journey of an atheist 6 -- land ho!
2/26/2007 10:54:00 AM
Checkmate doesn't end with Lewis becoming a Christian, but it ends with Lewis becoming a theists. The last chapter, "The Beginning" tells of the last and final step towards becoming a Christian. Lewis had earlier in his life struggled with pluralism. He had a hard time accepting one religion as true in the face of thousands of options. Even after becoming a Christian, it seems that he maintains a portion of this thinking. He states on the matter: I do not think the resemblance between the Christian and the merely imaginative experience is accidental. I think that all thins, in their way, reflect heavenly truth, the imagination not least. 'Reflect' is the important word" (Check). So for Lewis, "The question was, no longer to find the one simply true religion among a thousand religions simply false. It was rather, 'Where has religion reached its true maturity?'" (The Beginning) To Lewis, there were 2 options: Hinduism and Christianity. Everything else was a 'vulgarization' or 'unrefined' version of these two. Hinduism lacked in two areas: First, its philosophy and practice existed in two separate arenas, and were not mixed, as “oil and water” in Lewis’ terms (The Beginning). Second, Hinduism did 5 not have the historical context that the Christian religion had. The gospels for Lewis did not possess the mythical elements that other religious traditions did. Of Christianity, Lewis says, "This is not 'a religion', nor 'a philosophy'. It is the summing up and actuality of them all." (The Beginning)
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greer-heard point-counterpoint forum
2/20/2007 11:28:00 PM
This is a shameless plug for the Greer-Heard Forum to be held at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. This year, Alister McGrath, a Oxford scientist/theologian and Daniel Dennett a philosopher from Tufts University, will be debating the future of atheism.

The cost is $20 for the general public, $10 for students, and free for any NOBTS faculty or students.
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it's all about me...
2/19/2007 02:14:00 AM
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journey of an atheist 5 -- narrow straights
2/17/2007 09:18:00 PM
The Third was the logical outgrowth of accepting the Absolute and the newly found discovery. To Lewis, Humans have appearances of the Absolute, thus are rooted in the Absolute. This allows mortals to experience Joy. For Lewis, "Joy was not a deception. It's visitations were rather the moments of the clearest consciousness we had, when we became aware of our fragmentary and phantasmal nature and ached for that impossible reunion which would annihilate us or that self-contradictory waking which would reveal, not that we had gad, but that we were, a dream" (Checkmate) This statement is somewhat ambiguous language, but it seem he is saying that our existence apart from the Joy is rather dismal, and an encounter with Joy wakens one to the ultimate reality beyond oneself.

The Fourth and Final Move was the step into full-fledged theism. To explain, Lewis uses an extended metaphor of Shakespeare meeting Hamlet. At first God was not personal. Lewis says, "I could no more "meet" him than Hamlet could meet Shakespeare" (Checkmate), but later he theorizes, "If Shakespeare and Hamlet could ever meet, it must be Shakespeare's doing. Hamlet could initiate nothing." (Checkmate) He concludes with this:
The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to the prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance to escape? The words, 'compelle intrare' (which means is forced entry into the church), compel them to come in, have been so abused by wicked men that we shudder to use them; but properly understood, they plumb the depth of Devine mercy. The hardness of God is kinder than the softness of men, and His compulsion is our liberation. (Checkmate)
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journey of an atheist 4 -- navigating the course
2/10/2007 04:55:00 PM
Accepting the Absolute was a baby step compared the next step Lewis takes in the chapter entitled, "Checkmate". Checkmate is the term used by chess players to describe a situation in which the king can no longer avoid capture, and thus the game ends. Lewis describes his conversion experience from the "New Look" to theism in these terms. He divided his conversion into four moves, each distinct in its characteristic and fundamental to his surrender.

The First Move for Lewis was to "annihilate the last remains of the New Look." J.R.R. Tolkein played a significant role in tearing down the barriers between Lewis and theism. Tolkein was both a catholic and a philologist, which is one who studies ancient literature. Recall that Lewis adhered to chronological snobbery, so anything old was discredited in his mind on that basis and that Lewis wanted nothing to do with God. Tolkein's friendship help remove these barriers in Lewis. Lewis says as a result of Tolkein's influence that, "Realism had been abandoned; the New Look was somewhat damaged, and chronological snobbery was seriously shaken" (Checkmate). All these things had been essential to Lewis' philosophy before Tolkein.

The Second Move was for Lewis a complete paradigm shift. Lewis adopts and adapts the philosophy presented by Alexander in Space, Time and Deity. Lewis describes the philosophy, saying:
I accept this distinction at once and have ever since regarded it as an indispensable tool of thought...It seems to me self-evident that one essential property of love, hate, fear, hope, or desire was attention to their object. To cease thinking about or attending to the woman is, so far, to cease loving; to cease thinking about or attending to the dreaded thing is, so far, to cease being afraid. But to attend to your own love or gear is to case attending to the loved or dreaded object. In other words, the enjoyment and the contemplation of our inner activities are incompatible. You cannot home and also think about hoping at the same moment. for in hoe we like to hopes object and we interrupt this by (so to speak) turning round to look at the hope itself; but they are distinct and incompatible. (Checkmate)
Lewis adds a third dimension to Alexander's philosophy: The unconscious He states succinctly: "We do not love, fear, or think without knowing it. Instead of the two fold division of Conscious and unconscious, we need a threefold division: Unconscious, the Enjoyed, and the Contemplated." (Checkmate) For Lewis, the he Unconscious is the mere acts; the Enjoyed the thought of the act; and the Contemplated is the thought on the thought of the act. For Lewis, this thinking was revolutionary. He reflects saying, "This discovery flashed new light back on my whole life. I saw that all my waitings and watchings for Joy, all my vain hopes to find some mental content on which I could, so to speak, lay my finger and say, 'That is it' had been futile attempts to contemplate the enjoyed." (Checkmate) He reflections on his attempts at Joy were "the mental track left by the passage of Joy -- not the wave but the waves imprint on the sand." Lewis then realizes he had been asking the wrong question all along. To him, it should have been, "Who is the desired?" and up to that point, he had only asked "What is it?" (Checkmate). This mode of thinking becomes the bedrock that permeates through many of Lewis' other writings.
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journey of an atheist 3 -- catching sight of land
2/05/2007 06:41:00 PM
It is admittedly daunting to summarize how such a wonderful, thought provoking story such as Lewis' journey from atheistic thinking to full-fledge Christianity is such a forum as this, but this is an attempt none-the-less. The journey is sign-posted by Lewis in three broad categories, which include the "New Look", his conversion to theism, then his conversion to Christianity. These three stages of the journey reflect the content of the last three chapters of the book, with particular emphasis on the middle of the three.

Lewis' directionless journey caught sight of the island he long for after he came to Oxford. The predominant mode of thinking at the time at Oxford was idealism, which for Lewis created the seedbed of what he calls the "Absolute". Lewis sets up for himself a philosophical system, which is an outgrowth of idealism. Although the Absolute was not God, it was one step closer to God than where Lewis had been before. He describes the Absolute:

The Absolute Mind -- better still the Absolute -- was impersonal, or it knew itself (but not us?) only in us, and it was so absolute that it wasn't really much more like a mind than anything else...Yet there was one really wholesome element in it. The Absolute was 'there' and that 'there' contained the reconciliation of all contraries, the transcendence of all finitude, the hidden glory which was the only perfectly thing there is. In fact, it had much of the quality of Heaven. But it was a Heaven none of us could ever get to. (The New Look)
The Absolute, whatever it may be, was for Lewis more religious than what he had called Christianity. However, his acceptance of the absolute was not full blown theism. It was at least an acceptance of something ethereal or transcendence, but it was still intangible, impersonal, and not a being itself.
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journey of an atheist 2 -- drifting at sea
2/02/2007 10:36:00 AM
The first course that Lewis plotted was a course of indulgence. Lewis went to many boarding schools as a boy, teenager, and a young man. These schools were anything but edifying for Lewis, save a few teachers and peers he encountered on the way. To him, the thing to do at these schools was to be self-centered, so Lewis did just that. He became what he calls, "dressy" (I Broaden My Mind) He dresses in the latest fads with designer ties, and slicks his hair with oil, although he personally thought it was gross. Lewis for the first time stoops to vulgarity, swearing and cussing, as it seems to be the thing to do. He also notes that for the first time here really begins to lust after women. These indulgences were his first attempt to fill the void left by the absence of Joy in his life. But these things seemed to lack, and it was at that point Lewis changed directions.

The second course that Lewis plotted was almost a 180-degree turn from the life of indulgence. It doesn't seem that Lewis took on a whole new persona overnight, but the shift was gradual, subtle over time, with the indulgences in culture lessening. The indulgence was replaced with isolation. Lewis delved into education and learning, but this produced a whole new set of problems for Lewis. As he put it, he had replaced self-centeredness with selfishness (The Great Knock) with the emphasis being on the intellectual arrogance. Lewis, after having gone to Wyvern began reading a number of highly scholastic authors. This reading gave him a sense of superiority to those who only read magazines and listened to nothing but ragtime (Light and Shade). This also gave him an intellectual justification to reject faith in addition to his experience. He doubted prayer, and seemingly used unanswered prayer as an excuse not to believe in God (I Broaden My Mind). He rejected religion in light of pluralism because struggled with accepting truth claims of a particular religion over the competing religions (I Broaden My Mind). Likewise, he struggled with a world of what he calls "undesign", and he questions how a god could make a world like his own (I Broaden My Mind). Perhaps the climax of Lewis' rebellion was what he called chronological snobbery, in which he rejected anything that was old because he thought newer things were better. It seems that he was one who sought to debunk the status quo, to be novel or revolutionary, whether it was against established orthodoxy, or its polar opposite (Check).

But in all of Lewis attempts to be novel and find Joy on his own, he struggled with confronting those he held dear with his beliefs, particularly his father. He admits that he could not face his father with his beliefs and postulates how his father might react. So cowardice compelled him to heap on more novelty and intellect that him drove further and further into rebellion. Lewis says of this, "Cowardice drove me to hypocrisy and hypocrisy to blasphemy" (Fortunes Smiles). In all though, Lewis still remained empty, yearning for something to fill him. Lewis agonizes, "The authentic 'Joy'...had vanished from my life: so completely that not even the memory or the desired remained. The reading of Sohrah had not given it to me. Joy is distinct not only from pleasure in general but even from aesthetic pleasure. It must have the stab, the pang, the inconsolable longin." (Renaissance). The more he read, the more the memory of Joy crept back into Lewis' life. He likens the feeling to heartache. And yearn he did -- to the point that he wanting nothing more than to have Joy back in his life. Lewis says, "And at once I knew (with fatal knowledge) that to 'have [Joy] again' was the supreme and only important object of desire" (Renaissance).
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