The Eagle and Child: S1E8 – “The Rival Conceptions Of God”
With Book I of “Mere Christianity” complete, we now move on to Book II! Having concluded that the Moral Law points to God, C.S. Lewis now examines the “Rival Conceptions of God”.
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Episode 8: “Rival Conceptions of God” (Download)
— Show Notes —
• Jack begins the chapter by dividing the population into theists, who believe in some kind of God (or gods), and atheists.
• For the majority of human history, people have believed in God or gods. Even today, although there is an increasing number of people who do not profess a particular religion, still most people believe in the supernatural. While this isn’t proof that God exists, it should hopefully give one pause for thought before entirely rejecting theism.
• In our discussion, Matt referenced a passage from C.S. Lewis where he wrote that an atheist can’t be too careful about what he reads. I said I thought this was from the Screwtape Letters. While in Chapter 1 of that book Uncle Screwtape certainly talks about restricting a person’s reading, after further thought, I think Matt was actually thinking of this line from Surprised by Joy: “A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading”.
• The document Nostra Aetate from the Second Vatican Council speaks about the relationship between Catholicism and other world religions:
“The Catholic Church rejects nothing that is true and holy in these religions. She regards with sincere reverence those ways of conduct and of life, those precepts and teachings which, though differing in many aspects from the ones she holds and sets forth, nonetheless often reflect a ray of that Truth which enlightens all men…”
– Nostra Aetate, Paragraph #2
Christianity can take the more liberal view, recognizing elements of truth in other religions, whereas atheism must hold that they are all essentially wrong. Atheism makes the bold claim that the vast majority of people who have ever lived have been wrong on this fundamental question of reality.
• Despite being able to recognize truth in other religions, Christianity does, however, still make absolute truth claims:
“…Indeed, she [the Church] proclaims, and ever must proclaim Christ “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6), in whom men may find the fullness of religious life, in whom God has reconciled all things to Himself”
– Nostra Aetate, Paragraph #2
• Matt tells the story about evangelization and the magician Penn Jillette. You can listen to the story in Penn’s own words in a video he recorded. In a talk I give on evangelization, I quote Penn regarding Christians who don’t evangelize: “How much do you have to hate somebody to not proselytize? How much do you have to hate someone to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”
• Jack then subdivides the theists into the pantheists and the non-pantheists.
Pantheists believe that God is beyond good and evil. They therefore can also hold to the idea that the universe basically is God. Among those who are pantheists, Jack identifies Hindus and Georg Hagel, the Prussian idealistic philosopher.
In contrast, non-pantheists, recognizing that much of the world has gone wrong, cannot identify it as “part of God”. Chief among the non-pantheists are the Jews, Christians and Muslims (which he identifies using the old-fashioned and rather politically-incorrect word, “Mohammedans”).
• Matt mentions Gnosticism, which is the belief that while the spirit is good, the world of matter is intrinsically evil.
• We briefly discuss the idea that the purpose of Christianity is not simply to turn us into nice people. Jack will address this issue directly in Book IV.
• We ended with a discussion of “The Problem of Evil”. Matt refers to Lewis’ book The Problem of Pain and says that the problem of evil presupposes God. I mentioned the book Stealing from God by Frank Turek.
• Lewis sums up the main problem with his former argument for atheism:
“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line…
…I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too- for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist-in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless – I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality – namely my idea of justice – was full of sense.
Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.”
• I referred to a story about the grandmother of Trent Horn’s wife, who fortuitously missed her opportunity to travel on The Titanic. After the show, I double-checked the details of this story and discovered that she didn’t miss the boat due to sickness, but because her mother wouldn’t give her permission to go. The point of the story, however, still stands. We are rarely in a good position to be able to see the good which can come out of suffering and be able to see the ripple effects through time.