This short little booklet I wrote as a companion to Faithlife’s new video series on New Atheism recently published on Logos Bible Software.
You can check it out here. The book is currently free for download.
Also available is this free PDF format.
Mard Ward joins Kirk to discuss the topic of canon, “the divinely authorized collection of books that God has given to govern his people” (John Frame). How do we know we have God’s Word? Why these books?
Karl Marx said that religion is the opiate of the masses.
To the contrary, our opiate is ignoring questions of ultimate meaning. We pursue our careers, work our jobs, give ourselves to our relationships and families, dedicate ourselves to hobbies, pacify ourselves with substance and entertainment, while seemingly ever-avoiding the question, “What does it matter? What’s the point?” We are all going to die someday. So, what of all this will possibly escape death’s menacing judgment of “pointless!” “meaningless!” “trivial!”?
This is the elephant that looms large in the room. And we are content (dare I say, determined) to ignore and avoid it at all costs.
So great is our determination here that we have an unwritten (verbalized) rule for it. We want to privatize religion and its disruptive sort questions along these lines. They’re uncomfortable. “Don’t talk religion and politics,” we say, “(but especially religion)” we mean — that is, if you take religion as something more than sentimental tradition; that is, if you actually believe it to be making exclusive sort of truth-claims.
Some of us are dead set to avoid conflict. “Niceness” (at seemingly all costs) is our culture’s highest virtue. Others of us are far too uncontemplative, or maybe intoxicated with the triviality — “This stuff is all too serious. Take it easy, man.”
So, we keep ignoring that foreboding elephant. We’re like a child who has been given a certain chore to do. We fool ourselves into thinking that by postponing or neglecting it long enough it will just go away or be forgotten.
These questions may be controversial, taxing, and disruptive — they certainly are. And I’m very much aware that it’s quite easier and more soothing to just ignore them. But they are far too important for that.
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“‘Vanity of vanities!’ says the Preacher. ‘All is vanity!'” – Ecclesiastes
The following two quotations, from Lewis’ Mere Christianity, constitute Lewis’ well known lunatic, lord, or liar argument, sometimes called Lewis’ “trilemma” or “mad, bad, or God.”
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic-on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg-or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
We are faced, then, with a frightening alternative. This man we are talking about either was (and is) just what He said or else a lunatic, or something worse.
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, book 2, chapter 3, paragraph 13; chapter 4, paragraph 1.
In short, Lewis argues the only two alternatives besides accepting that Jesus is God is to view him as either an immoral liar or an insane person who did not realize he was lying. Most non-Christians don’t exactly like those two alternatives to this Jesus figure who often seems to them seems like a pretty solid dude–just not God. But Lewis will have none of this riding the fence garbage. A good moral teacher would not claim to be God without actually being so. To falsely claim such, he must needs be either a lunatic or a liar. Thus, as Lewis argues, this common tact of taking Jesus as non-God, non-lord, great-moral-teacher is off the table.
In Mere Christianity, Lewis gives this great little response to the so-called problem of evil.
If a good God made the world why has it gone wrong? And for many years I simply refused to listen to the Christian answers to this question, because I kept on feeling “whatever you say, and however clever your arguments are, isn’t it much simpler and easier to say that the world was not made by any intelligent power? Aren’t all your arguments simply a complicated attempt to avoid the obvious?” But then that threw me back into another difficulty.
My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet. Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too- for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist–in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless–I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality–namely my idea of justice–was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, book 2, chapter 1, paragraphs 5-6.
To be fair, this answer in particular does not resolve the dilemma for the Christian. He or she is still left to grapple with the nature of evil within the Christian worldview itself. Since this worldview simultaneously holds to a God who is all-loving and all-powerful, the question then is, why does this God not eliminate evil? Lewis does not resolve that dilemma (at least here).
But, regardless of that, Lewis’ argument nonetheless puts the non-Christian, who has some sense of evil, on his heels. From where does that sense of evil, goodness, justice, morality, etc. arise? This is their (=the non-Christians’) problem of evil–within their framework: they cannot explain why a sense of evil persists.