Thursday, January 01, 2009

Babinski and Reppert on Man or Rabbit

A redated post.

C. S. Lewis, "Man or Rabbit?" an Essay from God in the Dock

Christian philosopher Victor Reppert, admires Lewis's essay, "Man or Rabbit," and it was recently cited at his blog here and here. I read that essay ages ago along with all the rest in God in the Dock. But I wonder what Vic really thinks about the following paragraph from Lewis's essay:

"Honest rejection of Christ, however mistaken, will be forgiven and healed—'Whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him.' But to evade the Son of Man, to look the other way, to pretend you haven’t noticed, to become suddenly absorbed in something on the other side of the street, to leave the receiver off the telephone because it might be He who was ringing up, to leave unopened certain letters in a strange handwriting because they might be from Him—this is a different matter. You may not be certain yet whether you ought to be a Christian; but you do know you ought to be a Man, not an ostrich, hiding its head in the sand."
Exactly how am I to take the above paragraph except as an altar call?
I say this because in my own journey I sought what I could know about Jesus, I did not ignore the question, because I was at the time a true believer, baptized Catholic, converted and born again Protestant, experienced the charismatic baptism of the holy spirit, read Lewis and Calvin, and hence I could not simply ignore everything I'd been taught about Jesus from birth and my initial reaction to the Gospels as moving literature, nor ignore the arguments I'd imbibed from Christian apologetic books. So I sought to learn about the "Son of Man," and found out to my great chagrin that my beliefs concerning a great number of Christian dogmas and beliefs grew less certain after long study.
So I do not fit Lewis's description of someone "ignoring" the "Son of Man" question. Far from it. But I understand of course from Lewis's perspective of being a convert, that he would write rhetorically in the manner that he does, rather than as I do, about Christianity.
As for those whom Lewis calls "ostriches" for refusing to get involved in the whole deal, and skirting the issue on the other side of the street, I think there's some wisdom in those who choose to skirt the issue, especially when Lewis is cry out at you from the other side of his essay, calling you an ostrich, even implying that you are a damned ostrich and God is sending you letters you are refusing to read.
Maybe Lewis was just peeved at rising rates of biblical illiteracy?
And what exactly is wrong with believing that God wouldn't eternally condemn someone honestly in error? Lewis presupposes the opposite, that God WILL condemn people for not taking HIS [Lewis's and God's] religion seriously enough.
Well then, I'd say to Lewis, prove it, prove the Bible is true when it speaks about God, his nature, his commands, his actions, and heaven and hell, salvation, damnation, soteriology, prophecy, et al. I doubt that Lewis has ever proven such a thing or that any Christian apologist has. That's my non-ostrich-like stance. Of course Lewis appreciates people like me moreso than biblical illiterates trying to avoid his favorite holy book entirely, and who believe if there's a God, they find it tough to imagine him not being able to forgive people if their beliefs are wrong. Such ostriches actually imagine that God if He exists might react as any sane normal person wishing to get along with his neighbor would today.
I say, again contra Lewis, that there is something to be said for the much maligned ostrich, keeping its head down when hot headed people shout in essays that there holy book and their "Son of Man" shall damn anyone with enough sense to try and stay out of some of the world's perpetual quarrels, namely over God and holy books, that continue even among the most highly educated religionists, historians, apostates and converts. Heavens!

posted by Edward T. Babinski @ 11/21/2006

At 10:37 AM, November 21, 2006, Victor Reppert said...
I think you have misunderstood Lewis. The point is a fairly simple one. Lewis's passage is not addressed to someone like yourself who has considered the claims of Christianity and considers them not to be true. It is addressed to people who show refuse to pose the question of whether Christianity is true or not, but instead are trying to figure out if they can live a good life without being a Christian. My posting a link to this essay was a follow-up to the previous post, in which I argued that a Christian apologist like Lewis or myself and an atheist like Parsons or Loftus has a great deal in common with one another, in that they both believe that Christianity can be true or false, both believe that the subject matter is important, and both believe that it's a subject about which arguments are relevant and can help us discover the truth. This strikes me as very interesting common ground between the believer and the unbeliever which often gets overlooked with the two sides go at it hammer and tongs about that what they disagree about. Parsons and I would agree that a postmodernist who thinks we can just avoid the question of what is true and only ask what "works for me" is refusing to face reality. The ostrich is the one who never takes the question of Christianity seriously, not the one who takes it seriously and decides the whole thing is false. That's what, he thinks, will be "forgiven and healed." It's one of the places where Lewis is accused of being too liberal. I'm sure that won't be accepted by the folks over at Triablogue, for example.


Jason Pratt said...

Goodness, did _that_ rant start falling apart...

When Lewis writes "Honest rejection of Christ, however mistaken, will be forgiven and healed" (i.e. God won't eternally condemn someone who is honestly in error), Ed wants to know "And what exactly is wrong with believing that God wouldn't eternally condemn someone honestly in error? Lewis presupposes the opposite."

Frankly, this starts to look like willful misreading. Ed _doesn't_ consider himself to be in the ostrich category, Lewis writes that honest rejection _will_ be forgiven and healed--why not conclude 'oh... okay, so Lewis is saying that Jesus Himself is saying I will be forgiven and healed anyway despite my dissent'?

The obvious first answer is that then Ed wouldn't be able to attack Lewis. (Lewis has nothing bad to say about category 1, Ed declares himself to be in category 1, thus Lewis couldn't be saying anything bad about Ed--but that wouldn't make for much of a fight. Therefore, completely reverse the meaning of what Lewis wrote. _Now_ Lewis is attacking Ed. Self-defense has been established: proceed to flame Lewis at will.)

There's a Dilbert cartoon I kept hanging over my computer for years (until we moved my desk over away from any wall.) Dilbert is explaining to someone that no known battery technology can handle this load and be that size. "That wasn't what you wanted to hear," he tells the irate customer. "So, your mind will erase what I just said and replace it with something totally ridiculous, so you can question my motives."

Yep; it really happens. {s}

Anonymous said...


"So, your mind will erase what I just said and replace it with something totally ridiculous, so you can question my motives."

Yep; it really happens. {s}

Happened to me this morning! Customer calling about this and that wasn't done, how I promised all these things. When in reality the signed documentation I sent back to him showed quite the opposite to be the case. So instead of working with him, I decided to take some time and post on the Internet. :)

Edwardtbabinski said...

Vic, Jason, and others,
My response is here. Also see C. S. Lewis's "Man or Rabbit?" and Eric Hoffer's "The True Believer"

Edwardtbabinski said...

My response address doesn't seem supportable in, it's the third comment right after Vic's at my blog. But here it is in full:

We'd have to discuss what exactly you mean when you claim that atheists and Christians agree "the subject matter [of Christianity] is important." Exactly what "subject matter" are you talking about? I don't suppose you are speaking about Christian dogmas, but more like questions of historicity which Lewis himself spent relatively little time studying or discussing in his works. (Who exactly is the "ostrich" in that case?)

Secondly, you mention postmodernists who "avoid the question of what is true and only ask what 'works for me.'" I don't think you are saying all that you think are saying, and proving even less via such a statement, because there is a little postmodernist and pragmatist ('what works') in all of us, believers and non-believers alike.

There are probably just as many Christians whose Christianity seems to be of the "works for me" kind, as there are dreaded "postmodernists." I think Lewis was himself a "works for me" kind of guy, judging by the superificality of his engagement with the historical approach to Biblical studies.

And on the good side, finding out "what works" is often acknowledged as a means for deciphering what is true, especially in the realm of experimental science.

Lastly, Vic, I would like to remind you that you have gone so far as to acknowledge that an atheist's life can have meaning, and also that many atheists and theists share a love of truth.

Since you are at that point, I don't see what may hinder you from eventually acknowledging that people are people, not "saved" or "damned," but people all round.

And it seems to me that people tend to seek what's true about themselves and their lives and interactions with others, via pragmatism, via daily experiments, both conscious and unconscious input, via exploring their own lives and experiences and considering and reconsidering everything they have read or been taught in their lives. I suspect a large part of the process of seeking truth, including what works, even takes place when you sleep, or inside the unconscious portion of your brain each waking day.

I suspect that one thing atheists and Christians share most is their love of intellectual engagement and their disdain for a world of mere barbarism. The philosophers and Christians of the ancient Hellenistic world also agreed in that respect.

Lastly, fanatics/fundamentalists appear to me to be a form of barbarism as well, that both you and I disdain. Fanaticism/fundamentalism is yet another form of decadence.

Somewhere in the middle between mere barbarism on the left and fanatical fundamentalisms on the right is where I think most thinking people lay, along with the best chances of future human progress.

Edwardtbabinski said...

By the way in the realm of "convenient rationalizations" that Walters raises, exactly what is so "convenient" about admitting inconclusiveness, doubts, etc.?

It's "convenient" for everyone alike to believe and disbelieve what they happen to believe and/or disbelieve.

As for myself, I suppose it's also convenient for me to no longer attend church, except on special occaisions like for family or friends. But aside from that it's hardly more convenient for me to live my life than for you to live yours with your own beliefs, and I lack church-dogmas and assurances concerning the afterlife.

I'm also aware of a range of beliefs and doubts among Christians themselves. Not all Christians are Lewisianians. There's Barthians, universalists (a view Barth seemed partial to himself), moderates, liberals, ultra-liberals, and of course conservatives and some ultra-conservatives who sneer at Lewis and/or who can't even accept that an honest man would dare to disagree with them concerning the Trinity.

What I am speaking about is in some sense reflected in Dr. Price's experience in a coffee house decades ago when he was practicing friend-evangelism, and said at one point he looked up at the people there and recognized that all the people in that coffee house were not merely "saved" or "damned." Price began to consider what he and his theology really had to offer people whose behaviors already were far from horrid. He'd offer them a chance to read the Bible and go to church like he did. But did they all really need that? That's when Price's deconversion apparently began. (Eric Hoffer explains to some degree what Price went through psychologically, leaving the mass movement, the fold he was involved in.)

Note, my response to Vic appears above this one.

Steven Carr said...

'Honest rejection of Christ, however mistaken, will be forgiven and healed

... But to evade the Son of Man, to look the other way, to pretend you haven't noticed, to become suddenly absorbed in something on the other side of the street, to leave the receiver off the telephone because it might be He who was ringing up, to leave unopened certain letters in a strange handwriting because they might be from Him this is a different matter.'

So Muslims who honestly preach that Christianity is false, that Jesus was never executed at all, that somebody else was executed in his place, they will be forgiven.

But Muslims who doubt Muslim apologetics, and who think that Christians might have one or two arguments going for them, but are not sure who to believe, - they will roast in Hell?

While Christians who refuse to open books by sceptics because they think it might shake their faith, they will also roast in Hell for not being honest?

Steven Carr said...

VICTOR writes
'When students write papers about Mormonism, I find that often they don’t really want to argue that Mormonism is true, or criticize arguments against it.'

Are these the sort of people that God hates, according to Lewis - people who don't honestly look at the evidence?

Jason Pratt said...

The person who is in an indecisive frame of mind, where they aren't quite sure what to believe, is not the kind of person Lewis was speaking against in his essay. He really is talking about a very limited sort of case.

Also, the 'punishment' Lewis talks about in this essay, is not from God. ("We need not inquire whether God will punish [this kind of man] for his cowardice and his laziness; they will punish themselves.") He also makes it as clear as he possibly can that God still loves the 'rabbit', and intends to help the rabbit be more than a rabbit. There is no 'roasting in hell' in this essay. That wasn't the sort of thing Lewis went in for. (At worst, there is a purgatorial process. _That_ might be considered offensive. {shrug} The imagery is certainly painful sounding.)

People ought not to comment on Lewis unless they're actually competent to do so. Ed's screed is harmful precisely because he paints himself as being familiar with the work, when a minute's check will reveal that he's going out of his way to read things that simply aren't there into what Lewis wrote, as part of his attack on Lewis. It practically amounts to libel. (Nor did he mea culpa for his obvious error. He simply ignored the correction and moved along.)

I grant that Ed's reply to Victor is better than most of what I've ever seen from him. What's sad, though, is that Ed refuses to recognize that he could be agreeing _with Lewis_ on much of what he wrote concerning agreements with Victor.

(i.e. the erroneous anti-Lewis screed was just the kind of "fanaticism" that Ed decries and detests as another kind of decadent barbarism. It's all very well to detest such a thing, but when he stops doing it himself, I'll be more impressed.)