Thursday, February 25, 2010
YIMC Book Club, “Mere Christianity,” Week 6
I've really been enjoying what CS Lewis has been writing thus far. Oh sure, in the early going, the book was pretty weak tea. But since week #2, Jack has been hitting on all cylinders. As a recent convert to Catholicism from the nondenominational Protestant side of the house, I'm enjoying everything he is writing here. For the most part, none of it is controversial to me. Jack hasn't swerved on the icy roads of the opinions of the modern age. His doctrinal traction-control is in the “on” position.
Some of you reading along with us are probably in the same camp with me. Others may have dropped by the wayside with Jack because what he is writing may be painful to read. Instead of wincing, keep in mind these words St. Paul writes to his young protegé Timothy (2 Timothy 4:1-4),
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingly power: proclaim the word; be persistent whether it is convenient or inconvenient; convince, reprimand, encourage through all patience and teaching. For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths.
For as Jack wrote earlier, we are living behind enemy lines. Which is why being a Christian is hard. Recently my pastor was welcoming the current class of Catechumens and Candidates, and as he and the congregation welcomed them he also warned them that as Catholic Christians, they had chosen a hard way. Jack expounds on that tough road this week as he writes about the theological virtues of Charity, Hope, and Faith. Just some quickie thoughts from me and quotes from Jack this week and then on to the discussion in the comments box. And Chapter 1 of Book 4 will be discussed next week. How does that sound?
Chapter 9, Charity
Jack quickly lets us know that this word means love, and not the modern idea of alms giving. St. Paul reminds us that the greatest of the virtues is charity. Because without love, everything else is naught. See St. Paul again in his letter to the Corinthians. Jack reminds us that love in the Christian sense isn't a sentimental emotion. Do not confuse eros or romantic love with caritas or brotherly love. And remember that sticky wicket of loving our neighbor? Yeah, that slam-dunk of easy Christian living? Jack reminds us,
Do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.
Stop theorizing about it. Need help? I know I do, and later Jack shows us where to find the strength. For now he shows a few examples of charity, that resonated with me. First this,
The worldly man treats certain people kindly because he "likes" them: the Christian, trying to treat every one kindly, finds himself liking more and more people as he goes on-including people he could not even have imagined himself liking at the beginning.
You know, this has been my experience since I have become a Catholic. It has been an amazing grace to me actually. Think of the unlikely pairing of Webster Bull, lapsed peacenick, and myself, the uber-Marine. Who would have thought it possible? Even St. Paul was losing friends because of the faith, but he gained them as well. See his letter to Timothy again for an example,
Try to join me soon,for Demas, enamored of the present world, deserted me and went to Thessalonica, Crescens to Galatia,and Titus to Dalmatia. Luke is the only one with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is helpful to me in the ministry. I have sent Tychicus to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak I left with Carpus in Troas, the papyrus rolls, and especially the parchments. Alexander the coppersmith did me a great deal of harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. You too be on guard against him, for he has strongly resisted our preaching. At my first defense no one appeared on my behalf, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them!
So much for Easy Street. But note how St. Paul still hopes that those who deserted him will be saved. That is Christian love for you. Next, my inner finance guy enjoyed this quote,
Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of.
Well said, Jack! On to the next chapter.
Chapter 10, Hope
A good discussion of how Christians are called to serve in the world today. Naysayers may suggest that Christians are shallow thinkers who leave it all to God. Jack attempts to enlighten them, but the same ridiculous ideas are always in play and, frankly, always have been. Jack notes,
If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.
There was a short time when Christians did sort of throw up their hands and leave it all to God. We’ll see the effects of that in our next YIMC Book Club selection, The Great Heresies by Hillaire Belloc. Jack really hammers on this later, in Chapter 12. Suffice it to say now that much good has come from Christians working in the world while being faithful as well.
Jack then gives us an idea of the three ways to make sense of the world,
1. The Fool’s Way
2. The Disillusioned Sensible Man
3. The Christian Man—The Christian says, “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
This brings to mind the behind enemy lines analogy and the characterization of the life of a Christian as The Sojourner—our existence as aliens, scattered among unbelievers, far from our true country.
Jack counsels a very British stiff upper lip regarding our reputation in this world,
There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of "Heaven" ridiculous by saying they do not want "to spend eternity playing harps." The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them.
Imagine if you will, present-day skeptic celebrity Bill Maher attempting to have a match on these points with Jack Lewis. Jack by a knock-out. Which is why Bill Maher didn’t interview anyone with any real substance in his anti-religion movie Religulous. Let’s move on to the back-to-back chapters on faith that close out this week’s readings.
Chapter 11, Faith
In fact, I was assuming that the human mind is completely ruled by reason. But that is not so. Yeah, we’re humans Jack, not Vulcans. Sheesh! Jack talks about two kinds of faith and how faith as a bedrock foundation is rational but still difficult. Which reminds me of the idea that often we focus on the noise while ignoring the signal which I wrote about here. He goes on to remind us of this,
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...Consequently one must train the habit of Faith...That is why daily prayers and religious reading and church going are necessary parts of the Christian life.
Sounds like as good a reason as any to consider your spiritual reading and prayer routines. Sort of like Marines and the daily seven, which may have morphed into the daily dozen nowadays. Routine physical exercises that can be done daily in 15 minutes or so, you know, to keep the body in shape. Which takes a measure of willpower to practice. And then this,
You may remember I said that the first step towards humility was to realise that one is proud. I want to add now that the next step is to make some serious attempt to practise the Christian virtues. A week is not enough. No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is.
Jack than crashes fantasyland by proclaiming that in the history of mankind, Christ was the the only complete realist. As we come to realize that this road is tough, we also realize that we owe everything, absolutely everything to God.
If you devoted every moment of your whole life exclusively to His service you could not give Him anything that was not in a sense His own already...When a man has made these two discoveries God can really get to work. It is after this that real life begins. The man is awake now. We can now go on to talk of Faith in the second sense.
Chapter 12, Faith
I get the impression that Jack considered this second chapter on faith as optional. Because unless you've walked this path for a while, you may not understand the descriptions of this chapter’s account on the higher sense of faith. I’ll let Jack explain through these passages,
I said that the question of Faith in this sense arises after a man has tried his level best to practise the Christian virtues, and found that he fails, and seen that even if he could he would only be giving back to God what was already God's own. In other words, he discovers his bankruptcy... When I say "discovered," I mean really discovered: not simply said it parrot-fashion.
All this trying leads up to the vital moment at which you turn to God and say, "You must do this. I can't." It is the change from being confident about our own efforts to the state in which we despair of doing anything for ourselves and leave it to God.
I know the words "leave it to God" can be misunderstood, but they must stay for the moment. The sense in which a Christian leaves it to God is that he puts all his trust in Christ: trusts that Christ will somehow share with him the perfect human obedience which He carried out from His birth to His crucifixion: that Christ will make the man more like Himself and, in a sense, make good his deficiencies. In Christian language, He will share His "sonship" with us, will make us, like Himself, "Sons of God": in Book IV I shall attempt to analyse the meaning of those words a little further. If you like to put it that way, Christ offers something for nothing: He even offers everything for nothing. In a sense, the whole Christian life consists in accepting that very remarkable offer.
To trust Him means, of course, trying to do all that He says... But trying in a new way, a less worried way...Not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of Heaven is already inside you.
This idea is one that many who criticize Christianity yesterday, today, and most likely tomorrow fail to understand. That Christians behave out of love for God instead of just out of fear of damnation does not seem to have been considered by them. I have several friends who think this way. Perhaps they haven't checked their moral balance sheets as closely as Jack and I have. And this is a conundrum,
I think all Christians would agree with me if I said that though Christianity seems at first to be all about morality, all about duties and rules and guilt and virtue, yet it leads you on, out of all that, into something beyond. One has a glimpse of a country where they do not talk of those things, except perhaps as a joke. Every one there is filled full with what we should call goodness as a mirror is filled with light But they do not call it goodness. They do not call it anything. They are not thinking of it. They are too busy looking at the source from which it comes.
And that’s all I have. I'll meet you at the banquet table and the comment box for discussion on how this week’s chapters spoke to you. I think I'll have some chardonnay, too.
Next week we'll begin Book 4 with chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. I know I said we would read chapter 1 this week, but I changed my mind!