Wednesday, August 23, 2006

C. S. Lewis and the Search for a Second Edition

Readers of this blog will be interested to know that John Beversluis will be producing a second edition of his controversial book C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion, wihch should appear next spring. But this time instead of the Christian Eerdmans press it will be published by Prometheus Books. In it he is going to take on some of the challenges posed by his critics and by more recent philosophical Lewis scholarship. He will, of course be defending the view that Lewis-style apologetics doesn't work.

Beversluis is generally thought of as the consummate Lewis-basher, and as such his original book, published in 1985, was called "despicable" and culpably wrong by one reviewer, while another credited him with picking Lewis's arguments apart like a cooked chicken. In some passages you get the impression that Beversluis thinks Lewis either dishonest or just not very bright, since some of his arguments, at least as Beversluis portrays them, could be refuted by a freshman student who had just passed Introduction to Logic. But in other passages you get a sense that he considers Lewis to be deeply honest and intellectually perceptive. You have to have a substantial share of intellectual and moral virtue to be the grieving hero of A Grief Observed protrayed in Beversluis's book. It is tempting to think that the positive portraits of Lewis found in the book are just so much patronizing, but I don't think so. Beversluis was also honest enough, in a subsequent review of A. N. Wilson, to object fiercely to Wilson's psychoanalyzing and to attack the view, favorably described in his book, that Lewis gave up on apologetics after his enounter with Anscombe. I am looking forward to seeing just how the positive and negative images of Lewis are balanced in the new edition.

Of course I'm going to have lot of disagreements with what he comes up with in the second edition. If you are somebody who thinks that Lewis just gets everything right and you can't see how anybody could resist Lewis's overwhelmingly powerful apologetics, then Beversluis is a good antidote, since he shows you how Lewis sounds to people on "the other side of the aisle." Critical exchange is how we progress in this discipline of ours. I think progress has been slow on getting dialogue going on the merits of Lewis's work in our discipline of philosophy, partly because of the enthusiasm of some of Lewis followers and the hostile-to-metaphsysics atmosphere in philosophy after the WWII. But this is beginning to turn around.

5 comments:

Jason said...

Best wishes to a respectable opponent then! {salute!}

JD Walters said...

I was just reading some of "Miracles" and "The Weight of Glory" again. I was amazed to see how sharp his intellect was. Translated into modern philosophical jargon, Lewis can be found defending all sorts of supposedly new philosophical arguments. But then of course it's good to keep in mind that nobody's perfect, and same goes for Lewis. I certainly don't think his arguments are irresistible. As a matter of fact as I read them I come up with all sorts of objections myself. But he is always gentle and respectful of his opponents, and it's good to keep in mind that he is appealing to the common man in his writings, not hardened philosophers who, as Vic Reppert pointed out on a previous post, make it a virtue of being able to resist even the most reasoned arguments.

He was not only a sharp philosopher, but also a sharp observer of the human condition (maybe that's the best kind of philosopher there is, though). I was reading in Britain's SFX sci-fi magazine when they were doing a feature on the new "Chronicles of Narnia" movie, and the writer said that even if you're not religious, it's hard not to get uncomfortable when Lewis takes aim at the various follies, delusions, prejudices and illusions we all suffer from. Even if you don't agree with his religious views, I think there is something to learn for everyone in C.S. Lewis.

By the way, Vic, I meant to ask you: what did you think of the new "Narnia" movie? Did you think it was true to the spirit of the books? And what about the much older cartoon version (which I find absolutely magical)?

Edward T. Babinski said...

Perhaps all discussions of Christian apologetics with non-Christians should begin with the words of John G. Stackhouse Jr. in his book, Humble Apologetics: Defending the Faith Today (Oxford Univ. Press, 2002), who wrote:

"The familiarity Christians enjoy for our own religion, especially given its priviledged place in North American culture, keeps us from seeing, in the light of other world views, how weird it really is." (p.16)

Rasmus Moller said...

Ed,

seen from the xtian side, this xtian weirdness is "talking" - it's not typical human lunacy, and it's not typical human imagination or reasoning. Whether it's folly or wisdom, it's distinctly otherworldly.
It has the certain smell that is either irresistible or unstandable.
I know C.S. Lewis several times took up this subject, but I have forgotten exactly where.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Dear Ras,
I'm just happy Vic hasn't attempted to prove via philosophy the following:

1) that all unbelievers as soon as they die go directly to hell without a second chance,

2)that "the Trinity" must be God's true essence and form,

3)that Jesus must have had totally dual natures, both totally God and totally man,

4)that the idea of beating up an innocent scape-goat makes sense for an infinite Being who made the rules up anyway, and that anyone who doubts the scape-goat idea and favors direct forgiveness instead must be crazy,

5)that the practice and belief in various sacraments are necessary to complete one's salvation.

At least Vic has not attempted to prove all of the above via philosophizing. He has limited his philosophizing to the realm of "atheism versus theism," regarding creation of the cosmos, and/or what the basis of morality may be. Even then, most people he's debating already have an idea of what morality should be about and aren't simply out there killing people (either due to atheism, or, killing them for god). So Vic is arguing with fellow intellectuals whose practical morality and even cordiality, functions on a level akin to his own. Meanwhile true barbarians roam the earth, both theistic ones and atheistic ones. Go figure. Personally, I suspect that having a world wide web is helping to connect people in such a way so that we all get to let off some of our primate steam in intellectual ways that consist of tossing electrons at one another, which at least is relatively more cordial than some other methods. And perhaps the various book lists and bibliographies and online articles and cross links may also lead people to read interesting bits they had not previously considered. And knowing that none of us can keep up with the flow of knowledge and information round the world and how all subjects connect in one way or another, teaches us all a bit of intellectual humility.