"Hall Metaphor", Atheism, Benedict Cumberbatch naked sunbathing, C.S. Lewis, Christopher Hitchens, denominational differences, god is not Great, letter, Mere Christianity, metaphors, Preface, religion, Theology
Yes somebody actually Googled fish sex and found my blog. I have no idea. Seriously. I have no clue what lead somebody there. I understood all the “Mandingo” searches, but that fish sex stuff was just…I feel unclean. Thank you for that last letter, I hope your mother is feeling better. As for your decision, I respect it. I don’t agree with it, but if you believe in your heart of hearts that you are a Christian, then there’s nothing I will say other than I hope you find what you’re looking for. I hope you understand I’m not going to hold back from sharing my honest opinion. I believe religion is shit and inspires only fear in those it seeks to save. I believe it allows malevolent men in our society to reinforce and perpetuate patriarchy and controlling women’s bodies. I believe it has, over the course of human history, attempted to blur the lines between religion and politics, and ever always subjected members of the human race to thought-crime and psychological slavery. Just so we know where I stand.
Still though B—–, I am happy that you feel comfortable being honest with me. I’ve only ever wanted our correspondence to be about the honest exchange of ideas and beliefs, and one has to be honest in an honest exchange after all. Now let’s get to it, because I know you’re looking forward to this. I admit, I was hesitant to return to Mere Christianity. C.S. Lewis has never done anything for me as a writer. The first time I read this book was in high school. I’ve told you several times I attended a Private Christian school in East Texas, and one of the requirements for graduation is the Senior Theology course. I learned a fair amount, though to be honest, the class did not stimulate me much intellectually except when I got the chance to give a power-point presentation over Satanism. That was fun. The canonical text for this course was Mere Christianity, and the man who taught it to us (it was co-taught by a Priest from the Episcopal church I attended, and our high school principal who was also a legitimate Baptist minister) sang the books Praises endlessly, but to be honest, I found problems every step of the way. I liked the idea in your letter B——, so let’s go as we said. I’ll write about the Preface and the first part in this letter, and then address the Concluded three parts either in another letter, or else break them into three small pieces I haven’t decided yet. You’re right to guilt trip me about this, I really should read one or two “Christian” works, if I’m going to knock it relentlessly.
All right then, Preface first. Lewis begins the text discussing where the book originated and we learn Mere Christianity began as three radio broadcasts done during the years between 1942-1944. Looking at those dates, it’s clear that Lewis’s reading, and he makes sure that their tone are just that, but I’ll discuss that in a minute, was a public service for the Christian people of Britain during the difficult years of World War II. If you don’t know anything about the period watch Bed Knobs and Broomsticks, you’ll get everything. Kidding B—–, that was a joke, though that is a good movie. Angela Lansbury, just, awesome. England suffered terribly after the successful invasion of France due to the relentless Blitzkrieg of the Luftwaffe, German air force, dropping bombs over cities to break the English’s spirit. It didn’t work. Lewis describes the initial inspiration and makes sure to note that his tone sounds more like a broadcast rather than an essay. This is a good tactic given what he’s working with. If you’re trying to inspire hope in people, you usually don’t want to talk like a PhD discussing the metabolic strategies of Fruit bats, and that’s spoken out of experience. He follows this address by stating that his book is not designed to help Christians who are struggling between denominations. Lewis is clear, that this book is designed for Christians at large to discover some sense of unity as a whole. It’s during this address that I find my first suspect passage becomes clear. Lewis writes:
In the first place, the questions which divide Christians from one another often involve points of high Theology or even of ecclesiastical history, which ought never to be treated except by real experts. I should have been out of my depth in such waters: more in need of help myself than able to help others. (VIII).
Lewis has blossomed in recent times, which is not just my own opinion. Christopher Hitchens in his wonderful book (B—-I hope you never tire of my constant citing of this) god is not Great made a point of addressing the popularity and argument of Lewis, stating:
I am not choosing a straw man either: Lewis is the main chosen propaganda vehicle for Christianity in our time. (119).
The most likely reason for this burst of popularity is the coupling of the surge of religious revival in this country, and the real difficulty of tackling real Christian theology. Lewis addresses this point when he talks about “High Theology.” If anyone wishes to discuss and study Christianity it is a real effort. Let’s take a quick look at what it would honestly entail:
- Learning Hebrew to interpret the Old Testament
- Learning Greek for portions of the New Testament
- Studying the, at least thirteen, different translations of the bible that currently exist.
- Studying Aristotle, for the man’s theories shaped the early philosophy of the Christian church
- Studying Medieval philosophy for after the fall of Rome the Catholic Church became the core unifying structure in Europe (Boethius, St. Augustine, Thomas Aquinas)
- Studying the Reformation Period, for whether or not you agree with Luther, the man was kind of important to the future of the church.
- A few years studying literature wouldn’t be bad either, especially mythology so that you can reconcile the long history of creating and worshiping gods
- Attending a seminary of some kind would not be a bad idea either.
- All of this is accompanied by a steady soul searching coupled with a steady challenging of your individual faith to determine whether or not you still believe, and just to re-determine what you actually believe.
If this sounds difficult, it’s because it is. Theology is not something one simply jumps into, it is a life long journey that can leave you unsatisfied by what you discover, or else you may find yourself closer to the divine than ever possible. Lewis’s success may be due to the fact that he simplifies much of this “High Theology” to a readable series of musings allowing Christians the chance to enjoy a little bit of comfortable fluff rather than dig into the real meat of their religion. Some might contest me and suggest I’m over simplifying Lewis, but I don’t believe I am. If anything I’m giving him credit. The man has managed to reduce over two thousand years of philosophy and writing into a short little book, but let me address the follow up to the original quote. Lewis discusses the differences that manifest between religion and the threat of leaving this division exposed:
And secondly, I think we must admit that the discussion of these disputed points has no tendency at all to bring an outsider into the Christian fold. So long as we write and talk about them we are much more likely to deter him from entering any Christian communion than to draw him into our own. Our division should never be discussed except in the presence of those who have already come to believe that there is one God and that Jesus Christ is His only Son. (VIII-IX).
This passage has always struck me as suspect, and my original copy is highlighted blue over the last sentence. I do understand what Lewis is trying to suggest, his argument being that if an outsider comes to the table and sees these divisions first, then they will most likely remain a non-Christian. Lewis’s argument makes sense, if you’re shopping for a house and the realtor describes the leaky roof, shit foundation, the three murders that have taken place in each bedroom, the lack of insulation, the crack natural gas pipe in the attack, the infestation of black widows, and the backyard that’s really a sinkhole, you’re not going to stick around to hear about the good stuff, like that Benedict Cumberbatch sunbathes nude everyday next door. Sigh….
What? Where was I? I was somewhere wonderful. Ah yes. The conflict with the passage , in my mind, (you’re still thinking about Cumberbatch aren’t you? Admit it. Come on man this is serious) is that Lewis sounds clumsily deceptive, creating an image that it’s only acceptable to discuss the conflicts in Christianity behind closed doors. It’s an us against them mentality that has polluted the institution of Christianity for centuries. This also breeds the nasty conception, that if Christians want to critique their own faith, they are somehow poisoning the religion, because god forbid you should ever agree with a jew or an atheist that there are serious disagreements between the denominations. I’ll be honest, despite these conflicts, so far this has been, not only the most tolerable portion of Lewis’s book, but also the only portion where I believe his endless series of metaphors actually works. On a side note, I find it interesting that Lewis denied that The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe series were metaphors for anything given how prolific the man incorporates them into his writing. The chief metaphor I’m describing is of course the one he’s most famous for and that is the “Hall metaphor.” Lewis describes the religion:
It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms. If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted. But it is in the rooms, not in the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals. The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in. For that purpose the worst of the rooms (whichever that may be) is, I think, preferable. It is true that some people may find they have to wait in the hall for a considerable time, while others feel certain almost at once which door they must knock at. I do not know why there is this difference, but I am sure God keeps no one waiting unless he sees that it is good for Him to wait. (XV).
Lewis’s “Hall Metaphor” is the only portion of the book that I have ever stomached because it is one of the few theological texts that does not attempt to spread further divide and mistrust between the denominations. But to be honest the real reason, the only reason, I appreciate the metaphor is because it is the one metaphor Lewis employs in the whole damn book that works, perfectly. I know I’ve spent most of this letter dumping on Lewis, but trust me B——, the Preface to Mere Christianity is in my mind the strongest portion of the text. I assure you that when I get to the next four Parts, I’ll be just as discerning. I’ll leave the first part of the series on this note, Lewis starts prefaces his work with the clarification that he wants only to simplify the faith so that a person may tackle the larger issues of “High Theology.” He does this, while suggesting the faith is a complicated affair. I’m not against simplifying material to help make it more accessible, that’s my effort in this whole damn blog period, but trying to hide the flaws behind colorful metaphors and turning the religion into a fraternal organization is what started most of the mess he’s trying to solve in the first place. And hopefully the letter will be shorter.
Thank you again for your honesty B——, I hope mine, despite its bracing nature, has been some helpful service.
Sincerely, yours in the best of confidence and support,
Joshua “Jammer” Smith