From Atheism to Faith: The Story of Mary Jo Sharp

“I really didn’t have a view of God, and I wouldn’t have thought to gain one or why a person should want to gain one. It just wasn’t on the radar”

Mary Jo Sharp grew up in a secular home. Her parents didn’t go to church, and her community in Portland, Oregon was post-Christian. She didn’t know people who claimed to be Christian.

She was aware of Christianity in culture, but her father was a “huge Carl Sagan fan”, and she was influenced by his love for science, outer space and nature. She was influenced by a materialist worldview from a young age. It was the theme that ran through the TV shows her father would watch.

Her parents didn’t go to church. She was raised on nature and science shows that were steeped in a materialist view of the world. “This was the background that formed my view of reality,” says Sharp, “I really didn’t have a view of God, and I wouldn’t have thought to gain one or why a person should want to gain one. It just wasn’t on the radar”

She says she didn’t know that the materialist view – that all that exists is in the material realm – is only one view and philosophy on the nature of reality. She says, “It’s just what I was exposed to.” She didn’t know any other way to view the world and reality.

The Christians she she would meet seemed “nice and innocuous”, but things she saw on television turned her off. She also was influenced by a cult at a compound in her area that attempted a bio-terrorist attack on nearby cities, using salmonella to poison people. Therefore, she says,

“I had a lot of misgivings about what religion was, who God is or was. I didn’t understand what religion was for. It seemed like the kind of thing people did because they were raised that way, and I wasn’t.”

Mary Jo Sharp was an atheist from as young as she can remember, and atheism to her was normative. She had a good life. Her parents loved her. She loved science. She loved music. She had no needs that might drive her to religion for comfort.

Her primary exposure to religion was in the myths of ancient religions. She says, now, that she had a kind of “chronological snobbery”, believing that she was more “progressed” than other people who still had vestiges of a religious faith. She felt her family was better than others who still clung to religious myths.

There was no crisis in her life. “I had it together,” she says, and she saw herself as a good person, but she one thing opened a door, just a crack, to the possibility that reality was more than she supposed.

She was becoming aware of the wonder of the world that caused a subtle tension in her materialist assumptions. She felt a wonder at sunsets and mountain ranges and music that she couldn’t explain on the basis of her view of the world as a product of random and meaningless matter and energy.

Things were about to change for her when a person she respected in her life gave her a Bible. She “didn’t receive it well”, but the timing was fortuitous because of the subtle questions that were beginning to occur to her.

She didn’t have a source for answering the questions she had. She didn’t have philosophy in her background. Public schools did not teach critical thinking or how to tackle the big questions of life.

Though she didn’t react well to the gift of a Bible, she read it. She says, “I was really caught off guard because it wasn’t what I expected.” She was experienced in reading mythology from the Samarians, Greeks, Egyptians and Native Americans, but “As I was digging into the Bible, it was nothing like that…. It sounded more report-like.”

She realized, of course, that some portions of the Bible are poetic, but other portions of the Bible, like Luke, read like reports of factual things. Those portions of the Bible include many details of places, times, people, happenings, etc. On reading Luke, in particular, she recalls, “It sounds like he was just trying to report what was going on.”

That “shook” her because the Bible seemed to be written by people who were just trying to convey what happened. It didn’t read like myth with the primary purpose of conveying moral lessons.

Continue reading “From Atheism to Faith: The Story of Mary Jo Sharp”

CS Lewis on the “True Myth”

All myth is an attempt to shine light on truth. True Myth is the ultimate Light shining on the ultimate Truth. 

The Areopagus in Athens

“Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened: and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God’s myth where the others are men’s myths: i.e. the Pagan stories are God expressing Himself through the minds of poets, using such images as He found there, while Christianity is God expressing Himself through what we call ‘real things’. Therefore it is true, not in the sense of being a ‘description’ of God (that no finite mind could take in) but in the sense of being the way in which God chooses to (or can) appear to our faculties. The ‘doctrines’ we get out of the true myth are of course less true: they are the translations into our concepts and ideas of that which God has already expressed in a language more adequate, namely the actual incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection. Does this amount to a belief in Christianity? At any rate I am now certain (a) That this Christian story is to be approached, in a sense, as I approach other myths. (b) That it is the most important and full of meaning. I am also nearly certain that it really happened…”

This quotation is from CS Lewis in a letter to Arthur Greeves: from The Kilns (on his conversion to Christianity), 18 October 1931. it captures the thought process of CS Lewis at the point in time in which he was becoming convinced of the truth of Christianity.

cslewis


If you have read much of what I write, you would readily notice that I quote and reference CS Lewis often. He resonated with me in college, and he continues to resonate with me.

He is cited by more diverse groups of people, perhaps, than any person I can think of. He had a unique way of approaching things from fresh points of view, often pulling those fresh ideas from the dusty tomes of ancient literature. His concept of myth and True Myth is one such point.

Some might consider his frequent allusions to ancient, pagan myth heretical, and some might even confuse his love of pagan myth as New Age. I find him to be extremely orthodox in unorthodox ways, and I find his creative approaches to orthodoxy to be refreshing and thought-provoking.

We don’t have to look any further than the ultra-orthodox, Apostle Paul, to find some common ground with CS Lewis. When Paul was in Athens, some Epicureans and Stoics he met in the marketplace, brought him to the Areopagus to address an erudite Greek crowd. In that address, Paul referenced an altar inscribed “To An Unknown God” and quoted Aratus, a Greek poet:

“in him we move and live and have our being”.

Acts 17:22-28 (quoting from Phenomena 5)

Paul used a quotation from a pantheistic, pagan poet to convey a theistic principle about God. (See Acts 17:22-28 – Quoting the Philosophers?) Paul connected with the people “where they were”, using language and references they understood to convey something about God. In one sense, this is how CS Lewis relates the ideas of myth and True Myth.

It’s interesting to me, as well, that Paul knew enough about pagan poetry to quote Aratus. In Titus 1 (v. 12), Paul quotes a Cretan philosopher, Epimenides. Again, it’s striking that Paul knew enough about pagan philosophy (presumably) that he could quote Epimenides.

CS Lewis observes that myth contains some elements of truth, which shouldn’t be surprising at all, as truth is universal and should, therefore, be something that is universally recognized. The difference between myth and True Myth is that all myth ultimately is a shadow of the True Myth.

All myth is an attempt to shine light on truth. True Myth is the ultimate Light shining on the ultimate Truth. All myth conveys truth through storytelling. True Myth isn’t just another story, though; it is The Story. It isn’t “just” myth, but reality – “it really happened,” as CS Lewis says.

Continue reading “CS Lewis on the “True Myth””

Tolkien, Lewis and True Myth

Are myths just arbitrary inventions of fiction? Do we pull them out of thin air?

From a clip from EWTN’s “Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings:’ A Catholic Worldview”

Are myths fiction? The stories they tell aren’t true. Are they, therefore, lies? Are they worthless? Nothing but “beautiful lies”? Nothing but fairy tales?

These are the questions posed by one man playing J.R.R. Tolkien to his counterpart playing C.S. Lewis in a fictional conversation between the two men: Lewis and Tolkien Debate Myths and Lies (embedded at the end of the article).

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 rising in his mind about the truth of that materialist  world view. He was becoming convinced his previous conclusions no longer made sense.

Lewis had been raised on a diet of classical Greek and Latin literature that he learned to read in the original languages. He read these classics along with Celtic, German and other literature filled with myth, allegory and symbolism. The literature captured his imagination as a child and young adult.

As he got older, he embraced materialism, but that materialism eventually clashed with a profound undercurrent of something “real” that appealed to him in that ancient literature. The reality Lewis was confronting might, perhaps, be considered nothing more than a love of art, beauty, poetry and love itself that the materialist enjoys in common with more metaphysically minded men.

But it raises some existential questions: Is matter and energy all that exists? What of the sublime reality we all intuitively “know” and sense in classic, timeless literature and art?

Tolkien’s response to Lewis’s existential angst is the subject of this article. The substance of it continues to resonate and illuminate such modern thinkers as Jordan Peterson, whose thoughts on the same subject are contained (briefly) in a short video embedded at the end.

Meanwhile, I have done a transcript of the fictional reimagining of the Tolkien and Lewis discourse to follow:

Continue reading “Tolkien, Lewis and True Myth”

Myth, Appearance and Reality

What other appearances (like the sun orbits the earth) and corresponding realities (like the earth orbits the sun) exist that we have yet to debunk or lay hold of?

 (c) Can Stock Photo

(c) Can Stock Photo

Some of the great breakthrough realizations in human history are that the earth is not flat, that the earth is round and rotating, that the Sun does not revolve around the earth, that the Earth revolves around the Sun, and the earth along with other round bodies in space rotate around each other kept in correlation with each other by gravitational pull. These realities are different than the appearances.

We appear to be standing on a stationary earth that, for all we can see, is flat. The Sun appears to rise, cross the sky and set every day. It is no great leap to understand that the sun might move around the earth, though the perception of a flat earth persisted into modern times. The moon seems to move around the earth in the same way the sun seems to move around the earth, but one does move around the earth and the other doesn’t.

Although we have known the realities for centuries, we still talk in terms of the appearances. We talk about the Sun rising and setting. We describe the phenomena as sunrise and sunset. Someone unfamiliar with our colloquialisms might hear us speak and think that we are ignorant of the truth.

The appearances have a strong hold on us. So strong that they persist in our language and how we describe things on a day to day basis. Those appearances stubbornly refuse to leave our everyday speaking patterns.

What other appearances and corresponding realities exist that we have yet to debunk or lay hold of? Continue reading “Myth, Appearance and Reality”