Onward to a Mature Faith

Elwin Ransom, C. S. Lewis’s protagonist in his Space Trilogy, tells the fictional Lewis in the novel Perelandra that he [Ranson] is about to be transported in a rather mysterious fashion to another planet. The Lewis character asks Ransom if he has any idea what to expect. Is it safe? Will he be able to breathe? What will he eat? Does he have any confidence that he will return?

“If you mean, Does my reason accept the view that he will . . . deliver me safe on the surface of Perelandra?—the answer is Yes,” said Ransom. “If you mean, Do my nerves and my imagination respond to this view?—I’m afraid the answer is No. One can believe in anaesthetics and yet feel in a panic when they actually put the mask over your face. I think I feel as a man who believes in the future life feels when he is taken out to face a firing party. Perhaps it’s good practice.”

We all probably can identify with that feeling. Our minds will tell us one thing—a thing that we believe deeply is true—while our emotions may be screaming at us, urging us not to step out onto that limb of faith. What if we fall?

This coming Wednesday evening, in my class on Mere Christianity, we’ll be covering the chapters that deal with faith. Lewis, from his own personal experience, shares how our moods are so very changeable—yet we cannot allow those moods/emotional episodes to dictate truth. He explains it in his typical relatable style:

Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience.

Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable.

It’s particularly interesting to me that Lewis confesses even atheists have doubts about their atheism. Don’t we sometimes think that it’s only those of us who have professed the faith who have those doubts? No, doubting is common to all. What is the solution?

This rebellion of your moods against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods “where they get off,” you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion.

When we allow our moods—our emotional ups and downs—to determine what we believe, we are, in effect, telling God we really don’t trust His character: His love for us through Christ; the ultimate Sacrifice He paid; the forgiveness He has offered; the new life He has granted us.

The apostle James tells us,

Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

I want to persevere. I want to be mature. I seek the kind of faith that sets aside all doubts about God’s goodness and trusts Him implicitly. May that faith grow in us all.

John Adams, Facts, & Brett Kavanaugh: A Primer

It was March 1770 when a crowd of Boston colonists began angrily harassing a British sentry. Soon other soldiers came to his aid. In the confusion, amidst the clamor, the throwing of snowballs, ice, and stones, and even being threatened with clubs, the soldiers misunderstood a command from the officer in charge and began firing into the crowd. Five colonists lay dead and six more were wounded. It became known as the Boston Massacre.

Emotions ran high. Would the soldiers have any hope of a fair trial? Into this tension-packed atmosphere, John Adams entered and volunteered to defend the soldiers. Adams was not in favor of British policies, but he believed the soldiers had been provoked into the attack, and therefore all the facts had to be taken into consideration.

He took a chance by standing up for them. He could have become the most hated man in Boston. Yet he showed that the crowd had been more of a mob than a simple crowd of people standing around. He argued for the soldiers while simultaneously critiquing the British government’s decision to place soldiers in the streets, thereby increasing the tension.

The result? The officer in charge was acquitted, as were most of the soldiers. Two were found guilty of manslaughter and sent back to England. Given that death would have been the sentence if a guilty verdict of murder had been returned, this was quite an achievement for Adams as he stood for the concept of the rule of law—a concept that is currently little understood, even less appreciated, and constantly under attack.

One of Adams’s statements in these trials has come down to us today, repeated by those who understand the basis for the rule of law. Here’s what he said:

Facts are stubborn things, and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passion, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.

At different times in American history, emotions have run rampant and caused no small amount of anguish, civil disturbances, and assaults on the rule of law. I point out John Adams’s strong character in this blog today as a reminder that we must not allow passions to run wild. We must always make all our decisions on the basis of evidence, not mere emotion.

All I have seen in the accusations against Brett Kavanaugh up to this point is pure emotion, stripped of any genuine evidence of wrongdoing. The FBI has now been tasked with another round of interviews to find out if there is any corroboration at all for the allegations against him. This came about through one of the most disgusting displays of partisanship ever seen in Congress, and that’s saying a lot considering what has transpired many times before.

Thus far, all we have is the word of women who are basing their testimony on strong emotion . . . yet without even one piece of corroborating evidence. We are supposed to believe them because they are women.

Do women never lie? Are they always to be believed? Do they not also have agendas at times? Has the media looked into the backgrounds of those who are making the accusations, or are they focused on Kavanaugh only?

Whatever happened to the need for real evidence before convicting someone?

Yes, I know this is not a court of law, but someone can be convicted in the arena of public opinion to the point that truth no longer matters. Just believe, even when there’s no reason to do so.

Could Kavanaugh be lying? Well, if he is, he’s survived six previous FBI background checks. Further, women who have known him in high school have testified that he never acted like the accusers have said. Even further, dozens of women who have worked with him in government have stood solidly with him, attesting to his impeccable character.

But we’re supposed to believe someone, in the case of Prof. Ford, who has escaped all media scrutiny. Where have you seen any in-depth treatment of her background, moral behavior, or current political agenda? Maybe I missed it, but nothing I’ve seen has even broached the subject.

No, she’s a woman who came across as credible. Yet by “credible,” what is really meant is she came across as emotional enough to convince people she must be telling the truth.

Yet where is the evidence?

Thomas Sowell has been a favorite writer and commentator of mine for decades. I’ve come across a couple of his most poignant quotes lately, and they are appropriate for what we have been experiencing in this current controversy.

Facts are seldom allowed to contaminate the beautiful vision of the left. What matters to the true believers are the ringing slogans, endlessly repeated.

Emotions neither prove nor disprove facts. There was a time when any rational adult understood this. But years of dumbed-down education and emphasis on how people ‘feel’ have left too many people unable to see through this media gimmick.

He’s one of the new John Adamses in our day. May there be more.

Snyderian Truism #1

When I teach, I try to impress upon students certain truths. I know that sounds impertinent to the ears of some. “What is truth?” they may say. I seem to recall a historical figure named Pontius Pilate who asked the same thing. Jesus, standing before him, had already made it clear He was the truth.

So, yes, I believe truth exists. There are certain things I’ve gotten in the habit of telling students over the years, so last summer, before the new fall semester began, I attempted to catalog as many of them as I could recall. I even put them on slides to incorporate, at appropriate moments, in my PowerPoint presentations in class. I needed to give them a title. Rush Limbaugh, I remembered, came up with his Undeniable Truths of Life, so that was taken. Eventually, I settled on “Snyderian Truisms.” I thought the title was at least unique, if a little strange. But it does make it clear these are statements that I personally believe to be true, and students have seemed to enjoy seeing them light up the screen from time to time.

They are in no particular order of importance; the numbers assigned to them are in the order that I recalled them. What I call Snyderian Truism #1 is the first one I use in my American history survey courses as I attempt to show students that they should be interested in what we will be studying. So what is #1?

Since God gave you a brain, He undoubtedly expects you to use it.

I’ll let you decide how profound it is, but I do believe it’s important to communicate it to students, some of whom would rather shut down in class and coast. My survey courses are part of our General Education requirements, so when some students take them, they are expecting an easy course, something where they can receive a high grade with little or no effort. I try to disabuse them of that mistaken proposition.

On that first day, I give them a quote from nineteenth-century evangelist Charles Finney, which instructs thusly:

It has been no part of my aim to spare my pupils or anyone else the trouble of intense thought. . . . You were made to think. It will do you good to think; to develop your powers by study. God designed that religion should require thought, intense thought, and should thoroughly develop our powers of thought.

Biblical WorldviewAll too often, Christians want to shelve intense thought and depend primarily on feelings. God does give us those feelings, and we should rejoice that we’re made with them. However, He never intended for our emotions to guide our actions. He wants us to think seriously about what we believe and why. He wants us to learn as much as we can about this world—its history, cultures, etc.—and then use that knowledge to accomplish His purposes in this world.

Thinking Christians need to be leaders. They need to be the best at analyzing their culture and pointing to Biblical solutions. By doing so, we fulfill Jesus’ desire that we be light and salt in our society. I hope my emphasis in this Snyderian Truism will stay with my students. And I hope it will stay with you as well.

More truisms to come in future posts.