First of all, I would like to state up front that what I am about to say is not meant as a mockery of Dr. Hawking or of his condition. While many of his ideas deserve to be mocked, he has proven himself to be a brilliant mathematician and cosmologist. I have appreciated his writings over the years and it was Hawking’s A Brief History of Time that instilled in me a passion for theoretical physics nearly 20 years ago. In addition, the disease with which he suffers is horrendous and I would not wish ALS or Dr. Hawking’s debilitated physical condition on any. Though I strongly disagree with his Atheism, I grieve the fact that he is having to suffer as he does and would wish that his body were healed and he released from his bondage to the wheelchair. Though some of what I say below might be misconstrued as a knock on the man’s condition, please know that they are not and that I would welcome the opportunity to meet this man who has so profoundly influenced my interest in science, something for which I am quite grateful.
Having said that, I want to begin my reflection with a nod also to C.S. Lewis. While not a scientist, Lewis has also profoundly influenced my life and view of the world. In Lewis’ case, through philosophy and apologetics (as well as through his fiction). It also strikes me that Lewis, at times, can be quite prophetic as to the situations that we face as fallen humans. Many of the things that he wrote against back in the 1940’s are still as relevant and applicable today as they were during the rise of the Socialist party in Germany and elsewhere.
One of my favorite novels by Lewis is That Hideous Strength. This is the third novel in his Space Trilogy and he sets it in a kind of dystopian England. There, everything is being decided upon by science. Morality is a measure of what is pragmatic and the goal is to remake society according to the empirical models favored by the National Institute for Coordinated Experiments (N.I.C.E). At the head of the NICE is the head — a severed head of a criminal being inhumanly kept “alive” by equipment, pumps, and machines to be a voice for what the people believe to be a superior race of beings from the dark side of the moon, though in realty, they are demons. “The Head” becomes a kind of symbol for a people who have thrown off religion and philosophy and who have embraced nothing but pure science…an idea made prominent in our world by Auguste Comte.
Enter Dr. Hawking. In his book, The Grand Design, he begins with the notion that philosophy is dead because it has not kept up with scientific progress. He then puts forth the notion that metaphysics is now the realm of the scientist and no longer in the realm of religion or philosophy. This would represent a transition from the second to the third stage of knowledge, at least according to Comte. He argues that when mankind looks at the world and cannot answer questions, he first looks to theology for the answers, then to philosophy, and finally to science. In the strictest sense, each of the previous stages become irrelevant when the new stage of knowledge is embraced. This is exactly what Hawking is suggesting has taken place.
Interestingly enough, Hawking goes on to suggest that science, then, can answer not only the question, “how,” but also the question “why” it was created. Of course, even this language is self-defeating, because he essentially argues that laws exist apart from matter and that matter is created out of nothing because the laws of physics dictate it happen. Since science simply describes what does take place, to say that the laws created out of nothing is more than counter-intuitive, it is self-refuting. A description apart from what it describes only makes sense if there is an eternal intelligence who develops those laws that describe and then creates in a way consistent with said laws…such would be the position of Augustine, for example.
My point, though, is not to critique his book. Others have done that and I would commend their works to you. My point is to raise a question of similarity. Much like the Saracen’s head, Dr. Hawking’s life is being maintained by some marvelous science. Indeed, while not separated physically from his body, his body is largely separated from him by function. And those for whom Hawking speaks seem to have the same level of commitment to Comte’s positivism as did the N.I.C.E.
I am not a conspiracy theorist by any measure, but I have wondered, “what if?” What if what Dr. Hawking teaches and writes is being manipulated by others? Given Dr. Hawking’s lifetime commitment to science and what was once called, “The Grand Unified Theories” and is now being presented as “M-theory,” I don’t think that anyone is manipulating his words, but we must recognize just how easy that would be were the right people to be involved. Scripts could be programmed into his speech synthesizer and there would be nothing that Dr. Hawking could do about it…he would be as trapped as the Saracen in Lewis’ novel and could do nothing to stop it.
So, the question that has been rolling about the back of my head is, “Did Lewis, in seeking to fictionally describe the “men without chests” as is found in The Abolition of Man, anticipate Hawking? Did what was meant as a tongue and cheek illustration of the arrogance of scientific man become a reality in Dr. Hawking’s life? And, perhaps, does Dr. Hawking’s wheelchair stand as a reminder of the danger of taking science to the point where the mystery of the human body is sacrificed for scientific understanding? With apologies to a man I admire, I think it may.
An Open Letter to President Obama, Governor McCrory, and other Interested Parties: Bathrooms and the Strange Legacy of Sartre
Presuppositions govern our perspectives on life and until we recognize that, we tend toward intellectual dishonesty at best and our debates tend more toward sophism than truth. Once we recognize that, we can engage with much more humility in honest conversation…that is, if we are willing. Sadly, honest and civil conversation around politics and religion, I am told, is a rare thing in our current society. People prefer to yell rather than to earn the right to whisper. My hope for this letter is to whisper.
To do that, I must be up front as to where my presuppositions lie. If you have read much of my blog, that ought to be obvious, but in case this is new to you, know that I am a Christian pastor in an old German-Reformed congregation. I consider the Bible to be the true revelation from God, with every word inspired through many authors across many generations, but all by one God. Thus, I affirm doctrines like that of inerrancy and infallibility when it comes to the Bible. That puts me amongst a group that are often labeled as “fundamentalists,” and that may be accurate, but if it is, my fundamentalism is much more akin to that of Gresham Machen than to that of Pat Robertson. I value intelligent dialogue, not mere rhetoric to gain influence.
As I said, my hope is to whisper, but perhaps it is more than that, my hope is also to interject a perspective into the conversation that I have not heard much of in the news that has covered the debates around bathrooms and who uses them.
The Simple Solution
Of course, I ought to note that there are simple solutions to the question at hand, yet simple solutions are often not what people strive for in American politics. One solution, which would favor the view of the political right would be to change the labeling of bathroom doors from “men” or “women” to “XX” or “XY.” Chromosomes are things with which we are born and they do not change as a result of a “gender identity” decision or even as a result of gender reassignment surgery. The chromosomes with which you are born are chromosomes with which you will die.
The other option, which would favor the political left would simply be to convert all bathrooms to single-use bathrooms to be used by anyone when the need arises. This is certainly how the vast majority of us live when we are in our homes, we could certainly adapt to that in public institutions without that much grief, though obviously there would need to be some remodeling work done to achieve this end. A variation on this can be found in many places in Europe where there are common restrooms for both men and women. In these areas, there are private stalls for use, but common sinks that both men and women share. I confess that as an American raised in the conservative countryside of rural Maryland, the first time I encountered a bathroom such as this, it took some getting used to, but it still wasn’t long before I adapted.
But we don’t want Simple Solutions, do we?
The reality is, this is not really a question about bathrooms, is it? While I do not know the current statistics, I would imagine that the population in America that would identify as transgender is relatively small. That does not mean that the question of how to accommodate those who are “transitioning” should not be taken seriously, it rightly should. But it seems odd that so great a battle has been waged on this matter in our culture. Surely there are overall relatively few people “challenging” which bathroom to enter. As to the other side of the debate, I would imagine that a male who presented himself as a female would receive little attention (if any) for using the ladies room in a public place. I would suggest that the same would apply to a woman who presented herself as a man.
Presuppositions and Principles?
Permit me to suggest that the real question behind the matter of bathrooms is the question of public acceptance. Will we, or will we not, accept the notion of gender choice in our society. Those who are proponents of the LGBT community would say that society as a whole must accept their lifestyle choices as legitimate and thus bathrooms and other public accommodations must be made. Those, particularly, like myself on the Christian right, would say that gender is not fluid, but is tied to biological sexuality (remember the Chromosomes above?). This is the real question at hand, though I suppose it might be easier to fight over bathrooms than to tackle the question seriously (and yes, that is a rebuke of both sides).
Lewis or Sartre?
So, which comes first? In Sartre’s work, Existentialism is a Humanism, he argues that at the heart of the existentialist perspective is the notion that existence precedes essence. In other words, we first come into being and then we are given the awful freedom and responsibility of giving meaning to that existence. Even so, according to Sartre, giving meaning belongs primarily to the individual. Applied to gender, the cultural grandchildren of Sartre would state that defining their own gender identity is part of giving meaning to one’s own existence.
In contrast to Sartre, C.S. Lewis, who is oftentimes claimed by Existentialists as one of their own (though I would disagree with that claim), when discussing gender and sexuality in the novel, Perelandra, describes sexuality as an outward expression of an inward reality (the inward reality being gender). Thus, existence and essence are inextricably bound together, but with essence preceding existence — borrowing the notion of St. Augustine that essence begins in the mind of God.
So, who is right? Clearly, I lean toward Lewis. To be fair, our culture leans toward Sartre. I appeal to the Bible as my ultimate authority; our culture tends to appeal to experience and personal expression as its ultimate authority. Which is right? I suppose that both sides of the conversation are equally committed to their position, but while I have been known in other contexts to vigorously debate the rationality of appealing to the Bible as one’s ultimate authority and in turn, submitting to its precepts, I promised that I would whisper, so I will only point out the different starting points that each side of the debate holds.
I will say, though, that one of the problems in the conversation is that terms have not been well defined and are often confounded with one another. Sexuality and Gender are prime culprits. Sexuality deals with one’s biology. This includes, but is not limited to genitalia. It also includes inner organs that are germane to males or females respectively as well as those pesky chromosomes. As chromosomes do not change nor do the actual organs a person has in their body, “gender reassignment” ought not be referred to as a “sex-change” though that is often the term that is applied.
In contrast to sexuality, gender is defined more by societal norms than it is by one’s biology. This deals with our roles, our manner of dress, and the way we interact with one another. Historically, gender has largely been tied to biology (as Lewis would affirm), but in today’s world, the question that is being raised (largely thanks to Sartre and our Existential culture) is whether we must bind them together or if they can be treated seperately. Curiously, if one separates the idea of gender from that of sexuality, gender then becomes solely a matter of self-expression, and the idea of “gender-reassignment surgery” becomes as much of a misnomer as the phrase “sex-change surgery.” The surgery itself becomes nothing more than a cosmetic modification to make it easier to appear as the gender of one’s choice.
Laws have two purposes. The first purpose is to punish wrong-doing. The second purpose is to discourage people from behavior that is immoral. Herein lies another point of debate. How is immoral behavior defined. Clearly, I would appeal to the Bible. Society seems to appeal to social expectations, a view that I believe is fraught with danger given the fickle nature of said expectations and the sinful nature of man. Each law, though, at its very core, must answer the question, “How am I rewarding moral behavior and punishing behavior that is immoral?” And yes, with that in mind, every law legislates someone’s morality on some level.
From My Point of View
Given that I have already shared my presuppositions, it should be obvious as to where my point of view lies. The Bible is clear that homosexuality is immoral in the first place and it seems to me that much of the draw of Transgenderism is the notion of making homosexual desires more acceptable in the eyes of the culture. Even if not overtly intended to be a gateway into homosexual behavior, living life in gender roles different than those which would normally be bound to one’s sex is a form of deception, which, too, is an immoral action according to the Bible.
Whispering and the Conversation in Front of Us
The real question is whether or not we can have a dialogue on this matter in a productive way while still whispering and not raising our voices or our fists. Personally, I am very concerned that the opening up of bathrooms is little more than a first step — a minor skirmish in a larger campaign — towards something that not only will radically change the nature of the culture around us, but will also invite young men and women to express themselves and their urges in even greater immorality. I fear too, that it will be the loudest voice and not the most sound argument that will win the day and the whispers of truth will be drowned out and forgotten.
“The last thing, brothers, is that whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is upright, whatever is holy, whatever is lovely, whatever is praiseworthy, if there is virtue and if there is praise, think on these things.”
What does it mean to set your mind on that which is lovely? Literally, the Greek word that Paul uses here means “to engender a kind of brotherly love.” It conveys the notion that there are things in this world that when we look upon them, when we listen to them, when we take the time to appreciate them, there is a certain deep-felt “rightness” and satisfaction that wells up in our hearts. C.S. Lewis referred to this idea as “the Normal” in his novel, That Hideous Strength.
To develop this idea further, there are certain relationships and proportions that we see in the world around us that are naturally beautiful in our eyes. The Golden Ratio, for example, made up of the Fibonacci sequence, is found throughout the created order. This is the ratio found in numerous elements of the human body but the spiral that this ratio creates is found in everything from the structure of DNA to the spiral of the nautilus shell to the spiral of the great Spiral Nebula. Artists talk about complimentary colors and symmetry; architects use varying proportions to create an aesthetically beautiful building, composers use certain progressions of notes and chords, etc… Clearly, beauty is not in the eye of the beholder, it is found in how, when we create works of art, those works mimic or approximate what was made by our creator.
Often we speak about the doctrine of the Imago Dei — that humans are made in the image of God — and all the Imago Dei means when it comes to the inherent dignity found in all mankind. We often do not talk at length about the doctrine of the Imitatio Dei — the doctrine that as those made in the image of God, we best live our our lives in imitation of the God whose image we bear. And as God is a creative God, we too are to exercise our creativity to his glory. That does not mean that we create carte blanche, instead it means that we are to create with a certain degree of continuity between our creation and God’s…that is if we want to create something of beauty.
Today, though, it seems that art has moved away from this notion and instead of seeking out that symmetry and continuity, it seems that many artists strive for just the opposite — creating things that shock us as abnormal and hideous rather than lovely. Paul implies that such is not healthy for our personal sanctification. We are to set our eyes upon that which is beautiful and lovely because it seeks to approximate the beauty of the created order to the glory of God. The abnormal that is prevalent in our culture simply reflects the rebellion against God of our times and the chaos that ensues. From this influence we should flee.
“Also, the glory that you have given me, I have given them, in order that they may be one just as we are one.”
Again we find Jesus using the language unity amongst believers, this time, though, in connection with Christ’s glory. In essence, what Jesus is stating is that he has given to believers his glory so that believers may be united as one. Another way of saying this is that as we apprehend the glory of Christ, it ought to bind us together as one body—that Christ’s glory ought to bring unity to true believers, not division. And, one might go as far as to argue that as we divide and fight with one another, what we are betraying is that we have not apprehended the glory of God. Again, this does not mean that Christians are to have spiritual fellowship with false religion, but it does mean that denominations are sometimes guilty of so narrowing their understanding of Christianity to the point that anyone outside of their specific interpretation of non-essentials is considered highly suspect.
But what is it about the glory of Christ that ought to draw us together with other Christians? To begin with, what is the glory of Christ? The Greek word for glory is do/xa (doxa), which is the word we get “doxology” from. This word refers to the magnificence of or splendor of a person. The Hebrew word for this is dOwbD;k (kabod), and it also captures the idea of something that is weighty in its significance. Thus, when the Apostle Paul speaks of the “eternal weight of glory” (2 Corinthians 4:17), he is reflecting on this idea of the weightiness and significance of what we will become. C.S. Lewis also relates this concept in his work, The Great Divorce, where the heavenly people are substantial and weighty and the people from Hell are described as ghosts or phantasms, no longer having any substance of their own.
Though humans are sometimes referred to as glorious, God’s glory is infinitely greater than the glory that men might earn or be given. In fact, the glory due to God is so much greater than what we can conceive that even our best efforts to rightly honor our God on our own strength are doomed to utter failure. And thus, as God’s glory is much greater than man’s glory, the weightiness of that glory is so infinitely great that we ought to be both overwhelmed and smothered by it when in His presence. When the saints of old witnessed the glory of God, their response was to be humbled and bow in worship—yet, how casually we tend to come before God and how arrogantly we present ourselves before Him. How, when we come to him in prayer, we have lost any sense of His transcendence and his glory. There is a certain electricity that is in the air as children anticipate seeing the first snow of the season or as they go to bed on Christmas eve, anticipating what will be under the tree the following morning; we ought to have this same “electric” anticipation as we prepare to go before our Lord in prayer or before we come into his presence for corporate worship. It is as if we almost don’t expect to be confronted by the glory of the Almighty God of the universe.
A good novel can compel us to keep reading long after we ought to have put it down and either gone to bed or go to do another project. Why is it that so often Christians agonize over the idea of even reading a chapter of the Bible a day? And why is it that so many Christians are not riveted by the text, but are put to sleep by it? It is almost as if they do not expect to find the glory of the transcendent God revealed on the Bible’s pages. Yet, beloved, that is exactly what God does on the pages of scriptures! He reveals to us Christ! He shows us his mighty redemptive work as well as his remarkable grace to a rebellious people—people who again have experienced the glory of God and have chosen to ignore it to worship idols of their own creation. To those who deserve wrath (like us), God has shown grace. And not only that (as if that is quantifiable in human terms!), God has taught us in his word how we can best enjoy Him and how we can best enjoy life in this world. What a wonderful book we have been given—one through which we can apprehend the invisible God and know our role in His creation as bearers of His image. There is no human work that can pale in comparison.
Yet, how often our actions betray our hearts. We act as if God’s glory is nothing more than a flickering light that hardly offers any illumination in the darkness of the world in which we live. And if we do not go with an expectation that God will reveal his glory to us in his word or in his worship, why should he reveal himself? Jesus told Thomas, “Blessed are those who believe without seeing…” (John 20:29), what poor straights we are in. And, Jesus here in this prayer is saying, “May the glory that I give to my disciples be such that brings them in unity with one another and demonstrates to the world that I am God.” If we don’t grasp the weightiness of God’s glory in a real and tangible way—such a way that drives us to our knees in prayer, worship, and the study of God’s word—then how will we ever cease to bicker over the non-essential things that separate us? And similarly, if our Christian testimony to the world is tied to our unity, should we be surprised that the non-believers are so hostile towards Christian witness? Loved ones, let us evaluate first our own hearts and then our hearts amongst other believers, and ask ourselves, is the glory of God binding us in union with fellow believers and is our apprehension of God’s glory attracting others to the faith? It ought to be.
An Additional Chapter from Herodotus
(a tribute to C.S. Lewis)
Once upon a time in the village of Acirema, a strange tradition resided with the people, though, perhaps the word tradition is not the best word to describe the antics that were found to take place amongst the people. You see, the people did not think of Exmass as a tradition, they saw it as a grand celebration—one of the High Days of the whole year that people looked forward to with great anticipation. Yet, despite the anticipation and despite the fact that people called it a “celebration,” there was little about this time of year that one would describe as celebratory. Perhaps I should explain.
Every year the people of Acirema “celebrate” what they refer to as the High Day of Exmass, yet the activities of preparation for this high day begin a full month prior to the official day of celebration. Indeed, there are some who begin their preparation months or even a full year prior, but these people are considered rebellions and are resented by the bulk of the Aciremanians, thus for now, we shall simply focus on the official tradition as is mandated in the unofficial law of the land—known as the Manual of Etiquette, written by the village matriarch, Deer Abigail.
Officially, then the High Day of Exmass begins with a lesser celebration to “kick off” the preparations. This lesser celebration is referred to as Saint Guineafowl Day. On this day, families gather together for the ritual slaughter and consumption of a large fowl. On occasions, some families will choose another animal, often from the swine family, but fowl is the proper sacrifice according to the manual. The rule is that family members are required to consume as much of the fowl as physically possible in one sitting and to accomplish this, sometimes extended family members will gather to join in together with the feasting. None of the bird must go to waste. If there is any left over, it must be saved and reheated for meals on the following days until it is all consumed. Even the bones are to be boiled down in a dish called “broth” so that even the essence of the fowl is fully removed and consumed by the family—again, nothing may go to waste.
In addition to the ritual slaughter and consumption on Saint Guineafowl Day, this day is accompanied by two additional traditions in Acirema. The first is the Saint Guineafowl Sycam Parade. Rowland Sycam was an entrepreneur in the early history of Acirema who was involved in the history of the helping people prepare for the High Day of Exmass, and thus, in his honor, his retail stores host a tremendous parade on Saint Guineafowl Day. In this parade, adults dress up as children in all forms of costumes and disguises and walk along a “Route” that extends for a mile or so. Some of the adults choose not to walk, thus add exotic decorations to their cars and trucks so that they can drive the distance of the Route—these decorated cars, they call “floats” for an undiscovered reason. In addition to adults, children are often dressed in adult dress uniforms, like that of soldiers, and given musical contraptions, being expected to then march in-step and play a song on their instrument at the same time.
One of the favorite elements of the parade is the appearance of the village’s famous singers. These famous singers will stand on the “floats” and pretend to sing along with a recording of their own songs. Those who come to watch the parade, called “Spectators” then pretend that the singers are actually singing and critique how well (or poorly) each singer “performs” their song. This performance also plays an important role in the preparations that lead to Exmass, for it is the songs that are chosen and thus performed that will be repeated at regular intervals on the radio in the initial portion of the preparation season. This, then, gives instruction to the people as to which musical arrangements to purchase and give to loved ones, but we get ahead of ourselves.
The final element of the parade is the construction of giant balloons, each depicting a local deity from the various mythological religions that people pretend not to practice. Citizens of Acirema are supposed to worship in one national religion, but in reality, they practice many, spending Sundays giving lip-service to the national religion in central buildings called “churches” and then spending the following Saturday morning in front of a contraption called a “Television” which broadcasts the legends and myths that shape the culture. It is these legends and myths that form the subject matter of these balloons, which float high in the air (in contrast to the “floats” which roll on the ground) and act as the spiritual guardians of the participants and spectators of the parade.
After the St. Guineafowl Sycam Day parade is through, and everyone congratulates themselves on how wonderful the decorations and floats were, treating such as the most important news of the day (certainly more important than wars or economic difficulties, for these things detract from the events in the season to come), then comes the final activity of St. Guineafowl Day—“football.” Football is the national athletic competition of Acirema and has little to do with either feet or balls, but I am told that if I were an Aciremanian, I would understand this colloquial reference. Anyhow, in this competition, two teams of men line up against each other with each teammate covered from head to toe in padding and other protective gear. Then there is an oval-shaped object called a “pig-skin” even though it is made out of cow-hide. Each team gets a turn holding on to the “pig-skin” and tries to run it or throw it past the other team and deliver it to the opposite end of the playing field, which is called a “grid-iron” though it is neither a grid nor made out of iron (again, I am told that were I an Aciremanian, I would understand this reference). While one team tries to get the pig-skin to the other side of the field, the other team seeks to clobber the person who happens to be holding the ball. Such is the nature of the game with both sides seeking to clobber each other and the team which gets the ball across the other team’s side (called a “goal-line”) wins the competition. The only reference to feet that I can come up with is that at times, the pig-skin is kicked from one side to the other either to change which team gets to be clobbered or to try and kick it through a giant set of prongs resembling a bent fork. And thus we end our description of the day, except for a final comment that nearly all Aciremanians both look forward to the day and regret the level to which they have participated in the eating of fowl. To express their regret, they chant in unison the words, “Oh, my stomach, I feel sick,” and then usually eat a little bit more to make sure that fellow Aciremanians do not think them lax in their celebration.
After the celebration of St. Guineafowl Day, comes the real preparations for Exmass, beginning with the celebration of a day called, “Black Friday.” The proper etiquette for Black Friday is to get up before dawn, pile into the car along with nearly every other Aciremanian, and to fill the streets with traffic. The initial objective is to have so many vehicles on the road that all movement is reduced to a near standstill, and then to yell at each other from behind closed and locked doors, often inventing names for the other drivers as they try and budge their vehicle in front of your own. The secondary objective for this day is the reason for its name (this name one needs not be an Aciremanian to understand). This traffic jam caused by all of the Black Friday celebrants is known to frustrate even the most seasoned law enforcement officer and hence the name was coined by those law enforcement officers who dreaded the coming of the day.
The second part of the Black Friday celebration takes place when the celebrants are actually able to arrive at the shopping centers. It is rumored that some people, hoping to avoid the celebration of the traffic jam, actually go out the day before, after they finish their St. Guineafowl Day celebrations, drive to the stores, and sleep in their cars. This rumor has not been substantiated personally, though it has been received from reliable sources. Regardless of when the celebrants arrive at the stores, the goal is to charge into the store as quickly as possible, elbowing and running other participants underfoot. In some ways, this seems to be a public replaying of the athletic event of “Football” from the day before, just without the pig-skin or goal lines. Prior to Black Friday, the stores have artificially elevated the prices on their products so that on Black Friday they can return their prices to normal and get the celebrants to think that they are getting a bargain. This aspect of the event is called a “sale.” Finally, celebrants gather up all of their “sale items,” and pay for them with little pieces of colored plastic (called a “credit card”—an invention which allows the owner to “buy” an item and then pay three-times the original price of the item across an extended period of time). Then, the participants jump back in their cars and celebrate the traffic jam one more time until they eventually arrive home once again that evening, just in time to eat more of the left-over food from St. Guineafowl Day, go to bed, and wake up the next morning to worship their culture’s ancient myths before the television.
The next several weeks between Black Friday and Exmass are filled with the important pastime of mailing what are called Exmass Cards. Exmass Cards are pieces of folded heavy paper with decorations on the front and a holiday greeting inside wishing the recipient well. The pictures on the cards are usually nostalgic and contain winter scenes even though in most parts of Acirema it never snows on Exmass. Nevertheless, such is what people expect and hope for each year. The ritual goes something like this: each Aciremanian purchases a stack of these cards adequate to send to each of their friends and acquaintances. Cards are signed and then put in the mail with each citizen keeping a careful list of who they sent the cards to.
A second list is then kept that records the cards that they in turn receive from acquaintances. Then the lists are compared. The ritual then gets rather confusing as individuals get their lists made. If one discovers, when one is comparing the lists of cards sent out and received, that someone not on the initial list has sent them a card, then the proper etiquette (again according to their local guru, D. Abigail) is to raise one fist and curse the heavens and to go back to the store to buy another Exmass Card to send to this offender. Similarly, after Exmass, the lists are compared and if more than two Exmass seasons go by without receiving an Exmass Card from someone on the list, their name is struck off—again with hand shaking and cursing. At times, this can get rather comical as people are always dropping off and adding people to their lists, always following the proper custom, which is designed to get them into the “Spirit of Exmass.”
When the day of Exmass finally comes, families celebrate with a routine of giving expensive gifts and trinkets, most of which will be broken (some intentionally and some unintentionally) within a few weeks. Again, the purpose of the gifts is to be in the “Spirit of Exmass” and oftentimes the parents in the family will pretend that a portion of the gifts come from a winter sprite whose name escapes me, but he is purportedly rather fat, flies around the world in an old sleigh pulled by Caribou which have the ability to fly. When he arrives at each home, he diminishes his size, sneaks into each house through a variety of openings, and then leaves the gifts. It is said, also, that if one wants this winter sprite to leave his gifts, the family must leave behind an offering of milk and cookies, lest lumps of coal be left in stockings in lieu of the gifts. The stockings are not real stockings, nor will they fit the feet of anyone in the family, but are single cloth and felt boots of varying sizes (not pairs, but one only) which are hung for the express purpose of being filled with candy and small gifts. Most of the children do not believe this fanciful tale, but they tend to go along with it, knowing that one day they too will be parents and expected to carry on the Exmass tradition as their parents did before them.
It should be noted that parents go to great extremes to get their children to believe in this winter sprite, even to the extent of hiring fat older men to sit in shopping centers dressed up as this snow sprite and to tell the children that he really is the one who will visit their home that Exmass Eve. Children who are too small or daft to know better are forced to sit on the knees of such men (oftentimes while screaming in protest) and tell them what they want the faux-sprite to bring them. Then pictures are taken which serve to do two things—first, they further traumatize the child (still part of getting into the “Exmass Spirit”) and second they serve to “commemorate” the experience so that parents will be able to show their friends and family just how faithful they have been to the “Exmass Traditions.”
Yet, we digress from the tradition of the gifts. The gifts are placed around a tree that is covered by tinsel, lights, and other random ornaments. The tree has been chopped down for this express purpose and will be disposed of after the season is through. Each gift is also covered with brightly colored paper called, “wrapping,” which is designed to keep the object hidden from spectators and to make them more interesting to open on Exmass morning. There is one difficulty with the tradition of the gifts, though, for just as with Exmass Cards, two separate lists must be kept, so too, lists are kept to keep track of Exmass gifts. For if you record that someone has given you a gift of a greater value than the gift you have given them, once again, you are expected to shake your hand to the heavens and curse, making proper notation in your records so that you are not so embarrassed in the following year. Similarly, if someone to whom you have not given a gift chooses to give you one, then you must not only note that while shaking your hand and cursing, but also you are obliged to immediately run out an purchase a similarly valued gift for the person in question. Lastly, when the gifts are fully catalogued, the children have a special task that is germane to their age-group. They must write a note saying, “thank you,” and how wonderful they thought the gift was (whether or not they thought the gift was wonderful). Such a practice is only performed by children because adults uniformly hate to write such notes (largely as they were forced to write such notes when they were children), but think that it is a good way to discipline their rambunctious children, so enforce this practice upon them with solemnity and zeal.
Finally, Exmass comes to a close with another feast, similar to that of St. Guineafowl Day, but this time with a wider variety of foods and no requirement that fowl be eaten. The gorging of food is followed by the watching of various athletic events, including more “Football” and is often accompanied by family favorite programs that teach “The Spirit of Exmass.” There is also a tradition of the “Exmass Wine,” which is a drink made from grapes and allowed to ferment. This, they drink in abundance either while they are eating or while they are watching the Exmass programs on television. The tradition is to drink enough that when one wakes up the next morning, ones head hurts as if it has been hit by a football player (perhaps this is an attempt at vicarious participation in their favorite sport). When one wakes up in such a manner, the proper etiquette is to curse again and avoid others until the feeling wears off. It is also said that some families read the story of the first Exmass, but this report is rather unsubstantiated.
On a final note, upon further study, it seems that there are some Aciremaians who are largely dissenters to this Exmass tradition. Apparently, they claim that Exmass has its origins in a religious holiday called Krissmass, or something very close to that (these dissenters are often mocked and scoffed amongst the rolls of the Aciremaians as being ones without the “Spirit of Exmass,” so they typically keep to themselves during this time and have been hard to study). What I have learned, though, has been quite interesting. They will often participate in some of the Exmass activities, though with a great deal more restraint. What my informants tell me, though, is that these Aciremaians believe that their God became human in a far away place on this day and then later would die in a horrible way to atone for their sins. This is interesting to speculate upon and perhaps demands further research, for they believe that the gift of Krissmas is God himself, not the things packaged in glossy paper. Indeed, something to investigate further…
“The Christian faith has not been tried and found lacking; it has been found difficult and been left untried.”
I must confess up front that I am not a coffee drinker. I neither like the taste of it nor the smell of it, nor do I have any compulsion to infuse it with a variety of sweeteners to try and mask its otherwise awful taste. This is not a criticism of those who like coffee (my wife is one of them), it is simply a statement of fact, and to set the record strait, it is not that I do not also have a morning crutch, but for me it is tea—“Earl Grey, hot,” as Captain Picard used to say.
All of that being said, what I find interesting is the popularity of the specialized coffee drinks in our society. People flock to one of dozens of corner coffee stores to buy the latest “Chunky-Monkey-Sola-Frappe” concoction or if they are more frugal, they will get a designer coffee machine for their home to whip up their favorite concoctions. Now, I see nothing inherently wrong with this practice (I like stacking onions, pickles, lettuce, and ketchup on my hamburgers), what I find interesting is that by the time everything is said and done, one can barely taste the original coffee flavor—and for some, I know that is the objective.
Imagine a world, for a minute, where coffee is only ever served in this fashion (this should not be too hard as we are close to that now). Imagine that you have never tasted “black” coffee, but that it has always been filled with the additives that we might see at a specialized coffee place. And imagine that this is the way coffee has been served for several generations. You may have heard stories of coffee being served black, but only in the old days when the people were so poor or backwards that they did not know any better.
Then imagine, one day, something changed in the world around you. Imagine that you, and everyone around you, were served black coffee—no milk, no sweetener, just straight brewed coffee. What do you imagine might be the response. My guess is that most people would quickly spit it out in disgust. They might curse what they were served and leave in search of “real coffee”—or at least coffee that was diluted with the sweeteners that people were used to.
I imagine, though, that there might be a few people (likely a very few), who will have something confirmed in their hearts. Deep down, while they have been drinking all of the concoctions, they have sensed that there must be something more out there—that that there must be something stronger and more robust in this thing called coffee than what was being served. The taste might not totally agree with them, but they know deep down that this coffee, black and strong, is what they have been looking for all along and for them to go back to anything else is something they have no desire to do.
It is imaginable, that the majority of the “coffee” drinkers would take offense to those who began serving and drinking black coffee. They might see them as unsophisticated and seeking to undo great social advances. It is imaginable that the majority might even legislate to try and restrict the “black coffee drinkers” from being able to proselytize and win others to drinking black coffee. There might even be some that would go back to drinking the stylized coffees just to more comfortably fit into their communities. There may even be some that would become secret black coffee drinkers, drinking the concoctions in social settings for the business contacts, but only drinking black coffee at home. There would be some who would even go to the other extreme, gathering with other black coffee drinkers and living separate from non-black coffee drinkers to eliminate any outside influence upon their families. Yet there would be some who, despite regulations and litigation against the black coffee establishments, would continue drinking their black coffee while remaining in society, being willing to have the honest discussion about coffee and to answer questions from the skeptical but curious who still are drinking the fancy mixes.
Okay, so what does this have to do with Christianity? If you haven’t anticipated it, my suggestion is that we have a lot of “doctored up” Christianity in our culture today. It may have at its most basic root, genuine Christian belief, but because true Christianity is vibrant, strong, and offensive to the broader culture, churches have been quick to dilute it with all kinds of sweeteners and additives to hide the taste. C.S. Lewis called this kind of liberal Christianity as “Christianity in water”—something almost unrecognizable as Christianity because it has been so diluted. It is no wonder, given our culture has strayed so much from “straight-black” Christianity (to keep the coffee analogy), that so many people react so violently against the preaching of the wrath to come and the need for Christians to take up their cross and die daily to this world. The Gospel of Jesus Christ has been reduced to love and fuzzy feelings rather than about a mighty God who chose to take on flesh and live in the midst of wicked, fallen, and hateful men to redeem some of them to glory, bearing the judgment for their sins on his shoulder. All we are, we owe to him.
Drinking this kind of “coffee” will earn you the title of being intolerant, unsophisticated, and backwards. It requires a whole new view of the world. But this is true Christianity. Lewis argued that while most people would be reviled if they were confronted with real Christianity, there would be some who would find that it was what they were looking for all along and find the real stuff to be “red meat and strong beer.” How many of our churches look more like Starbucks in their theology and social stance than like the strong, black coffee of the Scriptures.
|Works By C.S. Lewis|
|Spirits in Bondage: A Cycle of Lyrics||1919|
|Post Conversion Writings|
|The Pilgrim’s Regress: An Allegorical Apology for Christianity, Reason, and Romanticism||1933|
|The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition||1936|
|Out of the Silent Planet||1938|
|Rehabilitations, and other Essays||1938|
|The Personal Heresy: A Controversy between EMW Tillyard and CS Lewis||1939|
|The Problem of Pain||1940|
|A Preface to Paradise Lost||1942|
|The Screwtape Letters||1942|
|The Weight of Glory, and other Addresses||1942|
|Christian Behavior: A Further Series of Broadcast Talks||1943|
|Perelandra (Reprinted in 1953 as “A Voyage to Venus”)||1943|
|The Abolition of Man: Or, Reflections on Education with Special Reference to the Teaching of English in the Upper Forms of Schools||1943|
|Beyond Personality: The Christian Idea of God||1944|
|That Hideous Strength: A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grownups (Abridged version published in 1946 as “The Tortured Planet”)||1945|
|George Macdonald: An Anthology||1946|
|The Great Divorce||1946|
|Essays Presented to Charles Williams||1947|
|Miracles: A Preliminary Study||1947|
|Authorian Torso: Containing the Posthumous Fragment of the Figure of Arthur by Charles Williams and a Commentary on the Authorian Poems of Charles Williams||1948|
|Transporation, and Other Addresses||1949|
|The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe||1950|
|The Voyage of the Dawn Treader||1952|
|Mere Christianity (Revision and Expansion of “Broadcast Talks”, “Christian Behavior”, and “Beyond Personality”)||1952|
|The Silver Chair||1953|
|The Horse and His Boy||1954|
|English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama: Volume III of The Oxford History of English Literature (In 1990, Lewis’ volume was renumbered as Volume IV, “Poetry and Prose in the Sixteenth Century”)||1954|
|The Magician’s Nephew||1955|
|Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life||1955|
|The Last Battle||1956|
|Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold||1956|
|Reflections on Psalms||1958|
|Studies in Words||1960|
|The Four Loves||1960|
|The World’s Last Night, and other Essays||1960|
|A Grief Observed||1961|
|An Experiment in Criticism||1961|
|They Asked for a Paper: Papers and Addresses||1962|
|Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer||1964|
|The Discarded Image: An introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature||1964|
|Screwtape Proposes a Toast, and Other Pieces||1965|
|Letters of CS Lewis||1966|
|Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories||1966|
|Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature||1966|
|Spenser’s Images of Life||1967|
|Letters to An American Lady||1967|
|A Mind Awake: An Anthology of Lewis||1968|
|Selected Literary Essays||1969|
|God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics (Published in UK in 1971 as “Undeceptions: Essays on Theology and Ethics”)||1970|
|Fern Seeds and Eliphants and other Essays on Christianity||1975|
|The Joyful Christian: Readings from CS Lewis||1977|
|The Dark Tower, and Other Stories||1977|
|They Stand Together: The Letters of C.S. Lewis to Arthr Greeves, 1914-1963||1979|
|Of This and Other Worlds||1982|
|On Stories, and Other Essays on Literature||1982|
|The Business of Heaven: Daily Readings from CS Lewis||1984|
|Boxen: The Imaginary World of the Young CS Lewis||1985|
|First andSecond Things: Essays on Theology and Ethics||1985|
|Letters to Children||1985|
|Timeless at Heart||1987|
|Letters: CS Lewis and Don Giovanni Calabria: A Study in Friendship (First issued as “The Latin Letters of CS Lewis” in 1987)||1988|
|All My Road before Me: The Diary of CS Lewis, 1922-1927||1991|
|The Collected Poems of CS Lewis||1994|
|CS Lewis: Collected Letters, Family Letters, 1905-1931, Volume 1||2000|
Christianity and Literature: Outline
The Big Idea: What distinguishes Christian Literature? Answer: it clearly points to Christ
- Asked to discuss “Christian Literature” though unsure of value of this discussion
- Understands that Literature is a means for sharing the Gospel
- Rules for good writing are same for Christian and non-Christian
- Thus, does not see a value in a genre of “Christian” literature, just good literature or bad literature, both kinds reflecting the author’s perspective
- Is one a “Christian writer” or a “writer that happens to be Christian?”
One: What makes literature “Christian?
- Sacred in theme/starting point for devotion
- Value is subjective (rag may be sacred for some)
- Written by Christians for Christians, not for literary merit per say
- Christian approach to literature
- Creative vs. derivative
- Spontaneity vs. Convention
- Freedom vs. Rules
- Great authors are innovators, “breaking fetters,” not followers
- Jesus as Poet or Philosopher
- Jesus’ limitations
- Poetic in some senses
- More like Socrates than Shakespeare in analogy
- Man as head of woman, God the Father as head of the Son, Jesus as head of Church
- The subordinate is to reflect the head
- Just as son watches Father, so Jesus observed the Father to better communicate his being
- New Testament Literary Expression
- Originality is the prerogative of God
- Creativity discouraged and being conformed into the image of Christ
- “being as little as possible ourselves, in acquiring a fragrance that is not our own but borrowed, in becoming clean mirrors filled with the image of a face that is not ours
- Lewis’ rejection of Total depravity
- Derivative & reflective is good
- “pride does not only go before a fall—a fall of the creature’s attention from what is better, God, to what is worse, itself.
- Applied to Literature
- Purpose is not to create, but to reflect Christ
- Embody or reveal what is true of eternal beauty and wisdom
- Originality is not true originality as it comes from God
- Non-Christian writes for vain purposes, Christian for Christ
- Christian does not ask, “Is it mine?” but will ask “Is it good?”
- “The Christian knows from the outset that the salvation of a single soul is more important than the production or preservation of all the epics and tragedies in the world”
- The strength of Christian literature comes not from the literature but from the God of Christian literature
Words to Define:
- Hagiological: of the Saints
- Proprement dite: French for “properly itself”
- Argumenta ad hominess: argument by opinions
- A fortiori: “From the Stronger”
- Catena: chain
- Redolere Christum: “to smell of Christ”
- mi/mhsiß is derived from mimhth/ß, meaning: imitator
- au moins je suis autre: French—“At least I am different”
- di se medesmo rise: Italian for, “I lauged at myself”
Miracles By C.S. Lewis
Flow of the Argument
I. The Big Idea
a. The difference between Tradition and a living faith
II. “Those who make religion their god will not have God for their religion” Thomas
a. Popular Religion
1. God is abstract
i. God is truth
ii. God is goodness
iii. God is a spiritual force pervading all things
2. Makes God impersonal
i. impersonal gods make no demands
ii. impersonal gods are more “comfortable” than a god who
demands of us
iii. hence, impersonal gods are more preferable
3. this kind of religion is really pantheism
i. “the fact that the shoe slips on easily does not prove that it is a
new shoe” (131)
ii. pantheism is the permanent “natural bent” of the human mind
iii. only religions to refute pantheism
c. Christianity (the only truly formidable opponent)
4. Pantheism leads to immoral behavior
ii. German racial nationalism (Sprach Zarathustra)
5. Christian vs Panthistic view of God
i. Pantheists believe that God is present everywhere because he is
diffused or concealed within everything
ii. Christians believe that God is totally present at every point of
space and time but not locally present anywhere (no place
or time can contain the fullness of God)
6. Good theology is a nuisance to the fancies of popular religion
i. true historian is a nuisance to one reminiscing about the “good
ii. real musician is nuisance to one indulging in self-taught music
iii. truth vs. preference
iv. “IF God is the ultimate source o fall concrete, individual things
and events, then God himself must be concrete and
individual in the highest degree. Unless the origin o fall
other things were itself concrete and individual, nothing
else could be so; for there is no conceivable means whereby
what is abstract or general could itself produce concrete
v. God “is not a universal being: if he were there would be no
creatures, for a generality can make nothing.
vi. The Limpet analogy (142-143) –note that a Limpet is a marine
vii. must have a conception of what something is to say what it is
viii. the ultimate spiritual realities are more real, not less real than
ix. Note that this is the Rubicon that you cross—once you reject
pantheism, you find yourself crossing into Christianity
I. The Big Idea
a. Are Miracles “acceptable” to a mighty God?
II. Would God break his own scientific laws
a. difference between elementary rules taught to schoolboys and deeper rules
employed by the masters for the purpose of style
b. God created the universe intentionally for a relationship with himself
c. Science is not the rule that constrained God’s creation; science is the byproduct
of God’s orderly creative work
d. “if miracles do occur then we may be sure that not to have wrought them
would be the real inconsistency” (155)
e. we don’t understand God’s deeper plan because “it is a very long story, with a
complicated plot; and we are not, perhaps, very attentive readers.” (158)
I. The Big idea
a. The probability of miracles is not the question, it is how fit miracles may seem
to one’s mind
II. Nature and uniformity
a. “the fact that a thing had happened ten million times would not make it a whit
more probable that it would happen again” (162)
b. “Experience therefore cannot prove uniformity because uniformity has to be
assumed before experience proves anything” (163)
c. we have a sense of “fitness” about the way things go, so all things must be
consistent with that fitness if our minds will readily accept them
d. If God is “a rational Spirit and we derive our rational spirituality from it, then
indeed our conviction can be trusted. Our repugnance to disorder is
derived from Nature’s creator and ours.” (168)
e. “Even those who think all stories of miracles absurd think some very much
more absurd than others: even those who believe them all (if anyone
does) think that some require a specially robust faith. The criterion which
both parties are actually using is that of fitness.” (171)
Chapter 14: The Grand Miracle
I. The Big Idea
a. the Incarnation is the grand miracle of all from which all other miracles stem
from or lead up to
II. The Incarnation is the Grand Miracle
a. greatest importance
b. the supernatural coming down and becoming part of nature for a time
III. Patterns of this in Nature
a. Descent/ascent (death/rebirth)
1. the corn god motif
3. life and rebirth in nature
b. chosen-ness/God’s selectiveness
1. selectiveness in nature
2. selectiveness in redemptive history
c. Vicarious nature
1. exploitation and oppression
2. kindness and gratitude
IV. How other religions respond to these themes
a. Natural religions deify them
b. anti-religions deny them
c. Christianity explains them as illuminated by supernatural
V. Original vs. Imitation
a. Christianity is the original pattern from which all other cultic religions get their
start, not the other way around
b. Christianity as the one true “myth” that really did happen
I. The Big Idea
a. Miracles can be divided in many different ways
d. dominion over inorganic
2. Old and New creation
a. Old Creation= a reflection of what God has already done in
nature on a vast scale
b. New Creation= pointing toward that which is to come
b. note importance of these chapters for apologetic arguments
I. The Big Idea
a. You are now prepared, having dealt with the philosophical aspects, to deal with the historical question. Yet, if you do, make sure that you re-teach yourself what you have been taught for so many years by the culture. Reject Everythingism as something that offers nothing.
The different usages of the term “Spirit” and we must define our terms and say what we mean by the word spirit when we use it in dialogue
On Providential matters—understand the difference between first and second causes and how Lewis is defining Providence as the miraculous and thus rejects providence.
Also understand Lewis’ analogy of the curved lines running parallel to one another and how God views history from the outside, not being bound to it.
Miracles By C.S. Lewis
Flow of the Argument
I. The Big Idea: Before we can argue for Miracles, we must answer the philosophical
question as to whether miracles can exist.
a. They either do exist or they do not.
b. If they do exist, we must also ask if they are likely or not.
II. Flow of Reasoning:
a. What is your presupposition about miracles?
1. If you don’t believe they exist, even if you are confronted by one you
will explain it away.
2. If you believe that they are possible, but unlikely, you will also explain
them away even if confronted by one.
b. Because historical data is recorded by the observation of people with
presuppositions, historical inquiry cannot prove the miraculous unless the
initial philosophical question is answered.
I. The Big Idea: Defining the terms Miracle, Naturalism, and Supernaturalism.
a. Miracle: “an interference with Nature by supernatural power” (5)
b. Naturalist: Those who believe that nothing but nature exists (5-6)
c. Supernaturalist: Those who believe that there exists something in addition to
nature that is outside of nature (6)
II. Flow of Reasoning:
a. Given the broad definition of a miracle, the naturalist must, by definition, deny
that miracles are possible
b. The Supernaturalist accepts the possibility of miracles by Lewis’ definition,
though the supernaturalist does not necessarily think that miracles are
c. For the naturalist, nature must be the “whole show” and include whatever there
d. What is “nature” or “the natural state”?
1. the state that something would be in without outside interference
i. the dog would be unkempt and have fleas
ii. the wilderness would not have roads or houses in it
iii. “The natural is what springs up, or comes forth, or arrives, or
goes on, of its own accord: the given, what is there already:
the spontaneous, the unintended, the unsolicited.” (7)
2. As everything must be explainable in terms of the whole system
i. nature must be cause and effect
ii. any spontaneity and originality is reserved for the whole
iii. Nature exists in its own right with nothing outside of it
iv. Nature is independent and depends on nothing.
e. The Supernaturalist
1. Agrees with the naturalist that there must be something that exists in its
2. this self-existing reference is the “Starting point for all explanations”
3. Supernaturalist does not identify this self-existing entity with nature,
and nature is seen as being derivative from that one thing
i. “The one basic Thing has caused all other things to be. It exists
on its own; they exist because it exists. They will cease to
exist if it ever ceases to maintain them in existence; they
will be altered if it ever alters them.” (9)
f. the God of the naturalist
1. a naturalist need not be an atheist if the naturalist’s god is understood to
be within or part of nature, much like the gods of Ancient Greece
and Rome or the Gnostic perspective
2. the naturalist cannot accept a god who is outside of nature or one who
g. the Naturalist view is a view that all things exist within the framework of
nature, the supernaturalist holds that God created the framework within
which nature operates
h. the possibility of a plurality of “Natures” as long as they are not interconnected
in any way, nor do they influence one another.
i. a speculative view of a plurality of natures opens up two kinds of miracles
1. God bringing two natures together for a time
2. God interfering with one or both natures
I. The Big Idea: Naturalism rules out reasoning.
II. Flow of Reasoning:
a. By definition, Naturalism must be explainable in terms of the whole system
b. Anything found outside of the system ruins the naturalistic argument
c. This rejects science by statistics—everything must be calculable
i. “The movement of one unit is incalculable, just as the result of tossing a
coin once is incalculable: the majority movement of a billion units
can however be predicted, just as, if you tossed a coin a billion
times, you could predict a nearly equal number of heads and tails.
Now it will be noticed that if this theory is true we have really
admitted something other than Nature. If the movements of the
individual units are events ‘on their own,’ events which do not
interlock with all other events, then these movements are not part
of Nature.” (19)
d. The knowledge we have of any information is observation + inference, thus all
possible knowledge depends on the validity of reasoning.
i. our observation demands that we recognize something outside of
ii. when we recognize that which is outside of ourselves, then we are
iii. “It follows that no account of the universe canbe true unless that
account leaves it possible for our thinking to be real insight. A
theory which explained everything else in the whole universe but
which made it impossible to believe that our thinking was valid,
would be utterly out of court. For that theory would itself have
been reached by thinking, and if thinking is not valid that theory
would, of course, be itself demolished. It would have destroyed its
own credentials. It would be an argument which proved that no
argument was sound—a proof that there are no such things as
proofs—which is nonsense.” (21-22)
e. If nature is explainable in terms of the whole system, it must, by definition,
imply a cause & effect universe—cause and effect all of the way back to
f. In this view, then, reasoning must be nothing more than “one link in a causal
chain which stretches back to the beginning and forward to the end of
g. Thus, mental events are caused by previous mental events and nothing more—
“knowledge” plays no role in the progression of these mental events—also
mental events came into being in the same evolutionary way that physical
events came into being—mental events to the naturalist, then are nothing
more than responses to stimuli.
h. Yet, the experience that things are always connected (fire burns you) is only of
animal behavior, Reason comes into play when you infer something from
i. Nature cannot show how one turns sub-rational, animal instinct, into rational
thought, thus a break in the chain occurs
j. Knowing is more than mere remembering what happened last time, but of
inferring that what happened in the past will continue to take place in the
future. Inference, then is determined by genuine knowledge, not by cause
k. Inference and reason are the means by which we know and understand nature
and how we explain nature and cannot be explained by nature
I. The Big Idea: Acts of reasoning are not interlocked in the system of Nature as all
other items are interlocked with one another.
II. Flow of Reasoning:
a. Reasoning is not interlocked with the system of Nature but is connected
1. the understanding of a machine is connected with the machine but not
in the same way that the parts of the machine are connected with
2. My understanding of the machine is outside of the functioning of the
b. Reasoning affects the cause-effect process, but it is a one-way street
1. Nature is powerless to produce rational thought
2. Rational thought produces actions which change nature
i. “Nature can only raid reason to kill; but Reason can invade
nature to take prisoners and even to colonize” (39)
ii. “The walls, ceiling, and furniture, the book, your own washed
hands and cut fingernails, bears witness to the colonization
of Nature by reason: for none of this matter would have
been in these states if Nature had her way.” (39)
c. Asymmetrical relationship (A yields B but B does not yield A)
1. (A) is the father of (B), the reciprocal cannot be said of (B) to (A)
d. Does not follow that rational thought exists absolutely on its own (rational
thought is not God)
1. As above, rationality would become irrationality if it is dependent on
2. Yet, my reason stops at night when I go to sleep or when I am
3. Reason must come from something outside of nature that also exhibits
1. Rather, then of saying, “I reason,” should we not say, “God reasons
2. “Reasoning does not happen to us; we do it.” (43)
3. We also have false conclusions, which would be impossible if our
reasoning were only God reasoning through us.
1. Could this greater reasoning, be a part of nature, having emerged or
evolved as we do?
2. Nature, by definition, cannot beget reasoning, thus that which begets
our reasoning must be outside of nature
I. The Big Idea:
a. Moral arguments are a product of reasoning and not merely a result of societal
II. The Flow of Reasoning:
a. Many suggest that “morals” are merely a result of conditioning by society
b. but “ought”, “this is good” and “this is evil” are value statements, not
c. “If the fact that men have such ideas as ought and ought not at all can be fully
explained by irrational and non-moral causes, then those ideas are an
d. Yet, “A moment after they have admitted that good and evil are illusions, you
will find them exhorting us to work for posterity, to educate, revolutionize,
liquidate, live and die for the good of the human race.” (57)
e. the naturalist is inconsistent—his philosophy does not match his living
f. “If we are to continue to make moral judgments, then we must believe that the
conscience of man is not a product of nature.” (60)
I. Big Idea:
a. Our reasoning is done through the medium of the brain much like we observe
through the medium of a looking glass
II. Flow of Reasoning:
a. if the brain is impaired our reasoning is impaired (though the opposite does not
b. When we look at a garden through a window, we are not cognizant of the
window unless we intentionally look at it or it is distorting our field of
c. “The naturalists have been engaged in thinking about nature. They have not
attended to the fact that they were thinking.” (65)
d. The implication is that we ought to discover the looking glass through which
we view nature and understand his character
I. Big Idea:
a. Does nature, by its very nature, exclude the miraculous?
II. Flow of Reasoning:
a. People of old believed in miracles because they were uneducated and knew no
1. Joseph understood that virgins did not get pregnant, which is why he
went to send her away
2. Bible presents these things as miracles, not as the norm
b. People of old did not have good enough science to know better
1. Ptolemy taught that earth was point with no magnitude in comparison
to sun 1700 years ago
2. Pythagoras (525 BC) calculated
i. earth was round
ii. earth revolved around a “Central Fire” (though the central fire
was not the sun, and only reflected the sun’s light.
iii. popularized base 10 mathematics
c. Thus, there is no reason to write off miracles because of our chronological
I. The Big Idea
a. Recognizing that there are regular laws within nature, How does God interact?
II. Flow of Reasoning
a. 3 conceptions on the “Laws of Nature”
1. They are “brute facts” known only by observation
i. but observation cannot give us knowledge—knowledge requires
2. They are applications of the law of averages
i. yet, if the Naturalist is correct, there must be no law of averages
and all must be predictable down to the smallest element
3. Fundamental laws of Physics are “necessary truths”
i. they provide meaning to the system of nature
b. Thus, God’s interaction is an interaction that in itself is a “cause” and effects
come from it—God as a “cause” from which effects come
1. “a miracle is emphatically not an event without cause or without
results. Its cause is the activity of God: its results follow
according to the Natural law.” (95)
I. The Big Idea
a. Recognizing a God, must he be the kind that acts and is nature any less real as
II. Flow of Reasoning
a. this line of objection (that God would not wish to act) is a purely emotional
b. to say nature is unreal because a God has created her is nonsense
c. Every aspect of nature expresses the character of nature that God wished her to
I. The Big Idea
a. We must understand the nature of this Supernatural God through Analogy
II. Flow of reasoning
a. we cannot understand many finite things but through analogy (imagining
London)—analogies being imperfect notions
b. Yet even an imperfect analogy does not invalidate the results (horrid red
c. 3 principles
1. Thought is distinct from the imagination that accompanies it
2. thought may be sound even when false images accompany it
3. anyone who talks of that which cannot be seen, touched, or heard must
inevitably speak of them as if they could be seen, touched, or heard
d. We must then use analogy to explain the supernatural, not to explain it away
The Problem of Pain
Overview of the Argument
I. The Big Idea:
A. There is Pain on the earth
1. In the natural world creatures prey upon one another
2. In the natural world life is sustained through the death of other things
3. Man has the capacity not only to feel pain, but to anticipate pain
4. Philosophical fatalism abounds
i. Albert Camus (1913-1960)—“the only question modern man
has left to answer is the question of suicide”
B. Yet, if there is so much pain on the earth, why did human beings ever attribute
creation to a benevolent creator?
1. Note that dread & awe stemming from the created order are not
physical qualities, but inferred from physical qualities
2. Moral goodness/guilt is not result of cause & effect
3. Men stand condemned of their moral failure regardless of their
4. You thus cannot write off moral teaching of Jesus, and if you accept his
moral teaching you must accept his teaching about his divine being
-“Either he was a raving lunatic of an unusually abominable type,
or else He was, and is, precisely what he said. There is no middle
way. If the records make the first hypothesis unacceptable, you
must submit to the second.” (13)
C. The very fact that we have a good creator as God creates the problem of pain
rather than solving it—were God other than good, as he describes himself,
the question would never arise.
Chapter 2: Divine Omnipotence
Initial Problem: “‘If God were good, He would wish to make His creatures perfectly happy, and if God were almighty He would be able to do what he wished. But the creatures are not happy. Therefore God lacks either goodness, or power, or both.’ This is the problem of pain in its simplest form. “(16)
A. This assumes that “goodness”, “happiness,” and “omnipotence” are defined
the same for us as for God
B. Meaning of Omnipotence
1. God does not have the power to do anything
2. God has the power to do anything that is consistent with his nature
a. God cannot be righteous and unrighteous at the same time—that
would be nonsense
b. law of non-contradiction
c. the impossible/contradictions are not things but non-entities as
they are impossible
3. Freedom for the creature implies that there is a choice
-“their freedom is simply that of making a single naked choice—of
loving God more than the self or the self more than God.” (20)
4. The Freedom of God consists in the fact that no cause other than
Himself produces His acts and no external obstacle impedes
them—that His own goodness is the root from which they all grow
and his own omnipotence is the air in which they flower.” (27)
Chapter 3: Divine Goodness
Big Idea: God’s definition of Goodness must include human pain.
I. Problem: “If God is wiser than we His judgment must differ from ours on many things, and not least on good and evil. What seems to us good may therefore not be good in His eyes, and what seems to us evil may not be evil. On the other hand, if God’s moral judgment differs from ours so that our black may be His white, we can mean nothing by calling Him good; for to say, ‘God is Good,’ while asserting that His goodness is wholly other than ours, is really only to say, ‘God is we know not what.”’
A. The difficulty with equivocal and univocal language
1. Must use analogical language
2. our understanding of good and evil is neither the same as God’s nor is
it wholly different—our understanding is derivative
3. Since God is our moral compass, there must then be a degree of
4. “When the man of inferior moral standards enters the society of those
who are better and wiser than he…[then he] gradually learns to
accept their standards” (29)
5. “His idea of ‘goodness’ differs from ours; but you need have no fear
that, as you approach it, you will be asked simply to reverse your
moral standards” (30)
B. Man’s Idea of God’s Goodness
1. Understood in terms of God’s “lovingness”
a. Gumball machine analogy
b. The Old Man and Mr. Smith, by Peter Ustinov
2. Desire not for a Father in heaven, but for a senile grandfather
3. Kindness is more just giving escape from suffering
a. Euthanasia question
C. God’s concept for kindness
1. “It is for people whom we care nothing about that we demand
happiness on any terms: with our friends, our lovers, our children,
we are exacting and would rather see them suffer much than be
happy in contemptible and estranging modes. If God is Love, He
is, by definition, something more than mere kindness.” (32-33)
2. The Dog and master analogy
a. training a dog takes hard discipline at first
b. trained dogs enjoy benefits that wild dogs do not
3. “We may wish, indeed, that we were of so little account to God that He
left us alone to follow our natural impulses—that He would give
over trying to train us into something so unlike our natural selves:
but once again, we are asking not for more love, but less.” (36)
4. God is conforming us into the image of His Son
a. that requires suffering
5. “Love may forgive all infirmities and love still in spite of them: but
love cannot cease to will their removal.” (39)
D. Our Response
1. “Our highest activity must be response, not initiative. To experience
the love of God in a true, and not illusory form, is therefore to
experience it as our surrender to His demand, our conformity to
His desire: to experience it in the opposite way is, as it were, a
solecism against the grammar of being.” (44)
2. “When we want to be something other than the thing that God wants us
to be, we must be wanting what, in fact, will not make us happy.
Those Divine demands which sound to our natural ears most like
those of a despot and least like those of a lover, in fact marshal us
where we should want to go if we knew what we wanted. He
demands our worship, our obedience, our prostration…God wills
our good, and our good is to love Him…and to love Him we must
know Him: and if we know Him, we shall in fact fall on our faces.”
Chapter 4: Human Wickedness
Big Idea: We must get to the source of the problem—the source is not God, but Man
A. Problem is that we have had “human goodness” preached to us for generations
a. and we are wicked, not good, by nature
B. We see God’s hand as one meddling in our lives
C. “When we merely say that we are bad, the ‘wrath’ of God seems a barbarous
doctrine; as soon as we perceive our badness, it appears inevitable, a mere
corollary from God’s goodness.” (52)
D. Undoing false beliefs
1. We suppose ourselves not much worse than others
2. domestic conceptions of morality
3. illusion that time cancels sin
4. the idea that there is safety in numbers
E. Fact that moral beliefs contain basic consistencies regardless of background
1. Zarathustra, Jeremiah, Socrates, Gautama, Christ, Marcus Aurelius
2. all agree that man has problems and needs fixing
F. Moral perfection of God
1. some theologians deny necessity of this for judging humans
2. “the road to the promised land runs past Sinai” (59)
G. Note Lewis’ misunderstanding of the doctrine of Total Depravity
H. “I have been trying to make the reader believe that we actually are, at present,
creatures whose character must be, in some respects, a horror to God, as it
is, when we really see it, a horror to ourselves. This I believe to be a fact:
and I notice that the holier a man is, the more fully he is aware of that fact.” (62)
Chapter 5: The Fall
Big Idea: Lewis’ Commentary on Genesis 3
I. False views
II. Is it better to create than not to create?
III. For Lewis the fall is more than disobedience, but contains deeper, more mystical
A. Lewis’ view on evolution and the Imago Dei in man
B. Man’s sin of pride
C. “They wanted, as we say, to ‘call their souls their own.’ But that means to live
a lie, for our souls are not, in fact, our own. They wanted some corner in
the universe of which they could say to God, “This is our business, not
D. Man was created to love and serve God, sin is a rejection of our most basic
E. “Theoretically, I suppose, we might say ‘Yes: we behave like vermin, but then
that is because we are vermin. And that, at any rate, is not our fault.’ Bit
the fact that we are vermin, so far from being felt as an excuse, is a greater
shame and grief to us than any of the particular acts which it leads us to
-“The thesis of this chapter is simply that man, as a species, spoiled himself, and
that good, to us in our present state, must therefore mean primarily remedial or
Chapter 6: Human Pain (part 1)
The Big Idea: The value of pain is that it shatters our illusions.
A. Two kinds of pain
1. Physical sensation
2. Anything that the patient might find distasteful.
B. Life as imitation
1. Jesus models the father to man
2. Christians are to model Jesus to unbelievers
3. “We are not merely imperfect cratures who must be improved: we are,
as Newman said, rebels who must lay down our arms. The first
answer, then, to the question why our cure should be painful, is
that to render back the will which we have so long claimed for our
own, is in itself, wherever and however it is done, a grievous pain.”
C. Pain Shatters the Illusion that all is well
1. “We can rest contentedly in our sins and in our stupidities; and anyone
who has watched gluttons shoveling down the most exquisite foods
as if they did not know what they were eating, will admit that we
can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists on being attended to.
God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience,
but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf
D. Pain shatters the illusion that we have all we need
1. “Let me implore the reader to try to believe, if only for a moment, that
God, who made these deserving people, may really be right when
he thinks that their modest prosperity and the happiness of their
children are not enough to make them blessed: that all this must
fall from them in the end, and that if they have not learned to know
Him they will be wretched.” (95)
E. Pain shatters the illusion of human divinity
1. “the movement ‘full speed astern’ by which we retrace our long
journey from paradise, the untying of the old, hard knot, must be
when the creature, with no desire to aid it, stripped naked to the
bare willing of obedience, embraces what is contrary to its nature, and does that for which only one motive is possible.” (100)
2. God requires bare obedience from his creatures even if we do not
understand the outcome
a. Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac
b. Job is never given an answer for why these tests were placed on
3. Pain teaches not that we are self sufficient, but that we have the
sufficiency to trust in heaven
Chapter 7: Human Pain (part 2)
The Big Idea: Lewis deals with 6 propositions regarding pain
A. There is a paradox in Christian teaching on suffering
1. We are told blessed are those who are poor, but for the rich to give
money to them to alleviate their poverty
2. We are told blessed are those who are persecuted, but we find believers
leaving a city to avoid persecution
3. If these things are really a blessing, should not we be striving to be
poor and persecuted? (“If suffering is good, ought it not be pursued rather than avoided?”)
4. Lewis argues that pain is not a virtue in itself but a means to an end
B. Tribulation is necessary in redemption
1. genuine tribulation is different than masochistic acts
2. Tribulation will always be here until God returns to judge
3. the idea of a utopia, heaven on earth, is inconsistent thinking
C. Church Doctrine of self-surrender and obedience is a theological, not a
1. government is incapable of bringing about or thwarting genuine
2. the Church grows under the harshest persecution and grows lethargic
and dies when apart from it
D. The Christian doctrine of suffering explains about the world around us
1. We desire settled happiness
2. we do not find it in this world
3. We are only given stabs of joy here and there, but not lasting
4. the Remedy is Heaven, not earth—we are on a journey to Heaven
E. We must never overestimate pain
1. toothache analogy: pain x + pain x does not equal pain 2x, but two of
us share the pain x
F. Of all the evils, pain is a sterilized or disinfected evil
1. pain is different than sin—when sin is over one must go, repent of it,
and make the offense right
2. Pain is done with when it is done
Chapter 8: Hell
The Big Idea: Lewis refutes objections to the doctrine of Hell
-“I am not going to try to prove the doctrine tolerable. Let us make no mistake; it
is not tolerable. But I think the doctrine can be shown to be moral, by a
critique of the objections ordinarily made, or felt, against it.” (121)
A. How can pain that does not lead to repentance be beneficial?
1. Hell then is positive retribution for sin
2. of the confirmed wicked sinner: “Can you really desire that such a man,
remaining what he is, should be confirmed forever in his present
happiness—should continue for all eternity, to be perfectly
convinced that the laugh is on his side? And if you cannot regard
this as tolerable, is it only your wickedness—only spite—that
prevents you from doing so? Or do you find that the conflict
between Justice and Mercy, which has sometimes seemed to you
such an outmoded piece of theology, now actually at work in your
own mind, and feeling very much as if it came to you from above,
not from below?” (123)
B. Is there not a disproportion between transitory sin and eternal damnation
1. sin in part spoils the whole
2. we may be given a thousand chances to do right and will reject every
C. Are not the frightful images of hell just that, images meant to scare, and not
reflective of the reality?
1. True that they are images, but there is a concrete reason these images
2. They are meant to reflect that which is unspeakably horrible because
3. Hell is spoken of as a place of punishing pain, destruction (not
annihilation), and privation of good—don’t overstate one at the
expense of the others
4. Lewis’ view of Hell emphasizes the privation
-“They enjoy forever the horrible freedom they have demanded,
and are therefore self-enslaved: just as the blessed, forever
submitting to obedience, become through all eternity more
and more free.” (130)
Chapter 9: Animal Pain
The Big Idea: How do we explain animal suffering?—an odd answer by Lewis
A. Suffering for animals contains no moral dignity
B. What kind of pain do animals suffer?
1. varies depending on the animal, some more than others
2. must be careful not to attribute pain where there is none
C. How did disease and pain enter the animal world
1. through the fall of Satan
2. views fall of Satan causing pain and suffering in animals long before
Adam and Eve’s fall
D. How can animal suffering be reconciled with the Justice of God?
1. mosquito heaven would be hell for man
2. heaven and hell as a question are irrelevant as animals cannot
understand the concepts only feel when pain begins and ceases
3. Justice is applied to man, not animals
Chapter 10: Heaven
The Big Idea: Heaven is the solution to the problem of pain
A. Many object to heaven as a ‘pie in the sky” doctrine—but there must be a
basis for it, otherwise all of Christianity is false
B. Many think of heaven as bribe for good behavior
-“Again, we are afraid that heaven is a bribe, and that if we make it our
goal we shall no longer be disinterested. It is not so. Heaven offers
nothing that a mercenary soul can desire. It is safe to tell the pure in heart
that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to. There are
rewards that do not sully motives.” (149)
C. “Your soul has a curious shape because it is a hollow made to fit a particular
swelling in the infinite contours of the Divine substance, or a key to
unlock one of the doors in the house with many mansions. For it is not
humanity in the abstract that is to be saved, but you—you the individual
reader, John Stubbs or Janet Smith.” (152)
D. Heaven, apart from all the glorious description found in the Bible, is living in
perfect harmony, peace, unity, joy and grace and living thus for all