Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Mere Christianity: Book 2; Chapter 4 (The Perfect Penitent)

A Modern Atonement Theory

Lewis' chapter on "the perfect penitent" is really just a thinly veiled treatise on Atonement Theory.  Atonement theories basically describe the way in which Christ's Crucifixion enables our salvation.

There are three main theories of atonement amongst mainline scholars, those being: Ransom Theory, Satisfaction Theory, and Moral Influence Theory.  Many Protestants also adhere to Substitution Theory, but the differences are so nuanced that, for the purpose of this post, they shall be as one.

It is important to note that Lewis considers the discussion of specific theories rather unnecessary. He states that What Christ did (die on the cross for our sins) is more important than how he did it.  He says that we will never fully understand it, despite our theories, and so such theories should only be used to paint a "fuller picture" and only for those who can understand such.  Nevertheless, Lewis posits his own Atonement Theory.

Lewis starts off by stating the problem--humans, by sinning, have dug themselves into a hole and need to get out of it.  The only way by getting out of it is by repentance--dying to yourself, "unlearning all the self-conceit and self-will that we have been training ourselves into for thousands of years".  The catch is that only a bad person needs to repent, and only a perfect person can do it.  Or in other words, the very thing that makes us need repentance, makes us incapable of doing it.  Therefore we can only do it if God helps us.  And here is where Lewis theology gets, "unique".

Lewis posits an interesting twist between Satisfaction and Moral Influence theories in saying that God had to be come human in order to teach us how to repent.  In essence, it was Christ's human AND divine natures that enabled him to show us how to suffer and repent.  Now.. that may seem like no big deal, but lets look at the implications of this thought.

Talking of the process of repentance Lewis states, "You and I can go through this process only if God does it in us; but God can do it only if He becomes man".  Lets think about this... for we are now putting a limit on God.  Is Lewis right in this assertion about God?  I believe so, for repentance is contrary to the perfect nature of God.

"Our attempts at this dying will succeed only if we men share in God's dying, just as our thinking can succeed only because it is a drop out of the ocean of His intelligence:  but we cannot share God's dying unless God dies; and he cannot die except by being a man.  That is the sense in which He pays our debt, and suffers for us what He Himself need not suffer at all." Lewis' theology here makes me very nervous... as he is seemingly treading a very thin Christological line.  However, he focuses equally on Christ's divine and human natures, saying that it was the union of each that enabled his example of complete self sacrifice (a very "satisfactionary" answer).  It is this very example that enables us to learn from Christ's example.  This differs from traditional Moral Influence theory in that, while MI Theory focuses on the moral imperative we are moved to by Christ's loving sacrifice, Lewis' theory focuses on the ability of that Sacrifice to TEACH us.  Lewis is moving from a theory of exemplar love, to one of pedagogy.  Interesting, and hopefully we shall see where he is going with it.

If you didn't understand most of this post, that's fine--I struggled in understanding what I was writing.  The important thing to remember is that God loves us so much that he died for our sins even though he was completely blameless.  We should react to that love by taking his example of perfect penitence, and trying to repent ourselves.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Mere Christianity: Book 2; Chapter 3 (The Shocking Alternative)

What is the shocking alternative that Lewis presents in this chapter?

We have three choices about the person of Jesus: Based on what he claimed of himself, we can say that he was either 1) A Lunatic, 2) The Devil Himself, 3) the Son of God, as he so claimed.  Lewis states that saying "I accept him as a great moral teacher, but not as God" is relatively absurd.  In my opinion, that would be much like saying, I believe mother Theresa is a great moral example, but not a Catholic Nun.  She did what she did, because she was who she was.  However, that's merely the end of the chapter, and Lewis does not yet give us an answer.

The majority of the chapter is focused on the problem of free will.  Alas, the crux of our theodicy!  First, DOES free-will exist?  OF COURSE! The fact that evil actually occurs is proof of free-will.  We make hundreds of choices a day.  Still, for some reason determinism is alive and well, and if the greatest minds of the world cannot definitively prove it wrong, I will not presume to try.

Secondly, if free will exists, then WHY?  The underlying question here is, how can a God who is, not only all good, but all powerful allow something to happen contrary to his will?  Well basically, the act itself is against His will, but the act of choosing is not.  Lewis uses the following example:  A mother wants her child's room to be clean, but wants him to learn to do it himself.  Therefore she decides not do it for him, but rather encourage him.  Now, the child can choose not to clean his room, and that very act of untidiness is contrary to the will of the mother, but the act of him CHOOSING not to clean is completely in accord with her will.  So it is with God, he wants us to choose, often we just do not choose well.

O.K.  But why does he allow us to choose?  Wouldn't the world just be a better place if we were all just made to do the right thing?  Well.... yes and no.  Yes, this world, here and now, this very moment, would be a better place.  But then we wouldn't get to choose heaven.  We would be stuck here on this rock for our complete existence.  Humans were created for complete, unifying, ecstatic, love with God.  We cannot get that on earth, so we must receive it in heaven.  But the road to heaven is not a free ride, we must choose it.  Much like I must choose to love a spouse and she must choose to love me.  Sure, we could be forced into it, without emotion--she might be good at housekeeping and raising kids and doing what women do in marriage, and I may be good at working, and paying bills, and disciplining the children--but that's all we would be, a group of people coexisting.  Without choice there can be no love, and without love there can be no joy.  That is why God allows us to choose, so that we may feel love and joy.  Merely existing would be pointless.  Unfortunately with this ability to choose love is also the ability to choose evil... and the greater a person you are the greater capacity you have to do either (for that is what happened with Satan).  But, that is the price to pay for choice.  Obviously God thought it worth the risk.

The world is a tough place.  We are fighting for happiness, for love, and for joy... and we should be thankful we are able to experience such things, despite also suffering.  So, let us do try and make God's decision worth while... let us choose Christ!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Mere Christianity: Book 2; Chapter 2 (The Invasion)

A Theodicy for our Time

"The Invasion" is Lewis' 5 page theodicy, his answer to why evil exists. He addresses the differences between Christianity and Dualism (both, in his opinion, very manly beliefs) and in what way evil is present.  He starts by saying that Christianity, like reality, is not simple and is contrary to what one might think.  After all, how can God, if he is all good and loving, allow evil to exist.

Well my friends, let me claim something radical--evil does not exist.  Yes, that is right.  Don't get me wrong, evil occurs, bad things happen, but we are not living in the world of Star Wars (it is more like Lord of the Rings).  Evil is not some cosmic force with power all of its own in an epic struggle against good with the results yet to be determined.  Rather, in a surprising, and often confusing twist of epic narrative, the Evil is really only "Good gone bad".  In a round about sort of way, it was created by the good (though it does not actually exist ;-) ).  This is a stumbling block, but can make sense.  Evil is a perversion, a privation, of Good, much like darkness is a privation of light, or cold is a privation of hot.

Ok, so maybe in some existentialist sense, it does exist, in that it is present and we can identify its effects, and there are beings that are evil.  But evil, in and of itself does not exist, rather it is a quality of some being that was created with the intent to be good, yet failed to actualize that potential.

One can do good for the sake of good, but one cannot to bad for the sake of being bad.  Every action we do, every decision we make is in pursuit of some perceived good.  So, as Lewis points out, people do evil for either sexual pleasure or some commodity that they will receive (power, money, fame, etc).  But these things are not, in themselves bad, for by themselves they are all, morally neutral, if not good.  Sexuality, power, money, and fame, can all be used to good ends.

Good must exist for evil to occur, for the object of evil is perverted good, and evil, lacking good, cannot create for itself the goodness that it desires.  Evil is contingent, so to speak, on Good.

So, let's stop beating around the bush.  Satan was created by God.  God didn't do it to create evil, he didn't do it just because he gets a kick out of watching us squirm.  Rather, he created Satan out of love, out of desire to do good, and Satan went wrong.  He exercised his free will in an attempt to gain power, and is now the epitome of privation.

Lewis says that Christianity is a fighting religion.  And he is correct.  We are fighting a war.  This is not, however, a war between two cosmic forces, two equal powers.  Rather, it is a "rebellion", an uprising of evil against that which is Good.  We are living in enemy occupied territory and must choose which side to fight on--do we want the side of the short term "perceived good", or do we want the side of the "ultimate" Good.  "Coincidentally" (or not, since I don't believe in coincidence), the war has already been decided.

As a closing let me say this: all human beings, being the fallen sinners that we are, commit evil.  In meditating upon this, I have come to believe there are three types of people.  1) Those who willfully do Evil, knowing it is evil but for some perceived good, 2) those who do evil without realizing it is evil (often lead astray by #1), and 3) those who acknowledge evil and fight against committing it themselves (though while sometimes failing, they always get back up to fight).  Which one are you?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Mere Christianity: Book 2 (What Christians Believe); Chapter 1 (Rival Conceptions of God)

 I write today just series of quotations from this chapter, from them, you can make your own conclusion.  Enjoy.

"If you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through."

"If you are Christian, you are free to think that all those religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth."

"As in arithmetic--there is only one right answer to a  sum, and all other answers are wrong; but some of the wrong answers are much nearer being right than others."

"'We call a cancer bad,' [the pantheists] would say, 'because it kills a man; but you might just as well call a successful surgeon bad because he kills a cancer. It all depends on the point of view.'"

"You must believe that God is separate from the world and that some of the things we see in it are contrary to his will."

"But [Christianity] also thinks that a great many things have gone wrong  with the world that God made and that God insists, and insists very loudly, on our putting them right again."

"My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust.  But how had I got this idea of just and unjust?  A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line."

"Thus, in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist--in other words that the whole of reality was senseless--I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality, namely my idea of justice--was full of sense."

"Consequently, atheism turns out to be too simple.  If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: Just as if there were no light int he universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark.  Dark would be a world without meaning."