Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Chapter 14 of Surprised by Joy


It ends with this famous passage. 

You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape? The words compelle intrare, compel them to come in, have been so abused be wicked men that we shudder at them; but, properly understood, they plumb the depth of the Divine mercy. The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation.


World of Facts said...

Isn't this passage evidence that his conversion was not rational?
"whom I so earnestly desired not to meet."
Why? If you don't believe, you have no such need, or no-need; one can actually wish to "meet" God but just not see how it could happen and thus not believe. It certainly is the case for me...

Victor Reppert said...

But what if you start to doubt God's nonexistence, and start wondering if, surprise, surprise, God might exist after all, because you really think the evidence is pointing that way. And what if you are infected by what Thomas Nagel has described as "the fear of religion." Then you might be in the sort of situation that Lewis is describing. here.

So I don't think it shows his irrationality. Quite the reverse.

World of Facts said...

"But what if you start to doubt God's nonexistence"

How can we NOT doubt God's nonexistence? THAT would be irrational. We cannot prove the nonexistence of immaterial/supernatural/non-physical things, which gods usually are.

Victor Reppert said...

But it isn't a matter of believing that you can't disprove God. It's a matter of coming to think that there are a bunch of lines of evidence that you believe support theism, or even Christianity. If you read his book it's hard to escape the idea that he thought he had reasons to become a Christian, and that this made him psychologically uncomfortable. Whether these reasons were good or bad is not the point here.

People like Dawkins think that the evidence against theism is overwhelming. What if someone were to gradually move from that position to believe that the case for atheism is less than overwhelming, then about 50-50, and then it starts looking like God really does exist after all.

If that happened to someone, a lot of atheists might react the way Nagel would:

“In speaking of the fear of religion, I don’t mean to refer to the entirely reasonable hostility toward certain established religions and religious institutions, in virtue of their objectionable moral doctrines, social policies, and political influence. Nor am I referring to the association of many religious beliefs with superstition and the acceptance of evident empirical falsehoods. I am talking about something much deeper–namely, the fear of religion itself. I speak from experience, being strongly subject to this fear myself: I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers.

I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe in God and, naturally, hope that I’m right in my belief. It’s that I hope there is no God! I don’t want there to be a God; I don’t want the universe to be like that.”(”The Last Word” by Thomas Nagel, Oxford University Press: 1997)”

And that is how Lewis reacted when it happened to him.

World of Facts said...

Right, I see what you mean. It's interesting to read how these people, like Lewis and Nagel, were/is thinking. It's just so far from what I would consider to be a rational position that I find it difficult to reconcile that with the fact that they do sound rational otherwise. It really makes no sense to me to 'fear' religion or god or a conversion or anything that could be true. Whatever is true is true and we should all try to find what's true to the best of our abilities.

Truth is objective and we cannot decide what's true or not, but we are all fallible humans who believe whether things are true or not; hence, how can someone be afraid that something is true? It makes no sense to me. And of course, I am not talking about things like "I hope it's not true that my company is shutting down next week", I mean "big" truth about the nature of reality, things that do not change over the course of our lifetimes but that people change their mind about, especially throughout centuries...

Btw, regarding this:
"People like Dawkins think that the evidence against theism is overwhelming."
And it is, which is why I find it even tougher to understand why anyone would be afraid of religion. There is nothing to be afraid of. If people feel more comfortable with thinking religion/god is probably true, that's fine, but the evidence is not in favor of theism. Books like yours (sorry to attack it, I am sure you don't mind ;)) are not convincing anyone; they are rationalization after the fact; after someone decides to accepts things like consciousness can and probably exists without a body. Or the paper you posted recently, that I read carefully on the plane, regarding induction in science; it's such rubbish I cannot believe people don't see the flaws, the faulty assumptions and un-warranted conclusions... perhaps I/we could discuss where I think it fails; if we ever get the time...