Monday, January 26, 2009

The Inner Ring

In "The Inner Ring," Lewis describes the age old idea of cliques and popularity. It is a struggle to fit into whatever society a person may be a part of.

He begins by using a quote from Tolstoi's War and Peace. In this passage, a general is silenced by a lower ranking official. Why? Because the general is not a part of the elusive "inner ring". This idea of an inner ring is not surprising to us because we have all experienced it in our lives. We all know who the most "important" people are in high school. We all know what groups or social circles are alive and well here at Calvin. We have even seen, or at least I have, the inner ring of our churches. 

Is there something wrong with the inner ring? I think that it depends greatly upon what these people do with their power. I say power because they certainly have much power over others. The manipulations that can be caused by an intense desire to be within the group are many. People may speak of peer pressure. The only reason peer pressure works is because one person does not feel the same amount of power as the group. But if this power is not used to harm or manipulate, is there actually something wrong with having a close group of friends?

I would say no. The problem is that it is so tempting to exclude, even on accident. In most cases, it is not outright denial of entry into some clubhouse. Instead, it can happen in subtle conversations about group events of the past which others had no part in. Or perhaps it can be the absense of an invitation to a group function (though this is slightly more direct exclusion). Or maybe it is merely in the looks and glances that pass between group members when someone else is attempting to enter their circle of power. 

But what about the outsider? What is his or her responsibilty? C.S. Lewis explains that we must conquer our desire to be in the inner ring. "The quest of the Inner Ring will break your hearts unless you break it." This is a profound statement. It means that once we stop trying to fit in, we will find our actual place in the community at large. This doesn't promise popularity to all. But there is a hope that we can all find a few good friends if we allow the friendships that are already starting to flourish.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Problem of Pain- Chapter 6

Why is there pain and suffering in our world? How can our loving, just God allow awful things to happen to his people? It is a tough question. Not just tough, but also one of the leading arguments that atheists or others may use against Christianity. In fact, as mentioned by Peter Kreeft, Thomas Aquinas cites this problem of pain as the best argument against Christianity. 

First, we must define our terms. Suffering is, in my mind at least, the absence or loss of good. This may sound familiar. Isn't this the same definition as that I used for evil? Yes it is. It is of the same exact character. Someone mentioned in class that the distortion of the greatest good will cause the greatest pain. Pain is the offspring of suffering. Pain is the feeling, whether physical or emotional, that develops during suffering. 

But back to the problem. How does our God allow us to experience pain? Surely, he is powerful enough to stop it. Why doesn't he? Sometimes, God uses pain to help us "surrender" to him. Our lives must be changed so He allows pain and suffering into our lives. 

This issue also brings up a side argument about the nature of God. We know that we cannot fully grasp all of the wonders of God. We don't know exactly why He does certain things. But can He feel pain? Does He know what it means to suffer? When we pray for deliverance from suffering and pain, does He know what we are even talking about? I would argue that he does. Maybe this is not an important argument to some. If any such people are reading this, you might as well stop now. But for those interested people, I will continue.

Let's begin with saying that God can't feel any suffering. With this kind of God, He is "above" suffering. He doesn't feel it because He is too good, too perfect to feel pain. Let us return also to the point made earlier that we suffer because we must be changed. Does our all powerful God really need changing? Absolutely not! The next point involves Jesus' suffering. He obviously suffered greatly while on the cross. Has God felt this pain too? If God was feeling the same pain, the what do the words, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" mean? It is a difficult discussion.

Now let's examine the other side of the issue. If God is "above" suffering, then how does He know what we are talking about when we say something hurts? In my mind, Jesus and God are in some way- though it's incomprehensible- one being. Therefore, when Jesus suffered on the cross, God also knew that pain. He probably didn't feel it in the same way as we do. I doubt God feels any emotion or state of being in the same way we do. But He was still part of Christ while He suffered. 

But if we say that God doesn't suffer in the same way as us, then how and why does He suffer? It surely isn't over trivial things. Is it? The beauty of this idea is that God can take on our suffering. He chooses to suffer with us. He sees our pain and makes it his. Therefore, if I am crying over the death of my dog, then maybe God is, in some way, sad with me. This is comforting, to me at least. 

Maybe I am wrong. That would be okay with me. I am not even sure that I made a great case for what I think. But I am sure that whatever God feels or doesn't feel, the point is that He loves us. He sent His Son to take upon Him the ultimate suffering, the punishment for all of our sins. Thank God that we do not need to feel that pain!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Engaging God's World- Chapter 4

Our world has fallen. Everything must be changed, redeemed, and restored. We are a part of this. We need salvation, as we discovered in the third chapter of this book.

How are we saved from the sin that has been eating away at us? We must have some sort of grace from an outside source. God has graciously given his Son to take our place. This is the first side of a concept called "double grace." In this process, we are first justified, then we slowly become sanctified. In sanctification we become more Christlike. This doesn't happen in a day or one moment; instead it is a lifelong process. It is a constant struggle between how our sinful nature and the new creation of Christ within us.

Since we are redeemed, we are grateful to God. How could we not be? We owe Him everything. He atoned for our sins on the cross. Beyond that, He promises us not only salvation on earth but also eternal salvation. This gratitude leads us to desire to serve Him in any way we can. By serving Him, we must be putting on a Christlike attitude. This attitude may not be quite right yet, but we still must at least try to use it.

This all may sound like review. In fact, it should. But, as someone mentioned in class, this is the foundation of faith. We may know the facts, but it is how we actually apply them to our lives that matters. We must remember that when we approach an "old" topic, we shouldn't think that there is nothing new to be learned. Instead, we must try to keep it fresh. Instead of using old catchphrases, we should use new ways to say the same ideas. This way, we won't scare people off with big words or confusing phrases that only have meaning if you are in the "inside loop" of the church.

Man or Rabbit?

"Can't you lead a good life without believing in Christianity?" This is the central question of "Man or Rabbit?" C.S. Lewis makes two conclusions: first, that a good life in godly terms is impossible for anyone, and second, that living a good, moral life is not the goal of our existence.

One problem that I had with Lewis in this essay is that he is once again dealing only in extremes. He talks about only Materialists and Christians and no one in between. What happened to all of the other religions? Where do they fall? Can't a Hindu or a Buddhist live what anyone would consider a good life? We must not see only the two extreme cases because our lives do not involve only extremes. We spend most of our time in the middle ground, dealing with people who might be trying to be "good."

This brings me to my second issue with this essay. What definition are we using for the word good? According to Lewis, we must be using a biblical definition of good works, as in good coming from God. I agree that this is the true definition of good. I also agree that as sinners, we can't live a good life in a biblical sense. However, if a person actually is asking this question, I'm sure that they are not thinking of good in a biblical sense. Instead, they are thinking of basic moral practice. In this way, I would argue that in a way, people can live a good life in worldly terms outside of Christianity.

Notice that I don't think that this morality can earn them salvation. Salvation comes from the cross. If God has mercy on others who have never heard, that is wonderful. We can hope for the salvation of the unbeliever without access to the Gospel, but I don't think that we can assume that it will happen.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Abolition of Man

In this book, C.S. Lewis is proposing the idea that our educators are slowly decreasing the moral value of students by placing less and less emphasis on the Moral Law, which he refers to as Tao. The main focus of my small group's discussion revolved around whether this Moral Law actually does exist. This will be the focus of my blog today as well.

I began to question this theory of the Moral Law when I realized what Lewis was arguing against in this piece. He argues against teaching a separate and different set of values to children. However, this in and of itself implies that these values must be taught or else they become lost. Isn't the Moral Law "written on our hearts"? How can we lose something such as this? If we must be taught to disobey, are we not also then taught to obey? 

When searching for an answer, I turned to my own life for help. I was taught right and wrong by my parents (or at least that is what I think). They presumably also learned from their parents, teachers, and experiences. Where did this idea of right and wrong come from? In my case, my parents believed the Bible and taught its words as a "moral law." Where did the laws of the Bible come from? They came from God. But what about other cultures? Does this same reasoning apply? Children being taught by parents is certainly the case worldwide. However, the source of those values may take a different form, such as a Muslim using the Koran. Yet in most core beliefs, such as the right of a person to live, all cultures agree. This leaves us with two options. Either God has given us his Law, a Moral Law, in our hearts and therefore also in the hearts of the people writing other "holy" books, or God inspired the "holy" books of other religions as well. Since Christianity calls for One Way, One Truth, and One Life, the second option cannot be correct. 

This leads me to believe in the Moral Law, but there are other unanswered questions that I still must deal with as well. At least for now, I can agree with Lewis when he says that this Moral Law must still be kept in a place of honor.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Four Loves- "Eros"

When we see the word "Eros" today, we tend to think of purely sexual desire. However, C.S. Lewis was not writing about Eros in this way.

Instead, Eros refers to the kind of love between two lovers, a deep passionate love that is not based solely on physical attraction. It is in fact a relationship that develops in a different way. Lewis describes this well in the following passage:
Very often what comes first is simply a delighted pre-occupation with the Beloved--a general, unspecified pre-occupation with her in her totality. A man in this state really hasn't leisure to think of sex. He is too busy thinking of a person. The fact that she is a woman is far less important than the fact that she is herself. He is full of desire, but the desire may not be sexually toned. If you asked him what he wanted, the true reply would often be, "To go on thinking of her."

What does this mean? It means that true love does not have its roots in sexual desire. It has its true roots in friendship. Maybe an attraction is present, but that is less important than the fact that the other person is someone who you would like to know as a friend, as a companion. 

Later Lewis compares this deep love with "Venus," or the purely sexual desire. It is a frequent mistake in our society to confuse the two. But Venus is purely self-serving. Eros is the opposite. Two lovers have no distinction between giving and receiving. Instead, everything is done with a feeling of self-less love. Everything is about the other person. 

But all of this is difficult for me to understand. Honestly, I have never experienced this type of overwhelming love. All I have is the stories of others before me. But as we discussed in class, it is important that we know about these things before they happen to us. The idea of knowing how to love seems to be a bit stupid. Why do I need to learn? Isn't love something that just happens? In a way, yes. But it is also important to understand that love is difficult. It is also helpful to know something about the subject before entering into uncharted waters.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Side Argument (from "Learning in War-time")

Within our class discussion of "Learning in War-time," a small point was brought up about whether every action we perform is inherently good or inherently evil. I thought about this problem for a long time. It struck me as wrong that something is either "secular" or "sacred," without a middle ground.

Maybe I am misunderstanding this point entirely, and feel free to correct me if this is the case. However, since we are pursuing knowledge, which must come from inquiry, which must first come from a proposal, I would like to propose that there is, in fact, a middle ground. And more than that, there is always a middle ground.

Let me begin by saying that I am not a philosopher. I am an engineer. I am used to dealing with problems and finding a solution. Note that I did not say the solution. For as I am beginning to slowly grasp, in engineering there are often multiple solutions that are workable and practical to any problem. 

Apply this idea to our actions. Is any one action a singular solution or a singular result of a separate action? I would argue no. However, it is the only course of action taken. But what drives this action? What motives, besides our "separate action",  lie behind our one singular course of action taken? This is where it gets tricky.

Our actions are partially tainted. Even the most generous man may hold pride in his heart for the amount he has given away. But how do we prove this? The easiest way to prove sinfulness is to examine our own lives. I think back to all of my "good" deeds, only to find that behind them lies a prideful, or resentful, or reluctant heart. Our hearts, being polluted and perverted by sin, do not have the power to motivate us to do otherwise. Even when we attempt holiness, we still have upon us the taint of sin, like a stain that cannot be removed. This is dreary, burdensome stuff. But in order to understand why there must be a middle ground, we must understand our own sin. 

Here lie the final questions: Is an action that is tainted by this stain of sin still "sacred"? Or should it be considered purely "secular"? If all actions tainted and stained by sin are "secular", there would be no goodness, no grace within this world. Already, we can see the falseness of this idea. There is in this world a presence of goodness which can be accredited to God and the Holy Spirit, and some actions reflect, at least partially, this glory. Then let us examine the other question; the question of a tainted action's sacredness. To be sacred is "to be holy and set apart by God." How can an action motivated by a bundle of good and bad intentions be considered holy and sacred? God is perfect. An action affected by sin is not perfect because of the destruction polluting effect that sin has on everything. Therefore, there must be an answer that allows an action to be simultaneously "sacred" and "secular." This is what I am calling the middle ground.
In this middle ground, actions can be partially sacred, but never fully.

I am not saying, however, that actions are devoid of meaning. There is a meaning attached to all actions, thoughts, and decisions. Aside from anecdote, this is difficult to prove. It is difficult to see how that one sheet of paper I throw away could change a different person's life. What is remarkable is the fact that our God can use small, "insignificant" actions to change other lives. The meaning of actions can also be considered in a different light. Since sin and goodness seem so wrapped together, how can an action have neither? How can the taint of sin not affect everything we do once we accept its pervasiveness? And how can we not see the holiness and goodness that must come in some way with the action?

Engaging God's World- Chapter 5

VOCATION. It's a great buzz word here at Calvin College. We love to talk all about serving God wherever he puts us. We love to say things like, "I'm fulfilling my calling to become a _____." There is nothing wrong with this. But when things such as these are said with a sort of earthly enthusiasm, I start to wonder if the concept of vocation has really been made clear.

Vocation is a calling from God. This is correct. We are each given a sort of task or role within the church and within society at large. It is part of this grand, overarching plan of the Heavenly Father. But is this role merely a sort of job? Are we just here to do our one job, serving society and the church? No, we have a greater calling as well.

We are also called to restore the earth to shalom. We must take our small role, our minuscule kingdom, and fit it into that great kingdom of God, that overarching plan of God. So how does this affect things? We must be striving to return the world to peace. We must be working with a greater goal in mind. We must heal society and its brokenness.

Does this mean that we are all destined to become "prophets, priests, and kings" or in today's language, teachers, pastors and politicians? Should we all focus on these careers as "righteous" ones? The truth is that we are all teachers, pastors and politicians (in a good sense of that word, forget its negative connotations). We all must teach the gospel. We all must shepherd the church. We all have power and authority in God's kingdom. However, we do not all need to fill those specific jobs within society. We can live our regular lives in such a way that the kingdom of God and the work of shalom is spread through the small, everyday actions we do each day.

(In Plantinga's book, he then goes into depth into the value of a Christian college education. As I feel that I have written a large number of blogs on this topic, I don't think that I will cover it here. )

Learning in Wartime

This piece is actually a published sermon. It was given to students at Oxford during World War II, but it still has relevance today in our relatively peaceful nation. (I guess we are fighting two wars, but we are not being drafted and the violence seems far removed from our cozy little lives over here in America.)

The basic problem addressed in this sermon is whether the pursuit of knowledge should happen while others are out fighting for their country. Shouldn't a good citizen be doing whatever he or she can do to support their country and their troops? How can we students sit in a classroom while others are dying on the battlefield? 

It is a difficult question. I have asked myself, in one form or another, why I should spend a large fraction of my life in school while the "real world" awaits. Also, how can I rationalize spending time in school when I could be helping the poor or serving others? I could be doing so much right now, and there seem to be so many opportunities for the taking if I only had the time or money. In those cases it feels as though school, activities, and the expenses tied to both take away from time, energy, and money that I could spend "for God."

My answer to this question comes from Colossians 3:23. "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord, not for men." This verse was written specifically for slaves with regards to their masters. Sometimes, school is a burden. But we must still give it our best effort. 

What I would like to focus on, however, is the fact that I can serve God by being a student. I think that when our motivation is pleasing the Lord, things as mundane as homework and studying can become acts of worship. I do not need to quit school and work at a downtown rescue mission full-time just to "serve the Lord." God has blessed me with a mind for numbers and solving problems so studying to become an engineer is my current calling. Living for God within the context of my own life is difficult, but far more manageable than the idea that I have to serve God by quitting something that I love (yes, I do love school. I'll admit it.) to do something that I quite possibly might hate. 

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Engaging God's World- Chapter 3

In this chapter of his book, Cornelius Plantinga discusses the reformed view of the fall. In this view, called total depravity, everything in creation- plants, animals, and most of all, people- have been "infected" by the virus of sin.

At first, Plantinga describes how sin has penetrated into our world. "Evil is the main human problem," he states. This is very true. We are always struggling with something. Evil is defined by Plantinga as "any spoiling of shalom." 

However, there is also the concept of sin. Some things can be evil without being sinful, but all sin is evil. An evil that can be blamed on an individual or a group can be considered sin. How widespread is this form of evil, this sin? Every human has been a part of it. Every human has participated in a sin. We have a tendency to sin- even when we have the best intentions possible. We are a corrupted race.

How has sin corrupted us? What are the effects of this corruption? First, we "pervert" the gifts that God has blessed us with so to use them for our own agendas. Second, we "pollute" relationships with other people, godly things, and worldly things. We add to things that are already perfect. 

The problem is that sin has not occurred in an isolated setting somewhere far away. It happened, happens, and will happen here- in our world, in our society, in our church, and in our hearts. It is not a personal problem, one that a self-help book or a little diet can solve. This is something bigger than that. My sinful life has infected others, leading them to sinful lives as well. In the same way, others have led me to sin. 

God has been gracious to our race, however. He has given us "common grace," which describes "the goodness of God shown to all, regardless of faith, consisting in natural blessings, restraint of corruption, seeds of religion and political order, and a host of civilizing and humanizing impulses, patterns, and traditions." 

Who do we blame for this corruption? To say simply Adam and Eve seems to be a childish answer. I don't think that Plantinga ever gets to the answer of this question. But he assures us that neither God nor the devil are to blame. There is some mention of a "spirit of darkness" which seems to encompass the world in a blanket of sinful thought and deed. I would like to suggest that perhaps we are to blame instead. Sin should not hold any power over us, as Romans explains. But why do we fall continually? We chose to. We have a sinful nature that is difficult to keep quiet. Though we may try our best, we will fall. 

But, friends, we have hope. God is our refuge and our strength. Just wait for the next chapter!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Poison of Subjectivism

In this essay, Lewis is arguing against "subjectivism." What is this subjectivism? The term is meant to describe the sort of reasoning that thinks that all reason must be subjective to a person's individual thought. 

Lewis begins by explaining how such a system might work. In this system, a person can essentially discard all thoughts, including their own, as subjective. This doesn't work with what is called theoretical reason, or scientific reasoning, because as Lewis writes, a person must "assume the validity of his own logic...even in order to prove that it is merely subjective."

Practical reason, or the judgment of good and evil, is a different matter. It is arguing against the subjectivism within the context of practical reasoning that Lewis spends a majority of his time in this essay. We are told by society that "to say that a thing is good is merely to express our feeling about it; and our feeling about it is the feeling we have been socially conditioned to have." 

This is, of course, very dangerous. If right and wrong are completely subjective, then we lose the basic structure of our society. In my mind, our society is built on some basic principles, such as our inalienable rights. These basic rights given to all and acknowledged by all prove that there must be a basic law or idea behind them all. A "new" form of morality or a "new" idea of truth must will still have its basis within this basic law. How then, do differing views of morality come about? It must come in the twisting of this traditional morality. By changing one aspect of the traditional morality, a "new" ideology is made, but it must be ignored because it uses the very thing it tries to disprove in order to prove itself. I tried to think of an example of this, but it is so illogical that I can't even think of one.

Overall, I think that we must remember that there is a definitive right and a definitive wrong. These may be difficult to see, but they are present nonetheless. 

(note: I may write more on this essay following our class discussion. These are merely my own meager thoughts.)

Friday, January 16, 2009

Mere Christianity

In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis was trying to explain the basics of Christian belief. In the preface, he explains that he is not trying to convince anyone to belong to a specific denomination, but instead Lewis is simply laying out the "bare bones" of Christian religion.

The actual book is comprised of three smaller books. The first book, which we read for this class, proves the existence of some overarching Power that created what Lewis calls the "Moral Law." His reasoning seems sound. He first explains the basics of the Moral Law, how everyone has ingrained within them a sense of right and wrong. Even within different cultures and societies, the basics of the Law of Nature remain the same. Stealing is still wrong in the middle of sub-Saharan Africa as well as in Ancient Greece. 

I was not sure at this point that I agreed with his idea of the Moral Law. How could one Law govern so many different cultures? If what is right and wrong for me is the same as for any other person, then why do we have so many arguments over things like abortion. If it is wrong in my mind, then shouldn't this concept of the Moral Law lead to the conclusion that it will be wrong in other people's minds as well? How do we excuse the fact that there are different opinions on issues such as this? 

Lewis sort of deals with this issue in saying, "some of the things we learn are mere conventions which might have been different." I guess this does explain differences in some ways, but I feel that there are some large differences between my own moral compass and some other people's. 

Other than this argument, I agree with Lewis's conclusions. After concluding that there is a Moral Law, one must conclude that someone outside of ourselves must have put it into place. This finally proves at least the existence of some outside Power, which is above this world. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Screwtape Letters

The Screwtape Letters present an interesting idea. How do demons and devils approach us? How do they tempt us? This letter describes a very effective strategy of allowing the "patient" to at ease with the sins he is committing. 

We, as these patients, must acknowledge this dangerous tactic. How can we avoid being led to believe that we are following God's will when we are actually doing nothing? We must not allow ourselves onto that "safest road to Hell" but instead, we should continue to stay away from the small temptations that could be dangerous.

What small temptations do I fall into? I've realized that I slowly start to rationalize behaviors. I may not actually participate in them, but I have begun to see them as things that "anyone could do." Why does this matter? There is a definite right and wrong. Sometimes, we can't see the a clear-cut answer, but I think that we have to at least try. If a behavior is wrong, then it is wrong for everyone. This is difficult, but I think that it is true. When I begin to rationalize, what I am really saying is that even though it might be wrong for others, somehow it is okay for me to do.

Engaging God's World- Chapter Two

It is strange how even when we try to talk about the great creation that God has given to us, we end up talking about the fall and sin. But what we must focus on in all of this is our role in, to use a favorite buzz word of Calvin's campus, "renewing God's world."

The creation has fallen. It was magnificent at one point. It was better than anything we could even begin to imagine. And one day it will return to its glorious state once more. But what about now? Right now, our world is tainted by sin. Though some of the grandeur remains, it can no longer be perfect. 

We are called to make restore the world and creation to its rightful, perfect state. How can we do this? We must proceed wisely, using the Bible as our guide. We must be good stewards of all that God has entrusted us with. We must try our best to "make things right," whether that involves preserving natural resources or using technology to save people. This is getting into some of the later chapters in this book, but I think that in order to understand the importance of creation we must understand the role we must play in changing it back to that perfect state.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Weight of Glory

In "The Weight of Glory," C.S. Lewis is basically explaining the incredible idea of heaven and the glory present there. It also begins to apply the idea of glory to our own lives as well.

In the first part of the essay, Lewis writes a terrific quote: would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half- hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

How do we combat these half-hearted desires? It seems to me that we must start by trying to understand what we are desiring. We must understand that there is that promised "holiday at the sea" in order to desire it. 

This flows nicely into the next topic: heaven. What is it? Lewis seems to define heaven as a place where we are present within everything we have desired in an unselfish manner. How does this work? We long for a perfect world. We long to be absorbed into nature. We long to become part of music. I like to think that this "oneness" can happen for brief moments in time. We can be a part of a beautiful scene of creation. We can know a song so deeply that it seems to speak to our very being. But it never lasts. 

Where does glory fit into this idea of heaven? After all, is that not the title? Up to this point in the essay, Lewis was mainly sharing his own thoughts on heaven. However, as he states, "the scriptural imagery [of heaven] has authority," and in the scriptural images of heaven, there is an abundance of glory.

This glory is described in two ways by Lewis. The first refers to a cultural view of glory: fame. Why is this biblical at all? Does it not seem that fame only comes from pride or arrogance or an overabundance of money? In our current culture, this is the case. However, we must redefine our idea of fame. Instead of the approval of others, this fame refers to "approval or... 'appreciation' by God." This idea makes sense. Searching for God's approval and appreciation seems overwhelming, but it seems to be one way in which the glory of heaven is manifested. This concept also fits with our sense of longing to be a part of the creation. Lewis writes:

The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longing to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret. And surely, from this point of view, the promise of glory, in the sense described, becomes highly relevant to our deep desire.

The second way it is described is as "brightness, splendor, luminosity." This did not make sense to me at first. I understand the desire to be "within", for lack of a better word, nature or beauty. But is this really what is meant by "brightness, splendor, luminosity?" I honestly do not know. I am not even certain that I believe that this idea of glory is accurate. But I can say that I believe that the picture of the Everlasting Light in the Bible shows that there must be some of this type of "luminosity."

But how on earth does this actually apply to me? Why do I really need to know about the glory of heaven? Lewis explains this as well. Everyone must be taken seriously. Why? Because every person is immortal, and we must treat them as such. We must also take this to be a call to evangelism. How can we let anyone remain in a state of eternal longing? How can we allow them to never experience the glory of heaven? We must try our best not to let this happen.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Our English Syllabus

In his work "Our English Syllabus", C.S. Lewis is attempting to explain the rationale behind the selection of courses chosen for the English students at Oxford. Within this context, he also explains not only the difference between learning and education but also the reason why students should strive to learn.

To begin, Lewis defines the purpose of education as "that fitting of a man 'to perform justly, skilfully, and magnanimously all the offices both private and public, of peace and war.' " In other words, education enables students to become "good men" who are of "good taste and good feeling, the interesting and interested man, and the almost happy man." He then compares this form of education with vocational training. It is here that he states first, "vocational training [is] for slaves" and that "if education is beaten by training, civilization dies." 

In this point, I disagree with Lewis for two main reasons. The first regards the statement that vocational training is for slaves. I disagree with this statement because vocational training and specialization does not enslave a person. Lewis does qualify this phrase slightly by saying, "our ideal must be to find time for both education and training." However, he goes on to basically promote the idea that education is far superior to training. But if we think of this idea in terms of the Calvinist's idea of vocation, there is a certain shift in perspective. Even if we are merely training, we can still find joy and meaning in serving others and our Lord. 

My second objection is to the idea that civilization would die if education is beaten by training. In our world of specialization, many are not "educated" in the way that Lewis uses the word. In other words, training is winning the war. But is civilization really dying? I would say no. This is a very minute point within his whole essay, however.

Overall, I would agree that more emphasis must be placed on learning instead of education as we know it. If all we care about is grades or getting into a graduate program, we lose that sense of self-education and learning. We must take the time to dig deep into a certain topic, learning everything. 

The Logical Song

In my mind, this song is realistic. The general progression of the song from joy to a sense of loss of individuality is a natural and necessary one.

In the beginning of the song, the songwriter uses nostalgia to create this picture of a perfect world. However, as previously discussed, this idea of a perfect childhood is obviously false. Then the songwriter is "sent away" to learn about the world. But even after, or possibly because of, all of this learning, the songwriter loses his sense of self. He asks the question "please tell me who I am", as if to say, "I have no idea what I'm doing here." 

Is it not true that we all allow others to define our own individual beings? How much of our perception of self is dependent upon the views of others? We love being told that we look nice or that we are smart or that we are caring. We even let others tell us our own faults. So how do we define a true sense of self? I do not exactly know. But I do know that it must start with a definition of a Creator or Power that made us. This Creator must have defined each individual, otherwise we would all be the same. Therefore, in discovering more about the Creator, we can discover more about ourselves. We must also spend time meditating on the interests and beliefs that are unique to us. 

This explains perhaps why this is a natural struggle, this search for self. But why is this necessary? Why must we eventually define ourselves as individuals? We must do so because otherwise the world and society will be given the task of defining us. We could then end up, as the song says,  as "a vegetable." We must know ourselves in a deep way in order to prevent becoming another of society's unimportant pawns. 

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Engaging God's World- Chapter One

Everyone feels this sense. A certain longing for something more than they have. It's like the old saying, "the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence." We all long for some ultimate form of joy. This manifests in different ways in different people. But "the truth is that nothing in this earth can finally satisfy us." (Plantinga) What we are really searching for and desiring is a total and complete knowledge of God. 

Why are these longings so important? For a Christian, these longings lead to hope. We need to long for that oneness and knowledge of God in order to hope for those same things. We need to long for a peaceful world before it can start to happen. We need to long for a perfect community of believers before we can hope for it. 

However, this hope for a better community and world is empty if there is no action behind it. We need to consciously work for shalom, the ultimate peace. This is our call as Christians: to spread God's peace, God's shalom, and God's kingdom throughout our world. We have to hope that we can accomplish these things, but at the same time acknowledge that this world will never be perfect until Christ comes again.

Have no "right to happiness"

The words "right to happiness" are strong. They imply that not only are there natural rights and laws, but also that happiness is something that we can pursue within the bounds of that law. 

However, in this essay, C. S. Lewis is dealing primarily with the issue of sexual happiness. The opening presents a situation where a Mr. A. and Mrs. B. divorced their respective spouses to marry each other. One of their acquaintances said that they were completely justified in their actions because they "had a right to happiness". The newly formed couple was merely fulfilling their own sexual desires. 

At the heart of this story lies a certain inconsistency within the moral reasoning of many people. The truth is that sexual desires have come to supersede other desires within our society. In other matters, we are forced to push aside our desires, such as with alcohol. But with sexual impulses, according to Lewis, we are told to obey them, usually regardless of the cost or consequences. This has changed slightly in recent years, with more emphasis being put on education and abstinence even in public classrooms. However, society as a whole seems to still speak the message that sexual impulses are to be followed. As Lewis writes, "our sexual impulses are thus being put in a position of preposterous privilege." 

Is this true? Will our society really excuse more radical behavior due to sexual impulses? I suppose so, but only to a certain extent. A pedophile, for instance, is not accepted and loved by society as a whole. We look down on pornography and other forms of sexual amusement. But at the core, we do excuse, or at least allow, radical behavior. A woman can have multiple surgeries and procedures done to keep her body looking young. We will excuse acts done out of love, even when they are hurtful to others, as in the case of Mr. A. and Mrs. B.

Overall, the right to sexual happiness should be treated as other rights. We have the right, I suppose, to consume alcohol, but most people will consume in moderation. Those that do not are generally looked down upon. Why then, do we as a society almost glorify the images of rappers and celebrities? Why is being a "pimp" a good thing? We must place our sexual desires back into a more normal position, or "be swept away".

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Bulverism is, as one person in our class mentioned, a "pervasive" method of thought in society today. We are so quick to assume the other person is wrong that we will not address the actual issue at hand. The problem with this idea is that it discounts reason from the whole equation. 

One example I have seen in recent months involves the voter's choice between candidates. Many people chose their candidate, then tried to prove why the other was wrong. The problem is that both sides must be considered first. A person cannot choose without first proving to himself or herself that one of the two is wrong. 

Why is this first approach illogical? As Lewis explains, "the forces discrediting reason, themselves depend on reason." In essence, this means that a Bulverist is trying to use logic to prove something wrong before the correct thing is proved right. Does this make sense? Say I am arguing that a person chose the wrong orange from a basket of two oranges. I might say that it does not look ripe and is small. However, if I cannot see the other orange, how can I truly make a judgement that the first orange is worse? Besides, I am proving that the first orange is bad using logic. I cannot use logic because I began with a terrible assumption, that the other orange is bad. Beyond that, by throwing out the reasons promoted by the other person, I have effectively taken reason and logic out of the discussion in general.

As another student put it, this "self-destructive" reasoning called Bulverism gets us nowhere. Instead, we must consider the actual issues at hand. Neither personal attacks nor personal pain have a place in true discussion. The truth must always be sought after and longed for. 

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Meditation in a Toolshed

An essay, when well-constructed, dissects a topic to its core then works to reconstruct it in such a way that it becomes more clear. This essay works to dissect the topic of observation. According to Lewis, one can either look "at" or look "along" in order to observe. An "objective" observer would be the person looking at and a person experiencing and living within the situation being observed looks along the situation. 

To use the same example as Lewis, a man in love feels certain specific feelings when thinking of that special someone. But a scientist can come in and explain all of his feelings as mere biological stimuli. The basic problem arises: which of these explanations of the same thoughts is true? Lewis finally concludes that though neither picture is complete on its own, both must be used to truly describe anything. 

This idea made me think of vision in a literal sense. We all know that we have two eyes, which collect data. This data is sent to the brain as a signal which is translated into an image which we "see". But think for a moment. If one eye is closed, the image our brain receives is slightly off. The picture is, for the most part, the same, but an apparent shift occurs. In other words, both eyes are needed to make a complete observation of the scene. 

Now consider thinking from "outside" and from "inside". It is a similar case. Though only one view or perspective will give an adequate representation of the situation, the true observation relies on both views.

Why is this so necessary? Things like science or mathematics attempt to only look at objects, situations, and occurrences. This grounds thought and almost restrains it to a certain realm of reality. For example, no matter how many times a farmer insists that two female sheep can reproduce, by science (and common sense) we know this is outside the realm of possibility. But experiences make those same objects, situations, and occurrences more real to an individual. These experiences must also be trusted to explain. If they were not, it would be rather difficult to explain anything, given that experiences help even a scientist explain his or her work.

How does observation help us? Observation is the key to learning. By observing as Lewis suggests, one gains knowledge from experiences and science, from being an outsider and an insider, from looking at and looking along all at once. This form of learning will give the most complete and accurate view of the world.