C. S. Lewis, "Man or Rabbit?" an Essay from God in the Dock

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Christian philosopher Victor Reppert, admires Lewis's essay, "Man or Rabbit," and it was recently cited at his blog here and here. I read that essay ages ago along with all the rest in God in the Dock. But I wonder what Vic really thinks about the following paragraph from Lewis's essay:

"Honest rejection of Christ, however mistaken, will be forgiven and healed—'Whosoever shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him.' But to evade the Son of Man, to look the other way, to pretend you haven’t noticed, to become suddenly absorbed in something on the other side of the street, to leave the receiver off the telephone because it might be He who was ringing up, to leave unopened certain letters in a strange handwriting because they might be from Him—this is a different matter. You may not be certain yet whether you ought to be a Christian; but you do know you ought to be a Man, not an ostrich, hiding its head in the sand."

Exactly how am I to take the above paragraph except as an altar call?
I say this because in my own journey I sought what I could know about Jesus, I did not ignore the question, because I was at the time a true believer, baptized Catholic, converted and born again Protestant, experienced the charismatic baptism of the holy spirit, read Lewis and Calvin, and hence I could not simply ignore everything I'd been taught about Jesus from birth and my initial reaction to the Gospels as moving literature, nor ignore the arguments I'd imbibed from Christian apologetic books. So I sought to learn about the "Son of Man," and found out to my great chagrin that my beliefs concerning a great number of Christian dogmas and beliefs grew less certain after long study.

So I do not fit Lewis's description of someone "ignoring" the "Son of Man" question. Far from it. But I understand of course from Lewis's perspective of being a convert, that he would write rhetorically in the manner that he does, rather than as I do, about Christianity.

As for those whom Lewis calls "ostriches" for refusing to get involved in the whole deal, and skirting the issue on the other side of the street, I think there's some wisdom in those who choose to skirt the issue, especially when Lewis is cry out at you from the other side of his essay, calling you an ostrich, even implying that you are a damned ostrich and God is sending you letters you are refusing to read.

Maybe Lewis was just peeved at rising rates of biblical illiteracy?

And what exactly is wrong with believing that God wouldn't eternally condemn someone honestly in error? Lewis presupposes the opposite, that God WILL condemn people for not taking HIS [Lewis's and God's] religion seriously enough. Well then, I'd say to Lewis, prove it, prove the Bible is true when it speaks about God, his nature, his commands, his actions, and heaven and hell, salvation, damnation, soteriology, prophecy, et al. I doubt that Lewis has ever proven such a thing or that any Christian apologist has. That's my non-ostrich-like stance. Of course Lewis appreciates people like me moreso than biblical illiterates trying to avoid his favorite holy book entirely, and who believe if there's a God, they find it tough to imagine him not being able to forgive people if their beliefs are wrong. Such ostriches actually imagine that God if He exists might react as any sane normal person wishing to get along with his neighbor would today.

I say, again contra Lewis, that there is something to be said for the much maligned ostrich, keeping its head down when hot headed people shout in essays that there holy book and their "Son of Man" shall damn anyone with enough sense to try and stay out of some of the world's perpetual quarrels, namely over God and holy books, that continue even among the most highly educated religionists, historians, apostates and converts. Heavens!

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

As someone who has never been a religious believer, I feel rather sorry for you, in that although you have been able to escape to a large degree, you are still clearly bothered by all that mass of religious guilt-thought sloshing about in the bilges of your brain.

I don't see myself as an ostrich hiding away from religion, but as someone standing upright and facing the world as it is, while others walk round with their heads bowed in fear or covered with paper bags to keep out reality.

That's enough metaphors for me for one day!

Victor Reppert said...

I think you have misunderstood Lewis. The point is a fairly simple one. Lewis's passage is not addressed to someone like yourself who has considered the claims of Christianity and considers them not to be true. It is addressed to people who show refuse to pose the question of whether Christianity is true or not, but instead are trying to figure out if they can live a good life without being a Christian. My posting a link to this essay was a follow-up to the previous post, in which I argued that a Christian apologist like Lewis or myself and an atheist like Parsons or Loftus has a great deal in common with one another, in that they both believe that Christianity can be true or false, both believe that the subject matter is important, and both believe that it's a subject about which arguments are relevant and can help us discover the truth. This strikes me as very interesting common ground between the believer and the unbeliever which often gets overlooked with the two sides go at it hammer and tongs about that what they disagree about. Parsons and I would agree that a postmodernist who thinks we can just avoid the question of what is true and only ask what "works for me" is refusing to face reality.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Vic,
We'd have to discuss what exactly you mean when you claim that atheists and Christians agree "the subject matter [of Christianity] is important." Exactly what "subject matter" are you talking about? I don't suppose you are speaking about Christian dogmas, but more like questions of historicity which Lewis himself spent relatively little time studying or discussing in his works. (Who exactly is the "ostrich" in that case?)

Secondly, you mention postmodernists who "avoid the question of what is true and only ask what 'works for me.'" I don't think you are saying all that you think are saying, and proving even less via such a statement, because there is a little postmodernist and pragmatist ('what works') in all of us, believers and non-believers alike.

There are probably just as many Christians whose Christianity seems to be of the "works for me" kind, as there are dreaded "postmodernists." I think Lewis was himself a "works for me" kind of guy, judging by the superificality of his engagement with the historical approach to Biblical studies.

And on the good side, finding out "what works" is often acknowledged as a means for deciphering what is true, especially in the realm of experimental science.

Lastly, Vic, I would like to remind you that you have gone so far as to acknowledge that an atheist's life can have meaning, and also that many atheists and theists share a love of truth.

Since you are at that point, I don't see what may hinder you from eventually acknowledging that people are people, not "saved" or "damned," but people all round.

And it seems to me that people tend to seek what's true about themselves and their lives and interactions with others, via pragmatism, via daily experiments, both conscious and unconscious input, via exploring their own lives and experiences and considering and reconsidering everything they have read or been taught in their lives. I suspect a large part of the process of seeking truth, including what works, even takes place when you sleep, or inside the unconscious portion of your brain each waking day.

I suspect that one thing atheists and Christians share most is their love of intellectual engagement and their disdain for a world of mere barbarism. The philosophers and Christians of the ancient Hellenistic world also agreed in that respect.

Lastly, fanatics/fundamentalists appear to me to be a form of barbarism as well, that both you and I disdain. Fanaticism/fundamentalism is yet another form of decadence.

Somewhere in the middle between mere barbarism on the left and fanatical fundamentalisms on the right is where I think most thinking people lay, along with the best chances of future human progress.

Anonymous said...

I would have to agree that Christianity can be true or false just as anything else can be true or false, and that there is no neutrality anywhere.

Atheism is a belief system in itself. As defined by the Oxford English Dictionary it is a belief that there is no God, and naturalism is also a belief, a belief that the natural world is everything there is to consider. The presentation by for example Richard Dawkins of a war between science and religion is false. There are theistic scientists now, and until a hundred years ago or so, scientists were believers in God, and this is what led them to think that they could discover laws within the universe which would apply and hold wherever they were tested.

I would also point out that the picture of Christianity being presented here so far is quite particular and it is not true to all of Christianity, which follows one gospel but which is very multi faceted in doing so.

The eastern tradition of Christianity for example does not require anyone to subscribe to a western Augustinian notion of original sin, or for people to be divided into 'the saved or the damned', as this polemic has so far presented it.

Of course that will be the experience of some yes, but within the Christian tradtion there is also an understaning of the process (rather than the event) of our growth into truth and love and reality, which is not at all like the Christian experience so far presented.

Finally, I don't speak for Lewis here, but there is plenty of solid historicity in Christianity - but again, it will no doubt depend on what particular approach to Christianity we are talking about. It is not all historical by any means. I know Lewis said that he saw the Bible as the weaving of history and legend - see his book 'Miracles' for more on this - and that truth did not depend on literalism. This has also been the view of some Christians going all the way back to the first Church fathers.

Skeptical of Atheists said...

Whats the problem. Jesus clearly says that anyone who speaks against the son of man will be forgiven.

Even you Loftus.

That seems to piss you off. Probably, you are getting too much emotional satisfaction from hating Christ and the idea of him forgiving you is eating you up.

Ashley said...

A brief note on what an ostrich (in Lewis' usage) is, and whether or not there is wisdom in being one:

One acts like an ostrich when one is ignoring something true and good in favor of the easy and immediately pleasing.

Lewis claims that those who ignore Christ when they should 'know better' are acting like ostriches out of something like intellectual sloth. (He makes this metaphor for the purpose of contrasting the ostriches with people who truly care about learning what this universe is all about and so take on the question of God, but come up with a solidly atheistic perspective anyway.)

If we were to fit his symbol into an atheist paradigm, we would consider the person to be an ostrich who has all the tools, education, and intelligence to perceive an atheistic universe, but despite 'knowing better' choses to join a church anyway for some such reason as his 'girlfriend wanted him to do so', or they have 'really great luncheons'.

Lewis takes issue with the dismissive attitude, the lack of intellectual rigor, not with the conclusions which people come to. (And he makes the same claim about Jesus. )

Given this, can you still think that there's any wisdom in having that attitude? Is it really any wiser to be an atheist if you have no idea nor any care why atheism might be more true than any theism?

Good luck to you all in your searching.

zilch said...

Ashley- I too am all for intellectual rigor, and not being dismissive, but religion is a special case.

In the first place, atheism is the default position: absense of belief in supernatural beings is simpler. Unless one has evidence that such beings exist, one should assume they don't, for the same reason we assume no teapots orbiting between Mars and Jupiter. PZ Myers put it well in The Courtier's Reply: why should we study the style and cut of the Emperor's clothes, when he has none?

In the second place, where do we start, and where do we end, our consideration of religions? There are a whole slew of them, and they can't all be true. If you say one must examine Christianity, then one should also examine Judaism, Islam, and Cargo Cults, and untold thousands more. After all, how can we know which one is right, if we haven't deeply studied all of them?

One last note- ostriches don't stick their heads in the sand. Pliny was wrong about that too. Perhaps Lewis knew this, but in any case, it's revealing that he used an old myth to make a point. Sounds like apologetics to me...