Friday, August 15, 2014

Thick and Clear Religions

A redated post.

From C. S. Lewis's essay "Christian Apologetics, " found in God in the Dock.

“I have sometimes told my audience that the only two things really worth considering are Christianity and Hinduism. (Islam is only the greatest of the Christian heresies, Buddhism only the greatest of the Hindu heresies. Real Paganism is dead. All that was best in Judaism and Platonism survives in Christianity.) There isn’t really, for an adult mind, this infinite variety of religions to consider. We may [reverently] divide religions, as we do soups, into ‘thick’ and ‘clear’. By Thick I mean those which have orgies and ecstasies and mysteries and local attachments: Africa is full of Thick religions. By Clear I mean those which are philosophical, ethical and universalizing: Stoicism, Buddhism, and the Ethical Church are Clear religions. Now if there is a true religion it must be both Thick and Clear: for the true God must have made both the child and the man, both the savage and the citizen, both the head and the belly. And the only two religions that fulfil this condition are Hinduism and Christianity. But Hinduism fulfils it imperfectly. The Clear religion of the Brahmin hermit in the jungle and the Thick religion of the neighbouring temple go on side by side. The Brahmin hermit doesn’t bother about the temple prostitution nor the worshipper in the temple about the hermit’s metaphysics. But Christianity really breaks down the middle wall of the partition. It takes a convert from central Africa and tells him to obey an enlightened universalist ethic: it takes a twentieth-century academic prig like me and tells me to go fasting to a Mystery, to drink the blood of the Lord. The savage convert has to be Clear: I have to be Thick. That is how one knows one has come to the real religion.”

38 comments:

normajean said...

Geez, this is interesting. But I'm not sure what I think of it. Vic, you sure know a lot of Lewis. Do you recommend "God in the dock?"

Edward T. Babinski said...

Lewis appears mixed up here. But if one loves one's religion (correction: Lewis' interpretation of his religion, which is what he really loved), one will find ways to justify that love just as when one loves anything, a book, a song, another human being.

I admire Buddhism's undogmatic teachings and simple invitation to experiment (as explained to me by my friend and long time meditator and student of Buddhism, William Bagley). Christian doctrines, dogmas and differences seem like a skein of knotted yarn in comparison. Though all world religions, even Buddhism, has that knotted yarn side as well, rival schools and practices (some for the common people, some for philosophers and monks).

T said...

It's always interesting reading about different approaches to comparative religion. It's surely highly subjective in terms of the different approaches one could take. Others like Adler and Stark have taken different approaches altogether. Interesting stuff!

Steven Carr said...

'Africa is full of Thick religions.'

Really?

Steven Carr said...

LEWIS
All that was best in Judaism and Platonism survives in Christianity.

CARR
Presumably Christianity looks down with disdain on the bits of Judaism that the Jews retain and which did not survive into Christianity.

The casual conceit and snobbery of the Oxbridge don shines through in everything Lewis writes, a reminder of a world largely gone.

kbrowne said...

Steven Carr,

Why is it 'conceit and snobbery' to suggest that there are things in ancient Judaism and Platonism which did not deserve to survive?

Or is it only conceit and snobbery if an Oxbridge don says it?

Steven Carr said...

KBROWNE
Why is it 'conceit and snobbery' to suggest that there are things in ancient Judaism and Platonism which did not deserve to survive?

CARR
Why 'ancient' Judaism? Do you think you have to put in qualifications that Lewis left out when he compared Christianity to the religion that millions of people follow today?

Why do you need to change what Lewis said before you defend it?

Why can't you defend what Lewis said, rather than your own version of what he said?

kbrowne said...

Because ancient Judaism is clearly what Lewis was thinking of. Christianity was derived from ancient Judaism, not from modern Judaism. How could anything that was not present in ancient Judaism have survived or failed to survive in Christianity.

Indeed, I thought ancient Judaism was what you were thinking of. You refer to 'the bits of Judaism that the Jews retain and which did not survive into Christianity.' If Judaism retains these bits and Christianity does not then presumably they must have been present in the ancestor religion.

Maybe you are really thinking of more modern developments in Judaism, developments that could not have survived in Christianity (although they could have been copied from Judaism) but are present now in modern Judaism. Maybe you think Lewis should have considered that modern Judaism might be closer to the truth than Christianity because of doctrinal developments in Judaism since the birth of Christianity.

I doubt if Lewis thought there were any. Have there been any? There has been plenty of theology of course, but have there been any new doctrines? What developments are you thinking of, that Lewis should have considered? I take it as obvious that it is doctrine Lewis is thinking of, not prayer or ritual.

In any case, I do not see conceit or snobbery in dismissing any doctrine that seems untrue and corrupting. I am tempted to say myself that all that was best in Christianity survives in liberal, enlightened secularism. But I don't want to be accused of conceit and snobbery.

8 said...

But Christianity really breaks down the middle wall of the partition. It takes a convert from central Africa and tells him to obey an enlightened universalist ethic: it takes a twentieth-century academic prig like me and tells me to go fasting to a Mystery, to drink the blood of the Lord.

It does?? Tell a Pat Robertson, or John Hagee, or Rev. Schuler to drink the Blood of the Lord.

Whoa! Just in time for All Hallows Eve. Drink the Bloood of the Lord, the Dark Lord...........

Jesse said...

::It does?? Tell a Pat Robertson, or John Hagee, or Rev. Schuler to drink the Blood of the Lord.

Actually, that's kind of the point--using Lewis' criteria you can explain away those brands of Christianity, which have inevitably gone too clear, as not containing the fullness of truth...

::Whoa! Just in time for All Hallows Eve. Drink the Bloood of the Lord, the Dark Lord...........

Again, there's actually a point here: if Satan is the great counterfeiter, as those Christians you mention surely believe, then a good question to ask them is why has he patterned his "services" not after those of a clear Christianity, but after a mass?

Jesse said...

::Presumably Christianity looks down with disdain on the bits of Judaism that the Jews retain... The casual conceit and snobbery... a reminder of a world largely gone.

What irony, lol...

Steven Carr said...

'All that was best in Judaism and Platonism survives in Christianity'

Just how influenced were the early Christians by Greek thought?

Steven Carr said...

LEWIS
It takes a convert from central Africa and tells him to obey an enlightened universalist ethic:

CARR
I did wonder where people in Africa got the idea that some children were witches from and had to be killed

Steven Carr said...

Lewis , of course, saw nothing wrong with killing people if you honestly and sincerely believe they are witches.

'If we did-if we really thought that there were people going about who had sold themselves to the devil and received supernatural powers from him in return and were using these powers to kill their neighbours or drive them mad or bring bad weather, surely we would all agree that if anyone deserved the death penalty, then these filthy quislings did.'

His brand of Christianity is practiced in Africa, where people read Mere Christianity and know they are right to kill witches.

Anonymous said...

so, SC, you don't believe in the truth of hte conditional? Maybe not DP but surely something should be done IF a person is engaging in supernatural mischief?

I would think the problem is in agreeing to the truth of the antecedent

Steven Carr said...

Always with the child-killing...

What is it with Christians?

Of course , Lewis was one of those moderns who engage in chronological snobbery and scoff at the idea of witches.

natamllc said...

I think Lewis was amazed he was once, before, "an atheist".

That gave him come clarity of thought, unlike some of the comments in here. :)

Owen said...

& Ed T.
I'm sorry, I think I'm mixed up here. I don't frequent this site much, so perhaps I'm coming in on a conversation/context I'm unaware of. If that's the case, and if it explains the shortcoming of your comment, then please disregard.

Otherwise, what's the point of just claiming the author of the quote "appears mixed up," and then saying no more about it?

How is Lewis mixed up here? So far as I understand it he is trying to capture in (albeit metaphorically) descriptive language a point that he apparently thinks can be made about the various ways in which different types of religions attempt to answer to different types of needs that composite creatures (thus with composite needs) have.

Now I think this is an interesting discussion point. You merely assert that it's "mixed up," then go on to talk about yourself (after a quick psychologizing of Lewis).

You seem mixed up here. Difference between my claim and yours being that I explained why.

Shackleman said...

"The casual conceit and snobbery of the Oxbridge don shines through in everything Lewis writes"

LOL!

Pot, meet kettle.

Owen said...

& Steve Carr

It's not yet entirely clear to me, despite your reply to the question put, whether you in fact disagree with the conditional itself of just the antecedent.

You seem to claim that Lewis affirmed the former but denied the latter. Thus you quote him saying that "if we did in fact believe...", and then make a claim about his disbelief in witches as evidence of his historicism (and thereby you are presumably attempting to catch him in some sort of contradiction or tension in his own view.

In the first place, it is pretty clear from Lewis's writings that he did not, in fact, deny the antecedent, despite your evidence-less claim to the contrary. I'll be happy to point to the relevant texts provided you're not a one-stop shopper.

In the second place, even if it were the case that Lewis disbelieved in witches (which it is not), this would not ground your claim that he practiced the same historicism that he preached against.

Rather, to do so (to ground your claim), you'd have to show that he disbelieved in witched in virtue of the ancient historicity of that belief. Simply disbelieving in something that was antiently believed is not identical with disbelieving in something because it was antiently believed.

Good God, Pull yourself together.

Steven Carr said...

So why did Lewis not believe in demonic powers?

Owen said...

& Steve Carr

"So why did Lewis not believe in demonic powers?"

That is the question that I would put to you Steve. If you'll recall, it was you that suggested that he did not, as when you said:

"Of course , Lewis was one of those moderns who engage in chronological snobbery and scoff at the idea of witches."

So it's unclear to me why you're now asking me to justify your claim.

I clearly referred to the conditional: If there are supernatural meddlers of that sort then some might suppose we're justified in punishing them. And I also clearly referred to the antecedent: There are supernatural meddlers of that sort.

I then asked you for justification for your claim that Lewis disbelieved the antecedent.

You then reply to me by asking me why Lewis disbelieved the antecedent???

You are not paying attention dude. I claimed that there was ample evidence that he did consider the antecedent distinctly possible.

I then pointed out that your claim that he was a historicist of the very sort that he himself criticized was unjustified for both this reason, as well as another. Shall I review the whole comment for you? Just scroll up.

Then pull yourself together.

peace.

kbrowne said...

Owen,

I think there is no doubt at all that Lewis believed in devils. But witches are another matter. Did he really believe that there are people who have "sold themselves to the devil and received supernatural powers from him in return"?

Whether Steven Carr is interested in the relevant texts or not, I certainly am. Can you point to some evidence that Lewis believed such a daft, and potentially dangerous, idea?

Steven Carr said...

So nobody can tell us why Lewis did not believe in witches.

And apparently all a sceptic has to do is call something 'daft' and he no longer has to believe in the supernatural....

Why did Lewis not believe in witches other than the obvious reason that those beliefs were old-fashioned in his day, and that Lewis loved his chronological snobbery, believing himself to be more enlightened than people who did believe in witches?

Perhaps it was just anti-supernatural bias on the part of Lewis?

Owen said...

@kbrowne

Owen, I think there is no doubt at all that Lewis believed in devils. But witches are another matter.

Right. Devils are devils (or demons, presumably, to introduce a partially informative predicate). And witches are witches (or people, presumably, to do so again).

Did he really believe that there are people who have "sold themselves to the devil and received supernatural powers from him in return"?

That's a good question. Is that the only possible definition of a "witch"? There seems to be a potential contradiction in it. 'Power' is inextricably linked to 'agency' and 'personhood.' So then if they have indeed "sold themselves," as you say (and that is perhaps a fair description), then they have indeed sold themselves. So to say that "they" (i.e their 'person') has received supernatural powers seems to me to be possibly confused. Haven't we just said that they have forfeited their person? It seems more accurate, perhaps, to say that supernatural powers are at work 'through' them, rather than to say that "they have received supernatural powers."

Whether Steven Carr is interested in the relevant texts or not,

Certainly he is not. Looking at the post below yours, it appears he has not even read my reply and is continuing to completely misunderstand the argument he earlier wanted to have.

I certainly am. Can you point to some evidence that Lewis believed such a daft, and potentially dangerous, idea?

Only if you do not assume it is false from the outset, which is what you are doing here. Obviously, if it is a metaphysical possibility, then - given the nature of it - to disbelieve in it is what is daft and potentially dangerous.

Use your head.

Owen said...

& Steve Carr

So nobody can tell us why Lewis did not believe in witches.

Dude, at this point, I think pretty much no one has any idea what you're doing, as I very clearly explained in my prior reply to you. You appear to not even realize what the claim is that you're contending with. Honestly, why should others have to pick up the dialectical slack to catch you up when you can just do your own reading?

It was YOUR claim that he did not so believe. You were told that the claim is evidently false, and that even if it WAS true (and there are texts to suggest it is not) it STILL would not ground your historicism accusation.

You are aware, aren't you, that ADHD medications are extraordinarily easy to come by these days?

Owen said...

&Kbrowne

Let me also forestall a possible red herring here. Someone is likely to object that the definition that I've questioned was Lewis's own. The idea, I imagine, was that since we're asking about Lewis's own belief, my straying from his definition would be out of bounds.

But I think that Lewis's definition can be read either way. If the devil 'gives' to 'someone' (i.e. their person) certain powers, then they have indeed 'received' powers from him.

But, if the devil has, in a sense, "taken them over," then there is still a sense in which they are a receptacle of his power, and thus, in a sense, have 'received' it.

It does not seem to me that Lewis has committed one way or another on this distinction.

And it is not clear to me why either could not be called a "witch."

Just a point of clarification here... trying to anticipate (and avoid) a side road.

Steven Carr said...

In between the outpouring of Christian love by Owen, (it is like water off a duck's back to me), he seems to be claiming that Lewis did believe in witches.

(Could Owen be wrong? Obviously not - or else he would not have to resort to such outpourings of Christian love to make his point)

As Lewis stated that witches should be killed, I guess this is another example of Christians wanting people to be killed.

Owen said...

& Steve Carr

he seems to be claiming that Lewis did believe in witches.

Lewis seemed ready to believe that folks could, in a sense, sell themselves over to demonic powers; 'possession' you might call it.

As Lewis stated that witches should be killed...

Lewis stated that 'if' witches had the sort of power some have attributed to them then it is likely that we would probably have more unanimity about the need to do away with them. His point is to disambiguate a modern disbelief in such drastic measures from a modern disbelief in such a drastic state of affairs.

I guess this is another example of Christians wanting people to be killed.

You're childish.

Owen said...

[returns, a year later, to see if Mr. Carr has regrouped.]

(sigh)

Zorro-3 said...

He did not believe in witches.

http://merechristianitystudyguide.blogspot.com/2008/12/c-s-lewiss-three-arguments-for-moral.html

B. Prokop said...

Fascinating to read through these years-old comments. I was particularly interested in Steven Carr's accusations of "casual conceit and snobbery" laid against C.S. Lewis. In my (online) experience, it is the oh-so-sophisticated skeptic who most engages in these attitudes. Case in point: Linton on a thread below this one, where he casually dismisses what the general world population thinks while elevating the opinions of "professional philosophers" to a privileged position. How many times have I seen believers written off as "ignorant rubes" - the unwashed masses whose thoughts on matters of religion and philosophy are deemed beneath notice? (Answer: more times than I can count)

finney said...

"By Clear I mean those which are philosophical, ethical and universalizing: Stoicism, Buddhism, and the Ethical Church are Clear religions. Now if there is a true religion it must be both Thick and Clear: for the true God..."

Lewis appears to include God as the criterion of what makes true religion. He categorically rules out buddhism. Something seems fallacious here.

B. Prokop said...

Not to Lewis.

Victor Reppert said...

Lewis, before he became a Christian, had already accepted arguments for theism. So quite understandably, he would not have accepted a non-theistic religion.

finney said...

But then the reason for rejecting Buddhism is not because it's not "thick enough". It's because it's non-theistic.

finney said...

I'd also argue that Buddhism is plenty "thick" in the sense of intelligible to wide varieties of people with varieties of levels of education.

Victor Reppert said...

Yes, there is are a lot of variation in Buddhism, because in Mahayana a lot of things come in that the Buddha apparently opposed.