Tuesday, April 17, 2012

God: That is the question

A review of The Question of God: C. S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life, by Dr. Armand M. Nicholi, Jr. 

   Sigmund Freud never met C. S. Lewis, but the author of this book imagines a debate between the two on the subject of God (and some corollary topics). He also teaches a course at Harvard contrasting the two men’s “worldviews.”
   Nicholi calls Freud “the atheist’s touchstone,” and refers to Lewis as “perhaps the twentieth century’s most popular proponent of faith based on reason.” Lewis himself was an atheist for the first half of his adulthood, and Freud, indeed, was one of his touchstones. When he became a Christian he often challenged the ideas of Freud’s that he had earlier embraced. Or as Nicholi puts it in his prologue: “In subsequent writings, he (Lewis) provides cogent responses to Freud’s arguments…”—thus indicating early on where his own sympathies lie.
     Freud called religion “the universal obsessional neurosis,” and was a lifelong atheist, although as the author suggests he may have wavered in his disbelief from time to time. (In a letter to a friend he wrote, “Science of all things seems to demand the existence of God…”) Freud thought that one’s early, ambivalent attitude toward one’s parents formed the basis for one’s “deep-seated wish for God.”
   Freud’s atheistic underpinnings came largely from his reading of Ludwig Feuerbach, a German philosopher who, in his The Essence of Christianity, asserted that religion is just a projection of human need. “Divine wisdom is human wisdom…the secret of theology is anthropology…the absolute mind is the so-called finite subjective mind,” Feuerbach wrote.
   Lewis, like Freud, grew into an atheist as a teenager. His mother died horribly at home when he was 7, and Lewis recalled that his earliest “religious experience” was praying in vain for her life. He was sent to a miserable boarding school where, he said, he read his Bible, “lived in hope,” and “attempted to obey my conscience.” When the school closed he was sent to another, whose matron took him under her wing and shared her growing unbelief with him. Under her influence, and that of his reading in the classics, his faith began to collapse. Another teacher, William Kirkpatrick, helped drive the final nail in the coffin, although the corpse would be resurrected years later.
   (To be continued…)      

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter Parade of Fools

Regarding our habit
Of venerating a rabbit
That brings us all eggs--
Just who's pulling our legs

Easter's always a grand day, with chocolate abounding and wine overflowing (in our household, at least), an occasion to ponder one of life's profound mysteries:

How can we be so gullible?

It's a time to reread the Book of Luke, the lovely story (most beautiful in the King James Version) that takes us from the birth of Jesus in a stable, attended by shepherds of the field, to his calamitous end and beyond, when the slain Christ apparently busts out of his tomb and, after checking in with a few former friends, takes off for parts unknown.

The most charming (or off-putting, depending on your point of view) aspects of the whole story are it fairy-tale elements. The son of God comes to earth and sets up shop as a carpenter, disappears for a dozen years or so and then returns to embark on a brief career as an itinerant preacher. Though penniless, he attracts an entourage, and travels from town to town, relying on the kindness of strangers for room and board while entertaining the masses with speeches and parables and the preforming of miracles. He walks on water and raises the dead and converts water into wine. He naturally attracts the notice of the authorities, who begin to ask questions and end up hounding him to death. His death, however, is a triumph, and far from the end of things. He has promised to return and set things right.

It is Luke's Jesus that has come down to us, for the most part--the gentle, soft-spoken, sociable soul who loves children and is beloved by women, who bestows his miracles liberally, and who is always kind and considerate, even unto death. And it is Luke's point of view that has become a bedrock of the faith, in particular his conviction that Jesus was the long-awaited messiah who would come back to earth, after a three-day vacation, and establish his kingdom. The fact that we're still waiting hasn't dampened the expectation.