Skip to comments.The Question of God
Posted on 01/09/2003 9:46:55 AM PST by Remedy
Armand Nicholi's seminar, which he has taught without interruption for the past 35 years, is now the basis for his book, 'The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life.'
For Sigmund Freud there was considerable doubt. Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, didn't just question religious belief, he attacked it as childish, escapist, and unworthy of a mature, rational mind.
The doctrines of religion, Freud wrote, "bear the imprint of the times in which they arose, the ignorant times of the childhood of humanity." He asserted that "the religions of mankind must be classed among the mass delusions," and that "when a man has once brought himself to accept uncritically all the absurdities that religious doctrines put before him ... we need not be greatly surprised at the weakness of his intellect."
In 1967, when Armand Nicholi, associate clinical professor of psychiatry, began teaching a seminar on Freud at Leverett House, he found that many of his students were disturbed by Freud's rigidly materialist perspective.
"The students found Freud's works very interesting, but unbalanced," Nicholi said. "They wanted to know who would be a good counterpoint, someone who would be able to defend and define the spiritual worldview that Freud attacked."
Nicholi remembered a book he had discovered as an intern, "The Problem of Pain" by C.S. Lewis. Someone had left the volume in the hospital library, and Nicholi picked it up, hoping it would help him deal with the suffering he was encountering, suffering that at the time nearly convinced him to leave medicine.
"I found it helpful, but I think I mistook the clarity and simplicity of the writing for superficiality. It was only later that I realized how profound it was."
Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963) was perhaps the 20th century's best known Christian apologist, author of such books as "Mere Christianity," "Surprised by Joy," and "The Screwtape Letters." An Oxford don, he also wrote extensively on the literature of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and found time to compose "The Narnia Chronicles" and other works of fantasy for children and adults.
Why are we here?
What's life all about?
Is God really real,
or is there some doubt?
- Monty Python, "The Meaning of Life"
And thanks to the play "Shadowlands" by William Nicholson (later a movie with Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger) the poignant story of Lewis' marriage to Joy Gresham has become well known.
Nicholi decided that Lewis would make a particularly apt counterpoint to Freud. There is no evidence the two ever met, nor did Freud live long enough to read any of Lewis' principal works, but there is ample evidence that Lewis was familiar with the theories of Freud, whose impact on literary criticism at the time was considerable.
Moreover, until he was in his 30s, Lewis ardently embraced the same brand of militant atheism to which Freud subscribed. It was only after arriving at Oxford and coming under the influence of a group of Christian intellectuals including J.R.R. Tolkien that Lewis began to question his own unbelief, converting to Christianity in 1931.
"When I added Lewis as a counterpoint, the discussion in class ignited," said Nicholi. "It's been a fun course to teach because everyone's interested in these issues."
It must be fun. Nicholi has taught the seminar without interruption for the past 35 years and still hasn't tired of it. Nor have the students. The course regularly receives accolades in the CUE Guide and attracts far more applicants than can be accommodated during a given semester.
For the past 11 years, Nicholi has also offered the seminar to students at the Medical School. He believes that for them, the issues raised are not only of vital personal interest but are professionally important as well.
"These are questions that medical students need to deal with. People facing life-threatening illness may wonder, 'Why is God doing this to me?' It's vitally important for a doctor to understand a patient's worldview."
Now the spirited discussion that Nicholi has presided over for the past 35 years has been opened to a wider group of participants. Nicholi has written a book based on his course: "The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life" (The Free Press, 2002).
As he does in his seminar, Nicholi avoids taking sides in the debate, but rather allows Freud and Lewis to speak for themselves. He also examines their lives to determine the impact of their beliefs. Ultimately, the book asks the question, which man was happier, more satisfied? Is it better to be a believer or an unbeliever?
Asked this question directly, Nicholi maintains a sphinxlike reticence.
"Students always ask me, which side are you on? Half of them assume that because I'm a psychiatrist I must be a materialist. Others who embrace a spiritual perspective may make the opposite assumption. What I do is try to present an objective, dispassionate, critical assessment of both worldviews."
Nicholi's book, however, tells another story. In response to the question of happiness, the evidence is clear: Lewis wins, hands down. After his conversion, or, as he called it, his transition, he underwent a profound change from gloomy, introverted pessimist to cheerful extrovert, described by a close friend as "great fun, an extremely witty and amusing companion ... considerate ... more concerned with the welfare of his friends than with himself."
And contrary to Freud's conviction that a spiritual worldview is incompatible with reason and intelligence, Lewis' transition to Christianity came about as a result of a long and difficult period of critical reasoning and examination of the historical evidence. Determined to establish for himself whether Jesus was indeed the Son of God, Lewis read the New Testament in the original Greek, applying the rigorous methods he had learned as a literary scholar. Finally, he could not escape the conclusion that Jesus was exactly who he claimed to be.
Freud, by contrast, was a dour pessimist who argued violently with most of his friends and colleagues. His opinion of human nature was low. He once wrote to a friend that he found "little that is good about human beings on the whole. In my experience most of them are trash, no matter whether they publicly subscribe to this or that ethical doctrine or none at all."
Faced with suffering in his own life or in that of others, Freud's only answer was to "endure with resignation." He followed this philosophy consistently, stoically enduring the pain and discomfort of the cancer of the palate that afflicted him in the last two decades of his life. He died by assisted suicide at the age of 83.
But Nicholi is quick to point out that whatever his limitations as a person, Freud remains the most important single figure in the study of the mind.
"Everyone in my profession owes a great deal to Freud," Nicholi said. "Most forms of psychotherapy use one of more of the basic concepts that Freud developed. He's revolutionized how we interpret human behavior in many disciplines."
The debate between Freud and Lewis will soon reach an even wider audience. A four-hour PBS documentary based on the book is currently in production. Nicholi will appear in the production, alternating with dramatized episodes from the lives of the two men filmed on location in London and Vienna.
Nicholi hopes that the series will have the same sort of mind-expanding effect on TV audiences that his class has had on Harvard students, whatever their beliefs or predilections.
"I encourage students to understand the worldview they do not embrace. Although at first they find that unsettling, ultimately it will have a strengthening effect if they can confront the arguments and work through them. It may create doubt, but doubt is a part of belief."
"This elegantly written and compelling comparison of the worldviews of Sigmund Freud and C. S. Lewis provides a riveting opportunity to consider the most important questions mankind has ever asked: Is there a God? Does he care about me? This profound book is for anyone who is earnestly seeking answers about truth, the meaning of life, and God's existence." -- Francis Collins, Director, National Human Genome Research Institute - NHGRI
Many of history's greatest thinkers have wrestled with the ultimate question of belief and nonbelief in God. Though it might seem unlikely that any new arguments could possibly be raised on either side, the twentieth century managed to produce two men who each made brilliant, new, and lasting arguments, one in favor of belief and one opposed. Few spokesmen have ever championed their respective positions better than Sigmund Freud and C. S. Lewis. Sadly, as far as we know, they never met or debated each other directly.
In The Question of God their arguments are placed side by side, as if they were standing at podiums in a shared room. Both thought carefully about the flaws and alternatives to their positions; each considered the other's views. Both men considered the problem of pain and suffering, the nature of love and sex, and the ultimate meaning of life and death. Here, with their debate made explicit, we can take ringside seats at one of history's most profound encounters.
For more than twenty-five years Armand Nicholi has studied the philosophical writings of both men, and has taught a popular course at Harvard that compares the two worldviews. In The Question of God he presents the fruits of years of labor among the published and unpublished writings of Lewis and Freud, including an extensive exploration of their private letters. He allows them to speak for themselves on every major question of belief and nonbelief, but also skillfully draws conclusions from their own lives. Why did Freud have such difficulty maintaining lifelong friendships? How did Lewis's friendships change after his transition from atheism to belief? Why was Freud unable to willfully ignore his own internal moral sense, even though he believed it to be purely a product of socialization and not in any way eternally "true"?
The Question of God may be the best book about belief and nonbelief ever written, since it does not presuppose which answer is correct. Instead, it uses two of history's most articulate spokesmen to present arguments on both sides. In the end, readers must join Nicholi's hundreds of former students in deciding for themselves which path to follow.
Current Online | Pipeline 2003: public TV series in preparation The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud
The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund FreudWinter/spring 2004
Producing organizations: Tatge/Lasseur Productions. Episodes: 4 x 60. Status: preproduction, scripting. Budget: $3.1 million, including $225,000 outreach budget. Major funders: PBS/CPB Challenge Fund, Fidelity Foundation, Peter Lynch Foundation, Paul Montrone Foundation, Laurance Rockefeller Foundation. Executive producer: Catherine Tatge. Contact: Dominique Lasseur, firstname.lastname@example.org, 212-222-5677. Based on Armand Nicholi's popular Harvard University course, the series contrasts the spiritual worldview of C.S. Lewis with the materialistic philosophy of Sigmund Freud and emphasizes dramatic events in the lives of both men. Program guide, online component, ancillary videotape seminar, six-city tour planned.
1. The Protagonists: The Lives of Sigmund Freud and C. S. Lewis
3. Conscience: Is There a Universal Moral Law:
How Does the World View of the Scientist & the Clinician Influence Their Work? Does the world view of the scientist influence his work as an investigator conducting research and as a clinician treating patients? Many scholars in the history of science would answer that question with a resounding "Yes." Some, like Thomas Kuhn in his widely quoted "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions," have argued that the scientific process is less than an objective critical empirical investigation of the facts. They claim the work of scientists is greatly influenced by their culture, by social and psychological environment, by what Kuhn calls the "paradigm"--that is to say, the preferred or prevailing theories, methods and studies of that particular discipline, and above all by their world view--their specific beliefs about "the order of nature." Kuhn writes that two scientists with different views of the "order of nature" . . . see different things when they look from the same point in the same direction . . . they see different things and they see them in different relations to each other." And we might add that they tend to see and to accept those data that conform to or make sense in light of their world view. So evidence exists that the world view of scientists and the presuppositions that view implies may influence not only the problems scientists choose to investigate but also what they actually observe and fail to observe. Most forms of psychotherapy use one of more of the basic concepts that Freud developed. He's revolutionized how we interpret human behavior in many disciplines."
Do Laws and Standards Evolve? Douglas W. Phillips, Esq. Holmes and his contemporaries laid the foundation for legalized abortion, no-fault divorce, the legalization of homosexuality, and the rejection of the Framers' vision for Constitutional interpretation. Today, most courts have embraced an evolving standard for Constitutional interpretation, rejecting the notion that the Constitution must be interpreted in light of the meanings intended by the Framers.
Is God Unconstitutional? The Established Religious Philosophy of America Phillip Johnson A constitutional democracy is in serious trouble if its citizenry does not have a certain degree of education and civic virtue. That virtue is not likely to be cultivated effectively in families headed by unmarried teenagers.
Nihilism and the Law All I can say is this: it looks as if we are all we have. Given what we know about ourselves, and each other, this is an extraordinary, unappetising prospect; looking around the world, it appears that if all men are brothers, the ruling model is Cane and Abel. Neither reason, nor love, nor even terror, seems to have worked and made us "good", and, worse than that, there is no reason why anything should. Only if ethics were something unspeakable by us could law be unnatural, and therefore unchallengeable. As things stand now, everything is up for grabs.
Those who stood up and died resisting Hitler, Stalin, Amin and Pol Pot - and General Custer too - have earned salvation. Sez who?
The Indispensability of Theological Meta-Ethical Foundations for Morality Today I want to argue that if God exists, then the objectivity of moral values, moral duties, and moral accountability is secured, but that in the absence of God, that is, if God does not exist, then morality is just a human convention, that is to say, morality is wholly subjective and non-binding. We might act in precisely the same ways that we do in fact act, but in the absence of God, such actions would no longer count as good (or evil), since if God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist. Thus, we cannot truly be good without God. On the other hand, if we do believe that moral values and duties are objective, that provides moral grounds for believing in God.
Morality Without God? Our founders also recognized that only a virtuous people would deserve the continued blessings of liberty that had been bestowed upon them. Moreover, virtually all of our nation's founders believed that a virtuous people was a necessary pre-condition for self-government, and that virtue could not be had or sustained without religion. President Washington, for example, noted in his Farewell Address that "reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle." Benjamin Rush was even more blunt: "Where there is no religion, there will be no morals."
Reply To Judge Richard A. Posner on The Inseparability of Law and Morality Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars' hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.
The Case For and Against Natural Law That federal judges, Mr. Bork included, have not been learned in the natural law is one of the educational misfortunes of our age. When the time is out of joint, we can repair to the teachings of Cicero and Aquinas and Hooker about the law of nature, in the hope that we may diminish man's inhumanity unto man. The natural law lacking, we may become so many Cains, and every man's hand may be raised against every other man's.
The Psychology of Atheism There seems to be a widespread assumption throughout much of the Western intellectual community that belief in God is based on all kinds of irrational immature needs and wishes, but atheism or skepticism is derived from a rational, no- nonsense appraisal of the way things really are. To begin a critique of this assumption, I start with my own case history. 4. The Great Transition: Which Road to Reality?
4. The Great Transition: Which Road to Reality?
QuestioningFaith.com :: What is Truth? When Pontius Pilate interrogated Jesus before his crucifixion, Jesus proclaimed that "Everyone on the side of truth listens to me" (John 18:37). To this, Pilate replied "What is truth?" and immediately left Jesus to address the Jews who wanted him crucified (v. 38). As Francis Bacon wrote in his essay "On Truth," "'What is truth?' said jesting Pilate; and would not stay for an answer." Although we have no record of any reply Jesus gave to Pilate, Christians affirm that Pilate was staring Truth in the face, for Jesus had earlier said to Thomas, "I am the way and the truth and the life" (John 14:6).
Nietzsche's Truth In the months before his final descent into madness, Friedrich Nietzsche made the following declaration and prediction: "I know my destiny. Someday my name will be associated with the memory of something tremendous, a crisis like no other on earth [The Holocaust and evolution] , the profoundest collision of conscience, a decision conjured up against everything that had been believed, required, and held sacred up to that time.[ The New State Religion: Atheism] I am not a man; I am dynamite." [The Real Murderers: Atheism or Christianity?] 5. Happiness: What Is the Source of Our Greatest Enjoyment in Life?
5. Happiness: What Is the Source of Our Greatest Enjoyment in Life?
6. Sex: Is the Pursuit of Pleasure Our Only Purpose?
7. Love: Is All Love Sublimated Sex?
8. Pain: How Can We Resolve the Problem of Suffering?
Gateway to Joy with Elisabeth Elliot Jim was killed by the Auca Indians while attempting to take the Gospel to that primitive tribe.
The Corrie ten Boom Museum - "the Hiding Place" During the Second World War, the Ten Boom home became a refuge, a hiding place, for fugitives and those hunted by the Nazis. By protecting these people, Casper and his daughters, Corrie and Betsie, risked their lives. This non-violent resistance against the Nazi-oppressors was the Ten Boom's way of living out their Christian faith. This faith led them to hide Jews, students who refused to cooperate with the Nazis, and members of the Dutch "underground" resistance movement.
On February 28, 1944, this family was betrayed, and the Gestapo (the Nazi secret police) raided their home. The Gestapo set a trap and waited throughout the day, seizing everyone who came to the house. By evening, over 20 people had been taken into custody! Casper, Corrie, and Betsie were all arrested. Corrie's brother Willem, sister Nollie, and nephew Peter were at the house that day, and were also taken to prison.
The Founders of VOM Pastor Richard Wurmbrand was an evangelical minister who was imprisoned and tortured for fourteen years in a Communist prison in his homeland Romania.
In May 1966, he testified in Washington before the US Senate's Internal Security Subcommittee and stripped to the waist to show eighteen deep wounds covering his body. His story was carried across the world in newspapers in the US, Europe and Asia. 9. Death: Is Death Our Only Destiny?
9. Death: Is Death Our Only Destiny?
When Worldviews Collide excerpts
The following Part One article is adapted from a speech made by Dr. Armand Nicholi at a faculty/alumni luncheon hosted by Dallas Christian Leadership at Southern Methodist University on September 23, 1997. Part Two appears in The Real Issue of March 1998 and explores Lewis' change in worldview and eventual conversion.
Few men have influenced the moral fabric of our civilization more than Sigmund Freud and C. S. Lewis. Freud was the Viennese physician who developed psychoanalysis. Many historians rank his findings with those of Plank and Einstein. His theories proffer new understanding of how our minds work. His ideas pervade several disciplines including medicine, literature, sociology, anthropology, history, and law. How we interpret human behavior in law and literary criticism is strongly influenced by his theories. His concepts so permeate our language that we use terms like repression, complex, projection, narcissism, Freudian slip, and sibling rivalry without realizing their origin.
Because of the unmistakable impact of his thought on our culture, scholars refer to this century as the "century of Freud." Why is that? In light of what we now know, Freud is continuously criticized, discredited, and vilified; yet his picture keeps cropping up on the covers of our magazines and front-page articles in newspapers like the New York Times. Recent historical research has intensified the interest in the controversies surrounding Freud and his work. As part of an intellectual legacy, Freud vehemently advocated a secular, materialistic, atheistic philosophy of life.
Today, the sheer quantity of personal, biographical and literary books on Lewis; the vast number of C.S. Lewis societies in colleges and universities; the C.S. Lewis periodicals and journals; as well as the relatively recent play and movie on his life all attest to the ever-growing interest in this man and his work. As a young faculty member at Oxford, Lewis changed from a secular, atheistic worldview to a spiritual one; a worldview that Freud regularly attacked, but which Lewis embraced and defined and described in many of his writings after his conversion.
"Is there meaning and purpose to existence?" Freud would say, "Absolutely not! ... But he would declare that if you observe human behavior, you would notice the main purpose of life seems to be to find happinessto find pleasure. Thus Freud devised the "pleasure principle" as one of the main features of our existence.
Lewis, on the other hand, said meaning and purpose are found in understanding why we are here in terms of the Creator who made us. Our primary purpose is to establish a relationship with that Creator.
...Now, Freud said our moral code comes from human experience, like our traffic laws. We make the codes up because they are expedient for us. In some cultures you drive on the left, in others you drive on the right.
But Lewis would disagree with that. He said that while there are differences in cultures, there is a basic moral law that transcends culture and time. This law is not invented, like traffic laws, but is discovered, like mathematical truth. So Freud and Lewis had an entirely different understanding of the source of moral truth.
...Freud claimed miracles contradict everything we have learned through empirical observation; they do not really occur. However, Lewis would ask, "How do we know they don't occur? If there is any evidence, the philosophy that you bring to that evidence determines how you interpret it."
...Freud considered all love a kind of sublimated sexuality even love between friends. Lewis said that anybody who thinks that friendship is based on sexuality has never really had a friend.
They also discussed the problem of pain and suffering. Freud was enormously bothered by this problem, and Lewis wrote some wonderful books that help explain the problem of suffering that we all experience. The Problem of Pain [ Macmillan, 1944] is a very cerebral discussion of the issue. When Lewis' wife died, he wrote A Grief Observed [Reprint, Harper, 1994], which I highly recommend. People in my field say it is the finest work on the process of grief.
...It's significant to note that Freud's philosophical works have had a much greater influence on the secularization of our culture than his scientific works. I will discuss two of these themes. The God Question
The God Question
...Freud divided all people into "believers" and "unbelievers." Unbelievers include all those who consider themselves cynics, skeptics, scoffers, agnostics, or atheists. Believers include the rest, whose belief ranges from merely an intellectual assent that someone or something is out there to those like Lewis, Augustine, Tolstoy, and Pascal who have had a life-transforming experience after which their faith becomes the primary motivating and organizing principle of their lives.
...He described his worldview as secular and called it "scientific," and he claimed that no source of knowledge of the universe exists other than "carefully scrutinized observationwhat we call research." Therefore no knowledge, he said, can be derived from revelation or from intuition. ...He stated that no intelligent person could accept the absurdities of the religious worldview.
Freud described the concept of God as merely a projection of the childish wish for the protection of an all-powerful father.
He concluded that the religious view is "so pathetically absurd and . . . infantile that it is humiliating and embarrassing to think that the majority of people will never rise above it." ...A year before he died, Freud wrote to Charles Sanger, "Neither in my private life nor in my writing have I ever made a secret of being an out-and-out unbeliever."
When we carefully assess the record, however, we find that Freud may not have been quite as adamant in his atheism as he proclaimed. Certainly he did refer to himself often as, "an infidel Jew," and he rejected outright the religious view of the universe, especially the Judeo-Christian view. He certainly attacked this view with all his intellectual might and from every possible perspective. Yet, for some reason he remained preoccupied with these issues; he just could not leave them alone. He spent the last thirty years of his life writing about them.
...A great deal of evidence exists that Freud's worldview proved less than comfortable for him. Faith was by no means a closed issue for him, and he was extremely ambivalent about God's existence.
Anna Freud, Sigmund's daughter who died a few years ago, explained to me the only way to know her father: "Don't read his biographies;" she instructed, "read his letters." Throughout Freud's letters are statements such as, "If someday we meet above," "[my] one, quite secret prayer," and statements about God's grace.
During the last thirty years of Freud's life, he carried out a continuous exchange of hundreds of letters with a Swiss theologian, Oskar Phister. It's interesting to note that his longest correspondence was with this theologian. He admired Phister and wrote, "You are a true servant of God . . . [who] feels the need to do spiritual good to everyone he meets. You did good this way even to me." He later said that Phister was, "In the fortunate position of being able to lead men to God." The Question of Pain and Suffering
The Question of Pain and Suffering
I have studied Freud's writings and his letters for many years and I've concluded that the main obstacle Freud had with the idea of some intelligence out there was his inability to reconcile an all-loving, all-powerful God with the suffering that all of us experience to some degree.
In a 1928 letter to Phister, Freud wrote, "And finally, let me be impolite for once. How the devil do you reconcile all that we experience and come to expect in this world with your assumption of a moral world order?" And then in a 1933 lecture he said:
It seems not to be the case that there's a power in the universe which watches over the well-being of individuals with parental care and brings all their affairs to a happy ending. On the contrary, the destinies of mankind can be brought into harmony neither with a hypothesis of a universal benevolence nor with a partial contradictory one of a universal justice. Earthquakes, tidal waves, complications make no distinctions between the virtuous and pious and the scoundrel or unbeliever. Even where what is in question is not inanimate nature, but where an individual's fate depends on his relationships with other people, it is by no means the rule that virtue is rewarded and evil finds its punishment. Often enough the violent cunning or ruthless man seizes the envied good things of the world and the pious man goes away empty. Obscure, unfeeling, unloving powers determine our fate. The systems of rewards and punishments which religion describes to the government of the universe seems not to exist.
Freud seemed to be unaware, of course, that in the Biblical worldview the government of the universe is temporarily in enemy hands. Before Anna Freud died, I asked her about her father's difficulty with the problem of suffering, and she expressed great curiosity about it.
I said that people like Phister would describe the presence of an evil power in the universe that might account for some of the suffering. Anna seemed unusually interested in this notion and came back to it several times in our discussion.
We must remember that Freud suffered considerably in his life, emotionally as a Jew growing up in an intensely Catholic-biased Vienna, and physically with an intractable cancer of the palate that he struggled with for sixteen years of his life. Surgical procedures were not very well developed then and caused him a great deal of physical pain.
C. S. Lewis, throughout the first half of his life, also described himself, like Freud, as an "out-and-out unbeliever." If Freud wavered in his unbelief as a college student, Lewis flaunted his atheism as a student at Oxford. He strongly expressed cynicism and hostility toward people that he called "believers" and shared Freud's pessimism toward life generally.
When thirty-three years old, by then a popular member of the Oxford faculty, Lewis experienced a profound and radical change in his life and in his thinking. He rejected the materialistic and atheistic worldview and embraced a strong faith in God and eventually in Jesus Christ. This conversion from one worldview to the other began an outpouring of scholarly and popular works that have influenced millions of people.
How do people change their worldviews from one to another that is dramatically different? With C.S. Lewis, this transformation happened over a long period of time. Nevertheless, his conversion was no less dramatic than Paul, Augustine, Tolstoy, Pascal, or many others.
...Lewis gradually became aware that most of the great writers he had been reading for years were believers. This began to make him think. Then re-reading Euripides and Samuel Alexander's Space, Time and Deity, Lewis was forced to think about a deep yearning in himself; he recognized that it was a kind of yearning he experienced periodically but did not quite understand. He called it "joy" and he wrote a great deal about it. He realized that this joy was not an end in itself, but a reminder of something or someone else. Eventually, he came to believe that this someone is the Creator.
Second, Lewis was shocked during a conversation with some of his Oxford faculty colleagues to hear one of them, an avowed atheist, state that the evidence for the historical authenticity of the gospels was very good. The evidence was sound and the gospel stories actually appeared to be true. Lewis said one cannot understand the impact that had on him coming from this particular faculty member.
Third, he read G.K. Chesterton's Everlasting Man and finally arrived at a belief in God.
At this point Lewis was a theist, not a Christian. He struggled for many long months to understand the Gospel story and the doctrines of redemption and resurrection. He read the Gospel of John in Greek.
Then, in the fall of 1931, he had dinner with two faculty members, J.R.R. Tolkien, author of Lord of the Rings, and Hugo Dyson, a professor of English literature. After dinner, the three of them talked about the great question concerning the truth of the Gospels and asked the question that one of Lewis' pupils referred to as, "And is it true, and is it true, this most amazing tale of all?" They talked and walked for hours along a path called Addison's Walk. The clock in Magdalene Tower struck three in the morning before they parted. This talk had a profound effect on Lewis. Nine days later, Lewis took a trip by motorcycle with his brother. He wrote, "When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo, I did." Later, Lewis wrote: "My long night talk with Dyson and Tolkien had a good deal to do with it."
...Because he himself embraced atheism the first half of his life, he knew the arguments well. For example, Lewis agreed with Freud that we do indeed possess a deep-seated wish for God. But he disagreed with Freud's notion
that God therefore is nothing but a product of wish fulfillment. What we wish for, Lewis pointed out, has nothing to do with whether or not God exists. According to Freud's theory, the wish that God not exist would be as strong as the wish that He does exist. Lewis therefore said that all of this tells us something about our feelings, but very little about whether or not God exists. So Lewis tended to answer most of the arguments raised by Freud.
The Question of Mortality
...Socrates said the true philosopher is always pursing death and dying. And indeed most of the great writers write about it continually.
A fundamental fact of our existence, one that we learn very early in life, is that we're on this earth for a very short time... The fear of abandonment is the first fear we experience as a young childa baby screams when its mother walks out of the room. Research at the Massachusetts General Hospital has shown that, in terminally ill patients, this is what they fear mostthe fear of being left alone, of being abandoned. It's a fear we harbor all of our life. Yet we cannot escape the harsh reality that every breath we breathe, every heartbeat, every hour of every day brings us nearer to the time when we will leave those we love.
Now, how do you process that information? How do you come to terms with this? Psychiatrists say this issue is so important that you can't really live your life until you do come to terms with it. But how do you process it without being filled with anxiety or filled with fear? That is what Freud called "the painful riddle of death." Freud and the Riddle of Death
Freud and the Riddle of Death
Freud often wrote about death.
In 1932, in a work called Totem and Taboo, Freud made the interesting observation that death does not exist in our unconscious mind: "Our unconscious then does not believe in its own death. It behaves as if it were immortal. We cannot imagine our own death and when we attempt to do so we can perceive that we are in fact still spectators, hence, no one believes in his own death."
In The Future of an Illusion, Freud spoke often of the painful riddle of death. He closed one essay with the curious suggestion that if you want to endure life you must prepare yourself for death.
Freud left no doubt as to how he handled the problem. He became utterly obsessed with death. His colleague Ernst Jones, his official biographer, wrote:
As far back as we know anything about Freud's life, he seems to have been prepossessed with thoughts about death. More so than any great man I can think of. Even in the early years of our acquaintance he had the disconcerting habit of parting with the words, 'Good-bye. You may never see me again.' And then there were the repeated attacks of what he called 'the dread of death.' He hated growing old. Even as early as his forties and with each passing year, thoughts of death became increasingly tyrants. He once said he thought of it every day of his life, which is really unusual.
Freud dreamed about death continually, and from early in his life he was obsessed about prospective death rates. Freud's physician described his preoccupation with death as superstitious and obsessive. Freud was certain he was going to die at 41, then at 51, then at 61, then at 62, then at 70. He would check into a hotel and be given the room number 63. He would leave that room and for months be absolutely convinced that he was going to die at age 63.
Freud died at the age of 83 after a sixteen-year battle with cancer. His favorite book was Goethe's Faust, the story of Faust making a pact with the devil. Just before Freud died, he walked to a library shelf and took down a book by Bolzac entitled The Fatal Skin, in which the main character also makes a pact with the devil. The book ends when the hero cannot master his fear of death and dies in a state of panic. How strange, as his last book. After reading the book, Freud reminded his physician of a promise he had made to help ease his passing when the time came. His doctor injected two centigrams of morphine that caused him to fall asleep, then after 12 hours he injected two more centigrams. Freud died at 3 a.m. on September 12, 1939. C.S. Lewis and Death
C.S. Lewis and Death
C. S. Lewis also wrote about mortality. In The Problem of Pain, Lewis described how as an atheist the problem of human suffering
especially the capacity of man to foresee his death while keenly desiring permanencemade it difficult for him to believe in an all-loving, all-powerful God. After his conversion, he understood death as the result of the fall, a transgression of God's laws, and that death was not part of the original plan. (Perhaps that is the reason we have no symbol for death in our unconscious, and have such difficulty accepting our mortality.)
Then a couple of years later in another letter he wrote, "Can one believe that there was just nothing in that persistent motif of blood, death, and resurrection which runs like a black and scarlet cord through all the great myths?" He was beginning to notice as he studied all the ancient literature that even in the pagan cultures there were these strange stories of a god someday coming to earth and dying and rising again. He wondered what it meant. And when you look at nature, indeed you see things even in vegetative life where a seed drops to the ground and dies and then comes to life in the form of a plant or great tree. Could this be pointing to what he eventually called "the grand miracle," the resurrection? He said, "Surely the history of the human mind hangs together better if you suppose that all this was the first shadowy approach of something whose reality came with Christ even if we cannot at present fully understand that something." Personal Tragedy
In his personal life, C. S. Lewis was confronted with death as a young child. At nine years of age he lost within a few months a paternal grandfather, an uncle, and his beautiful mother. In an autobiography, Surprised by Joy, he recalls being confined to his room, ill with a headache and a toothache. He was distressed that his mother failed to come and see him. He didn't understand the reason:
That was because she was ill, too; and what was odd was that there were several doctors in her room, and voices and comings and goings all over the house and doors shutting and opening. It seemed to last for hours. And then my father, in tears, came into my room and began to try to convey to my terrified mind things it had never conceived before.
He was told that his mother was dying of cancer. He recalled that his "whole existence changed into something alien and menacing, as the house became full of strange smells and midnight noises and sinister whispered conversations."
"My father never fully recovered from this loss," he noted. Perhaps Lewis didn't either in the sense that he was sent away to boarding school because his father was too full of grief to take care of him. At a very early age, he lost both mother and father.
When 18 years old and a student at Oxford, Lewis joined the army. He suffered wounds during action in France and, in a lecture given at Oxford many years later, he made the interesting observation that war does not make death more frequent"100 percent of us die and the percentage cannot be increased." He stated that war puts several deaths earlier and that one of the few positive aspects of war is that it makes us aware of our mortality. When he was 23 years old he wrote a letter to his father on the death of an old teacher who was a friend to both of them. He stated:
I have seen death fairly often [in the war] and never yet been able to find it anything but extraordinary and rather incredible. A real person is so very real and so obviously living and different from what is left. And one cannot believe that something has turned into nothing, that one could suddenly turn into nothing.
This reminds me of my medical students just beginning to practice medicine; very often they will call me to tell me their experiences on the ward. One of the things the students often mention is how different a person is before and after deathhow different the body is from a living person. They sense there is something that disappearsthat is not there after deathand that we are so much more than our bodies. Lewis seemed to realize that at a very young age. Death Does Matter
Death Does Matter
In A Grief Observed, Lewis wrote about the death of his wife who was to him everything worthwhile. As I mentioned, many psychiatrists consider this book a classic in terms of understanding grief. Lewis makes you feel the anger, resentment, loneliness, and fear. His anger becomes palpable when he wonders if God is "the cosmic sadist; the spiteful imbecile." He wrote, "It is hard to have patience with people who say there is no death or that death doesn't matter. There is death," he continued, "and whatever is matters. We might as well say birth doesn't matter."
Lewis never lost his sense of humor. When he was 59 years old, a lady wrote to him and said how terrible it was that she had just lost a friend. Lewis wrote back, "There is nothing discreditable in dying. I've known the most respectable people to do it." In another letter a couple of years later he wrote, "What a state we've gotten into when we can't say, 'I'll be happy when God calls me,' without being afraid one will be thought morbid. After all, Saint Paul said just the same. Why should we not look forward to the arrival?"
Lewis concluded that we can do only three things about death: desire it, fear it, or ignore it. He claimed the third alternative, which is the one the modern world calls healthy, is surely the most uneasy and precarious of all.
Lewis suffered a heart attack on June 15, 1963, and lapsed into a coma. He recovered, however, and lived the next few months quietly and happily. His lat-est biographer notes that before his conversion, Lewis was extraordinarily anxious about death and dying, but after his conversion he seemed to have a wonderful calmness about it, and even an anticipation. Records of his last days attest to a calmness and inner peace.
During this time, he wrote to a lifelong friend stating, "Though I am by no means unhappy, I can't help feeling it rather a pity that
I did revive in July." He went on, "I mean, having been glided so painlessly up to the gate, it seems hard to have it shut in one's face and know that the whole process must someday be gone through again. Poor Lazarus." And to another friend he asked, "One ought to honor Lazarus rather than Stephen as a proto-martyr. To be brought back and have all one's dying to do again was rather hard." And then he said, "When you die, look me up. It's all rather fun, solemn fun, isn't it?"
Two weeks before his death, Lewis had lunch with a faculty colleague. He said Lewis was aware the end was near and that never was a man better pre-pared. On November 22, 1963, Lewis' brother brought Lewis his 4 p.m. tea. He noted that Lewis was drowsy, but calm and cheerful. At 5:30, he was dead.
The Billiard Parlor Evangel "I have seen the horrors of war-young men in their prime, gunned down like so many cattle at the slaughterhouse. I have seen the suffering of children-grotesquely twisted little bodies, crying out in pain, begging for love and acceptance, only to find ridicule, rejection, and at the most, the pity of the rich and powerful. I have seen the willful hatred of men toward men, for no reason other than the color of their skin, the shape of their eyes, or the sound of their speech. I am myself a brokenhearted and lonely old man. And you talk to me of your religion! Of all the religions in the world, the one whose constituency adheres the least to its stated beliefs is 'Christianity'!"
Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? : A Debate Between William Lane Craig and John Dominic Crossan by Paul Copan (Editor), John Dominic Crossan, William F. Buckley, William Lane Craig Based on a recent debate held at Moody Church in Chicago between John Dominic Crossan, former co-chair of the Jesus Seminar, and evangelical William Lane Craig, Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up? is the first book to present, in one volume, a dialogue between evangelicals and members of the Jesus Seminar on the resurrection of Christ. Skillfully moderated by William F. Buckley Jr., this volume includes responses from Jesus studies experts such as Craig L. Blomberg, Ben Witherington III, Marcus Borg, and Robert J. Miller to round out the discussion.
Jesus' Resurrection: Fact or Figment?: A Debate Between William ... is a lively and provocative debate between Christian philosopher and apologist William Lane Craig and New Testament scholar and atheist Gerd Ludemann. This published version of a debate originally set at Boston College invites the responses of two additional scholars on either side of the debate. Robert Gundry, a New Testament scholar, and Stephen Davis, a philosopher, argue in support of a historical and actual resurrection, while Michael Goulder and Roy Hoover, both New Testament scholars, offer their support for Luedemann's view that the "resurrection" was based on the guilt-induced visionary experience of the disciples.
The Party of Unbelievers As secularists have grown more numerous, they have become an important Democratic voting bloc. In 1992, three out of four voted for Clinton, while religious conservatives chose Bush by two to one. Today, say Bolce and De Maio, secularists are as large and loyal a Democratic constituency as organized labor: In 2000, both "comprised about 16 percent of the white electorate, and both backed Gore with two-thirds of their votes."
Another striking finding is the intensity of many secularists' dislike of conservative Christians.... Four Models of Western Religious Thought
Four Models of Western Religious Thought
Humanist Manifesto I & II
Writings of Marx and Lenin
Writings of Spangler, Ferguson, etc
Salon Newsreal | The mysteries of Bill Clinton "My only enemy is right-wing religious fundamentalism."
Thanks be to God - IT IS TRUE! HE IS TRUE! Alleluia!
Was the enslavement of other humans part of an "ethical absolute"? Or does morality evolve, and enlightenment increase, over time?
Being a lover of freedom, when the (Nazi) revolution came, I looked to the universities to defend it, knowing that they had always boasted of their devotion to the cause of truth; but no, the universities were immediately silenced. Then I looked to the great editors of the newspapers, whose flaming editorials in days gone by had proclaimed their love of freedom; but they, like the universities, were silenced in a few short weeks...
Only the Church stood squarely across the path of Hitler's campaign for suppressing truth. I never had any special interest in the Church before, but now I feel a great affection and admiration for it because the Church alone has had the courage and persistence to stand for intellectual and moral freedom. I am forced to confess that what I once despised I now praise unreservedly.
I am currently reading C.S. Lewis' book, Mere Christianity. I highly recommend it to any who are seeking to understand God, in general, and Christian beliefs, in particular, whether the reader is a Christian, or is "un-churched."
I'll second that recommendation. IMO, there is no better apologetic written in clear terms for the Gospel of Christ.
Worth reading more than once.
Juxtapose the atheistic, humanistic views of Freud with the brilliant analysis of Lewis in Mere Christianity, and let the students see for themselves where the truth lies.
Bumped for a more thorough reading, and analysis later.