Thursday, September 16, 2004

Complex Versus Simplistic

Last night I watched the first of a PBS series on the philosophies of Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis. Freud argued for reason over emotion believing that God was a creation of man rather than man being a creation of God. Lewis, an intellectual who supported reason, saw emotion as a component of reason, believing that through emotion God does interact with His creation.

There are many nuances of this debate that can be explored. One that is of interest to me is the complexity of religious thought versus the simplicity that many people seem to have toward understanding God. The fine balance between every issue is not throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. While it is true that for millions of people faith is not an intellectual exercise, it does not negate the equally valid argument that faith should not be regulated to mere emotion. Freud and Marx were probably right in asserting that religion is an “opium for the common man,” while at the same time Lewis and, countless theologians, are equally right that God, in His sovereignty, speaks to the common man beyond mere intellect. The law of non-contradiction does not apply, which Lewis seemed to understand, while Freud did not. Lewis began his spiritual journey as an atheist, became a reluctant convert before eventually becoming an apologist for Christ. Freud, however, could never yield to placing thoughts of the Supreme Being outside empirical data, therefore unable to see God as a reality beyond his finite comprehension.

I am intrigued by this debate as it relates to my role as an educator. In my class in “Equipping People for Cross-Cultural Life,” I spend a significant amount of time in the study of epistemology; how we come to know what we know and further exploring, how do we know what we know is right. I am always amazed how students respond to the challenges of their faith (more striking with international students than North Americans). Evangelicals have an aversion to questioning their doctrine. Somehow questioning how one comes to an understanding of their faith is seen as a threat to their very salvation. My students react strongly when I suggest to them that (a) they are a product of their cultural environment, which includes their faith and, (b) all doctrine is theory. It is to the second point they voice their greatest outrage, for no one wants to accept the possibility that their faith contains error. “How then shall we know what is truth, if there are no absolutes,” they ask? Though I argue for absolutes, the question then becomes, can there be an agreement on what are those absolutes? The answer of course is no. Thus, the debate continues, like the Hindu’s 84,000 cycles of reincarnation, praying that one day we will reach intellectual Nirvana. The present day Christian approach, on the other hand, wrestles not with such dilemmas. Faith closes the debate…“God’s Word says it, I believe it, that settles it,” and it is as simple as that.

I agree that belief in God is not an intellectual exercise, but one of faith. But, does that mean faith so trumps intellect that we no longer question our beliefs? Is it not possible to challenge our theories about God without losing faith in Him? For most people the challenge of the intellect is too confusing, threatening and time consuming to deal with. Simplicity, I contend, is not only dishonoring to our faith, but breeds false and silly doctrine. Pursuing the complexity of faith, I would further argue, is not only a charge to those who are followers of Christ (Matt. 22:37, Phil. 2:12) but also an act of worship. The trick is not to get bogged down with either the complex or the simplistic.

1 comment:

Dennis said...

Great blog, Dr. Lewis! Glad to see you've joined the world of blogging. Hope everything is going well with you. I enjoy reading your ministry updates and, now, your blog.