Wednesday, October 15, 2014

C. S. Lewis: Is Theology Poetry? (Part 2: Metaphors, Symbols, and Science)

Today I want to finish going through “Is Theology Poetry?"* (You can read Part 1 here.)

In this essay, C. S. Lewis sought to answer the question:
"Does Christian theology owe its attraction to its power of arousing and satisfying our imaginations?"

After talking about myth in the first half, he then talks about the way theology uses "metaphorical or symbolical language". For example, God the Father is not the "Father" of Jesus in a physical sense, and when we talk about Jesus "coming down to earth" we don't mean that he parachuted down from above, so why do we use this language?

Lewis invites us to consider what the early Christians believed. Did they believe all of this language in a literal way? Lewis says: "It is very probable that most... of the first generation of Christians never thought of their faith without anthropomorphic imagery, and that they were not explicitly conscious, as a modern would be, that it was mere imagery." So we are trying to force a dichotomy on them that simply didn't exist in their minds.

Lewis goes on to say that the reason we don't restate our beliefs without using metaphors and symbols is that we can't:
"We can, if you like, say “god entered history” instead of saying “god came down to earth.” But, of course, “entered” is just as metaphorical as “came down.” you have only substituted horizontal or undefined movement for vertical movement. We can make our language duller; we cannot make it less metaphorical. We can make the pictures more prosaic; we cannot be less pictorial." 
Of course Christians are not the only ones with this problem. Language restraints force us to do this in all manner of situations. Lewis says "all language about things other than physical objects is necessarily metaphorical." (And here I am reminded of my studies in postmodernism again.)

Lewis reminds us that the "Scientific" Worldview is the one he started from, but abandoned, even before he became a Christian, because he found in it a fatal flaw:
"One absolutely central inconsistency ruins it; The whole picture professes to depend on inferences from observed facts. Unless inference is valid, the whole picture disappears. [...] unless reason is an absolute — all is in ruins. Yet those who ask me to believe this world picture also ask me to believe that reason is simply the unforeseen and unintended by-product of mindless matter at one stage of its endless and aimless becoming. Here is flat contradiction. They ask me at the same moment to accept a conclusion and to discredit the only testimony on which that conclusion can be based. The difficulty is to me a fatal one..." - C. S. Lewis
This sounds a lot like what Lewis writes in The Abolition of Man, which I will have to save for another post!

Lewis crams so much into this short essay! He even mentions 2/3 of the trilemma argument he fleshes out in Mere Christianity: "Once you accepted Theism, you could not ignore the claims of Christ. And when you examined them it appeared to me that you could adopt no middle position. Either he was a lunatic, or god. And he was not a lunatic."

Lewis concludes by saying that though he may find difficulties in Theology, in trying to harmonize it with "particular truths which are embedded in the mythical cosmology derived from science", he can "allow for science as a whole". But if one was to "swallow the scientific cosmology as a whole" then not only does Christianity not fit into that worldview, but he cannot even fit in science:
"If minds are wholly dependent on brains, and brains on biochemistry, and biochemistry (in the long run) on the meaningless flux of the atoms, I cannot understand how the thought of those minds should have any more significance than the sound of the wind in the trees. And this is to me the final test. This is how I distinguish dreaming and waking. When I am awake I can, in some degree, account for and study my dream. The dragon that pursued me last night can be fitted into my waking world. I know that there are such things as dreams; I know that I had eaten an indigestible dinner; I know that a man of my reading might be expected to dream of dragons. But while in the nightmare I could not have fitted in my waking experience. The waking world is judged more real because it can thus contain the dreaming world; the dreaming world is judged less real because it cannot contain the waking one. For the same reason I am certain that in passing from the scientific points of view to the theological, I have passed from dream to waking. Christian theology can fit in science, art, morality, and the sub-Christian religions. The scientific point of view cannot fit in any of these things, not even science itself. I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else." - C. S. Lewis, "Is Theology Poetry?"

*You can read the entire essay, "Is Theology Poetry", here. You can also find it in The Weight of Glory and other Addresses and C. S. Lewis Essay Collection and Other Short Pieces)


In response to the 31 Day blogging challenge, I will be posting every day in October. You can read previous posts HERE. Follow me on Facebook and/or Twitter to be notified of new posts. You can also Subscribe to get posts sent to you by email. (There is a simple form towards the top on the right where you can do this.)

Feel free to comment with your own thoughts and questions!

Index of Posts:
Day 1: 31 Days of C. S. Lewis (Introduction)
Day 2. C. S. Lewis on Longing (In "The Weight of Glory")
Day 3. C. S. Lewis on Sehnsucht (Longing and Desire in The Weight of Glory)
Day 4. C. S. Lewis Audio Recordings
Day 5: C. S. Lewis Online Resources
Day 6: C. S. Lewis: The Intolerable Compliment (The Problem of Pain)
Day 7: C. S. Lewis: What is "The Weight of Glory"?
Day 8: C. S. Lewis: The Great Divorce and The Weight of Glory
Day 9: C. S. Lewis: A Grief Observed
Day 10: C. S. Lewis, Myth, and Postmodernism
Day 11: C. S. Lewis, Myth, and Postmodernism (Part 2)
Day 12: C. S. Lewis and Postmodernism (Part 3 - Conclusion)
Day 13: C. S. Lewis: The Grand Miracle (Myth and Allusions)
Day 14: C. S. Lewis: Is Theology Poetry? (Part 1: More on Myth)
Day 15: C. S. Lewis: Is Theology Poetry? (Part 2: Metaphors, Symbols, and Science)

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