Lewis on Morality

"The very activities for which we were created are, while we live on earth, variously impeded: by evil in ourselves or in others. Not to practice them is to abandon our humanity. To practice them spontaneously and delightfully is not yet possible. This situation creates the category of duty, the whole specifically moral realm.

It exists to be transcended. Here is the paradox of Christianity. As practical imperatives for here and now, the two great commandments have to be translated 'Behave as if you loved God and man.' For no man can love because he is told to. Yet obedience on this practical level is not really obedience at all. And if a man really loved God and man, once again this would hardly be obedience; for if he did, he would be unable to help it. Thus the command really says to us, 'Ye must be born again.' Till then, we have duty, morality, the Law. A schoolmaster, as St. Paul says, is to bring us to Christ. We must expect no more of it than of a schoolmaster; we must allow it no less."
(Hat tip to CQOTD.)

MacDonald on Prayer

From George MacDonald's "The Word of Jesus on Prayer":

"We know that the wind blows; why should we not know that God answers prayer?

I reply, What if God does not care to have you know it at second hand? What if there would be no good in that? There is some testimony on record, and perhaps there might be much were it not that, having to do with things so immediately personal, and generally so delicate, answers to prayer would naturally not often be talked about; but no testimony concerning the thing can well be conclusive; for, like a reported miracle, there is always some way to daff it; and besides, the conviction to be got that way is of little value: it avails nothing to know the thing by the best of evidence... 'But if God is so good as you represent Him, and if He knows all that we need, and better far than we do ourselves, why should it be necessary to ask Him for anything?'

I answer, What if He knows prayer to be the thing we need first and most? What if the main object in God's idea of prayer be the supplying of our great, our endless need - the need of Himself? Hunger may drive the runaway child home, and he may or may not be fed at home; but he needs his mother more than his dinner. Communion with God is the one need of the soul beyond all other need; prayer is the beginning of that communion, and some need is the motive of that prayer... So begins a communion, a talking with God, a coming-to-one with Him, which is the sole end of prayer, yea, of existence itself in its infinite phases. We must ask that we may receive; but that we should receive what we ask in respect of our lower needs, is not God's end in making us pray, for He could give us everything without that: to bring His child to His knee, God withholds that man may ask."
(Hat tip to CQOTD.)


Sicut Cervus

Palestrina's Sicut cervus, as (spontaneously) performed by the Harvard Glee Club in Limerick, Ireland:

Harvard Glee Club - Sicut Cervus from Umang S on Vimeo.


Fish Tank Post: Secular Reductionism


Fish Tank Post: "The Red Sweater"

Here it is.


Aristides on the Early Christians

From The Apology of Aristides, written in the early second century:
"Christians love one another. They never fail to help widows; they save orphans from those who would hurt them. If a man has something, he gives freely to the man who has nothing. If they see a stranger, Christians take him home and are happy, as though he were a real brother. They don't consider themselves brothers in the usual sense, but brothers instead through the Spirit, in God. [...] And if they hear that one of them is in jail, or persecuted for professing the name of their redeemer, they all give him what he needs - if it is possible, they bail him out.

If one of them is poor and there isn't enough food to go around, they fast several days to give him the food he needs... This is really a new kind of person. There is something divine in them."
(Hat tip to CQOTD.)

Tertullian Is Ballin'

From his Apologeticus:
"As to the Emperor and the charge of high treason against us, Caesar's safety lies not in hands soldered on. We invoke the true God for the Emperor. Even if he persecute us, we are bidden pray for them that persecute us, as you can read in our books which are not hidden, which you often get hold of. We pray for him because the Empire stands between us and the end of the world. We count the Caesars to be God's vice-regents and swear by their safety (not by their genius, as required). As for loyalty, Caesar really is more ours than yours; for it was our God who set him up. It is for his own good, that we refuse to call the Emperor God; Father of his Country is a better title. No Christian has ever made a plot against a Caesar; the famous conspirators and assassins were heathen, one and all. Piety, religion, faith are our best offering of loyalty."
(Hat tip to CQOTD.)


Fish Tank Post: Unity and Doctrine


Pinnock and Universal Salvation

Clark H. Pinnock seems to think universal salvation would be unloving:
"Most Christians would agree with C. S. Lewis when he says [of the doctrine of the Final Judgment], 'There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power.' But we cannot do so, for two reasons: first, because it enjoys the full support of Christ's own teaching, and second, because it makes a good deal of sense. If the gospel is extended to us for our acceptance, it must be possible also to reject and refuse it. The alternative would be for God to compel an affirmative response.

It would be nice to be able to say that all will be saved, but the question arises, Does everyone want to be saved? What would love for God be like if it were coerced? There is a hell because God respects our freedom and takes our decisions seriously, more seriously, perhaps, than we would sometimes wish. God wants to see hell completely empty; but if it is not, He cannot be blamed. The door is locked only on the inside. It is not Christians but the unrepentant who 'want' it [to be locked]."
The implication is that God simply cannot simultaneously take everyone's decisions seriously and save everyone.

Regardless of whether or not the doctrine of universal salvation is correct, I don't think this argument works. The reason is that Pinnock is arguing with a very simplistic kind of universal salvation that most Christian Universalists wouldn't accept, a kind that can be roughly summarized by the following:
Judgment Day comes. All people proceed immediately to Heaven, regardless of what they have done.
But of course, that is not the only possible means of formulating universal salvation. Here's a version of Christian Universalism that passes Pinnock's "coercion test":
At Judgment Day, some people proceed immediately to Heaven; the rest proceed to Hell. However, people in Hell are given the opportunity to repent, be baptized, and cross the chasm into Heaven.
Under this story, everyone would eventually be saved without being coerced by God, because everyone would eventually choose Heaven over Hell given the prospect of eternity in the latter.

The scriptural, theological, and doctrinal merits of these two iterations of Christian Universalism can, of course, be debated. But I don't think I can agree with Pinnock that Universalism necessitates some sort of coercion on God's part.


Fish Tank Post: Divine Epistemology

Here it is.


Some Other Varieties of Religious Experience

At the recommendation of a friend, I've been (slowly) reading through Gaudium et Spes, a Catholic constitution that resulted from Vatican II. I thought this one particular discussion of atheism was interesting:
"The word atheism is applied to phenomena which are quite distinct from one another. For while God is expressly denied by some, others believe that man can assert absolutely nothing about Him. Still others use such a method to scrutinize the question of God as to make it seem devoid of meaning. Many, unduly transgressing the limits of the positive sciences, contend that everything can be explained by this kind of scientific reasoning alone, or by contrast, they altogether disallow that there is any absolute truth. Some laud man so extravagantly that their faith in God lapses into a kind of anemia, though they seem more inclined to affirm man than to deny God. Again some form for themselves such a fallacious idea of God that when they repudiate this figment they are by no means rejecting the God of the Gospel. Some never get to the point of raising questions about God, since they seem to experience no religious stirrings nor do they see why they should trouble themselves about religion. Moreover, atheism results not rarely from a violent protest against the evil in this world, or from the absolute character with which certain human values are unduly invested, and which thereby already accords them the stature of God. Modern civilization itself often complicates the approach to God not for any essential reason but because it is so heavily engrossed in earthly affairs."
Some different "varieties" of "atheism" are mentioned: "garden-variety" atheism, logical positivism, relativism, &c. More importantly, however, several different emotional and spiritual factors that contribute to unbelief are enumerated: pride, apathy, materialism (i.e., consumerism), the idolatry of human values, and - most interesting - "violent protest against the evil in the world."

Of course, one could make similar lists, mutatis mutandis, about theism. But it's interesting to think of unbelief as a similarly multifaceted set of phenomena.


Fish Tank Post: What Is Science?

Here it is.