Thursday, November 18, 2010

Miracles - Knox and Lewis

I cannot recommend highly enough Father Milton Walsh's book about C. S. Lewis and Ronald Knox, Second Friends. For example, on the topic of what it takes philosophically in order to believe in the miraculous ("something that traverses the law of uniformity in nature and does so in such a way that it gives evidence of divine power directly at work"), Walsh quotes Lewis:

If the end of the world appeared in all the literal trappings of the Apocalypse, if the modern materialist saw with his own eyes the heavens rolled up and the great white throne appearing, if he had the sensation of being himself hurled into the Lake of Fire, he would continue forever, in that lake itself, to regard his experience as an illusion and to find the explanation of it in psycho-analysis, or cerebral pathology ('Miracles', God in the Dock, 25)

Walsh states that for both Knox and Lewis, post-enlightenment persons have certain prejudicial philosophical presuppositions that preclude acceptance of and belief in miracles. Note: philosophical rather than scientific presuppositions. Science, by definition, can only study the regularly recurring laws of the universe and other phenomena available to the scientific method; science, therefore, cannot even hold an opinion about the existence or non-existence of miracles. What are those 'certain prejudicial philosophical presuppositions?' The following:

- that the only reality is the spatiotemporal world in which we live

- that the laws of nature exclude the possibility of the miraculous

- that God would not 'stoop' to do miracles

It is not easy to put these presuppositions aside, because many intellectuals since the Enlightenment have claimed insistently the contrary: there is no world beyond what we can experience with our senses; miracles are impossible; God does not enter into the workings of our world. It is also challenging to put these presuppositions aside because a living, personal God makes demands on us that the Enlightenment "Watchmaker" or pantheist "Absolute" do not:

(Lewis:) Here lies the deepest tap-root of Pantheism and of the objection to traditional [biblical] imagery. It was hated, at bottom, not because it pictured Him as man but because it pictured Him as king, or even as warrior. The Pantheists' God does nothing, demands nothing. He is there if you wish for Him, like a book on a shelf. He will not pursue you. There is no danger that at any time heaven and earth should flee away at His glance.

If any of this strikes you as being seen, heard, or felt by today's so-called New Atheism proponents, your Pantheist friends, or ignoring-of-God neighbors, once again I highly recommend Fr Walsh's book, Second Friends.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Why the Atonement - Girard

René Girard

In his book on C. S. Lewis and Ronald Knox, Fr Milton Walsh relates Lewis's skepticism prior to his conversion. Walsh writes:

(Lewis) could not see how the life and death of "Someone Else" two thousand years ago could help us here and now, except as an example: "And the example business, tho' true and important, is not Christianity: right in the centre of Christianity, in the Gospels and Saint Paul, you keep on getting something quite different and very mysterious expressed in those phrases I have so often ridiculed ('propitiation' - 'sacrifice - 'the blood of the Lamb') - expressions which I could only interpret in senses that seemed to me either silly or shocking" ...

How can the suffering of one person atone for the sins of another? Knox admits that many people consider such an arrangement immoral, and Lewis comments that there ahve been many theological explanations for this core conviction of Christianity, some more valuable than others. (85, 87)

René Girard's unveils humanity's deep, dark secret which he explicates in his "mimetic theory." This secret is that human culture is built squarely upon a "single victim mechanism" and it is the unique work of the Gospel in history to bring an end this secret's satanic reign.

But this foundation of human violence was so vital to the construction and maintenance of human culture - re-enacted each time victims were arbitrarily selected and expelled and/or murdered - that for aeons there was no alternative. The "lamb slain since the foundation of the world" (Rev 13,8) was the default way to manufacture human cultural cohesion; the "lowest common denominator" of human society.

Without gainsaying any teaching of the Catholic Church regarding atonement, Girard showed not so much how our Lord's death brought about salvation, but why it needed to happen. It happened because human sin always - always - takes us back to the same place: the place of expelling the victim and scapegoating violence. The way that God chose to reveal and break the inner workings of our satanic (literally: Satan - Σατάν - "the accuser") method of convening had to be to go to the place our sin always took us - the place of sacrificial violence - and undo Satan's power once and for all.

Excellent Move

Bravo and congratulations, Archbishop Timothy Dolan

Monday, November 15, 2010

Walsh - Second Friends

(F)or both (C. S. Lewis and Ronald Knox) Christianity is much more than a doctrinal system: it is above all a personal relationship with Christ that entails romance, struggle, and loyalty. It was important for Knox and Lewis that the mind and the heart converge, that truth could be defended by reason and not simply by an appeal to feelings. At the same time, they realized that the heart needs to prod the mind if notional truths are to become real Truth, a truth upon which a person is willing to risk everything.

- Milton Walsh, Second Friends: