Till We Have Faces: a Review

Till We Have Faces

A Review

 

C.S. Lewis’ novel Till We Have Faces (TWHF) is retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche. The original myth is of a woman whose beauty is so renown that Aphrodite grants her to marry her son Cupid or forces her to marry her son, Cupid. Psyche’s sisters are so jealous of her husband that they plot to ruin the marriage (as Cupid is either so beautiful or hideous that he hides himself). The sisters tempt Psyche to use a lantern to catch a glimpse of Cupid, everything goes wrong from there. Lewis’ version utterly inverts this. I cannot say too much without revealing key plot points, but in the original tale the gods are petty and in the wrong. In this tale, the main character sees her own face as she tries to reveal what the gods’ faces are truly like.

 

The Good

The book shows Lewis’ understanding of human nature. He saw us in all of our pettiness, silliness, ugliness, beauty, and grandeur. His view of the human is thoroughly medieval and it show here. The main character, Orual, is narrated in such a way that the reader will want or even need to get to know her. It is interesting to have Lewis narrate the tale from the perspective of a female character too. I often find books written from the perspective of the opposite gender of the author to be bizarre. For some reason, this one works.

 

The Bad

The bad, here, is predicated upon the book. I’ve read it twice and it is haunting. It leaves me very unsettled because of its realistic depiction of our infinite capacity for self-deceit. So this is really good, but just expect to feel weird, even exposed after reading this novel.

 

The Awesome

Lewis’ thought comes through in the book in Marvelous ways, particularly in the interaction between the religion of the main character and the philosophy of her tutor, a Greek named, “The Fox.” This back and forth of concepts reminded me of a section from Lewis’ Essay, Christian Apologetics in God I the Dock:

 

We may [reverently] divide religions, as we do soups, into ‘thick’ and ‘clear’. By Thick I mean those which have orgies and ecstasies and mysteries and local attachments: Africa is full of Thick religions. By Clear I mean those which are philosophical, ethical and universalizing: Stoicism, Buddhism, and the Ethical Church are Clear religions.

 

The divergence and then convergence of understanding that the main character experiences is astounding, but again, largely because once she sees her own face or “speaks with her own voice” she is unable to address the gods. This is important for all of us. Until some experience of repentance or numinous horror can lead us to see ourselves as we are, then all our valid and thus very important reasoning about God’s reality is still somewhat inert. Even if we understand God’s essence in some way, it is not until we realize how he sees us that we can address him truly. This is what we have in the cross. Anyhow, the book just astounded me. I may read it again in December. I hope somebody else reads it and loves it.  

Mike Bird and the Arguments for God’s Existence

I recently bought Mike Bird’s Evangelical Theology. It has been a marvelous read so far, but when I read the section entitled “Traditional Proofs for the Existence of God (pp 180-183)” I was left a bit frustrated. Now, please take the following comments with the understanding that the book, over all, has been edifying. I especially appreciate Bird’s attempt to make the gospel message itself (as described in the New Testament) the focal point of each traditional loci of theology. So it looks like this, “How does the gospel inform the doctrine of the church and how do traditional understandings of this doctrine illuminate the gospel.” It’s a very helpful approach. 

 

Enough gushing. Here’s why I was frustrated in outline format:

  1. The Ontological Argument

    Bird notes on page 180, concerning the ontological argument, “One cannot help but get the impression that the ontological argument is little more than a game of words with “God.” But, his homeboy, Alvin Plantinga notes that the argument is actually not all that bad. His version of the argument runs thus (Plantinga, The Nature of Necessity, 108):

    1. It is possible that there be a being that has maximal greatness.

    2. So there is a possible being that in some world W has maximal greatness.

    3. A being has maximal greatness in a given world only if it has maximal excellence in every world.

    4. A being has maximal excellence in a given world only if it has omniscience, omnipotence, and moral perfection in that world.

    This version of the argument, which I take exception to for other reasons, is a restatement of Anselm’s argument in modal terms. It clearly isn’t a word game. Even Anselm’s statement of the argument which Bird uses is very abbreviated. He mentions Aquinas’ objection to the argument and it is pretty good, but ultimately, Bird’s own objection is not the same. Aquinas didn’t see it as a word game, but rather, he bought into Aristotle’s metaphysical presupposition that all knowledge must come from the senses. Incidentally, Aquinas’ forth way is actually very, very similar to the Ontological argument, but does not fail for the same reasons because of sensible gradations within reality.

  2. The Cosmological

    Bird’s understanding of the Cosmological argument is fairly standard, though he narrows it all down to the Kalam version which has been revived most recently by William Lane Craig. His main objection to the argument is “Establishing…a first cause is one thing. To demonstrate that this first cause is God, a personal God, or even the God of Jesus Christ is quite another thing (Bird 181).” It is another thing, but that doesn’t make the effort worthless. Not only is it not worthless, but Aquinas’ Summa Contra Gentiles spends pages after page establishing why a first cause does have the attributes of the God of revelation.

    Imagine if I objected to his historical Jesus work by saying, “Establishing that Matthew’s gospel was written by a Jewish believer in Jesus is one thing, but demonstrating that his sources were accurate is quite another.” The same could be said in geometry, “Demonstrating that a triangle’s angles add up to 180 degrees is one thing, but demonstrating that the squares of a right triangle’s legs add up to the square of the hypotenuse is another.” I would argue that the if you can demonstrate a first cause as a matter of logical necessity, along with other aspects of Aquinas’ arguments, and then establish the resurrection of Jesus as an historical event then the first cause must be the Father of Jesus Christ or more robustly, the Triune God.

  3. The Teleological Argument

    Bird, is again, wide of the mark here too (Bird, 182) This is an important one exactly because of certain debates raging today. He gives the full text of Aquinas’ summary of the argument in the Summa Theologica, but he then equates it with the argument of Paley, whose precis he also quotes. Both quotes are the quotes in William Lane Craig’s book, Reasonable Faith. Craig and Bird are both brilliant (as were Paley and Aquinas), but the arguments are only similar to one another on the surface. They are not the same argument. One of them is based upon the appearance of design to the mind of those familiar with design (Paley). On the other hand, Aquinas’ argument is actually about the very nature of causality (which most of the five ways are). Aquinas elsewhere argues about the importance of Aristotle’s four causes for understanding nature (see http://dhspriory.org/thomas/english/DePrincNaturae.htm ). The “final cause” is the form of causality that refers to the finality towards which things, events, and existence tends. Aquinas argues that the existence of “if-then” or efficient/instrumental causality depends upon the existence of end goal causality and that since all of nature (intelligent and non-intelligent) tends towards goals/ends, then it can be said that God directs things towards their ends. This is not the same as saying “God made complicated things.” It is the argument that even the most complicated things have natural explanations precisely because an intelligence, nay an intelligent Being, directs these natural things towards their end. This is a common mistake. There may be something to Paley’s argument in the end, but it is not Aquinas’. I, personally, am and have been skeptical of it, but if it turns out to be true, my skepticism is what must give way to the truth. Thomist and Greek Orthodox folks alike have pointed out the error of equating the arguments (Edward Feser, Christopher Martin, Brian Davies, and David Bentley Hart come to mind).

  4. The Moral Argument

    Bird gets this pretty much right on the head (Bird, 183). If ethics is to be a science (in the sense of a body of knowledge) then it must postulate a divine law maker. The moral argument is more nuanced than that and it has wonderful rhetorical force as well as dialectic rigor in its best forms. Bird utilized Kant and Lewis’ version of the argument. I take that as wise.

 

Mike Bird, Evangelical Theology: A Biblical and Systematic Introduction.  Zondervan 2013.

Edward Feser, Between Aristotle and Paley: Aquinas’ Fifth Way (Nova et Vetera, English Edition,Vol. 11, No. 3, 2013), 707-4.

Edward Feser, Thomas Aquinas (a Beginner’s Guide) One World Books, 2009.

David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss Yale, 2013.

Christopher Martin, Thomas Aquinas: God and Explanations  Edinburgh University Press, 1997.

Alvin Plantinga, The Nature of Necessity Oxford University Press 1974.

Davis, Stephen T.Publication Information:In God, Reason & Theistic Proofs.Edinburgh, [Scotland] : Edinburgh University Press. 1997

Recently I’ve discovered Dr. Feser whose understanding of Aquinas is actually context based rather than based on caricatures. See his article Between Aristotle and Paley: Aquinas’ Fifth Way (Nova et Vetera, English Edition,Vol. 11, No. 3, 2013), 707-4. My comments will mirror his own, though they are a bit different. I hope the deficiencies in my brief presentation are taken as evidence I studied Feser’s article with my own understanding of the difference between Paley and Aquinas, not as deficiencies within his presentation. Anyhow, Bird should read his article. It is, as they say in Australia, “Gucci.”

 

Tyson and Religious Scientists

Something I’ve been saying for years has apparently also been said by Neil deGrasse Tyson:

This is important to me. When people have repeated the old canard that religious people are necessarily opposed to science and progress I usually point to the fact that I’m not opposed to science and I’m religious. That piece of hard, personally observable date usually never sufficed. I’d quote statistics. That also never seems to work. So I began trying pointing out how religious people, even profoundly religious people like Leonard Euler, Isaac Newton, Rene Descartes, Roger Bacon, Francis Bacon, Galileo, and others were scientists and mathematicians and logicians. Heck my landlord is a Christian and a Coral Reef biologist who is doing ground breaking work in preserving, observing, and cataloging rare specimens of coral in Hawaii. I also would try to explain how it was actually the rise of monotheistic religion on an empire wide scale that lead to advancements in scientific knowledge, method, and metaphysical assumptions about reality (like the nature of cause and effect). But it never worked. Hopefully this video will and does help. But since empirical, historical, and testimonial evidence from surveys of scientists didn’t work for me, maybe it won’t for Tyson.

Also see this article from the NCSE: http://ncse.com/rncse/18/2/do-scientists-really-reject-god

Interesting thoughts about arguments

A fiction author/videogame programmer who goes by Vox Day recently posted a blog wherein he notes the problems with trying to explain oneself in our current culture. First he quoted this guy, saying

Like the mistaking of kindness for weakness that plagues today’s nice guys, there is some element of the human mind that frames lengthy and incessant counter-argument as a position of weakness and insecurity. He who masters pithy, concise (and indirect and ambiguous, I might add) communication commands a stronger image of rhetorical confidence and state control than the bloviating firebrand whose logical appeals may indeed be without equal.

I would say that on the internet as well as in person I’ve had this problem. It’s not just with the young folk either. Even people my age and people forty years my senior seem to take the process of explanation as a sign of weakness. I’ve often in my life, because of certain types of social awkwardness I experienced as a youngster, tried to explain things that made perfect sense to me (because I looked them up, thought them through, and came to an opinion) and was either mocked or ignored. It wasn’t until I learned the art of insulting others and sarcastic retort that I gained some traction socially. But moving on from those moments, I’ve still found myself having this problem in positions wherein I am certain logic and debate are the flavor of the hour (because I’m at a book club, a staff meeting for this or that employer, or in a class discussion in college). 

Day’s observations, however ungrounded in any particular science, track very well with my own observations: 

There is a massive difference in perception between being the recipient of a breathless, circuitous infodump and being the recipient of a long lecture after the lecturer first coldly informs you that this is going to be a long, detailed, and painful experience because you are so woefully ignorant that there is simply no other choice if you are not to be left drowning in the swamp of your stupidity.

Another factor here is that simple binary thinkers tend to view multiple reasons as being somehow contradictory even when they reinforce each other. After all, if reason X is correct, then reason Y is at best unnecessary, and therefore to mention it must be indicative of a weakness in X. This is, of course, profoundly stupid, but has a rational foundation in that people who have no case do tend to take the spaghetti approach and throw out everything they can in the hope that something will stick.

I don’t relish, usually, moments where some horrific wall of human stupidity has to be cracked by the pick-ax of rhetoric rather than surmounted by more agile forms of logic. But, sometimes these things have to be done. The last thing any Christian should want to become is an irascible jerk, but the amount of conversations in and out of church circumstances where simply appeal to evidence or logic leads to mockery, blank stares, or quotes from internet memes which are mistaken for intelligent discourse is astounding. This all goes back to this:

4  Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself.
5  Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes. (Proverbs 26:4-5 ESV)

Sometimes you need to ignore a fool. Sometimes you need to make one feel the utter weight of his foolishness lest he think he’s right about something silly or dangerous. 

Anyhow, I’ve already fallen back into the folly of over explaining someth…

Meekness and Such

I think Christians often struggle with the word “meek.” Jesus says, “Blessed are the meek.” Paul says that the fruit of Spirit is 1/9th meekness flavoured. The word, in common English usage means “quiet, gentle, and submissive (Concise Oxford English Dictionary).” Christians certainly are to be those things in certain contexts. But, the issue of Christians learning meekness becomes particularly vexing when Jesus says, “Learn of me because (or that) I am meek and humble of heart (Matthew 11:29).” But Jesus is not usually very submissive to others, he’s not always quiet, and sometimes he is not particularly gentle.

But, a bit of research to the rescue, and BDAG (a lexicon of ancient Greek) defines the word which we translate meek below and then gives potential translations of the word: 

Πραυτης – the quality of not being overly impressed by a sense of one’s self-importance, gentleness, humility, courtesy, considerateness, meekness*

So I wonder if Jesus’ meekness and our own is closer to the idea of being unassuming and not self-impressed. The word doesn’t mean flippant or not taking oneself seriously. Jesus was deadly serious, “Learn of me…I will give you rest.” But he did not take personal insults with seriousness except insofar as they infringed upon the truth. He even noted, “Every sin against the Son of Man will be forgiven…” Jesus was willing to associate with anybody who was willing to hear the gospel. That was meekness. His considerateness was not limited to those he considered honorable enough. It was for all. This is how he was meek, yet simultaneously able to be very harsh. Meekness, for the Christian, appears to be the virtue of taking others seriously enough to give them time, tell them the truth, and make amendments to your life to improve their lives. It is, in that respect, one aspect of love. Meekness is not submitting to any and every unjust authority, accepting every insult that is injurious to good causes, and sitting back while evil is done against the weak.

The end.

* Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., & Bauer, W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Sleep and Adam Clarke

Pro 20:13 Love not sleep, lest you come to poverty; open your eyes, and you will have plenty of bread.

This passage of Scripture is important in our culture. We write more about sleep in news and science journals than pretty much any other culture and yet we seem to sleep less. I’m wondering if our love for sleep mixed with a love of not ‘missing out’ on what ever we’re staying up to do has caused us to have less sleep than the compilers and authors of Proverbs assume we need while also causing us to love sleep/idleness to the point of the average individual being unproductive.

Ecclesiastes 5:12 notes that “…sweet is the sleep of a laborer…” but perhaps there’s just not much labor going on. And earlier in Proverbs 3:24 it is noted that whoever has discretion and wisdom will have sweet sleep. So maybe we also do not show discretion with our time.

Adam Clarke noted this in his commentary on the whole Bible:

Love not sleep, lest thou come to poverty – Sleep, indescribable in its nature, is an indescribable blessing; but how often is it turned into a curse! It is like food; a certain measure of it restores and invigorates exhausted nature; more than that oppresses and destroys life. A lover of sleep is a paltry, insignificant character.

Is it possible that our fascination with sleep, our love of sleeping in, and our obsession with understanding how to get enough sleep stems from:

  1.  The fact that very few of us actually do very much.
  2.  The lack of discretion used in our culture. 

I should probably do some checks on sleep studies to see if there is a noted correlation in modern research literature, but at least in the Ancient world over sleeping and poor sleeping were often associated with bad decisions and laziness.

Note: I am aware that insomnia can rob one of sleep for no apparent reason. Though I have discovered that using the same relaxing techniques I learned in karate class as a young man have helped me over come my difficulty sleeping. When I was in high school and early college I would often sit up doing nothing until it was time to go to work or school in the morning because I just couldn’t sleep. The point is that insomnia appears to have no moral correlate at all. I hope my post helps those whose sleep struggles are otherwise. 

Chapel Sermon Notes 3-6-2013

A Brief Interlude From Proverbs

 

 

Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us: that we could be called children of God…and we are! Because of this, the world does not know us: because it has not known him. Beloved, now we are children of God and it has not yet been made clear what we will be. We know that when he is revealed we will become like him because we will see him just as he is. And everybody who has this hope in him purifies himself just as he is pure. (1 John 3:1-3)

 

  1. The love of God

    1. God calls us his children. (A child, in the ancient world, represented your presence and character in the world. This is why the proverbs often note that a foolish son is a shame to his parents.

    2. We are, you who believe the gospel are, called God’s children. We are renewed from a state of shame in relation to God to a state of dignity. You and I, grovelling in a state of arrogant refusal of God’s goods, were offered his good and beautiful Son’s life in place of our own. We now have been adopted by God. We play with sin, but this is like baking mud pies in the sun when God is offering 4 course meal with the tab paid for.

  2. The Dignity of being a Christian.

    1. Being a Christian is a reason to grin. It is a reason to have good cheer. It is a reason walk, not in arrogance, but with excitement about God’s plan for you. You life is confusing to those who do know Christ like the sea is confusing to one who has lived upon the land. The world cannot understand the alien actions of the Christian convert: being kind to people who are different from you, being frugal in a world of excess, being chaste in a world of sexual obsession, trusting God to relieve you of your guilt and freely forgiving others the same way, seeing humility as a virtue and not a weakness, and on-and-on. This is a life of dignity and virtue that those who look for honor in other places cannot even notice it. This is why they do not see the glory of Christ crucified.

    2. You cannot control this excitement but you can consider this, “It is not clear what we will be…but we will be like him.” Why will we be like him? We will see him like he is.

  3. The dignified life of a Christian

    1. How do you live this dignified life?

      1. Behold Christ now

        1. In reading, studying, hearing, and meditating the New Testament because it testifies to him.

        2. In reading, studying, hearing, and meditating the Old Testament because it was Jesus’ Bible and it foreshadowed his life.

      2. Purify yourself as Jesus is pure

        1. Learn to say, “No” to your sins.

        2. Learn to confess your sins. This is the paradox of the Christian life: part of learning not to sin is acknowledging your sins 

 

O Love Divine!

O Love Divine! that stoop’st to share

Our sharpest pang, our bitterest tear,

On Thee we cast each earth-born care,

We smile at pain while Thou art near.

Though long the weary way we tread,

And sorrow crown each lingering year,

No path we shun, no darkness dread,

Our hearts still whispering, Thou art near.

When drooping pleasure turns to grief,

And trembling faith is changed to fear,

The murmuring wind, the quivering leaf,

Shall softly tell us Thou art near.

On Thee we cast our burdening woe,

O Love Divine, for ever dear;

Content to suffer while we know,

Living or dying, Thou art near!

OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES, 1809–18941

 

1 Tozer, A. W. (1991). The Christian Book of Mystical Verse (p. 64). Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread.