Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Shocking Alternative

I have no idea what's so shocking about anything in this chapter. But maybe it shocked some people when it was first posited? IDK.

I've already mentioned that Lewis seems to view or at least lay out Christianity as though it is 'corrected' Dualism. There's a Good and an Evil entity in the universe, but rather than them being equal opposites, the Good (God) created everything. Including the Evil entity. Of course, he wasn't Evil when he was created. He chose to become that way. Which I still have issues with, by the way. If, as I have been informed, angels do have the ability to make choices it's just that they can't or don't ever change their minds after the choice has been made. So, presumably Lucifer *chose*, at one point to serve God. Then later on he changed his mind. Which shouldn't have been possible according to that theory. Not only that, he convinced a third of all the other angels in heaven to change their minds too. But now that he's made *that* choice, there's the assumption that he'll never change his mind again. I doesn't make sense to me on some level. I keep reminding myself that Orthodox thought tells me it's not something I should worry about, the ultimate fate of the Devil. That there is the possibility that he could change his mind again and ask for forgiveness. One of those things we just don't know.

Now, my personal theory that 'Satan' is a job. *That* makes sense. Of course it does, it's *my* theory so it will obviously make sense to me. :D

Anyway. Moving on...

Lewis opens the chapter with the question: If, as Christians believe, an evil power has set up shop on the earth and basically taken over, is this in accordance with God's will? If it is, that seems perverse and cruel. If it's not, then He can't be an absolutely powerful being because something is happening that goes against His will and He's not doing anything to stop it. Though you have to ask, if a being is powerful enough to be all powerful, would anything be able to go against it in the first place? That sort of overwhelming force...would anything be able to actually choose to go against it? It'd be like making the decision to operate without oxygen. Anyway.

Lewis compares it to a mother who tells her children that she is not going to make them clean their rooms every night. That they have to learn to do it on their own. And, of course, she goes in one day to find the rooms are a mess. This is not what she would want (not her will) but she has allowed it to happen by giving the children a choice.

In other words - free will's a bugger. God has, according to this thought process, abdicated part of His power. He's saying, I gave you guys directions, then I gave you the ability to choose. I'm not going to force you to do what's right/best/what I want. I could, but I won't. And then we run off and do whatever we want to do.

So why free will? According to Lewis:

"Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata—of creatures that worked like machines—would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they must be free."

Okay. I get that. I even agree with that. Everyone, mark it down on the calendar! For any choice to have real emotional meaning it has to be made freely. Yes, there is an emotional impact from forced choices. There's no denying that. What I mean is that being manipulated or forced into 'love' is not the same thing as choosing love. Or any other choice. I'm probably not making sense here but I can't think of how else to say it. Doing or feeling something because some outside entity has forced that to be your only option does not give it the depth of meaning that you making that choice freely does.

Maybe that is only our perspective though. I mean, we tout free will because we have it and we think that it's the best way to do things. But would we long for free will if we'd never had it? No. My point there? I have none. Just that just because we think the way we do things is best and the 'right' way doesn't necessarily make it true.

Lewis goes on to discuss what the sin of Lucifer was. Pride, putting himself first. Wanting to be God. And that, Lewis says, is the sin that he taught mankind.

"That was the sin of Satan: and that was the sin he taught the human race. Some people think the fall of man had something to do with sex, but that is a mistake. (The story in the Book of Genesis rather suggests that some corruption in our sexual nature followed the fall and was its result, not its cause.)"

This is another one of those, I get where he's coming from, I just don't agree. Not about the sin that Lucifer first tempted with. I'd agree that that is likely hubris. But about the 'corruption in our sexual nature'. I don't think that human sexuality is corrupt any more than any other human action or feeling is corrupt by nature. Can any aspect of reality be *used* in a corrupt manner? Yes. But if God created it, then it is good by nature. So as long as there is no force, no manipulation, nothing that takes the sexual act and makes it something other than the joining of people in loving fashion then I say it's not corrupt.

"The reason why it can never succeed is this. God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else."

I'm just including the above quote for the lulz. Time and place. Eventually we will go beyond even what we have now and cars won't run on gas. And then this quote will make no sense whatsoever out of context.

The point Lewis is trying to make here is that God designed humanity to use Him as 'fuel'. Therefore, without God people do not function properly. That's why people without religion are unhappy. Because they are, of course. All of them. Unhappy and living terrible, awful lives. *straight face* That, according to Lewis, is Satan's work. He's convinced us that we can run on different fuel. So what did God do about it?

According to Lewis He left us our conscience, our sense of right and wrong. Which would ping back to the universal Law of Nature. Ultimate Good that we all know. And not, as I rather think, social constructs of morality. He also left us 'good dreams'. Lewis defines these 'good dreams' as "those queer stories scattered all through the heathen religions about a god who dies and comes to life again and, by his death, has somehow given new life to men." It is interesting that many, if not all, ancient religions contain a variation on this theme. But is it surprising? Not really. There's a saying, somewhere, that every story has already been told. Humans imagine variations on the core tales and call them new, but you can boil pretty much anything down to the same couple of stories. And we've been telling them since we learned how. Does that mean that they were hints at the coming of Christ, preparing the world and humanity to accept the idea that a man could be God/part god, die, resurrect and save/do something good for humanity? Sure. If you look at it from that angle. From other angles it just shows that the resurrection story of Jesus is not unique and could well just be an adoption and retelling of any of a million other myths. Sanil covered some of the similarities between Dionysus (I thought it was Mithras, but now that sanil's pointed me in the right direction, it's Dionysus, my bad!) and Jesus on her blog, but those posts are gone now. *frowns at sanil* Moved. So here's a link to them now. WATP- Dionysus posts. And one more.

And, according to Lewis, He gave us the Jewish people, through whom He laid down two basic concepts - there is only one of Him and He cares about right conduct. Then, He sent us Jesus.

He talks about how unusual/insane it was for someone who came from the Jewish people, the Jewish faith to start claiming he was god. After all, they were monotheists. If we were looking at pantheists, not a problem. Gods mated with humans and had demigod babies all the time. But in Judaism? No. Lewis is trying to show that Jesus must either be who he claimed to be, with pressing reason and authority to make such claims, or he's a mad man. Lewis does not like the fact that some people say they will accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but not as who he claimed to be. Because if he was a mad man then he can't have been a great moral teacher, since he was nutter. And if he wasn't mad, but lying, then he can't be a moral teacher. What with the lying and all. And if he was who he said he was then why can't they take him at his word?


  1. This time when I read your description of his pseudo-dualism, it reminded me of one of my friends. She likes to say that if it's good, it's God, so if an atheist does good things, they're acting for God, and if someone worships another god but that makes them better, they're really worshiping God. And that reminds me of the Narnia books, so I think Lewis would agree with her. And I kinda like that idea. I'm not sure I agree with it entirely, but I can understand it and I think it's a good way of getting around the whole "evil" question. Because, really, if God is everything good and everything has the potential to be good, evil is just the absence of God. So of course the Evil entity wouldn't be created evil, and might not inherently be just got a little lost on the way and stopped acting for God.

    Out of curiosity, does Lewis voice the idea that angels can only choose once? Where does that teaching come from? I've never heard it.

    I'm pretty sure I've said it before, but I'll say it again: I like your theory that "Satan" is a job. I think it makes a lot more sense than the more common interpretation and I think (but it's been awhile and I can't be certain) that it is more or less the Jewish interpretation as well. That doesn't necessarily make it true, but you're not alone or naming some crazy new idea out of your own head or anything. It means that it's entirely possible Jesus believed the same, considering he was raised Jewish rather than Christian. ;)

    The last part, one of my pastors used to say that all the time. It drove me crazy because, like a lot of things Lewis says, it sounds good but misses a lot of other options. For example, Jesus might have meant something different than how it was understood by his followers after his death. He might never have said it at all but it became a teaching later. (The problem with that one is that maybe none of what is in the Bible was actually from Jesus, but all that means to a skeptic like a few I know is that Jesus is a great mythical teacher and the church has great teachings even if it's not always right.) Or he might have believed it but been wrong. That doesn't necessarily mean he's insane, lots of people believe wrong things. Furthermore, even if he was insane that has nothing to do with whether he also had some good teachings. Just look at John Nash.

  2. I think Lewis would agree with her to a point, but the reasoning behind it would probably be different. I'm guessing, anyway, since I don't know your friend's theology.

    Lewis doesn't really talk about angels at all so far. That was my random moment. :D

    *thinks* I don't recall where I heard that for certain. I *think* it was in my class to convert to Catholicism, but I could be wrong.

    I think you're right about the 'Satan' = job thing being Jewish. Or something very similar at any rate.

    *nods* Yeah. I just left that one alone because I thought the other options and the problems with Lewis' position were so freaking obvious. But I hear that all the time. He was either a liar, a madman or who he said he was. The largest problem with that is that it ignores the possibility that nothing we know is correct. That it was all written after the fact. And, as you point out, one does not have to be perfectly sane to have some very good ideas or a grasp of something new and important. Heck, sometimes being a little off kilter makes it easier! You're more willing to look at things from a new angle.

  3. I really enjoyed this summary! I remember when I read Bart Ehrman's book he said another option to the Lord, liar or lunatic was legend and that's what your post reminded me of. :)

    I got a book the other day about the Misunderstood Jew. Apparently it's by a Jewish lady who put Jesus into a Jewish context. I'm eager to read what she has to say about him in that regard.

    I enjoyed Sanil's comments as usual.

    Interesting stuff! Thanks for sharing! You always make me think. :)

  4. *nods* It's yet another one of those things that's a matter of your perspective and what you choose to believe. There is no 'proof' for the claims of Christ. Just like every other religion there are claims or miracles and sayings, things that happened thousands of years ago. And there's a chain of documentation to those claims, but there's always the possibility that the original claims were false or incorrect. I can imagine archaeologists thousands of years from now finding some of our fiction and due to context issues thinking that these were true tales, or at least that we thought they were true.

    Ultimately, for us, we make the choice to believe or not to believe. There's a metric ton of things that go into that choice, some things we can't really articulate.

    Ooh...that sounds interesting. I can't wait to hear what you have to say about it!

    Sanil always raises the tone of any conversation. :)

  5. Susanne - Oo, is that Amy-Jill Levine! She's good. She came to speak at my school once, and I'd been looking forward to it for weeks, then was sick and completely forgot it was that day. I was heartbroken.

    Would you believe I haven't read anything by Ehrman? Several of my professors have his books as textbooks, but none of them have used them the semesters I took their courses. Weird. I keep meaning to check them out but forget. Did you like his work? I like his "legend" answer...and how he made it all alliterative. :D I'll have to remember that.

    Also. *blushes* Thanks, guys.

  6. I looked that book up, Susanne, and had to add it to my wish list. It looks really good.

    Really? You've read nothing by Ehrman? I like his stuff, personally. Of course there's always differing opinions on what the textual issues he bring up mean and if they do have the impact he says that they do, but he writes on a level that makes the issues easy to understand for people who don't have a background in textual criticism (me!).

  7. I've not read a lot of Ehrman's work, but I did like the one book I read. Even if he completely goes against most all that I believe. :) A second cousin of mine is a pastor and he said Ehrman is his favorite atheist/agnostic.

    yes, that's the lady! Hate you missed her talk!

    Amber, another one that is good that I'm reading now is by Jonathan Kirsch about the war between monotheism and polytheism. So far monotheism is *terrible*!

    Have either of you read anything by him? I don't know him, but just found one of his books in my local library and thought the topic seemed interesting. I like reading about ancient Rome and this fits the bill somewhat.

  8. Thanks for the opinions on Ehrman! :) I'll definitely look when I get a chance. I like the description of him as the pastor's "favorite atheist/agnostic." :D

    I've never heard of Kirsch...another one I'll have to find! Thanks!

  9. Interesting post, Amber! Thanks for this. I paused and read the last paragraph again because I follow Jesus as a moral teacher but I don't worship him.

    "Lewis is trying to show that Jesus must either be who he claimed to be, with pressing reason and authority to make such claims, or he's a mad man."

    But what if we have not understood what Jesus claimed? I believe he died on the cross. I believe he was more than just a teacher or prophet. But did he say he was God? I don't know if we understand that correctly. What would Lewis say about that?

  10. I'm thinking that Lewis would say you've misunderstood what Christ said. The belief of Christians is that Christ *did* say that He was God. So from that point of view taking a man as a moral teacher, as a prophet or what have you but ignoring the fact that he stated he was God is sort of disingenuous. Because he either was correct in what he said, in which case you're choosing to ignore the truth or he was wrong or lying. If the later, then he can't have been a good moral example. Just being wrong (crazy) wouldn't make him a bad moral example (though that is the tack that Lewis takes).

  11. I have heard that before...the only problem with that is that I feel like Christians who say that become possessive of Jesus and are unwilling to share him with those who don't believe he is God. Jesus never asked us to share him with only those who worship him.

    However, there is also the problem of what we have been taught. I realise that part of why I never considered Jesus as God is because I grew up Muslim and in Islam *shirk* is something deeply frowned upon. On the other hand, many Muslims have converted to Christianity and have been able to accept Jesus as God. And we can argue similarly that perhaps Lewis always accepted Jesus as God because it was not a belief that was frowned upon by his family.

    I have tried to approach it (many times) by first abandoning my mindsets and what was taught to me. I think that the fact that Arianism existed and Unitarian Christians still exist and that there are former Trinitarians who now are Unitarian makes it quite problematic. I find it simplistic to think that those who think Jesus was only human treat Jesus as a liar or a madman. There are also people like Erhman who think that Jesus never said that he was God and that the Gospel is forged. I don't really believe that, but I'm not a Bible scholar to challenge Erhman :) I believe that worship meant something completely different in Jesus' time and being called the son of God was an honorary title. I understand that this is also being simplistic but I'm failing to really explain what I think :D

  12. Suroor,

    I think they'd take a different perspective and say that they are just trying to share the real Jesus with the people who have misunderstood him. From their perspective these people are missing a really big and important aspect of their lives and the whole reason that Christ came to earth. So they'd certainly never feel that they're possessive and unwilling to share.

    But it's all a matter of perspective isn't it? They don't want people to be (as they see it) misled their entire lives about who Christ really is. And the people who see Christ as something else it can come off as if the Christians don't want them touching their Christ. Which might be a little true, since they don't want 'wrong' understandings of his nature to be around. *waggles hand* Like I said. It's all about the perspective.

    From the point of view where Jesus is God, the concept of shirk doesn't apply. After all, if he is God then we're not associating partners with God. /random comment that doesn't do anything but sit there

    The conversion thing goes both ways though. There are plenty of Christians who have converted to Islam or Judaism, both of which reject the concept of the divinity of Christ.

    Changing your mindset is incredibly hard, especially the parts that have been taught you from birth. I mean, I've questioned many times whether I return to Trinitarian Christianity because I really believe it to be true or because it's the default setting since that's what I was raised with? And how could I tell the difference?

    Lewis did leave off the option that what we have is simply not a true accounting of events. Sanil pointed that one out, and I thought it was so obvious I just left it off. :) I'm honestly having a really hard time understanding why Lewis is recommended to everyone as such a fabulous Christian apologist. He's an excellent writer and I believe in his sincerity but I'm not finding his arguments persuasive. Perhaps it's a matter of different knowledge because of the time periods, or just a different mindset.

  13. You are right. I guess this is how many evangelical Christians view the situation - those who deny Jesus' divinity are misguided, like Muslims think all Trinitarians are misguided.

    I also agree that removing mindsets is very difficult.

    "From the point of view where Jesus is God, the concept of shirk doesn't apply. After all, if he is God then we're not associating partners with God."

    That is a valid pov. I think 90%, if not more, Muslims don't understand the concept of Trinity - it isn't an easy concept, I know. It is difficult to explain how God can be one and yet three persons who exist simultaneously. I sometimes feel that there should be active and positive dialogue between Christians and Muslims so that confusions about Trinity are removed from the minds of Muslims.

    Thanks Amber for this discussion :)

  14. Suroor,

    I call it the 'everyone's misguided but me!' mindset. :) And it crops up pretty much everywhere.

    The Trinity is a very difficult concept and it's hard to explain even to other Christians who are coming from more or less the same background. So it's not a surprise that Muslims and others who don't have the same frame of reference have trouble with it.

    I agree there should be ongoing and positive dialogue between Christians and Muslims. It's hard to get something like that going in a calm and rational manner for some reason. Wacky people always sneak in.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...