Monthly Archives: June 2011

Finding Newfoundland

C.S.
Lewis wrote once about our human proclivity to be satisfied with
subjective views on human nature and spirituality:

“In
a way I quite understand why some people are put off by Theology. I remember
once when I had been giving a talk to the R.A.F., an old, hard-bitten officer
got up and said, I’ve no use for all that stuff. But, mind you, I’m a religious
man too. I know there’s a God. I’ve felt Him: out alone in the desert at night:
the tremendous mystery. And that’s just why I don’t believe all your neat
little dogmas and formulas about Him. To anyone who’s met the real thing they
all seem so petty and pedantic and unreal!”

Now
in a sense I quite agreed with that man. I think he had probably had a real
experience of God in the desert. And when he turned from that experience to the
Christian creeds, I think he really was turning from something real to
something less real. In the same way, if a man has once looked at the Atlantic,
he also will be turning from something real to something less real: turning
from real waves to a bit of colored paper. But here comes the point. The map is
admittedly only colored paper, but there are two things you have to remember
about it. In the first place, it is based on what hundreds and thousands of
people have found out by sailing the real Atlantic. In that way it has behind
it masses of experience just as real as the one you could have from the beach;
only, while yours would be a single glimpse, the map fits all those different
experiences together. In the second place, if you want to go anywhere, the map
is absolutely necessary. As long as you are content with walks on the beach,
your own glimpses are far more fun than looking at a map. But the map is going
to be more use than walks on the beach if you want to get to America.

Now,
Theology is like the map. Merely learning and thinking about the Christian
doctrines, if you stop there, is less real and less exciting than the sort of
thing my friend got in the desert. Doctrines are not God: they are only a kind
of map. But that map is based on the experience of hundreds of people who
really were in touch with God -experiences compared with which any thrills or
pious feelings you and I are likely to get on our own are very elementary and
very confused. And secondly, if you want to get any further, you must use the
map. You see, what happened to that man in the desert may have been real, and
was certainly exciting, but nothing comes of it. It leads nowhere. There is
nothing to do about it. In fact, that is just why a vague religion -all about
feeling God in nature, and so on -is so attractive. It is all thrills and no
work; like watching the waves from the beach. But you will not get to
Newfoundland by studying the Atlantic that way, and you will never get eternal
life by simply feeling the presence of God in flowers or music. Neither will
you get anywhere by looking at maps without going to sea. Not will you be very
safe at sea without a map.

In
other words, Theology is practical: especially now. In the old days, when there
was less education and discussion, perhaps it was possible to get on with a
very few simple ideas about God. But it is not so now. Everyone reads, everyone
hears things discussed. Consequently, if you do not listen to Theology, that
will not mean that you have no ideas about God. It will mean that you have a
lot of wrong ones -bad, muddled, out-of-date ideas. For a great many of the
ideas about God which are trotted out as novelties today are simply the ones
which real Theologians tried centuries ago and rejected. To believe in the
popular religion of modern England is retrogression -like believing the Earth
is flat.”

-C.S.
Lewis: Making and Begetting

I
think that the last paragraph is particularly interesting. I have always believed in the virtue of critical thinking,
and I think that if a person is to care at all about the claims that Lewis
makes in this essay, it begins with this question: “is there such a thing as
absolute truth?” To answer this, I believe it makes most sense to start small,
seeking to know whether the statement “what is true for some people may not be
true for others” is realistic. For example: is child prostitution reasonable in
some cultures, but just not in our own, or can we argue that the exploitation
of children is twisted regardless of which country, system or family it occurs
in? From there, we can broaden the scope to questions of our origin, our human
nature, emotions and abilities, and ultimately, the meaning of life.

 

Admittedly,
C.S. Lewis and I both believe that the answer to the meaning of the universe is
found in the Gospel, but I won’t be so arrogant to claim that I understand the
world perfectly, only that I have tested the waters of human experience, faith
and philosophy, and have found the Gospel to be the most logical conclusion.
Today though, I ask you this question: have you ever chosen to ask the question
“does absolute truth exist?” And if you have, would you then ask whether it is
plausible that the answer could be found through observing human nature?

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