Posts Tagged ‘C.S. Lewis’

This life is all you’ve got, so make the most of it

May 29, 2019

There are two main arguments about religious beliefs.  One is about whether they are factually true—whether you really will go to Heaven or Hell, or to a reincarnated new life, when you die, for example. The other is about whether religious faith is a good thing regardless of whether it is true.  Many lack religious faith and regret the lack.

THIS LIFE: Secular Faith and Spiritual Freedom by Martin Hägglund (2019) Is aimed at unhappy disbelievers.  He made the case that you can be a better and happier person without religious belief than with it

Hankering for Heaven or Nirvana won’t free you from the pain and risk of life, Hägglund wrote; it is better to face the fact that this life is all you’ve got, and to make the most of it.

Secular faith is the faith that your finite life really is worthwhile, despite its risk and pain.  Spiritual freedom is the power to choose what makes your life meaningful.

Your life’s meaning can be devotion to your loved ones, to a vocation or avocation or to work to make the world a better place.  It evidently goes without saying, because Hägglund doesn’t explicitly say it, that it does not include devotion to money, power or sex, drugs and rock-and-roll.

I sometimes talk to people who tell me they’re spiritual, not religious.  I tell them that I myself am not spiritual at all.  They often tell me that actually I am spiritual, even if I don’t know it or won’t admit it.

Hägglund did the same thing in reverse.  He argued that religious people who try to make the world a better place really are more secular than religious, because they care about this world rather than the hypothetical next world.

He began by writing about the great Christian writer C.S. Lewis and his grief for the death of his wife, Joy Davidian.  Lewis confessed in A Grief Observed that his Christian religious faith did not console him or shield him from the pain of the loss of his beloved.

Friends tried to tell Lewis that he and his beloved would meet again in Heaven, but, as he pointed out, there is no support for this idea in Scripture.  The whole point of Heaven is that it would be qualitatively different from Earthly life, not a continuation of it.

Lewis believed that an endless continuation of earthly life would eventually become unbearable.  As he remarked somewhere, all that is necessary for Hell is eternal life, plus human nature as it is.  He thought Heaven must be some sort of timeless transcendent state of being beyond out comprehension.

Hägglund argued that the desire to exist in a timeless transcendent state makes this life meaningless, because nothing in this life would count compared to that.  He said the same is true of use of Buddhist meditation practice or Stoic philosophy to cultivate a serenity that makes you indifferent to the pain of loss.  Hägglund said the price of that is to never care deeply about anything or commit strongly to anything.  He thinks that is an unworthy way to live.

The conflict between this world and a transcendent hope are shown in the life of Saint Augustine, he wrote.  Augustine’s Confessions show his struggle to free himself from caring about things in this world so that he can devote himself exclusively to God.  Augustine even worried about whether church music would cause people to come to church to enjoy the music rather than pray to God.

Hägglund contrasted Augustine with writers such as Marcel Proust and the contemporary Norwegian writer, Karl Ove Knausgaard, who treasure and lovingly describe the ordinary details of life.

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C.S. Lewis on the varied meanings of Christmas

December 16, 2013

C.S. Lewis, the great Christian writer, wrote in 1957 that the holiday we call Christmas and celebrate on Dec. 25 is really three holidays in one.

GodInTheDockThree things go by the name of Christmas.  One is a religious festival.  This is important and obligatory for Christians, but … it can be of no interest to anyone else …

The second … is a popular holiday, an occasion for merry-making and hospitality.  If it were my business to have a ‘view’ on this, I should say I much approve of merry-making.  But what I approve of much more is everybody minding his own business. …

But the third thing called Christmas is unfortunately everybody’s business.  I mean of course the commercial racket.

The idea that everybody is obligated to buy presents for all their friends, and buy cards to send to all their loved ones, friends and acquaintances, is a contemporary idea and not part of the historical idea of Christmas, Lewis wrote.  He condemned the commercial Christmas holiday on the following grounds.

1.  It gives on the whole much more pain than pleasure. You only have to say over Christmas with a family who seriously try to ‘keep’ it (in its third, or commercial, aspect) in order to see that the thing is a nightmare.  Long before December 25th everyone is worn out—physically worn out by weeks of daily struggle in overcrowded shops, mentally worn out by the effort to remember all the right recipients and to think of suitable gifts for them.  They are in no trim for merry-making, much less (if they should want to) to take part in a religious act.  They look far more as if there had been a long illness in the house.

Christmas-Shopping-Fever-22.  Most of it is involuntary.  The modern rule is that anyone can force you to give him a present by sending you a quite unprovoked present of his own.  It is almost a blackmail.  Who has not heard the wail of despair, and indeed of resentment, when, at the last moment, just as everyone hoped that the nuisance was over for one more year, the unwanted gift from Mrs. Busy (whom we can hardly remember) flops un-welcomed through the letter-box and back to the dreadful shops one of us has to go?

3.  Things are given as presents which no mortal has ever bought for himself — gaudy and useless gadgets, ‘novelties’ because nobody was ever fool enough to make their like before.  Have we really no better use for materials and for human skill and time than the spend them on all this rubbish?

4.  The nuisanceFor after all, during the racket we still have our ordinary and necessary shopping to do, and the racket trebles the labor of it.

Lewis wrote that if the Christmas shopping season is necessary to keep the retail stores in business, he would sooner give them the money for nothing and write it off as a charity.

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Christian marriage and civil unions

March 29, 2012

The major objection to legal recognition of gay marriage is that it is contrary to the historic teachings of Christianity and, indeed, of Judaism, Islam and other faiths.   But in fact the civil law as regards divorce has departed from Christian teachings from some time.

As I read the Gospels, Mark and Luke report that Jesus condemned condemned divorce, or Matthew that he condemned divorce except for reason of unchastity.  The first is the historic teaching of the Roman Catholic Church concerning marriage.   The second was the teaching of the main Protestant churches down through the early 20th century.

New York state’s “no fault” divorce law, under which I myself was divorced many years ago, allows a husband and wife to dissolve their marriage based on mutual agreement.   This is contradictory to the idea of marriage as bond which lasts “so long as you both shall live” than a same-sex union.   So are the laws of other states.  Civil marriage law for decades has ceased to reflect the Christian teaching that marriage is a sacrament that neither party can dissolve.

The Christian writer C.S. Lewis recognized the problem back in 1943

A great many people think that if you are a Christian yourself, you should try to make divorce difficult for everyone.   I do not think that.   At least I know I would be very angry if the Mohammedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine.

My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognize that the majority of the British people are not Christians and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives.  There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on  her own members.   The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not.

I don’t think the government should be in the business of defining marriage at all.   God, if He exists, knows who is married in His eyes and who is not.  Nothing the law can say can change this.  Let the government define the legal responsibilities of partners in civil unions and of parents to children,  and let the churches, who claim to speak for God, define marriage.