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Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Comprising most of Lewis' writings.

Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby rusmeister » 26 May 2010, 18:11

JRosemary wrote:
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 Hinduism 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, despite 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.


Well, Jo, I certainly thought you had a solid enough grasp of Lewis to dispense with claims of "silly". Ill thought-out? You may think so. Wrong? Ditto. Silly? You'd have to not have read much Lewis to say that and really mean it. I'd agree that not everything Lewis wrote showed him to his best advantage. But he was an enormously intelligent - and humble - scholar, and when he published something, he generally thought about it before he said it. It's not like he fired from the hip during an interview or something of the sort.

You are at the additional disadvantage of disagreeing with his conclusions, having chosen another faith - I can appreciate your sentiments, but not your choice of words or arguments. Lewis believed that a particular conclusion was actually true - and others were therefore not true, however close (or far) they might be to (or from) that truth.

I think you REALLY sell him short on knowledge of other world religions. The man was a confirmed atheist until nearly thirty, and dabbled in the basics, at least, of a bunch of them. I was just reading "The Abolition of Man" and he certainly shows a broad-based knowledge there.

I don't think he shows contempt - he simply thinks that one should shorten one's path to the truth as much as possible, and eliminate views that are (too) simple.

He could have said "Christianity is the greatest Jewish heresy". Except for the fact that he came to the conclusion that Christianity is actually the true view.
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Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby cyranorox » 26 May 2010, 20:02

Buddhism is to Hinduism as Protestantism is to [Western] Christianity, but not as Christianity is to Judaism. A reform movement, with some insights, but not a News.
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Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby JRosemary » 27 May 2010, 10:43

rusmeister wrote:I think you REALLY sell him short on knowledge of other world religions. The man was a confirmed atheist until nearly thirty, and dabbled in the basics, at least, of a bunch of them. I was just reading "The Abolition of Man" and he certainly shows a broad-based knowledge there.


Lewis's primary devotion was to ancient mythology, Norse mythology and Christianity. I've spoken at length above as to how, sometimes by his own admission, his knowledge of world religions was not in-depth. No reason to rehash it here.

rusmeister wrote:He could have said "Christianity is the greatest Jewish heresy". Except for the fact that he came to the conclusion that Christianity is actually the true view.


But a man as bright as Lewis should have been able to figure out that dismissing Buddhism as "the greatest Hindu heresy" would be just as trite and silly as dismissing Christianity as the greatest Jewish heresy--though, if you're going to dismiss one thusly, it logically follows to dismiss the other in the same fashion.

rusmeister wrote:I don't think he shows contempt - he simply thinks that one should shorten one's path to the truth as much as possible, and eliminate views that are (too) simple.


Interesting. So Lewis is saying, "There is a short cut to truth! No hard work required in the world religion department. Don't bother your pretty little heads with comparative religious studies! Out of all the major world religions, only Hinduism and Christianity are worth studying. Ignore those millions of Bhuddists, Jews, Muslims, Taoists, etc. There's nothing of interest in them. If they had "mature" minds, they would see what a waste of time their worship is."

Thank you, Rus, for asking me to rethink the implications of this passage. I had only thought Lewis was being uncharacteristically trite and silly--now I'll add ridiculous and condescending.
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Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby rusmeister » 27 May 2010, 14:51

JRosemary wrote:
rusmeister wrote:I think you REALLY sell him short on knowledge of other world religions. The man was a confirmed atheist until nearly thirty, and dabbled in the basics, at least, of a bunch of them. I was just reading "The Abolition of Man" and he certainly shows a broad-based knowledge there.


Lewis's primary devotion was to ancient mythology, Norse mythology and Christianity. I've spoken at length above as to how, sometimes by his own admission, his knowledge of world religions was not in-depth. No reason to rehash it here.

rusmeister wrote:He could have said "Christianity is the greatest Jewish heresy". Except for the fact that he came to the conclusion that Christianity is actually the true view.


But a man as bright as Lewis should have been able to figure out that dismissing Buddhism as "the greatest Hindu heresy" would be just as trite and silly as dismissing Christianity as the greatest Jewish heresy--though, if you're going to dismiss one thusly, it logically follows to dismiss the other in the same fashion.

rusmeister wrote:I don't think he shows contempt - he simply thinks that one should shorten one's path to the truth as much as possible, and eliminate views that are (too) simple.


Interesting. So Lewis is saying, "There is a short cut to truth! No hard work required in the world religion department. Don't bother your pretty little heads with comparative religious studies! Out of all the major world religions, only Hinduism and Christianity are worth studying. Ignore those millions of Bhuddists, Jews, Muslims, Taoists, etc. There's nothing of interest in them. If they had "mature" minds, they would see what a waste of time their worship is."

Thank you, Rus, for asking me to rethink the implications of this passage. I had only thought Lewis was being uncharacteristically trite and silly--now I'll add ridiculous and condescending.


You're free. of course, to imagine anything you want about Lewis. Putting words in his mouth that he would have abhorred and denied hardly helps clarify how he really saw things.

There are a number of things to consider in the passage from MC that bothers you so; above all the audience to which it is addressed and the purpose of the original radio broadcasts. It was NOT aimed at a multi-cultural, multi-religious pluralist audience such as predominates today. It was addressed to a native English population during the second world war which had not entirely abandoned the particular Christian tradition that it grew out of. As Lewis saw it, it already HAD the heritage of the truth, even though it no longer understood it, and it seems pretty clear to me that if your pupils are already on top of the right answer, sending them off in wrong directions does not actually help them find the right answer - which was Lewis's pressing concern, especially in wartime, when so many of said addressees faced imminent danger and possible death; getting to the correct conclusion as quickly as possible WAS his goal. Of course, extended knowledge of paths that are close to the Truth but not the Truth help one understand WHY the Truth is what it is, but that just wasn't what he was trying to do there.

Also, I'm not sure how YOU define "in-depth knowledge" and how you think you qualify as superior to Lewis. It takes the better part of a lifetime to learn from personal experiences and the horse's mouth a significant amount about world religions - a "comparative religions course", which always approaches them from some philosophy or other while desperately pretending to be above all philosophies, hardly qualifies as teaching anything really significant - any more than impressions, and Lewis was surely qualified beyond such a basic course. How then, can you claim to be any better? You can claim specific knowledge about Buddhism, for example, and I'll counter that you know a similar insignificant minimum about the Eastern half of Christianity, and despite your Catholic past, I suspect you never learned many of the Catholic higher level counters to your objections to it (although I would probably agree with some of your objections). All of us know only so much - we simply don't live long enough. But some things were obvious to him - that all of those religions hold truth, but that some hold more of it than others. You may disagree and have a right to do so - although you would not be right in doing so.

Lewis felt he HAD actually come across THE Truth - something not a personal opinion, and not requiring further knowledge to establish the truth of it. But he DID see the good in other religions - that he ALSO found in his version of Christianity - and referred to it when appropriate.
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Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby JRosemary » 27 May 2010, 16:23

rusmeister wrote:Also, I'm not sure how YOU define "in-depth knowledge" and how you think you qualify as superior to Lewis. It takes the better part of a lifetime to learn from personal experiences and the horse's mouth a significant amount about world religions - a "comparative religions course", which always approaches them from some philosophy or other while desperately pretending to be above all philosophies, hardly qualifies as teaching anything really significant - any more than impressions, and Lewis was surely qualified beyond such a basic course.
How then, can you claim to be any better? You can claim specific knowledge about Buddhism, for example, and I'll counter that you know a similar insignificant minimum about the Eastern half of Christianity, and despite your Catholic past, I suspect you never learned many of the Catholic higher level counters to your objections to it (although I would probably agree with some of your objections). All of us know only so much - we simply don't live long enough. But some things were obvious to him - that all of those religions hold truth, but that some hold more of it than others. You may disagree and have a right to do so - although you would not be right in doing so.


I have not attacked you here, Rus, or gotten in the least bit personal. I have not questioned your knowledge or speculated about your prior religious experiences and what bearing they might have on your opinions. I've aimed all my remarks and criticisms at C.S. Lewis. Why do you feel it necessary to attack me?

(Up till now, I have ignored your personal attacks from previous posts, such as this charmer: "Well, Jo, I certainly thought you had a solid enough grasp of Lewis to dispense with claims of "silly". Ill thought-out? You may think so. Wrong? Ditto. Silly? You'd have to not have read much Lewis to say that and really mean it." From now on, please direct your remarks at C.S. Lewis and his writings, not at me. I have done you that courtesy; I expect the same treatment.)

I have contended here that Lewis did not have an indepth knowledge of Hinduism and other world religions--partly because he qualified his remarks by saying things like, "The Hindus, as far as I can understand them . . ." And Partly because he admitted that while he thought all westerners should study and confront the claims of Christianity, he felt no such compulsion to study and confront the claims of Hinduism.

I have made no claims to have more knowledge on world religions than C.S. Lewis. It would be a silly claim to make, since it would be impossible to prove. However, my knowledge of Buddhism is decent and my knowledge of Hinduism is quite extensive. And I have always striven to learn "from the horse's mouth"--which you would know if you had read this thread, because Sven and I briefly discussed the matter. Here's part of that discussion:

Jrosemary wrote:
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.


I haven't been to India yet to study, sadly--I have to live vicariously through friends and relatives who have had that experience. But if my financial situation improves, I'll certainly fix that. I may yet buckle down and learn Sanskrit too--although I'd like to improve my Hebrew first. (Both my ancient Hebrew and my modern Israeli Hebrew need improving!)

Does that give you an idea of what I consider in-depth knowledge? Experiencing the relgion as members practice it, learning the language of the sacred Scripture, studying with professors who both practice the religion and are experts in it--that's a good start.

Anyway, I have long loved the Hindu religion--which has led me to have many interesting discussions with my rabbi and other rabbis!--even though I have no desire to be a Hindu. But although Judaism and Hinduism approach things differently, they have some striking similarities. I had a long discussion one night with a Hindu professor of mine--he was fascinated to learn about the monistic strains that sometimes arise in Jewish mysticism, as well as Chasidic teachings on reincarnation and such. And, of course, Judaism and Hinduism are both ancient, non-creedal religions with large cultural components. And while both religions welcome converts, neither is a missionary religion, so you can have long, frutiful discussions without one person trying to convert the other or trying to prove that her religion is better.

But my larger point is this: don't trust C.S. Lewis's words on Hinduism or any other relgion than Christianity. Always go to Hindus to learn about Hinduism, to Jews to learn about Judaism and so forth. Don't let C.S. Lewis tell you the relative worth of other religions! Let C.S. Lewis tell you about Christianity. For the rest, as you said, go to the horse's mouth!

Even if you came to me wanting to know about Judaism, I'd still want you to talk not only with me, but with lots of other Jews across the spectrum (including, of course, the rabbis and cantors I know.) I'd bring you to Shabbat dinner with Jews of all different opinions (no hardship there: as soon as you get two Jews together, you have three opinions on any given subject.) I'd bring you to the Conservative services at my shul, as well as Reform, Reconstructionist and Modern Orthodox services. (Well, I'd send you to a Modern Orthodox service with a male Jewish friend or family member, so you'd be able to sit with them. Men and women sit separately in those shuls.) I'd encourage you to sit in on Torah studies in a couple of different shuls so you can hear the kind of arguments that go on.

But if you came to me wanting to know about Hinduism, I'd start by bringing you to the Hindu temple in town so you could watch the worship and then ask questions of praticing Hindus. I'd bring you to the Hindu professors I know, plus my Hindu friends and neighbors. I'd advise you to go to a big Hindu festival like Durga Puja. I'd bring you to the Vedanta Society. I wouldn't want you to get your information from me--although I can talk at length on the subject and direct you to my favorite English translations of Hindu scripture.

If you wanted to learn about Buddhism, I have plenty of Buddhists to direct you to. And if you wanted to know about Roman Catholicism, I know plenty of Roman Catholic priests and nuns to send you to. And so on.

Anyway, at least we're in agreement about the horse's mouth. I think it's a shame that C.S. Lewis took it upon himself to dismiss other religions--but on that we're likely to continue to disagree.

The last thing I'll do is to repeat this: please direct your remarks to C.S. Lewis and his works. Do not attack me personally again, do not speculate about my experiences and knowledge, and do not demand me to present my credentials on claims I've never made. I have confined my remarks and criticisms to C.S. Lewis; in a civilized discussion on his works, I expect you to do the same.
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Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby rusmeister » 28 May 2010, 03:33

Hi Jo,
I think you've read me quite wrongly. You seem to have taken what I meant as a general point that there is a practical limit to what any of us could know as an ad hominem attack.
But your idea that all comments MUST be confined to Lewis is illogical. It is not possible to have much of any discussion at all. We could not discuss any applicability of Lewis's ideas to us, or even the issue of whether those ideas are true or not. You are basically saying that you may criticize Lewis's ideas, but that I may not criticize yours. If you criticize Lewis you DO place yourself in a position above him to do so. I question your ability to really do that - I don't think that your basis to do so is as strong as you seem to think it is, and I don't think any criticism can even be seriously considered if it cannot be questioned. I see a difference between insults to a person (ad hominem) and attacking ideas. I do the latter with no apologies, I avoid the former as sin, an exercise in pride.

I am NOT engaging in personal attacks! I'm not saying you are stupid if you are ignorant of, for instance, Orthodox Christianity (my faith) - and I accept that you are fairly well informed on Buddhism and Hinduism - my point is that we are all invariably ignorant of some aspects of religion, and an apologist for any religion is going to be necessarily dismissive of something or other. That Lewis was dismissive of Buddhism and Islam in "Mere Christianity" is quite excusable, given the audience and circumstances under which he wrote it. I'd say he knew enough, and he does periodically display sufficient knowledge of them for an educated person in other works. I'm not aware of any specific treatises on Buddhism or Islam that he wrote, which, it seems, is what you might wish he had. (For that matter, so do I. I think it would eliminate some of your objections, as well as be very interesting in its own right.)

In sum, I'd say that you should first define what "in-depth knowledge" means, and then how possible it is for any of us to have it regarding all (if only) major religions. A modern comparative religion study course? To me such a thing is, generally speaking, most likely to be a farce and do the dangerous thing of giving a person an impression that they actually understand a religion when in fact they do not. As I said, the horse's mouth is best.
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Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby maralewisfan » 28 May 2010, 16:41

Hopefully I'm not being too forward.

Jo,
I appreciate your response to my question, that gives me a good place to start for my final paper. I had an interview with a local rabbi on Wednesday and was thrilled with the conversation that we had. I had a set of questions that I had to ask, but the more indepth part of the conversation was my favorite. I do believe that you are correct that it is much easier to find information about the different religions and to study their beliefs with the internet and a much more congenial environment of acceptance, even if it is not complete agreement.

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Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby JRosemary » 28 May 2010, 19:10

rusmeister wrote:Hi Jo,


Rus, for as long as we've known each other, you've scarcely ever gotten my name right! My first name is Jennifer, my middle name is Rosemary. You can call me "Jennifer," "Jenni," "Jen," "Rose," "JRose," or "Rosemary." You can even call me "JR," if it doesn't conjure up J. R. Ewing. Heck, you can call me by my Hebrew name: Shoshana.

Nothing against the name "Jo" or "Joanna," etc. They're lovely. But they're among the few names I don't answer to. :wink:

rusmeister wrote:But your idea that all comments MUST be confined to Lewis is illogical. It is not possible to have much of any discussion at all. We could not discuss any applicability of Lewis's ideas to us, or even the issue of whether those ideas are true or not. You are basically saying that you may criticize Lewis's ideas, but that I may not criticize yours. If you criticize Lewis you DO place yourself in a position above him to do so. I question your ability to really do that - I don't think that your basis to do so is as strong as you seem to think it is, and I don't think any criticism can even be seriously considered if it cannot be questioned.


But what do you want? A list of my degrees, a review of all my personal studies, and my activities in interfaith-dialogue? Apart from the fact that I wouldn't give that kind of personal info out on the net, it's probably easier to direct your comments at something I specifically say about any religion. I'll be happy to provide my sources.

I'm not saying you are stupid if you are ignorant of, for instance, Orthodox Christianity (my faith) - and I accept that you are fairly well informed on Buddhism and Hinduism - my point is that we are all invariably ignorant of some aspects of religion, and an apologist for any religion is going to be necessarily dismissive of something or other.


Why would an apologist need to be dismissive of another religion? In my mind, that doesn't follow. In fact, I would think it would be harmful to his apologetics. If he casually dismisses other world religions--especially without even establishing that he has an in-depth knowledge of them--it's going to be harder for me to respect the rest of his argument.

And why should I believe someone who says, "I know all about Christianity, I think it's the best religion out there, and the true one--so you can believe me when I tell you about the others." Why should I trust him? Didn't you say yourself that you can only really learn about another religion from the horse's mouth? Why on earth would I trust what a Christian whose goal is to convert people to his religion on whether another religion is worthy of study? If some radical Protestant came along and told me about the evils of the Eastern Orthodox churches, I should take his word for it? I shouldn't suspect that his view might be biased? Shouldn't I go to an Orthodox Christian, and ask her to tell me about her faith?

rusmeister wrote:That Lewis was dismissive of Buddhism and Islam in "Mere Christianity" is quite excusable, given the audience and circumstances under which he wrote it. I'd say he knew enough, and he does periodically display sufficient knowledge of them for an educated person in other works. I'm not aware of any specific treatises on Buddhism or Islam that he wrote, which, it seems, is what you might wish he had. (For that matter, so do I. I think it would eliminate some of your objections, as well as be very interesting in its own right.)


But you said you have to go to the "horse's mouth" to learn about a religion; you have to go to a practicioner. And I've agreed--except that I think you should go to a number of practicioners, from across the spectrum of the religion in question. (And you may not disagree with that.) So, again, why on earth would I trust Lewis to tell me that it's ok to dismiss Buddhism, Islam, Judaism and every other religion except for Hinduism and Christianity? I don't think he should have said such a thing to any audience.

Lewis writing treatsies on religions other than Christianity would have been interesting in so far as they would have shown how much he knew about them. I would have loved to have read them. But, since you and I agree that you can only really learn about a religion from "the horse's mouth," that might be the extent of their usefulness. If I wanted to learn about Christianity, after all, I wouldn't go to even the most learned rabbi. Sure, the rabbi may well know about the religion and may be knowledgable about some Christian interpretations of Jewish Scripture.And his knowledge on Jewish culture and history would be useful in so far as it influenced Christianity. But regarding Christianity specifically, it would be all second hand knowledge--and it might be prejudiced. If I wanted to learn about Eastern Orthodoxy, I wouldn't ask a Baptist minister. (Or vice versa.) Same problem. I want primary sources . . . and I'll judge for myself what's worth studying.

rusmeister wrote:In sum, I'd say that you should first define what "in-depth knowledge" means, and then how possible it is for any of us to have it regarding all (if only) major religions. A modern comparative religion study course? To me such a thing is, generally speaking, most likely to be a farce and do the dangerous thing of giving a person an impression that they actually understand a religion when in fact they do not. As I said, the horse's mouth is best.


I've already given my idea of "in-depth knowledge." It's not a simple matter. Only people who have a passion for learning about religions are likely to have an in-depth knowledge on any religion other than their own, unless they were raised in an interfaith family or something. And, like any other kind of knowledge, you learn about religions at the expense of other studies. I know a lot about Judaism and Hinduism, plus a fair amount on Buddhism and Christianity, and an ok amount on most other world religions. No surprise, because studying religion is a passion of mine, and I live in an area where it's easy to go to "the horse's mouth." But I'm lousy at lots of other things. For example, it's quite likely that my knowlege of math will never get beyond basic algebra and geometry.

However, I don't want the perfect to become the enemy of the good. Just because I'll never learn Calculus doesn't mean I shouldn't have a grasp of basic math. You and I agree that a comparative religion course is not the best way to learn about a religion. It's not going to give you an in-depth knowledge. But it'll probably give you enough of a clue so that you'll know what a store advertising halal meat is talking about.

So most people won't have an in-depth religion on any religion other than their own. (And, yeah, sometimes people don't have in-depth knowledge on their own religion.) No worries. People have different passions and excell at different subjects. However, when curiosity about one religion or another strikes, that person should know to go to "the horse's mouth." She should know not to go to a Baptist minister to learn about the Russian Orthodox Church, and she should know not to go to a Christian to learn about Buddhism--or let a Christian tell her which other world religions to dismiss. Especially if you have reason to question said Christian's grasp on Buddhism; and, frankly, I still question C. S. Lewi's grasp. Too bad he didn't write those treatsies!

This response is probably not complete, but I have to get ready to leave for the weekend. I'll have limited internet access till Tuesday. See ya then. :smile:
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Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby JRosemary » 28 May 2010, 22:06

maralewisfan wrote:Hopefully I'm not being too forward.

Jo,
I appreciate your response to my question, that gives me a good place to start for my final paper. I had an interview with a local rabbi on Wednesday and was thrilled with the conversation that we had. I had a set of questions that I had to ask, but the more indepth part of the conversation was my favorite. I do believe that you are correct that it is much easier to find information about the different religions and to study their beliefs with the internet and a much more congenial environment of acceptance, even if it is not complete agreement.

Mara


Hey there! You're not being forward at all, but I see Rus has gotten you into the bad habit of calling me 'Jo' instead of "JRose" or "Rose" or . . . well, just see my post to Rus (it's right above this one) for the list. :tongue:

Glad my post was some help, and glad to hear you had a good conversation with a local rabbi, despite any theological disagreements. I'd love to hear more--feel free to pm me, since it's off topic.
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Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby rusmeister » 29 May 2010, 16:35

JRosemary wrote:
rusmeister wrote:Hi Jo,


Rus, for as long as we've known each other, you've scarcely ever gotten my name right! My first name is Jennifer, my middle name is Rosemary. You can call me "Jennifer," "Jenni," "Jen," "Rose," "JRose," or "Rosemary." You can even call me "JR," if it doesn't conjure up J. R. Ewing. Heck, you can call me by my Hebrew name: Shoshana.

Nothing against the name "Jo" or "Joanna," etc. They're lovely. But they're among the few names I don't answer to. :wink:

rusmeister wrote:But your idea that all comments MUST be confined to Lewis is illogical. It is not possible to have much of any discussion at all. We could not discuss any applicability of Lewis's ideas to us, or even the issue of whether those ideas are true or not. You are basically saying that you may criticize Lewis's ideas, but that I may not criticize yours. If you criticize Lewis you DO place yourself in a position above him to do so. I question your ability to really do that - I don't think that your basis to do so is as strong as you seem to think it is, and I don't think any criticism can even be seriously considered if it cannot be questioned.


But what do you want? A list of my degrees, a review of all my personal studies, and my activities in interfaith-dialogue? Apart from the fact that I wouldn't give that kind of personal info out on the net, it's probably easier to direct your comments at something I specifically say about any religion. I'll be happy to provide my sources.

I'm not saying you are stupid if you are ignorant of, for instance, Orthodox Christianity (my faith) - and I accept that you are fairly well informed on Buddhism and Hinduism - my point is that we are all invariably ignorant of some aspects of religion, and an apologist for any religion is going to be necessarily dismissive of something or other.


Why would an apologist need to be dismissive of another religion? In my mind, that doesn't follow. In fact, I would think it would be harmful to his apologetics. If he casually dismisses other world religions--especially without even establishing that he has an in-depth knowledge of them--it's going to be harder for me to respect the rest of his argument.

And why should I believe someone who says, "I know all about Christianity, I think it's the best religion out there, and the true one--so you can believe me when I tell you about the others." Why should I trust him? Didn't you say yourself that you can only really learn about another religion from the horse's mouth? Why on earth would I trust what a Christian whose goal is to convert people to his religion on whether another religion is worthy of study? If some radical Protestant came along and told me about the evils of the Eastern Orthodox churches, I should take his word for it? I shouldn't suspect that his view might be biased? Shouldn't I go to an Orthodox Christian, and ask her to tell me about her faith?

rusmeister wrote:That Lewis was dismissive of Buddhism and Islam in "Mere Christianity" is quite excusable, given the audience and circumstances under which he wrote it. I'd say he knew enough, and he does periodically display sufficient knowledge of them for an educated person in other works. I'm not aware of any specific treatises on Buddhism or Islam that he wrote, which, it seems, is what you might wish he had. (For that matter, so do I. I think it would eliminate some of your objections, as well as be very interesting in its own right.)


But you said you have to go to the "horse's mouth" to learn about a religion; you have to go to a practicioner. And I've agreed--except that I think you should go to a number of practicioners, from across the spectrum of the religion in question. (And you may not disagree with that.) So, again, why on earth would I trust Lewis to tell me that it's ok to dismiss Buddhism, Islam, Judaism and every other religion except for Hinduism and Christianity? I don't think he should have said such a thing to any audience.

Lewis writing treatsies on religions other than Christianity would have been interesting in so far as they would have shown how much he knew about them. I would have loved to have read them. But, since you and I agree that you can only really learn about a religion from "the horse's mouth," that might be the extent of their usefulness. If I wanted to learn about Christianity, after all, I wouldn't go to even the most learned rabbi. Sure, the rabbi may well know about the religion and may be knowledgable about some Christian interpretations of Jewish Scripture.And his knowledge on Jewish culture and history would be useful in so far as it influenced Christianity. But regarding Christianity specifically, it would be all second hand knowledge--and it might be prejudiced. If I wanted to learn about Eastern Orthodoxy, I wouldn't ask a Baptist minister. (Or vice versa.) Same problem. I want primary sources . . . and I'll judge for myself what's worth studying.

rusmeister wrote:In sum, I'd say that you should first define what "in-depth knowledge" means, and then how possible it is for any of us to have it regarding all (if only) major religions. A modern comparative religion study course? To me such a thing is, generally speaking, most likely to be a farce and do the dangerous thing of giving a person an impression that they actually understand a religion when in fact they do not. As I said, the horse's mouth is best.


I've already given my idea of "in-depth knowledge." It's not a simple matter. Only people who have a passion for learning about religions are likely to have an in-depth knowledge on any religion other than their own, unless they were raised in an interfaith family or something. And, like any other kind of knowledge, you learn about religions at the expense of other studies. I know a lot about Judaism and Hinduism, plus a fair amount on Buddhism and Christianity, and an ok amount on most other world religions. No surprise, because studying religion is a passion of mine, and I live in an area where it's easy to go to "the horse's mouth." But I'm lousy at lots of other things. For example, it's quite likely that my knowlege of math will never get beyond basic algebra and geometry.

However, I don't want the perfect to become the enemy of the good. Just because I'll never learn Calculus doesn't mean I shouldn't have a grasp of basic math. You and I agree that a comparative religion course is not the best way to learn about a religion. It's not going to give you an in-depth knowledge. But it'll probably give you enough of a clue so that you'll know what a store advertising halal meat is talking about.

So most people won't have an in-depth religion on any religion other than their own. (And, yeah, sometimes people don't have in-depth knowledge on their own religion.) No worries. People have different passions and excell at different subjects. However, when curiosity about one religion or another strikes, that person should know to go to "the horse's mouth." She should know not to go to a Baptist minister to learn about the Russian Orthodox Church, and she should know not to go to a Christian to learn about Buddhism--or let a Christian tell her which other world religions to dismiss. Especially if you have reason to question said Christian's grasp on Buddhism; and, frankly, I still question C. S. Lewi's grasp. Too bad he didn't write those treatsies!

This response is probably not complete, but I have to get ready to leave for the weekend. I'll have limited internet access till Tuesday. See ya then. :smile:

Hi, JR! Sorry about the misnomer!
In my case I have just finished an exhausting academic year, three jobs, four kids and little free time, so I understand delays! :)

I agree with much of what you say, actually, most especially on the horse's mouth.

Actually, no, I wasn't fishing for your pedigree of religious education; my point was that the logic of insisting that one have in-depth knowledge of all religions leads to gnosticism - the idea that only an elite can be saved. But I think I've phrased my argument better below.

Again, it seems that your prime objection to actual dismissals on Lewis's part is in his MC references - and I've already responded to why I think those dismissals appropriate.

I also am going to disagree on college courses as a way to learn about religion. I believe them to be absolutely the worst way. The worst approaches to questions of truth are ones that (of necessity) pretend to be above and over all all of the claims of truth. They give one the idea that one knows when actually one has mechanical knowledge informed by a (most likely) hostile philosophical approach to them, and this is true even when they try to be impartial. The people who write those texts and/or teach those courses really aren't. The courses, as secular inquiry, are sabatoged from the get-go, poisoned with secular/pluralist assumptions from the very start.

A main idea that I would like to attack is the idea that because we have access to more information today, that we are better informed as a result. At first glance it seems that that must be so. But it is highly misleading. I would sum up my argument by saying that we do less with more than at any time in history. While we have access to more information, we do less clear thinking about it, and I attribute this to the general abandonment of philosophy as popular pursuit - the business of all - in our time. I think it a form of unintentional hubris to assume that because we can more easily find out what (for example) Hindu teachers have (arguably always) taught, that people of earlier times could not - especially concerning the heart of what a religion's teachings are.

Another weak point in that assumption is that quantity translates to quality - that we can obtain many more details matters not if the base philosophical assumptions are found to be in error. And faith in trans-rational truth is something that no amount of reason and knowledge is likely to overcome. The base question of whether something is true or not cannot be erased by a mass of details. If they do not speak to one's heart via reason and experience, they will never establish themselves as truth - unless they really ARE the truth.

I think the problem may arise from a confusion of faith, which is extra or super rational, and reason, which is limited to the rational. In the physical sciences, reason would have to submit and admit things like probable and improbable, and say that x is probably the case. This is not so with religions. Thus, "having more information" is not necessarily of help, although it may sway those seeking a more (or primarily) rational faith.

Of course it is better to have more information than not. I'm only saying that we should be VERY careful in thinking we are in a better position than thinkers of the past. I think modern philosophy to be in such a mess that we are actually in a worse position. After all, the most tempting and successful falsehood is the one that is almost true - or contains a great deal of truth.

I guess I would ask, not where errors of fact as such were made, but where you think people like Lewis and Chesterton completely misunderstood and miscast Buddhism (or Islam or Hinduism...) That would strike closer to the true heart of disagreement. And that leaving aside the case of Lewis's "Mere Christianity", which was not meant to be a work of great apologetic depth, although on the whole it is very true. As I said, I think Lewis was justified there.
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Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby Adam Linton » 30 May 2010, 20:00

cyranorox wrote:Buddhism is to Hinduism as Protestantism is to [Western] Christianity, but not as Christianity is to Judaism. A reform movement, with some insights, but not a News.


Weighing in (just a bit!):

As much as I admire Lewis in general--and as much as I value MC and SbJ, I've always thought that his comments therein on Buddhism (in relation to Hinduism) were very weak. Admittedly, MC is a popular offering and SbJ a highly personal narrative. But as one who engaged in substantial study and practice on Buddhism (mostly in what from my Christian perspective I might call my "in-between" and searching years--and as one who has maintained a respectful and affectionate interest in Buddhism as a practicing Christian--I have to say that labeling Buddhism as a "reform" or "heresy" of Hinduism just won't do. Of course, in very early stages of its development, Buddhism certainly drew on some reforming energy in relation to the Hindu matrix out of which it came. But also very early on, it developed in ways that set it at odds with Hinduism at deep structural levels--very critical areas of perspective and practice. The distiction only grew and heightened over time. It became, quickly, its own thing--specifically on the world scene, a "news".

So, in distiction from Lewis, I'd say that I can't see Buddhism as evaluatable as a sub-set of Hinduism--and in respectful disagreement with with cyronox, I'd say that the relationship of Hinduism to Buddhism is, in fact, more analogous to the relationship of Judaism to Christianity (or, for that matter, Christianity to Islam). The distiction between Hinduism and Buddism, if anything, is even greater that these. (So, then, my other view that the analogy of "Catholicism to Protestantism" is even less apt--really unsustainable.)
Last edited by Adam Linton on 04 Jun 2010, 10:35, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby cyranorox » 31 May 2010, 00:30

For a Christian, the study of Buddhism or Hinduism must be a study of the thought of men, not the study of Divine things; the same for the world flora of religions. To a lesser extent, with important qualifications, this is true of Christian study of Islam. Of Judaism, we are committed to an interpretation at odds with the other heirs of the texts and praxis, principally the Jews. For example, I know the OC claim that the YH-H is Christ is not at all acceptable to others.

So Lewis shares this view, I perceive from scattered comments and allusions; he is not placing Buddhism in quite the parallel with the Church that the [secular] discipline of Comp Religion does. As a wise and perceptive man, Lewis saw the glimpses and patches of truth in Pagan religion, and did not hold that Christianity had exclusive title to all of the truth. But I think he did hold that Christianity had all of the truth, sharing various aspects or parts with the religions, but neither needing nor accepting addition from any.
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Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby postodave » 03 Jun 2010, 19:01

Sven had said:
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.)

To which Rose replied:
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!

I am left wondering whether this is fair to Griffiths. He is not a catholic priest who knew about hinduism but one who felt he had a lot to learn from it. I gather his more sincretic approach came later in his life than the time when he was in correspondence with Lewis and even then Lewis regarded a lot of his ideas as nonsense but perhaps we should take a closer look at what Griffiths has to say about interfaith dialogue.
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Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby rusmeister » 04 Jun 2010, 03:52

postodave wrote:Sven had said:
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.)

To which Rose replied:
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!

I am left wondering whether this is fair to Griffiths. He is not a catholic priest who knew about hinduism but one who felt he had a lot to learn from it. I gather his more sincretic approach came later in his life than the time when he was in correspondence with Lewis and even then Lewis regarded a lot of his ideas as nonsense but perhaps we should take a closer look at what Griffiths has to say about interfaith dialogue.

The syncretic view is basically a pluralist view, which says in effect, "We all have great parts of the truth - let's share them!"
This conflicts with the monist view which says, I have found the source of all truth, and whatever parts of it others may have found, I have found 'the real tamale', which does not need truth from elsewhere." - which is basically what Lewis held. A syncretic Catholic is already breaking with the Catholic Church, which does claim to be that whole tamale, as does the Orthodox Church and others, and so it is actually oxymoronic to say that a person is both syncretic and an adherent of such a faith. The person does not understand or accept the teaching of the authoritative source of the faith that they claim - so they may think they are Catholic or whatever, but are contradicted by that Church.
I've already agreed with Rose's point on the horse's mouth - the question (on Griffiths) would be whether Griffiths really was (remained) Catholic - whether the Catholic Church would say that he was/did. If not, he might have learned the 'straight dope' about Hinduism, but might have been in the dark about his own Church's view on syncretism - or perhaps felt that he was more qualified than the RCC to determine what exactly made one Catholic. (I don't know for certain, but what I do know makes conflict with the RCC seem inevitable - such a thing is not possible in the Orthodox Church. One who begins making up their own stuff and does not accept Church authority merely becomes schismatic. They're no longer accepted as Orthodox, even if they style themselves as such.)

I think cyranorox said it best, though, and sums up where Lewis stood.
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Re: Lewis' thoughts on other major religions?

Postby JRosemary » 04 Jun 2010, 12:40

Yay--lots of new posts! Boo--I haven't had time to read them. :cry:

It's been a crazy-busy week, everyone. Looks like I won't get a chance to catch up till Sunday. Shabbat Shalom, all, and have a great weekend! :pleased:
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