Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Explaining vs. explaining away

water-into-wineWhere, then, do we draw the line between explaining and ‘explaining away’? I do not think there is much difficulty. All that concerns the un-incarnate activities of God—His operation on that plane of being where sense cannot enter—must he taken along with imagery which we know to be, in the literal sense, untrue. But there can be no defence for applying the same treatment to the miracles of the Incarnate God. They are recorded as events on this earth which affected human senses. They are the sort of thing we can describe literally. If Christ turned water into wine, and we had been present, we could have seen, smelled, and tasted. The story that He did so is not of the same order as His ‘sitting at the right hand of the Father’, it is either fact, or legend, or lie. You must take it or leave it.

C.S. Lewis, “Horrid Red Things,” God in the Dock (Eerdmans: 1970) 71.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

What we believe, think and imagine

[W]e must try to teach something about the difference between thinking and imagining. It is, of course, a historical error to suppose that all, or even most, early Christians believed in the sky-palace in the same sense in which we believe in the solar system. Anthropomorphism was condemned by the Church as soon as the question was explicitly before her. But some early Christians may have done this; and probably thousands never thought of their faith without anthropomorphic imagery. That is why we must distinguish the core of belief from the attendant imagining.
    When I think of London I always see a picture of Euston Station. But I do not believe that London is Euston Station. That is a simple case, because there the thinker knows the imagery to be false. Now let us take a more complex one.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         I once heard a lady tell her daughter that if you ate too many aspirin tablets you would die. ‘But why?’ asked the child. ‘If you squash them you don’t find any horrid red things inside them.’ Obviously, when this child thought of poison she not only had an attendant image of ‘horrid red things’, but she actually believed that poison was red. And this is an error. But how far does it invalidate her thinking about poison? She learned that an overdose of aspirin would kill you; her belief was true. She knew, within limits, which of the substances in her mother’s house were poisonous. If I, staying in the 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.’
    There is thus a distinction not only between thought and imagination in general, but even between thought and those images which the thinker (falsely) believes to be true. When the child learned later that poison is not always red, she would not have felt that anything essential in her beliefs about poison had been altered. She would still know, as she had always known, that poison is what kills you if you swallow it. That is the essence of poison. The erroneous beliefs about colour drop away without affecting it.
    In the same way an early peasant Christian might have thought that Christ’s sitting at the right hand of the Father really implied two chairs of state, in a certain spatial relation, inside a sky-palace. But if the same man afterwards received a philosophical education and discovered that God has no body, parts, or passions, and therefore neither a right hand nor a palace, he would not have felt that the essentials of his belief had been altered. What had mattered to him, even in the days of his simplicity, had not been supposed details about celestial furniture. It had been the assurance that the once crucified Master was now the supreme Agent of the unimaginable Power on whom the whole universe depends. And he would recognise that in this he had never been deceived.

C.S. Lewis, “Horrid Red Things,” God in the Dock (Eerdmans: 1970) 69-70.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Chocolate eggs and Jesus risen!

chocolate eggs There is a stage in a child’s life at which it cannot separate the religious from the merely festal character of Christmas or Easter. I have been told of a very small and very devout boy who was heard murmuring to himself on Easter morning a poem of his own composition which began ‘Chocolate eggs and Jesus risen’. This seems to me, for his age, both admirable poetry and admirable piety. But of course the time will soon come when such a child can no longer effortlessly and spontaneously enjoy that unity. He will become able to distinguish the spiritual from the ritual and festal aspect of Easter; chocolate eggs will no longer be sacramental. And once he has distinguished he must put one or the other first. If he puts the spiritual first he can still taste something of Easter in the chocolate eggs; if he puts the eggs first they will soon be no more than any other sweetmeat. They have taken on an independent, and therefore a soon withering, life. Either at some period in Judaism, or else in the experience of some Jews, a roughly parallel situation occurred. The unity falls apart; the sacrificial rites become distinguishable from the meeting with God. This does not unfortunately mean that they will cease or become less important. They may, in various evil modes, become even more important than before. They may be valued as a sort of commercial transaction with a greedy God who somehow really wants or needs large quantities of carcasses and whose favours cannot be secured on any other terms. Worse still, they may be regarded as the only thing He wants, so that their punctual performance will satisfy Him without obedience to His demands for mercy, ‘judgement’, and truth. To the priests themselves the whole system will seem important simply because it is both their art and their livelihood; all their pedantry, all their pride, all their economic position, is bound up with it. They will elaborate their art more and more. And of course the corrective to these views of sacrifice can be found within Judaism itself. The prophets continually fulminate against it. Even the Psalter, though largely a Temple collection, can do so; as in Psalm 50 where God tells His people that all this Temple worship, considered in itself, is not the real point at all, and particularly ridicules the genuinely Pagan notion that He really needs to be fed with roast meat. ‘If I were hungry, do you think I would apply to you?’ (v. 12). I have sometimes fancied He might similarly ask a certain type of modern clergyman, ‘If I wanted music — if I were conducting research into the more recondite details of the history of the Western Rite — do you really think you are the source I would rely on?’

C.S. Lewis, “’The Fair Beauty of the Lord,’” Reflections on the Psalms (1958) as republished within C.S. Lewis: Selected Books (London: HarperCollins, 2002) 335-336.

cadbury-creme-eggP.S. I also produce another blog called Samaritan XP which is all about the intersection of faith and culture.
I’ve blogged there about the little known bitter truth about chocolate and child slavery/labour and why Christians need to do something about it. I’d love to have you check it out:
"Giving up chocolate for Lent, maybe for life" by Ken Symes

Friday, April 25, 2014

What are we to make of Jesus Christ?

“What are we to make of Christ?” There is no question of what we can make of Him, it is entirely a question of what He intends to make of us. You must accept or reject the story.


Part 5 of 5, C.S. Lewis, “What are we to make of Jesus Christ?” (originally published 1950; this edition from The Essential C.S. Lewis (Touchstone, 1996)) 331.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

What are we to make of the resurrection of the Son of God?

empty_tombNow, as a literary historian, I am perfectly convinced that whatever else the Gospels are they are not legends. I have read a great deal of legend and I am quite clear that they are not the same sort of thing. They Ire not artistic enough to be legends. From an imaginative point of view they Ire clumsy, they don’t work up to things properly. Most of the life of Jesus is totally unknown to us, as is the life of anyone else who lived at that time, and no people building up a legend would allow that to be so. Apart from bits of the Platonic dialogues, there are no conversations that I know of in ancient literature like the Fourth Gospel. There is nothing, even in modern literature, until about a hundred years ago when the realistic novel came into existence. In the story of the woman taken in adultery we are told Christ bent down and scribbled in the dust with His finger. Nothing comes of this. No one has ever based any doctrine on it. And the art of inventing little irrelevant details to make an imaginary scene more convincing is a purely modern art. Surely the only explanation of this passage is that the thing really happened? The author put it in simply because he had seen it.
     Then we come to the strangest story of all, the story of the Resurrection. It is very necessary to get the story clear. I heard a man say, “The importance of the Resurrection is that it gives evidence of survival, evidence that the human personality survives death.” On that view what happened to Christ would be what had always happened to all men, the difference being that in Christ’s case we were privileged to see it happening. This is certainly not what the earliest Christian writers thought. Something perfectly new in the history of the Universe had happened. Christ had defeated death. The door which had always been locked had for the very first time been forced open. This is something quite distinct from mere ghost-survival. I don’t mean that they disbelieved in ghost- survival. On the contrary, they believed in it so firmly that, on more than one occasion, Christ had had to assure them that He was not a ghost. The point is that while believing in survival they yet regarded the Resurrection as something totally different and new. The Resurrection narratives are not a picture of survival after death; they record how a totally new mode of being has arisen in the universe. Something new had appeared in the universe: as new as the first coming of organic life. This Man, after death, does not get divided into “ghost” and “corpse”. A new mode of being has arisen. That is the story. What are we going to make of it?

Part 4 of 5, C.S. Lewis, “What are we to make of Jesus Christ?” (originally published 1950; this edition from The Essential C.S. Lewis (Touchstone, 1996)) 331-332.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

It was not easy to believe Jesus was the Son of God

Passion_of_the_Christ_Last_SupperWhat are we to do about reconciling the two contradictory phenomena? One attempt consists in saying that the Man did not really say these things, but that His followers exaggerated the story, and so the legend grew up that He had said them. This is difficult because His followers were all Jews; that is, they belonged to that Nation which of all others was most convinced that there was only one God—that there could not possibly be another. It is very odd that this horrible invention about a religious leader should grow up among the one people in the whole earth least likely to make such a mistake. On the contrary we get the impression that none of His immediate followers or even of the New Testament writers embraced the doctrine at all easily.

Part 3 of 5, C.S. Lewis, “What are we to make of Jesus Christ?” (originally published 1950; this edition from The Essential C.S. Lewis (Touchstone, 1996)) 331.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Jesus never regarded as a mere a moral teacher

On the one side clear, definite moral teaching. On the other, claims which, if not true, are those of a megalomaniac, compared with whom Hitler was the most sane and humble of men. There is no half-way house and there is no parallel in other religions. If you had gone to Buddha and asked him: “Are you the son of Brahma?” he would have said, “My son, you are still in the vale of illusion.” If you had gone to Socrates and asked, “Are you Zeus?” he would have laughed at you. If you had gone to Mohammed and asked, “Are you Allah?” he would first have rent his clothes and then cut your head off. If you had asked Confucius, “Are you Heaven?” I think he would have probably replied, “Remarks which are not in accordance with nature are in bad taste.”poached egg-muffin-toaster The idea of a great moral teacher saying what Christ said is out of the question. In my opinion, the only person who can say that sort of thing is either God or a complete lunatic suffering from that form of delusion which undermines the whole mind of man. If you think you are a poached egg, when you are not looking for a piece of toast to suit you you may be sane, but if you think you are God, there is no chance for you. We may note in passing that He was never regarded as a mere moral teacher. He did not produce that effect on any of the people who actually met him. He produced mainly three effects—Hatred—Terror—Adoration. There was no trace of people expressing mild approval.
    What are we to do about reconciling the two contradictory phenomena?

Part 2 of 5, C.S. Lewis, “What are we to make of Jesus Christ?” (originally published 1950; this edition from The Essential C.S. Lewis (Touchstone, 1996)) 331.

Monday, April 21, 2014

What are we to make of the Son of God?

Jim-Caviezel-as-Jesus-by-khinson “What are we to make of Jesus Christ?” This is a question which has, in a sense, a frantically comic side. For the real question is not what are we to make of Christ, but what is He to make of us? The picture of a fly sitting deciding what it is going to make of an elephant has comic elements about it. But perhaps the questioner meant what are we to make of Him in the sense of “How are we to solve the historical problem set us by the recorded sayings and acts of this Man?” This problem is to reconcile two things. On the one hand you have got the almost generally admitted depth and sanity of His moral teaching, which is not very seriously questioned, even by those who are opposed to Christianity. In fact, I find when I am arguing with very anti-God people that they rather make a point of saying, “I am entirely in favour of the moral teaching of Christianity”—and there seems to be a general agreement that in the teaching of this Man and of His immediate followers, moral truth is exhibited at its purest and best. It is not sloppy idealism, it is full of wisdom and shrewdness. The whole thing is realistic, fresh to the highest degree, the product of a sane mind. That is one phenomenon.
    The other phenomenon is the quite appalling nature of this Man’s theological remarks. You all know what I mean, and I want rather to stress the point that the appalling claim which this Man seems to be making is not merely made at one moment of His career. There is, of course, the one moment which led to His execution. The moment at which the High Priest said to Him, “Who are you?” “I am the Anointed, the Son of the uncreated God, and you shall see Me appearing at the end of all history as the judge of the Universe.” But that claim, in fact, does not rest on this one dramatic moment. When you look into His conversation you will find this sort of claim running through the whole thing. For instance, He went about saying to people, “I forgive your sins”. Now it is quite natural for a man to forgive something you do to him. Thus if somebody cheats me out of five pounds it is quite possible and reasonable for me to say, “Well, I forgive him, we will say no more about it.” What on earth would you say if somebody had done you out of five pounds and I said, “That is all right, I forgive him”? Then there is a curious thing which seems to slip out almost by accident. On one occasion this Man is sitting looking down on Jerusalem from the hill above it and suddenly in comes an extraordinary remark—“I keep on sending you prophets and wise men.” Nobody comments on it. And yet, quite suddenly, almost incidentally, He is claiming to be the power that all through the centuries is sending wise men and leaders into the world. Here is another curious remark:
in almost every religion there are unpleasant observances like fasting. This Man suddenly remarks one day, “No one need fast while I am here.” Who is this Man who remarks that His mere presence suspends all normal rules? Who is the person who can suddenly tell the School they can have a half-holiday?

Part 1 of 5, C.S. Lewis, “What are we to make of Jesus Christ?” (originally published 1950; this edition from The Essential C.S. Lewis (Touchstone, 1996)) 330.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Changing the world

People-Holding-HandsA Christian society is not going to arrive until most of us really want it: and we are not going to want it until we become fully Christian. I may repeat ‘Do as you would be done by’ till I am black in the face, but I cannot really carry it out till I love my neighbour as myself: and I cannot learn to love my neighbour as myself till I learn to love God: and I cannot learn to love God except by learning to obey Him. And so, as I warned you, we are driven on to something more inward—driven on from social matters to religious matters. For the longest way round is the shortest way home.

“Social Morality” – part 4
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Harper Collins Edition 2001) 87.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Giving more than we can spare

givingIn the passage where the New Testament says that every one must work, it gives as a reason ‘in order that he may have something to give to those in need’. Charity—giving to the poor—is an essential part of Christian morality: in the frightening parable of the sheep and the goats it seems to be the point on which everything turns. Some people nowadays say that charity ought to be unnecessary and that instead of giving to the poor we ought to be producing a society in which there were no poor to give to. They may be quite right in saying that we ought to produce this kind of society. But if anyone thinks that, as a consequence, you can stop giving in the meantime, then he has parted company with all Christian morality. I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charities expenditure excludes them. I am speaking now of charities’ in the common way. Particular cases of distress among your own relatives, friends, neighbours or employees, which God, as it were, forces upon your notice, may demand much more: even to the crippling and endangering of your own position. For many of us the great obstacle to charity lies not in our luxurious living or desire for more money, but in our fear—fear of insecurity. This must often be recognised as a temptation. Sometimes our pride also hinders our charity; we are tempted to spend more than we ought on the showy forms of generosity (tipping, hospitality) and less than we ought on those who really need our help.

“Social Morality” – part 3 of 4
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Harper Collins Edition 2001) 86-87.

Monday, April 7, 2014

That is not how Christianity works

Teaching ScienceThe second thing to get clear is that Christianity has not, and does not profess to have, a detailed political programme for applying ‘Do as you would be done by’ to a particular society at a particular moment. It could not have, it is meant for all men at all times and the particular programme which suited one place or time would not suit another. And, anyhow, that is not how Christianity works. When it tells you to feed the hungry it does not give you lessons in cookery. When it tells you to read the Scriptures it does not give you lessons in Hebrew and Greek, or even in English grammar. It was never intended to replace or supersede the ordinary human arts and sciences: it is rather a director which will set them all to the right jobs, and a source of energy which will give them all new life, if only they will put themselves at its disposal.

“Social Morality” – part 2 of 4
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Harper Collins Edition 2001) 82-83.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Christ did not come to preach any brand new morality

Zara Phillips riding GlenBuck

The first thing to get clear about Christian morality between man and man is that in this department Christ did not come to preach any brand new morality. The Golden Rule of the New Testament (Do as you would be done by) is a summing up of what every one, at bottom, had always known to be right. Really great moral teachers never do introduce new moralities: it is quacks and cranks who do that. As Dr Johnson said, ‘People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.’ The real job of every moral teacher is to keep on bringing us back, time after time, to the old simple principles which we are all so anxious not to see; like bringing a horse back and back to the fence it has refused to jump or bringing a child back and back to the bit in its lesson that it wants to shirk.

“Social Morality” – part 1 of 4
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Harper Collins Edition 2001) 82.