Mindset: All of Life Could Be Heaven or Hell


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When it comes to learning to be spiritually minded or to have a Biblical mindset, part of the process is learning to look at the present moment (as you hope for the glories of heaven) as though from the future bliss of life with God (looking back and seeing the Providences and graces which led you to heaven). And while none can do both at once, it’s an important facet of the mindset of the Spirit enjoined upon us in Scripture. Your whole life can be heaven, and as a gift from God, this power lies within you (insofar as you actuate the graces God has granted you). Your whole life can be hell, even before you’re judged, and this too, as a gift from God, is a power that lies within you (insofar as you are free).

Here are three quotes which have helped me to understand this process:

Resolved: To live so, at all times, as I think is best in my most devout frames, and when I have the clearest notions of the things of the gospel, and another world.[1] – Jonathan Edwards

 

A mind not to be changed by place or time.

The mind is its own place, and in itself

Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.

What matter where, if I be still the same,

And what I should be, all but less than he

Whom thunder hath made greater? Here at least

We shall be free; the Almighty hath not built

Here for his envy, will not drive us hence:

Here we may reign secure; and, in my choice,

To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell:

Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.[2] – Milton’s Satan

 

Anodos looked through the door of the Timeless he brought no message back. But ye can get some likeness of it if ye say that both good and evil, when they are full grown, become retrospective. Not only this valley but all their earthly past will have been Heaven to those who are saved. Not only the twilight in that town, but all their life on Earth too, will then be seen by the damned to have been Hell. That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporal suffering, “No future bliss can make up for it,” not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say “Let me have but this and I’ll take the consequences”: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death. The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why, at the end of all things, when the sun rises here and the twilight turns to blackness down there, the Blessed will say “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven,” and the Lost, “We were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly.[3] – The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis.

References


[1] Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, vol. 1 (Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), lxiii.

[2] John Milton, The Harvard Classics 4: The Complete Poems of John Milton, ed. Charles W. Eliot (New York: P. F. Collier & Son, 1909), 96–97.

[3] Lewis, C. S.. The Great Divorce (Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis) (pp. 69-70). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.


By Leeds University Library – English Wikipedia: en:Image:Milton paradise.jpg, Public Domain, Link

How to read: Ask is it true?

[I originally wrote this in 2015. It seems especially relevant now.]

In the Screwtape Letters, the delightfully evil demon said this to his student:

Only the learned read old books and we have now so dealt with the learned that they are of all men the least likely to acquire wisdom by doing so. We have done this by inculcating the Historical Point of View. The Historical Point of View, put briefly, means that when a learned man is presented with any statement in an ancient author, the one question he never asks is whether it is true. He asks who influenced the ancient writer, and how far the statement is consistent with what he said in other books, and what phase in the writer’s development, or in the general history of thought, it illustrates, and how it affected later writers, and how often it has been misunderstood (specially by the learned man’s own colleagues) and what the general course of criticism on it has been for the last ten years, and what is the “present state of the question.” To regard the ancient writer as a possible source of knowledge—to anticipate that what he said could possibly modify your thoughts or your behaviour—this would be rejected as unutterably simple-minded. And since we cannot deceive the whole human race all the time, it is most important thus to cut every generation off from all others; for where learning makes a free commerce between the ages there is always the danger that the characteristic errors of one may be corrected by the characteristic truths of another. – C.S. Lewis The Screwtape Letters Letter XXVII

For those who haven’t read The Screwtape Letters, it’s a book of speculative fiction by C.S. Lewis wherein he writes from the perspective of a demon attempting to help a lesser demon tempt a human being who begins to consider Christianity.

I think that Lewis’ point above is very important. In a significant portion of scholarship (as well as in internet bickering) the source, background, or reaction others might have to a claim are what people consider. The missing piece is, “Is it true?” After we ask the truth question, we can ask, “So what?” I’d rather read a book by a brilliant New Testament scholar like Maurice Casey who actually asks, “Is it true?” and said, “No.” It gets tiresome reading work that says, “Clearly Paul got this idea from stoicism,” “Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher” or “Aquinas just said things Aristotle said,” without exploring whether the ideas are true and what it means for the reader if they are true.

The idea that one has found the origin of an idea and can therefore reject it is actually a textbook example of the genetic fallacy (the notion that an idea is discredited for its source rather than evidence to the contrary). Now, obviously in a Bible commentary part of the task is explaining parallels, allusions, background, and so-on. But even then, the truth question must be asked in one, if not, two ways:

  1. Is this interpretation true?
  2. Once the text is interpreted, is the text true and if so, how?

Examples of finding the source/influence behind an idea or the hypothetical results of expressing it are rampant on the internet.

There is a good reason for this: making an idea seem unpleasant to believe is easier to do than making an idea seem untrue. For instance, if I explain where an idea comes from, then I can make it seem juvenile to think it (That idea is from the Bronze Age!). Or, if I can say that “so-and-so bad person thinks that idea,” then the idea is shameful. Th

e problem is that many people won’t actually consider ideas on the level of logic and facts because it is rare that people think about the difference between logic and rhetoric. Anyway, I challenge you to ask the truth question when you read.

Thoughts on Faith

In Christian thought, faith often has three distinct meanings:

  1. Belief that something is true (see James 2).
  2. Complete loyalty and trust in/to a person, idea, or group (see Galatians and the gospels).
  3. ‘the faith’ means the body of Christian beliefs and practices handed down by tradition.

“The faith” in meaning three, is a tradition and body of teaching. It doesn’t properly connect people to God because it is, by nature, a field of study and not a person or relationship between persons. But, “the faith” contains that ideas of the Christian gospel.

Faith in the second sense, is usually considered to be what connects the Christian to God, apart from any meritorious work or virtue on the part of the Christian. But such faith certainly leads to good works and meritorious works.

But, belief that something is true (the first definition above), has often been considered a virtue. I’ve always pondered how this could be so. Everybody changes their mind based on evidence and then sticks with the facts. But as I learned statistics, economics, and observed ideas change based on cultural fads, I realized that faith could mean accepting what the logic shows you despite what you think should be true. C.S. Lewis wrote about this in Mere Christianity. He called faith, “the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods. (Mere Christianity, 123)”

He illustrates this in a way that should be familiar to nerds everywhere. I’ll summarize and embellish. Imagine that there exists a person who starts acting like they have a crush on you. All your friends say, “This person is a cad…beware.” Hilariously, you already knew this to be so! But all your hormones cause you to help this person study, edit their papers, and listen to their problems. Then, when you pour out your feelings for this person to him/her, it turns out that you are treated just like your prior knowledge predicted. The virtue of faith, as belief that something is true, would have required that you stick to your initial perception until evidence (not moods) led you away from them.

Interestingly, in a great deal of atheist literature, I’ve found that the rhetoric often sounds like this:

We atheists believe the cold hard realities of the godless, meaningless world, despite our temptations to seek comfort in gods, afterlife, and fairies. You religious folk simply have faith, but we have the strength to believe the truth. (made up summary of ideas from several books I read in like 2009 when atheism started becoming cool again)

But this is no different from the Christian notion of faith as a virtue. If a Christian finds evidence that Christianity is completely false, then he should sit down and consider whether or not the evidence is valid and rethink his life. But, if the Christian really wants to look at internet pornography or commit murder and suddenly has an epiphany that Christianity is false based on vague impressions, then the virtue of faith would serve him well.

Similarly, if the atheist starts reconsidering atheism because of sudden superstition, then he should power forward with his commitment to a meaningless universe. But if the atheist suddenly has a vision that lucidly predicts a future with reference to a religion being true, then it occurs, then the atheist should consider this evidence carefully.

Anyway, there is obviously much more to say about faith, but I had these thoughts on my way to work this morning.

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.