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Obstinacy in Belief

The man. The myth.

Obstinacy in Belief

Postby postodave » 18 Aug 2008, 19:50

I had the rare opportunity recently to read some Lewis essays I had not read before. One way and another I've read most of Lewis's essays over the years but I had missed the collection 'Screwtape Proposes a toast' The essay that impressed me was called 'Obstinacy in Belief' It was based on a paper read to the Socratic club and published in 1955. Most of the papers, in fact I think all of the papers, I have read from the Socratic club came from a few years earlier in the late forties. Indeed the one placed immediately before this was published in the Socratic digest in 44. This enables one to get a very clear glimpse of the change in Lewis apologetic style over that decade. The first essay is almost bombastic in tone. We get some standard Lewis arguments of the lord, liar or lunatic kind (incidentally the idea that Jesus may have been a lunatic is not as some have supposed a straw man, the suggestion was made by Bertrand Russell when he said that Jesus conviction that he was God was shared by many wandering mystics and lunatics) and particularly interesting (you will see shortly why I think this interesting) is the claim Lewis makes towards the end of the essay that only a theistic world view can explain the human mind.

In the later essay the tone is different; the bombast has gone and he is almost conciliatory. He wants to help the atheist understand how Christian faith feels. Imagine he says to the atheist the response you give when hearing of some miracle: 'I don't believe it!' and that is the immediate response whatever the prima facae evidence for the miracle. Now replace the 'I don't believe it' with 'I believe'. That is what faith feels like.

Lewis is looking at the question of how Christians respond when their faith is challenged. Why do they not abandon the belief when it is challenged. Why not like a good scientist drop the faith as soon as there is good evidence against it. He might almost have been writing an answer to Richard Dawkins! He even makes it clear that a scientific hypothesis is not a kind of belief (Lewis the Popperian - I often wonder if Lewis read Popper on historicism for example)

He goes on to explain the nature of trust, the difference in the way we acquire faith which may involve thinking of God as a hypothesis and the way we hold fast to it which is more like maintaining trust in a person. And he suggests that our relation to God is always like that of someone learning to swim or being helped by an experienced climber, trusting in someone wiser who has our interests at heart.

Now, one certainly gets the feeling that this is written from experience, and when we look back on Lewis's life we see that there is a candidate for a time of doubt and questioning which Lewis was able to surmount. This relates to his debate with Elizabeth Anscombe. Lewis's confident assertion that only a theist had a basis for believing in mind was challenged by Anscombe and he sharpened his argument as a result changing the way he presented it in the later editions of 'Miracles'. Some of his friends described the challenge he experienced as coming to the foot of the cross and feel that this experience inspired him in writing imaginative fiction as a way of communicating his ideas. That may be an exaggeration but certainly he seems to have taken on board the idea at some point that apologetics must not only be about argument but about helping people to know how faith feels.

Finally just as the arguments in 'The Abolition of Man' are expressed in fictional form in 'That Hideous Strength' Here we find an idea that found fictional expression in 'The Silver Chair' For Lewis says the way Christians feel about what they have found in Christ is that if this is not real the real world has nothing as good. Puddleglum's argument when trapped underground and told Aslan and Narnia are imaginary.

It's a great essay. What does anyone else think of it?
So I drew my sword and got ready
But the lamb ran away with the crown
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Postby Mornche Geddick » 19 Aug 2008, 15:41

Chesterton makes a very similar point to Peddleglum's in Orthodoxy Ch II The Madman. Puddleglum says:
Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well it strikes me as being a pretty poor one.
And here is Chesterton:
Contemplate some able and sincere materialist, as, for instance, Mr McCabe, and you will have exaclty this unique sensation. He understands everything, and everything does not seem worth understanding. His cosmos may be complete in every rivet and cogwheel, but still his cosmos is smaller than our world.
Iwonder how many other writers have made a point like this, since it seems to me quite an obvious one.
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Postby postodave » 19 Aug 2008, 22:37

Mr McCabe sounds a bit like the cosmologist Steven Weinberg
"The more we know about the universe the more it is evident that it is pointless and meaningless."

You could say that in some ways the cosmos as understood by modern physicists is bigger, not just physically but in conception, in sheer intricate strangeness, than anything imagined in earlier eras. But any values, even the very act of valuing it, if it is all there is, seems accidental. It has worth because it is worth something to us. And suddenly we are bigger than it and if there is no God the universe has thrown up something that can value, and understand. A tiny being greater than itself.
So I drew my sword and got ready
But the lamb ran away with the crown
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Postby friendojack » 13 Oct 2008, 03:10

I recently purchase a book of The last night on earth and seven other essays by C. S. lewis and Obstancy of faith is one of the essays though I have yet to read it. So as soon as I do I will give an enlightened and very valuable reply(ha, ha , ha, heehehehe... joking). I do love his essays though in this book I most recently read Rockets and religion ( i think thats what its called) It was pretty great. Have you read it?
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Postby postodave » 13 Oct 2008, 12:03

Yes - I think so -though it may have been called something else. Is it the one where he discusses the religious implications of life in outer space?
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Postby rusmeister » 14 Oct 2008, 16:03

I'm interested in reading it. If anyone knows of an online version, PM me. (Unless it's in Christian Reflections or something?)
"Eh? Two views? There are a dozen views about everything until you know the answer. Then there's never more than one."
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Postby postodave » 14 Oct 2008, 22:40

It's in the collection Fern Seeds and Elephants which you can get here http://www.amazon.com/Fern-Elephants-Other-Essays-Christianity/dp/0006240682
For one cent plus postage and packing. Don't know what the international shipping would be but it should not be too prohibitive. I've bought books for a penny from the states because it was cheaper than buying them in the uk in spite of the shipping.

His basic answer is that if there is life in outer space we do not know whether it needs redeeming or how God will effect that redemption. He quotes St. Augustine who on the question of whether satyrs and such like would need redeeming suggested we wait until we knew if the creatures existed before answering the question. He suggested we took the same approach to extra-terrestrials.
So I drew my sword and got ready
But the lamb ran away with the crown
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Postby rusmeister » 15 Oct 2008, 02:38

postodave wrote:It's in the collection Fern Seeds and Elephants which you can get here http://www.amazon.com/Fern-Elephants-Other-Essays-Christianity/dp/0006240682
For one cent plus postage and packing. Don't know what the international shipping would be but it should not be too prohibitive. I've bought books for a penny from the states because it was cheaper than buying them in the uk in spite of the shipping.

His basic answer is that if there is life in outer space we do not know whether it needs redeeming or how God will effect that redemption. He quotes St. Augustine who on the question of whether satyrs and such like would need redeeming suggested we wait until we knew if the creatures existed before answering the question. He suggested we took the same approach to extra-terrestrials.


Thanks PD, but I meant "text online". For me, obtaining stuff via Amazon or making payments in other than cash is problematic.
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