An Inkling of Transcendence: Lewis and Tolkien

Some say today that science is the study of everything that exists. If Lewis, Tolkien and Williams were millennials today, they would “call BS”.

Despoitphotos Image ID: 121201272 Copyright: chrisdorney

“[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.

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Rejecting the Right God

If anyone is going to reject God, they should at least be sure to reject the right God.

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It occurs to me that the “new atheists” are rejecting the wrong God. They are famous for saying that they don’t believe in the Christian God any more than they believe Zeus or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. It seems to me that, if someone is going to reject God, they ought to be rejecting the right one.

Not all gods are created equal. The Christian concept of God is not on a par with Zeus or a “flying spaghetti monster”, to say the very least. The same can be said of the Islamic view of God or any other major world religion. The concept and “proofs” of God are much more sophisticated than the weak understanding displayed in a comment that likens them to a flying spaghetti monster.

The ignorance of the new atheists about these things is rather shocking, though it shouldn’t be altogether surprising. They admit they find no use for such things as gods and, therefore, and most have spent no time studying or considering them. The ignorance is actually willful, then, and inexcusable.

I can’t do justice to the subject in a short blog, but I will try to summarize. The only serious contenders for consideration as God are the gods of the major world religions. They can’t all be true because they are incompatible with each other[1], so which one, if any of them, is the most likely candidate?

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Religious Pluralism Sounds Nice, but Is It True?

It should be no surprise, if there be such thing as truth, that people all over the world would have some knowledge and understanding of the truth. Thus, we should not be surprised at all to find aspects of truth in all the world religions.

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(c) Can Stock Photo / rolffimages

One expression of pluralism is the idea that all truth claims are equally valid. (Pluralism doesn’t necessarily require this.) So does that include the truth claim that all truth claims are not equally valid? Think about it. This expression of pluralism that is quite popular today is already in trouble right from the start.

Religious pluralism is “the acceptance of all religious paths as equally valid, promoting coexistence”.

Religious pluralism sounds nice, and the motives for wanting to believe in religious pluralism are largely nobles ones. The idea of religious pluralism is born out of a desire for unity, respect for others and harmony, but can we live by it?

That we want religious pluralism to be true doesn’t mean it is true. We would like for gravity not to be “true”, especially while climbing a ladder, but wishing it so does not make it so.

My thoughts today are spurred on by a presentation by Vince Vitale on religious pluralism. You might want to listen to what he has to say about it before or after considering my thoughts.[i] He addresses several bad assumptions and several good desires that lead to pluralism. I only address two of the three assumptions here.

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The Jesus We Meet in the Gospels

 (c) Can Stock Photo
(c) Can Stock Photo

I didn’t want to read the NY Times article, What Religion Would Jesus Belong To, by Nicholas Kristof.[1] Just as I suspected, the article lacked a deep understanding of Christianity. It lumps Christianity together with other religions of the world in a pluralistic mush. I don’t know the depth of the author’s understanding of Christianity, but it didn’t show in the article (though he claims a conservative Christian background).

Still, the article makes a good point… and I shouldn’t be so reluctant to admit it.

American churches don’t reflect “the Jesus we meet in the Gospels”. Never mind that the author’s proof is another NY Times article complaining of the Christians of the Republican Party.[2] The author seems to equate Jesus with the current political and moral landscape, as if Jesus would condone it, as if the modern American church is the exact representation of Jesus. If the modern American church doesn’t accurately reflect the Jesus we meet in the Gospels, it isn’t a reflection on Jesus; it’s a reflection on the modern American church. Continue reading “The Jesus We Meet in the Gospels”

An “Other” View of Christianity

it is more intellectually honest to acknowledge the different worldviews and social practices, including the resulting necessity that there is a choice to be made to determine which is more truthful than the others

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / Bialasiewicz
© Can Stock Photo Inc. / Bialasiewicz

I began my college career with a World Religions class that exposed me to the major world religions. My professor boasted a Christian upbringing and background, but he was more of a universalist than a Christian in his theology and philosophy. The class focused more on the religions other than Christianity than Christianity, partly, I suppose, because most people sitting in a World Religion class in a small liberal arts college in Iowa already were acclimated to Christianity.

Western Civilization was another class I took. Western civilization, not surprisingly, dominates and colors most of the history of American thought since the United States is predominantly an extension of Greek, Roman and western European philosophy and ideology. My Jewish religion professor put that in context for me one day in a class on the Old Testament when he asserted that Judaism has roots in Eastern religion and civilization. (I was a thesis away from being a religion major.)

I will not repeat the context or expand on the details of that proposition. I have forgotten most of the details anyway. The take away I want to chew on with this piece is that we make assumptions about religion and the world based on how we have been acculturated and “indoctrinated” by our culture. Listening to the perspectives of “others” provides us valuable, different perpectives, even on the things with which we are familiar (like Christianity).

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