Monday, January 26, 2009

The Inner Ring

In his essay, “The Inner Ring,” C. S. Lewis writes about two conflicting hierarchies. There is one of formality and another of informality. The formal system is recognized by all. It is externally prevalent and interpreted. “A general is always superior to a colonel, and a colonel to a captain.” There is a pre-established order. However, the informal system is “not printed anywhere.” Rather, it exists either in our minds or behind a code of secrecy with “officers and rules that would be told after you were admitted.” Now, this is not trying to establish one system or hierarchy as greater than the other, though we may naturally place a greater emphasis on the hidden system because of its mysterious and undisclosed nature.

I believe that the informal code appeals to our personal nature. We desire to be known by a group of people. The problem that exists is finding those people and establishing the codes and guidelines that will be followed. Anybody is permitted within the group. However, there is the necessary issue of creating an inner ring, those who know. Outside are the other people, those who don’t know and can’t get in. Perhaps that is our draw to groups such as inner rings. We desire to be known exclusively by only so many people because after a while, with more members, the personal connection and secrecy is lost. Thus, the inner ring loses its mystery and purpose. The group goes from personal to impersonal.

The formal code I believe represents an impersonal system. Here, positions and accomplishments matter. The past is recognized versus simply living and concerning oneself with the present. The formal code is recognized by all men. It is almost a most primitive system glorifying the survival of the fittest attitude suggested by Charles Darwin. Those who are more powerful and successful attain a higher rank than those who are trampled below and have trouble surviving. There is a universal recognition of status and importance, a list of pre-established rules to follow.

Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the inner ring is our longing to be in the ring. Naturally, we place ourselves on the outside, separate from others and living without what we desire. We want to become part of the inside, to use the slang or the group. The slang of the group becomes a set of religious creeds and sacraments. There is meaning and membership by using the word “we” as opposed to Tony and me. There is that exclusive dialogue we wish to be included in. And, the “exclusion (of the Inner Ring) is no accident; it is the essence.”

The irony of the inner ring is found in C. S. Lewis’s analogy of an onion. The inner ring is like the skins of an onion. As you enter into an inner ring or peel off a skin, there is always another deeper layer. Each time you find another inner ring. There seems to be no end to the rings and desiring. It seems that even when we do get what we want, or finally are admitted to that inner ring we desire, we end up being unsatisfied. The excitement of potential admission is gone. The mystery of the group is lost. Instead, we just begin to search for a new inner ring to join. The cycle never stops; it’s an endless progression from skin to skin, peeling away more and more layers only to discover more still, deeper and harder to remove.

C. S. Lewis does not frown down upon inner rings, but yet does not approve of them. In fact, he agrees that it (the inner ring) is almost a natural occurrence in life. However, there are two observations that C. S. Lewis makes. The first is that of all the passions, the passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man, do very bad things.” The man surrenders himself to the caucus, laying aside his personal beliefs for the price of admission. The second reason is that often when seeking the Inner Ring, we seek what cannot be had. “As long as we are governed by that desire, we will never get what we want.” Our goal teasingly flees from us, keeping just beyond our grasp. The Inner Ring does not guarantee happiness. And thus, “until we conquer the fear of being an outsider, an outsider we will remain.” Without understanding this we will eternally search for our Inner Ring. We will forget the simplicity of friendship, an informal system transcending the laws of the Inner Ring.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Problem of Pain - Human Pain

C. S. Lewis addresses the question of: “Why does God allow suffering?” in chapter six, “Human Pain,” of his book The Problem of Pain. He not only deals with our concept of pain, but also investigates the reason for pain and common perceptions of pain in his day. First, we’ll deal with the two definitions of pain. Pain can either be the sensation caused by specialized nerve fibers which a patient recognizes and dislikes, or it can be any experience which the patient dislikes. C. S. Lewis makes it clear that he is going to address the second definition of pain. Everyone understands physical pain of the body, but what of this other more relative pain, possibly mental or physical?

So we come to the question, “If God is good, then why does he allow suffering?” First, we must recognize that we our mistaken when we ask this question. God is not to blame for our pain. God did not create pain or in general evil if we choose to go there. Evil/pain would be defined as the absence of God or the absence of pleasure. We are to blame, not God. We chose to sin and thus as a result fell into sin and now must live with the consequences. If we believe in total depravity, then of course, we have no right to happiness and most likely probably deserve to suffer.

Some may still argue insisting that God is good and therefore should not allow pain. Perhaps, we must realize that goodness is like love. There are two main definitions of love in today’s culture. The first love is that of giving the patient whatever he or she wants. The giver does not hold back anything desired by the patient. He spoils the patient. The second definition of love is that of doing what is best for the patient. It is like when a parent feeds their child broccoli and other vegetables because cake and ice cream every meal is not healthy for the body, even though it tastes good and that is what the child wants. Perhaps, you could say that this is sort of a tough love, a love which allows pain with a greater purpose in mind. And, going back to the original question: “why does God allow pain if he is good?” we should maybe remind ourselves that God might be suffering more than us when we suffer. Again, it is like a parent and a child. When a child is hurt with a scrape on his knee the parent wishes so much that he could take away the pain. He probably feels worse or suffers more than the child.

What is interesting to note is that when we suffer the most, it is when something most dear and precious to us suffers or is lost. It is like when you paint a beautiful picture and then it either gets ripped or spilled on with a careless person’s hot coffee. We suffer so much because of all the time and effort put into our project. I believe that this is how God feels about his creation. He made it good, and then we started a cycle of destruction. What pain God must have felt compared to our humble pains of scraped knees and broken relationships. C. S. Lewis writes that “the ugliest things in human nature are perversions of good or innocent things” (The Problem of Pain 92). Suffering and evil do not exist by themselves but rather on their ability to distort goodness. We see at work beauty being distorted by sin, a beautiful picture and creation tainted by hot coffee or man’s autonomy.

C. S. Lewis also addresses the question: “Why do some people suffer?” However, perhaps the question that should be asked is: “Why don’t all people suffer?” Man does not deserve happiness. He is totally depraved and caught in sin. Man himself is to blame for his suffering; hence presumably, all men should suffer. The beauty, though, is in God’s love for us. He saves us even though he didn’t have to get involved. God ultimately stepped in and gave hope to our endless cycle of suffering.

There are benefits to pain. This is not to say that all pain is good though. First, pain awakens us to our tragic situation. It can show us the danger we are in when we forget God in our lives. Often when times are good, we dislodge God and let him drift away, but then later when we scramble to paddle over to him. It is like in the lecture we listened to in class where a pilot knows that there is a parachute in his plane, but hopes that he doesn’t ever have to use it. I believe that this is often how we view God. We hope to ignore him until we absolutely need him. We like to fill our mind with toys and then complain when they are broken as C. S. Lewis puts it in chapter six, “Human Pain.” Perhaps, we must recognize that when our cards and toys tumble down, this is “the frame of mind that I should be in at all times. I remind myself that all these toys were never intended to posses by heart, that my true good is in another world and my only real treasure is Christ” (The Problem of Pain 107).

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Plantinga Chapter 4 - Redemption

Plantinga writes of a “double grace” in chapter four entitled “Redemption” from his book Engaging God’s World. There are two components, sanctification and justification. Sanctification is the progression towards holiness. It is becoming like Christ, becoming holy. This is a lifelong process, not simply achieved by confession and an intense moment of spiritual revival. Instead, God works this part of the double grace throughout the entire length of our lives. We find his touch in refining and redeeming our lives every day. The second component of the double grace is justification. This at first seems like a one-time ordeal, the initial moment of confession at which we admit our sins and allow God to work in us. However, justification really is when we are made right with God by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of our sins. This like sanctification is not over and done with. It happens nearly every day as we confess our sins and ask continually for forgiveness. Our initial salvation and conversion perhaps is only the highlight of this justification, the beginning of a “double graced” transformational process.

As a response to our freedom in Christ, it seems odd that we then become subjected to a new law, God’s law. Normally, as humans we perceive rules and laws as limitations that impede our desires or prevent what we think could be innocent fun. Often times we forget that these established laws were created for a purpose, many times that purpose is for our safety. Now, I am not saying that all laws are justifiable and necessarily work towards the betterment of man, but many of them have good intentions in mind. Our human laws need to reflect God’s law. We have freedom within God’s law. The rules and guidelines that God lays out are there to protect us from all this hurt and pain we could experience. Often it protects us from our own silly mistakes. God displays true love towards us. He does not simply act like a misguided parent who gives their child whatever they want. Instead, God acts as the responsible parent who feeds his child broccoli and carrots, even when it is cake the child screams for. God does not give us simply what we want; he does what’s best for us.

Because of our redemption and atonement in Christ, we are inspired and prompted to do good works. “Love vivifies us” as Plantinga puts it. We love because He first loved us. In response to our salvation, we should gladly offer ourselves for the construction of God’s kingdom. We need to willingly mirror Christ on earth. Martin Luther wrote: “Good works are not the cause, but the fruit of righteousness. When we have become righteous, then we are able and willing to do good. The tree makes the apple; the apple does not make the tree.” We need to clothe ourselves with the attitude and actions of Christ. And, perhaps the clothes do not fit at first, they may be baggy or loose, but at least we are catching a glimpse of what we are intended to become and beginning to work towards growing into those clothes. In fact, we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who are intended to spur us on towards good works. We are part of “God’s team,” encouraging one another and reflecting Christ. Our actions are a result of our faith and evidence of its existence. And thus, we begin the process of sanctification and justification, clothing ourselves with the virtues of Christ.

Man or Rabbit?

Can’t you lead a good life without believing in Christianity? Well, possibly one might say, but that depends on your definition and qualifications for ‘good.’ The funny thing though, is that by asking this question, the asker is automatically acknowledging that Christianity has something that he or she does not have. The asker finds himself in a state of doubt concerning his or her own life. He wonders whether he is making the grade. In fact, by simply asking the question he infers that Christianity is good in itself. The asker is attempting to live the bare minimum in life. He wants happiness, or whatever ‘good’ is, without working for it. He is apathetic and primarily pragmatic. He says to himself, “All I’m interested in is leading a food life. I’m going to choose beliefs not because I think them true, but because I find them helpful.” The asker is searching for truth, but weakly. He needs to realize that as men, we must not bury our heads in the ground as ostriches, but lift them up high and search for truth. We must pursue a “good” life with everything we have. And, we must recognize that perhaps this “good” life might not necessarily be what we are searching for.

C. S. Lewis addresses the question of “living a good life” with a two part answer. First, we cannot obtain a good life. We simply cannot do it, especially on our own. I believe that C. S. Lewis is using the fact that humans are totally depraved here. We are tainted by sin and thus are sinners; we do not deserve to be happy or live a “good” life. Second, “in setting up ‘a good life’ as our final goal, we have missed the very point of our existence.” We are not meant to simply be “good.” “Morality is a mountain which we cannot climb by our own efforts.” If “goodness” is our goal in life, what is our goal after life? Is not the ‘good life’ only temporary? Are we too shortsighted and disillusioned to see that?

And, if anything in addressing the “good life,” we again run into the problem of defining ‘good’ because of its relativity. The materialist may see it as happiness while the Christian sees it as advancing God’s kingdom. Perhaps there are two different standards to which this “good life” can apply, taking into account extremes here. Maybe one can work towards a crown that will not last and the other can work toward a crown that will last forever. Both crowns may be ‘good’ and seem ‘good,’ but it is only one which perseveres and lasts. Instead of living a ‘decent life,’ we need to live a Divine life. This new life then calls us to become gods and goddesses. Here, I do not mean that we replace God or hold greater authority, but that morality is only a piece of what makes us truly human. We find that the real Man consists of striving towards perfection, not goodness. And for perfection, we require the assistance of a God to reconcile us to him, a God by which we model “goodness.”

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Abolition of Man

Man seems to have engrossed himself in an eternal campaign to conquer nature. He attempts to transform all that is uncivilized, “nature,” into civilized culture. Man constantly looks for ways he can exert his power over the natural elements, the world around him. However, the result of this conquest is not always the progression towards a bright and peaceful future. Instead, often Man’s conquest leads him to conquer himself. C. S. Lewis gives various examples in “The Abolition of Man.” The first is that of the contraceptive. Here, Man is exercising his control over the natural process of reproduction and birth, but is also limiting himself and extinguishing human life. Second is that of newspapers, aero planes, and the wireless. We find, just like that of the contraceptive, that man in fact does transform nature into things useful and civilized, but in doing so he ultimately affects himself. Man becomes the patient and possessor, “the target both for bombs and propaganda.” From this conquest, C. S. Lewis believes that we should define Man’s conquest over Nature rather as Man’s attempt to maintain power over other men with Nature as his instrument.

Thus develops two groups of people. There are the Conditioned and the Conditioners. To be a Conditioner is to be truly human. The Conditioners follow a certain “Tao” or natural law (here C. S. Lewis is drawing from the wisdom of the East and the tradition of the Western world). The Tao is the doctrine of humanity and life. It is what the Conditioners pass onto the Conditioned. Hence, the Conditioned serve to represent the younger generation or an inferior group of people. They must be taught how to live and act. The Conditioners take it upon themselves to teach the Conditioned. However, this doctrine and teaching of the Conditioners is fraught with subjectivism. The reason for this being is that the Conditioners must choose what they shall pass on and educate to the Conditioned. They determine what doctrine and ways of life will be perpetuated into the future. It is almost as if the prior generation controls the current generation.

Man exerts control over himself by deepening the gap between generations. New civilization and technology only limits Man further. There are more manuals for Man to read and more directions for Man to follow. In general, future generations of Man seem to lose their autonomy because of the generations before them. They become dependent on the doctrine and teachings of the Conditioners. Thus we are in danger, for if we rely on humans to relate and pass down natural law, won’t their lessons simply be the result their current impulses and relative Tao. If we were to assume the Conditioners were not men, then they could pass down the Natural law, but we cannot bear the thought of this. Inconsistency is enough to prove this theory false. Thus the Conditioners are characterized by irrational behavior of which we naturally mistrust. However, if we assert that the Conditioners are men, we are held slaves to cruel subjectivism of the ages. What a position we find ourselves in. How are we to define and realize the Natural law?

Perhaps the answer to this question is to trust in some divine intervention. For, we recognize that Man, by himself, cannot consistently construct a coherent Natural law, and that Man cannot be held apart from the Natural law, for it is found in all of us. There seems to be a need of an outside source. Man desires to “see through” all things. The problem with this, C. S. Lewis writes, is that “then everything is transparent.” The world becomes invisible; we do not see at all. Perhaps, we must rely on the common grace of God to trust that Man’s attempt at defining Natural Law becomes not too distorted or too depraved. We need to recognize and address the casualties of our subjectivism. Then we are able to maintain that in man there is an inherent capacity for determining right from wrong, one inspired and authored by God, no matter how hidden or ignorant of it we may become.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009


C. S. Lewis presents us with two seemingly contradicting views of Love. The first is that of seriousness. Often we speak of love in hushed tones, with tightly held voices and whispers in our ears. We treat sex as a sacred rite, only for those who have attained the holy status of marriage. Rightly so, we do this. But, our fault perhaps lies in our in our secrecy of the issue. The church can often be too silent, allowing public institutions and locker room conversations to introduce young boys and girls to the birds and the bees. Sex and love is serious. It requires commitment, faithfulness, selfless giving. Love between two people is Eros, a romantic love that can experience at certain times the pleasures of Venus. It is the fact that a woman is a woman does not matter to a man. He simply desires to be with her. He longs for her person, not her as an object. This unity and commitment models that of Christ and his church. It is here that we find deep meaning and solemnity. Eros becomes serious, but only to an extent.

The second view of Eros is that of foolishness. Its physical act represented by Venus serves as a goddess who laughs at us. We seem to play a game of catch as catch can. Perhaps the foolishness of the Venus within Eros is that God has created our desire for Venus, the carnal side of love, as an appetite. It comes and goes. We are made fools chasing one another around, the moment right for one, but wrong for the other. Our appetite for sex perhaps reveals God’s playfulness in the matter. We are not meant to hide Eros in a closet and shove it under our beds. Rather it must be present and modeled in our lives. We must enjoy the Romantic side of Eros as well as the Venus side as an appreciation of Eros. God wants us to delight in each other within our marriage relationships.

C. S. Lewis points out some of the dangers of love, most specifically that of idolizing Venus. Our appetite for sex can make us worship sex. We become solely carnal creatures looking for the next opportunity for pleasure. We are so given into our physical passions that we forget the Romantic side of love. We forget that we are interacting with another human. Venus becomes selfish. We focus on receiving versus getting. We want our own moment of pleasure. This is when we are mistaken. By removing the seriousness of love and treating it solely as a game or all-consuming desire, we hurt ourselves and fail to represent true Eros. We are as C. S. Lewis puts it, youths who jump into a pond, but then don’t know what to do once they’re in the water. So, they just get out and find another pond to jump into and the cycle repeats itself. We become enchanted with love. We are in love with the idea of being love. There is no commitment, but fleeting passion, no consistency, but desire. We forget that Eros and love are a choice, not simply desires or a goddess we may worship.

What I found very interesting is C. S. Lewis’s notion of a man and woman in the state of Eros. The man and woman serve as representatives for all men and women. They become “Father Sky” and “Mother Earth,” the ultimate He and She. Both man and woman share equal roles. It is said that the man is considered the head of the house, but perhaps instead of looking at this concept as a symbol of status or hierarchy of power, we should see it as how a man must care for his wife. He must demonstrate love as Christ, the head, demonstrates to his church. It is a sacrificial love. He may be the head, but that does not mean his desires or needs are placed first. Instead, both have equal share and say.

C. S. Lewis compares Eros to a garden that must be tended. Just as a garden must be weeded and pruned, so do our relationships and love lives. This requires time, hard work, and energy. We must invest ourselves fully, not holding back. And, in addition, we must not plant seeds in the garden before the ground and garden itself is prepared. Perhaps C. S. Lewis is hinting that we should allow time for our relationships to mature. We must start as acquaintances, then friends, then partners. The ground must be ready before the garden can flourish, before Eros can occur.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Plantinga Chapter 5 - Vocation

In chapter five, Plantinga begins by describing kingdoms within a kingdom. As Christians, we are all princes and princesses in Christ, we rule over a sphere of influence determined by our calling and vocation. However, despite having our own territory to rule in, our kingdoms and power come from God above, to whom we pledge our allegiance. God allows us to help rule and renew his creation. The phrase, “Your kingdom come,” from the Lord’s Prayer is not complete without “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Representing Christ here on earth in our own kingdoms does not mean we sit back and observe our kingdom. Rather, it means that we take initiative to make God’s kingdom ever more present here on earth.

This pursuit of God’s kingdom implies that versus being just citizens of God’s kingdom, we are prime citizens. Plantinga quotes Frederick Buechner by writing, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” God desires that we find our niche in life, where our passion and energy can be coupled with the world’s hurt and pain. We need to strive first for the kingdom of heaven, not for our own power, prestige, or wealth. We recognize that our work becomes a vocation, a tool for promoting God’s kingdom. In essence, as prime citizens, we are spreading shalom, a flourishing wholeness and peace, throughout all of creation. God desires that we work towards a common good and mutual service. Perhaps as a prime citizen we need to recognize the position God has put us in right now. We need to look around us and find what God is calling us to be and do. Maybe we need to be a student, or a teacher, or a worker, or simply a friend. God is not limited by who we are. Instead, it is when we find ourselves weak, that God is strong, when we are limited, God is free to work.

Plantinga lists two potential dangers Christians often face while they perform their task if redeeming God’s world. The first is triumphalism, “the prideful view that we Christians will fully succeed in transforming all or much of culture.” We suspect that is it primarily because of our own glorious efforts that parts of creation have been redeemed. We focus on our work, what we did and sweated over. We almost feel a sense of ownership and “you owe me” attitude towards God. We must “memento mori,” remember to die, just as a single man would remind the Roman emperor during a triumph or ovation. Our work means nothing without God’s purpose in mind.

The second danger Christians may face as they redeem the world for God is that of writing the world off, “to abandon it as a lost cause.” Often times, Christians tend to isolate themselves from the world. They feel that nothing can help this utterly despicable and fallen creation. Thus, they isolate themselves if only to make sure they do not become tainted by the fallen nature of the world. However, this does not follow God’s cultural mandate. In isolating ourselves, we hand over our small personal kingdoms to the world. We’ve abdicated our God-given earthly thrones. The problem with this is that “God’s plan is to gather up all things in Christ.” He intends to restore and redeem all of creation, not just those who devotedly followed him. It is our duty as Christians to share the grace God has given us with the rest of the world. We must take responsibility for our kingdoms, not gloating over our progress and control, but rather delighting in our ability to contribute towards God’s greater kingdom.

Learning in Wartime

Why do not all Christians become missionaries and why do not all citizens become soldiers in war? C. S. Lewis addresses questions such as these in his essay entitled “Learning in Wartime.” He first begins by illuminating the fact that war is simply a pinnacle of the permanent human condition. We are always quarreling and arguing, war just makes the quarreling blatant and obvious to all. In fact, Lewis writes, there are always distractions. Life is and has never been normal since the fall. Excuses will always exist for as to why we should or should not do something. The same can be applied to Christians and their choice of careers. Why are not all Christians pastors and missionaries? Perhaps the reason is because we often see these positions of Christianity as highest and most holy. They deal directly with God and the faith. This is our mistake. We limit ourselves and forget about the ordinary parts of life that need redeeming, where we can also reach out in faith. Pastoring and Missions are only pinnacles and specialized vocations in Christianity just as soldiers are in war.

Often times we feel as if conversion must be some grand experience, that it must be life changing and inspire all sorts of revivals in our life. We want conversion to be a highlight a period from black to white, secular to sacred. However, often this ideal conversion is found to be nonexistent in our lives. We do experience changes in our lives and revivals, but not always on the grand scale that we desire. C. S. Lewis writes that “I do not think I fully realized that one’s life, after conversion, would inevitably consist in doing most of the same things one had been doing before.” Conversion is a process. We hope for the same things, but now in a new spirit. We do many of the same things, but with a different attitude and motivation. Instead of a huge show, our conversion is often gradual. It starts by transforming us from the inside out.

At the end of his essay, C. S. Lewis begins to assert that each person has his or her own vocation and sphere of influence. I believe that he would agree with Plantinga where each Christian is acting in a kingdom within another kingdom. We each have a special job to do. God does not place in our hearts appetites in vain. Instead, we must work in humility for a greater God, a greater purpose than we may perceive now. C. S. Lewis writes, “But if we thought that for some souls, and at some times, the life of learning, humbly offered to God, was, in its own small way, one of the appointed approaches to the Divine reality and the Divine beauty which we hope to enjoy hereafter, we can think so still.”

Each of us must present our lives and work as a humble offering for the advancement of God’s kingdom. We do this in our own ways, no matter how small or large, grand or hidden. We are not attempting to build up a heaven here on earth, but rather serve as pilgrims spurring one another and creation on to a new permanent city.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Poison of Subjectivism

I find it interesting how Lewis writes, “After studying his environment, man has begun to study himself.” We believe that we have sufficiently observed and understand all that is around us and now attempt to explore the final frontier, ourselves. In fact, to do this we assume our own authority and reason by which we are able to see all other things. The funny thing, Lewis writes is that “it is as if we took out our eyes to look at them.” We try to observe ourselves, but in doing so are limited by being human. We are on the inside, not the outside. And thus, we settle for our own subjectivism. We accept our own reasons and observations about ourselves because we suppose they may yield truth or at least enough truth for us.

There is danger in this good-intentioned ignorance. When we accept our own practical reasons for truth, we often disregard or fail to remember the effects of the fall. By holding to our own presupposed standard, we eliminate the potential for a transcendental one and pledge our allegiance to an abstraction. We accept what we do not know because we believe we may know it. It is as if we are trying to remove our shoes, but yet still walk in them. I believe Lewis is recognizing our need for an Absolute Truth, an Absolute Standard. There needs to be an outside person who observes us, an outside source that determines the “good” and “better” in human thought.

Our desire for autonomy is incompatible with our desire for both democracy and freedom. Through subjectivism, each man becomes his own ruler; his life is relative to all others. Thus, he will accept and place his own ideas and beliefs above all others. This is only natural, to live by one’s own rules. However, it is here that democracy suffers. One’s opinion is elevated above another’s. There is no common man, but all gods. More it becomes anarchy, a game of survival of the fittest. And, in all this, we must recognize that our desire for freedom and understanding of the very word, freedom, assumes that there is a greater power. There are those who make rules and live under them. For us to be free, we must be free from something and someone must be setting us free. Perhaps, this power could be another human, but this would contradict our nature tendency to valuing our own subjective idea of thought. We would have to abdicate ourselves from our pretentious thrones of authority and submit ourselves to a God. For if man creates Law, then he is subject to break it himself or simply change it on a whim. The Law thus becomes subjective to his current state and situation, the fantasies and dreams of his mind.

Plantinga - Chapter Three - Fall

In Engaging God’s World, chapter three concerning the fall, Plantinga quotes Wendell Berry who asserts that “formlessness is a peculiarly human evil… caused by inattention, irresponsibility, carelessness and ignorance of consequence.” I cannot say that I entirely agree with this statement, or at least would like to raise a few questions in order to clarify what is being meant. Genesis 1:1-2 speaks of the earth as being “formless and void” while God’s spirit hovered over the waters. Is this Genesis formlessness the same as the formlessness spoken of by Wendell Berry? For if it is the same, then Wendell Berry’s formlessness seems to imply negligence by some greater power, a human or perhaps could we say God. Thus, I wonder might this concept be applied to God’s presence over the formless world. Was God negligent? Of course, we are overlooking the fact that Wendell Berry says formlessness is a human evil. But don’t our actions contain at least a hint of truth or a slight enough representation to that of God’s. I find formlessness as existing only because of its dependence an individual. Could Wendell Berry’s statement be taken too far and assume God as irresponsible, careless, inattentive, and ignorant before creation?

Plantinga explains the consequences of the fall as “extending far and wide.” The fall goes so far as to affect our thinking processes. This I find is very interesting. We resist the truth. Even when what is right is placed before us, we sometimes willingly choose what is wrong. It is as if we are deceiving ourselves on purpose. There is a double danger in this. First, blatantly, we are deceiving ourselves. And then, secondly, we must deceive ourselves again so that we do not realize we initially deceived ourselves. It seems to be an infinite circle of treachery and deception. We too suffer because of the fall, not just creation. And, perhaps the fall is much more detrimental to us than we make it out to be. Our ignorance and autonomy blinds us from the speck in our own eyes.

A final comment on chapter three is that I found it intriguing how Plantinga suspects that nobody actually pursues objective learning. We all have presuppositions and a worldview which will affect the way we view something. It is impossible to remove the device by which we view and interpret our surroundings. It is like C. S. Lewis’s idea of a human removing his eyes so that he can study them. The thought is absurd and practically impossible. Plantinga writes that we all pursue committed or socially located learning. “Everybody’s learning is faith-based,” influenced by our personal and inherent system of beliefs. Thus, the question is not whether a person has faith in someone, but in what or whom. Each individual must recognize some standard to direct their life. Our learning is subjective to our system of beliefs. And, with this in mind, we must be careful to acknowledge our faults and miserable attempts at autonomy. We must commit ourselves to truth and an Absolute Law and God

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Mere Christianity

C. S. Lewis leads us into a hall within his book, Mere Christianity. There are several doors leading into different rooms. It is our decision to choose which of these rooms we will enter, “for the hallway is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in.” Therefore, logically, the hallway is the worst place to be. It is better, or shall I say, more preferable to enter a room, despite what surprises may lie inside.
Each door represents a different denomination within the Christian faith, from Catholicism, to Presbyterianism, to Baptist, to Christian Reformed. Each is separate from the others, which we often exaggerate; however, they all branch from the same hall. Each denomination could be seen as a shoot growing from a larger stump. C. S. Lewis attempts to create a “mere Christianity” in his book. He wants to focus on the beliefs we all hold as a universal church, the fundamentals to the Christian faith.

What I found interesting in C. S. Lewis’s hallway analogy was that we often choose our door because of its paint or paneling. This is quite a mistake on our part. We are simply choosing the most appealing denomination, the church whose service, message, or music makes us feel best. Instead of this superficial and cosmetic approach to choosing a denomination and church, we should be asking “Is there truth here: is holiness here?” We need to leave behind personal preference and pride. The door we choose should be based on where we find the most light, where God is most present and guiding.

A major portion of C. S. Lewis’s first four chapters in Mere Christianity concerned a universal Moral Law. We are all too familiar with Natural Law and readily observe its effects and submit ourselves to its reign. If we did not, there would be dire consequences. The opposite is with Moral Law. In fact, if we were to look at the human race from the outside, you could not observe Moral Law. Man is too inconsistent. The Natural Law is seen, but man chooses whether or not he lives by Moral Law.

So does this Moral Law actually exist? C. S. Lewis addresses this question by appealing to our basic behavior and instincts. If someone steals your place in line, you get mad. If someone offers their seat even when you are late for the show, you are greatly flattered and appreciate the act. If someone does some shameful act, he attempts to hide it. Why do we feel and act this way? We cannot deny a Moral Law? If we did, our behavior betrays us. We make excuses for many of our actions. Are not these excuses proof enough for some Moral Law that we believe we should be living by? Don’t we acknowledge a Moral Law of Right and Wrong when we quarrel with each other? If not, then our quarreling and arguments are meaningless, no one would be right. Instead, we butt heads because one person must seem to have more of the Moral Law.

“This Moral Law tells us what tune to play; our instincts are merely the keys.” C. S. Lewis says that because mankind recognizes a type of decent behavior, we must believe then in some Moral Law. Our instincts are our choices. They are the beats of a song, a song which we often speed up and slow down with our inconsistent counting. I believe that through this acknowledgement of a Moral Law, C. S. Lewis is really in part directing our attention towards the possibility of an Absolute Truth, an Absolute God.

A final piece of C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity I’d like to bring out is his concept of a unified church. The church has many differences, thus many denominations. Each denomination has problems with the others; they quarrel over who is right and who is wrong. C. S. Lewis in his preface writes that “Our divisions should never be discussed except in the presence of those who have already come to believe that there is one God and that Jesus Christ is His only Son.” Too often we Christians broadcast our inter-denominational disputes to the entire world, and as a result, we present a divided, quarrelsome picture of the church. We harm our image for the sake of arguing trivialities, often not even reaching end all conclusions. Perhaps, C. S. Lewis writes, we should concern ourselves with highlighting our similarities rather than our differences. Maybe we should live as a “holy Catholic Church,” a universal church living under the same banners. Christ prayed to the Father that we would be one. Let us not get caught on trivial differences and forget our unity and purpose in Christ.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Screwtape's Letters

It is interesting how “the safest road to Hell is the gradual one-the gentle slope soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” Perhaps we not worry about our major sins so much, but rather those small temptations that we often find ourselves indulging in. And, perhaps these small indulgences are not quite temptations and sin as we formerly know it, but rather divergences from our intended purpose. A good book itself is enough to serve as a distraction from our religious duties. Even conversations and sleep can lead us astray from spiritual growth. They seem so innocent and by nature even beneficial, but could be filling our lives with nothing.

Wormwood encourages his junior devil to draw his patient into nothing, to fill his life with very small sins, doubtless sins, minimal compared to spectacular wickedness. Wormwood desires that his junior apprentice leave his patient in a state of being half awake, the state of nothing. This life where in the end a man will say, “I now see that I spent most of my life in doing neither what I ought nor what I liked.” The small indulgences, the books, the ads, the slight conversations, the innocent educational TV shows serve to lead a man away from his religious duties. He keeps making weak resolutions that this will be the last time of procrastination, only to be broken again. He attempts to slowly forget his Christianity, to let sleeping worms lie.

What I found extremely interesting in this letter was the concept of temptation as a game. If the junior devil tempts his patient too much, he will wake to his current status and danger. However, if the junior devil does not tempt his patient enough, his patient will lose interest and fall back to his religious duties. It is a game of cat and mouse. A type of perfectly concocted soup in which too much salt, wrecks the flavor, but not enough bores the pot. In addition, it is not the magnitude of the sin that matters, but rather the end all effect, to “edge a man away from the light and out into the Nothing.” “Murder is no better than cards if can do the trick.” In fact, perhaps the sin is more effective when it is minimal, when it is allowed to pile upon itself little by little. And thus, we may eventually become creatures too weak and fuddled to recognize the pile rising behind us, threatening to fall behind our backs onto our heads.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Plantinga Chapter 2 - Creation

Plantinga begins chapter two of his book, Engaging God’s World, with creation. He explores the existence and origin of creation. Either creation was intentional and necessary or it was an accident, Plantinga concludes. An accident seems utterly hopeless when compared to an intentional creation. In fact, Plantinga writes that if there is a God, then it would be his very nature to create, a sort of imaginary love. G. K. Chesterton writes, “The whole difference between construction and creation is… that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed; but a thing created is loved before it exists.” God did not create on an accident or whim. Instead, the act of creation fit God. He was being God.

In addition, Plantinga challenges our idea of glorifying God. Look at a tree or cow for instance. They are glorifying God by being what God intended them to be, chewing grass, producing calves, carrying out photosynthesis, growing tall and bushy towards the sky. Everything an animal or plant or any inanimate object for that matter seems to be glorifying God twenty four seven. They glorify God by being what God intended them to be. As for humans, however, it seems that it requires a conscious effort to glorify God. It’s almost as if we must decide when to choose to glorify God. Perhaps our intelligence and freewill muddles our minds as well as our sinful nature. We as humans must choose to express the gifts of God written about in James 1:17. However, God is able to obtain glory from all and anything. Creation was constructed to flourish and glorify God.

I enjoyed reading Plantinga’s reasons for why humans are like God. The first is that God gives human beings authority in the created world. He gives us “responsible dominion.” We are not conquerors of creation but stewards. The second reason is that “we image God when we live in loving communion with each other.” This relates back to his previous chapter and C. S. Lewis’s writings concerning shalom, a flourishing wholeness, perichoretic glory. We image God by imaging Christ. This implies that we display godly knowledge, righteousness, and holiness. The third and final reason for why humans are like God is that “we image God by conforming to Jesus Christ in suffering and death.” We must express a self-giving love, a sacrificial love. We are disciples to Jesus and thus not greater to our master. Instead, as in that time period, we must follow our rabbi in his footsteps, doing exactly what he would do. When we lose our life for Christ, we will find it in him.

The Weight of Glory

C. S. Lewis delves into the weight of glory. Either we shall live in eternal shame or eternal glory and fame C. S. Lewis writes. It is our desire as humans that we gain God’s approval. We seek to be acknowledged by God just as the Bible verse says, “Well done my good and faithful servant.” This desire for approval is in response to God’s love for us. We love God because he first loved us. The only problem with this is that we often forget our purpose in life, we are depraved beings tainted by sin. Sometimes we see ourselves as school boys, “working for marks, or to escape punishment, or to please his parents, or, at best, in the hope of a future good which he cannot at present imagine or desire.” C. S. Lewis defines this type of life as that of a mercenary. We know we will get a reward, but do not know what it is until we have received it. Sometimes this life is exciting and other times boring. We may get sick of waiting for our reward, or perhaps, we may find ourselves preliminarily rewarded by desiring the future reward. Hence, it often seems that the anticipation up to an event is greater and more exciting than the event itself.

On earth, we are interacting with immortals. It is a very interesting idea that those “whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit” are not ordinary people. There are, in fact, no ordinary people. “You have never talked to a mere mortal” as C. S. Lewis puts it. Every day, we are either becoming immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. Every action we do is making us into our eternal being. We are constantly becoming something, whether that something is good or bad. How would we live if we actually realized our immortality? Would it be with perpetual solemnity? C. S. Lewis writes that we must express a certain merriment, that “which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously.”

To provide an answer for how immortals interact, we would at first have to believe that immortality exists. We must hold that there is an eternal life waiting for us after death, whether we like it or not. C. S. Lewis uses the simple human feeling of hunger to express our desire for heaven and eternal life. He writes, “But surely a man’s hunger does prove that he comes of a race which repairs its body by eating and inhabits a world where eatable substances exist.” Perhaps, our desire for a heaven proves the existence of heaven. This is not an accurate proof, but rather may be held as a very good indication that heaven may exist and that we may experience eternity after death.

C. S. Lewis concludes this longing for eternity and heaven with the idea that “heaven is, by definition, outside our experience.” Just as we long for earthly things, these desires simply reflect our desire for communion with God. We do not experience the entirety of heaven because we exist on earth at the moment. When you work towards a reward, you know you will get the reward; it’s just that you do not have the reward yet. This is where, I believe, C. S. Lewis shows his reformed side. He writes that “heaven is not really full of jewelry anymore than it is really the beauty of Nature or a fine piece of music.” We should not be saying as Christians, “I can’t wait to get to heaven.” Instead, we should ask, “How can I bring heaven here on earth?” God does not intend for Christians to sit around waiting for his power to restore creation. Rather, he takes us on as partners in this grandiose project, agents of renewal in his creation. It is our duty as Plantinga says to be stewards of creation, glorifying God in our responsible dominion over creation. We are able to do some good with God’s help. He enables us to bring his eternal kingdom down to this earth.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Our English Syllabus

Within “Our English Syllabus” C. S. Lewis explores the essence and meaning of education. He concludes that college is a place to pursue knowledge, real education. For, it is as institutions such colleges and universities that teachers attempt to provide the ingredients for humanity. A man can either work or learn. He may be educated or trained. Education is valued for it leads to leisure. A life of work is given over to boredom, parallel to that of animals, ignorant of knowledge and pursuing only survival.

Perhaps I do not entirely agree with C. S. Lewis when he writes of work and leisure. Who is to say that one is better than the other? Some people greatly enjoy their work, they thrive when given a task to accomplish and in turn experience fulfillment. On the other hand, leisure is appealing because of its very nature (opposed to the connotations associated with work). However, it is the word leisure that we distort in America. Our view is that of apathy, laziness, and couch potatoes. We do not take into account other activities such as reading, discussion, and games that C. S. Lewis most likely is referring to when he writes of leisure. So, Lewis and I may agree, but leisure must be defined correctly and in context.

For education to truly be achieved, we must desire to pursue knowledge ourselves, or at least make ourselves think that is what we desire. We must be willing to absorb ourselves in getting to know some part of reality. This requires self discipline and motivation, asking questions such as “What do I most want to know?” versus “What will do me the most good?” It is a personal decision we must make. Will we pursue knowledge? In light of this there can either be active or passive participation. We can only get out of something what we put in C. S. Lewis writes.

As a result of education and the pursuit of knowledge being a personal decision, I raise the question, “Do we choose whether or not we are human?” Is it not our choice to decide whether or not we will learn? C. S. Lewis writes that to be a human, you must be educated. This is often achieved during college. Perhaps C. S. Lewis is challenging our views of humanity, but if he is to be taken literally, I must disagree on three accounts. The first is that this view of human=educated is based on a time table. A high school pupil and grade school child are not human because they are too young. They are not of college age. Sure, there are exceptions to the typical age range of college students, but to follow C. S. Lewis’s notion literally, a person would most likely become human sometime between the ages of 18-22. The second reason I disagree is that is life and humanity only defined by intellectualism? Is there not more to humanity than a pursuit of knowledge, pages of books, and endless lectures? Could part of humanity be simply experiencing life? Sure, learning does occur then, but not as one would define it in the academic world. Perhaps C. S. Lewis is then also challenging our idea of education with his statement of humanity=education.

The third reason a must disagree is does being human make you more superior to non-humans. Is a college student greater than a middle school boy, a mere child inferior to a graduate? Sure, there are differences in education, perhaps even levels of education to be acknowledged, but I cannot say one is more human than another. The Bible itself contains text stating ideas such as “A little child shall lead them” and “to enter the kingdom of heaven you must become like that of a child.” Do children not have something to teach us themselves?

C. S. Lewis concludes “Our English Syllabus” with an explanation concerning the systematic breakdown of what must be studied in English. I believe that he intends this as an example for all subjects and how the course material is decided. The problem I have with his breakdown of a subject can be found when C. S. Lewis writes: “There is an intrinsic absurdity in making current literature a subject of academic study, and the student who wants a tutor’s assistance in reading the works of his own contemporaries might as well ask for a nurse’s assistance in blowing his own nose.”

I agree this statement is true to an extent. Some things must be common sense. However, I still do not agree entirely. Why is contemporary literature (or any subject material for that matter) any less important than that of the past? Sure, it the prior material may need to be understood for contemporary material to have meaning, but that is not to say that we do not need help in understanding contemporary material. In fact, I may go so far as to say the opposite. Perhaps to an extent it is with contemporary material that we need the most help because we are so submersed in it. Why are there so many pop culture classes? Why are these classes so popular? One may use the analogy of a fish and fishbowl. The fish is us, surrounded by pop culture. We can see things outside the bowl, but not the water that surrounds us. Perhaps we are so submerged in our culture and contemporary material that we miss seeing its meaning and existence. The fish cannot see the water even though it is surrounded by it. It needs help to understand that it is surrounded by water. Thus, maybe we similarly need help in understanding our own culture and contemporary material.

A Logical Song

The “Logical Song” symbolizes the loss of individuality. From reminiscing about young childhood to the transition of becoming an adult, the world begins to grab hold of us, establishing social norms that we must live by. We become dependable, clinical, intellectual, and cynical. Or, at least we think that is what we are becoming.

The song begins with nostalgic thoughts concerning youth. Life was wonderful with those small “stabs of joy” C. S. Lewis often expresses in his writings. It was magical, a miracle, and nature sang in harmony, the birds vocalizing their merriment in the trees. However, we are sent from youth into adulthood. A transition takes place altering our childhood innocence into a mature jadedness. The world wraps us with commitments and loyalties which we seemingly cannot escape. No longer are we able to feel the beautiful simplicity of joy, but have been desensitized by the social laws of our culture.

With this transition, often our behavior becomes predictable. We forget our identity and give into the routine and function of societal norms and appropriateness. As C. S. Lewis writes, “too easily are we pleased.” We settle for conformism versus individuality. Each person may desire to be uniquely individualistic, but they are prevented by their fear of breaking or going beyond the social norm. And, if in fact a person may break normality, they are immediately labeled a radical, liberal, fanatical, or criminal as the song says. Stepping outside of the culture leads to an automatic response by the masses. Bulverism rears its head, scaring away reason and sensible conclusions. Our personal opinions label us as freaks, causing us to run back to the comfort of the masses, abandoning our individuality. Thence, we often join in the slumber of conformity in which the world sleeps, for we are too simple a man.

Not only do words carry meaning in a song, but the music itself. It is interesting to me how the instruments reinforce and complete the message found in the words of the song. The keyboard establishes a steady, monotonous beat. It symbolizes society and its norms and appropriateness, what is acceptable; everything is in order. Then after the verse containing the lines “Now watch what you say or they’ll be calling you a radical, liberal, fanatical, criminal” bursts a saxophone. The saxophone’s sound is quite out of place; it is unexpected just like the reaction of the masses when you speak your own thoughts. The saxophone symbolizes breaking the norms, “quidity” in life.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Hope, Longing, and Shalom

Plantinga begins the first chapter of his book by addressing our hopes and longings. He writes that as we grow older, we become jaded, unlike the innocent child. We develop into patterns and ruts, constraining our thoughts and desires. The child eagerly admits his hopes, while as adults we are “shy about them and don’t speak of them easily.” We forget the beautiful simplicity of hope, what it is to truly long with a purpose and passion. C. S. Lewis defines this phenomenon of human yearning with the German word “Sehnucht,” carrying “strong overtones of seeking and searching.”

Our hopes may be deferred though. Often times they are nostalgic, reminiscent of those past days of happiness and joy. We seek to recover those early “stabs of joy” felt as a child. However, our beautiful nostalgia can be detrimental and blind us from the future. Perhaps our memories are selective, gleaning from our history only the good times filled with excitement and joy. Thus, results a false representation of a past that is over glorified. Our desire for the way things were prevents our progress towards fixing or enjoying the way things are now.

Instead, we need to recognize that through our nostalgia, the past is both how it was and how it could be. Nostalgia must spur us on towards the future. We should not entangle ourselves in a web of bygone memories. We must leave behind our desire to “get back.” All our longings are unfulfillable on this earth. We long and hope for something that is much deeper and more intimate. A thing only mirrored in the things and experiences on this earth; a final joy lying beyond the walls of the world.

Plantinga uses a quote by C. S. Lewis to describe the nature of our desires: “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when in finite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” Augustine too recognizes this condition of man, his prescription being that human beings want God. We desire union with God and want to get “in” him. However, we are so often satisfied by small representations of God in the world. We are “too easily pleased” as C. S. Lewis puts it, settling for less than the best. We think we know what we want, but really it is what lies behind those things that we truly desire. In Philippians 4:8 there is a list of what we really long for, “whatever is true, noble, pure...,” the very nature of God.

Perhaps it is shalom that we long and hope for, the flourishing wholeness that can spread over a community, the rich state where all needs are met. In the Hebrew language shalom is defined as peace. We as humans distort this concept though. We seek self-interests versus others’ interests. We place ourselves as the center of the world, satisfying our desires while the community around us may be left behind or suffer. Really, instead of finding a flourishing peace, we find ourselves in a hardened shell, a curled ball unassociated with the rest of the world. Our tendency to gratify our own desires has isolated us from our community. Here we must recognize that shalom is communal. It is for others, not us. We need to remove ourselves from being the center of the world. And, most importantly, recognize the true center as lying outside of the world.

Hence, our lives must be models and examples of love, yearning for the true love that Christ has demonstrated towards us. Then our love will be contagious, spreading over all of mankind, transforming the nature of our desires. We will have progressed towards a shalom.

A Right to Happiness?

“After all,” said Clare, “they had a right to happiness.”
At first this phrase is appealing. Each person or most likely American reads this and immediately interjects the word “pursuit” for “right.” They assume this statement is the very declaration found in our beloved Bill of Rights. However, the question asked here is not whether people can pursue happiness, but rather do people deserve happiness. Pursuit is a result of rights. You take possession and ownership of what you feel you deserve, those things given to you by some invisible and transcendent law.
Clare’s statement is invalid by the way of two accounts for me, the first being that man is totally depraved. He does not deserve any happiness whatsoever. His sin weighs down on him; man is not able to pay the price for his fallen nature. There is no means by which man could save himself and achieve some eternal happiness. Sure, we all desire and fantasize about some perfect fairy tale where everything turns out right, all the characters are happy. The problem is that this ideal is not reality; it is not reality without Christ. Everyone knows that there is something wrong with this world; we may just call it by different names.
The second reason I find Clare’s state to be invalid concerns the nature of happiness. Happiness is such an abstract term. The definition is ever changing and extremely relative. One person’s happiness may be another’s pain. Jim is happy eating ice cream and waffle cones. Ralph is diabetic and does not enjoy eating ice cream and waffle cones; rather he prefers scrambled eggs and salmon patties, Jim’s least favorite foods. How can you claim a right to something that is so relative, so abstract? Normally when you think of a right you view something that is concrete. I think of a title or deed to some house or land. You are able to touch the thing, to see it, to take possession and ownership of the thing you have a right to. The courts would be flooded if we made rights to houses and land relative. Arguments and disputes would be nonstop. There must be some law or authority which can peel away the relativity of happiness. There must be some concrete definition.
Lewis addresses the issue of sexual happiness within his culture. For some reason it has been given the exclusive right to not be judged by a standard and rational law. We hold sexual happiness as the sole exception to vows and promises, loyalty and fidelity. Perhaps the reason for this small diversion from normality is the passion of sex. We are either caught up in the moment or simply place ourselves in the position of the victim. If we do not take one opportunity offered to us right now, we will never be truly happy. “If we miss this chance, we shall have lived in vain.” We sink ourselves into the fathomless pit of self pity, wallowing in our indecision and lust.
Lewis points out that the problem of providing an exception for sexual happiness is that there is no limit and the detrimental effect on our culture. Woman become victims and merely objects to pursue for sexual pressure. Eventually, this exception will cause us to keep providing exceptions and excuses for any decision or action we may take with the grounds of happiness. Where can the line be drawn? Who is to say one’s happiness is valued or worth more than another’s? The inconsistency just won’t stop.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

"Bulverism' from God in the Docks

The creation of “Bulverism” by C. S. Lewis is not only applicable in his 20th century, but can be found as a parasite in our society and culture. Bulverism taints our ideas, the ways we look at others and their differences from ourselves. In short, C. S. Lewis defines Bulverism as “to assume without discussion that he (the supposed enemy) is wrong and then distract his attention from this by busily explaining how he became to be so silly.” Lewis finds this bug of Bulverism creeping into religion, politics, morality, etc. There is no place too small for the bug to infiltrate; all it simply needs is the pride of man and pretentious nature of autonomy and individualism to make its home.
I believe that by bringing into the light this chronic illness of Bulverism, C. S. Lewis is addressing again the relativism he exposed in the first essay we read, “Meditation in a Toolshed.” Each man creates his own argument that is perfectly true in his own mind. He sees simply by looking through only his light. Instead of mirroring his Creator and absolute truth, man attempts to paint a false image on himself for how things should be according to his prefabricated beliefs. C. S. Lewis displays the influence of worldviews in our lives and especially our arguments. The ways we reason, logic, and argue are all affected by our personal beliefs which we hold intrinsically to our existence and person.
When an individual enters an argument with another individual, he arrives with presuppositions and prefabricated ideas as to who and what is right and who and what is wrong. Even before the argument, the individual’s mind is tainted by this worldview he holds, perhaps fatally preventing reason from being carried out. An individual balances on a teetering scale of two extremes, either blinding himself on one side by his worldview and going into autopilot or presenting himself as a doormat open to the disposal of all ideas offered by the world and others. The trick is maintaining one’s balance on the teeter totter, neither locking oneself away on the inside nor exposing oneself to everything on the outside. As in C. S. Lewis’s “Meditations in a Toolshed,” the source of light and truth must be found.
In the end, results the question asking, “How does man then find this Truth?” C. S. Lewis presents two possibilities to this predicament. Either one can assume that all thoughts are tainted at the source or that even if all thoughts are tainted, does their tainted nature make them invalid. If thoughts can be categorized as both tainted and untainted, true and false, who is to be the one to ultimately decide which is which? By what standard can we judge man’s thoughts? C. S. Lewis subtly shows the need for an essential absolute truth. Bulverism is a sort of distorted absolute truth, based on the false pretense that from the very beginning, it is true and right itself without any reason or fundamental rational. Man must open up his mind and humble himself to the possibility of a Truth beyond himself. He must lay aside his autonomous and stubborn spirit, the pride which blinds his eyes. Just as Bulverism can dim a society and culture, the very opposite can illuminate a people and build its foundations.
To conclude, reason, the counter of Bulverism, is so dangerous because it brings Truth. In C. S. Lewis’s book, The Screwtape Letters, the senior devil warns the junior devil to not muddle or mess with reason for it is found in the enemy’s territory, God’s truth. When we dare to remove our own masks of assumed truth, we open up the doors for reason to shine its pure, radiant light. We begin to mirror the source of light which brings us truth. Thus, results discernment, identifying the truth in human thoughts, no matter how tainted.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Meditation in a Toolshed

After reading “Meditation in a Toolshed,” Lewis is shown to have evaluated two separate viewpoints, that of looking at and that of looking along. He relates these perspectives to his vision of a beam of light. He can look along and with the beam, glimpsing the quivering leaves on trees and their vibrant greenness. Otherwise, he has the option to turn and face directly into the beam of light, blinding his vision and producing almost no picture at all. Both experiences represent alternative perspectives. One is looking on the inside while the other is on the outside. C.S. Lewis further carries this seeming dichotomy into different experiences in life. There is love and the young man; he sees a beautiful person, regardless even that she is a woman. The physiologist, however, sees only a chemical reaction in the brain, hormones, and a rather “plain, stupid, and perhaps disagreeable person.”
Lewis presents us with a question: Which perspective is right? The outside viewpoint, removed from emotion, relations, and the entire experience, may offer a rational perspective, which is often valued highly in today’s culture. The inside viewpoint is thus looked down upon and cast aside as irrational, caught up in the moment and emotion. Lewis does not propagate either viewpoint as absolutely correct or holding absolute truth; rather he stresses the importance of a meshed perspective, one that is shaped by both outside and inside experiences and influences. If an individual were simply to look from the outside and see through everything, he would indeed see nothing at all. However, if an individual attempted to see all things from being surrounded by the inside, he too would see nothing at all but have his line of site be limited by the walls which wrap him in the inside.
In the midst of all this potential relativism within experiences and perspectives, I believe that C. S. Lewis is revealing the need for some separate law, standard dictionary, or absolute authority to which we can hold all things to; some absolute truth that is able to transcend both the outside and inside experiences while integrating them together. C. S. Lewis is an enthusiastic supporter of Absolute Truth. No matter which way we attempt to look at the light, our vision is distorted from the outside or the inside. Rather, we need to attempt to find the source of the beam of light. We must recognize that our ability to look at and along the beam is dependent on the very beam itself. The beam serves as a source of Absolute Truth. When we find this truth, it is then that we are able to look both “along and at everything.”
Learning is the ability to see the world around oneself through the eyes of another. It happens through experience (one’s own actions and thoughts) and science (learning and listening from others). The act of learning results from laying down one’s own perspective in order to gain and understand another. In this way, learning is shaped by humility; wisdom requires and results from humility. Only by laying aside our view can we see another’s.
A story is told of a professor and a student. A professor invited his student over for tea and discussion concerning class content and material. The student readily agreed and arrived at the professor’s house eager to impress and articulate all his ideas. When serving the tea, the professor took the student’s cup and started pouring the hot liquid. Sensing that the professor wanted him to signal how much tea was enough, the student said “that’s fine” when the tea was just up to the edge of the cup’s rim. The professor kept pouring. Again the student said “that’s fine” with more urgency now, noticing the tea was spilling onto the floor. Still the professor kept pouring. A final time the student said “that’s fine” and began to reach out and prevent anymore tea from spilling out onto the floor. It was then that the professor looked up at the student and said, “I cannot teach you unless you first empty yourself, otherwise you are like this cup, retaining nothing besides your own ideas. My teaching will only overflow onto the floor.”
This story demonstrates our need for humility in education. We must empty ourselves of all our own ideas and viewpoints before we can clearly see through the eyes of another and begin to experience learning. Otherwise we will be perpetually trapped, either on the inside or outside by our own ideas, not able to find the source of the light by which we are able to see.