Saturday, March 11, 2006

Book 3 Chapter 11 Lewis on Faith

This is the first of two chapters on faith. This corresponds to the two conceptions of faith used by Christians.

One concept is that faith is simply believing the truths of Christianity. But how can believing certain truths be virtuous?

“Obviously, I used to say, a sane man accepts or rejects any statement, not because he wants to, but because the evidence seems to him good or bad. If he were mistaken about the goodness of badness of the evidence that would not mean he was a bad man, but only that he was not every clever. And if he thought the evidence bad but tried to force himself to believe in spite of it, that would be merely stupid.”

Well I still take that view.”

However, he says, he had been assuming that once someone believes that something is true he will go on believing that it is true until some reason to think it false comes up. But the mind is not ruled entirely by reason. When Lewis goes under the knife, even though he put his faith in the surgeon to put me under all the way before he starts cutting, he panics. (Though some patients actually do feel the pain when they are being operated on; the anaesthesia is not as foolproof as we once thought it was). The battle is between faith and reason on the one hand, and the imagination and the emotions on the other.

“I am not asking anyone to believe in 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.”

If a man’s reason decides the evidence for Christianity is good, the emotions will carry out a blitz, whenever he received bad news, or wants a woman, or feels pleased with himself, anytime it might be convenient to think that Christianity is not true.

“I am not talking about moments at which any new reasons against Christianity come up. These have to be faced and that is a different matter.” I am talking about where a mere mood rises up against it.

Faith is that art of hold on to things which your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. Unless you teach your moods where they get off, you can never be either a sound Christian or a sound atheist, but just a creature dithering to and for, with its beliefs really dependent on the weather or the sate of its digestion. Consequently one must train the habit of faith.”

This is done through daily prayers, readings and churchgoing. “We have to be continually reminded of what we believe. Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed. And, as a matter of fact, if you examined a hundred people who lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument. Do not most people simply drift away?”

The second sense of faith is, I suppose trusting God. (For some reason, he doesn’t really define the higher sense of faith that he is talking about. But he says to try to practice Christian virtue for one week, or maybe six, and you will see that you really can’t do it.

What you give to God and do for God God gives you the power to do in the first place. When humans do something for God it is like going to one’s father to ask him for the money to buy him a birthday present.


Steven Carr said...

' Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed. And, as a matter of fact, if you examined a hundred people who lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned out of it by honest argument.

It must be fed? Sounds rather sinister to me

Why does Lewis speculate on why people lose their faith? Hadn't he bothered to do any research on atheists before telling the world why they became atheists?

Don Jr. said...

"I wonder . . ." is "telling the world"? And Lewis wasn't talking (or "telling the world") about simply atheists, but about those who "lost their faith in Christianity."

Jason Pratt said...

({sigh} _Everything_ sounds sinister to you, Steven...)

Lewis is speaking as a man who _did_ in fact lose his faith (such as it was), became an outspoken atheist for many years, learned from outspoken atheists, read and appreciated outpoken atheists, hung out with atheists and sceptics (whom he constantly presented as being good men in his later years, who had taught him to be a better man than he was; e.g. his tutor Professor Kirkpatrick, and the boys he fell in with at college). In his adult career, he continued interacting constantly, at a professional and personal level (not always in conjunction with his theological writings either), with non-believers of various sorts and degrees.

I think this might qualify as being at least somewhat equivalent to 'doing research'. {wry s} (I wonder how many times this sort of thing will have to be said before certain critics get it through their heads that Lewis did _not_ live in some vacuum-sealed ivory tower of belief isolated from his disputants.)

As it happens, when he himself lost his faith in Christianity (in his childhood) it _definitely_ wasn't a case of drifting away. It was a reasoned defiance against what he believed to be a betrayal by a false and oppressive system (though not without a strong emotional element, in regard to the death of his mother by cancer--the same disease that later slew his wife). The same seems to be true of the man whom he continued to regard as being the 'starting point' of his 'adult thinking', Prof. Kirkpatrick--I mean that he was a militant atheist, not someone who'd simply drifted away from the faith ("a hard, satirical man; ex-Presbyterian").

So his two most personal experiences with atheism (one being his own), belie that he could have meant this as an categorical generalization. It certainly wasn't written from mere ignorance.

I suspect he was thinking primarily of students he observed who lost their faith in Christianity while attending university; he uses a description very similar to this elsewhere when discussing that situation. The timeframe of composition between the two seems about right, too. He likely ported the phrasing of that observation to MC from there. (That would certainly fit established composition habits of his.)

One of these days, (and this probably wasn't possible until the full Lewisian correspondence was tallied and printed--the cynical side of me wonders how much of that was delayed until the death of Kathryn Lindskoog... {wry s}); someone should research and present a detailed account of Lewis' decades of apostasy (from a boy grieving over the death of his mother, through his teenage years and tutelage, his university degree in philosophy, his service in the trenches in WWI, and his first years as a professor.) I'd do it myself, if I wasn't so busy elsewhere. It would be a handy resource. (hint, perhaps, to any Victor-students reading the site...? {g!})

Victor Reppert said...

The Lewis statement concerns people who lose their faith in Christianity, not people who become atheists. Accepting atheism requires the clear acceptance of an alternative world view, and so the situation might be different for becoming an atheist as opposed to merely ceasing to believe in Christianity. And lots of people just drift away from the faith. Often when they do, they still think there's a "force" out there instead of just the physical world, (may the Force be with you), and their quarrel is not with God or even Christ but rather with "organized religion."

Steven Carr said...

I wonder why Lewis had to wonder why people would lose their faith.

Perhaps because I have never met Lewis?

You would think Lewis would have betrayed having some knowledge of actual people who had lost their faith and why they had done so.

Jason Pratt said...

That's a good point, Victor--I still find that most of the hostility to the idea of God comes from people who actually are making a criticism of _religion_ (either specfically or generally--and usually specifically.)

Not that it has to be that way, of course--Lewis being a prime example himself. His hostility was in fact to God, though also to his original religion. (He wasn't much fond of the Jews and Judaism, either.)