Monday, April 16, 2012

The Rival Conceptions of God—Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis

Pantheism vs. Theism
C.S. Lewis explains, "I have been asked to tell you what Christians believe, and I am going to begin by telling you one thing that Christians do not need to believe. If you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through.... When I was an atheist, I had to try to persuade myself that most of the human race have always been wrong about the question that mattered to them most; when I became a Christian I was able to take a more liberal view. But, of course, being a Christian does mean thinking that where Christianity differs from other religions, Christianity is right and they are wrong. As in arithmetic, there is only one right answer to a sum, and all other answers are wrong, but some ... are ... nearer being right than others."

This second book within Mere Christianity Lewis handled with special care to make sure the whole book lives up to its title, explaining in his preface, "The danger clearly was that I should put forward as common Christianity anything that was peculiar to the Church of England or (worse still) to myself. I tried to guard against this by sending the original script of what is now Book II to four clergymen (Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic) and asking for their criticism. The Methodist thought I had not said enough about Faith, and the Roman Catholic thought I had gone rather too far about the comparative unimportance of theories in explanation of the Atonement. Otherwise all five of us were agreed. I did not have the remaining books similarly 'vetted' because in them, though differences might arise among Christians, these would be differences between individuals or schools of thought, not between denominations." This is indeed mere Christianity.

People who believe in God, says Lewis, "can be divided according to the sort of God they believe in. One ... is the idea that He is beyond good and evil.... These people would say that the wiser you become the less you would want to call anything bad or good.... It all depends on the point of view. The other and opposite idea is that God is quite definitely 'good' or 'righteous', a God who takes sides.... The first ... is called Pantheism.... The other view is held by Jews, [Muslims], and Christians."

Censorship Not Needed Here!
"Confronted with a cancer or a slum the Pantheist can say, 'if you could only see it from the divine point of view, you would realise that this also is God. The Christian replies, 'Don't talk damned nonsense.'" Lewis comments in a footnote at this point that one broadcast listener "complained of the word damned as frivolous swearing. But I mean exactly what I saynonsense that is damned is under God's curse, and will (apart from God's grace) lead those who believe it to eternal death." Why such strong language? Because "Christianity is a fighting religion. It thinks God made the worldthat space and time, heat and cold, and all the colors and tastes, and all the animals and vegetables, are things that God 'made up out of His head' as a man makes up a story. But it 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 ... 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. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z ... why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it?... In the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist ... 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 in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark."

Highlights from chapter 1: The Rival Conceptions of God, book 2: What Christians Believe in Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.  Click here for a clear view of how this chapter relates to the whole book.

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