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Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Comprising most of Lewis' writings.

Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby rusmeister » 25 May 2010, 16:09

archenland_knight wrote:
This whole "The EOC is the True Church That Christ Began" debate has been waged over and over again here. Poor Matthew wasn't around back before the "Religion, Science, & Philosophy" thread was alive, so he didn't get experience that.

Anyway, am I the only person whose feelings about his topic are depicted by this image?


If the question of truth were a dead horse, I'd agree with you completely. But given that our general context is the English- speaking and primarily western world, there are always people who have never heard anything about eastern Orthodoxy and have always imagined Christianity purely in broad "Protestant vs Catholic" terms. You may have thought about it - although I'd say 'not enough' - and if you don't want to, it's "He who hath ears to hear..."

Anyway, if you think I'm being rude or uncivil, say so and I'll apologize and withdraw.

I can't agree with Matthew at all. My own experience of world languages and cultures has convinced me far too thoroughly that while we can understand some things in Scripture, there is no way we can form an entire correct theology on our own based on our limited understanding of it.

My one question to maralewisfan is on the college course: What does the instructor believe and what do the authors of the texts referenced believe? This often needs to be inferred as they do their best to hide it in "impartial language". I wouldn't trust any world religions course to teach me the truth about religions. if you want to know what they believe, you have to go straight to the horse's mouth. (And not the dead one's! :wink: )
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Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby archenland_knight » 25 May 2010, 16:52

Rusmeister,

I don't think you're being uncivil or rude at all. It's just that there's nothing new to be said here. You've made every argument there is to be made many times over in the past, and we have made every counter argument there is to be made many times over in the past. It just seems like a waste of time to rehash those arguments yet again.

I agree with you that truth is absolute, and that one of us must be right and the other must be wrong. But at this point, does it do any good to debate any further? There comes point, even if you are 100% certain that you are right, when it is time to walk away from a matter.

Mark 6:11 says "And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them."

One of us is in that position. We disagree on which it is and perhaps always will. It's time for that person, which ever it is, to walk away from the debate.
Romans 5:8 "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
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Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby Matthew Whaley » 25 May 2010, 17:40

I am interested, rusmeister, what the state of religious life is in your community? I hope I'm not being too forward; are more people attending church? Are you being overrun with missionaries of every stripe? Are most people indifferent to religion?
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Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby maralewisfan » 25 May 2010, 17:42

My one question to maralewisfan is on the college course: What does the instructor believe and what do the authors of the texts referenced believe? This often needs to be inferred as they do their best to hide it in "impartial language". I wouldn't trust any world religions course to teach me the truth about religions. if you want to know what they believe, you have to go straight to the horse's mouth. (And not the dead one's! :wink: )[/quote]

The instructor is Christian, the author of the text is Sikh. This is just an overview course, not anything designed to teach the truth about religions. I am a member of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. I was just looking for information on whether Lewis ever wrote anything about the Buddhist, Hindu, Daoist, type of religions.
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Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby archenland_knight » 25 May 2010, 17:55

I am so sorry MarlaLewisFan. (What should we call you ... Marla? MLF?) We need to address what you said.

Anyway, I don't recall Lewis going into great detail about other specific religions. He speaks a little about them in Mere Christianity, but it's hardly an in-depth comparative study. He also makes some brief mentions of specific religions in The Abolition of Man.

Other than that, I just can't think of anything. But Sven might.

If Lewis wrote it, Sven knows it. :toothy-grin:
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Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby JRosemary » 25 May 2010, 20:05

maralewisfan wrote:. I was just looking for information on whether Lewis ever wrote anything about the Buddhist, Hindu, Daoist, type of religions.


I don't think Lewis had any real confidence in his comprehension of Hinduism--he says things like "the Hindus, as far as I can understand them . . ." (See Mere Christianity, where he wrestles briefly with monism, only to admit that he's not sure he understands the Hindu point of view.) He also says that while westerners have a duty to study and confront Christianity, he felt no such compulsion to study and confront an eastern religion like Hinduism. I used to think that was a cop-out on his part, but now I bear in mind that studying Hinduism in the depth it deserves is a massive undertaking--and he didn't have the internet or lots of Hindu neighbors to help him along.

In Religion Without Dogma? Lewis dismantles the notion that religion requires a guarantee of an afterlife by referencing Buddhism and Judaism. In Buddhism, he points out, reincarnation isn't a prize--you're trying to exit the wheel, after all. Speaking as a non-expert with a religious studies degree, I'd say that's more-or-less true, with the caveat that there are many forms of Buddhism and they have different ideas of whether or not Nirvana entails absolute negation.

And Judaism, Lewis continues, is scarcely interested in the question of afterlife. Speaking as a Jew, I'd say that's quite true; we have traditional teachings that range from the ressurection of the dead to reincarnation--but Jews tend to remain indifferent to the question and polls consistently tell us that the majority of Jews don't believe in an afterlife. (Despite some mystical, Kabalistic flights, Judaism tends to be a here-and-now religion.)

I think Lewis mentioned Buddhism and Judaism in this context because he was afraid that Christianity's promise of an afterlife could seem like a bribe (he says as much at one point). So he wanted to show that religion doesn't need an afterlife. In Letters to Malcom, he says that even if it turned out there was no afterlife, he would remain a Christian (and expects that his fictional friend Malcom would as well.)

Lewis speaks in a few places about the general ethical agreements of world religions; in his view, when it comes to morals, we need to be reminded rather than taught. He was a pretty thorough-going Platonist on that point.

And I don't think Lewis ever goes into more depth than that--I think he recognized his limitations when it came to religions like Hinduism, Buddhism and possible even Judaism, since he more often refers to his wife's opinion on Judaism than his own. (She was a Jew who converted to Christianity.) And he has very few references to Islam, and none that I can think of to Sikkhism. He does refer to Confucianism, but as a philosophy, I think. He referes to the Tao, but generally from a Confucianist point of view rather than a Taoist point of view.

Again, I used to think it odd that he hadn't thoroghly studied world religions, but now I think he recognized how difficult it would be to study them all in depth. We have better tools for doing so now, and if we live in metropolitan areas in the werstern world, we can usually walk into a mosque, synagogue, Buddhist or Hindu temple and ask questions. And we can look up tons of stuff on reputable sites on the internet--and there are many more reputable books avaliable. Lewis didn't have as easy a time with it; there was less information readily available.
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Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby Sven » 25 May 2010, 21:20

My understanding is that, when he first started out writing apologetics, most of Lewis' knowledge of Hinduism came from Frazer's The Golden Bough (the 12 volume original, not the better known abridged edition). Lewis later came to know a bit more from his long correspondence with his former student Dom Bede Griffiths, who was a Roman Catholic priest in India (and the dedicatee of Surprised by Joy.
Rat! he found breath to whisper, shaking. Are you afraid?
Afraid? murmured the Rat, his eyes shining with unutterable love.
Afraid! Of Him? O, never, never! And yet -- and yet -- O, Mole, I am afraid!
Then the two animals, crouching to the earth, bowed their heads and did worship.
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Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby JRosemary » 25 May 2010, 21:25

Addition to my post above: I should reference one of C.S. Lewis's very negative--and, I think, very silly--statements on other religions. I'm not sure where the reference is, but it's probably Mere Christianity. He says that you don't have to consider all the worlds religions, you can just group them into different types. He goes on to dismiss the Eastern religions and then to say insulting things like "all that was best in Judaism and Platonism survive in Christianity."

Honestly, I find sentiments like these so laughable that it's almost hard to take offense. And they're generally spoken by people who don't go to the Seders of their Jewish friends, or Shabbat dinners, or the Torah studies at their local synagogues. In my view, people of different religions have lots to learn from each other--but you wouldn't know it from Lewis's careless remark.

He may have grown less careless as he went on. Moreover, I did read somewhere that when one of his step-sons wanted to practice Judaism, Lewis went out of his way to find a kosher butcher, which was no easy task in his area. (Both his stepsons are are halachically Jewish--that is, Jewish according to Jewish law.) If I'd been a neighbor and anyone had asked me, I would have told the kid just to keep dairy kosher so he didn't have to make his step-father's life difficult. :tongue: But, if the story is true, Lewis certainly did right by the kid.
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Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby JRosemary » 25 May 2010, 21:32

Sven wrote:My understanding is that, when he first started out writing apologetics, most of Lewis' knowledge of Hinduism came from Frazer's The Golden Bough (the 12 volume original, not the better known abridged edition). Lewis later came to know a bit more from his long correspondence with his former student Dom Bede Griffiths, who was a Roman Catholic priest in India (and the dedicatee of Surprised by Joy.


Thanks for the info! The Golden Bough is hardly a primary source--and judging by the abridged one, at least, it isn't even a great secondary source--so that kind of proves my point. And the first rule of religious studies is to learn from people who practice the religion in question. In other words, don't go to a Catholic priest to learn about Hinduism!

We're lucky nowadays--we have so much more information at our fingertips. When I wanted to learn more about Hinduism, I talked to Hindu friends, and they took me to temples and to a big Durga Puja festival a little south of me. (And they helped me pick out a beautiful salwar suit. I keep hoping they'll catch on in the western world!) I read material from the Vedanta Society to learn more about the Vedanta aspects of Hinduism--plus their American East Coast headquarters is right next door, so to speak, in Manhattan. Plus, as a religious studies major, I could talk with Hindu professors just about any time, and read their recommendations. I could have even buckled down and learned Sanskrit in my school, though I had too much on my plate for that. Lewis didn't have that kind of access to information.
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Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby rusmeister » 26 May 2010, 01:49

archenland_knight wrote:Rusmeister,

I don't think you're being uncivil or rude at all. It's just that there's nothing new to be said here. You've made every argument there is to be made many times over in the past, and we have made every counter argument there is to be made many times over in the past. It just seems like a waste of time to rehash those arguments yet again.

I agree with you that truth is absolute, and that one of us must be right and the other must be wrong. But at this point, does it do any good to debate any further? There comes point, even if you are 100% certain that you are right, when it is time to walk away from a matter.

Mark 6:11 says "And if any place will not welcome you or listen to you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave, as a testimony against them."

One of us is in that position. We disagree on which it is and perhaps always will. It's time for that person, which ever it is, to walk away from the debate.


I wasn't debating you at all, AK. I was telling other people - evidently not familiar with the points I have brought - and you dropped in. If you have nothing new to say, then don't. For you, it no doubt is beating a dead horse. Your mind is made up.
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Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby rusmeister » 26 May 2010, 01:56

Matthew Whaley wrote:I am interested, rusmeister, what the state of religious life is in your community? I hope I'm not being too forward; are more people attending church? Are you being overrun with missionaries of every stripe? Are most people indifferent to religion?

Thanks, Matt.
I'll say that Orthodoxy has exploded over the past ten years. In my own community, when I came here seven years ago, we had maybe 40 regular parishioners. Now we have well over 150, with visitors floating in and out (nominals who figure 'once a month is good enough' and people who are curious) all the time. We don't pressure anyone - no Baptist-style "invitations" - and some of them, in turn, slowly become regulars. At Pascha (Easter) we have double that figure - people stand shoulder-to-shoulder, hip-to-hip, and the fire marshal would have conniptions.

A lot of people are still indifferent to religion; a majority of the population has been formally baptized but doesn't see participation in church life as important - and that's something we're working on. :) I don't see the issue of nominalism as being significantly different from the US.
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Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby rusmeister » 26 May 2010, 02:08

JRosemary wrote:Addition to my post above: I should reference one of C.S. Lewis's very negative--and, I think, very silly--statements on other religions. I'm not sure where the reference is, but it's probably Mere Christianity. He says that you don't have to consider all the worlds religions, you can just group them into different types. He goes on to dismiss the Eastern religions and then to say insulting things like "all that was best in Judaism and Platonism survive in Christianity."

Honestly, I find sentiments like these so laughable that it's almost hard to take offense. And they're generally spoken by people who don't go to the Seders of their Jewish friends, or Shabbat dinners, or the Torah studies at their local synagogues. In my view, people of different religions have lots to learn from each other--but you wouldn't know it from Lewis's careless remark.

He may have grown less careless as he went on. Moreover, I did read somewhere that when one of his step-sons wanted to practice Judaism, Lewis went out of his way to find a kosher butcher, which was no easy task in his area. (Both his stepsons are are halachically Jewish--that is, Jewish according to Jewish law.) If I'd been a neighbor and anyone had asked me, I would have told the kid just to keep dairy kosher so he didn't have to make his step-father's life difficult. :tongue: But, if the story is true, Lewis certainly did right by the kid.


I think your previous marks a good summary. But I think it a little presumptuous to charge Lewis with silliness or foolishness.
Lewis was very logical - if a proposition is true, then other (mutually exclusive) ones are false. If what he believed (and many of us do believe) is true, then Judaism, for all that it has many great truths and a long tradition, is false, and his statement follows. It is true that there are many variations of practice - and there are more intelligent and deeper traditions than others within the general label, but if the conclusions he came to are true, the rest follows. You simply don't agree. I don't think it fair to compare his observations - which may be lacking in certain details - you hold a faith without knowing hardly anything about Orthodox Christianity, and none of us can know everything about all religions. We speak from what we know. Those who know more deserve more respect and more serious consideration. I think Lewis knew a lot more than most (though I have my own beef with him).
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Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby rusmeister » 26 May 2010, 02:18

Theophilus wrote:
rusmeister wrote:The only way to determine who is right is to appeal to authority. In court, one can refer to a legal document (such as the Constitution) to claim legal rights, for example, but one cannot appeal to the document as authority to decide what the document means.
What if the decision by the authorities clearly contradicts what the document plainly says? Federal courts in the US have made decisions which I think are contrary to the Constitution. I have to submit to these interpretations because the government has the power to enforce them, but that isn't the case when it comes to interpreting the Bible.

The Bible itself teaches that we should resist religious authorities when they go against the Bible. Jesus condemned the Pharisees for having traditions that contradicted God's word and for teaching their doctrines as if they were commands of God. The apostles often refused to submit to the Jewish religious leaders when they ordered them to do something contrary to God's commands.

There is one major difference between the Bible and a human document such as the Constitution. We can communicate directly with the author of the Bible and ask him to help us understand it.


Again, how do you determine whether a decision "plainly contradicts"? - if it plainly contradicted, then 9 judges - or 300 - would hardly all make the same mistake - although in a purely human institution, such a thing is possible.

Your statements about "God's Word" show certain assumptions in reading of Scripture that Jesus didn't actually say. You've already made an interpretation that varies with others' - because you make certain assumptions when you read, like assuming that "the Word of God"= the Bible. According to John ch 1, (the irony of appealing to the Bible when there is no authority to render a decision - when I make MYSELF that authority - which I don't, btw; my authority is the Orthodox Church), JESUS is the Word of God.

Although He condemned Pharisaical practices, Jesus didn't tell people to rise up and start deciding for themselves how to worship God - He Himself set the great example in submitting to Authority.

I'll just point back to what Lincoln said regarding unity. It cannot be had on your principles. It must begin with submission.

PS - This is off-topic: I'm fine with having a thread split if people want it.
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Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby john » 26 May 2010, 04:50

rusmeister wrote:PS - This is off-topic: I'm fine with having a thread split if people want it.


If it's that far off-topic, then it doesn't belong in this thread, so yes...please start another one. However, keep in mind that all topics in this part of the forum must have a connection with C. S. Lewis.
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Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby JRosemary » 26 May 2010, 11:21

rusmeister wrote:I think your previous marks a good summary. But I think it a little presumptuous to charge Lewis with silliness or foolishness. Lewis was very logical - if a proposition is true, then other (mutually exclusive) ones are false. If what he believed (and many of us do believe) is true, then Judaism, for all that it has many great truths and a long tradition, is false, and his statement follows. It is true that there are many variations of practice - and there are more intelligent and deeper traditions than others within the general label, but if the conclusions he came to are true, the rest follows. You simply don't agree. I don't think it fair to compare his observations - which may be lacking in certain details - you hold a faith without knowing hardly anything about Orthodox Christianity, and none of us can know everything about all religions. We speak from what we know. Those who know more deserve more respect and more serious consideration. I think Lewis knew a lot more than most (though I have my own beef with him).


First of all, why is it presumptuous to charge Lewis with silliness? Intelligent, well-intentioned people are quite capable of being silly. And what's not silly about sweepingly dismissing every religion in the world except Hinduism and Christianity? At this point, bear in mind, he wasn't even arguing for the truth of Christianity. He was just saying that no two other religions are worth considering.

Judging by his writings, the man had no in-depth knowledge of any religion except Christianity. He makes it clear that he doesn't even grok Hinduism, the other religion he's setting up as a possible choice, let alone Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Sikkhism, Taoism, Shinto, etc.

Lewis is basically saying: if you're looking for truth, don't look anywhere else except Hinduism and Christianity. It has to be in one of those two places; no other religion is worth looking at. And to me that's just silly. Especially when he's not even consistent about the way he dismisses them! "Buddhism is just the greatest Hindu heresy," he says. Yet Buddhism is to Hinudism as Christianity is to Judaism; going by his logic, he should have said, "Christianity is just the greatest Jewish heresy."

The bottom line is that Lewis shows contempt of all world religions except two, desite his lack of in depth knowledge of any religion except Christianity. It's not a mean-spirited contempt, because Lewis wasn't a mean spirited person. But it is, in my mind, a very silly contempt. The whole passage does not show Lewis to his best advantage.
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