XFiles Weekend: Big divisions

(Book: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, chapter 6, “The Rival Conceptions of God”)

Did you ever notice how some people can take a perfectly innocent and neutral fact, and make it sound incriminating, just by how they phrase it? For example, here’s C. S. Lewis observing that, when we consider all religions throughout history, both Christians and atheists can find things they think are right and things they think are wrong:

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.

Clever, isn’t it? Notice how you can reverse the nouns and say pretty much the same thing: atheists don’t have to believe that all religions are wrong all through, and Christians do think that the main point in all other religions is simply one huge mistake (with the possible exception of Judaism, but that’s Christianity’s ancestor, so naturally they can’t call that wrong).

Here’s another way of looking at it. He could have looked at Greek mythology and Norse mythology and all the many, many gods of the past, and said, “Of all the people who have ever agreed with me about gods existing, at least the vast majority have been wrong about their gods, whereas of all the times atheists have said that someone’s god was a myth, they’ve been right the vast majority of the time. In fact, by Christian standards, there’s only one case where there’s even a possibility that the atheists might have been wrong. So from a historical perspective, theism has been wrong most of the time, and atheism has been right most of the time.”

Of course, that would also be a biased discussion of the facts. Put this version next to Lewis’ version, though, and I think you get a fair and balanced view: you get to see how liberal Christians become when they believe in gods, and you get to see the true value of being liberal minded about gods in a world where such beliefs have historically been found to be wrong at least most of the time.

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XFiles Weekend: Not with a bang

(Book: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, chapter 5, “We Have Cause To Be Uneasy”)

At the beginning of Chapter 5, Prof. Lewis started to address those of us who might have “felt a certain annoyance” at his wild leap to the conclusion that there must be some supernatural What or Who behind morality. “You may even have thought that I had played a trick on you—that I had been carefully wrapping up to look like philosophy what turns out to be one more ‘religious jaw’.” In response, he said he had three things to say, the first two of which we’ve already seen.

The third point is, in some ways, a bit surprising. The real surprise, though, is that this third point isn’t just a brief aside on the way to a well-reasoned conclusion. It is the conclusion! He just got done telling us that his argument thus far hasn’t brought us “within a hundred miles of the God of Christian theology,” and yet now, apparently, he’s ready to conclude that the Someone “behind” the so-called Moral Law is the Christian God. And he sees nothing wrong with arriving at that conclusion via sloppy, subjective, and unfinished reasoning! Simply astonishing.

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XFiles Weekend: the Good guys

(Book: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, chapter 5, “We Have Cause To Be Uneasy”)

We come now to one of the more interesting things C. S. Lewis has said in the entire book so far. It’s an off-hand remark, a casual comment tossed in as a obvious truism, and one that you’ll hear echoed by an astonishingly large number of ordinary rank-and-file believers. And yet, despite all the people who take it for granted that things must be this way, it’s fairly trivial to show that it’s nonsense. Logically, rationally, it means something that can be called true in only the most trivial and even tautological sense. And yet people take it as one of the most fundamental Absolute Truths a person could base their life on. Why?

This is a very interesting question to me, and I’ve got a few ideas that I think are at least part of the answer. But still something about it mystifies me. I’d be interested to hear other people’s comments on this topic.

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XFiles Weekend: What is good?

(Book: Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis, chapter 5, “We Have Cause To Be Uneasy”)

It’s getting increasingly difficult for Prof. Lewis to pretend that he’s doing anything more than hiding traditional Christian dogma inside a secularized vocabulary. He still struggles gamely to maintain appearances, but in Chapter 5 he’s getting more and more careless about slipping openly Christian assumptions into his ostensibly objective “inquiry.”

[T]he being behind the universe is intensely interested in right conduct—in fair play, unselfishness, courage, good faith, honesty and truthfulness. In that sense we should agree with the account given by Christianity and some other religions, that God is ‘good’. But do not let us go to fast here. The Moral Law does not give us any grounds for thinking that God is ‘good’ in the sense of being indulgent, or soft, or sympathetic.

It doesn’t? How would Lewis know that? Remember, his “rational” argument thus far has been based only on the observation that people sometimes have feelings that they ought to do certain things, and yet they don’t do them. Unfortunately, as Lewis himself has argued, we don’t find any basis for this “Moral Law” anywhere in the facts of the universe, which means these subjective feelings are our only connection with the Moral Law. And these subjective feelings shift and conflict in so many ways that it’s impossible to know what’s actually in this so-called Moral Law. So how can Lewis be so sure he knows what it does and does not give us grounds for?

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