Thursday, April 12, 2007

Abstinence is Too Easy

"If you asked twenty good men today what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you had asked almost any of the great Christians of old, he would have replied, Love. You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more that philological importance. The negative idea of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point. I do not think this is the Christian virtue of Love. The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire. If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is not part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday by the sea. We are far too easily pleased."

~ Clive Staples Lewis, "The Weight of Glory"

7 comments:

Lois E. Lane said...

They just don't make 'em like C.S. any more! Good stuff ... thanks for sharing.

Marcus said...

I like the Nietzschean interpretation of this: Christians are tools, and it's stupid to put off pleasure in one's lifetime for the sake of some fairy-tale pleasure in the afterlife. Matt, you are a person of many facets. I never quite know exactly what your stance on things is. I don't at all like C. S. Lewis' apologetics, though, even beyond the asinine "lord, liar, lunatic" false dilemma he put forth.

mg said...

Marcus, I'm actually writing my "senior thesis" on the afterlife as motivator. Lewis had some interesting thoughts on that, pretty strongly against those who see their lives as nothing more than a ticket to Heaven and an avoidance of Hell. I tend to agree with him there.

What's your beef with "Lord, Liar, Lunatic?" Seems legitimate to me, he had to be one of those, yeah?

Marcus said...

It sounds compelling, but it falls apart. For instance: J of Nazareth could've been honestly mistaken. Maybe he really did think he was the savior, and the apostles did, and Mary Magdalene did. The term "lunatic" is melodramatic, or at least inappropriate, in that situation, as would be "liar." The fallacy of the argument is that it supposes that if Jesus asserts himself to be God, it must be true or false. It's also somewhat contradictory, in that it posits that if one calls himself God and he isn't he's crazy, but if he calls himself God and he is (as Jesus is supposed to have been) then he isn't crazy. Mightn't he have been not God and not crazy both?

mg said...

Possibly. But isn't that kind of the definition of a lunatic, someone who's convinced of a reality that's false?

To carry on publicly for three years being "mistaken" that He was God is a little like Hitler being mistaken that the Jews needed to be burned and tortured. If Jesus wasn't God, then both of these men were just wrong. You might say that Hitler's wrongness had a more dastardly effect on the world, but Christ openly made statements like "Anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me."

To make claims like that seems to require either the truth of them, or a level of self-deception that I would call "Nutso."

Marcus said...

The argument Lewis is making is pretty tidy: he's lord, liar, or lunatic; clearly he wasn't a liar or a lunatic; therefore he's lord, QED.

Here's a link to a website: http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/jim_perry/trilemma.html. It discusses the argument from a skeptic/secular/atheist/agnostic viewpoint. It includes some citations from Christian apologists agreeing with the author, and links to a Christian apologist reply.

About the quote. You're taking it for granted that Jesus said that, and meant the same as what we would read that in the year 2007 in English. If you believe that every word in the Bible, in the NIV, or the KJV, or whatever other translation, is true in some way or another, I guess we don't have anything more to say. I think I might have needlessly ruffled feathers here, maybe sought an argument, and for that I apologize. As clear as it is to you that Jesus is divine, it is clear to me that Christians are delusional.

mg said...

The link didn't work for me...

Don't worry about ruffled feathers, I like talking about this stuff. Yes, you can run the gamut of the "hermeneutic of suspicion" for the rest of your life concerning anything that anyone ever said. Consistency with what was written about Him beforehand as well as within His own words seems to lend credibility to the account of the Gospels.

It's also not like we, just in the past few years in English speaking countries, realized that this guy in the middle east had claimed to be God. There's been a pretty steady connection between then and now of people who've read and think the same thing, and they seem to have thought "God" meant "God."