Tag Archives: beliefs

All Religions Lead To The Same Place: A quick response

So often today we hear the comment that all religions are ultimately the same. This is an expression of pluralism. Just the other day a coworker mentioned to me that they’ve been looking into religion and asked for a book recommendation. A conversation had begun and it wasn’t long until she did it too, “Well, I look at religions as paths up the mountain of truth. They all lead to God, just in different ways.” I put my pen down, quickly prayed in my mind and prepared for a deeper discussion.

“Penelope, what do you mean by saying all religions lead to God, just in different ways?” She answered with an example. She said that it’s like climbing a mountain. There are going to be many trails up and in the end they all lead to the top. She went on to describe a “Buddhist/Hindu” trail, a “Jewish” trail, an “Islamic” trail, and of course a “Christian” trail. They all start on what the hiker think is the correct path; some of the paths even intersect at times she said. But in the end each one ends at the very same overlook site at the top of the peak.

I responded this time not with a question but with a pointed answer. I first agreed that sometimes the world religions seem to have some similarities and “cross paths,” but what about the differences? Examining the world’s major religions, we see they all differ drastically when it comes to the nature of God, sin, heaven, hell, the nature of man, and salvation. So to put it simply, all religions are dissimilar in a great many more ways than they are similar.

For example let’s compare the religions mentioned. Islam, Christianity and Judaism believe that there is a singular, personal God who is holy, omnipotent, just, omniscient, and who is creator of all. These three all believe that we are sinful human beings in need of salvation by way of God’s forgiveness. They each believe in an eternal afterlife in a heaven or a hell. Buddhists deny each and every one of these things. They believe “god” as not really a god at all but an ultimate reality. This ultimate reality is impersonal and that everything is uncreated. They deny the self, meaning there is really no sin and as such no need for salvation. Buddhists also believe that life’s goal is annihilation not an eternal life in heaven. And Hindus believe in millions of Gods. You see not all these paths lead to even remotely the same place.

I went on to explain that sometimes we do see similarities between these world religions, especially between the main three, Islam, Judaism and Christianity as we saw above. One reason for this is that they all stem from the same religious root. But even these religions differ greatly and in ways that are irreconcilable. The most drastic and important difference is in the person and work of Jesus Christ. In order to understand this we need to look to the claims of the New Testament (NT) about who Jesus is. Jesus first and foremost claimed to be God, and the NT authors claim that Jesus was crucified, died and rose again. In fact it’s on this claim alone that the Christian faith stands or falls. Saint Paul writes, “if Christ has not been raised, our faith is in vain” and that Christians are to be “pitied above all man.” Judaism and Islam both deny Jesus is God or even claimed divinity and that he died and was raised. In denying the main beliefs of Christianity, making them all irreconcilable and clearly on paths that lead to a different places.

I finished my response by telling Penelope that Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” And in doing so he made invalid the claim that all religions lead to the same place. The pluralist position fails due to the law of non-contradiction. Jesus cannot be God and not God. He couldn’t have been raised and not raised. So since all religions teach different, contradictory things they cannot all be true. They can all be wrong, but they most certainly cannot all be true.

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Pacifism and C.S. Lewis: Oh, and what I think too.

Introduction

It is the purpose of this post to explore critically two arguments Lewis uses to conclude in his essay “Why I’m Not A Pacifist” that pacifism ultimately fails. This essay was originally presented to a group of pacifists in 1940, addressing the specific issue of whether it is moral to serve in wars under the command of a civil society.[1] Lewis presented four main arguments to support his conclusion that it is in fact morally just to participate in war. Of these four we will explore the two which are most contentious. The first we will title “Personal” or “Basic Intuition” and the second “Authority” which is further split into two subcategories, “Human Authority” and “Divine Authority.” Once discussed it’s my belief that we will have no other option but to side with Lewis. However, this is not to say that everything Lewis holds is agreeable. Along the way we will be interacting with some ideas that are disagreeable, when they arise it will be noted. We would also be remiss if you did not start by mentioning something Lewis writes very early on, war is always a very unpleasant thing. “First as to the facts. The main relevant fact admitted by all parties is that war is very disagreeable.” I also feel that it should be plainly stated that no joy is found in war, to this I believe Lewis would agree. With that now, let us explore the arguments brought by Lewis in Why I’m Not a Pacifist.

Arguing from Basic Intuition

In this argument Lewis points to the basic intuition that love is good and hatred bad; that helping is good and harming is bad. He explains that this intuition leads the pacifist to believe that by doing good we can or must help all. For example, it is not enough to help one homeless person, for if you help one you must help all that you see. He then goes on to refute the pacifist claim by pointing out that by doing good, we choose to whom the good is being done while also to whom the good is not being done. Implicit in the argument is what Lewis describes as the law of beneficence which “involves not doing some good to some men at some time.”[2] This then turns into a slippery slope where helping one while not another slowly turns into helping one while having to ignore the plight of another and then to helping one at the expense of another, the final slip in the slope is helping one while causing harm to another.[3]

Shifting the focus from the individual to society as a whole, Lewis addresses the pacifist underlying assertion that war is always the greatest evil. He goes on to say that the absorption of one society by another and the oppression of religion is in fact worse than the war to prevent it.[4] However it’s here that Lewis makes an assertion which I disagree with wholly. Trying to justify the loss of life during war, Lewis contends that one can be comforted to know that the dead gave their lives while fighting for what according to them was the right or just side. I don’t find this comforting or even true; especially in a world where people are coerced to fight by threats of torture or death and children are kidnapped and forced to fight after being pumped full of drugs and beaten. I would like to ask Lewis if he truly believed all of Hitler’s SS men wanted to be there. Here, while it doesn’t alter the arguments conclusion, I think Lewis falters. In fact I would say that forcing someone to fight is actually a greater evil than war or oppression.

Lewis addresses an attempt by the pacifist to prove their position once they are forced to give some ground; this time through the use of a more political and calculating mode of intuition. When forced to acknowledge that war may not be the worst evil they may rebut, “But every war leads to another war.”[5] And with this the pacifist implies an infinite regress of wars, leading to the conclusion that we must focus our attempts to do away with war. To accomplish this they might suggest that society should propagate the pacifist philosophy far and wide; eventually permeating all societies and cultures globally. To this Lewis responds,

This seems to me wild work. Only liberal societies tolerate Pacifists. In the liberal society, the number of Pacifists will either be large enough to cripple the state as a belligerent, or not. If not, you have done nothing. If it is large enough, then you have handed over the state which does tolerate Pacifists to its totalitarian neighbour who does not.[6]

I find this argument basic, correct, and convincing. C.S. Lewis sums it up nicely with the statement, “Pacifism of this kind is taking the straight road to a world in which there will be now Pacifists.”[7] It’s important to understand that while we are not able to eliminate suffering and war, it does not follow that we should ignore the plight of those affected by these things or cease working to a better end. As an alternative to the pacifist position it might be more effective to focus efforts instead of on large, incurable tasks like eradicating suffering, to objectives that are limited. Lewis lists abolition of slavery, prison reform or curing a disease as good examples.

Arguing from Authority – Human Authority

Lewis appeals to human authority by surveying history’s rulers, wars and their heroes. From this survey he concludes that “the world echoes with the praise of righteous wars.”[8] As proof of this names of world leaders who did not shy away from war are listed. He includes in that list his school, parents and even great literary works. He says that to be a pacifist, one must ignore and “part company with” all of this. In effect Lewis asks his hearers to either cast aside these select champions of time or their pacifism. His rationale, since we look at the rulers and men of war with honor and respect, it is therefore proper to also view the battles they waged as just and even  necessary. He also interprets this historical support of war as wars justification.

It is here where I part ways with C.S. Lewis most drastically. I think if we look between the lines of Lewis’ list we see a different picture. Where’s Attila the Hun or Genghis Khan or Napoleon in the list? What about some of Lewis’ contemporaries such as Hitler or Stalin? Why did they not make the cut? While I agree that battle can produce heroics, and with Lewis’ general beliefs regarding there being a just war, I think it fails just to look at the men who fought or waged the wars and say “here is your proof that battle is necessary and good.” And I think it fails as well according to Scripture. A pacifist friend in discussion of this very issue rightly points out that all men are under the effects of Satan.[9] And as such wars are waged both for good and evil. What’s more, Scripture tells us that not one of us is righteous so why would we conclude, as Lewis does, that our wars mostly would be? I don’t think we should or can. War is never to be praised and Lewis misses this. After all King David was refused permission to build the Temple of the Lord due to his many battles (1 Chronicles 22:7-9).

Arguing from Authority – Divine Authority

We now look to what Lewis has to say in regards to Divine Authority. Beginning his apologetic Lewis says that the Christian Scriptures are largely silent on this issue but that the pacifist basis their philosophy on a small selection of Jesus’ sayings and teachings. Most central is Matthew 5:39. He then bolsters his argument with the Thirty-Nine Articles, teachings of Aquinas, and the words of Augustine all showing their support of the Christian’s participation in war.

I was left under impressed with Lewis’ mentioning of  Augustine, Aquinas and the Thirty-Nine Articles for the same reason I cannot agree with Lewis’ argument from human authority. While I agree with his ultimate conclusion, and these things do support that conclusion, I can see why a Christian pacifist would not find these convincing enough to abandon their philosophy. I would rather have had Lewis spend more time discussing Scripture; after all this is where the debate should lie for us. Either the Scriptures justify the saints’ participation in battle, or they don’t. And this is where I find the most support for the view that Lewis and I share.

Matthew 5:39 is the biblical passage most often given in support of the pacifist ideology. C.S. Lewis deals with it well.[10] He says that the scripture should be applied in the context of individual relationships, not to the conduct of soldiers or governments engaged in war. Lewis says, “I think the text means exactly what it says, but with an understood reservation in favour of those obviously exceptional cases.”[11] What Jesus was clearly saying here is that we are not to cause harm to others except in that instance where we are preventing the harm of ourselves, families or neighbors. Surely Jesus did not mean that we would not be justified to protect innocent life from violence with the use of force, even if that force is in the context of war. [12]

Conclusion:

While not everything Lewis asserts regarding the issue of pacifism and military service is agreeable I think it is clear that as saints, we are justified to use violence in certain instances. In Learning in WarTime Lewis writes what I think serves as a wonderful conclusion to this discussion.

The rescue of drowning men is, then, a duty worth dying for, but not worth living for. It seems to me that all political duties (among which I include military duties) are of this kind. A man may have to die for our country, but no man must, in any exclusive sense, live for his country. He who surrenders himself without reservation to the temporal claims of a nation, or a party, or a class is rendering to Caesar that which, of all things, most emphatically belongs to God: himself.[13]


[1] C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory: And Other Addresses “Why I’m Not A Pacifist.” (New York: Harper Collins, 2009)  [Kindle Fire version] p. 64, Location 612

[2] Ibid

[3] By way of example: saving a drowning man while leaving another slipping to saving the life of a man while taking the life of another.

[4] Lewis, “Why I’m Not A Pacifist” p. 77, Location 734

[5] Ibid

[6] Ibid p. 78, Location 734

[7] Ibid

[8] Ibid p. 81, Location 772

[9] Moore, T.C. “Why C.S. Lewis Was Wrong About Pacfism,” Academia.edu.  http://gcts.academia.edu/TCMoore/Papers/387653/Why_C._S._Lewis_Was_Wrong_About_Pacifism (accessed May 7, 2012) p. 10

[10] Resist not evil: but whoever shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

[11] Lewis, “Why I’m Not a Pacifist” p. 82, Location 784

[12] Ibid p. 85, Location 815

[13] Lewis, “Learning In War-Time.” p. 52: Location 1866

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A Journey to Joy from Longing

God found C.S. Lewis among Oxford University’s prestigious lecture halls and dormitories; He found me among Hollywood’s dark, dank dives, firmly seated on one of the many red, cracked vinyl covered barstools. C.S. Lewis was an avid reader from a very early age; one could not pay me to read a book until I reached my early twenties. Despite some very drastic differences in our lives trajectories C.S. Lewis and I do share a very important journey, one from atheism to Christianity. Only I was able to benefit from Lewis’ journey during mine. Looking to his writings and his expressions of what plagued him I was able to put my finger on what it was that also plagued me. Lewis often described a longing sensation that we all share and a journey that that longing produced. It is my goal to discuss in this paper how reading Lewis’ thoughts as he struggled with this feeling of longing, what he comes to call ‘joy’ and his journey helped this average young man come to know the God of the all creation.

The Longing We All Share:

“But words are vain; reject them all – They utter but a feeble part: Hear thou the depths from which they call, The voiceless longing of my heart.”[1] 

 Do you ever pick up a book which you have read more than a few times? Or a movie, have you ever watched one over and again? We all do but why? We know what happens, why read the same thing again? Lewis likens this to a child to whom is told a bedtime story. And when that child particularly likes the story what does she say when the story is through? “Read it again. Read it again!” Why? The plot and its twists and turns are known. There are no more surprises, the end has been revealed. Lewis suggests that we go back to these favorites because we long for the world of the book. It touches us at that place where we long for the only other world where we can really know which is heaven.[2]

Narnia, The Shire, Perelandra, and Neverland, we visit these places in literature as we hunger for something. But it is more than that. This longing extends far beyond the re-reading of stories. In Surprised by Joy Lewis describes one of the first times he sensed this feeling of longing when he writes of his youth and a toy garden his brother had made with moss, twigs and a discarded biscuit tin.

My brother had brought his toy garden into the nursery. It was difficult to find words strong enough for the sensation which came over me… It was a sensation, of course, of desire; but for what? not, certainly, for a biscuit tin filled with moss… and before I knew what I desired, the desire itself was gone, the whole glimpse withdrawn, the world turned common place again, or only stirred by a longing.[3]

Similarly, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader we once again meet up with two of the Pevensie children. Lucy and Edmond express their ever longing to go back to Narnia and hold close the promise of one day returning, “a promise, or very nearly a promise, had been made them in Narnia itself that they would some day get back. You may imagine that they talked about it a good deal, when they got the chance.”[4] But why do we long and what for?

Lewis later writes that “we found ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”[5] I believe this with all I am. I too sense this longing. Whether it be the notion that things are not as they ought to be, or while daydreaming in my office of past adventures and future ones too; the longing feeling is there. Lewis understood this longing as being so central to our lives that he believed it was woven through the major experiences of his own. He called this longing “joy.”[6] Lewis describes this sense of joy as “an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction.”[7] He also makes it clear that the thirst of our longings are not quenched through pleasure and happiness. ‘Joy,’ he writes, “must be sharply distinguished both from happiness and from pleasure.”[8] Lewis then points out that the experience of joy in turn produces a longing to experience it again. And perhaps most importantly Lewis makes it clear that we cannot produce joy on our own. C.S. Lewis put words to this feeling in me that just would not go away. And like Lewis, it was the pursuit of this ‘joy’ that sent me on a journey that would forever change my life.

The Journey from Joy:

“[There] is a craving which makes [man] a pilgrim and wanderer. It is the longing to go out from his normal world in search of a lost home, a ‘better country’.”[9] 

We are all so broken. It’s this realization that sent me on a personal journey leading to the Cross of Christ. And it was this longing, this ‘joy’ that made me weary and aware of my brokenness. How I long to be whole and right. If we are all honest about the longing in our heart and we recognize our brokenness, that longing would send us questing for a fix to the brokenness. About this Lewis writes,

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 at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.[10]

Lewis, through his relationships with friends and many author’s books came to better understand what we have described above. And his recognition of his own brokenness was one of the things that lead to a conversation from atheism to theism and then to Christianity. It is when we all come to this conclusion we see our deficiencies and then our gravitation towards God; or as Lewis put it, “my Adversary began to move.”[11] And it was Lewis’ pursuit of ‘joy’ that lead him to stop asking ‘what did I desire?’ but ‘Who is the desire?’ Bringing him into a “region of awe.”[12] It was then that Lewis for the first time examined himself. “And there I found what appalled me; a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears… My name is legion,” he writes.[13]

Another critical part of our journeys comes once we become aware of our longings and the in ability of earthly pleasures to satisfy them. While we think it is pleasure we are in search of I believe it’s actually something else altogether. In actuality we are not chasing anything but trying our hardest to avoid suffering. We are “far more anxious to avoid suffering than to achieve delight.”[14] This too is an impossibility. Lewis suggests that the desire to avoid suffering stems from a lesser yearning perhaps. He would say, and I agree having experienced this personally, that we avoid suffering because we do not want to be interfered with.

This was my last major obstacle to recognizing God as God. I thought I liked my life. I thought I was pursuing ‘joy’ and gaining on her. In reality though I was refusing to acknowledge what which was the Truth because I refused to bend my knee. I want to “call my soul my own.”[15] Once this attempt proved futile I was His. “The great Angler played His fish and I never dreamed that the hook was in my tongue.”[16]

Where does this journey end, where do the longings cease to be, and ‘joy’ is actualized? This brings us not to the end but the beginning. C.S. Lewis writes that as he made his transition from theism to Christianity that it was only then he started “approaching the source from which those arrows of Joy had been shot.”[17]

The Beginning:

“In Your presence there is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”[18] 

Our journey of longing, our pursuit of ‘joy’ does not end, not until they are realized in heaven. However, the longings no longer have the significance they once did because they are understood. We have a better perspective but only once viewed from the Christian angle. We can now see that the longings are not intended to be satisfied but instead serve as signs, pointing us to our final ending, which is also our beginning. Lewis compares ‘joy’ to signpost for hikers in the woods. When they are lost a sign is a wonderful sight, helping them again to find their way. The first deserves marvel but once on their proper path they needn’t stop and marvel at them all. Similarly, these longings are there to point us in the right direction, to point us to the glory of heaven, the fulfillment of ‘joy’ and ultimately to God.

            Apparently, then, our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation. And to be at last summoned inside would be both glory and honour beyond all our merits and also the healing of that old ache.[19]


[1] MacDonald, George. Phantastes: A Faerie Romance for Men and Women (London: Daldy, Isbister, 1874) 86. (Emphasis mine)

[2] Root, Jerry, C.S. Lewis: His Thought and Work seminar series at Biola University, Spring 2012

[3] Lewis, C.S., Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (Orlando: Harcourt Brace, 1955) 14.

[4] Lewis, C. S. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader: The Chronicles of Narnia (Harper Collins, Inc.: Kindle Edition, 2008) p. 5: Location 50.

[5] Lewis, C.S., Mere Christianity in The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2002) 114.

[6] Surprised by Joy. 15.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid 16

[9] Underhill, Evelyn. Mysticism (Stilwell, KS: Digireads.com Books, 2005) 90 (as viewed on Googlebooks.com).

[10] Lewis, C. S. The Weight of Glory (Harper Collins, Inc.: Kindle Edition, 2008) p. 25: Location 257.

[11] Surprised by Joy. 209.

[12] Ibid 214.

[13] Ibid 219.

[14] Ibid 220.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid 204

[17] Ibid 222.

[18] Psalm 16:11 (ESV).

[19] Lewis, C.S. The Weight of Glory, p. 41: Location 406.

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I believe…

What Are My Beliefs?

 

My cousin Beth posted a comment to my last entry asking what it is I believe.  I have been trying to write an answer to my beliefs for some time now.  It seems that each time I sit down to write, the words fly out the end of my figures like fireflies.  Before I know it three complete pages of my thoughts and reasons for them are staring back at me from the computer screen.  And I’m not even close to half way done.  So, in order to post something fairly brief and to the point I am going to try and relate my core beliefs.  For now there will be no defense of these beliefs, just plainly stated opinions on my faith.

 

I believe that there is an eternal, personal, all-powerful God.  God is self-existent.  God created and up holds the universe and everything in it.  The universe had a beginning (probably The Big Bang) and therefore a creator.  God is and has been forever.  God has a personality and is personal and therefore answers my prayers.  God is not a force or some cosmic energy.  God is not nature or the universe itself.  God is a singular loving, caring being.  We humans are made in the likeness of God.  This means God has feelings and laughs and cries and loves us all, no matter what!!  This also means that we have a uniqueness, value and dignity. 

 

The grand miracle at the very heart of my belief system is the fact that God came to us here on earth in human form as Jesus Christ.  It is through his miracles and his resurrection from the dead in particular that bear witness.

 

I believe in the bible and in her gospels.  In his letter to the Romans Paul wrote “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16).  It is through God that we can be free of our guilt.  Not everyone goes to heaven.  The bible humbles me!  More people should read and be humbled by the bible.

 

I believe science affirms my beliefs!  I believe that if science did not affirm my beliefs then all serous scientists would be atheists.  Bill Phillips and Francis Collins are only three among many credible men of science who are Christians.  Galileo, Kepler, Pascal, Newton, Pasteur were all believers.  Their belief in God served as their inspiration not hindrance to their science. Yes, Galileo was a man of God.  He firmly believed in the scriptures both before and after the Inquisition.  (This is when I get off course!  I have to remember this is not a defense of my faith!!)  Science will never answer the “why question” we all share, why are we here?

 

There is a reason for my being!!  I have a purpose to fulfill!!!  Eternity starts here and now, continuing into heaven.  We should be actively trying to bring heaven to Earth while we are living instead of actively living to get to heaven when we die.

 

Most of all I believe God is good!!  He has done more for me than I can ever do for him but that’s okay because the only thing He wants is my faithful belief. 

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