Category: C S Lewis

Confessions of a failed evangelist

By , 24 October 2008 5:47 pm

A colleague with whom I share an office and all sorts of things (including probably his cold) has just decided that he’s going to buy an iPhone. Curiously enough this news makes me depressed.

How so? Well he’s buying an iPhone on my recommendation; I’ve talked a lot about it, expressed how pleased I am with it and let him have a play with it. He loves it. So even though he already has some time left on his old phone contract he is going to get one. So why am I depressed? It is that I seem to be better at selling iPhones than the gospel. We’ve talked a lot about Christianity and he’s made some interesting comments, but he’s buying into the phone and not, as yet, into the faith.

Of course it’s easier to talk about a mobile phone than it is to talk about faith. Phones are everywhere, everyone has them and everyone is using them. Phones come up naturally in conversation. These days faith is not anywhere near so frequent a topic of discussion. To talk about it can actually seem rather forced and unnatural. Phones also somehow a much more concrete topic; it’s much easier to say to someone – as I did today – ‘have a play with this’. It is much less easy to say to someone ‘here, try my Christian faith’. And of course it’s easier for people to risk getting involved with phones than with faith. An unhappy experience with a phone will, at worst, leave you a few hundred pounds or dollars out of pocket. An unhappy experience with faith could be far more costly and open you to considerable embarrassment. Nevertheless I’m sure you understand my unease; shouldn’t it be much easier to talk about a faith that means everything and a phone which, however nice, means very little?

And yet. A year or so ago I extolled the virtues of C S Lewis to my colleague who greatly enjoyed Surprised by Joy. The other week he said that he’d picked up a copy of the Screwtape Letters and here his tone grew pensive, he ‘found it very thought-provoking’. Well maybe the dead Lewis can do better than the living me. Actually from what I’ve heard, the living Lewis wasn’t that great an evangelist. Maybe death will improve me, but I’m in no hurry to try the experiment.

Incidentally I had some lovely fan mail from Ghana this week. These nice comments count, they really do.

Have a good week

Chris

Lewis, the Magic Flute and being logical

By , 26 April 2008 8:33 am

I have a really bright student of strongly mathematical bent and enquiring mind who is currently reading C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. Yesterday he protested with some force that he found Lewis illogical in places. It was not the time or place for a defence so I let it pass but I found it an interesting comment. Personally though I have always found Lewis to be highly logical, but I am neither a good mathematician nor a logician. We had one other brief comment on the matter but I will save that till later.


Now the reason I didn’t post last night was that we went to the opera. It was Mozart’s The Magic Flute done by the Welsh National Opera from whom I have borrowed the image. Now if you know anything about the Magic Flute you know it’s got some strong points: some great tunes, some awesome soprano bits and it all ends happily. It is also something of a problem opera. The plot revolves around the Masons of Mozart’s day and their rituals, and we have such mysterious elements as dragons, bird catchers, three boys, a Queen of the Night and an order of priests. It’s all very Masonic, full of ritual and symbolic elements and it swings between rustic comedy and high drama. The performance by WNO seemed to catch the bizarre atmosphere well with sets that made a blatant nod to the surrealist art of René Magritte. There is also a lot of talking but thankfully in this performance it was in English. I’m still not at all sure what was going on (and I gather no one really knows anyway) but it was great art and made you feel good about life.

Now the interesting thing is that of course it fails at every level the tests of logic and rationality. Any supercomputer would be driven mad trying to analyse what was going on. Why were the priests of the Order dressed in orange? (Was it merely a bad pun ‘the Orange Order’?) Who are the three boys? And what about the lobster? Yet it was not meaningless or pointless. Indeed you could say of the ending of the opera that it achieved what art is supposed to do but rarely does: it was moving.

My student made a second comment later in a gap in the teaching. I forget the exact words but it was a question as to whether I considered logic to be the ultimate test of truth. My fumbled answer was that to try to do that involved a circular fallacy: you could never logically prove that logic was the ultimate criterion because to do it you would have to use logic. I quoted Pascal at him (actually I misquoted but he got the sense). ‘The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.’ I think The Magic Flute – and a million other things – demonstrates that.

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