Thursday, March 31, 2011

Christian ethics: sweeter than honey

honey closeup In so far as this idea of the Law’s beauty, sweetness, or preciousness, arose from the contrast of the surrounding Paganisms, we may soon find occasion to recover it. Christians increasingly live on a spiritual island; new and rival ways of life surround it in all directions and their tides come further up the beach every time. None of these new ways is yet so filthy or cruel as some Semitic Paganism. But many of them ignore all individual rights and are already cruel enough. Some give morality a wholly new meaning which we cannot accept, some deny its possibility. Perhaps we shall all learn, sharply enough, to value the clean air and ‘sweet reasonableness’ of the Christian ethics which in a more Christian age we might have taken for granted. But of course, if we do, we shall then be exposed to the danger of priggery. We might come to ‘thank God that we are not as other men’.

C.S. Lewis, ‘Sweeter Than Honey,’ Reflections on the Psalms (1958) as republished within C.S. Lewis: Selected Books (London: HarperCollins, 2002) 343.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Psalm 119: Sweeter than honey (Part 2)

psalm119_30 But there is something else to our purpose in [Psalm 119]. On three occasions the poet asserts that the Law is ‘true’ or ‘the truth’ (vv. 86, 138, 142). We find the same in Psalm 111:7, “all his commandments are true.” (The word, I understand, could also be translated ‘faithful’, or ‘sound’; what is, in the Hebrew sense, ‘true’ is what ‘holds water’, what doesn’t ‘give way’ or collapse.) A modern logician would say that the Law is a command and that to call a command ‘true’ makes no sense; “The door is shut” may be true or false but “Shut the door” can’t. But I think we all see pretty well what the Psalmists mean. They mean that in the Law you find the ‘real’ or ‘correct’ or stable, well-grounded, directions for living. The Law answers the question “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way?” (119:9). It is like a lamp, a guide (v. 105). There are many rival directions for living, as the Pagan cultures all round us show. When the poets call the directions or ‘rulings’ of [Yahweh] ‘true’ they are expressing the assurance that these, and not those others, are the ‘real’ or ‘valid’ or unassailable ones; that they are based on the very nature of things and the very nature of God…. [The Jews] know that the Lord (not merely obedience to the Lord) is ‘righteous’ and commands ‘righteousness’ because He loves it (11:8). He enjoins what is good because it is good, because He is good. Hence His laws have emeth, ‘truth’, intrinsic validity, rock-bottom reality, being rooted in His own nature, and are therefore as solid as that Nature which He has created. But the Psalmists themselves can say it best; “thy righteousness standeth like the strong mountains, thy judgements are like the great deep” (36:6). Their delight in the Law is a delight in having touched firmness; like the pedestrian’s delight in feeling the hard road beneath his feet after a false short cut has long entangled him in muddy fields.
    For there were other roads, which lacked ‘truth’. The Jews had as their immediate neighbours, close to them in race as well as in position, Pagans of the worst kind, Pagans whose religion was marked by none of that beauty or (sometimes) wisdom which we can find among the Greeks. That background made the ‘beauty’ or ‘sweetness’ of the Law more visible; not least because these neighbouring Paganisms were a constant temptation to the Jew and may in some of their externals have been not unlike his own religion. The temptation was to turn to those terrible rites in times of terror — when, for example, the Assyrians were pressing on. We who not so long ago waited daily for invasion by enemies, like the Assyrians, skilled and constant in systematic cruelty, know how they may have felt. They were tempted, since the Lord seemed deaf, to try those appalling deities who demanded so much more and might therefore perhaps give more in return. But when a Jew in some happier hour, or a better Jew even in that hour, looked at those worships — when he thought of sacred prostitution, sacred sodomy,healthy-breakfast-honey1 and the babies thrown into the fire for Moloch — his own ‘Law’ as he turned back to it must have shone with an extraordinary radiance. Sweeter than honey; or if that metaphor does not suit us who have not such a sweet tooth as all ancient peoples (partly because we have plenty of sugar), let us say like mountain water, like fresh air after a dungeon, like sanity after a nightmare.

C.S. Lewis, ‘Sweeter Than Honey,’ Reflections on the Psalms (1958) as republished within C.S. Lewis: Selected Books (London: HarperCollins, 2002) 341-342.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Psalm 119: Sweeter than honey (Part 1)

wordle_ps119_small As everyone knows, the Psalm specially devoted to the Law is is 119, the longest in the whole collection. And everyone has probably noticed that from the literary or technical point of view, it is the most formal and elaborate of them all. The technique consists in taking a series of words which are all, for purposes of this poem, more or less synonyms (word, statutes, commandments, testimonies, etc.), and ringing the changes on them through each of its eight-verse sections — which themselves correspond to the letters of the alphabet. (This may have given an ancient ear something of the same sort of pleasure we get from the Italian metre called the Sestina, where instead of rhymes we have the same end words repeated in varying orders in each stanza.) In other words, this poem is not, and does not pretend to be, a sudden outpouring of the heart like, say, Psalm 18. It is a pattern, a thing done like embroidery, stitch by stitch, through long, quiet hours, for love of the subject and for the delight in leisurely, disciplined craftsmanship.
    Now this, in itself, seems to me very important because it lets us into the mind and mood of the poet. We can guess at once that he felt about the Law somewhat as he felt about his poetry; both involved exact and loving conformity to an intricate pattern. This at once suggests an attitude from which the Pharisaic conception could later grow but which in itself, though not necessarily religious, is quite innocent. It will look like priggery or pedantry (or else like a neurotic fussiness) to those who cannot sympathise with it, but it need not be any of these things. It may be the delight in Order, the pleasure in getting a thing ‘just so’ — as in dancing a minuet. Of course the poet is well aware that something incomparably more serious than a minuet is here in question. He is also aware that he is very unlikely, himself, to achieve this perfection of discipline: “0 that my ways were made so straight that I might keep thy statutes!” (v. 5). At present they aren’t, and he can’t. But his effort to do so does not spring from servile fear.Honey jar The Order of the Divine mind, embodied in the Divine Law, is beautiful. What should a man do but try to reproduce it, so far as possible, in his daily life? His ‘delight’ is in those statutes (v. 16); to study them is like finding treasure (v. 14); they affect him like music, are his ‘songs’ (v. 54); they taste like honey (v. 103); they are better than silver and gold (v. 72). As one’s eyes are more and more opened, one sees more and more in them, and it excites wonder (v. 18). This is not priggery nor even scrupulosity; it is the language of a man ravished by a moral beauty. If we cannot at all share his experience, we shall be the losers.

C.S. Lewis, ‘Sweeter Than Honey,’ Reflections on the Psalms (1958) as republished within C.S. Lewis: Selected Books (London: HarperCollins, 2002) 340-341.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Sweeter than honey

honey “More to be desired are they than gold, yea than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honey-comb” (19:10). One can well understand this being said of God’s mercies, God’s visitations, His attributes. But what the poet is actually talking about is God’s law, His commands; His ‘rulings’ as Dr Moffatt well translates in verse 9 (for ‘judgements’ here plainly means decisions about conduct). What are being compared to gold and honey are those ‘statutes’ (in the Latin version ‘decrees’) which, we are told, ‘rejoice the heart’ (v. 8). For the whole poem is about the Law, not about ‘judgement’…
    This was to me at first very mysterious. ‘Thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not commit adultery’ — I can understand that a man and must, respect these ‘statutes’, arid try to obey them, and assent to them in his heart. But it is very hard to find how they could be, so to speak, delicious, how they exhilarate. If this is difficult at any time, it is doubly so when obedience to either is opposed to some strong, and perhaps in itself innocent, desire. A man held back by his unfortunate previous marriage to some lunatic or criminal who never dies from some woman whom he faithfully loves, or a hungry man left alone, without money, in a shop filled with the smell and sight of new bread, roasting coffee, or fresh strawberries — can these find the prohibition of adultery or of theft at all like honey? They may obey, they may still respect the ‘statute’. But surely it could be more aptly compared to the dentist’s forceps or the front line than to anything enjoyable and sweet.
    A fine Christian and a great scholar to whom I once put this question said he thought that the poets were referring to the satisfaction men felt in knowing they had obeyed the Law; in other words, to the ‘pleasures of a good conscience’. They would, on his view, be meaning something very like what Wordsworth meant when he said we know nothing more beautiful than the ‘smile’ on Duty’s face — her smile when her orders have been carried out. It is rash for me to differ from such a man, and his view certainly makes excellent sense. The difficulty is that the Psalmists never seem to me to say anything very like this.
    In Psalm 1:2 we are told that the good man’s “delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law will he exercise himself day and night.” To ‘exercise himself’ in it apparently does not mean to obey it (though no doubt the good man will do that too) but to study it, as Dr Moffatt says to ‘pore over it’. Of course ‘the Law’ does not here mean simply the ten commandments, it means the whole complex legislation (religious, moral, civil, criminal and even constitutional) contained in Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. The man who ‘pores upon it’ is obeying Joshua’s command (Joshua 1:8), “the book of the Law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night.” This means, among other things, that the Law was a study or, as we should say, a ‘subject’; a thing on which there would be commentaries, lectures, and examinations. There were. Thus part (religiously, the least important part) of what an ancient Jew meant when he said he ‘delighted in the Law’ was very like what one of us would mean if he said that somebody ‘loved’ history, or physics, or archaeology. This might imply a wholly innocent — though, of course, merely natural — delight in one’s favourite subject; or, on the other hand, the pleasures of conceit, pride in one’s own learning and consequent contempt for the outsiders who don’t share it, or even a venal admiration for the studies which secure one’s own stipend and social position.

C.S. Lewis, ‘Sweeter Than Honey,’ Reflections on the Psalms (1958) as republished within C.S. Lewis: Selected Books (London: HarperCollins, 2002) 338-339.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Getting over the ‘oddity’ of prayer

Kate Middleton sporting an umbrella ‘Praying for particular things’, said I, ‘always seems to me like advising God how to run the world. Wouldn’t it be wiser to assume that He knows best?’‘On the same principle’, said he, ‘I suppose you never ask a man next to you to pass the salt, because God knows best whether you ought to have salt or not. And I suppose you never take an umbrella, because God knows best whether you ought to be wet or dry.’‘That’s quite different,’ I protested. ‘I don’t see why,’ said he. ‘The odd thing is that He should let us influence the course of events at all. But since He lets us do it in one way I don’t see why He shouldn’t let us do it in the other.’

C.S. Lewis as published in St. James [Church] Magazine (December 1945, Birkdale, Southport) and God in the Dock (Eerdmans: 1970) 217.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Ezekiel Bulver and the beliefs that matter (EB 4)

John Baird is sure that the problem is with the other guy in the red tie
But our thoughts can only be accepted as a genuine insight under certain conditions. All beliefs have causes but a distinction must be drawn between (1) ordinary causes and (2) a special kind of cause called ‘a reason.’ Causes are mindless events which can produce other results than belief. Reasons arise from axioms and inferences and affect only beliefs. Bulverism tries to show that the other man has causes and not reasons and that we have reasons and not causes. A belief which can be accounted for entirely in terms of causes is worthless. This principle must not be abandoned when we consider the beliefs which are the basis of others. Our knowledge depends on our certainty about axioms and inferences. If these are the result of causes, then there is no possibility of knowledge. Either we can know nothing or thought has reasons only, and no causes.

C.S. Lewis, "'Bulverism,'" in God in the Dock (Eerdmans: 1970) 275.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Why Ezekiel Bulver must be proven wrong (EB 3)

I see Bulverism at work in every political argument. The capitalists must be bad economists because we know why they want capitalism, and equally the Communists must he bad economists because we know why they want Communism.John Baird and Prime Minister Stephen Harper Thus, the Bulverists on both sides. In reality, of course, either the doctrines of the capitalists are false, or the doctrines of the Communists, or both; but you can only find out the rights and wrongs by reasoning — never by being rude about your opponent’s psychology.
    Until Bulverism is crushed, reason can play no effective part in human affairs. Each side snatches it early as a weapon against the other; but between the two reason itself is discredited. And why should reason not be discredited? It would be easy. in answer, to point to the present state of the world, but the real answer is even more immediate. The forces discrediting reason, themselves depend on reasoning. You must reason even to Bulverize. You are trying to prove that all proofs are invalid. If you fail, you fail. If you succeed, then you fail even more — for the proof that all proofs are invalid must be invalid itself.

C.S. Lewis, "'Bulverism,'" God in the Dock (Eerdmans: 1970) 274.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

No winner: Arguing Ezekiel Bulver’s way (EB 2)

mcguinty-baird-cp I find the fruits of [Ezekiel Bulver's] discovery almost everywhere. Thus I see my religion dismissed on the grounds that ‘the comfortable parson had every reason for assuring the nineteenth century worker that poverty would be rewarded in another world’. Well, no doubt he had. On the assumption that Christianity is an error, I can see early enough that some people would still have a motive for inculcating it. I see it so easily that I can, of course, play the game the other way round, by saying that ‘the modern man has every reason for trying to convince himself that there are no eternal sanctions behind the morality he is rejecting’. For Bulverism is a truly democratic game in the sense that all can play it all day long, and that it gives no unfair privilege to the small and offensive minority who reason. But of course it gets us not one inch nearer to deciding whether, as a matter of fact, the Christian religion is true or false. That question remains to be discussed on quite different grounds — a matter of philosophical and historical argument. However it were decided, the improper motives of some people, both for believing it and for disbelieving it, would remain just as they are.

C.S. Lewis, “Bulverism,” God in the Dock (Eerdmans: 1970) 273-274.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Why “Ezekiel Bulver” assumes you’re wrong (EB 1)

MP John Baird assumes his opponent is wrong and then attempts to show how silly his opponent is -- no real argument here In other words, you must show that a man is wrong before you start explaining why he is wrong. The modern method is to assume without discussion that he is wrong and then distract his attention from this (the only real issue) by busily explaining how he became so silly. In the course of the last fifteen years I have found this vice so common that I have had to invent a name for it. I call it Bulverism. Some day I am going to write the biography of its imaginary inventor, Ezekiel Bulver, whose destiny was determined at the age of five when he heard his mother say to his father — who had been maintaining that two sides of a triangle were together greater than the third — ‘Oh you say that because you are a man.’ ‘At that moment’, E. Bulver assures us, ‘there flashed across my opening mind the great truth that refutation is no necessary part of argument.  Assume that your opponent is wrong, and then explain his error, and the world will be at your feet. Attempt to prove that he is wrong or (worse still) try to find out whether he is wrong or right, and the national dynamism of our age will thrust you to the wall.’ That is how Bulver became one of the makers of the Twentieth Century.

C.S. Lewis, “Bulverism,” God in the Dock (Eerdmans: 1970) 273.

Friday, March 18, 2011

C.S. Lewis on the spirituality of Avatar

But we need not surrender the love of nature.... Nature cannot satisfy the desires she arouses nor answer theological questions nor sanctify us. Our real journey to God involves constantly turning our backs on her; passing from the dawn-lit fields into some poky little church, or (it might be) going to work in an East End parish. But the love of her has been a valuable and, for some people, an indispensable initiation. avatar-pandora     I need not say ‘has been’. For in fact those who allow no more than this to the love of nature seem to be those who retain it. This is what one should expect. This love, when it sets up as a religion, is beginning to be a god — therefore to be a demon. And demons never keep their promises. Nature ‘dies on’ those who try to live for a love of nature. Coleridge ended by being insensible to her; Wordsworth, by lamenting that the glory had passed away. Say your prayers in a garden early, ignoring steadfastly the dew, the birds and the flowers, and you will come away overwhelmed by its freshness and joy; go there in order to be overwhelmed and, after a certain age, nine times out of ten nothing will happen to you.

C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves (1960; Harcourt: 1988) 21-22.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Narnia: Not in your wardrobe? Try Northern Ireland

In recognition of St. Patrick’s Day and C.S. Lewis’s Irish heritage, in today’s post, we’ll briefly explore the land which inspired Jack’s creation of Narnia. The following excerpt which includes quotes from Lewis was taken from an article in the UK’s weekly newspaper The Observer.

If you didn’t find Narnia in your own wardrobe, you might just find it in Northern Ireland, the birthplace of CS Lewis and beloved inspiration for the author's fictional land….

Silent Valley near Newy in the Mournes

When Disney scoured the world looking for a location to play Narnia's mythical landscape, they chose New Zealand's fantastical soaring mountains and sun-scorched grassy plains. It would have pleased CS Lewis, Narnia's creator, but it wouldn't have resonated with his love of ‘Northernness.’ For Lewis the portal into Narnia was far closer to home - Ulster.

Carlingford Lough from the Mournes

“I have seen landscapes, notably in the Mourne Mountains and southwards which under a particular light made me feel that at any moment a giant might raise his head over the next ridge,” he wrote in his essay On Stories. While living in England he spoke of the magic of Northern Ireland: “I yearn to see County Down in the snow, one almost expects to see a march of dwarfs dashing past. How I long to break into a world where such things were true.”

Rostrevor, Newry, County Down

And in a letter to his brother, he confided explicitly: “That part of Rostrevor which overlooks Carlingford Lough is my idea of Narnia.”

Carliingford Lough

While he loved the countryside, in a letter to his best friend Arthur Greeves, Lewis confessed that he was less fond of the people. “The country is very beautiful and if only I could deport the Ulstermen and fill their land with a populace of my own choosing, I should ask for no better place to live in.” This, argue some experts, is what he did when creating Narnia.



Rostrevor Cross in Northern Ireland

Taken from:
Northern Ireland: If you didn’t find Narnia in your own wardrobe… This article appeared on p2 of the Observer Escape section of the Observer on Sunday 4 December 2005. It was published on at 18.38 GMT on Sunday 4 December 2005.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Give up yourself, and you will find your real self

mere-christianity But there must be a real giving up of the self. You must throw it away ‘blindly’ so to speak. Christ will indeed give you a real personality: but you must not go to Him for the sake of that. As long as your own personality is what you are bothering about you are not going to Him at all. The very first step is to try to forget about the self altogether. Your real, new self (which is Christ’s and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking for Him. Does that sound strange? The same principle holds, you know, for more everyday matters. Even in social life, you will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you are making. Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it. The principle runs through all life from top to bottom. Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it.
    Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins: 2001) 223-225.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Can the world see Christ in us?

But you must not imagine that the new men are, in the ordinary sense, all alike. A good deal of what I have been saying in this last book might make you suppose that that was bound to be so. To become new men means losing what we now call ‘ourselves’. Out of our selves, into Christ, we must go. His will is to become ours and we are to think His thoughts, to ‘have the mind of Christ’ as the Bible says. And if Christ is one, and if He is thus to be ‘in’ us all, shall we not be exactly the same? It certainly sounds like it; but in fact it is not so.
    It is difficult here to get a good illustration; because, of course, no other two things are related to each other just as the Creator is related to one of His creatures. But I will try two very imperfect illustrations which may give a hint of the truth. Imagine a lot of people who have always lived in the dark. You come and try to describe to them what light is like. You might tell them that if they come into the light that same light would fall on them all and they would all reflect it and thus become what we call visible. Is it not quite possible that they would imagine that, since they were all receiving the same light, and all reacting to it in the same way (i.e. all reflecting it), they would all look alike? Whereas you and I know that the light will in fact bring out, or show up, how different they are. Salt & LightOr again, suppose a person who knew nothing about salt. You give him a pinch to taste and he experiences a particular strong, sharp taste. You then tell him that in your country people use salt in all their cookery. Might he not reply ‘In that case I suppose all your dishes taste exactly the same: because the taste of that stuff you have just given me is so strong that it will kill the taste of everything else.’ But you and I know that the real effect of salt is exactly the opposite. So far from killing the taste of the egg and the tripe and the cabbage, it actually brings it out. They do not show their real taste till you have added the salt. (Of course, as I warned you, this is not really a very good illustration, because you can, after all, kill the other tastes by putting in too much salt, whereas you cannot kill the taste of a human personality by putting in too much Christ. I am doing the best I can.)
    It is something like that with Christ and us. The more we get what we now call ‘ourselves’ out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become. There is so much of Him that millions and millions of ‘little Christs’, all different, will still be too few to express Him fully.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins: 2001) 223-225.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Standing out among the crowd

standing out Already the new men are dotted here and there all over the earth. Some, as I have admitted, are still hardly recognisable: but others can be recognised. Every now and then one meets them. Their very voices and faces are different from ours: stronger, quieter, happier, more radiant. They begin where most of us leave off. They are, I say, recognisable; but you must know what to look for. They will not be very like the idea of ‘religious people’ which you have formed from your general reading. They do not draw attention to themselves. You tend to think that you are being kind to them when they are really being kind to you. They love you more than other men do, but they need you less. (We must get over wanting to be needed: in some goodish people, specially women, that is the hardest of all temptations to resist.) They will usually seem to have a lot of time: you will wonder where it comes from. When you have recognised one of them, you will recognise the next one much more easily. And I strongly suspect (but how should I know?) that they recognise one another immediately and infallibly, across every barrier of colour, sex, class, age, and even of creeds. In that way, to become holy is rather like joining a secret society. To put it at the very lowest, it must be great fun.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins: 2001) 223.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

C.S. Lewis: Quote of the week

home imrovement

For mere improvement is not redemption, though redemption always improves people even here and now and will, in the end, improve them to a degree we cannot yet imagine.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins: 2001) 216.

Friday, March 11, 2011

We rise again (and again)

I have called Christ the ‘first instance’ of the new man. But of course He is something much more than that. He is not merely a new man, one specimen of the species, but the new man. He is the origin and centre and life of all the new men. He came into the created universe, of His own will, bringing with Him the Zoe, the new life. (I mean new to us, of course:
in its own place Zoe has existed for ever and ever.) And He transmits it not by heredity but by what I have called ‘good infection’. Everyone who gets it gets it by personal contact with Him. Other men become ‘new’ by being ‘in Him’.
friends     This step is taken at a different speed from the previous ones. Compared with the development of man on this planet, the diffusion of Christianity over the human race seems to go like a flash of lightning—for two thousand years is almost nothing in the history of the universe. (Never forget that we are all still ‘the early Christians’. The present wicked and wasteful divisions between us are, let us hope, a disease of infancy: we are still teething. The outer world, no doubt, thinks just the opposite. It thinks we are dying of old age. But it has thought that very often before. Again and again it has thought Christianity was dying, dying by persecutions from without and corruptions from within, by the rise of Mohammedanism, the rise of the physical sciences, the rise of great anti-Christian revolutionary movements. But every time the world has been disappointed. Its first disappointment was over the crucifixion. The Man came to life again. In a sense— and I quite realise how frightfully unfair it must seem to them—that has been happening ever since. They keep on killing the thing that He started: and each time, just as they are patting down the earth on its grave, they suddenly hear that it is still alive and has even broken out in some new place. No wonder they hate us.)

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins: 2001) 221-222.

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

If what you want is an argument against Christianity…

LIFE: CS Lewis thinking But perhaps we have already spent too long on this question. If what you want is an argument against Christianity (and I well remember how eagerly I looked for such arguments when I began to be afraid it was true) you can easily find some stupid and unsatisfactory Christian and say, ‘So there’s your boasted new man! Give me the old kind.’ But if once you have begun to see that Christianity is on other grounds probable, you will know in your heart that this is only evading the issue. What can you ever really know of other people’s souls—of their temptations, their opportunities, their struggles? One soul in the whole creation you do know: and it is the only one whose fate is placed in your hands. If there is a God, you are, in a sense, alone with I Him. You cannot put Him off with speculations about your next door neighbours or memories of what you have read in books. What will all that chatter and hearsay count (will you even be able to remember it?) when the anaesthetic fog which we call ‘nature’ or ‘the real world’ fades away and the Presence in which you have always stood becomes palpable, immediate, and unavoidable?

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins: 2001) 216-217.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Mere improvement is not redemption

‘Niceness’—wholesome, integrated personality—is an excellent thing. We must try by every medical, educational, economic, and political means in our power to produce a world where as many people as possible grow up ‘nice’; just as we must try to produce a world where all have plenty to eat. But we must not suppose that even if we succeeded in making everyone nice we should have saved their souls. A world of nice people, content in their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God, would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world—and might even be more difficult to save.Zara Phillips of Great Britain rides Glenbuck during the Showjumping event on the final day of the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials on September 6, 2009 in Stamford, United Kingdom
    For mere improvement is not redemption, though redemption always improves people even here and now and will, in the end, improve them to a degree we cannot yet imagine. God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man. It is not like teaching a horse to jump better and better but like turning a horse into a winged creature. Of course, once it has got its wings, it will soar over fences which could never have been jumped and thus beat the natural horse at its own game. But there may be a period, while the wings are just beginning to grow, when it cannot do so: and at that stage the lumps on the shoulders—no one could tell by looking at them that they are going to be wings—may even give it an awkward appearance.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins: 2001) 215-216.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Blessed are the poor (and nasty)

We must, therefore, not be surprised if we find among the Christians some people who are still nasty. There is even, when you come to think it over, a reason why nasty people might be expected to turn to Christ in greater numbers than nice ones. That was what people objected to about Christ during His life on earth: He seemed to attract ‘such awful people’. That is what people still object to and always will.  Do you not see why? Christ said ‘Blessed are the poor’ and ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom,’ and no doubt He primarily meant the economically rich and economically poor. But do not His words also apply to another kind of riches and poverty? One of the dangers of having a lot of money is that you may be quite satisfied with the kinds of happiness money can give and so fail to realise your need for God. If everything seems to come simply by signing cheques, you may forget that you are at every moment totally dependent on God. Now quite plainly, natural gifts carry with them a similar danger. If you have sound nerves and intelligence and health and popularity and a good upbringing, you are likely to be quite satisfied with your character as it is. ‘Why drag God into it?’ you may ask. A certain level of good conduct comes fairly easily to you. You are not one of those wretched creatures who are always being tripped up by sex, or dipsomania, or nervousness, or bad temper. Everyone says you are a nice chap and (between ourselves) you agree with them. You are quite likely to believe that all this niceness is your own doing: and you may easily not feel the need for any better kind of goodness. Often people who have all these natural kinds of goodness cannot be brought to recognise their need for Christsilhouette-series-3-by-cathyk-no-r at all until, one day, the natural goodness lets them down and their self-satisfaction is shattered. In other words, it is hard for those who are ‘rich’ in this sense to enter the Kingdom.
     It is very different for the nasty people—the little, low, timid, warped, thin-blooded, lonely people, or the passionate, sensual, unbalanced people. if they make any attempt at goodness at all, they learn, in double quick time, that they need help. It is Christ or nothing for them. It is taking up the cross and following—or else despair. They are the lost sheep; He came specially to find them. They are (in one very real and terrible sense) the ‘poor’: He blessed them. They are the ‘awful set’ He goes about with—and of course the Pharisees say still, as they said from the first, ‘If there were anything in Christianity those people would not be Christians.’

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins: 2001) 213-214.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Dick and Jane: Life Change (Part 3)

fun_with_dick_and_jane Natural causes come together in Dick to make a pleasant psychological pattern, just as they come together in a sunset to make a pleasant pattern of colours. Presently (for that is how nature works) they will fall apart again and the pattern in both cases will disappear. Dick has had the chance to turn (or rather, to allow God to turn) that momentary pattern into the beauty of an eternal spirit: and he has not taken it.
    There is a paradox here. As long as Dick does not turn to God, he thinks his niceness is his own, and just as long as he thinks that, it is not his own. It is when Dick realises that his niceness is not his own but a gift from God, and when he offers it back to God—it is just then that it begins to be really his own. For now Dick is beginning to take a share in his own creation. The only things we can keep are the things we freely give to God. What we try to keep for ourselves is just what we are sure to lose.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins: 2001) 212-213.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Emerging church: the centered set and C.S. Lewis

For this Reading of the Week, I’ll let you be the judge, but it seems to me about 40 years before the emerging church began to redefine Christians according to a centered set model rather than as a bounded set, C.S. Lewis was already developing the same practical understanding! Just before the C.S. Lewis reading, let me clarify with this short description from Wikipedia:
[The emerging church movement] appropriates set theory as a means of understanding a basic change in the way the Christian church thinks about itself as a group. Set theory is a concept in mathematics that allows an understanding of what numbers belong to a group, or set. A bounded set would describe a group with clear "in" and "out" definitions of membership. The Christian church has largely organized itself as a bounded set, those who share the same beliefs and values are in the set and those who disagree are outside.
    The centered set does not limit membership to pre-conceived boundaries. Instead a centered set is conditioned on a centered point. Membership is contingent on those who are moving toward that point. Elements moving toward a particular point are part of the set, but elements moving away from that point are not. As a centered-set Christian membership would be dependent on moving toward the central point of Jesus. A Christian is then defined by their focus and movement toward Christ rather than a limited set of shared beliefs and values.

Again, you be the judge: How does this emerging church understanding compare to our C.S. Lewis Reading of the Week, taken from Mere Christianity? (So enough from Ken Symes, let’s get on to C.S. Lewis!)

Christians as centered set vs bounded set 
[The] situation in the actual world is much more complicated than that. The world does not consist of 100% Christians and 100% non-Christians. There are people (a great many of them) who are slowly ceasing to be Christians but who still call themselves by that name:
some of them are clergymen. There are other people who are slowly becoming Christians though they do not yet call themselves so. There are people who do not accept the full Christian doctrine about Christ but who are so strongly attracted by Him that they are His in a much deeper sense than they themselves understand…. And always, of course, there are a great many people who are just confused in mind and have a lot of inconsistent beliefs all jumbled up together. Consequently, it is not much use trying to make judgments about Christians and non-Christians in the mass. It is some use comparing cats and dogs, or even men and women, in the mass, because there one knows definitely which is which. Also, an animal does not turn (either slowly or suddenly) from a dog into a cat. But when we are comparing Christians in general with non-Christians in general, we are usually not thinking about real people whom we know at all, but only about two vague ideas which we have got from novels and newspapers. If you want to compare the bad Christian and the good Atheist, you must think about two real specimens whom you have actually met. Unless we come down to brass tacks in that way, we shall only be wasting time.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins: 2001) 208-209.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Dick and Jane: Life Change (Part 2)

You cannot expect God to look at Dick’s placid temper and friendly disposition exactly as we do. They result from natural causes which God Himself creates. Being merely temperamental, they will all disappear if Dick’s digestion alters. The niceness, in fact, is God’s gift to Dick, not Dick’s gift to God. In the same way, God has allowed natural causes, working in a world spoiled by centuries of sin, to produce in Jane* the narrow mind and jangled nerves which account for most of her nastiness. He intends, in His own good time, to set that part of her right. But that is not, for God, the critical part of the business, it presents no difficulties. It is not what He is anxious about. What He is watching and waiting and working for is something that is not easy even for God, because, from the nature of the case, even He cannot produce it by a mere act of power. He is waiting and watching for it both in Jane Bates and in Dick Firkin. compassIt is something they can freely give Him or freely refuse to Him. Will they, or will they not, turn to Him and thus fulfil the only purpose for which they were created? Their free will is trembling inside them like the needle of a compass. But this is a needle that can choose. It can point to its true North; but it need not. Will the needle swing round, and settle, and point to God?
    He can help it to do so. He cannot force it. He cannot, so to speak, put out His own hand and pull it into the right position, for then it would not be free will any more. Will it point North? That is the question on which all hangs. Will Jane and Dick offer their natures to God? The question whether the natures they offer or withhold are, at that moment, nice or nasty ones, is of secondary importance. God can see to that part of the problem.

*Lewis wrote about the fictional characters “Miss Bates” and “Dick Firkin.” I’ve updated the names to be presented more equally: Jane Bates and Dick Firkin, or Jane and Dick.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins: 2001) 211-212.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Dick and Jane: Life Change (Part 1)

2005_fun_with_dick_and_janeIf Christianity is true then it ought to follow (a) That any Christian will be nicer than the same person would be if he were not a Christian. (b) That any man who becomes a Christian will be nicer than he was before. Just in the same way, if the advertisements of Whitesmile’s toothpaste are true it ought to follow (a) That anyone who uses it will have better teeth than the same person would have if he did not use it. (b) That if anyone begins to use it his teeth will improve…. Christian [Jane]* Bates may have an unkinder tongue than unbelieving Dick Firkin. That, by itself, does not tell us whether Christianity works. The question is what Jane’s tongue would be like if she were not a Christian and what Dick’s would be like if he became one. Jane and Dick, as a result of natural causes and early upbringing, have certain temperaments: Christianity professes to put both temperaments under new management if they will allow it to do so. What you have a right to ask is whether that management, if allowed to take over, improves the concern. Everyone knows that what is being managed in Dick Firkin’s case is much ‘nicer’ than what is being managed in Jane Bates’s. That is not the point. To judge the management of a factory, you must consider not only the output but the plant. Considering the plant at Factory A it may be a wonder that it turns out anything at all; considering the first-class outfit at Factory B its output, though high, may be a great deal lower than it ought to be. No doubt the good manager at Factory A is going to put in new machinery as soon as he can, but that takes time. in the meantime low output does not prove that he is a failure.

*Lewis wrote about the fictional characters “Miss Bates” and “Dick Firkin.” It’s a bit clunky in modern English, and since they are only fictional characters, I’ve decided to represent the names equally: Jane Bates and Dick Firkin, or Jane and Dick; no more Miss Bates and Dick.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins: 2001) 208-209.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Complexity of comparing Christians and non-Christians

[T]he situation in the actual world is much more complicated than that. The world does not consist of 100% Christians and 100% non-Christians. There are people (a great many of them) who are slowly ceasing to be Christians but who still call themselves by that name:
some of them are clergymen. There are other people who are slowly becoming Christians though they do not yet call themselves so. There are people who do not accept the full Christian doctrine about Christ but who are so strongly attracted by Him that they are His in a much deeper sense than they themselves understand. There are people in other religions who are being led by God’s secret influence to concentrate on those parts of their religion which are in agreement with Christianity, and who thus belong to Christ without knowing it.dalmations-845 For example, a Buddhist of good will may be led to concentrate more and more on the Buddhist teaching about mercy and to leave in the background (though he might still say he believed) the Buddhist teaching on certain other points. Many of the good Pagans long before Christ’s birth may have been in this position. And always, of course, there are a great many people who are just confused in mind and have a lot of inconsistent beliefs all jumbled up together. Consequently, it is not much use trying to make judgments about Christians and non-Christians in the mass. It is some use comparing cats and dogs… in the mass, because there one knows definitely which is which. Also, an animal does not turn (either slowly or suddenly) from a dog into a cat.  But when we are comparing Christians in general with non-Christians in general, we are usually not thinking about real people whom we know at all, but only about two vague ideas which we have got from novels and newspapers. If you want to compare the bad Christian and the good Atheist, you must think about two real specimens whom you have actually met. Unless we come down to brass tacks in that way, we shall only be wasting time.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins: 2001) 208-209.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Are we changing? Improving? Getting nicer?

I think this is the right moment to consider a question which is often asked: If Christianity is true why are not all Christians obviously nicer than all non-Christians? Gran Torino Clint EastwoodWhat lies behind that question is partly something very reasonable and partly something that is not reasonable at all. The reasonable part is this. If conversion to Christianity makes no improvement in a man’s outward actions—if he continues to be just as snobbish or spiteful or envious or ambitious as he was before—then I think we must suspect that his ‘conversion’ was largely imaginary; and after one’s original conversion, every time one thinks one has made an advance, that is the test to apply. Fine feelings, new insights, greater interest in ‘religion’ mean nothing unless they make our actual behaviour better; just as in an illness ‘feeling better’ is not much good if the thermometer shows that your temperature is still going up. In that sense the outer world is quite right to judge Christianity by its results. Christ told us to judge by results. A tree is known by its fruit; or, as we say, the proof of the pudding the eating. When we Christians behave badly, or fail to behave well, we are making Christianity unbelievable to the outside world. The war-time posters told us that Careless Talk costs Lives. It is equally true that Careless Lives cost Talk. Our careless lives set the outer world talking; and we give them grounds for talking in a way that throws doubt on the truth of Christianity itself.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952; Harper Collins: 2001) 207-208.