Tag Archives: C.S. Lewis

Atheist Faith in Reason as a Relic from Theism…


believe_800My problems with modern atheism are completely different from what most atheists assume they are. I say that not only as a Christian, but my inner atheist completely agrees with that, and is often the most frustrated part of me when I’m reading the ‘new atheists’ for example.

I actually don’t have much problems with people accepting accepting the possibility of atheism (the belief in absence of God). But a negative belief in God is not at all the only thing most modern atheism is about. Most of it is more built on a foundation of  a positive belief in reason, logic and science, which are often given a likewise inerrancy as fundamentalist Christians gives to the bible.

And I wile already have a problem with an an absolute faith in human reason when looking from a Christian paradigm (I think modernists on all sides, from Christian fundamentalists to new atheists have way too much unsubstantiated faith in it), I must say that in a paradigm without Rational Creator an unspoken belief that human reason can come to infallible truths is completely out of place and utterly naive. I will explain later what I mean with that.

My other problem with atheism is the assumed materialist worldview that from my experience not that very plausible. I won’t be easily gaslighted into the idea that the supernatural world does not exist. (I do even think that the way in which the universe manifests itself in such an non-magical way to most modern Western is some sort of magical trick, but that’s another story.)
I won’t even go into the problem that reason and abstract thought are way too transcendent and immaterial for a consistent materialistic worldview now, that might be for another time.

To explain why I have a big problem with combining materialism (the idea that the matter that we can observe scientifically is all there is) and absolute rationalism, and think  such a combination completely untenable and tautological I have to put onDSC03152 my atheist hat and explain this more from the inside…

(I put on my atheist hat now, which is actually an orthodox Pastafarian colander..)

To start we assume that there is no Rational Creator God behind this world. I do explicitly mean a Rational Supreme Being here that is behind the universe/multiverse as Creator and Sustainer here, and lower gods, spirits or body thetans are completely irrelevant here.
So whatever the source of all this is what we see and know, there is no such thing as a Creator! This means that we humans are just a species of apes wandering around on a tiny rock planet circling around a yellow dwarf star. We evolved without any plan into what we are somehow in a universe that wasn’t made for us. All of our reason and logic, and everything based on them is this just a by-product of processes in which our forefathers adapted themselves to their environment in order to survive the law of the jungle.

If  those ideas sound completely counter-intuitive to you, as a believer for example, I still ask you to try to consider the paradigm that I’m proposing here for now and try for now to climb into it and see the consequences of it.  (This is always the best option when encountering another worldview btw.)

When it comes to trusting our human reason we clearly have 2 problems :

– There is no reason at all to trust that the universe itself is fashioned in such a way can be reasonably understood by any rational being.
– Neither is there any reason to trust that the reason of our evolved brains has any way of accurately describing the world we live in, even if the universe would by some magic -otherwise than the will of a Rational Creator- be rational and intelligible to an actual rational being.

So once we let go of the notion that there’s a Rational Creator behind the Universe, which we might do because it indeed seems to be a bit of wishful thinking, we should be very very careful with trusting our own reason. There is no guarantee at all that there is any chance that  our reason and logic will really be able to nail Reality for us.
If we’re really intellectually honest we will have to be very humble intellectually, and letting go of the idea Rational Creator (or even believing in an irrational Creator if anyone wants to go there) also means that forms of modernist faith in reason and empiricism are nothing but naive relics of theism, and its faith in a rational universe that stems from a belief in a Rational Source behind the Universe, as Christians, other monotheists, Platonists and Hindus would do.
There simply is no reason to trust human reason very much, let alone think that our thought systems built on it can be absolute, objective or have any degree of infallibility…. The universe is a place not made for humans, and there is no guarantee except for wishful thinking that we will be able to really understand it. Reality can be bended into a lot of explanatory frames, which if good enough will all work.

But we’ll never be able to really pin down Reality.

Science indeed does a good job in making explanations and offering working models about the parts of Reality that are most accessible to us, but even those are approximations and will never be more than that. Yes it can be trusted up to a certain point, but always in the utmost humbleness and scepticism. It’s not because something works that it is true. The Ptolemaic geocentric cosmology was rationally sound and worked too.

Add to that the placebo-factor with the Newtonian law that something that’s in a certain state will remain in that state until enough energy is used to change the state (a brain or a society will remain in a paradigm unless it really can’t otherwise) and people stay in imperfect paradigms all the time because they can’t otherwise. Well, and every paradigm is imperfect anyway. Just get used to it.

So let’s go back to my basic point:  believing that reason al logic will ever enable us to completely understand the Reality in which we find ourself is nothing but a relic from the optimism of a theistic worldview that believes in a Rational Creator. We delude ourself with self-conceit if we trust too much in our human reason. The universe is basically absurd, and any certainty about the nature of the universe and our own rationality in another way is wishful thinking.

As atheists, Nietzsche and Camus were certainly onto something. The new atheists and any rationalist or logical positivist are just holding on to naive leftovers from theism in their reliance on how much both our reason, logic, and the intelligibility of the universe itself can be trusted.

(I take my hat in my hand and wonder if it it still belongs on my head when saying the following:)

And here I cchaosan only fall back into the  metaparadigm beyond chaos magick. (If you don’t know what I mean by that, please read this post here.) Groundless postmodern paradigm shifting combined with the power of belief to find the best working worldview is the only thing that remains for me here. Yes, I can use belief in reason as a paradigm, but it’s still a make-believe game that needs a lof of belief from my side to really make it work. 

I couldn’t go back to belief in reason here. I can’t go back to belief in progress. I can’t go back.  Reality is absurd and not made for us, and having faith in human reason and logic or in the rationality and intelligibility of the universe is utterly a form of self-deceit, but it’s a nice placebo.
Choosing the most soothing paradigm and remaining in it for as long as it’s lasting is the only solution to not slide into madness though.

(I put off the atheist hat now)

But I still go with Lewis, and not with Lovecraft. We are slightly irrational and confused beings in a world that has a Rational Source, and not more or less good and normal beings in a world that is utterly irrational, alien and dark behind the facade.

In the end I might be a notorious paradigm shifter, but I’m not (and have never been) a completely groundless postmodernist, rather a probably slightly crypto-Platonist/Aristotelian Christian with a healthy dose of humbleness about human capacities, so I still have the option to believe in reason and logic (even though they are in no way absolutely reliable). By the way, I’m a Christian because of Christ, and glimpses of a Love more Real than this whole universe. Not because of rational arguments and apologetics.

This might still be a very conscious choice though, because both possibilities seem equally plausible, unlike an enlightenment atheism that relies on an almost absolute faith in reason, logic and science in a materialist universe. That’d be, if I actually do follow reason here, too absurd even for a completely absurd universe.
I’m not naive enough for that.

So what do you think?

peace

Bram

 

 

The laws of the universe?


This is something I’ve been trying to put into words for quite a while now I think:

The laws of the universe are never broken. Your mistake is to think that the little regularities we have observed on this planet for the last few hundred years are the real unbreakable laws, whereas they are only the remote results which the true laws bring about more often than not on a kind of accident.

(C.S. Lewis, one of the characters in ‘that hideous strength’)THS

Some postmodern paradigm-shifting: from C.S. Lewis to chaos magic and back…


Today we’re going for a trip to explore some paradigm shifting. We will revisit some of the oldschool ’emerging church’ topics, but that will only serve to better be able to venture far into grounds where both angels and academics fear to tread (and maybe not without a reason) like the obscure postmodern occult art of chaos magic. Although for the regular readers nothing here should be a big shock…

Sa new kindo, on to paradigm shifting or a change of how one understand Reality and the rest… Let’s start on more or less safe ground and firmly inside of cliché emerging church territory with some C.S. Lewis quotes lifted from Brian McLaren’s vintage emerging church classic ‘A New Kind of Christian’. (It seems that the EC prophecies of the emergence of a new and better form of Christianity can be filed with a lot of end-times madness and hypercharismatic promises of a ‘great revival, but the ANKOC trilogy remains worth re-reading nevertheless)
It is from Lewis lesser known book ‘the discarded image’ that talks about medieval literature, but the last chapter is about the paradigm-change between the medieval and modern world. And Brian McLaren got it more than right here in that this chapter has a lot of insights that are able to help us understand the modern-postmoden paradigm-shift. I will give you the extended version:

It would therefore be subtly misleading to say ‘ The
medievals thought the universe to be like that, but we
know it to be like this’. Part of what we now know is
that we cannot, in the old sense, ‘ know what the universe is like’ and that no model we can build will be, in that old sense, ‘ like’ it.
Again, such a statement would suggest that the old
Model gave way simply under the pressure of newly discovered phenomena-as a detective’s original theory of the crime might yield to the discovery that his first suspect had an unassailable alibi. And this certainly happened as regards many particular details in the old Model, just as it happens daily to particular hypotheses in a modern laboratory. Exploration refuted the belief that the tropics
are too hot for life ; the first nova refuted the belief that the translunary realm is immutable. But the change of the Model as a whole was not so simple an affair.
There is no question here of the old Model’s being
shattered by the inrush of new phenomena. The truth
would seem to be the reverse ; that when changes in the human mind produce a sufficient disrelish of the old  Model and a sufficient hankering for some new one, phenomena to support that new one will obediently tum up. I do not at all mean that these new phenomena are illusory. Nature has all sorts of phenomena in stock and can suit many different tastes.

Lewis is talking here about the historical shift in worldview which madeCSLewis_Pipe the old way of looking at the world impossible. And yet the ‘proof’ of the new worldview had always been there, and had only ‘turned up’ because people looked for them.

Our views and explanations of Reality are always just in part, as through a dim ancient mirror. (Yes, I’m paraphrasing 1 Cor 13 here)  Even if our models and paradigms are only working models and approximations, it’s all we have and all we can have. No paradigm or ‘model’ as Lewis says it will ever explain our world completely accurately, and every model has its weak sides and strong sides. Key here is Lewis’ last sentence: “Nature has all sorts of phenomena in stock and can suit many different tastes.’ Reality is like the elephant in the parable, and we are the blind men who only have one part of the elephant and try to reconstruct a whole ‘theory of the Elephant’ from one bodypart of the animal.

Why do we even assume that the human brain is able to fully understand the universe around us? As a Christian believing in a Creator God that made us in His image I already find it a bit too much. But if I were an atheist such a illusion would for me only be a lingering relic from naive belief in a Creator…

What I would propose when it come to these things is just a humble epistemology. Acknowledge that any paradigm is just ‘seeing in part’ and that there’s a strangeness in the universe that makes it simply unable to just pin it down to one paradigm. Sometimes different models that cannot be reconciled do accurately describe the same thing. (Even in modern science that is true: look at light, which can be described as both a particle or a wave. Both paradigms work and can be used to explain different things, but they are in fact mutually exclusive and at the same time both true!)

Maybe that sounds too postmodern to some, but note here that I do still have a Ground, even when it cannot be Pinned down, or grasped. Truth and Reality do exist, even if they defy complete description and understanding, and even if different understandings of it can be both accurate in a way and completely exclusive of each other.  Real hardcore postmodernists will most likely not have such a ‘Ground’, which is a completely different story altogether

Groundless postmodernism, even more than my moderatie ‘humble epistemology’ is a radical meta-paradigm that makes all other paradigms invalid, and that makes every use of a paradigm pragmatic. Nothing is true, but still we believe things because it helps us in some way. We can’t be Groundless all the time, so we take on a worldview for the moment…

But there’s more we can say about paradigm-shifting. Up until now I’ve been just talking about understanding and describing the universe, as is done for example in science. Which is important, but only the first step. The second step is reacting to the universe, and often also manipulating it in various ways. We are not just spectators in this world, we are living in it, connected to it, and we need to interact with it…

And our paradigm is very important here. The way we view the world around us does change the things we’ll do with it. If we do not believe that there is a land on the other side of the ocean we won’t make a ship to go there. If we don’t believe something can be don’t we won’t try it, etc…

But like I wrote this ‘power of belief’ can go further. Like the song says, there can be miracles, if you believe…

Now what do we get if we combine groundless postmodernism in which no paradigm is true with the power of belief and magic? This is not a rhetorical question, as the answer is an existing occult tradution; Chaos magic (or magick in the Crowleyan spelling) is what you get when you combine Groundless postmodernism with pragmatism and the idea of ‘belief as a tool’. I don’t think you can go further than that into postmodernism than pragmatic paradigm-shifting-at-will as a tool, it does outpostmodernise the most postmodern postmodernist and its implications are far-stretching.

Yes, pragmatic paradigm-shiftng-at-will! While Lewis and McLaren wrote about paradigm shift as something that happens with a society when the world cannot be viewed in the same way any longer, and the emerging church generally saw it as something happening once in a lifetime (or a few times). Chaos magic starts from the idea that ‘nothing is true, everything is permitted’. (Which is derived from Aleister Crowleys ‘do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law’ and can end up not far from Voldemorts ‘there is no good or evil, only power and those too weak to seek it’…)
So it does not matter whether or not a paradigm is true, if you need it you ‘climb into it’ and exercise enough belief to accomplish your purposes. Andrieh Vitimus describes it like this:

“The most telling thing about a chaos magician is their ability to change their beliefs and paradigms at will. This is a complete change of perspective on the world that they live in to be able to see their reality from a different point of view. If you think about it, this would mean one day a chaos magician might be a Christian, while the next week they would be a Buddhist. These two philosophies are radically different in their orientation towards the world and an adoption of either worldview would have implications towards the person’s daily actions and attitudes. Chaos magic will demand that the practitioners be able to meaningfully switch between any beliefs about themselves, others, and religious beliefs. To the chaos magician, beliefs are choices. Belief is the tool that empowers the magic.”

(And yes, chaos magic can be pretty dark stuff. Invoking made-up dark gods like Thanateros (god of death achaosnd sex) or fictional ones like Chtulhu seems to be popular for example among chaotes. But that’s outside of the scope of my post about paradigms now, and the same principles could work without this dark side and without invoking any deity at all.)

I’ve written before about ‘belief as a tool’ and magic, and I do believe in this power. But on the other hand I also believe it has its limit. Even chaos magicians pragmatically try a lot of paradigms and discard those that don’t work… Pragmatism tries what works, and in that process a lot of things are thrown away that don’t work. Not every paradigm is equal, even in Groundless postmodernism or chaos magic.

There is something scandalous in the pragmatic combination of ‘belief as a tool’ and paradigm-shifting in a Groundless postmodernism. Is it an echo of a snake whispering ‘you shall be like gods’ and the temptation of a Power that isn’t safe for a mere mortal to wield?

There is another limit. One cannot put the sun in a bag and make slices of cheese from the moon with mere positive affirmations and choosing the right paradigm. Even if we would have a lot of power to create our own universe we are not solipsists. There are other powers in the Universe that might be stronger than us. There are solid things in Reality that won’t liquify or even go out of our way no matter how hard we believe they will. The power of belief is strong, but even if it can change our percerption of reality, and in some cases affect Reality sometimes, it is not able to change the real inner structure of reality. And sometimes our perception of is only an illusion.

Let’s go back to where we started, to C.S. Lewis. In the chronologically first book of Narnia, ‘the magician’s nephew’ we do find a arrogant ‘magician’ named uncle Andrew, who’s by accident present at the Creation of the world of Narnia. The poor soul does have a lot of modern sensibilities though (a lot of colonial and capitalist ambitions that would turn Narnia in a hell and made him richer if could accomplish them…) and the idea of talking animals does not work for him. After a while he isn’t even able to hear them talking even if he would want to. He just hears growling and hissing and barking of a bunch of wild beasts, while they are actually are discussing what they would do with the guy…

Yet the animals are still talking…

Dwarfstable

Another example of this comes from the last of the Narnia book, the last battle, where a bunch of dwarves have been put in a stable by the enemy, but are not able to see that the door worked as a portal to the Land of Aslan. The lion Aslan wants them to open their eyes, but all they want to see and can see is still a stable. They keep on mumbling that “the dwarves are for the dwarves” and that no-one will be able to take them in, stuck in an illusion they can’t get out that is only kept in place by the power of their belief.

Our views and explanations of Reality are always just in part, as through a dim ancient mirror. Even if our models and paradigms are only working models and approximations, it’s all we have.

And after all we should watch out for illusions and lies…

What do you people think?

10 books that stayed with me throughout the years…


This was a Facebook meme, but since things disappear faster into nothingness on Facebook than on this humble blog I will post it here too in an ‘extended remix’ with some description for each book in the top-ten.

This was the original FB meme, stolen from a FB friend -I wasn’t tagged myself-:

In your status, list 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don’t take more than a few minutes and do not think too hard. They do not have to be the “right” books or great works of literature, just ones that have affected you in some way. These are in no particular order. Tag 10 friends, including me so I can see your list.

So I made a list of 10 books that stayed with me. A very diverse list:

Astrid Lindgren – Ronja Rôvardotter
RonjaOne of the books I remember from when I was a child, and one that I’ve reread several as an adult. I also own the Swedish series on DVD.  A story about a young girl living in a magical forests, 2 competing clans of robbers, and love and friendship. You should just read it.

Franquin – Guust Flater (Gaston Lagaffe) series 
Comic series about the completely un-heroic office helper Guust, who is also a crazy inventor.  Maybe I’m too much like him sometimes.

David Wilkerson – the cross and the switch-blade
As a pentecostal kid I read a lot of Christian books, a lot of which I’ve completely forgotten by now and which would not interest me at all anymore. But this story about an American rural preacher who goes to the gangs of New York to preach about the love of Jesus to the unlovable whom no-one wants will always stay with me. It showed me something bigger than this world, and bigger than the meaningless priorities of humans. It made me go on a search for what it means to love God above all and love my neigbor as myself, a search that isn’t finished yet…

Antoine de St-Exupéry – Le petit prince
Not much comment, just read it, if you can in French. If you don’t understand why I like it there’s no way I can ever explain it..

J.R.R. Tolkien – the hobbit
Yes, I like fairytales, and I like ‘the hobbit’ a bit more than LOTR, although that’s very brilliant too. Not much explanation needed I think.

David Quammen – the song of the dodo
This is also a book that everybody should read. About the scientific field of island biogeography, evolution and extinction. But also filled with very interesting anecdotes about weird species, strange scientists and the life story of Wallace, who was working on the same theory of evolution as Darwin and possibly was kind of ripped off by him.
One of the few books I read about evolution in my teenage years that were fascinating (The other one would be Stephen Jay Goulds ‘Wonderful Life: The Burgess Shale and the Nature of History “, both are much more convincing that any 6-day-creationist I’ve ever read.)

Bill Watterson – Calvin & Hobbes series
Another comic, and one of the most brilliant ones ever made.

C.S. Lewis – the abolition of man
A lot of Lewis’ books stayed with me, but this weird, sometimes almost unreadable philosophical tract might have had even more influence on me in the end than the others. It put things into words that I felt but could not name. But the guy has written a lot of stuff that has influenced me a lot. (The thing I disagree most about with him is gender roles though). It’s probably Lewis who has helped me to not get too modernised..

Shane Claiborne – the irresistible revolution
And here we enter the new millennium, and my clumsy search for love that is more real than anything we can make up as humans.  I was deep into investigating Christian anarchism for a while (Ellul didn’t make this list, but het would be in a top-50).  Shane Claiborne, a dreadlocked new monastic was a bit more practical and down-to-Earth. He also is an amazing storyteller and one of the other examples of people who have sparks of the ‘love that is bigger than anyone we know’ in their life.

Terry Prachett – small gods
Terry Prachett is unique as a fantasy-writer. His books are completely weird sometimes and you shouldn’t take anything serious, way too funny and very intelligent. A lot of stuff to think about though in this one that really expanded my way of thinking about the spiritual world. (And the concept of slavery). Not for anyone with no sense or humour or for anyone who’s easily offended.

Strange and slightly inconsistent list  now I come to think about it…

Note that I wrote the title in the original language, no matter in which language I read the book. Several of them I have read in 2 languages anyway.

Note also that they are more or less in the order that I read them in my life, and that  I’ve read all of them  except for 2 in for the first time the last millennium. The exceptions are “the irresistible revolution’ in the ’00’s and ‘small gods’ in the ’10’s.

And lastly note that I did include comics but not the bible -don’t ask why-, and only added one book/series per author, otherwise it would have been mostly Tolkien ans Lewis. Runner-ups would be more C.S. Lewis books, The Lord of the rings, the Harry Potter series, the ancient epic of Gilgamesh, the Edda, the Flora of the Netherlands and Belgium, Karl May’s Winnetou I, some Brian McLaren and Neil Postman’s ‘amusing ourselves to death’.

And oh, the hitch-hikers guide to the galaxy.

Strange how no book originally written in my own language ended up in the list.  English, French, German and Swedish but no Dutch. I have to think about what exactly that means. I’ve read a lot of interesting Flemish books as a kid (René Swartenbroekx, Jan Terlouw, Thea Beckman, …) that I might need to reread; But they didn’t stay with me.

Also, 9 women and one man. None of my big Ursula Le Guin books made the list for some reason .

so do you have an interesting list?

peace

Bram

Believing things on authority (C.S. Lewis)


What are the implications of this paragraph from C.S. Lewis in ‘mere Christianity’? Or is there a way to disagree with this?

Do not be scared by the word authority. Believing things on authority only means believing them because you have been told them by someone you think trustworthy. Ninety-nine per cent of the things you believe are believed on authority. I believe there is such a place as New York. I have not seen it myself. I could not prove by abstract reasoning that there must be such a place. I believe it because reliable people have told me so. The ordinary man believes in the Solar System, atoms, evolution, and the circulation of the blood on authority–because the scientists say so. Every historical statement in the world is believed on authority. None of us has seen the Norman Conquest or the defeat of the Armada. None of us could prove them by pure logic as you prove a thing in mathematics. We believe them simply because people who did see them have left writings that tell us about them: in fact, on authority. A man who jibbed at authority in other things as some people do in religion would have to be content to know nothing all his life.

peace

Bram

I don’t care how ‘big’ you are…


babelThis world seems to be obsessed with celebrity sometimes. Everybody wants to make a name for themselves, or follow those who have made a name for themselves as if they are very important. Sometimes to the point that I wonder if the cult of celebrity is some replacement of the pagan worship of all kinds of minor deities, or the exaggerated saint worship of some of our medieval Christian ancestors.
Which is quite weird to me, because the objects of this worship are humans after all. We all are just humans. It’s not because someone is more known that he or she has more to contribute to humanity, or is more interesting. Au contraire, we have a phenomenon in our Western world of people who seem to be known just for being known. Or what would you say is the reason Paris Hilton is famous?

Sure, there are a lot of people who are known for good reasons. There are some good musicians who sell a lot of records, and those are known for good reasons. There are also a lot of people who sell millions of books because they are good at writing or have ideas that should be known to more people. But this should not at all be reversed: there is no guarantee that celebrity means quality… And it is, sadly enough, also not true at all that quality or substance will lead to celebrity or having a platform that can share your message to the world. Some of the greatest artists of all time have only become known after their death anyway, like Vincent Van Gogh, and probably some of the most important thinkers and artists have died unknown.

Being known means nothing except that you’ve made a name. It does not mean that you have quality, nor it does not mean that you don’t have quality either…(Furthermore, celebrity can be detrimental to quality, and those who are too interested in it and obtain it do sometimes even destroy the reason why they might be of any real interest to people, beyond their mere state of celebrity… A lot of people sacrifice quality for celebrity)

A lot of the best things might be unknown. A lot of the best music is never heard on the radio or found in the CD-store. The psalters for example are one of the best bands ever in my opinion, and one of the most impressing examples of religious music; even though unknown by most people. I do have a lot of lesser known artists in my library who have made songs that are better than the songs on the radio, sometimes even better than a lot of songs in our lists of ‘timeless classics’. Yes, I know, all of this is subjective, but exposure to it might increase the chance that people will like something, but it won’t change the quality… The guitar-riff of Soul-junks ‘may my tongue be stuck up on the roof’, for example, a psalm 137 song about the rivers of Babylon has a killer riff like ‘seven nation army’. But it’s completely unknown…

Same with writings things like blogs. (btw, I do generally have more readers as a ‘christian blogger’ than I do have listeners as a musician, although I don’t have a big audience anywhere.- I do have some links in my blogroll here, and those are just chosen because I like what those people are writing. I actually don’t even notice how ‘big’ a blog is when I read it, link to it or recommend it. If someone says things worth reading I will read and quote them, makes no difference be it a completely unknown guy with great ideas or one of the most-known thinkers on the earth.
I’d quote a friend as much as I would quote Plato if his saying is true and says what I wish to communicate. Truth is not linked to celebrity.
Staying in the field of Christian blogs, I don’t have more respect for a blog with 100ths of comments or one with a comment here and there, if they have something to tell that’s worth reading I’ll read it and recommend it. No matter if it’s Scot McKnight, Andrew Jones, Morgan Guyton, Lana Hope, or Rachel Held Evans, or some enormous star (I do like the new series on the bible by Rob Bell here, who seems to be a Christian celebrity for example) or someone no-one has ever heard of. I frankly don’t even have a clue who the big Christian blogs are, and I probably wouldn’t even interested in those. But I can recommend everyone to read the monthly post of Vinoth Ramachandra, or the weekly post of Eric from the Jawbone of an ass. Those are blogs I learn from! Even though I hardly see anyone quoting them.

C.S. Lewis describes an interesting scene in ‘the great divorce’, a weird book about a guy who visits heaven with a bunch of people from hell, and meets some interesting people there and sees other from a distance without interacting with them. One of them, who seems to be an enormously important saint, happens to have been a simple unknown woman during her life on Earth. She is honored as the greatest saint of all, while big figures here on earth are just shady and deluded ghosts there.
It is this way in the kingdom of God anyway: the least are the most important, and those who think they are big might turn out to be not much…

So it might be true that celebrity gives you a bigger audience, which is good if you indeed bring something that’s good, but which is quite bad if what you bring is bad. And actually, there is no reason at all to think that louder voices are more valuable and more worth hearing. (I even think that there’s good reason to be very careful with them…) Maybe the little kid next door has some wisdom that none of the rockstar preachers, academic masterminds and other mighty idea leaders will ever tell you because they don’t know it themselves.

Stardom is so relative, and it has cost a lot of people their soul…

peace

Bram

C.S. Lewis, Ayn Rand, and science and magic as twins


CSLewis_PipeYesterday I came onto this blog post, in which Ayn Rands marginal notes are quoted like  she has scribbled them into C.S. Lewis book ‘the abolition of man’, a book that I’ve read several times in my life. As someone who knows the ideas of this book, I was quite surprised not only by the vitriol of her comments, but also by how irrelevant some of them are to the text they’re criticising. Update: the complete marginal notes from Rand can be found here (thank you Arend Smilde for the link)

For those who don’t know the book (which can be read online here): Lewis is mostly known for his Christian books, but this is a more a philosophical book that’s actually not particularly Christian. The main point of the book is 2-fold: First there is an Orwellian critique to the modernist project of man conquering nature, in which Lewis states that the final step of this conquering will be ultimately self-defeating on the part of man. The second point is that there is a more or less absolute set of values inherent to this world, which he calls the tao,  with a word borrowed from Eastern philosophy, of which all meaningful human values in all cultures are derived. I do not agree with every detail, and I don’t get more than half of his references, but  I’ve always found the basic ideas of the book, and it’s critique to modernism, quite compelling. (But you need to read the whole book to understand his conclusions, including some weird parts that are hard to read.)

(I also have the idea that some of her remarks about middle ages and the renaissance would not have been made if her issue of the book would have included, like the Dutch version does,  De despcriptione temporum, his inaugural lecture from the chair of mediaeval and renaissance literature at Cambridge University (1954).)

One of the things Rand reacts quite strongly to is the idea that magic and modern science are related:

The serious magical endeavour and the serious scientific endeavour are twins: one was sickly and died, the other strong and throve. But they were twins. They were born of the same impulse. I allow that some (certainly not all) of the early scientists were actuated by a pure love of knowledge. But if we consider the temper of that age as a whole we can discern the impulse of which I speak.

There is something which unites magic and applied science while separating both from the wisdom of earlier ages. For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique; and both, in the practice of this technique, are ready to do things hitherto regarded as disgusting and impious—such as digging up and mutilating the dead.

Lewis as a scholar of medieval and renaissance literature (see also the ‘de descfriptione  temporum’ text I’ve linked to) knows what he is talking about, and anyone who knows something about the life of Isaac Newton for example, who was both a scientist and an alchemist who did weird studies in the occult (and a Christian who wrote bible commentaries)  should know what he’s talking about. Newton can indeed be considered as one of the last great Western magicians as well as one of the first great scientists…

Very important here is what Lewis means with the words science and magic. Both are not means of mere knowledge for him, but of power, power over reality, including power of the one who has it over other humans. Magic is a way to get power using the supernatural, science (and technology) is a way to get power using the natural world. Note also that ‘magic’ as used here is the opposite of astrology, which has the purpose of conforming to the influences of the stars and the supernatural!

Lewis himself does not deny the existence of science as a search for knowledge, and indeed explicitly notes that there are scientists who are seeking for pure knowledge, but that’s not the goal of most applied science both in the 16th century and the momdern time, which shares indeed the goal of magic: to subdue reality to the wishes of men.

I don’t think Lewis would say that this is always a problem, he’s not a luddite and used technology himself, and never rejects it. But what he wants to show us is a dark side that is inherent to modern (applied) science. A dark side that might remind us to the lie of the snake, that told the first couple that they would be like God.

And indeed, science has been used for ‘playing God, and abused in a lot of abominable ways to get power, not only over nature, but also over other humans. Most science nowadays is subdued not to those who want pure knowledge, but to those who want power and money.  This is how we came to have the atom bomb, genetically engineered crops that are very handy in making multinationals richer, etc, (While some other scientific fields not useful for securing power and money are underfunded!)

So what happened to magic? It lost because it didn’t seem to work the way science worked, and was pushed out of the modern worldview which became more and more hermetically naturalistic. But its goal is still the same goal of a lot of modern science.

The point of self-control to be able to conform ourself to reality is also something we should not forget. We are not the creators of the universe, and there are things higher than us we should conform to, like certain laws of nature. I do not mean this deterministically, we should not let every thing we meet rule over us, man is indeed able to fight back when reality is hostile and evil, but we moderns should not forget that we can never be free without self-control

what do you people think?

peace

Bram