Sunday, January 06, 2008

Making God an Alien

In putting together last month's post on the Nature Institute, I was doing a little research on Lewis, Barfield, and Steiner and I came across this Kjos Ministries page of excerpts and commentary on C.S. Lewis's The Abolition of Man.

The page exemplifies an unfortunate presumption that has developed among some segments of the Christian community: that the the Fall so completely alienated creation from God that He has absolutely no claim on us apart from Christian faith.

Take a look at a selection from this page that quotes passages from chapter 3 of Lewis's The Abolition of Man. (I'm quoting everything here verbatim, leaving in place all emphases and brackets.)

Apparently, the Chinese Tao replaces the Bible as ultimate authority and guide for our lives -- and for the common good:

Either we are rational spirit obliged for ever to obey the absolute values of the Tao, or else we are mere nature to be kneaded and cut into new shapes for the pleasures of masters who must, by hypothesis, have not motive but their own 'natural' impulses. Only the Tao proves a common human law of action which can overarch rulers and ruled alike. A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery."

"In the Tao itself, as long as we remain within it, we find the concrete reality in which to participate is to be truly human: the real common will and common reason for humanity, alive, and growing like a tree, and branching out, as the situation varies, into ever new beauties and dignities of application. While we speak from within the Tao we can speak of Man having power over himself in a sense truly analogous to an individual's self-control. But the moment we step outside and retard the Tao as mere subjective product, this possibility has disappeared."

"I hear rumours that Goethe's approach to nature deserves fuller consideration  -- that even Dr. [Rudolf] Steiner [occult founder of Waldorf Schools] may have seen something that orthodox researchers have missed."

The author (probably Berit Kjos) fails to acknowledge that Lewis is not directing people away from the Gospel, but making common cause with other traditions against "scientific" secularists whose flat view of nature permits them to manipulate the natural world and their fellow men. He uses the Tao as a name for the natural law accessible to a limited degree by all men, but made most perfectly manifest in Judeo-Christian revelation. As he writes in chapter 1,

The Chinese also speak of a great thing (the greatest thing) called the Tao. It is the reality beyond all predicates, the abyss that was before the Creator Himself. It is Nature, it is the Way, the Road. It is the Way in which the universe goes on, the Way in which things everlastingly emerge, stilly and tranquilly, into space and time. It is also the Way which every man should tread in imitation of that cosmic and supercosmic progression, conforming all activities to that great exemplar. 'In ritual', say the Analects, 'it is harmony with Nature that is prized.' The ancient Jews likewise praise the Law as being 'true'.

This conception in all its forms, Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic, Christian, and Oriental alike, I shall henceforth refer to for brevity simply as 'the Tao'.

In essence, the Tao is another name for the law that the Bible teaches (i.e., the Ten Commandments).1 That Christianity teaches that there is a natural moral law open to all men is explicit in Scripture. Surely a "Biblical Christian" like Kjos is familiar with St. Paul's Letter to the Romans:

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. (1:19-20; of course this a paraphrase of Wisdom 13)

...

When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus. (2:14-16)

In other words, man can know of God through His creation and God's law is written on the heart of men even in their falleness. (It would hardly be just for God to condemn men who had absolutely no way of knowing Him or His law.2)

In chapter three of Jesus through the Centuries, Church historian Jaroslav Pelikan reviews how early Christian apologists used the elements of pagan culture as sign-posts to Christ:

While messianic hope and messianic prophecy had been the peculiar feature of the history of the Jewish people, they were not the exclusive possession of the history of Israel. "Even in other nations," Augustine said, "there were those to whom this mystery was revealed and who were impelled to proclaim it." Job, Jethro the father-in-law of Moses, and Balaam the prophet were three such "Gentile saints," spoken of in the Hebrew Bible, with whose existence both rabbis and the church fathers had to come to terms. Armed with such biblical warrant, Christian apologists found in Gentile literature other evidence of messianic prophecy that pointed forward to Jesus. (35)

Not to mention those quintessential Gentile saints, the Magi, who arrived to worship Jesus on the Epiphany, the feast we celebrate today; their Zoroastrian religion prepared the way for them to recognize Christ. (Of course Zoroastrianism also brings to mind Cyrus, of whom Scripture goes so far as to call the anointed or messiah—see Isaiah 45.)

With the exception of the death of Socrates, the most striking example of Jesus' prefigurement in pagan literature is in the second book of Plato's Republic. As Pelikan recounts it, Glaucon tells (Plato's character) Socrates,

let this one "righteous man, in his nobleness and simplicity, one who desires, in the words of Aeschylus, to be a good man and not merely to give the impression of being a good man," now be accused of being in fact the worst of men. Let him, moreover, "remain steadfast to the hour of death, seeming to be unrighteous and yet being righteous." What will be the outcome? The answer, for whose gruesomeness Glaucon apologized in advance to Socrates, must be (and to preserve the neutrality of language, this translation is that of Gilbert Murray) nothing other than the following: "He shall be scourged, tortured, bound, his eyes burnt out, and at last, after suffering every evil, shall be impaled or crucified." (44-45)

Another Kjos page on Tolkien and Lewis comments revealingly:

Lewis was wrong in calling the gospel "a true myth" that works "on us in the same way as the others." The gospel is made alive in us by the work of the Holy Spirit, not by human imagination. God's mercy has always reached out to pagans around the world through the sacrificial lives of faithful missionaries. But His gift of salvation comes through His Word and Spirit. Believers who were formerly oppressed by occult forces were transformed in spite of, not because of their pagan beliefs.

Kjos certainly is correct that occult forces of themselves do not lead to truth. But notice the unfortunate opposition drawn between the Holy Spirit and the human imagination: as if the Holy Spirit couldn't work in and through the imagination and other human faculties. The implication is that God comes in solely from the outside: as if our omniscient Creator couldn't work with our native faculties.3,4 The implication is that the world is not just wrong, but completely wrong and contains no elements of truth. It is to the core rotten: grace doesn't build on creation but negates nature, or merely covers it over.

But one has to wonder: if the flesh were completely evil, how could God come in it? To say that the flesh is completely corrupt is a subtle denial of the Incarnation. Rather, our Creator became our Savior to rebuild the goodness that He had made and that Sin could not completely destroy.5

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God. This is the spirit of antichrist, of which you heard that it was coming, and now it is in the world already. (1 Jn 4:1-3)

Kjos seems a sincere believer. She rightly repudiates the gnosticism of Steiner (that she thinks is also present in Tolkien and Lewis). The irony is that by going to the other extreme, by turning God from our Creator into an Invader, she has in fact made God an alien, and thus slipped into a subtle form of gnosticism. As in Hans Jonas's The Gnostic Religion: the Message of the Alien God and the Beginnings of Christianity, the gnostic god is "acosmic" and has no real relationship to creation, except perhaps to negate it.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit,
but test the spirits to see whether they are of God.

It is no wonder that this is the sort of extrinsic god that Philip Pullman, the atheistic author of the His Dark Materials trilogy, thinks Christians believe in: an old killjoy, that is, a Creator who seeks to frustrate His creation. Pullman is right to reject such a God, but wrong to think that it is the real Christian conception of God. In reality the Judeo-Christian conception of God is like a gardener, who prunes his garden to help it grow better. Our "natural" inclinations require discipline so that they work together to the good of our whole nature, not just some narrow slice of it on which we obsess.


Notes

1. It may sound that Lewis is placing the Tao before God; this is true in the order of discovery (we know nature before we know God), and not the absolute order of things (God is prior to all in His creation). Of course, Christians identify the Torah or Law with the Logos: understood so, the Tao is uncreated.

2. Alas, integral justice isn't the issue for some Christians, so much as being decreed "just" through forensic or nominal justification.

3. God in this view isn't so much a creator (responsible for the integral being of every thing) as a maker, which is to say, one who simply re-arranges pre-existing matter.

4. I sincerely doubt that Mrs. Kjos is a feminist, but this extrinsic notion of God makes an interesting parallel with some feminist doctrines that portray the masculine element as completely foreign to the female: as if the female weren't made for the male and didn't find fulfillment in union with the male. (Lest I fall afoul of feminists out there, let me point out that I don't mean to imply that the male in our created world isn't completed in the female.)

5. In the first millennium there were seven ecumenical councils (meetings of all the world's bishops) to repudiate heresies about who Jesus was and is. Many of the early heresies taught that Jesus was either not truly God or truly man. One of the early heresies was monothelitism, the belief that Jesus had only one will. In reality, Jesus had a human will as well as a divine will. Through the Incarnation, God rectified the human will and didn't merely replace it with a divine will. God fixes our faculties and doesn't destroy them.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lawrence Gage said...

If not a spam post, then an extremely oblivious visiting promoter.... I think it's properly called spam.

LG

Anonymous said...

This is the myspace science section. Science by defenition is based on proof. Like: E=MC^2

It's okay to talk about gods etc but keep it under believe or phylosophy. The world believes have great wisdom be it taoism budhism, chritianity of muslim or whatever. Many generation before we stood here on earth people have put wise words in stories. It's up to you if you take it literaly or if you would like to proove the unprovable. Yeah unproveable...

As anyone is always free to say
"i dont believe you"
Or to think of it differently.

There are as many views to god as there are humans, so respect all humans from every believe in a good way, and then you will also respect god. Thats alittle scienc logic.

Lawrence Gage said...

One of the central points of this blog is that philosophy is knowledge and not belief. Real philosophy is provable. Science, by comparison, is uncertain. See's today's post for elaboration.

One can always choose to disbelieve anything, no matter how at odds with reality disbelief may be.

LG

Jennifer said...

This is a masterpiece. On David Heddle's blog, He Lives a couple of gentlemen and I were having a similar discussion.

I share your view of Steiner. I actually have built our homeschooling philosophy, in the early years especially, upon some Montessori and some Waldorf, but the weakness of both is the tendency toward self as the center.

If I remember correctly, didn't Augustine say in his Confessions something to the tune of God is in all, but contained by nothing?

Steiner's ideas are more of a pantheism, or so it seems to me.
I find the fault in that view to be the assumption that the Spirit must be contained by all in order influence all. It seems, ideally, that the response of creation would be welcoming to the Spirit, but we who were the caretakers of creation began to block out the free roam of the Spirit by choosing to not respond humbly and rightly.

The "groaning" of creation would seem to indicate that it is trying to respond correctly but is being held back.

I appreciate the idealism of Steiner and am enthusiastic about his farming principles. I do acknowledge the inter-connectedness of all things, but I break off where the spirit is in everything as opposed to everything responding to the Spirit.

Do you agree with Kjos's view of myth? (I have no idea who Kjos is, but have been interested in myth and archetypes.)

Believers who were formerly oppressed by occult forces were transformed in spite of, not because of their pagan beliefs.

Isn't this the point? Jesus satisfied the redemption myth.

Have you read any of Rene' Girard or Jaques Ellul? I am just my literary journey with them so I am not endorsing them as much as exploring.

Lawrence Gage said...

Jennifer,

Thank you for your compliment. I appreciate your insight on Montessori and Waldorf: well said! (If I may ask, how many children do you have?)

You are right on Steiner. His ideas on the truly sub-human world are valuable, but he errs in making the entire world sub-human—most especially when he does so with our Creator. (For all his success in reconnecting with more classical views, Steiner was unfortunately very modern in putting man at the top of Everything.)

As far as myth is concerned, I think I agree with your friend Jack.

I've not read RenĂ© Girard or Jaques Ellul. A theologian friend of mine that I hold in high regard enthusiastically recommends Girard. Btw, there's a decent exposition of Girard's central ideas here (whenever Touchstone get its archives back in running order—cached on Google in meantime).

My theologian friend is the one who introduced me to the valuable concept of panenthism, on which I've written here before.

Do you have a link to the He Lives discussion you mention?

LG

Jennifer said...

LG,
You're welcome. :)
I have 5 children and it would be nice to keep it at that but we'll see.

I agree with Jack about myth also. I think you'd really enjoy Girard!

Thank you for the link for Touchstone, but I wasn't able to open it. Is there another url? I have read several overviews and some of his writing online and plan on ordering books eventually.

A website for Jaques Ellul is full of his writings and is found here if you're interested. I found out about both of them from an internet friend.

Can you point me to the posts which include pantheism? I'll find them eventually because I plan on reading through all of your posts, but it would be nice to see what you have to say about it.

For the He Lives discussion you can just click on the site on your sidebar and on the right hand side of his page you can click on the comments and read it. It's not anything impressive or exhaustive, just a little discussion, but it was along the lines of what you were pointing out with the passages from Romans.

How are you coming along with world domination?

Lawrence Gage said...

If you google "Touchstone Girard" you can look at the cached document. Try this.

Thanks for the Ellul link. I'll check it out.

It's panentheism, not pantheism. (I should have highlighted the significant syllable before.) There's a BIG difference. Panentheism is an Eastern Christian notion that basically says God is in the universe without being identified with the universe or any part of it. I coulda sworn I had explicitly used the term in a post, but can't seem to find it. The idea is implied in these two posts:

The Real Darwinist Agenda

A Divine Materialism

Also see "The Reality of Non-physical Causes" among the Noteworthy Posts at left.

Thanks for asking... I am making real strides toward Total World Domination, but right now I'm just anxious to get my paycheck, which is late. Will be further expanding the empire once my neighbor silences his dog enough to let my genius work properly.... ;)

LG

Jennifer said...

Oh yes! That link was the first I read in regard to him. Thanks.

So the spelling of the P word was right...I checked dictionary.com thinking I had misspelled it and then thought you must have. :)
I haven't heard that term before...which is why I'm floating around the internet...it's like a free education in a way.

Thank you for the post links, I will read them as I have time. I'd better get back to being a mother!

(my husband often jokes about being the benevolent dictator...we understand.)

Best,
Jennifer