“[His] father had taught him to absorb doubt and disbelief into his beliefs.”
This statement from the book, Inklings, by Humphrey Carpenter, is spoken of Charles Williams, who was a regular participant in the informal discussion group, the Inklings, formed by CS Lewis and JRR Tolkien at the University of Oxford, England. The group met at various times in Lewis’s classroom and a local pub from the late 1930’s to 1949. Charles Williams was an early member of the group and continued as a regular until his death in 1945. Williams grew up “a devout churchman” but was encouraged by his father “to appreciate the force of atheistic rationalism and to admire such men as Voltaire and Tom Paine”.
Lewis, of course, was an atheist when he arrived and began teaching at Oxford. His journey from materialism to agnosticism to Christian theism is chronicled in his autobiographical work, Surprised by Joy. Tolkien was already a Christian when Lewis joined him as a professor at Oxford, and Tolkien influenced Lewis in his transition to Christianity. Williams came along later. These men were attracted to each other as much by their love of language, literature and poetry as their faith, though their views on literature and faith often diverged sharply.
These three men, and others who joined them, were powerhouses of thought and creativity. CS Lewis, of course, wrote many books from fiction to philosophy. JRR Tolkien wrote, perhaps, the greatest mythological series of the 20th century in the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Charles Williams, though lesser known, was a prolific writer, literary critic, publisher and student of English literature who could recite hundreds of passages from sheer memory.
They influenced each other, despite their very distinct differences, and their collective influence has been felt by generations from their day to ours. They were Christian men, believing very authentically in the Bible as scripture, but they were also fierce academics who held their faith up to the rigors of intellectual exercise.
I feel compelled by the Holy Spirit (I hope) to explain myself a bit. Please forgive me if this gets into a little self-conscious rambling.
I have touched recently on some important doctrinal issues without really addressing them in a doctrinal way. That is intentional, but that leaves me a little self-conscious about it.
I have brushed past many doctrinal issues in this blog, and some of them are themes that I come back to quite often. Recently, I have veered dangerously close to issues like the inerrancy of the Bible and Bible hermeneutics, though I have not used words like that, other than to acknowledge at some points those rocks that exist in the turbulent waters.
I am usually not all that conscious about doctrine in the sense of academic formality or denominational purity. This also is intentional, though it isn’t intended in any rebellious, skeptical or heretic away.
This interplay, while fictional, is intended to capture the essence of the relationship between Lewis and Tolkien as Lewis was transitioning from the materialism he embraced as a young man to theism. At this point, he is wrestling with doubts that were arising in his mind about the truth of that materialist world view he had intellectually embraced.
Lewis had been raised on a diet of classical Greek and Latin literature that he learned to read in the original languages, along with Celtic, German and other literature filled with myth, allegory and symbolism that he adored as a child and young adult. His embrace of materialism was clashing with a profound undercurrent of something “real” that appealed to him in that ancient literature. The reality Lewis was confronting is no different than a love of art, beauty, poetry and love itself that the materialist enjoys in common with more metaphysically minded men.
Is materialism all that exists, threatening to undermine the sublime reality we all intuitively “know” and sense in classic, timeless literature and art?
I read an autobiographical account by CS Lewis in college in which he recounted his journey from atheist to agnostic to Christian. The twists and turns of his journey were fascinating to me. I gained much insight into my own journey and how God works in the hearts of people who are inclined to follow the prompts.
His journey was like mine in some respects and much different in others. Just as I see how uniquely tailored and personal those prompts were for me, they were just as uniquely tailored for CS Lewis.
The God revealed in the Bible is a Person, and He is personal. He made us in His image. He made us to have relationship with Him. He relates to us as no one can. He knows our innermost being. I have found all these things to be true to my own experience.
After CS Lewis conceded the intellectual point that the universe was more likely created by a Causal Agent than not, he began to sort through the various possibilities for what that Causal Agent could be. Searching out the various world religions, he found that one stood out. One was not dependent on man’s own capacity to know or to understand. All other religions required special knowledge, understanding, and effort to achieve a connection with that Causal Agent.
He reasoned that a loving God who is just and fair would not foreclose a connection to those who are born without the intellectual capacity to understand or know what is required of them. Such a God would have to be accessible by all people, regardless of capacity. The complexities of religion did not seem appropriate to Lewis as he contemplated these things.
A.C. Graying, in The God Argument, the Case Against Religion and for Humanism, claims that religious belief is really just wish fulfillment. The book accepts the premise that many atheists and agnostics assume, which is that people believe in God for psychological reasons. I would add that people believe for emotional reasons as well, but generalizations usually belie a different truth.
The wishful thinking premise is a common assumption and is often used to undermine the basis of faith. But does it really support the point it boasts of making: that faith is the product of wishful thinking? Continue reading “One Too Many Gods”→