Sunday, 10 October 2010

Ask a Question

If you'd like to ask me something, then this is the place to do it.

Similarly, if you'd like me to open up a discussion on a topic addressed on my main site (or related to something there) then just let me know in a comment here.


  1. I am curious to know your take on the humour in the Testament.Is there or not, and why? Some as Whitehead say that "the total absence of humour from the Bible is one of the most singular things in all literature" Others say the opposite, that the Bible is full of humour as in the Camel and the needle.What is your personal opinion?

  2. Humour from a culture 2000 years ago (and longer when looking at the Old Testament) isn't likely to be exactly the same as our own so may be difficult to find, and we may find humour where none was originally intended ... but I certainly don't think it's entirely absent.

    One of my favourite examples is when Jesus is brought before Pilate in the Gospel of John. Read and keep track where Pilate is ... he can't keep still. You get a clear idea of who is really in control of the situation. That aspect of the story always raises a smile for me.

  3. Rasmus Møller11 October 2010 at 16:31

    The story of Jonah is hilarious, I think.

  4. I liked very much the reply that a humour from a culture 2000 years ago isnt the same as our own.

  5. Hi Steve,

    Lewis and Tolkien expressed a similar view that the origin of evil in creation was the result of a fallen angelic being: Lewis in The Problem of Pain and his space trilogy. Tolkien in The Silmarillion.

    My question: Did Tolkien have this view first, and passed it onto Lewis at the time of Lewis's conversion, or did they come up with the view later, perhaps through mutual discussion?

  6. Hi Bilbo,

    I'm no Tolkien scholar, and biographical issues don't often make it onto my horizon, so I'm afraid I can't answer your query with any great sense of conviction.

    However, I'd be of the view that no particular collaboration was necessary. The idea of a fallen angelic being has been a common theme in Christianity since goodness knows when (at least since Augustine) and that as thinkers very familiar with their tradition Lewis and Tolkien are more likely to have inherited the idea from this shared tradition than either is to have inherited it from the other.

    I've still to get round to reading the Silmarillion. Thanks for reminding me about it!

  7. What is your answer to the riddle "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" .Or especially as Geroge Berkeley sees it : Can something exist without being perceived? - e.g."Sound is only sound if a person hears it" ?

  8. Ah, that old chestnut. I'm always inclined towards realism about the specific example of the tree falling in the forest. But that is probably because I think that sound just is waves of air compression, and the falling tree produces those in just the same way regardless of whether anyone is there to hear it. But many people think of sound as something much richer than this, as something which cannot be truly defined independently of the qualities which are heard. If you incline towards that, then without the hearer, no sound exists. A middle ground is possible, too, where we say that the sound is that in the real world which produces these experience in us, or which would do so were there anyone around. I guess it is that last "dispositional" account of sound which I'd ultimately go for. Similar things can be said about Secondary Qualities in general.

    Thinking of Berkeley, I've always liked this pair of limericks, the first due to Ronald Knox, the second anonymous ...

    There was a young man who said "God
    Must find it exceedingly odd
    To think that the tree
    Should continue to be
    When there's no one about in the quad."

    "Dear Sir: Your astonishment's odd;
    I am always about in the quad.
    And that's why the tree
    Will continue to be
    Since observed by, Yours faithfully, God."

    Not sure if this answers your question, but that's my general approach.

  9. about humour in the Bible i have always found strange its lack in the Old Testament.Yes,war,bloodshed,incest,love,hatred,everything, but no humour.I very wise remark by Steve
    Lovell about the rift of 2000 years.But all that is strange to me.Maybe humour is not such a good thing as we think?

  10. I laugh at slapstick. Somehow people getting bonked on the head is funny. I'm not sure why it humors me but I doubt such childish enjoyment will last a few thousand years. For more humorous stories in my life there seems the need for a shared cultural context. Like the time I tried to send a racy phone text to my wife (Sonja) and accidentally sent to the next person on my list (Stan), a crusty old dairy farmer.

    My question: How do you image Lewis' current experience? What is heaven like? Does he know his wife? Does he see my thoughts as I read one of his books? What do you think he is experiencing right now?

  11. Hi David,

    I don't profess to know anything about much about heaven or therefore Lewis' current experience. I'd be fairly confident that he would know his wife (though there is no marriage in heaven as Jesus says).

    Peter Kreeft has a nice book on heaven, and Lewis' own The Great Divorce as a fantastic read.

    I expect Lewis himself is, to use his own words from The Last Battle going "further up and further in".

  12. Hi Steve,
    I just happen to be reading Chesterton's "St. Francis of Assisi". Have you read it and what stands out in it for you? How does it stand up or out in Franciscan biography?

  13. I think most commentators on Chesterton would advise you to be wary of relying on him for details (he didn't check many of his "facts" and relied heavily on his usually reliable but not infallible memory), but to expect an insightful account of the bigger picture of the life of the subject in question.

    Unfortunately I can't say anything specific to the St Francis biography as I've only dipped into it and can't remember anything specific. Sorry.

    If his book on Aquinas is anything to go by, it's likely to be a great piece of writing. That's another one to put on my reading list

  14. Thanks for the response.

    Does it seem strange that the great reward of Christianity is heaven and we know so little about it? Heaven doesn't seem very compelling in suffering for Christ. Why?

    I became a Christian not because I wanted to go to heaven or because I feared hell, but for other reasons. Now that I am older and have lost loved ones, I realize how little my imagination is captured by the thought of heaven. This seems strange since it is central to Christianity. Do you think much of heaven? Do you think we should think more about it as we try to live as Christ?

  15. To think more about heaven is stupid because you do not know what is is about and further it doesnt mean necessarily that you are a Christian

  16. Jan Sqwierzinsky15 October 2010 at 17:22

    What is your opinion about the words of Thomas Aquinas that God exists beyond Time and therefore man is not predetermined and possesses free will?

  17. David/Chris,

    I also don't think much about Heaven, and when I do I'm only rarely excited by the prospect. There are some great passages in Lewis' writings which do more for me than anything else I've read and sometimes awaken a deep sense of desire. For example, Reepicheep's search for the "Utter East"; The chapter on heaven in The Problem of Pain; the sermon "The Weight of Glory", parts of "Prayer: Letters to Malcolm".

    Outside of that, if I manage to desire Heaven it is mostly as an escape, not so much from the imperfections of this life but as an escape from my own imperfections, in body, mind and spirit ... many of them moral imperfections and tendencies to repeatedly fall into the same old sins of greed, pride, lust, anger, impatience and the like. God willing I'll one day be without all these encumbrances.

    The Bible suggests that thoughts of heaven should help us to overcome the trails and temptations, and to endure the pains, of our current life. Not easy to see how that works in the nitty-gritty of life, though.

  18. Jan,

    Thanks for my question. This is a very thorny issue.

    Like Aquinas I do indeed tend to think of God as existing beyond time, and I find this helpful in explaining how God's "foreknowledge" can be compatible with our freedom. However, I'm unsure about predestination, which seems to be a stronger concept than mere foreknowledge and if the two need to be separated from one another and both maintained, then I worry that Aquinas's solution (as brilliantly explained by Boethius and indeed by my hero Lewis) may not be enough.

    Unfortunately, the other options (eg Molinism, Calvinism) are not ones I find especially appealing, which means I tend (with some discomfort) to collapse the foreknowledge/predestination distinction.

    What do you make of the issue?

  19. Thanks for responding to my curiosity about heaven.

    If you could sit down and interview Lewis, what would be your first three questions?

    Mine would be:
    1) If you were with Christ in the upper room during the last supper and had a chance to ask a question, what would you ask?

    2) What does the Anglican Church have to offer Christendom that is different from Eastern and Roman Catholicism and Evangelicalism?

    3) How do you understand the inspiration of Scripture? Did God inspire thoughts that the author put down in his own words, or did he inspire the words themselves?

    How do you think Lewis would respond to my questions.

    Thanks for your time.

  20. Jan Sqwierzinsky16 October 2010 at 08:03

    Well i find your answer very wise and i liked it.
    Can you give me some link to the words of your hero Lewis in order for me to read what he had written about free will?

  21. Jan,

    Probably the best passage is from Mere Christianity, book 4, chapter 3 "Time and Beyond Time"

  22. David,

    Well in terms of asking Lewis questions, I really wouldn't know where to start. I'd much rather discuss than ask, I think. I'd love to discuss the Argument from Reason with him (especially the debate with Elizabeth Anscombe). I'd also enjoy talking with him about Heaven, the Trinity, scripture, and perhaps most importantly the daily practice of living Christian-ly. One person, Walter Hooper if my memory serves me correctly, described Lewis as the most thoroughly converted man he'd ever met, and if just a little of that could rub off on me, that would be great.

    In terms of Lewis' answers to your questions, I'm no biographer, so I really don't know what to say about #1. Perhaps he'd ask some of the difficult questions he voiced in the darker passages of "A Grief Observed".

    On #2, Lewis really didn't like interdenominational squabbles so his writings don't reveal much, but it's fairly clear he completely rejected the idea of Papal infallibility. Aside from that I'd have thought he would have appreciated the ritualism of Eastern Orthodoxy and of Catholicism. As for Evangelicalism, read on. The Anglican communion is very varied, and this is both the main strength and the main weakness. It allows individuals the freedom to explore and live out the faith in many different forms. But it also allows forms which are fairly clearly antithetical to the core of historic Christianity ... Don Cupitt and others come to mind. Cupitt is an ordained priest in the Church of England, but also an atheist !?

    On #3, Lewis does not appear to have thought the Bible to be innerant and may therefore have been uncomfortable with Evangelicalism. His most extended writings on scripture appear in his book on the Psalms. He seems to have thought the scriptures to be inspired, but not in all it's details and perhaps not even in all the ideas. I'd have to re-read the book on the Psalms (and perhaps other works too), to be able to say much beyond that.

  23. Steve,

    What does it mean to be "the most thoroughly converted man?" My guess is that our desires are converted from thinking about ourselves and our passions to thinking of love and of knowing God. Your thoughts?

    I love Lewis but I have also loved reading N.T. Wright and John Stott. Any thoughts on these other two Anglicans?

  24. I take the phrase "thoroughly converted" to mean that there Lewis's Christianity permeated all aspects of his life. He thought, acted, spoke, indeed lived, Christianly in everything. There was no corner of Lewis's life, private, professional or otherwise which was not given over to God; which He was not allowed to transform.

    As a long serving anglican myself, I'm rather ashamed to say I've read very little of N.T. Wright or John Stott. This is perhaps because my main interests are philosophical and their expertise are in Biblical Studies and Theology. Certainly if time (and budget) allowed I'd have read a good deal more of their work. They're both top notch thinkers.

  25. Could you suggest a philosophical argument "con" why fortune telling is a sheer malarqey ?
    I mean those of the innumerables quakes who will read your fortune simply by telling your birthdate,but also palm reading etc.Who of the philosophers engaged with these thoughts? Can you recommend to me some reading in this respect ?
    P.S. your replies to the questions are excellent

  26. Hi James,

    Thanks for your question, and your compliments.

    I think this is a difficult question for Christians to answer. For the oughtright sceptic it's easy to dismiss fortune-telling and the like as mumbo-jumbo, but the Christian needs to be sure that any critique he offers against those views is one that can be answered if offered as a critique of core Christian doctrines such as the Virgin Birth, the Incarnation, and the Resurrection. Also, I think the Christian typically thinks that there probably is something in each of these practices, at least on occasion, but that any spirits which may be communicated with by these occult means would be malevolent ones.

    Unfortunately, I'm not aware of any Christian writer addressing this from a philosophical vantage point, but if you are happy to use the tools of the outright sceptic (and are happy to have your own beliefs challenged in the process) then there are plenty of writers to choose from. Dawkins and Flew have some interesting material in this area! (How odd it is to be recommending these authors.)

    Most of the literature relates to "parapsychology" but there is more specific stuff out there. Try googling for "debunk" and whatever it is you are looking at. A search for "Debunk Astrology" turns up some interesting stuff. Another possible search would be "Christian Critique of X" where you replace "X" with the subject in question, though this tends to give you lots of hits for criticism based on Bible proof-texts which you'll probably need to ignore.

    Sorry not be of more assistance.

  27. Steve,

    My military service was one of the formidable events in my life and yet it was not as dramatic or traumatic as Lewis' service. I have found very little of his writing on the subject of his service. Do you know why he wrote little about this time in his life?

    I am conflicted about the Medieval world looking back from my modern standpoint. Lewis seemed to believe that worldview had much to offer moderns. What do you think is the best idea the Medieval mind has to offer us moderns according to Lewis?

    What do you think about that world?

  28. Acquinas said: meo anima non est ego (my soul is not me) For Aquinas the soul remained the substance of the human being,but it is only through the manifestation inside the human body that a person could be said to be a person.While the soul could exist independetly of the body,Aquinas thinks that the soul by itself does not constitute a person.( the example with St Peter).What do you think?

  29. Hi David,

    Sorry to take a while to respond. I've been away for a few days.

    Lewis didn't write much in the way of autobiography generally, so while it's true that he didn't write much about his experience in WWI, I'm not sure there is anything particular to explain here. That said, chapter 12 of Suprised by Joy is on his war years. He also wrote a number of articles on war in general, though none are autobiographical. The obvious ones are "The Dangers of National Repentence", "Learning in War-Time", "The Conditions for a Just War" and "Why I Am Not a Pacifist". War also appears as a theme in several other places, notably the Screwtape Letters (eg letters 5, 7 and 15). Of course his letters from the time are also include many of his thoughts on the subject of war.

    Coming to terms of one's experiences at war must be an incredibly difficult thing. I know my own grandfather, who served in WWII, continued to have nightmares about those years right up to his relatively recent death. I'm afraid I have no great words of wisdom to offer, though I do sometimes wonder whether "coming to terms" with things is sometimes overrated in the modern world. Happiness and aquiessence are not the only healthly emotions, and if rage and regret did not have proper objects, God would not have endowed us with the ability to feel them. Life does include elements of tragedy, and pop-psychologists thinking that happiness and health go hand in hand are forgetting this. Healthy emotions should respond to reality, and if reality includes the tragic then not all healthy emotions can be happy ones. But it's not only the pop-psychologists which forgot this. The church has to a large extent absorbed this notion too, and as well intended as the phrase "Smile Jesus Loves You" may be, there is a real danger that of the hurch stigmatising those struggling with negative emotions and experiences.

    On the Medieval, Lewis did indeed believe the Medieval mindset has much to offer. For those that aren't aware, his main work on the subject is his The Discarded Image, but he also touched on it in many other places including his A Preface to Paradise Lost and The Allegory of Love. I also think that the worlds of Narnia and of the Space Trilogy reflect Lewis' "Medieval" ideals. I think the main ideas of the Medieval worldview that Lewis appreciated were those associated with hierarchy and proper order. In the Medieval worldview it is very much the case that there is a place for everything, and our own relationships with one another and indeed with everything else should mirror the heirarchy present in reality itself. This is closely related to an understanding of the universe exhibiting a plenitude of being, a rich diversity, expressive of the riches of God Himself. In this world there is no "reductionism", nothing is "merely" this, or "nothing but" that, everything is itself and has it's own role to play in the great chain of being. Science has made great progress through it's reductive approach, but Lewis in his Abolition of Man re-images science in this non-reductive mode, and if Lewis's imaginings became a reality I think we'd be getting back to one of the best ideas of the Medieval mind.

  30. Peljo,

    I'm never too sure what I think about this. I vacillate between dualist style views similar to those of Descartes, and Aristotelian ideas such as those of Aquinas.

    I've never been persuaded that dualist views, where humans are a composite of two types of stuff, (i)mental/spiritual and (ii) material, are anything like discredited, but at the same time I find this view sits uncomfortably within modern science.

    The Aristotelian view where the soul is the form of man, much as an abstact triangle is the form of any particular physical triangle, seems to avoid problems of this sort. However, I'm nervous that on this view the soul is redundant. At the same time I feel this is mostly a result of my own ignorance and lack of understanding of the Aristotelian view, and would like to know more about it ... but I've yet to come across anyone I'd consider a reliable guide to the Aristotelian view. Not that I've looked especially hard ... philosophy of mind has never been an area of great interest for me.

    Mostly, I think in terms of John Eccles illustration of the pianist. The mind (or the person) is to the brain as the pianist is to the piano. Without a piano the pianist cannot play, and if the piano is damaged or out of tune, the playing will not be good, but this does nothing to suggest that the pianist and the piano are not separate. In the same way, we could not think without brains, and a damaged brain will impair our ability to think well, but nevertheless, we are not our brains. The brain is quite literally an instrument of thought.

    In case you're interested, the Lewisian works which come closest to the philosophy of mind are, I believe, the essays "Meditation in a Toolshed", "Transposition" and "The Empty Universe". All three recall my reply to David above on non-reductive approaches to the world.

  31. Do you know who had said that in order for a society to be free, it needs a critical mass of citizens to know what a freedom is.My question is from a quizz and nobody could answer that question

  32. Anne,

    Thanks for your question. I've been racking my brains about it and checking my reference books and googling, but I'm afraid I can't find an answer for you. The general idea sounds like I modern one so I'd be at least a little surprised if the answer turned out to be one of the ancient philosophers. Perhaps another reader can help us out? Anyone?

  33. Anne,Steve:
    Anne's question immediately reminded me of Os Guinness, who points to people like America's "Founding Fathers".
    See, for example, this quote from the top (as of this writing) review of one of Guinness's books on amazon:

    "Guinness does a remarkable job of making the study of government interesting and informative. This book is a must for every Christian who desires to be a good citizen in America - to understand that the involvement of those with religious ideas and convictions in the public policy arena is absolutely essential for the health and vitality of our nation. Guinness claims that the Founding Fathers understood this "eternal triangle of first principles" - that "Liberty requires virtue, virtue requires religion, and religion requires liberty, which in turn requires virtue."" (emphasis mine)

    That "triangle of first principles" is what I was reminded of, from Anne's question. Don't know if that helps...

  34. So, I might say the answer to the quiz might be someone like Thomas Jefferson, but it's probably much earlier.

  35. Anne's question reminds me of the words of a critic about the mass of the Shakespearean literature : it would take the labour of a lifetime to make quite sure that a particular view had never been expressed before.And the mass of the literature has grown geometrically since these words.....

  36. Big day today for the American political landscape. Did Lewis have a political party association? Did he write much on the interaction between politics and Christianity?

    What did he think of the Anglican Church's role in government?

    I was raised a Roman Catholic by an Irish father with IRA sympathies. I later became a born-again Evangelical and left that years ago to finally find my home in the Anglican Church where I can be both Catholic and Evangelical (much to the consternation of my father). I feel this freedom because I am a Christian and an American. Do you have any thoughts on the mixture between national, Christian, and ethnic identity?

  37. Can we reduce all of human experience to brain chemistry?

  38. David,

    I don't think Lewis wrote much on politics, and I can't recall him expressing sympathy with any political party. Though he says he was vaguely Socialist in his youth. I think it's pretty clear he would have favoured a limited government (see 'Willing Slaves of the Welfare State') and that he was distrustful of conjoining politics with fate. In 'Willing Slaves ...' he says "I detest Theocracy. For every government consists of mere men and is, strictly viewed, a makeshift; if it adds to its commands 'Thus saith the Lord', it lies, and lies dangerously." You'll find plenty of references to politics in the Screwtape Letters which reveal how Lewis also thought this mixture was dangerous for the individual in which the mix occurred and not merely in the presence of religious political parties.

    Probably the passage which I find of most relevance from Lewis is this from 'The Funeral of a Great Myth':

    "[A]ny given change in society is at least as likely to destroy the liberties and amenities we already have as to add new ones: ... the danger of slipping back is at least as great as the chance of getting on: ... a prudent society must spend at least as much energy on conserving what it has as on improvement. A clear knowledge of these truisms would be fatal both to the political Left and to the political Right of modern times. The Myth obscures that knowledge."

    The myth in question, as readers of Lewis will be aware, was Evolutionism ... the idea of inevitable progress of society towards better forms of life.

    As to my own views, I find this a really difficult area. I am disappointed by the lack of genuinely political debate in modern Britain. It has all reduced to mere pragmatism, and to such a remarkable extent that it is frequently impossible to tell the difference between the main political parties.

    I'm not so wary of the welfare state as Lewis seems to have been, but I wonder about the extent to which it has removed the sense of individual obligations towards those less fortunate than ourselves ... This, I believe, fosters the wrong attitudes. Since we have "big government", lots of things can be said to be the responsibility of government and then there is no need for individuals to make their own contributions. On the other hand, if we take government out of the equation and rely on individual acts of kindness, those acts may not be forthcoming. The natural middle ground is to attempt to find some minimum below which the state would not allow individuals to fall ... so that it would act as a kind of safety net. But even this has well known problems, aside from the most obvious one that it is manifestly unclear what the minimum should be.

    I've never been particularly clear about the concepts of national or ethnic identity, and I'm certainly not alone in that here in England. We Brits are (or at least many of us are) currently quite ashamed of our former Empire building activities, and not confident of the values we imposed upon foreign cultures. At the same time we have very high levels of immigration and an influx of groups with a strong sense of ethnic identity which makes us uncomfortable (and uncomfortable with that discomfort since we want to be more open) ... especially as the old Christian certainties have also largely gone. While for me the Christian certainties (and uncertainties) remain, I've never had a strong sense of cultural or ethnic identity, though perhaps this is a function of having had a rather easy and sheltered life. I guess theres a lot which I take for granted about my way of life, commonplaces which are much more fragile than I've ever been brought to realise.

    I should get out more. If nothing else it might not only help develop some sense of identity, it would enable an attitude of thankfulness (according to Chesterton, thanks are the highest form of thought). It's difficult to be thankful for that which at some deep level I believe to be natural and inevitable.

  39. Jim,

    This in an excellent, and very large question. I should refer you to others, notably Victor Reppert (see especially his blog Dangerous Idea 2, and his book "C.S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea").

    However, let me give a (too) short response of my own ...

    No. Human Experience cannot be reduced to brain chemistry. Here are a few reasons.

    (1) Suppose that my current visual experiences are merely chemical activity in my brain. Well, I can could be put in a position to see such an activity. The chemical activity would be a seeing of a chemical activity. Indeed, it would be a seeing of a seeing of a chemical activity. In fact, a seeing of a seeing of a seeing of a seeing of a ... This strikes me as simply absurd.

    (2) Our experience is frequently "about" things. Chemical activity is not "about" anything. It just happens.

    (3) Chemical activity occurs or fails to occur according to non-rational processes governed by natural law. Thoughts are rational if they occur or fail to occur due to the presence of reasons. If our thoughts are also chemical events, then the two systems of reasons and causes must coincide. But on naturalistic assumptions (on the basis of which we suppose that all experience is reducible to brain chemistry) it is difficult to see why such a coincidence should occur. Evolution fits us out for survival and not truth detection. Of course we might think truth an aid to survival. But this is debateable, especially in areas as far from the concerns of daily life as the one we are currently considering!

    Plenty more where this comes from ... but that's enough for now. I encourage you to visit Victor's DI2 blog to find out more, though the discussion does get rather technical at times. His book is pretty accessible though. I also have a longer discussion of related stuff here.

  40. Thank you very much for your excellent thoughts.I really liked it.It gave me a lot to think about

  41. Just noticed that in my latest reply to David, I made a peculiar typo. When I wrote "he was distrustful of conjoining politics with fate." That should have been "politics with faith"!

  42. What do you think of human loneliness? I am interested to know your personal observations. Do you think that eventually all human beings are lonely ? a famous philosopher has said that "The first approach to be made of the loneliness of human life is that which results from the fatal separatedness of each individuality.The innermost secret of the selfhood of any being can never be communicated or shown,to another." What do you think about that ?

  43. Did Lewis ever write about America, especially our particular evangelical experience in the United States?

    Do you have certain impressions that come to mind about we Americans from your view across the pond?

  44. Jim,

    I think loneliness is a pretty pervasive phenomenon, at least in the modern west. I don't profess to know enough about other cultures or general psychology to make the claim any broader than that ... though I'd be surprised if the same didn't apply across to the majority of other cultures. I certainly think that all humans are at some time lonely, but perhaps this is more a momentary experience for some rather than the recurring and long-term reality which many of us experience.

    I'd be interested to know who the "famous" philosopher is that you're quoting. I think the issue of communication is central to loneliness, and there are some things which can never be fully shared. For example we will ultimately all face death alone. Someone can hold our hands and be with us as we die, but even if they die at the same time they aren't sharing "our death". Lots of modern thinkers have been very concerned with the idea of death and find it deeply troubling. It's never worried me so much, but the idea of aloneness is death is something which disturbs me.

    A connected issue is that which the existentialists call alienation or inauthenticity. I think much of our sense of aloneness comes from not just lacking company but from lacking a real sense of self. We lie to ourselves; we fail to live up to our own expectations; we cover our real selves and show only that which we think others would want or expect to see. This leads to a separation of the public and the private and a schism within the individual which leads us to wonder who we really are. We are lonely not just for others, but for ourselves.

    Another of my favourite thinkers, Ravi Zacharias, has written fairly extensively on loneliness. According to Ravi, the lasting solution to loneliness is worship. As trite as it sounds put like that, I believe he is onto something important as at least part of the remedy if not a full solution. Worship in this sense is not mere singing of worship songs, but the complete submission of all of our lives to the beauty and grandeur of the God who loves us; an offering of every aspect of life to God as an act of worship, including the many aspects we would normally be tempted to call "secular". One of the illustrations Ravi uses, and which I find immensely useful, is that of Eric Liddle as depicted in the film _The Chariots of Fire_.

    Eric was training both for missionary work and for competing in the olympic games. At one point his sister Jenny says to him that he is wasting a lot of time on all this training and competition and that God would want him to spend his time on more worthy activities. Eric's responds: "Jenny, Jenny, Jenny. God has made me for a purpose. For China. But He has also made me fast, and when I run I feel His pleasure."

    Ravi also contrasts Liddle with the film's other main character Harold Abrahams, who get's no satisfaction from his gold medal, and Ravi draws the following conclusion: "One of the loneliest moments in life is when you experience that which you thought would deliver the ultimate and it has let you down." I recommend Ravi's book _Cries of the Heart_ if you'd like to read his thoughts in full.

    I also connect this entire aspect of loneliness with an argument Lewis used for the existence of God and which has generally become known as the argument from desire. The main connecting thought is that of Augustine: "You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You." For a taste of that argument see this article. For considerably more than a taste see chapter 6 of my PhD thesis.

  45. David,

    I'm not aware of Lewis writing much about America or Americans, though there are a couple of minor references in some of his letters, and of course Joy Davidman-Gresham was American. According to the biographers his friends found her abrasive, but he found her straighforward approach bracing. That said, George Sayer in his biography says that part of the affinity between the two was down to the fact that both were "anti-American", by which Sayer seems to mean being against aggressive capitalism, the building of huge sky-scrapers and various other trappings of modernity.

    If this was Lewis's attitude, then I guess I share it to at least some extent. The bright lights of Vegas repulse rather than attract. But there is more to America than the big cities and the capitalism. As I've implied elsewhere, American's have a sense of national pride and identity which is completely lacking over here. We seem to think that patriotism is the same thing as nationalism, and that nationalism is political form of bigotry.

    On American evangelicalism: I'm not sure what I've seen is representative. We had George Bush, of course, and we now have the Tea Party movement, and we have various broadcasts on Satellite and Cable TV. Bush was rather a laughing stock over here, in pretty much all quarters. Personally I always felt he deserved a little better ... but I guess we treated Tony Blair just as harshly as the realities of the Iraq war, and especially the state of our intelligence on WMDs, became known. The media are very unkind. I don't know much about the Tea Party movement, but the reaction here has been one of suspicion and concern over the interaction of faith and politics. Especially as the movement is seen as anti-intellectual and based on fundamentalist readings of scripture of the kind against which Richard Dawkins and his ilk define themselves. (Dawkins, of course, is seen as the height of rationality!?!) As for TV ... my father used to watch (and perhaps still does watch) a fair amount of Creflo Dollar. I was never convinced. In particular Creflo seems to err towards the "Prosperity Gospel", according to which if you'll only become a Christian you'll prosper in this life and the next. A quick read on Wikepedia suggests I'm not alone in thinking this. I'm very much hoping he's not representative.

    David, did my blog lose a question of yours? I get automated emails whenever anyone comments, and I got one from you including a question about "Why I have remained a Christian" but when I went to the blog it wasn't to be found. Would you like me to re-post that and respond? Or perhaps the blog didn't malfunction and you decided you didn't want to ask the question and so (somehow, I've no idea how) retracted it? Ah, the wonders of modern technology!

  46. Steve,

    I appreciate taking the time to answer my questions. Yes, I sent another question that never appeared. I didn't resend it because this happened once before on another site. When I rewrote my questions the lost one and new one suddenly appeared and it looked silly to ask the same question twice with different words.

    I also thought maybe since I put my name and city down, you preferred not to post that in case you are somehow legally liable if some internet crazy burns down my house.

    If you still have the question, I would enjoy a response.

  47. As always i liked what you have written.Thank you very much for your beautiful thoughts.I will read them once again because i liked them.The name of the philosopher was Kierkegaard.

  48. Here is the post of David's which went missing:

    Thank you for your wise and patient responses to my random flow of questions. I have a few thoughts and follow-up questions to your responses, but first one last set of questions.

    I was asked recently about why I have remained a Christian through all my experiences and doubts. Off the top of my head I gave three reasons:

    1) Jesus. The longer I live and the more I experience and read the more Jesus Christ seems unique to me. The incarnation, his teachings, his death and resurrection are worthy of my faith. He just seems different to me than all the people and ideas I’ve read about and discussed.

    2) I know myself and I know I need a savior, not just on Oct 3, 1983 when I became a Christian, but daily. A friend told me I’m weak because of this. “So I’m weak” was my response.

    3) I cannot deny that I was changed in my thoughts and desires when I became a believer. I freely admit that I still have many faults, but in the words of that poor Southerner (wish I could find the reference, but it’s probably apocryphal), “I ain’t what I oughta be, and I ain’t what I’m gonna be, but I thank you Lord I ain’t what I used to be.” Also, almost everything good in my life for the past twenty years has been related to my faith.

    Lewis was greatly challenged intellectually in his faith. If he were to give a few short reasons for why he remained a Christian, what do you suppose he would say?

    Do you have a few short reasons you would give if a trusted friend asked you that same question?

  49. And my response:
    I like your responses, and they each resonate with me. Though I sometimes wonder (and despair) about the extent of the truth in #3 in my own case. Indeed, sometimes I think that I'm just slowly becoming more and more sinful. I hope this isn't true ... but it certainly goes to reinforce the truth and relevance of your #2 for me! I think Lewis would also have echoed your responses, especially your #1. I have his famous "Trilemma" in mind.

    One of the main things which I think Lewis would say if asked why he remained a Christian is that it was because of his "faith" or "faithfulness". Amidst the various challenges of life, it is easy to let our emotions get the better of us. But Lewis knew that the things which were happening to him were not "new pieces of evidence" which count against the existence of God or the truth of Christianity. The evidence, and his evaulation of it, didn't change when he went through life's challenges. Here is a key passage from _Mere Christianity_ where Lewis's explains (one aspect of?) the concept of faith.

    "I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of the evidence is against it. That is not the point at which Faith comes in. But supposing a man's reason once decides that the weight of the evidence is for it. I can tell that man what is going to happen to him in the next few weeks. There will come a moment when there is bad news, or his is in trouble, or living among a lot of other people who do not believe it, and all at once his emotions will rise up and carry out a sort of blitz on his belief. Or else there will come a moment when he wants a woman, or wants to tell a lie, or feels very pleased with himself, or sees a chance of making a little money in some way that it not perfectly fair: some moment, in fact, at which it would be very convenient if Christianity were not true. And once again his wishes and desires will carry out a blitz. I am not talking of moments at which any real new reasons against Christianity turn up. Those have to be faced and that is a different matter. I am talking about moments when a mere mood rises up against it.
    Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. ... Faith is such a very necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods 'where they get off,' you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of Faith."

    I've had a difficult time the past 6 or 7 years, and my church attendence and devotional life have suffered as a result. There have been times when I wouldn't have wanted to call myself a Christian. However, through all of this I've stuck by the ideas which Lewis expounded in the passage just quoted and so have not seriously doubted the truth of Christianity. Indeed, my own struggles in many ways (like your #2) just seem to confirm the truth of Christianity if anything. As I've frequently said, even at the times when I most struggle to make sense of God and Christianity, I continue to find that they make very good sense of me.

  50. Do you think that we should believe the existence of fire and brimstone in hell?

  51. George,

    I find the existence and nature of hell a very difficult area. I'd very much like to say that there is no such place as hell, and while philosophically that may be legitimate, I struggle to square it with scripture. Take for example Jesus' parabel of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25v31 and following ... which ends with the words "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life".

    Most of the teaching about Hell seems to come from Jesus and the teaching in question is not doctrinal, so there is room for different interpretations ... and lots of people who take the Bible very seriously (and describe themselves as "Evangelical") believe in anything from universalism (everyone goes to Heaven), through annihilationism (any torment is short lived and is following by mere nothingness) to the more traditional doctrines of eternal torment.

    I don't accept universalism, but beyond that I really don't know what to say. The words of Jesus quoted above are pretty hard to avoid though. As to the nature of Hell in terms of fire and brimstone ... I have no idea. Suffice to say we should strive to avoid it!

  52. Steve

    I haven't been in touch with you for a few years (since some posts on Victor R's blog) and have lost your contact info. If you get the chance, please ping me at darek at flexiss daught device to catch fish.


    Darek Barefoot


Join the conversation ...