Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Lewis: quiet - and atheism

C S Lewis writes that the way not to hear from God goes along these lines:

Avoid silence, avoid solitude, avoid any train of thought that leads off the beaten track. Concentrate on money, sex, status, health and (above all) on your own grievances. Keep the radio on. Live in a crowd. Use plenty of sedation. If you must read books, select them very carefully. But you’d be safer to stick to the papers. You’ll find the advertisements helpful; especially those with a sexy or a snobbish appeal.

From Christian Reflections, pages 168-9 (Eerdmans edition).

You’ll note that television isn’t mentioned here, but it’s possibly because it didn’t feature large on Lewis’ horizon. Nevertheless, it deserves a place – even a place of honour – in this list of great distractions.

I recently came across the Atheists/Atheism section on About.com by accident. The rather arrogant-looking guide to this site, Austin Cline, (I would regard him as arrogant-looking even if he wasn’t running this part of About.com), has an article – one of several – on C S Lewis, in which he asks if Lewis’ theological arguments are any good. At the end of his article, which is designed to show that Lewis wasn’t all he’s cracked up to be, and that he’s only popular with believers, not with anyone else, he says:


Even one of Lewis’ most sympathetic biographers, A.N. Wilson, writes that Lewis "has become in the quarter-century since he died something very like a saint in the minds of conservative-minded believers." At the same time, though, you won’t find professional theologians and sophisticated apologists citing C.S. Lewis or relying on his arguments in their own efforts.
Theology builds upon the insights and accomplishments of those who have come before, but Lewis doesn’t even appear to function as a minor plank in anyone’s platform. This combination of general popularity and professional dismissal is very curious — either the average believer knows something which the professionals have missed, or Lewis isn’t the apologist he is popularly believed to be.

That Cline could regard Wilson as a ‘sympathetic’ biographer is peculiar, since Wilson does all he can in his book to cut away the so-called hagiography, and to make Lewis ‘just’ a man.

Equally, Cline’s point that professional theologians and apologists don’t cite Lewis means nothing. Lewis never claimed to be a theologian; he wrote for the man in the street, trying to clarify theology and bring it into ordinary language. His task was never to produce theology, something he would have regarded as absurd, I suspect. Anyway, apologists don’t invent theology either. They aim to explain the theology that already exists.

It's interesting that all the articles I noted on Cline's section of About.com are defensive: arguments against what Christians say about atheists ('brights,' remember?). There's no atheism on its own, per se. Isn't this just a little curious?
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