I’ve let the blog go for several weeks now. I’ve been traveling, planning our fall events here at UT, and meeting a lot of great people.
This post will follow my previous two on C.S. Lewis as he presents mere Christianity to a modern world. I’m interested in C.S. Lewis for many reasons, one of which is that he was for many years an atheist who later believed there was a God. As a fellow theist I’m intrigued by what made him believe.
Furthermore, Lewis believed not slackly, merely that there was a higher power of some kind; he put his full hope into Someone very definite: Jesus Christ of Nazareth. As a fellow Christian I appreciate the rigor he brings to his faith.
As a side note, another more contemporary atheist who believed in God is Lee Stroebel, journalist turned evangelist who described his research and conversion in his book The Case for Christ, a great read.
To Believe or not to Believe
CS Lewis states that the first division among men is between those who believe in a God and those who do not. And here Christianity lines up with the majority. One study I found on Wikipedia states that in 2005 88% of the world’s population believed in God.
Other studies show that around 15% of the world’s population is atheist, agnostic, or non-religious. To me, a layman, it seems atheism is the zealous, outspoken branch among the non-religious – that minority who want to prove something.
Lewis himself was an atheist but converted to Christ later in life because atheism turned out to be too simple for him. He briefly describes his turn from atheism in Mere Christianity, quoted below:
My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A-Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into the water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet. Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too- for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fantasies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist – in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless – I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality – namely my idea of justice – was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.
Personal or Not
Lewis says the second big division among men is whether God is in the realm of morality or not.
Christians (and all Abrahamic religious adherents) believe in a God who is within the realm of morality, who is like us.
Lewis says that other religions believe that God is beyond morality, is unrelated to morality, and is rather some life-force or universal spirit. Their idea of morality is that it all depends on your perspective. They believe evil isn’t actually evil when seen from the right point of view and that morality is a strictly human affair.
Some of these religions extend their beliefs beyond morality and reach what we call pantheism, the belief that anything and everything might be a part of God, that God is in everything in the universe. From this point it is possible to equate the universe itself with God, which is what pantheists often do.
A Christian would disagree. He would maintain that God created the universe of His own will but that He is outside the universe. An analog to this is when we say that an architect can be seen in his work but we don’t literally mean he is physically in the walls and ceiling.
Postmodernism & Pantheism: a Cocktail Religion
One more point on today’s postmodernism. Lewis presented his faith to a modern world; our generation must present the same to a postmodern one.
Postmodernism holds that each person’s worldview informs their version of morality and that there need not exist any definite, universal truths. Instead, all truth is relative and tolerance is the rule.
I would say that if you believe that we’re all merely products of our upbringing then either you believe the true God is unknowable, and that He can apparently be reached by any one of our world religions, or else you simply accept that God is neither personal nor moral and thus ignorable.
This second belief seems to be the view of many today, especially in western Europe. I would describe their belief thus: you’re not sure whether there is a God and you don’t want to risk offending one if there is, but you don’t want to bear the responsibility that goes hand in hand with believing that He is there. So you write him off as some irrelevant, impersonal life-force. Lewis calls this belief essentially a drug: all the thrills with none of the consequences of active faith. When something good happens unexpectedly, you can chalk it up to the benevolence of the universal spirit, but you don’t need to fear the slightest retribution for any and all wrongdoing that you may commit.
One problem with this kind of belief is that it is Godless. The Bible tells us that God is a Christian’s chief joy, for he finds that He is “on his side” through the redemption of Christ. This gospel addresses both the good and bad of the universe and presents the true, relevant, and knowable God.