Tag Archives: God

House of Cards

The following are writings of C.S. Lewis on faith and understanding. He reached these realizations through great suffering, but you don’t need to suffer like Lewis to hear his point: our perceptions of reality are often skewed and unfounded, in need of razing (He writes “All reality is iconoclastic.”). Hence the beauty and truth of, and opportunity for new creation from, a scattered house of cards.

“Bridge-players tell me that there must be some money on the game ‘or else people won’t take it seriously.’ Apparently it’s like that. Your bid — for God or no God, for a good God or the Cosmic Sadist, for eternal life or nonentity — will not be serious if nothing much is staked on it. And you will never discover how serious it was until the stakes are raised horribly high, until you find that you are playing not for counters or for sixpences but for every penny you have in the world. Nothing less will shake a man — or at any rate a man like me — out of his merely verbal thinking and his merely notional beliefs. He has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses. Only torture will bring out the truth. Only under torture does he discover it himself.

And I must surely admit — H. would have forced me to admit in a few passes — that, if my house was a house of cards, the sooner it was knocked down the better. And only suffering could do it. But then the Cosmic Sadist and Eternal Vivisector becomes an unnecessary hypothesis.

Is this last note a sign that I’m incurable, that when reality smashes my dreams to bits, I mope and snarl while the first shock lasts, and then patiently, idiotically, start putting it together again? And so always? However often the house of cards falls, shall I set about rebuilding it? Is that what I’m doing now?

Indeed it’s likely enough that what I shall call, if it happens, a ‘restoration of faith’ will turn out to be only one more house of cards. And I shan’t know whether it is or not until the next blow comes — when, say, fatal disease is diagnosed in my body too, or war breaks out, or I have ruined myself by some ghastly mistake in my work. But there are two questions here. In which sense may it be a house of cards? Because the things I am believing are only a dream, or because I only dream that I believe them?

…. God has not been trying an experiment on my faith or love in order to find out their quality. He knew it already. It was I who didn’t. In this trial He makes us occupy the dock, the witness box, and the bench all at once. He always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize the fact was to knock it down.

…. My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of His presence? The Incarnation is the supreme example; it leaves all previous ideas of the Messiah in ruins. And most are ‘offended’ by the iconoclasm; and blessed are those who are not.”

— C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

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Beauty, love, mystery

A related question to the question of God is whether our universe is a closed or open system, whether there are phenomena that cannot be quantified or logically explained, which have no natural explanation. Here I’m not so much going to consider traditional miracles as the phenomena of beauty, love and mystery in general.

Not long ago, I was exhausted from my studies and decided it was past-time I had taken a break. I decided to take a walk to a nearby park, to enjoy the fall foliage and listen to my Eric Whitacre Pandora station. Once I arrived I found myself drawn in toward a specific spot where I could sit and listen and look at the bright afternoon sun hit bright yellow leaves. As I sat, I listened to what I believe is one of the most beautiful songs I have ever heard — “Bogoroditse Devo raduysia” by the Rose Ensemble (album, Fire of the Soul).  People have different ways of describing what I felt in that moment: some would say they were “transported”, “moved”. I cried. I had a fucking stupid toothy grin on my face for that whole song and several songs following. My giddiness from the music was intensified when I moved to lie beneath those golden trees, staring up into their fingers of light. I felt, and have felt on similar occasions, that if I were doomed to die soon but could keep the sun and music just as they were at that moment without changing I would die perfectly happy.

I deeply hope you have had experiences like this yourself, what C.S. Lewis called “signposts” and believed were pointers to the joyful reality of God. In my mind now, these experiences – those of beauty – are one of the strongest supports for the truth of a transcendent reality. I say this because appreciating beauty so deeply is enshrouded in mystery. The only natural argument I can conceive of explaining these experiences would be one of stress-relief: that such experiences allowed early humans a way to escape from the dire necessities of their existence of gathering food, protecting their clan, etc. But, does that fully explain the intensity of the experience, the “strangeness” of it?

I know intense love of family and friends. It is mysterious to me, too; for example, my devotion towards my dad seems hardly beneficial to the propagation of humanity.  I don’t have a lot to say about romantic love from personal experience, but this too is strange, especially when it leads to relationships where no children are possible (for example, between elderly persons).

And as I described in my recent Fall experience the mystery is more than just that we experience beauty and love. The mystery is in the essence of those things themselves — who can experience them and be fully satisfied with natural explanations?

Of course, the person who commits to naturalism must be. They must deny that anything ever happens which is empirically inexplicable. For them, there can be no fairies, no dragons, no destiny or fate. Love and beauty, while still special, are merely internal experiences. There is no breathing room for the supernatural.

While I might end up at such a position, I am not ready to close the door to the supernatural yet.

Questions: A) What natural explanations exist for the experiences of beauty and love? (Those I gave are perhaps weak and unrefined.) B) Did I get the naturalist’s position wrong: is there in fact room for mystery for him? C) If there is no transcendent reality, if this visible universe is all there is, then are our existences somehow poorer, diminished, less fulfilling than if there were supernatural forces acting unseen?

Greetings/The Church

Hi! As stated, I’m using this blog to help me refine my thoughts on faith and life as a skeptic in seminary. Comments are encouraged – in fact, I believe hearing the thoughts of others is the only way I will grow and learn to think better.

I don’t mean to bash religion or religious belief in this blog. I grew up in the Church and many of my closest friends and role models call themselves Christians (generally Protestants). Furthermore, I would like to call myself a Christian again; only, I want to do so for the right reasons.

These things said, I thought I would kick off the blog with a critique of the Church. This is it:

I see now that the Church is what the Pharisees were in Jesus’ day: merely a purported broker of power over life and death. It uses fear – the fear of eternal torment – to make converts and it uses fear to keep them. It exists as a means to wield power over others, dissidents or the disenfranchised, and its chief activity is judging others. It’s little more than a giant party of whistle-blowers, but it’s worse. It is ridden with hypocrisy: its sexual repression has led to sexual obsessions and the widespread pursuit of non-consensual and perverted sex, with adults and minors. And it breeds hate and death. It is guilty of killings and hatred and terror just like the other religious groups of the world.

Surely the Church does good things as well, and Christians are aware of its problems. Augustine said though the Church was his mother it was also a whore (paraphrase). It could be said Jesus came to denounce many of these practices and his words continue to denounce them. If it is true that the “founder” of Christianity preached against these problems and Christians own up to them, “whenceforth cometh evil”?

Few would deny that people are flawed, but I wonder if the problems are rooted in the religion itself: deep-seated desires for judgment and distinction from “others”, desires for control. Freud might have categorized these desires with the desire for immortality when he posited that religion served as a transcendent “wish-fulfillment”.

My questions: A) Since the Church commits as much evil as it does, are its claims about God valid? B) Other than the fundamental flaws mentioned immediately above, what viable alternatives can explain the evils of the Church? C) What alternatives do humans have for pursuing moral lives outside of Christian teaching (or outside of other appeals to divinely-authoritative commands)?

Thanks for reading. Please speak to my questions (and blog in general)!