Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Mere Christianity: Book 3; Chapter 10 (Hope)

Nothing Can Satisfy Us...

On earth.... There are two quotes that instantly come to mind when summing up this chapter of Lewis.  The first is by Karl Rahner:

     In the torment of the insufficiency of everything attainable we come to understand that here, in this life, all symphonies remain unfinished

The second is by St. Augustine:

   My heart is restless, O Lord, until it rests in You.

We must keep our eyes on the next world, the Kingdom of God in its fullness. It is not escapism, says Lewis, but  merely what we are "meant to do" as Christians.  The problem is, that the world, and even Christians, only have their eyes set on the world.  We must not do good for goodness sake, for the sake of the World, but for the sake of the Kingdom of God, the next world.  Lewis says that we must aim high.  In other words, shoot for heaven and you'll probably get thrown in, shoot for the world and you'll miss out on both.  A hard concept for us to abide by... for heaven is so far away, and as humans we tend to focus on the here and now, the tangible.  But that is HOPE! We must keep our eyes on Heaven, because nothing in this world (though some things can come close for a time) can fully satisfy us.  We must use these small earthly blessings as a reminder for what is to come so that we might live for the Kingdom.

Keep fighting the good fight, with hope, and with our hearts set towards Him.

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world --Lewis

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Mere Christianity: Book 3: Chapter 8 (Charity)

Fake it Till You Make it!

In this chapter Lewis focuses more on Charity, or "love".  We've discussed this before in our "forgiveness" post, but we will approach it differently this time.

First, it is important to fervently remind you of what we discovered before--LOVE IS NOT EMOTION. Rather, it is an act of the will, we choose to ACT in love, even when we may not LIKE a person.

This brings me to my main point in this blog post--"fake it until you make it". Psychology study has shown that merely the act of doing or thinking a certain way, can make you feel that way.  If you force yourself to smile, you will be begin to feel happy.  The same goes with love.  Love is not a feeling, true, but it is still EASIER to love those whom we like, and so we should try to ACT as though we like people, and perhaps we will begin to.  This is not fool-proof, for there will always be people that we just don't like, no matter how much we try.

So how do we manifest this love?  I believe showing love to God comes in obedience, and not just because He says "do as I say", but because we desire to please Him through our actions.  In loving other people this may come in the form of obedience (if the request is in not contrary to God's will), but it may also be simple acts of service or sacrifice.  It may simply be spending time with someone who annoys you.

My challenge to you today is to try to consciously do an act of love for someone who you "don't like".

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Mere Christianity: Book 3: Chapter 8 (The Great Sin)

The Pride of Man

In this chapter Lewis describes the greatest sin, the sin that every human person is guilty of--Pride.  The thing about pride, Lewis states, is that for the most part, only Christians (and other religious people I'll amend) think its really a sin.  You'll hear "non-believers" call themselves short-tempered, bad conversationalists, and cowards... but seldom prideful.  The other thing about pride is that the more you have of it, the less you recognize it in yourself, and the more you hate it in others.  A hypocritical sin, that pride.

Why is pride the greatest sin?  Lewis argues that it is the only purely spiritual sin.  All other sins (lust, drunkenness, gluttony) are products of our animal nature.  Pride however, was the sin of Satan, a purely spiritual being, and thus pride is a spiritual sin.  Since our spirits are eternal, spiritual sins are the worst.  As Lewis states, all other sins are "flea-bites" in comparison.

Pride is also the most divisive sin because of its very nature.  Whereas most other sins desire merely to acquire, pride desires to acquire MORE than your neighbor.  Therefore pride, at its very essence is COMPETITIVE.  Furthermore, pride is essentially ENMITY, not only between men, but between God and man.

This poses the question, is competition inherently evil? I don't know the answer to that, and truth be told I'm somewhat biased.  I am a relatively competitive person (ok, I'm VERY competitive), so I would like to think competition is not inherently evil.  Perhaps it's just neutral?  Is there any good product of competition?  Perhaps it could be good when it drives you to be your best without being at the expense of others...

Finally, pride is so evil that Satan often uses it to "cure" us of other sins just so we unknowingly fall into the sin of pride!  How often do we say to ourselves, "I can't smoke/have sex/drink/lie because I am too good of a person for that kind of action", or "I vow not to drink because I don't want people to think of me as weak"?  Newsflash--THOSE ARE PRIDEFUL REASONS FOR NOT SINNING!  The Devil will gladly allow you to move beyond those sins if it means succumbing to pride.  You should be unsinfull because of your love of God and hate of sin, not based on your appearance to others. Radical idea, I know.

What is the only way to conquer pride?  First, acknowledge that you are guilty of it.  Other than that Lewis doesn't give any advice, but I would suspect it has a lot to do with prayer.

So ask yourself today, are you Prideful?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Mere Christianity: Book 3; Chapter 7 (Forgiveness)

The Greatest Commandment

In this chapter Lewis outlines the only virtue that, in his mind, may be harder than chastity--forgiveness. Lewis states that, at the heart of this issue is the greatest commandment to "Love your neighbor as yourself".  It is this notion of loving the enemy, along with society's misunderstanding of what love actually IS, that makes this one of the hardest virtues.

We must understand what love is, and may do so by understanding what it means to love ourselves.  Then we can understand how to forgive our enemies.

In Christianity we are told that we must love our enemies as we love ourselves, so what does that mean?  How do I love myself?  Well, first we can rule out love as a feeling of fondness or affection, because even when we don't like ourselves, we still love ourselves, and we cannot feel a "fondness" for someone merely by trying.  Secondly, we can rule out thinking highly of ourselves, because often we don't, and we still love ourselves.  We sin and feel guilt and hate what we do, but we do not necessarily hate ourselves.  It's the same with our enemies, it is ok to hate what they did, but not themselves.  Additionally, this means we don't have to like what they do to us.

In fact, Lewis states bluntly that loving our neighbors and ourselves means one thing: "willing the good".  We must feel about our enemies as we feel about ourselves--we hate what we/they do, and sincerely wish for them to become better people, and even wish heaven for them.

What does this mean for forgiveness?  Forgiveness is an act of love, and thus an act of the will.  We can forgive and still be just, punishing the person for their act, but not unduly and only with a hope for conversion.  Finally, to forgive does not mean to forget, but it means choosing to move beyond the act and will that the other person may strive to be better.

Forgiveness is hard, but we are mandated to do so out of love.  In forgiving we are forgiven, and perhaps when we see ourselves as sinners able to be forgiven, we are more likely to love others as well.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Mere Christianity: Book 3: Chapter 5 (Sexual Morality)

The Fight For Chastity

For this post, I wish to mostly just share Lewis' thoughts on Chastity as an encouragement for those who may struggle with it.

 Lewis starts off by saying "Chastity is the most unpopular of the Christian Virtues.

He spends a lot of time arguing about the evidence that shows our instincts as, not bad, but disordered, and why we should recognize that and strive for the virtue of Chastity. He also says that our societal views are flawed. I'm not going to talk about that... there are other people more qualified in making that case, and if you want, you can find this chapter and read Lewis' arguments.

Rather, I want to make a case for hope in Chastity. I want to examine how Lewis says we can be cured... and indeed, his words are encouraging.

What Makes Chastity Hard?

1) "Before we can be cured, we must want to be cured." Many of us may pray for Chastity, but in our heart we may secretly be adding "but not just yet".

2) We Begin to feel that our desires are natural, healthy, and reasonable.  This makes it hard for us to resist them, and in fact, we may begin think that resisting is actually the thing that is unnatural.  This, of course, has a basis of Truth... because our desire in and of itself is good.  It must not, however, be acted upon outside of marriage. We must remember that "for any happiness... quite a lot of restraint is going to be necessary".

3) We think that it's impossible.... and therefore we resolve not to try.  We may ask, "is it possible?", but indeed if we are to be truly holy we have no choice, and as Lewis states, "one must do the best one can." "You may get some marks for a very imperfect answer: you will certianly get none for leaving it blank."

And there we begin the wonderful questions, What can we do? What hope do we have?

 1) Remember that we are not alone in this struggle.
            "After each failure, ask forgiveness, pick yourself up, and try again.  Very often what God first helps us towards IS NOT the virtue itself but just this power of always trying again.  For however important [any one virtue] may be this process trains us in habits of the soul which are more important still."  "We learn... that we need not despair even in our worst, for our failures are forgiven."!

2) Again, we must WANT to be cured.

3) We must KNOW what we are fighting.  Just as a general studies his enemy to know how best to fight him, we must know as much as possible about our sexuality to be able to know best how to control it.

4) Finally, we must REMEMBER: "that the center of Christian Morality is not here".
         In other words, "If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong.  The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins.  All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual.... For there are two things inside me....They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self.  The Diabolical self is the worse of the two.  That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute."

This is a fight we can win.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Mere Christianity: Book 3; Chapter 4 (Morality and Psychoanalysis)

How Free is Free-Will?

In this Chapter Lewis discusses the relationship between morality and psychoanalysis, saying that they serve the same end--to enable and inform the personal choice.

Lewis states that "when a man makes a moral choice two things are involved"--the act of choosing, and the various feelings and impulses affecting those choices.  It is this second area that Psychoanalysis aims to address, for either those influences are normal and rational, or they are abnormal and irrational (phobias, neurosis, vices).  The goal of psychoanalysis, and indeed all of psychology, is to fix those irrationalities to allow us to freely make a moral choice.

This poses the ancient question, how free is free-will actually?

It seems that Lewis is distinguishing between "good influences" (natural and rational) and "bad influences" (unnatural and irrational), and that, while both influence our choices, it is only the bad ones that need be eliminated.  This implies that we are never truly free of our past while making moral decisions.  Indeed, as humans it is IMPOSSIBLE NOT to be changed by any experience, and we come to any decision we make with bias.  This is called our hermeneutic.  But does this mean we are fully determined, or that we are not free?

Perhaps we must ask, what determines what is a good influence and what is a bad influence? Considering what we know of natural law and our origins/destination as human persons, it would stand to reason that a good influence is that which is in accord with our nature, and a bad influence is that which is not.  For example, while hatred of sin and moderate fear of death is natural and acceptable when influencing our moral judgements, hatred of a human person or of God, and crippling obsession with fear of death would cause us to make poor moral decisions.  It is these later impulses that "enslave us".

You may be thinking, "why is it only the negative passions that enslave us?"  The answer to that question lies in the appropriate definition of freedom.  Freedom, properly defined, is "the ability to do good."  Contrary to modern belief, it is NOT the ability to do whatever we want, for that would allow us to serve passions that we have already shown preclude us from making a true choice.  Rather, if we are to be truly free, we have to be ABLE to do the good.  We may still choose not to give to the poor, no to defend our country, and to forsake God (and indeed, this is what the Human Condition states we do that majority of the time), and we, by definition of free will are allowed to make those decisions, but in order to truly do that we must be free from all those passions and wounds that have a negative influence on us.

How can we do this?  I am skeptical if its possible for the majority of the human population to make a purely free choice, for we are all broken and in terrible shape psychologically.  The best practice is to 1) gather as much info on your choice and options before making them, 2) address all the biases that may accompany all the options, and 3) know thyself... for by continuing to understand ourselves, and trying to improve ourselves, we may work towards the virtue of prudence, more often making objective decisions in accord with our nature.

The important thing however, is to remember that its the effort that counts, not the action itself. For as Lewis says, when a man who is constantly angry shows a single of moment of gentility, he may indeed be more moral than the man who has never had a trouble with anger.  This is why Christians are told not to judge, we only see the external actions, not the interior workings that God does.  When a man who is constantly drunk makes the effort for a moment of sobriety, he may, in God's eyes, be showing more moral fiber than the man who has never drank a drop in his life.  And when the man who sleeps with numerous women a week strives for the occasional chastity, is it possible that he is showing more moral effort than the always chaste man?  It's possible.

Lewis says that morality is not about living by certain rules and obeying them without fault, but rather, morality is about choice, and it is through each and every single choice, that we are either aligning our heart with God or turning away from him.

Let us therefore, try every single moment, of every single day, strive to make the choice that turns us towards God.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Mere Christianity: Book 3; Chapter 3 (Social Morality)

The Four Virtues of a Christian Society

In this chapter Lewis discusses the elements of Social Morality, and as such, outlines the four Virtues that he believes lead to a "Christian Society".

A Few Qualifications

It is important to note that Lewis states that a truly Christian Society can occur only when every member within that society is Christian.  Therefore, considering the human condition, it is impossible for a truly "Christian Society" and as such can be considered a Utopian Hypothetical.

That being said, it is still important to discuss because, though we cannot reach the perfection of a Christian Society, we can still strive to manifest these virtues as best as possible.

Diligence-- Lewis never actually uses the word "diligence" in this Chapter, but his "ethic of work" as being the backbone of society is closest to this virtue.  Lewis iterates the common biblical verse, "If a man does not work, he ought not to eat".  Furthermore, he states that, while all are required to work, the work must be to produce something good, i.e. not luxury or frivolity.  This is in accord with the definition of diligence--"a zealous and careful nature in one's actions and work, exemplified by a decisive work ethic, budgeting of one's time, monitoring one's own activities to guard against laziness, and putting forth full concentration in one's work". Diligence is also the "Heavenly Virtue" which counters Sloth, and is a sub-virtue of Temperance.

Obedience-- Lewis states outright that a Christian society is "insisting" obedience, both to proper authorities (God) and as husband and wife.  We see this in the Church today, as we are called to be obedient to those put in authority by God for the sake of our holiness.  Obedience is a sub-virtue of Justice.

Kindness-- Again, Lewis never uses the word "kindness", but it is [probably] what he means when he says that "courtesy" and "cheerfulness" are requirements of a Christian Society.  Kindness (which is most likely a sub-virtue of Temperance) is the Heavenly Virtue opposed to Envy, and is defined as" goodness and charitable disposition, pleasantness, tenderness and concern for others".  Lewis says that we must always be joyful and praising of God, as well as regarding anxiety and worry as wrong.

Charity--This is where we must be careful to not be confused about what Lewis is saying.  When Lewis uses the term "Charity", he is using the term mostly to mean "generosity".  However, this does not preclude the meaning "Charity as Love", for love is a crucial element of generosity.  In this case however, it is most appropriate to understand charity as generosity, in order to understand what Lewis is saying.  Lewis states that the reason for work is so that we may have the ability to give to those in need.  He also states that "we out to be producing a society in which there were no poor to give to". This, we know, is an Utopian Ideology, and can't be achieved in this world, but we must aim to achieve it regardless.  We work in order to not keep to ourselves, but in order to give... how many people follow that principle in life?

Therefore, we know that while a perfect society is not attainable until Christ himself establishes it at his return, we must strive to uphold these virtues in our every day life.  We are called to help usher forth the Kingdom of God on this earth, and according to Lewis, these are the four basic virtues to do so.  We must be diligent in work, obedient to God given authority, we must be kind (rejoicing in the Lord and not worrying), and finally, we must give all that we are able to.