Saturday, January 30, 2021

C.S. Lewis and the Joy of Science

I found this as I was rummaging through some older computer files--some thoughts on C.S. Lewis and Joy (the experience, not his wife). I think it's still relevant because, if anything, I see scientific materialism or naturalism (all that exists is the material world) is on the rise.

As Lewis commented himself in Surprised by Joy

“The key to my books is Donne’s maxim, 'The heresies that men leave are hated most.' The things I assert most vigorously are those I resisted long and accepted late.” 

The “heresy” that he left was materialism, or Oxford Realism, for idealism. And then eventually, he turned particularly to Christian faith.

This leads to a famous argument: Human beings seek something that this world cannot satisfy, which points to a God beyond this world. This argument appears in The Problem of Pain and in “The Weight of Glory.” 


What is he saying? Is he arguing that this sense of transcendence—or better, this desire for it, which Lewis calls “Joy”—proves God? 

No, at least not as a deductive proof. Instead Lewis is making a suppositional argument here: We do not fully understand the desire for something beyond (or Joy) itself, but it opens to a wider metaphysical conclusion, one that points to God who created us. 

Or more systematically, the form of this suppositional argument from desire proceeds as follows: Suppose God created this world, we can imagine that God would leave a desire for more than this world offers. We experience a longing for more than this world offers. It is reasonable to see this as pointer to God.
Lewis’s argument from Joy or desire brings to mind the question of whether many of Albert Einstein’s words about “God” were really about, well, God, such as when he commented

“Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the Universe—a Spirit vastly superior to that of man.” Albert Einstein

Richard Dawkins argues (not surprisingly as the arch-atheist) that this stuff in Einstein isn’t really about God, it’s about transcendence. In his Why Science Does Not Disprove God, the science writer and mathematician Amir D. Aczel, contends (as I understand him) that, no, this is really about the Deity, and in fact, believing in God is profoundly compatible with science. 

And my argument here is that Joy—in Lewis's sense—historically and philosophically, leads to science. I'll leave it there for now.

Friday, January 22, 2021

On Time and Beauty (Some Notes)

Beauty appears to be both temporal and timeless. Every human experience of beauty is in time, and yet, when we experience beauty, we seem to transcend, even to be removed, from time. To understand beauty, it seems to me that we need to figure out time.

I am continually drawn to Augustine’s profound reflections, which are often cited and for good reason, 

“What, then is time? There can be no quick and easy answer, for it is no simple matter even to understand what it is, let alone find words to explain it” (Confessions XI. 14).

What do science, philosophy, and theology say about time?            

The consensus view in physical sciences, following Albert Einstein, is that time and space are related, not independent aspects of reality (as in classical physics). One reason time cannot be entirely relative is what Hermann Minkowski identified as the “causality constraint,” that is to say, even within the relativity of time in an Einsteinian universe, observers in uniform motion find that causes occur before effects. More precisely, causes according to one observer are causes according to all other observers in uniform relative motion. In essence, causality is invariant, not relative.     

From a philosophical perspective, time can be understood (i.e., explained) as phenomenal, but not noumenal (Kant), or as the very structure of reality (Hegel, Whitehead). Similarly, beauty can be viewed as one of the atemporal Transcendentals (Thomas).      

Theological perspectives frequently explain and thus unfold time as a gift from God (Augustine), but are unsure about whether God’s eternity is atemporal (Thomas) or supratemporal (Barth, Russell). 

More personally, I’d like to see how time can be a component of human flourishing and a resource for the common good. 

This reminds me of a psychologist with a remarkable name, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. (For what it’s worth, I once heard someone comment that he prefers “Mike” and that his last name sounds something like “Chick-sent-me-high.”) 

In his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, my buddy Mike presented a key idea for grasping how we find our passion. In the state of the mind he named “flow,” we experience deep enjoyment, challenge matched by our skills, creativity, and a sense that time is moving in a different, and fuller, way. How can “flow”—or “optimal experience”—be described? He writes 

“‘Flow’ is the way people describe their state of mind when consciousness is harmoniously ordered, and they want to pursue whatever they are doing for its own sake.” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Put another way and drawing from Emanuele Ciancio (“Time Flow in the Natural World: A Theological Perspective”), the beauty of time might be summarize in the Greek New Testament word kairos, which means “opportunity,” or perhaps better, "the fullness of time."

Does human flourishing mean living a beautiful life regularly imbued with kairos

Monday, January 11, 2021

Intrinsic Religion

Being a pastor, or any kind of church leader for that matter, is a tough job (which I know from 18 years experience). And in light of the ongoing effects of COVID (emotional, physical, and otherwise), I've continued to ponder the future of the church in America. 

This has led me to consider the distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic religious life (or in more technical terms, "religiosity"). 

What has led me to this? I've been asked recently to find resources in preparation for a podcast interview on whether scientific research backs up the idea that faith in God (or religion, more generally) is good for us.

From what I'm learning it's about how we approach our faith, or in the literature, our "religion."

Extrinsic or intrinsic religion?

The first, intrinsic religiosity, you do because you want to, and the second, extrinsic religiosity, because you're trying to please others. (By the way, I think this is what a lot of people are getting at with the "spiritual, but not religious" moniker.)

For a bit more clarity, I'll quote the article "Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Religiosity" that I recently read:

"The intrinsically religious see religion as valuable unto itself.  Instead of religion serving another motivation, religion provides the master motivation.

The extrinsically religious go to church with another end in mind (although likely subconscious). It may be making that new business connection or finding a spouse.  Or it could be psychological security, solace or self-justification."

Some mighty powerful words from the God-Man

If this sounds like Jesus and the Pharisees in the Gospels, it should. 

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth." Matthew 23:27

Jesus is en fuego in this passage--he really undoes the "Jesus meek and mild" thing. This topic must have meant something to him. And so it should to us. (Because it's so good, you might want to read all of Matthew 23.)

Something for the church today

So far I've presented the conclusion from the research that we need to be together. But what do we do in light of the current pandemic?

At some point, we are going to emerge from COVID-19 protocols, and as I've argued before, we're not "going back to church" as a culture. That ship has sailed. 

And yet... We do know that, overall, religious life is good for us. I'd be happy to use Christian "spirituality," if that lands better, but just remember that it's the social connections, the "sociality," involved in our lives that makes church so potent for psychological and physical health.

So, we'd better figure out a way to keep the connections, but also grow in our vision for God.

A coda: notes on a way forward

My solution in brief: Outsource the teaching, insource the discussion and hang out. 

In other words, from the scientific research the most important contributions the church can offer is physical co-presence, i.e., being together in the same room. Yes, virtual community can give us something, but we are designed to be together. So, what if not worried less about the content we deliver and let other worldclass thought leaders do that via YouTube et al., while we create more intimate places for discussion? Or at least shoot for 50-50? 

Thursday, January 07, 2021

C.S. Lewis and "You Be You"

There's at least one contemporary expression that I don't fully understand. And honestly, I'm also pondering it in light of yesterday's riots and insurrection in our Capital and what was happening psychologically, both for President Trump and his virulent supporters. 

Was that distorted self-love, or is self-love always a distortion?

At any rate, here it is: "You be you." 

What exactly does this imperative mean?

A word from St. Clive

There are times like these when I wish C.S. Lewis were still with us. Because he grasped the inherent problem. If "you be you" is a form of self-love that implies "and don't give a *whiff* [substitute your word] about others," that indeed is a problem. 

It evokes the age old question of whether self-love is a Christian virtue. I, like St. Clive, have some doubts.

The twisted interpretations of "Love your neighbor as yourself"
For my part, "you be you" sounds a bit too much like what I hear smuggled under the banner of "Self Care" and the rank self-indulgence in America. It also causes Blaise Pascal always rings in my ear: To love yourself implies a level of dishonesty and self-deception because there's fairly icky stuff, some rats in the basement, when we peer into our own souls.

In interpreting "Love your neighbor as yourself," I've repeatedly heard "this means we have to love ourselves." But that's not Jesus's main point. There is no direct command for self-love. Instead, his emphasis is this: We know how we'd live to be loved. So, do the same for others. It's really just another form of the Golden Rule.

And yet, a caveat: I don't want to go too far. It is fine ultimately to love ourselves, but not to start there. And Lewis leads us in the proper order.

Back to CSL
For his part, and as I quoted in the last postC.S. Lewis knew the history the problem of self-love and arrived at an exquisitely concise solution. In "Two Ways of Self," he reminded us that, the Christian tradition, we are loved by God--and thus we can love ourselves
"To love his neighbor as himself, he may then be able to love himself as his neighbor; that is, with charity instead of partiality." C.S. Lewis

Or as he phrased it a bit more creatively in The Screwtape Letters, where the devil Screwtape is describing the aims of "the Enemy" (or God):

“The Enemy wants to bring the man to a state of mind in which he could design the best cathedral in the world, and know it to be the best, and rejoice in the fact, without being any more (or less) or otherwise glad at having done it than he would be if it had been done by another. The Enemy wants him, in the end, to be so free from any bias in his own favor that he can rejoice in his own talents as frankly and gratefully as in his neighbor's talents--or in a sunrise, an elephant, or a waterfall.” C.S. Lewis

Would about the scandalous behavior of our President and how it affected his mob? I think it's "you be you" and self-love gone wild. Would these insights help us today in undue the serious defects in American life? I think so. At least, one can hope. 

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Does God Want Us to Love Ourselves?

... a question I'm pondering and to which C.S. Lewis has one of the best responses (not a surprise)
“Now, the self can be regarded in two ways.  On the one hand, it is God’s creature, an occasion of love and rejoicing; now, indeed, hateful in condition, but to be pitied and healed.  On the other hand, it is that one self of all others which is called I and me, and which on that ground puts forward an irrational claim to preference. This claim is to be not only hated, but simply killed; ‘never’, as George Mac Donald says, ‘to be allowed a moment’s respite from eternal death’. The Christian must wage endless war against the clamour of the ego as ego; but he loves and approves selves as such, though not their sins. 
The very self-love which he has to reject is to him a specimen of how he ought to feel to all selves; and he may hope that when he has truly learned (which will hardly be in this life) to love his neighbor as himself, he may then be able to love himself as his neighbor; that is, with charity instead of partiality. The other kind of self-hatred, on the contrary, hates selves as such. It begins by accepting the special value of the particular self called methen, wounded in its pride to find that such a darling object should be so disappointing, it seeks revenge, first upon that self, then on all. Deeply egoistic, but now with an inverted egoism, it uses the revealing argument, ‘I don’t spare myself’—with the implication ‘then a fortiori I need not spare others’—and becomes like the centurion in Tacitus, ‘More relentless because he had endured.’ The wrong asceticism torments the self: the right kind kills the selfness. We must die daily: but it is better to love the self than to love nothing, and to pity the self than to pity no one.”