Monday, September 27, 2010

Mere Christianity: Book ; Chapter 4 (What Lies Behind the Law)

Against Materialism

In this chapter Lewis discusses the two prevailing theories of cosmology, the religious and the materialistic, and, of course, argues for the religious.  He states that the truest way we can come to recognize the existence of God is through ourselves, because it is about ourselves that we have the most knowledge.  He says, because natural law shows us what we ought to do, and not what we actually do, it must be separate from us.  Additionally, this Law cannot be something material, as material things cannot state anything other than what occurs, and thus this Law must be something of a conscious mind.  This is the primary way in which Lewis argues for religious cosmology.

I however, want to argue from a point he makes earlier in his chapter, via effect more Thomistic via the 5th way.  In reality the chance of a creative event like the big bang occurring is about a 1 in one googolplex chance.  That doesn't even take into account how the atoms got there in the first place... or the subsequent acts of "evolution" which have a near equivalent chance of occurring.  To think that the universe could be as it is today with out some conscientious, omnipotent influence seems slightly myopic to me.  The universe tends towards order, that fact is shown throughout all of history--opposing forces balance, justice is the basis of all law systems, matter is conserved, and supply and demand eventually balances the economy.  Though entropy exists, all things move towards balance and unity.

If you're still not buying my argument, I can argue from a teleological point of view. All things move toward some goal or purpose.  People may differ in their opinions about what that end may be, but I truly think any reasonable person should assume that every action and every living thing is motivated by some goal.  In many ways, all creations and all humans are ordered towards the same goals--self preservation, procreation, self-actualization, etc.  If all these goals are common, and not just biological (self-actualization), it is reasonable to assume they came from a common, non-biological creator.

I am sure I did not conclusively prove anything, I am not an expert in teleological philosophy.  Nor am I always extremely articulate.  Hopefully however, you have begun to see, in the opinions of both Lewis and myself, how both Law and Order point to some greater creator of the universe.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Mere Christianity: Book 1; Chapter 2 (Some Objections)

"Feelings", What are They Good for?

In this Chapter, Lewis' main objective is to show that this Natural Law is separate and independent of our human instincts.  However, it is his assertion that "strictly speaking, there are no such things as good and bad impulses" which I want to examine today.

I am a feelings type of guy. I know, I'm almost ashamed to admit it, but what I feel, my impulses, are a huge part of my life.  Many philosophers, scholars, poets, and others have claimed for thousands of years that feelings, if not bad, should at least be cast aside and ignored, for they impair reason and are not representative of reality.  This has always irritated me--God gave us our feelings, therefore, they cannot be inherently evil, and must serve some purpose.  I believe that Lewis agrees with me!

First one note, I will be using the terms "impulses" and "feelings" interchangeably.  Lewis refers to impulses, but much of what he says can be used in light of "feelings" as well, and in fact, in many ways the terms are synonymous if not analogous.  Philosophically, they can be summed up by the words "passions or appetites"

Lewis uses the example of a piano.  There are two types of notes, right and wrong.  However, at some point in time every note will end up being the right note, and every note will end up being the wrong.  It depends on situation, the piece of music being played, to tell what is right and what is wrong.  I like to think of the old adage, "A broken clock is right twice a day".

Now, please don't get me wrong... I am not arguing here for moral subjectivism, we can't just judge for ourselves (usually) if a situation warrants valid impulses, there are absolutes.  I'm simply suggesting that the impulses or feelings themselves are morally neutral.

Take for example, the impulse of hunger.  It is morally good for one to eat when they are hungry, however, it is morally evil (in fact gluttonous) to eat when you are not hungry (for example, out of boredom).  The same can be said of "physical attraction"--in some cases (marriage) it is an appropriate impulse, whereas in [all] other cases it is morally evil.

Really what we are talking about here is the virtue of temperance--that virtue which moderates mans pleasurable and sensual appetites according to reason.  This is all fine and good, but I believe that this is commonly where the proverbial "rub" occurs--How do we integrate feeling and reason, two supposedly contradictory facets of the human person?

 The truth of the matter is this: God gave us BOTH reasons and feelings, so neither are evil, and they cannot be mutually opposed.  However, both are two sides of the same coin.  Feelings can be essential for things such as experiencing God, cultivating intimacy and relationships with those around us, identifying danger, and creating art.  In many of these areas reason can help, but will sometimes lack the same "spark" as passion does.  However, as useful as feelings can be, because of our fallen nature, they are particularly susceptible to error.  Reason must always be held as the judge of feelings.  We must always ask ourselves, "is it OK for me to feel this way? Are my feelings in accord with reality?  Will feeling this way lead me away from God?".  If we find these answers acceptable, then yes, these feelings can be used.  If, however, we find we are not "feeling correctly" we must try to change and be in accord with the appropriateness of the situation.  This is the hard part, for in modern society we are told that all feelings are valid, that all are true, and many dislike that intense action of introspection that comes with realizing you are wrong.  But, to be holy, it must be done.

Therefore, realizing that Lewis is indeed correct, that our feelings are neither good nor evil, let us challenge ourselves and others to continuously be aware about WHY we are feeling the way we are, and if those feelings are truly leading us to happiness.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Mere Christianity: Book 1 (Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe; Chapter 1 (The Law of Human Nature)

Lewis' Natural Law

In Book 1, Chapter 1 Lewis discusses very briefly (a 'mere' four pages) his views on Natural Law.  While I am not one to argue with Lewis (the man was brilliant), and I acknowledge he does an adequate job presenting the topic of Natural Law, there are a few points of his which I would care to clarify.

Lewis first begins with an example of two people arguing.  He states that when two such people argue over matters of broken promises, due reciprocity, or rights (basically, matters of justice ), they are actually appealing to some sort of "unspoken" but commonly understood code of behavior. A Law of Behavior.  In fact, he states that the act of quarreling in itself, being an attempt to prove the other wrong, is evidence of an underlying knowledge of right and wrong--an element of NL.

Here lies my first contention with Lewis.  Perhaps it's just my postmodern upbringing, but I don't feel that Lewis does an adequate job in "proving" Natural Law.  Please, don't misunderstand, I am an advocate for NL, and whole-heartedly believe in its existence, but to merely use the example of arguing as substantial evidence is not enough, any relativist could say, "well just because I think I'm right and he's wrong doesn't mean that there is an absoluteness in it, just that we hold differing opinions or different truths".  But perhaps relativism wasn't quite as big of a problem in Lewis' days as it is now.  Or perhaps Lewis isn't going to try to twist your arm to believe--he'll give you the evidence and if you accept it great, if not, your loss.  Relativism itself is a rather absurd paradigm, seldom worth attacking.  Perhaps Lewis felt the same.

My next disagreement with Lewis arises from his definition of Natural Law.  He states the law is "Human Nature", because 1) humans alone are subject to it, 2) It is the only law which humans can choose to disobey, and 3) it is inherently known by humans as part of their nature.  The first point is where I disagree--Lewis is not clear enough here. Natural Law is not something that occurs "willy-nilly", but rather is the rational being's participation in divine law (Aquinas).  Hence, Angels and Demons are also subject to NL.  That fact however, is not really important.  What is important is that Lewis seems to glance over the fact that Natural Law comes from God, and is the means by which we are guided to our natural end.  Yes, it is, in a sense, a system of ethics or morality, but more importantly, it is the manifestation of our relationship with an infinite being and our thirst for Him.  I support the other two claims of Lewis concerning definition of Natural Law.

Lewis ends by claiming two simple points.  1) We know the Law, and 2) We do not obey the law.  These are simple statements with profound complications.  Implied by these two statements is the fall and the human condition, nearly half of salvation history condensed into one idea--we know, yet we do not obey.  It is perhaps this idea that will aid Lewis in his future arguments, and it is this idea that rings most true in this entire chapter.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Mere Christianity: Preface

I know, you're thinking, "He actually read the preface?".  Yes, I always read the preface, especially to non-fiction, and ESPECIALLY to theological books. So before you close your browser window because you think me either daft or out of touch, consider the value of reading the preface to any work.

Dei Verbum states that in reading sacred scripture, the intent of the "Sacred Writer" must be considered (para. 12).  I believe this is true in all writing, especially in Divinely inspired writing not considered Scripture, and so I read the preface.

Lewis does indeed focus on communicating the intent of this writing--to aid support and defense of the Christian cause as a whole body.  He blatantly states that he actively avoids "hot topic" issues that are disagreed upon by various denominations.  He states that 1) these matters should be left for experts, and 2) he believes that often, discussing these issues leads to more division rather than unity.  Personally, I agree with Lewis.  While these matters need to be discussed, they should only be discussed amongst believers whom have already chosen sides, not one who is deciding which game to play.

Lewis relates this to a house... Christianity, in general, is like the hall of a great house, with many other doors leading from it.  His job is only to get you into the hall, not to force you through any specific door.  But more on that later.

He then briefly discusses the problem with the subjective use of the term "Christian" and talks  (somewhat comically) about the denominational difference in the Blessed Virgin.  He also states that, concerning morals, he does not feel as though he can comment on anything he does not have experience about (birth control, gambling, etc.), which could be a relatively controversial statement to some.  However, I will not focus on these in this main portion of this post--they may be left to discussions in the comments or a follow-up post.  Rather, I would like to just note he mentions them and stick to the idea of Christian Unity.

He next talks briefly about Odium Theologicum (Lt. for Theological Hate), which typically refers to the intense hatred that arises over disputes about theology.  He states that, in his experience, these disputes arise from people on the borders of the community, and that "it is at her centre, where her truest children dwell, that each communion is really closest to every other in spirit, if not in doctrine... at the centre of each there is a something, or a Someone, who against all divergencies of belief... speaks with the same voice" (8).  Interesting indeed.

Let us finish with a few thoughts on this beautiful image of the "Hall":

To Lewis, the hall is a place where many are called to wait, to discern which of the doors they are called to enter.  He states, somewhat flippantly perhaps, that even the worst of the rooms would be preferable to no room (or in fact, the hall) at all.  In other words, those of our brothers and sisters who we view to be "outside the communion of the Church", but still within the beliefs of Christianity, have at least chosen to play our game, even if it is on a "different team".  They are still better off than not playing at all.  He then beautiful characterizes the process of discernment.  He states that, while some may know right away which door is for them, some may "find they have to wait for a considerable time".  He reassures the reader though that, "God keeps no one waiting unless He sees that it is good for him to wait.  When you do get into your room, you will find that the long wait has done you some kind of good which you would not have had otherwise" (11). 

He gives some words of advice to those still in the hall.  1) obey the common rules of the household, 2) always look for truth, do not ask "is this service appealing", but rather, "are these doctrines true, is there Holiness here?" 3) what is it drawing to you to this door?  Pride, taste, or truly God? (11).

Finally, he ends with a few words to those of us whom have already found our room, "When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall.  If they are wrong they need your prayers all the more; and if they are your enemies, then you are under orders to pray for them.  That is one of the rules common to the whole house."

Truly, let us take his admonition.