Monday, April 29, 2013

C. S. Lewis on wishes and beliefs

From a letter to Sheldon Vanauken. 

Dear Mr. Vanauken,

My own position at the threshold of Xianity was exactly the opposite of yours. You wish it were true; I strongly hoped it was not. At least, that was my conscious wish: you may suspect that I had unconscious wishes of quite a different sort and that it was these which finally shoved me in. True: but then I may equally suspect that under your conscious wish that it were true, there lurks a strong unconscious wish that it were not. What this works out to is that all the modern thinking, however useful it may be for explaining the origin of an error which you already know to be an error, is perfectly useless in deciding which of two beliefs is the error and which is the truth. For (a.) One never knows all one's wishes, and (b.) In very big questions, such as this, even one's conscious wishes are nearly always engaged on both sides. What I think one can say with certainty is this: the notion that everyone would like Xianity to be true, and that therefore all atheists are brave men who have accepted the defeat of all their deepest desires, is simply impudent nonsense. Do you think people like Stalin, Hitler, Haldane, Stapledon (a corking good writer, by the way) wd. be pleased on waking up one morning to find that they were not their own masters, that they had a Master and a Judge, that there was nothing even in the deepest recesses of their thoughts about which they cd. say to Him `Keep out! Private. This is my business'? Do you? Rats! Their first reaction wd. be (as mine was) rage and terror. And I v. much doubt whether even you wd. find it simplypleasant. Isn't the truth this: that it wd. gratify some of our desires (ones we feel in fact pretty seldom) and outrage a good many others? So let's wash out all the wish business. It never helped anyone to solve any problem yet.


B. Prokop said...

I share Lewis's opinion of Olaf Stapeldon - one of the most under-appreciated authors of the last century. I am forever dipping back into his Last and First Men and Star Maker (they're nearly impossible to read straight through, but there's really no need to).

Highest recommendation!

Crude said...

I actually wonder if the plain and simple idea of a Creator existing - detached from any dogma claims - should unsettle people considerably itself.

I don't mean the deist sometimes-depiction of God or gods who is positively regarded as disinterested in our world, but a mere 'Creator or creators, definitely or likely exists, we are utterly in the dark about knowledge of them beyond that. Maybe they're apathetic. Maybe they are deeply concerned about our world. Maybe this changes over time'.