Monday, September 16, 2013

CS Lewis and Revelation

I admit I do love CS “Jack” Lewis. One of the beautiful things about CS Lewis was his gift for simplifying complex ideas to make them understandable to normal, everyday people who did not necessarily have advanced degrees or had read copious amounts of erudite books on theology or classic mythology.
For example, I read his Narnia series growing up and have always loved some of the imagery that he uses as a theme, particularly the image of stepping through a doorway into some other realm or country. While magical or perhaps fanciful, I have always resonated with that image because I think it is nonetheless true in some sense of how God works. Patristic theology and monastic writers speak extensively on these very Platonic themes. Thomas Merton’s Seven Story Mountain comes to mind, as does Augustine’s City of God.

While I may never have stepped through a wardrobe or been sucked into a framed painting of a sea ship, there are many times in my life I feel like I have been very much carried away to some other plain of existence quite unlike anything my day to day world was like before. My adventures in England or Israel seemed very much to be stepping through into some other world, which in those instances was very true.
In both those instances, CS Lewis’ notions of time being actually different in those instances were very much true. I lived for months in Cambridge, England, but it did seem like years. In some weird way, though I was only gone for 10 days, it seemed as if I was gone for many weeks. Likewise, the year I was in law school being away from home seemed to be many, many years indeed. The life I left behind in Brookings, South Dakota seems a long time ago in some different age, though in reality was less than a half year ago.

In many ways, CS Lewis is the anti-Paul Tillich. Tillich had the exact opposite tendency: taking a relatively simple problem and over-analyzing it to the point of it becoming intellectually incomprehensible. For example, his very odd notions of the “God above God” and “God’s abysmal being.” This is not to say that I am anti-intellectual. Learning and study is very important. However, I just never had much use for the theological musings of people like Tillich because, practically speaking, they are not really that helpful dealing with normal everyday people. Someone in your office crying because they are facing a divorce could really care less about “the courage to take meaninglessness into oneself presupposes a relation to the ground of being: absolute faith.”

One of the drawbacks, however, of CS Lewis is that he can take normal everyday problems or theological questions and in the process of whittling them down to make sure they are understandable to everyday people, he had a tendency to oversimplify the problem or issues.

CS Lewis’ classic work, Mere Christianity, is a good example of this. I know of lot of Christians have been profoundly influenced by his logic in this work. Lewis was trained in classic logic and rhetoric, and much of his work reflects that brilliance. However, I never much cared for Mere Christianity because I always found a major flaw in his logic. The basic argument of Mere Christianity is threefold: Jesus was either a liar, a madman, or he was what he said he was.

That logic on its surface seems to satisfy a lot of people, but I never found it convincing in itself because one could apply that logic to really any religious or philosopher in history from Buddha to Aristotle. I do not think most people would think that the Buddha was particularly a liar or was completely nuts. Personally, I think the case could be made that some religious figures were looney toons, but that is a discussion for another day.

My issue with the logic in Mere Christianity is that it does not deal well with neither divine revelation nor half or mistaken truths. Simply because one has a philosophy or religious idea that is not necessarily completely truth but is sincere and well meaning, that does not make the adherent either a liar (lying is the telling of an intentional falsehood) nor a crazy person. By that criterion every human is either a liar or a crazy person because all of us no doubt have some wrongheaded notions (some more than others). None of us know it all, that does not make us liars or crazy people necessarily, just fallible humans.  

I am not sure exactly why I am saying all this at this point. I am thinking a bit about divine revelation. I may do a few posts on this topic over the next few weeks. I think that is an important topic. 

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