Lewis: The Atheist Dilemma

C. S. Lewis had to make the journey from atheism to Christianity. In his book Mere Christianity, he explains how he came up against the lack of logic in his atheistic position:

[When I was an atheist] 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. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? . . .

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.

Lewis: Two Kinds of People

C. S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce is one of my favorite books, as it depicts a fanciful journey from hell to heaven so that those in hell can see what they have missed. Any Lewis book is full of pithy insights. Here’s one from The Great Divorce that I find particularly lucid:

There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell.

C.S. Lewis: The Question of Truth

Lewis took on the role of an apologist for the Christian faith. In an essay entitled “Christian Apologetics,” he honed in on one of the big problems Christians have when trying to explain the truth of Christianity. It’s not a problem with the message itself, but with the hearers of the message:

One of the great difficulties is to keep before the audience’s mind the question of Truth. They always think you are recommending Christianity not because it is true but because it is good. And in the discussion they will at every moment try to escape from the issue “True—or False” into stuff about a good society, or morals . . . or anything whatever.

You have to keep forcing them back, and again back, to the real point. Only thus will you be able to undermine . . . their belief that a certain amount of “religion” is desirable but one mustn’t carry it too far. One must keep on pointing out that Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.

Lewis: Screwtape on Middle Age

One of the books that catapulted C. S. Lewis to worldwide fame was The Screwtape Letters, published in the early 1940s. It was a fanciful interpretation of how a senior devil—Screwtape—gives advice to a junior devil—Wormwood–on how to lead people into sin and ensure they never enter into a relationship with God. Here’s part of that “advice”:

The long, dull, monotonous years of middle-aged prosperity or middle-aged adversity are excellent campaigning weather. You see, it is so hard for these creatures to persevere. The routine of adversity, the gradual decay of youthful loves and youthful hopes, the quiet despair (hardly felt as pain) of ever overcoming the chronic temptations with which we have again and again defeated them, the drabness which we create in their lives and the inarticulate resentment with which we teach them to respond to it—all this provides admirable opportunities of wearing out a soul by attrition.

If, on the other hand, the middle years prove prosperous, our position is even stronger. Prosperity knits a man to the World. He feels that he is “finding his place in it,” while really it is finding its place in him. His increasing reputation, his widening circle of acquaintances, his sense of importance, the growing pressure of absorbing and agreeable work, build up in him a sense of being really at home on Earth, which is just what we want. You will notice that the young are generally less unwilling to die than the middle-aged and the old.

The Quotable Lewis

Over Thanksgiving, I was browsing through a Barnes and Noble in Tucson when I came across a volume I didn’t know existed—a massive compilation of C.S. Lewis’s most memorable quotes. Since Lewis is one of my all-time favorite writers, I was delighted with my find. As I’ve begun to plumb its depths, I’ve been renewed in my appreciation of the insights he offers.

Normally, I’ve rested from this blog on Saturdays, but with the addition of this book to my collection, I’ve decided to share some of the most poignant quotes each week.

The first one comes from his classic work Mere Christianity. I’ll let it stand on its own without further commentary. I hope you will meditate on it and ask the Lord for any application to your own life. And come back to the blog each Saturday for more Lewisian wisdom.

We have never followed the advice of the great teachers. Why are we likely to begin now? Why are we more likely to follow Christ than any of the others? Because He is the best moral teacher? But that makes it even less likely that we shall follow Him. If we cannot take the elementary lessons, is it likely we are going to take the most advanced one? If Christianity only means one more bit of good advice, then Christianity is of no importance. There has been no lack of good advice for the last four thousand years. A bit more makes no difference.

Through the Lens of Christian Faith

I’m grateful for the Thanksgiving break last week. It was good to get away, spend time with extended family and some “old” friends/former students, and kind of let the world do whatever it chose to do for a while without my involvement. Yes, I did check in from time to time to see if the world was still here. While on my hiatus, the following events transpired:

  • More layoffs occurred or have been planned by businesses since the election. The primary reason: the looming specter of Obamacare, which is threatening to destroy those businesses that can’t pay the increased costs. I see that some of our less-well-informed citizens are blaming the businesses themselves rather than the onerous regulations and cost associated with the Obama administration’s signature legislation. Our ignorance continues apace.
  • Hamas decided to declare an unofficial war against Israel. Tensions peaked, with an Israeli invasion of Gaza readied. Why did Hamas choose this time to act? Could it have had something to do with the election as well? They know they have an ally in the White House for four more years, a man sympathetic to their aims. Israel, on the other hand, is poised to suffer through another four years of perfunctory public pronouncements of support coupled with private disdain and contempt. President Obama will say whatever is necessary for public consumption while undercutting the Israeli state at every turn. Meanwhile, one poll shows that only about 40% of Democrats back Israel in their quest for self-defense. It appears the image of anti-Semitism that raised its head at the party convention is making progress. One wonders how long American Jews will remain blinded by the treatment their brethren are receiving from the political party to which most of them have chosen to give their allegiance.

  • Secretary of State Clinton and Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi hammered out a truce between Israel and Hamas—one that Hamas considers a victory. Don’t be surprised if this duo wins the next Nobel Peace Prize for accomplishing . . . nothing. After all, it’s been granted for doing nothing before. Right, Mr. President?
  • Morsi then declared himself dictator of Egypt, setting aside the entire judicial system of that country. He is now claiming one-man rule. Ah, the fresh breeze of the Arab Spring still inspires!

Yet despite all these developments, I see no sign that the American electorate is suffering any remorse over its latest decision. As I noted in a previous post, we are a nation on the edge, positioned to jettison our Biblical heritage once and for all. We no longer think Biblically; in fact, to do so is becoming precarious for those who remain faithful to Biblical truth. Biblical morality is increasingly considered a “problem.”

The society around us is attempting to divorce itself from the truths God has implanted within each of us and seeks to create new “truths.” Christian apologist C. S. Lewis, in his treatise The Abolition of Man, described pretty well the futility of any such effort:

There never has been, and never will be, a radically new judgment of value in the history of the world. What purport to be new systems or (as they now call them) “ideologies,” all consist of fragments from the Tao [Natural Law given by God] itself, arbitrarily wrenched from their context in the whole and then swollen to madness in their isolation, yet still owing to the Tao [Natural Law] and to it alone such validity as they possess. . . . The rebellion of new ideologies against the Tao is a rebellion of the branches against the tree: if the rebels could succeed they would find that they had destroyed themselves. The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of imagining a new primary colour, or, indeed, of creating a new sun and a new sky for it to move in.

The rebels ultimately will fail, but they will hurt and destroy lives along the way, and may drag an entire society into the pit as they proceed.

As I said at the beginning of this post, it was nice to take a break, but I cannot leave the field of battle for the hearts and minds of my fellow citizens. Another Lewis quote reverberates within me:

I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.

My pledge is to keep on faithfully viewing and writing about our culture, our politics, and our government through the lens of the Christian faith. It shines the light of truth on everything it touches . . .  and it touches everything.

Charles (Chuck) Colson (1931-2012)

When Chuck Colson broke free from his earthly body this past Saturday, the evangelical world lost one of its foremost spokesmen. He didn’t start out as a Christian leader; in fact, he was considered a political hatchet man and became embroiled in the Watergate controversy, over which he went to prison. But his life changed dramatically.

I remember the events of Watergate quite clearly. Just out of college, I followed the fallout from the foolish break-in at the Democrat headquarters that occurred during the 1972 presidential campaign. Colson was a White House operative under Nixon. He in no way participated in the break-in plans, but did get involved with the attempted coverup afterwards. As a result, he was found guilty of obstruction of justice and served seven months in a federal prison for his actions.

Yet by the time he went to prison, he already was a different man. The ordeal made him rethink his entire life, and where ultimate meaning really resides. He began to delve into Scripture and into the works of C.S. Lewis. The combination convinced him to turn his life over to the Lord. This was particularly meaningful to me at the time since I was reading Lewis rather heavily myself; he was fast becoming my favorite author. Hearing how Lewis’s works had helped bring Colson to salvation, I naturally wanted to know more about what had transpired.

I didn’t have long to wait, as Colson’s spiritual confessions were in print shortly after his release. The book’s title, Born Again, was not inventive, but it certainly was descriptive. It was the beginning of a witness to the truth of the Gospel that Colson would maintain for the rest of his days. It made an impact on me. As I sit here writing, I see my copy of the book in my bookcase across the room, a book I’ve now had in my library for thirty-six years.

The cynics watched and waited. They fully expected this was a foxhole conversion that wouldn’t hold. Colson surprised them. He started a ministry called Prison Fellowship, which ministered to the incarcerated. It continues unabated today. If you’ve ever participated in the Angel Tree program at Christmas, you’ve been touched by the life of Chuck Colson.

More than that, he sought to educate Christians into a more comprehensive, consistent Biblical worldview—another key component of his ministry, separate from the prison ministry but just as significant. In his later years, he devoted the largest share of his time to speaking out on how to apply Biblical thinking to our culture and politics.

Although his family and friends will surely miss him, everyone who knew him has the deep assurance that he now has a greater reason to rejoice than those who have been left behind. I hope to meet him someday. Death is not the end for those who name the name of Christ. As the apostle Paul explained,

For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

On Saturday, death lost again.