Tuesday, January 27, 2009
We as humans are compared quite often to sheep in the bible. Every day, as I mature this comparison seems to be more and more evident. Sheep are dull, stupid, and slow creatures. They’ll follow each other over a cliff to their deaths without a second thought if they see a green patch of grass at the bottom. In the same way, we are spiritually stupid, dull, and slow. We are too mesmerized with the illusive patch of green grass at the bottom of the cliff that we do not turn around to see the luscious field behind us. Pain is God’s indicator to turn around. Just as a shepherd might pull a sheep forcefully away from the edge of a cliff and guide that animal to the fields so can God allow pain in our life to point us in the right direction.
Pain is also God’s indicator that all is not well with the world. God is an artist and uses the different intricacies of his creation to teach us. Just as a musician’s style is evident in everything he plays so can we recognize God’s style in his creation. Pain is not just God’s indicator to turn around, it is also his indicator that all is not well in the world. It hints at our total depravity and the sin that is present in every aspect of our lives.
More than often the main cause of our pain is our disobedience. A sheep may disobey his shepherd and stray away from the herd. In cases like these that sheep could hurt itself by getting caught in a thorny bush or even killed by a wild animal. Sometimes we are like this sheep, we stray away from Christ’s guidance and choose our own path. Christ presents his law for our own benefit. It may seem as if his law constricts our freedom but in reality it is there to protect us. When we disobey we are hurt and a consequence is pain.
Pain is a powerful indicator of imperfection in the world. It is a way to point us toward the truth. Some may say that a loving God would not cause his children to suffer but that is simply not true. A kind God would not let his children suffer. God is much more then kind, he is loving. Consequently, he allows us to choose our own way. Sometimes we cause more pain to ourselves when we disobey his Word. Other times pain is present in our life to remind us of our imperfection and need for Him. It is by God’s grace that we feel pain because it is evidence of our sinfulness.
Every human has a desire for intimacy. Even though it seems as if some people can be closed or abrasive, intimacy remains a holy grail we strive to find. There are a myriad of paths that people follow in order to fulfill their longing for intimacy, but there are only two destinations. Some may find there needs fulfilled through relationship with people, others might find it through their identity, even others could choose intimacy with Christ. The destination of a person’s journey on their search for intimacy depends on whom they are looking toward.
The Inner Ring is the essence of what we look for and by definition it means that people are excluded. We feel special when we are part of an inner ring that others cannot join. It is much like a clique in high school where different groups would sit at different trees. We would have the Christian kids sitting under one tree across from the Mormon’s who would gather by the drinking fountain every day. The jocks would control the center of the school and there always existed the emo kids who would sulk far off in some corner out of the way. From a superficial standpoint these different groups seemed to be polar opposites but in reality they all desired the same thing and fulfilled that desire in the same way. “Exclusion is no accident; it is the essence” of the Inner Ring writes CS Lewis. Everyone desired intimacy and a sense of belonging. To fulfill these desires they created groups and would exclude others in the process to heighten the sense of uniqueness.
Obviously similar people attract each other and thus decide to affiliate. There is nothing wrong with that; it is natural for compatible people to desire fellowship with one another. The problem is the Inner Ring mentality where exclusion is the essence of the group. The Christians sitting under the tree at lunch did not feel as if they excluded others from their spot but from an outside point of view they were. Others would feel repelled from them because of the group mentality. The Christian kids would flock together; they would only really affiliate with each other. This idea of groupism, is similar to the Inner Ring, in that there existed exclusion. In this groupism exclusion was subconscious, because it was the big group that made them unapproachable. They refused to affiliate with others at lunch to avoid the discomfort of feeling excluded by the other Inner Rings around them and so sinned by excluding others.
In this way the Christian group became just like every other group at high school. They succumbed to the danger of finding their identity in human relationship and identity. Human relationship is very important but it is not the most important thing. To truly fulfill our desire for intimacy we must strive for a relationship with Christ. Our desires are too great for any worldly thing to fulfill and we need something supernatural on which to lean. Thus, in our search for intimacy we must focus upon Christ and our earthly relationships will follow. We must also avoid the dangers of exclusion for the sake of being in an Inner Ring. Gods Inner Ring is the only group that does not exclude and instead welcomes all who are weary, weak, and broken.
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
In today’s society, and even throughout history, love seems to be one of the most sought after things. I say things deliberately because I don’t exactly know how to label it. Sometimes it seems to be a feeling while other times it is more of an action. Although I have experienced many different forms of love I do not believe I have yet experienced Eros. Consequently, I will focus mostly on Eros because it most interests me. I have experienced both storge from my family and agape from God. I have felt the beauty of philia from my brothers and sisters in Christ but have not, however, experienced the mystery of Eros. Granted, I have had my crushes and flings. But when I consider Eros the way Lewis explains it, I come to the conclusion that it goes deeper than sexual attraction or companionship. It is the purest form of love between a man and a woman.
I was most struck by Lewis’s description of Eros when he mentioned the mindset of a man in love. He said, “The fact that she is a woman is almost irrelevant” her essence as a person is, instead, the most important thing. Eros is more than the meaning we give it today. In today’s time we see Eros as an erotic, passionate, and sensual love. We tend to think of Eros in terms of the airbrushed models in magazines and the love-at-first-sight stories in Hollywood. In reality Eros is much more like the Lewis quote. It is the passionate love between a man and a woman. Just as agape is the ultimate form of love between God and man, Eros is the pure love between a man and a woman. In true Eros the man and woman are not exactly preoccupied with sex, although that sub-form – called Venus – is present, instead they are two human beings that are committed to each other. They choose to love and look out for the best needs of the beloved.
Although I am not particularly familiar with Eros, due to my inexperience in that field, I understand that it involves focusing upon the beloved. Storge is the basis on which families are built. In Philia we walk side by side with our brothers and sisters in Christ while in Eros the two lovers are intent upon each other. Agape, the most important of all loves, permeates everything and is the unconditional love God has for us. Without Agape Eros is nothing. Thus, when the man and woman focus upon the Lord the foundation of Eros is laid which, in cooperation with philia, sets up the framework for storge.
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Vocation is our life calling. It determines how we conduct our lives each and every day. It is Gods will being constantly fulfilled in our lives. As Christians, each of us has one simple vocation: to honor and glorify our God. This is demanded in the Old Testament and urged in the New Testament. Our single most important commandment is to love the Lord our God. Life is generally not this simple however, and there is another aspect to our vocation. It consists of God’s personal calling in our individual lives and his plan.
Throughout Romans, Paul calls us to become “living sacrifices”. This is very easy to say but much harder to understand. How does one become a living sacrifice? Upon a closer look at Roans 12 we see that to be living sacrifices we must not “conform to the world around us but instead be transformed by the renewing of our minds.” In other words, we must be set apart as Christians. We are the salt of the earth and must preserve Christ’s passion in our own lives. As an ongoing process Christ will transform our lives as we immerse ourselves in prayer and the Bible. In this way we perform our “spiritual act of worship” to God and fulfill our first and most general vocation.
The second part of our vocation is very difficult for me to explain because I honestly don’t really know how it works. I have only heard the Lord speak to me on a handful of occasions. The more I mature as a Christian I become increasingly familiar with the Lords voice but it still seems to me less than a “still small voice” (1 kings 19:12). This is probably because I do not consistently fulfill my first vocation, as I should. I do not immerse myself in him and therefore I do not “have ears to hear” (Ezekiel 12:2). In any case, the second vocation requires us to know God. When we know God we become more in tune with his voice and consequently hear his more specific calling for our lives.
As Christians, our vocation is one of the most important things in our lives. It functions on two levels, one general, and the specific. The first vocation applies to all Christians and calls us to glorify our God with all our hearts minds and souls. The specific vocation comes as a product of the general vocation. After we immerse ourselves in the Lord we become more sensitive to his will and we will hear him more clearly.
Monday, January 19, 2009
Not all are called to a life of education and learning. Just an assortment of jobs are vital for an army to achieve victory in a war so are different vocations important for Christians in a spiritual battle. Lewis explains that “The intellectual life is not the only road to God, nor the safest, but we find it to be a road, and it may be the appointed road for us.” I may not be called to be an intellectual life but God has put me in a community with the purpose of learning. Consequently, my present vocation is to learn all I can about God and his creation.
In the chaos and desperation of war some might say an education is pointless. They might say that saving more souls, in the case of a spiritual war, is more important than learning certain things such as poetry, history, or science. Although it is very important to witness to unbelievers it is almost just as important to educate oneself. Learning the Laws of God’s universe teach us more about him and his glory. We can observe the genius of God through his creation. In this way education strengthens our faith. Education also allows us to compete or fight on the same as those who do not share the same vision of the Kingdom of heaven. By learning we become thinkers and can respond to the clever arguments of those around us.
Learning thus makes us soldiers in a war, just as the evangelist. Although the evangelist works primarily on the frontlines of the battle, the scholar is a versatile soldier. He can help to defend the faith, educate other Christians, and even witness to other people. The scholar is also in much danger. He can have his faith strengthened through discourses with other intellectuals, but those same discourses could shatter his faith. His pride can take advantage of him and he can fall prey to his own genius.
Since education can be a vocation it must be taken seriously. We must offer ourselves as living sacrifices and put our full effort into our studies. We do this to glorify and worship the God who created us. Learning is a means by which we can know God better and thus love him more passionately.
I have often been torn over the essence of man. Is he basically evil or good? In this question I often lean towards the side of man being basically evil. So much evil occurs in the world that it seems man cannot possibly be good at heart. Brothers kill brothers, men commit heinous crimes and it seems the hurt never ends. Even in my own heart I detect an evil, which seems infect every part of my being. I have also heard the argument, however, that man was created good in God’s eyes. All men became sinners but the fall did not change human essence. I tend to disagree with this argument but that is beside the point. Whether or not man is basically evil or good is not the point. It is a simple fact that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We have all broken the natural moral Laws that were put in place from the beginning of time. Thus, we need Jesus Christ to redeem us and restore the possibility of a relationship with God. This theme has been presented many times in the blog but I believe it is very important to Christianity. It is a vital part of our relationship with Christ to humble ourselves and remember that we are horribly flawed. We cannot achieve salvation on our own.
Sunday, January 18, 2009
I appreciate greatly the way in which Lewis functions. It is extremely helpful to me because I am an awful logistician. Although I believe myself to have a mathematical mind and therefore a mind which leans toward the logical, I am very bad at constructing a logical set of points in a discourse. I enjoy reading lewis’s works because I believe it improves my own skills in the area of discussion. When I read his works I must follow his argument very closely to even understand what he is saying. Although it is often hard to comprehend, Lewis’s writing teaches me how to conduct a logical discourse.
Lately, I have found myself in a very confusing time. I cannot make up my mind as easily as I used to and I seem to be attacked by other’s beliefs on all sides. This past election is a good example of my plight. One person would tell me that Obama is the best candidate and then give me all the reasons why he is the best. Right after that, a person passionately explaining why McCain was the best candidate for the job would approach me. I try to keep an open mind about these things until I am truly able to understand the subject but unfortunately it seems that as much as I researched, there was more to learn.
I try making decisions by first observing them objectively and then making a decision but it seems so hard in a time like this. Perhaps my base is wrong. I have grown up in the modern era where we have become subjective to the bone. Perhaps I cannot possibly be objective. Regardless, I must find a practical solution to making a fair decision based on the facts. According to Lewis, this starts with “elementary moral platitudes.” By basing my decisions on Moral Law, and the Bible I will be able to live my life according to God’s will, which is the best way to live a life.
I find it interesting how Lewis can use logic to prove a biblical truth. Sometimes I wonder how one could defend the faith without the use of the bible but when I read Lewis I realize how logic can be used to support a biblical principle. In the first chapter of Mere Christianity Lewis supports two simple statements and expounds upon them. He explains that there is the existence of a Moral Law, a natural law defining what is right and what is wrong. He also shows that we all try to hold others up to this Moral standard but cannot keep it ourselves. This is the basis for the argument that man is fallen and needs a savior for redemption.
It is easy for a Christian to explain the need for a savior. All he needs to do is to visit certain passages as Romans 3:23 or Romans 3:10. All we need to do is see that we cannot keep the law set before us by God. We cannot possibly keep every law in the Old Testament and therefore have not lived up to God’s standard. God had mercy on us and sent his son to die for us so that we could have a relationship with our creator. For one who reads and believes the book of John, all this comes very easy. It is stated simply in the bible. Although it may be hard come to terms with the content involved in the gospel message, it is still stated clearly. What is more difficult is to prove, without the bible, that there is indeed a law that has been broken making us imperfect and sinners.
Lewis explains that the Moral Law is similar to the laws of the universe. Just as the law of gravity determines that a ball will drop, the Moral Law determines right and wrong. The presence of this Moral Law is embedded into each and every one of us. We feel guilt when we do something wrong and thus know we have broken the Natural Law governing our morals. Now, some may say that these feelings of guilt are byproducts of social training. That our parents and teachers taught us that things such as stealing, murder, rape, were bad things. Thus we should feel guilt after committing such acts. Some may also continue by saying that other people have different definitions of what is good. For example, Hitler and the Nazi’s were trying to improve the world by ridding it of Jewish blood. This argument can be refuted through the idea of progress.
The Natural Moral Law is much like the law of mathematics, they improve with time and truth will eventually be determined. Throughout the ages mathematicians have come up with different theorems and laws, some were wrong and some were right. As time went on the incorrect ideas were discarded in favor of the ones that were determined to be true. In the same way, many different cultures have had different definitions of what is morally wrong but the simple fact is that every culture has believe theft, murder, rape and other such things to be wrong. Thus, moral ideas progress, the good ones are kept while the bad ones, such as genocide, are discarded. Although there are occasional times where society believe certain evils to be tolerable, the same Moral Laws prevail.
Based on the Law of progress we have certain timeless moral laws which we must follow, as fallen creatures, however, we cannot help but break them. Although we expect others to live up to the same laws, we realize that we ourselves break them. We break them through the simplest things as a selfish act, a petty lie, or sometimes the bigger things such as rape and murder. As the violators of a Moral law we are helplessly imperfect. And that is why we have a need for Jesus Christ.
Thursday, January 15, 2009
Lewis makes a very important observation when speaking through the senior demon Screwtape. Often, we as Christians, fall into an apathetic lifestyle where we go to church, hang out with our friends, and leave our spiritual walk at that. We easily forget that in another world there is a constant spiritual battle for our souls. The tragic mistake that can be made is to forget about this war and fall asleep to God’s will.
Screwtape warns his nephew Wormwood, as a tempter, that one of the most dangerous things he could do is cause his human to commit some horrible sin. Although it brings the most glory and recognition to a junior demon to bring a human to commit a great sin, it might awaken the human from apathy. Screwtape writes “Murder is no better than cards if cards do the trick.” He says that the best way to bring a human to hell is sometimes to do absolutely nothing. The human’s own mind will distract him from his prayers, and studies. Eventually this will bring such a disinterest in Godly things that the human will search for other things to do, anything, rather than focus on what he should do. He may not have committed murder, lied, or stolen anything. But the easiest way to his is to do nothing.
This is an awakening in my own life where I often tell myself that I can pray to God later or study his word later. Sometimes my motive for going to church isn’t to worship God but to see my friends. This, I realize, is exactly what Satan wants me to do. He wants me to corrupt good habits and become spiritually lazy. He wants me to push Christ out of my mind and focus on playing my guitar, watching movies, hanging with friends, anything to disrupt God’s work in my life. Thus, I must maintain discipline. Not only remember to pray and spend time with God but to actually do it. Not to think about going to church, but to really attend, and not to attend reluctantly, but with passion for the Lord. The safest road to hell is indeed the gradual one and so we must be diligent in our walk, encouraging one another for the glory of God.
Wednesday, January 14, 2009
In Chapter 2 of Engaging God’s World Plantinga continues to explain the Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration theme of Reformed belief. God created the world perfectly and saw that it was good, the Fall, however, tainted out essence and we fell into sin. And thus the gospel message comes into play. We are creatures tainted by sin and need a savior to heal our sickness. That savior is Jesus Christ.
Although Plantiga’s chapter was about the perfect creation of the Universe, we cannot, it seems, discuss the Creation without the fall. Our society, and world, has been so affected by our sin that we cannot separate it from anything. We are completely and totally depraved. Although beauty still exists and can be found in many things, it is only out of God’s grace that we are able to experience magnificence.
Love pushes us to put our fellow man before ourselves. It commands us, even compels us, to respect our neighbor. Biblically this is quite evident as Christ commands us to “love your neighbor as yourself.” Lewis, however, finds a logical way to support the Christian ideal that love is the greatest virtue. He continues the same logic by finally concluding that not only are we required to love, but also that we are far too easily pleased with small worldly things instead of looking forward to eternal glory.
Lewis argues that our natural desires for happiness support the existence of heaven. He writes that “A mans physical hunger does not prove that he will get any bread” but it does “prove that he comes of a race which repairs it’s body by eating and inhabits a world where eatable substances exist.” Just as the existence of hunger points to the existence of sustenance so the existence of a desire “which no natural happiness will satisfy” points to a supernatural comfort, such as heaven.
This conclusion may cause doubt in the power of Christianity since the religion seems to teach as much as a mind could already reason; that heaven existed. Lewis however explains that we as Christians are like schoolboys learning Greek. The Greek is often painful, hard, and boring to learn but it is rewarding in the end when one masters the language enough to read Sophocles. At first, the boy might want to enjoy the novels and literature of his own time instead of the “dull and cold” Sophocles. Once he is skilled enough in Greek to understand Sophocles he will appreciate it and realize that it actually enhances his knowledge and understanding of present literature. In the same way Christians may find certain parts of faith, and the bible, to be boring or difficult. Instead of running away from those questions, Lewis encourages them to address them for “it will be precisely the puzzling or repellent which conceals what we do not yet know and need to know.”
Therefore, two ideas are presented. The first is that we are creatures created for an eternal and supernatural life. Our earnest and unquenchable desire for something that cannot be fulfilled by worldly things proves that we we’re created for such a life. Consequently, everyone we come into contact with and everything we do echoes in eternity. Knowing that one day our neighbor might be bathed in glory pushes us to love him. Our common destination should unify us for a common purpose as Christians. Second, we must delve deep into our faith, as Christians, to understand our God better. We are as Lewis wrote “too easily pleased” like the schoolboy and his novels. We must love our God and bring glory to Him by seeking and knowing Him intimately. In this way, love is the greatest virtue.
Monday, January 12, 2009
The Oxford English Syllabus states that humanity, when not referring to human kindness, is the “realization of the human identity” where the goal of life is to pursue the “leisured activities of thought, art, literature, and conversation”. In this definition of humanity a difference can be drawn between education and learning, which results in the separation of three types of people: those that work to live, those that live to work, and those who don’t bother to work.
The person that works to live is the learner. It is this personality that uses education to learn. Although education is a structured system used by teachers to inject digested information into a student’s brain the learner works through this to focus on gaining knowledge. He recognizes the need to support himself in a career but does not use his education to earn a diploma and thus a good job. Instead his education is merely a means by which he can acquire a career by which the can continue living and learning. Basically the knowledge gained from his education is much more important than the education or diploma itself.
All people seem to start out with the learning mentality as children. We all had vividly wild imaginations and some of us can still remember the excitement of learning something even anything new. A tragedy happens, however, between high school and college where we cease to focus on knowledge and instead work to succeed. We become those that live to work and pursue the good grades, diploma, and job in an impossible attempt to satisfy our needs. Our education thus becomes vocational training “for slaves” as the Oxford English Syllabus puts so tenderly and archaically. However harsh and old the statement seems, it is true that those pursuing education for the sake of a job and diploma become enslaved. They are enslaved to their ever-unsatisfied want for more material wealth.
The third type of person, the sloth, is the most despicable. While one that lives to work can be redeemed at any time in his or her life simply through switching the focus to a learning mentality, the sloth cannot. He is an animal because he is content with always learning processed information like the cow, which is compelled to eat grass, chew cud, and sleep. The animal makes no effort to go beyond his teacher’s instructions and will not problem solve on his own. It is not that he does not have the ability to learn but that he has become so lazy that he will not learn. He is a waste of a mind.
There are three types of people, the learners- those that work to live, the educated – those that live to work, and the animals- those that are too lazy to even think. Although all are forced, by nature, to work for survival, each approaches his work in a different way. The learners relish the knowledge and will prize the truth above all other things even in the pursuit of their vocation. The educated recognize the importance of truth but focus upon knowledge as a means to acquire a job. The animals inflict mental mediocrity on themselves, always accept whatever is spoon fed to them, and become too dumb to recognize the truth if it slapped them in the face.
Saturday, January 10, 2009
I recall a discussion I had two years ago with a good friend of mine from high school. Since I come from a conservative evangelical background and he from a more liberal and atheist family we would disagree on almost every subject that would surface in our discussions. One particular day we discussed the prospect of sexual relations before marriage. I, of course, argued the biblical perspective that marriage is a sacred thing to be kept between a husband and wife. I said the bible states that we should not commit adultery in the Ten Commandments and that fornication is mentioned to be wrong in a myriad of places. This being an oversimplification of what I actually said. He responded by asking why we can’t act upon impulses instilled naturally to us as long as they are not damaging to others. I returned his statement with a twofold argument. First, I argued that a sexual relationship does hurt others when outside of marriage because it causes two people to open each other up in ways not meant to happen without a special commitment required in marriage. Second, I said that just because the impulses are natural doesn’t necessarily mean they are good because we are fallen creatures with evil desires. Now since these both relied on the Bible in their reasoning I felt that I had failed in my argument. My friend did not believe that the Bible was a book that could be taken seriously in an argument on ethics, as it was just a bunch of spiritual nonsense.
Lewis’s logic, however, seems to make as much sense from a biblical perspective as it does from any other. He argues that we have a Natural Law allowing us to have happiness given that it does not cause harm to others. He focuses on the aspect that the absolute right to sexual happiness is not only damaging to individual people but also to society as a whole. He writes that certain natural impulses such as murder, rape, robbery, treason, and fraud are obviously damaging to society and thus must be illegalized. In this way, certain people must be limited in their right to happiness. He goes further by comparing the argument that humans have an absolute right to happiness when it comes to multiple sexual partners or marriages to stealing fruit. He writes: “It’s like having a morality in which stealing fruit is considered wrong – unless you steal nectarines.” As a society we obviously cannot allow certain peoples impulses to be fulfilled for the sake of their happiness because often those impulses are incredibly damaging. By allowing absolute sexual freedom we are creating an exception to an important rule which preserves society. Lewis argues that creating exceptions such as these will lead to an eventual breakdown in society. I failed in reasoning this to my friend two years ago, but Lewis effectively and logically argued the dangers of an absolute right to happiness.
Plantiga effectively explains the longing Christians have for the hope of salvation and renewal in a fallen world. He constructs a logical argument where he first uses a given that all humans long for something. We, as humans, need something to keep us alive. It may be family, friends, God, or our own self love, but every human has an innate desire for something. As agents of renewal, Plantinga argues that we have a longing for hope. This hope is not in other people, political systems, or even on our own strength. Instead it is a hope in Jesus Christ and the prospect of Shalom. This idea of shalom where everything is as it should be is very important to Plantiga’s argument. Shalomj is not simply “peace”. It is utter perfection through Jesus Christ. We as Christians have a longing for shalom and so we hope for the coming of Jesus Christ at which point perfection will be evident.
Although Plantinga’s content is excellent, his delivery is poor. After reading the writings of C.S Lewis, a giant of an author, Plantiga’s book is more than a step down. Plantinga uses too many quotes and idea’s from other great minds that it seems as if he is not putting forth his own thoughts. He uses so many outside references that the writing becomes exegetical and boring. Although Plantinga is a very skilled author his book is comparable to that of a top chef cooking a meal with very powerful spices. Each spice the cook uses is a quote by C.S. Lewis, St. Augustine, or T.S Eliot. Although each spice can make a certain meal delicious, too many powerful spices can confuse the taste of the meal and actually damage the flavor that the chef was trying to achieve. Similarly, Plantinga uses many excellent quotes to drive home his point of longing. He unfortunately bred confusion in his writing by using too much of a good thing.
C.S. Lewis seems to attract the reader in almost everything he writes. Although much of his writing contains very hard to understand concepts and logic he manages to maintain interest. This is because he seems to follow a similar structure in his essays and stories. He starts with one metaphor, example, or story and then continues the theme throughout the piece. Platinga started with comparing a human’s sense of longing to the feelings of Gene Forrester in A Separate Peace but also compared the same longing to multiple different stories and quotes. He chose to maintain his content as a theme instead of merging his content with his initial example through the entire chapter. Plantinga wrote a doctrinally solid essay on our longing for Christ and Shalom in a fallen world but he failed at keeping my interest in a book on Engaging God’s World.
Thursday, January 8, 2009
Bulverism is a term coined Lewis which refers to the mode of discourse many revert to in an argument. Mostly everyone uses this strategy in which one assumes his opponent to be wrong and then explain his error without logically breaking down the argument or statement with reason. Instead of responding to the actual statement a Bulverist will attack the person that made the statement. This is quite destructive as this practice can upset a powerful mode by which humans operate to discover knowledge.
It is interesting to consider the implications of Bulverism on society. It can be observed in the ad hominem attacks that politicians unleash on their opponents, contributing to a distrust and disgust of the occupation. It can also be noticed almost daily in my own life where I have discredited someone’s argument based on his or her personal background and not on a logical proposition based on irrefutable reason. For example, I have a friend with whom I have had many discussions on the subject of homosexuality. We have, on occasion, considered whether homosexuality is a choice or whether it is simply a part of our genetic makeup such as being born male or female. My friend always takes the side of genetic predisposition and says that “I was born homosexual, I didn’t choose it, its just built into the fabric of my nature.” Too my shame I have used the bulveristic strategy of attacking him personally by exclaiming, “Of course you think that… You’re homosexual.” I refute his argument based on his own bias. Although this is a very effective method of winning an argument, it does not support or encourage the pursuit of knowledge.
Winning an argument may boost the ego and be initially gratifying but it doesn’t accomplish anything. An argument is an effective and powerful tool. Just as a rifle is an effective and powerful to tool that can be used for hunting or protection, so can discourse be used to discover and protect the truth. However, just as the same rifle can be used for murder and destruction so can discourse sow the seeds of resentment and result in the distortion of the truth. The Apostle Paul warned Timothy of the dangers of senseless contention when he wrote: “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.” (2 Ti 2:23) When we practice bulverism we change an argument from being a useful exercise to find the truth to a foolish quarrel because the sole purpose of the bulverizer is to win.
The easiest course of action in a discussion is to attack the opponent personally. It is quite simple and effective to win an argument by pointing toward bias or even things irrelevant to the discussion. The point of a meaningful discourse is not to win. It is to locate and determine the truth behind something. Thus it is important to realize that reason instead of ad hominem should be used to pull apart an opponents statement. When reason is coupled with humility during a discourse, the truth will be found and those involved will have the strength to change their opinions and grow both intellectually and spiritually.
In his Meditation in a Toolshed, C.S. Lewis uses the juxtaposition of a beam of light against the darkness to strengthen his point that both experience and observation are dependent on each other when seeking knowledge. He discusses two ways to consider facts; by looking along the beam of light, and the other by looking at it.
Lewis discusses the danger of delving too deeply into the modern mindset where we avoid potential bias and consequently purely observe the event by looking at it. He raises a valid point on the discussion of pain where a man would not know what pain was by looking at it if he had never experienced or “looked along” it. Lewis also argues, however, that by only looking along something we can be mislead. A prime example of this would be romance, where a man can think the woman he is in love with to be wonderful while she really is dull, plain, and stupid. Lewis thus concludes that a person must “deny at the very outset that looking at is, by it’s own nature, intrinsically truer or better than looking along.”
Lewis considers the different ways to look at the truth and although he states “One must look both along and at everything” to determine the truth he does not in any way imply relativism. On the contrary, his depiction of light coming through the crack in the tool shed leads toward a higher power, the sun, which as a symbol of the Son of God is the “way, truth and life.” Lewis simply declares that one must be ready to experience the absolute truth by being a part of the event and also to observe the same event by looking at it. In this way the truth can be determined.