Loading...

C.S. Lewis: His Theology and Philosophy - Lesson 4

Mere Christianity (part 1)

Lewis wants to parlay theological doctrines into dynamic insights and track out their implications for intellectual engagement. He does is with a background of philosophical skill and theological understanding of historic orthodoxy. Instead of arguing about preferences, we need to focus on articulating the doctrines that are universal. Lewis’s ideas are expressed so they can be understood by people not formally trained in philosophy or theology but they have merit in the marketplace of ideas. 

Michael L. Peterson
C.S. Lewis: His Theology and Philosophy
Lesson 4
Watching Now
Mere Christianity (part 1)

Mere Christianity (part 1)

I. Meditation

A. Who do you say that I am? (Matthew 16:15)

B. Do you love me? (John 21:16)

II. Preface of Mere Christianity

 

Book One: Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe

 

III. Starting point is that there is a divine being

A. Our moral awareness

B. Kant’s moral argument

C. C.S. Lewis as a realist

1. Metaphysical realism

2. Epistemological realism

3. Moral realism/p>

4. Theological realism

5. Relationship between realism and myth

6. Depth of Lewis’s arguments

IV. Everyone has a conscience or moral awareness

V. Objections to the moral law

A. Herd instinct

B. Social convention

C. New atheist arguments


All Lessons
About
  • The purpose of the class is to directly engage Lewis’s philosophy and theology. He brings a Christian worldview to engage intellectual movements of his day. The trinity created us to bring us into the fellowship that has been going on with God forever. 

  • The mind is the organ of reason, imagination is the organ of understanding. To understand what real truth is, the imagination needs to be a part of that. We are created in the image of God and are immortal beings. Ordinary people are extraordinary. The Christian life is most deeply about being transformed resulting in participation in the divine life. It's more than just having one’s legal status changed. There should be transformation in the culture as well as personal. God is in the process of redeeming a wounded universe, including the whole of knowledge and truth in all subjects. 

  • There is a sacred quality to ordinary activities as well as symbolic religious rituals. Whatever is true in any field of study is God’s truth. The world is essentially good, but it’s been damaged. God has taken a great risk in allowing people free choice for good or evil. Evil has become present in many forms in the world and it is anti-creational and anti-human. We are not broken, but we are bent. God’s nature is relational because of the nature of the Trinity, so it makes sense that he would make a universe that is relational. We dwell in God and he dwells in us. As disciples of Christ we all share the single vocation of loving God and others.

  • Lewis wants to parlay theological doctrines into dynamic insights and track out their implications for intellectual engagement. He does is with a background of philosophical skill and theological understanding of historic orthodoxy. Instead of arguing about preferences, we need to focus on articulating the doctrines that are universal. Lewis’s ideas are expressed so they can be understood by people not formally trained in philosophy or theology but they have merit in the marketplace of ideas. 

  • The probability of morality as we know it in the human community, given that theism is true, is more probable than morality given any other worldview. Morality at the human (finite) level is anchored in morality at the infinite level. Morality has its most natural fitting worldview home in theism. In using the analogy of light shining through boards in a tool shed, Lewis says, “I believe in Christianity, not because I see it, but because by it, I see everything else.” 

  • In Hinduism, Brahman, the hidden inner essence of everything, is beyond human categories of good and evil. Brahman is the only reality. Everything we see is an illusion. The fundamental human problem is ignorance, not sin. Dualism is the idea that there is good and evil at war in the universe. Explaining morality in a dualistic framework is difficult. Dualism assumes good and evil are equal, so you would need a third element to adjudicate which one to choose, and that would be a higher standard. Otherwise you wouldn’t know which one to choose. Naturalism/materialism says there is no ultimate moral nature to the universe. 

  • Lewis begins by discussing our common moral experience as a triggering point to reason toward theism. Then he reasons for a deity that’s interested in morality that’s also a supreme power. With naturalism, we come from a source that is non-rational, non-moral and non-personal, so it’s difficult to understand how you get beings that are rational, moral and personal.

  • Theism is intellectually at least on par, if not superior to, other conceptions of reality like dualism, pantheism and naturalism. If there is a God that theism describes, only one deity of the living theistic religions said that this God invaded our existence. The question is that in comparison to other alternatives, what is emerging as a reasonable explanation of the reality we face?

  • Our rationality being reliable assumes that we can produce a large preponderance of true beliefs over false ones by using rational faculties like memory, abstract reasoning, perception and the testimony of others. The role of philosophy is to analyze and explain the common sense beliefs of the human race about morality and the external world. 

  • The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind. Lewis thinks that we now do not have broad social consensus of Christian truth. He challenges individuals to have a more positive affirming attitude toward intellect and academics. In his view, Christians are ambivalent about the value of the life of the mind and using the gift of our intellect to serve him.

  • Premise one: every natural desire corresponds to one real object. Premise two: There exists in us a desire that nothing in the temporal world can satisfy. Conclusion is that there must be more than time, earth and creatures that can satisfy this desire.

  • The Supreme Being, behind the universe as we know it, is a personal being, eternal and the model for how we are to understand our personhood. We can’t understand our own personhood fully, the way it’s supposed to operate, unless we understand what God is, as a personal being. We are not projecting our understanding on God but learning about ourselves by finding out about God. 

  • This is ultimately a book about a clash of worldviews. A worldview offers an explanation of the important features/phenomena of life and the world. In the West, the atheist worldview is often expressed in naturalism. Lewis argues for theism based on what is true internally of us, rather than argument from design. Discussion is not whether a particular miracle has occurred, but in principle, is it a possibility.

  • There is a supernatural power or being that is ontologically distinct from nature (transcendent). It is self-existent. Every world view must propose what is fundamentally real. For the naturalist, it is the physical world. For the theist, it’s a transcendent deity. Everything that is not God is dependent/contingent on God for its being. The theist says that the deity can bring about events that would not have happened by the regular operation of nature. 

  • What’s important to Lewis is freedom of rational thinking, free from physical causes. Naturalism undercuts the power of reason because everything is determined by physical causes. If evolutionary naturalism is true, then the probability of our cognitive faculties being reliable for truth is low.

  • If you believe in naturalism as a worldview, miracles are impossible. Since a naturalist worldview says everything is determined and thought is only adaptive, the ability to have free rational thought to logically evaluate naturalism undercuts the naturalist position.

  • Rational thought and moral consciousness are points of entry of the supernatural into the realm of the natural. It involves both. It’s not a dichotomy. Naturalists believe that the nature of human persons is limited to material processes. Substance dualists believe that mind and brain are two separate substances that are mixed for now, but at death one will cease to exist and the other will continue to exist. Emergentist sees the animal form taken to another degree of complexity by the natural realm getting increasingly complex and dualist in function as opposed to substance.

  • Scientific law is economical summary of what experience always reports: regular cause and effect. Laws are regularity based on coincidences. Causality is the basis of law. Hume says that laws are regularities based on coincidences. Hume says that you can only know regularity because that’s all the human mind is capable of. Peterson’s view is that a miracle is not changing a law of nature, it’s changing with the “ceteris paribus” clause – preventing all things from being equal and changing the nature of the item. 

  • There is nothing about nature that makes miracles impossible. The naturalist can’t see nature accurately as a creature, not just an independent fact but it can’t stand or explain itself. The cosmological principle is that only concrete beings, not general things, have causal power. Causal laws don’t make things happen, only the beings acting within the laws.

  • If God is in fact a living determinate being, and is outside the natural system, he might insert events into the natural system. The laws that we observe in the natural system may be a subset of higher laws that govern the universe. What criteria do you use to determine if a miracle has taken place? Evidence plus intrinsic probability. Whether or not an event is a miracle is also part of the discussion of the problem of evil. Why would God intervene in some circumstances but not others? 

  • In philosophy, it’s referred to as the problem of evil. Given a certain understanding of God and a certain understanding of evil, there is a tension explaining why evil exists in the world.

  • If God chooses to create a nature, this signifies a physical system which indicates a relatively independent nature independent from himself, it would make a lot of sense to say he is frequently intervening.  The same laws that make nature a stable environment in which rational soulish life can emerge, are also the same laws that make us vulnerable. Pain is God’s megaphone to arouse a deaf world. He might whisper to us in our pleasures, but he shouts to us in our pain. Question about whether God initiates the pain or he set up a system which results in pain because of the way it’s structured.

  • Lewis describes the story of the Fall as a narrative that has symbolic elements that convey significant truth. The truth in the first couple chapters of Genesis is that we were created by God, sovereign and loving creator, and that our only fulfillment as humans is to center our lives on God. Our proper role as a creature is to rely on God, so when we ignore that and rely on ourselves, our relationship with God is broken. 

  • God is his creation set forth the problem of expressing his goodness through the total drama of a world containing free agents in spite of, and even by means of, their rebellion against him. The risk is for the possibility of relationship. 

  • Aristotle would say that as a rational, moral being you build your character based on the hierarchy of good traits.  From a Christian perspective, our natural destiny should be on the same trajectory as our eternal destiny. The spiritual and theological virtues are faith, hope and love.

  • As long as God chooses a stable physical order, that physical order will run by its own laws. Any system with  have the possibility of pain. Created nature with natural laws provide a framework/structure in which souls can meet. Some pain is produced by the natural system without regard to the desires of the beings. That humans can inflict pain on other humans is a reflection of the permission by God that he permits this. The wide range of freedom makes it possible for great good or terrible evil. 

  • Lewis thinks that God needs to pierce the shield of our ego and we are embodied creatures so pain is what does it by getting our attention by highlighting how frail and in need we are. 

  • For Lewis, heaven is the unending joyous life of God, the life of the Trinity. The only way I can be fulfilled is to find its proper purpose and relation with God. Heaven is the restoration of created personhood, what it was always meant to be. When we are on the trajectory, we begin experiencing it now. Hell is the lack of fulfillment for which we were made. 

  • Discussion of the movie Shadowlands. Discussion of the nature of relationships. Pain and happiness are not necessarily mutually exclusive.                                        

  • Lewis expresses anger toward God as part of his process of grief. Orthodox Christianity denies materialism which believes that your physical body is all you are, but it doesn’t require body-soul dualism where the soul is the real person that inhabits a shell. Whatever damage death completes in the reign of sin in this world will be undone and swallowed up by the resurrection. The restoration of human personhood will come after death. 

  • Heaven and hell are dichotomous. Whether life is heaven or hell depends on your future trajectory. God is true reality, fixed and can’t be altered. In GD, true reality is God. The descriptions are not meant to be literal. Heaven is the Trinitarian life of God. It’s not a place, it’s a state of being in proper relation to the love and joy of the Trinitarian relations. Lewis describes it as a great dance. 

  • Final comments about themes in The Great Divorce.

C. S. Lewis is an extremely good theologian who does his work for the thoughtful lay person.  But his writings reflect his erudite understanding of the great classics of literature, historical theology, philosophy, and other disciplines.  Lewis says in Mere Christianity that theology is like a map.  We may get where we’re going without it, but it is much easier to use the map.  The map of Christian theology is drawn over the early centuries of the church as the believing community interprets the Bible and its experience of God.  

Of course, the ultimate goal of theology, according to Lewis, is practical:  to draw us into the life of God, or St. Gregory of Nazianzus ((329-374 AD), called it, “the Great Dance.”  I know no theme deeper or more pervasive in Lewis than our need to get the steps right, to join the dance once again.  

In “Meditations in a Tool Shed,” Lewis says that there is a distinction between looking at a beam of light and looking along the beam of light.  He is speaking of looking at reason or using reason—a passage that forms part of his great case that presence of rationality argues for the truth of theism.  We will be doing a lot of looking in this course, largely, “looking at” Lewis himself.  But let us also try to “look along” the same line of sight as Lewis, to see things—God, humanity, spiritual life, and a host of other things—as Lewis saw them.  This means attempting to step inside Lewis’s worldview and learning to interpret fundamental realities the way he did and to deploy his distinctive strategies for engaging other worldviews.  In effect, we will learn to think Christianly by learning to think along Christianly with Lewis.

In 2020, Dr. Peterson published the book, C. S. Lewis and the Christian WorldviewIt is essentially his course lectures in written book form--covering Lewis on all key worldview issues--reality, knowledge, creation, trinity, christology, as well as issues of evil, religious pluralism, and the impact of science on faith. You will also see it listed in the Recommended Reading section.