Tuesday, April 01, 2014
A redated April Fool's Day meditation
April Fool's day is today, but what I have to say is not specific to that day. On AFD, people try to show up the gullibility of their fellows by trying to get them to believe things that aren't true. I think, though, that in many ways Christians have failed to value the virtue of wisdom, and the result has been a kind of gullibility that makes us look as if the charges of credulity that are leveled by unbelievers at believers have some merit to them.
Consider the following passage from C. S. Lewis, where he talks about the virtue of prudence:
He wants a child’s heart but a grown-up’s head. . . . The fact that you are giving money to a charity does not mean that you need not try to find out whether that charity is a fraud or not. . . . It is, of course, quite true that God will not love you any less, or have less use for you, if you happen to have been born with a second-rate brain. He has room for people with little sense, but He wants every one to use what sense they have. . . . God is no fonder of intellectual slackers than of any other slackers. If you are thinking of becoming a Christian, I warn you, you are embarking on something which is going to take the whole of you, brains and all. (Mere Christianity pp. 77-78).
In an essay I will be publishing in the upcoming volume on philosophy and the Chronicles of Narnia, I add:
Like many passages in Lewis, this one has tremendous contemporary relevance. Many people in the Christian community (and outside of it) have been slack in their intellectual responsibilities, and the results have been disastrous. The mass suicides in Guyana and the suicide of the Heaven’s Gate cult in California are grim reminders of what happens when religious people give up on thinking critically and simply follow what a leader says. Or to take less dramatic examples, but ones closer to home, think about how millions of Christians get caught up in spiritual fads like the recent “prayer of Jabez” phenomenon or the sensational eschatology of the Left Behind series. How many people have given money they can hardly afford to television evangelists, only to find out that the money went for air-conditioned dog houses and visits to sleazy motel rooms? The Christian community suffers greatly whenever it is intellectually lazy and careless.
But are matters of faith and exception to the policy of prudence? Should we be prudent in the rest of our lives and exercise faith (believe without regard to evidence) in matters of religion? Lewis's answer is emphatically no.
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...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. . . . That is why Faith is such a 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.
Hence Faith and Prudence are not polar opposites, but are rather two sides of the same coin. The job of Christian apologetics, in my view, is to show that the life of prudence and the life of faith are in harmony with one another, in short to show that Christianity is rational. Much of the world thinks it is not rational, and a lot of things Christians say and do supports them in this, making the task of Christian apologetics more difficult than it would otherwise be.