed when (in an argument) one debater does not draw a distinction between the
essential truth(s) held by a fellow debater, and the imaginative expression(s) that that fellow debater uses to express those essential truths. This idea can be found in Lewis' essay "Horrid Red Things," which Mike's article reminded me of (for which I am eternally grateful to him). In the essay, Lewis tells of a little girl who had two beliefs about poison: (1) that it was dangerous, and (2) that it was full of horrid red things. The first belief is an essential truth about poison, while the second belief is an imaginative expression about poison. When the little girl's mother hears of these two beliefs, she will only correct the latter, not the former. When the little girl has been educated in these matters by her mother, nothing will have fundamentally changed about her beliefs except for the imaginative expression she uses: she no longer believes (as she once did) that poison contains horrid red things; she still believes (as she has always believed) that poison is dangerous. Though it is wise and often necessary of us to correct erroneous imagery, we must not think that erroneous imagery makes the essential truth erroneous as well. As Lewis put it: "If I, staying in [the girl's] house, had raised a glass of what looked like water to my lips, and the child had said, 'Don't drink that. Mummie says it's poisonous,' I should have been foolish to disregard the warning on the ground that 'This child has an archaic and mythological idea of poison as horrid red things.'" The invalidation of the imaginative expression does not mean the invalidation of the essential truth. To commit the imago-literal correlation fallacy is to believe that the invalidation of the expression consequently invalidates the truth behind that expression.
This, of course, is what atheist Mike has done: he has not distinguished between the expressions and the truths (i.e., "theology") behind them. That men of old had the erroneous belief that the physical heart was the center of physical and spiritual life, the center of the person behind the human, does not invalidate the belief that humans have (or are) souls. That men of old had the erroneous belief that the physical heart was "dirty" or a source of evil does not invalidate the belief that there is something fundamentally wrong with humanity. That Christians of old had the erroneous belief (though I doubt they did) that God "cleanses" your "heart" by Christ "coming in" to it does not invalidate the belief that God, through Christ, fixes whatever is fundamentally wrong with humanity. The erroneous beliefs not only do not invalidate the essential beliefs, but also do not even touch them, which is why Mike's argument is vacuous. For any Christian with a rudimentary understanding of theology, the only proper answer to Mike is a resounding, "Yeah. So what?"
Furthermore, Mike has not only fallen prey to the imago-literal correlation fallacy, he has also fallen prey to what I call "nitpickyism," i.e., attack the fundamentally superfluous and ignoring the fundamentally necessary. I suppose, in order to please Mike's scientific mind, we could change our word usage. Instead of saying that we are "fallen" (as though we tripped, or are clumsy), we could say that an aboriginal, supernatural infestation of malicious intent has corrupted our inner disposition. Instead of saying that we need to be "saved" (as though we were drowning, or in some sort of physical danger), we could say that only a supernatural intervention of benevolent intent from outside our existence can correct our corrupted dispositions. Instead of saying that being saved comes by "asking" (as though by invitation) Jesus to "come into" (as though in a spatial relation) our "hearts" (as though the physical organ), we could say a great Being of holiness is offering to us (because He met certain, special conditions) His own inner disposition in place of ours for free if we will only subject ourselves to this process. We could do that, if it would make Mike feel better about our theology.
Unfortunately, it won't make him feel better about our theology, because he has yet to even begin to attack our theology. He has only attacked the expressions, not the theology behind them. Therefore, our using different words will not please him because all we did was replace the old expressions with new ones. Instead of us saying "fallen," we now say "malicious infestation" (as though some disease had a will) has "corrupted" us (as though we were some sort of metal or chemical, or a control in an experiment). Instead of saying "saved," we now say "benevolent intervention" (as though we are druggies) from "outside" us (as though in a spatial relation) that "corrects" us (as though like a teacher). Instead of of saying "asking Jesus into your heart," we now say that a holy Being offers to us His own disposition in place of ours (as though we were at a swap meet or bazaar). No matter how many times we reword it all, Mike will never be satisfied, because he cannot distinguish between the expressions and the theology behind them, and thus will nitpick about any wording we use; for as Lewis said in his essay, "All language, except about objects of sense, is metaphorical through and through...We can make our language more polysyllabic and duller; we cannot make it more literal."