Feeding on Words

I am thoroughly enjoying Alan Jacobs’s, The Narnian. I would heartily recommend it to fans of Lewis. An excerpt,

Remembering, later, that moment of revelation, [Orual] also rememers her tutor, that philosophical Greek called the Fox, and that is what leads her to the passage with which I ended the previous chapter:

“Lightly men talk of saying what they mean. Often when he was teaching me to write in Greek the Fox would say, “Child, to say the very thing you really mean, the whole of it, nothing more or less or other than what you really mean; that’s the whole art and joy of words.” A glib saying. When the time comes to you at which you will be forced at last to utter the speech, which has lain at the center of your soul for years, which you have, all the time, idiot-like, been saying over and over, you’ll not talk about joy of words. I saw well why the gods do not speak to us openly, nor let us answer. Till that word can be dug out of us, why should they hear the babble we think we mean?”

The Fox, who is among the dead who thronged that dark courtroom, does not hear her say this, but having heard her speech, he realizes what he has done, and accuses himself more strongly than she could accuse him: “Send me away, Minos, even to Tartarus, if Tartarus can cure glibness. I made her think that a prattle of maxims could do, all thin and clear as water. For of course water’s good; and it didn’t cost much, not where I grew up. So I fed her on words.”

Anyone who thinks this is merely a critique of Greek philosophy or cheap rationalism has, I believe, misunderstood the passage, for it is equally a critique of Christian apologetics. The emptiness of Fox’s words is scarcely greater than the emptiness of the apologist’s words. No doubt, what Lewis had written and said as a defender of the Christian faith was truer than what Fox had taught Orual–indeed, far truer–but it had the defect of being in words, and it is easy to forget that even true words bear the limitations of all language: they are, inevitably, “thin and clear as water.” The gods demand more than water: indeed they demand blood, for, as the author of the letter to Hebrews writes in a passage at which the priests of Ungit would have nodded sagely, “without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin” (9:22).

Jacobs, The Narnian, 240-41.

A.N. Wilson, "Why I Believe Again"

For a few years, I resisted the admission that my atheist-conversion experience had been a bit of middle-aged madness. I do not find it easy to articulate thoughts about religion. I remain the sort of person who turns off Thought for the Day when it comes on the radio. I am shy to admit that I have followed the advice given all those years ago by a wise archbishop to a bewildered young man: that moments of unbelief “don’t matter”, that if you return to a practice of the faith, faith will return.

When I think about atheist friends, including my father, they seem to me like people who have no ear for music, or who have never been in love. It is not that (as they believe) they have rumbled the tremendous fraud of religion – prophets do that in every generation. Rather, these unbelievers are simply missing out on something that is not difficult to grasp. Perhaps it is too obvious to understand; obvious, as lovers feel it was obvious that they should have come together, or obvious as the final resolution of a fugue.

I haven’t mentioned morality, but one thing that finally put the tin hat on any aspirations to be an unbeliever was writing a book about the Wagner family and Nazi Germany, and realising how utterly incoherent were Hitler’s neo-Darwinian ravings, and how potent was the opposition, much of it from Christians; paid for, not with clear intellectual victory, but in blood. Read Pastor Bonhoeffer’s book Ethics, and ask yourself what sort of mad world is created by those who think that ethics are a purely human construct. Think of Bonhoeffer’s serenity before he was hanged, even though he was in love and had everything to look forward to.

My departure from the Faith was like a conversion on the road to Damascus. My return was slow, hesitant, doubting. So it will always be; but I know I shall never make the same mistake again. Gilbert Ryle, with donnish absurdity, called God “a category mistake”. Yet the real category mistake made by atheists is not about God, but about human beings. Turn to the Table Talk of Samuel Taylor Coleridge – “Read the first chapter of Genesis without prejudice and you will be convinced at once . . . ‘The Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life’.” And then Coleridge adds: “‘And man became a living soul.’ Materialism will never explain those last words.”


Quotable: Lewis

“One last word. I have found that nothing is more dangerous to one’s own faith than the work of an apologist. No doctrine of that Faith seems to me so spectral, so unreal as one that I have just successfully defended in a public debate. For a moment, you see, it has seemed to rest on oneself: as a result, when you go away from that debate, it seems no stronger than that weak pillar. That is why we apologists take our lives in our hands and can be saved only by falling back continually from the web of our own arguments, as from intellectual counters, into the Reality — from Christian apologetics into Christ Himself. That is also why we need one another’s continual help — oremus pro invicem.”*

*Let us pray for each other
C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock, 103

DBH: On Suffering and the Problem of Evil / Strange Vision

I don’t share his views on the reformed answer (at least not straightforwardly), but I certainly wouldn’t wish to embrace everything reformed people tend to say about how God’s sovereignty manifests itself today. At any rate, I enjoy David Bentley Hart and you’ll probably see why:

Suffering and the problem of evil from CPX on Vimeo.


Nostalgia for a pagan past from CPX on Vimeo.

Quotable: O’Donaghue

“Now one main result of the de Lubac revolution (which Balthasar accepted and still accepts) was the devaluation and gradual disappearance of philosophy as the preparation for an in a real sense the basis of theology. This process has coincided with the reaction against the manuals whether philosophical or theological, coincided also with the breakdown of essentialist thinking (ie., discourse by way of clear definition, distinction, and logical demonstration) and the coming of what came to be called Existentialism on the one hand and, on the other, the revival of Nominalism in the shape of Logical Positivism and Linguistic Analysis. In other words, the Platonic-Aristotelian realism of Aquinas and the ‘Scholastic’ tradition came to be ousted by its natural enemies and alternative options, Subjectivism and Nominalism – the one seeing the human subject (as general and common to all men) as the horizon of enquiry and truth, the other refusing to admit any horizon other than that of sense-observation and the words that sound in the ear. So it comes that courses in philosophy in Catholic seminaries and universities today provide nothing like an objective natural ground for revelation but instead provide either an analysis of consciousness or an analysis of language. That mighty theology of man, natural man in his natural integrity (damaged but not destroyed by the Fall), a theology that provides an ethic which no scriptural quotation could overturn, is now in ruins and the way is open to every kind of sane and insane biblical anthropology ranging from that of Bultmannian, who simply affirms the call to transformation, to that of the kind of born-again Christians who would slay all the enemies of the Word of God as he understands it.”

O’Donaghue, “A Theology of Beauty,” The Analogy of Beauty, pg. 6

This is one of those paragraphs that fascinates me. It is dense and hard to unpack, but contains so many talking points, so many questions. It is especially relevant for my thesis which is essentially a defense of the an argument from natural theology. I could explain more, but in the words of Christopher Hitchens:

Hugh Hewitt: Now you do not, and this is applicable to his works as well to everyone else you talk about here. You don’t give the reader a break. You’re just assuming they know these books like Money, and that they know these authors like Rushdie, and that they’re familiar with the great works of English literature for the last many hundred years. Did you just have to decide at the beginning you were just going to spare no quarter, and they’re just going to have to catch up?

Christopher Hitchens: Yes, absolutely. And my reason for that is that’s how I know most of what I know, is reading a paragraph in a book, and realizing that I was expected to get a reference there, and I didn’t quite get it, and regarding that as a reproach to myself.

HH: Well, that’s like Adorno to me. I had no idea who this fellow was, and I had to read this with Wikipedia open.

CH: Well, aren’t you glad?

HH: Well, yes I am, but I’m wondering, isn’t that rare these days? Didn’t your editor say you can’t do that, Christopher? People won’t slog through with you?

CH: No, they didn’t. No, there was no, there was no dumbing down, because dumbing down in this case would not have been of me. I mean, I’d have had to find another way of saying what I already know?

HH: Yeah.

CH: It would have been much more boring.

HH: You’re right.

CH: But it would also be very condescending to the readers. I’d rather do anything than patronize people. I’d rather say look, I know this. There’s no reason you shouldn’t. And if you didn’t, don’t complain. I’ve just given you the opportunity to check it out.

HH: Yeah, go check it out.

CH: And I backed myself, saying I think there is a gold standard in writing, and in the world of ideas. And I know something about it, and I’d like to introduce you to it, too.

Technology/Knowledge as Power

In order to understand fully what Man’s power over Nature, and therefore the power of some men over other men really means, we must picture the race extended in time from the date of its emergence to that of its extinction. Each generation exercises power over its successors: and each, in so far as it modifies the environment bequeathed to it and rebels against tradition, resists and limits the power of its predecessors. This modifies the picture which is sometimes painted of a progressive emancipation from tradition and a progressive control of natural processes resulting in a continual increase of human power. In reality of course, if one age really attains, by eugenics and scientific education, the power to make its descendants what it pleases, all men who live after it are the patients of that power. They are weaker, not stronger: for though we may have put wonderful machines in their hands we have pre-ordained how they are to use them….There neither is nor can be any simple increase of power on Man’s side. Each new power won by man is a power over man as well. Each advance leaves him weaker as well as stronger. In every victory, besides being the general who triumphs, he is also the prisoner who follows the triumphal car.

C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, 56-58

I’m posting this because I thought about the implications of this statement yesterday with regard to knowledge. It is also true that the further advances we make in the area of knowledge, the more power the few have over the many. It is literally getting impossible to be a generalist, or even to be qualified to speak on more than one topic. The opinion of the average person on any topic matters almost for almost nothing (besides making money). Some men and women have the blessing of being able to handle this situation with grace, not caring what other think of “what they know,” simply content with the fact that they think they know it (or that their “knowledge” is productive–$). But this power struggle for any real knowledge, especially as it concerns ultimate questions is really what drives my study I think. It is frightening to me to be in a position where I must submit my mental faculties and “leave it to the people who really know.”

(As an aside, the only people who have real power in the world of knowledge are scientists. This is because we have place a proportionality between certainty and importance. We tend to think scientists are best suited for getting at the truth of the world and for telling us how to live because they use enumerative induction.)

A Reason Nietzsche Rejected Christianity

Mark Vance sent me this one.

“I never saw the members of my father’s church enjoying themselves.”
Quoted in Current Thoughts and Trends, June 2001, page 4.

Reminded me of this quote I cited earlier from Thus Spake Zarathustra:

And he who lives in their (the priests) neighborhood lives in the neighborhood of black pools, from out of which the toad that prophet of evil, sings its song with sweet melancholy. They would have to sing better songs to make me believe in their Redeemer: his disciples would have to look more redeemed!