Christianity is realistic because it says that if there is no truth, there is also no hope.
Probably the best way to describe this concept of modern theology is to say that it is faith in faith, rather than faith directed to an object which is actually there. Modern man cannot talk about the object of his faith, only about the faith itself. So he can discuss the existence of his faith and its “size” as it exists against all reason, but that is all. Modern man’s faith turns inward. In Christianity the value of faith depends upon the object towards which the faith is directed. So it looks outward to the God who is there, and to the Christ who in history did upon the cross once for all, finished the work of atonement, and on the third day rose again in space and in time. This makes Christian faith open to discussion and verification.
Defense is proper and necessary because in every age historic Christianity will be under attack. Defense does not mean being on the defensive. One must not be embarrassed about the use of the word defense. The proponents of any position who are alive to their own generation must give a sufficient answer for it when questions are raised about it. Thus, the word defense is not used here in a negative sense, because in any conversation, in any communication which is really dialogue, answers must be given to objections raised. Such answers are necessary in the first place for myself as a Christian if I am going to maintain my intellectual integrity, and if I am to keep united my personal, devotional and intellectual life.
“I do not ask for answers, I just believe.” This sounds spiritual, and it deceives many fine people. These are often young men and women who are not content only to repeat the phrases of the intellectual or spiritual status quo. They have become rightly dissatisfied with a dull, dusty, introverted orthodoxy given only to pounding out the well-known clichés. The new theology sound spiritual and vibrant, and they are trapped. But the price they pay for what seems to be spiritual is high, for to operate in the upper story using undefined religious terms is to fail to know and function on the level of the whole man. The answer is not to ask these people to return to the poorness of the status quo, but to a living orthodoxy which is concerned with the whole man, including the rational and the intellectual, in his relationship to God.
A man like Sir Julian Huxley has clarified the dilemma by acknowledging, though he is an atheist, that somehow or other, against all that one might expect, man functions better if he acts as though God is there. This sounds like a feasible solution for a moment, the kind of answer a computer might give if you fed the sociological data into it. God is dead, but act as if he were alive. However, a moment’s reflection will show what a terrible solution this is. Ibsen, the Norwegian, put it like this: if you take away a man’s lie, you take away his hope. These thinkers are saying in effect that man can function as man for an extended period of time only if he acts on the assumption that a lie (that the personal God of Christianity is there) is true. You cannot find any deeper despair than this for a sensitive person. This is not an optimistic, happy, reasonable or brilliant answer. It is darkness and death.
[P]eople in our culture in general are already in the process of being accustomed to accept nondefined, contentless religious words and symbols, without any rational or historical control. Such words and symbols can be filled with the content of the moment. The words Jesus and Christ are the most ready for the manipulator. The phrase Jesus Christ has become a contentless banner which can be carried in any direction for sociological purposes. In other words, because the phrase Jesus Christ has been separated from true history and the content of Scripture, it can be used to trigger religiously motivated sociological actions directly contrary to the teaching of Christ.
Where was the conviction that to wage war against inequality is the church’s responsibility and not a political ideology? Where were those farsighted believers who could offer a voice of reason and hope to the task? Where was the manpower and funding to carry out this visible love of Christ? Why do we always settle for hindsight instead of foresight, reproducing instead of originating, getting on the bandwagon instead of leading the charge? Because a spirit of anti-intellectualism keeps us uninformed we can only attack and not contribute.
What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the Church? What between heretics and Christians? Our instruction comes from the porch of Solomon who himself taught that the Lord should be sought in simplicity of heart. Away with all attempts to produce a mottled Christianity of Stoic, Platonic and dialectic composition! We want no curious disputation after possessing Christ Jesus, no inquisition after enjoying the Gospel! With our faith, we desire no further belief. For this is our palmary faith, that there is nothing which we ought to believe besides.
Selected from sermons delivered by C. S. Lewis during World War II, these nine addresses show the beloved author and theologian bringing hope and courage in a time of great doubt. “The Weight of Glory,” considered by many to be Lewis’ finest sermon of all, is an incomparable explication of virtue, goodness, desire, and glory. Also included are “Transposition,” “On Forgiveness,” “Why I Am Not a Pacifist,” and “Learning in War-Time,” in which Lewis presents his compassionate vision of Christianity in language that is both lucid and compelling.
My Dear Fellow Clergymen: While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely.” Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.
You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court’s decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”
The Christian message exploded into this scene as an outrage to rationalism. It restored the I-Thou relation to the very center of everything. It proclaimed that a man put to death a few years before in a remote provincial capital was the Son of Almighty God ruling the universe, and he, this man, had atoned by his death for the sins of mankind. It taught that it was the Christian’s duty to believe in this epochal event and to be totally absorbed by its implications. Faith, faith that mocks reason, faith that scornfully declares itself to be mere foolishness in the face of Greek rationalism — this is what Paul enjoined on his audiences. ¶ The picture is well known. But you may ask where I see any trace here of a new Christian, medieval rationalism striving to reconcile faith with reason. It emerged later as the Christian message spread among an intelligentsia steeped in Greek philosophy. It was formulated by Augustine in terms that became statutory for a thousand years after. Reason was declared by him ancillary to faith, supporting it up to the point where revelation took over, after which in its turn faith opened up new paths to reason… the entire movement of scholastic philosophy from Boethius to William of Ockham was but a variation on this theme. ¶ Ockham brought scholasticism to a close by declaring that faith and reason were incompatible and should be kept strictly separate. Thus he ushered in the period of modern rationalism, which, too, accepts this separation, but with the new proviso that reason alone can establish true knowledge. Henceforth, as John Locke was soon to put it, faith was no longer to be respected as a source of higher light, revealing knowledge that lies beyond the range of observation and reason, but was to be regarded merely as a personal acceptance which falls short of rational demonstrability. The mutual position of the two Augustinian levels of truth was inverted.
The politician is trained in the art of inexactitude. His words tend to be blunt or rounded, because if they have a cutting edge they may later return to wound him.
Here once more was a responsible adult (and not a Christian) who believed in a world behind, or around, the material world. I must do myself the justice of saying that I did not give my assent categorically. But a drop of disturbing doubt fell into my Materialism. It was merely a "Perhaps." Perhaps (oh joy!) there was, after all, "something else"; and (oh reassurance!) perhaps it had nothing to do with Christian Theology. And as soon as I paused on that "Perhaps", inevitably all the old Occultist lore, and all the old excitement which the Matron of Chartres had innocently aroused in me, rose out of the past.
With the irreligious I was no longer concerned; their view of life was henceforth out of court. As against them, the whole mass of those who have worshiped — all who had danced and sung and sacrificed and trembled and adored — were clearly right. But the intellect and conscience, as well as the orgy and the ritual, must be our guide. There could be no question of going back to primitive, untheologized and unmoralized, Paganism. The God whom I had at last acknowledged was one, and was righteous. Paganism had been only the childhood of religion, or only a prophetic dream. Where was the thing full grown? or where was the awakening?
The two hemispheres of my mind were in the sharpest contrast. On the one side a many-sided sea of poetry and myth; on the other a glib and shallow “rationalism.” Nearly all that I loved I believed to be imaginary; nearly all that I believed to be real I thought grim and meaningless. The exception were certain people (whom I loved and believed to be real) and nature herself. That is, nature as she appeared to the senses. I chewed endlessly on the problem: “How can it be so beautiful and also so cruel, wasteful and futile?”… I was so far from wishful thinking that I hardly thought anything true unless it contradicted my wishes.
No word in my vocabulary expressed deeper hatred than the word Interference. But Christianity placed at the center what then seemed to me a sort of transcendental Interferer. If its picture were true then no sort of “treaty with reality” could ever be possible. There was no region even in the innermost depth of one’s soul (nay, there least of all) which one could surround with a barbed wire fence and guard with a notice No Admittance. And that was what I wanted; some area, however small, of which I could say to all other beings, “This is my business and mine only.”
It is impossible to use electrical light and the wireless and to avail ourselves of modern medical and surgical discoveries, and at the same time to believe in the New Testament world of spirits and miracles.
Again, everyone who doubts knows that he is doubting, so that he is certain of this truth at least, namely the fact that he doubts. Thus every one who doubts whether there is such a thing as truth, knows at least one truth, so that his very capacity to doubt should convince him that there is such a thing as truth.
I can promise you none of these things. No atmosphere of inquiry, for I will bring you to the land not of questions but of answers, and you shall see the face of God. “Ah, but we must all interpret those beautiful words in our own way! For me there is no such thing as a final answer. The free wind of inquiry must always continue to blow through the mind, must it not? Prove all things, to travel hopeful is better than to arrive.” If that were true, and known to be true, how could anyone travel hopefully? There would be nothing to hope for. “But you must feel yourself that there is something stifling about the idea of finality? Stagnation, my dear boy, what is more soul-destroying than stagnation?” You think that, because hitherto you have experienced truth only with the abstract intellect. I will bring you where you can taste it like honey and be embraced by it as by a bridegroom. Your thirst shall be quenched.
You have gone far wrong. Thirst was made for water, inquiry for truth. What you now call the free play of inquiry has neither more nor less to do with the ends for which intelligence was given you than masturbation has to do with marriage.
I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of the evidence is against it. That is not the point at which Faith comes in. But supposing a man’s reason once decides that the weight of the evidence is for it. I can tell that man what is going to happen to him in the next few weeks. There will come a moment when there is bad news, or he is in trouble, or is living among a lot of other people who do not believe it, and all at once his emotions will rise up and carry out a sort of blitz on his belief… Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable.