Tuesday 27 August 2013

Deep modern Christian apologetics - psychological evaluation procedures may be the key


The reason that CS Lewis has not yet been superseded as a Christian apologist (i.e. one who defends Christianity, shows its coherence, explains its basis and so on) - is that his arguments cut deeper than other apologists and he made fewer assumptions of his readers.

It seems that nobody has yet gone any deeper, or at least not in appealing way; but most more recent apologists have simply rung variations on Lewis's method.


What did Lewis do?

Here is an excerpt from the letter he wrote to the BBC when invited to contribute the talks taht later became Mere Christianity: 

It seems to me that the New Testament, by preaching repentance and forgiveness, always assumes an audience who already believe in the law of Nature and know they have disobeyed it. In modern England we cannot at present assume this, and therefore most apologetic begins a stage too far on. The first step is to create, or recover, the sense of guilt. Hence if I give a series of talks I should mention Christianity only at the end, and would prefer not to unmask my battery till then. 


Lewis based his apologetics on the understanding of human nature and natural law - which for his era was still solid ground among all except a handful of intellectual ultra-radicals. 

But since Lewis wrote, the inbuilt spontaneous assumption that there is a human nature and that there is a valid natural law (inbuilt morality) have actually been inverted - such that anything spontaneous is regarded as evil, this is perhaps the essence of prevailing public morality (political correctness). 

So, unless people can be caught as youths, before they have been participants in that vast and pervasive system of artificial morality the mass media, they may be lost to even Lewisite apologetics.


Modern apologetics must cut even deeper - must (I think) focus on systems of evaluation (but not, of course, calling them that!). 

In other words, modern apologetics must start with a discussion of grounds for belief, which means exposing the basis by which people arrive at beliefs - and the extent to which this is a product of political correctness and the mass media, and the extent to which this permeates all of the high status and powerful evaluations systems such as politics, law, public administration, charities and NGOs, educational institutions, the military... and the major Christian churches.

Or, we cut to the chase and go straight to the individual systems which lie below this. 

If we cannot rely on previously trusted sources, and not even the Christian churches - then people are thrown back onto their own devices: the must (and I mean must) develop their own instincts of evaluation based on the heart. 

Obviously this idea of the heart needs clarification - and needs to be distinguished from head and body knowledge -  but it is critical; and it may be the only realistic hope. 

But obviously this is hazardous - it has, in particular, the hazard of spiritual pride and self-serving self-deception. But where else can we go to to find a ground for living, and a sufficiently-powerful basis for motivation?


Intellectuals schemes from reading or institutions and the vitalism of following powerful gut-feelings will not work, they have been colonized and corrupted; we must instead learn to seek and recognize heart knowledge, the slow warmth of it - the connecting, relating basis of life. 

All external knowledge must be tested by the heart.

We need to build upon the certainties of the heart.


This is hazardous. But we have no alternative. 

Christianity needs to come from the heart, be underpinned by the heart - this needs a new kind of apologetics.

The evaluations of the heart is not the end of apologetics - that end would be a full denomination of Christianity; but that end cannot nowadays be reached in one step; but only via gaining independence from the corrupted or inverted evaluations of the body or head. 

On that independence apologists can build; not otherwise.



Bedarz Iliaci said...

Christianity is essentially an evidential religion and it needs head.

Going by the heart may well take one to Krishna or Zen or Dionysos.

I would say that first it is needed to show that man is part-spirit. That matter-alone can not think. That would take people out of atheism.

Bruce Charlton said...

@BI -

"Going by the heart may well take one to Krishna or Zen or Dionysos."

Sort of - not to Zen, surely? (Pure head and nothing else.) But that kind of thing is the risk. But the risk must be taken, due to lack of effective alternatives.

"an evidential religion and it needs head"

So people go to the premier theologians, bishops, intellectual leaders... and stand a high chance of getting fed with corrupt, anti-Christian political correctness.

"first it is needed to show that man is part-spirit. That matter-alone can not think. That would take people out of atheism. "

No it wouldn't. They would not even get past the second sentence. And they would not *believe* it.

Donald said...

Perhaps we need schools of (classical) paganism. Make people believe in virtue, natural law, justice, the Good. I could work with that!

Anonymous said...

A new 'deep modern Christian apologetics' is certainly a wholly worthwhile pursuit, but the 'key' will always be the Holy Spirit.

Through him we can move people from darkness to light and not even know what it was, specifically, that was said to accomplish this.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Anon - Indeed, but the promptings of the Holy Spirit must be accepted, by free choice - and at present they mostly are not.

Bruce Charlton said...

@Donald - I have discussed paganism before on this blog:


Sylvie D. Rousseau said...

If by heart you mean the same thing as the ancients, that is, the soul, or rather the whole person, it also corresponds to what C.S. Lewis termed “chest.” But postmodern and post-Christian men are mostly men without chests, thanks to five centuries of Protestant voluntarism and a century of nihilist sentimentalism. Thus they are unable to understand any moral or religious, or even merely philosophic, teaching, because, being so full of themselves, they are unable to listen, unable to learn the most important things. They are not teachable.

I do not remember if C.S. Lewis proposed some remedy to the disease, I cannot look it up now. I recall something I read on the subject in a book about Jesus’ way of teaching. I fear the only remedy is prayer and sacrifice, and clinging to the good and right, as well as speaking up and teaching as best we can.

Bruce Charlton said...

@SDR - Yes, chests is the same as heart.

But CSL depicted a man without a chest in Mark Studdock of That Hideous Strength - and of course he was healed.

I am here prescribing strong medicine (although I am not myself able to dispense it) - and strong medicine may harm as well as heal; nonetheless for severe disease it may offer the only realistic hope.

Unknown said...

Dr. Charlton,

I believe your own "Thought Prison" and "Not Even Trying" were important in my eschewing much of what is trotted out for modern thought. Of course, Lewis had already taken a big chunk out of this, but it was good to hear your take as an 'insider.' Also, much of what you said has particular relevance as CSL has now been dead for 50 years.

I agree, attacking the very framework of much of the modern worldview seems to be the only way through. Reading through your idea of the mass media being a tool of the PC, which was in turn a tool of nihilism was a major leap in my understanding of the world and the particular sinfulness of our age. More needs to be written about this from a distinctly Christian perspective. After all, this is the only way to resist and not lose your soul in the end.

Bedarz Iliaci said...

The Christianity is supported by miracles, ancient and still occurring.
Eg Lourdes, relics (eg uncorrupted bodies of saints such as St Xavier whose 500 year old body lies in a Goan cathedral).

Other religions lack solidly verified miracles. Do Mormons have attested miracles?

Father Jaki in Miracles and Physics says that miracles serve the moral order. So it is from the miracles that the moral order shall find its strength.

Bruce Charlton said...

@BI - I think this is right - but probably personal miracles and revelations are the key.

Yes, Mormonism is full of miracles.

Sylvie D. Rousseau said...

Miracles and private revelations must be checked against the Faith by means of sound theology. No religious body apart from the Catholic Church has the mandate (the power = Apostolic Succession) and the bearings (the know-how = Tradition) to do that.

No one can check his own orthodoxy: against what would he be checking it if not the Catholic faith? I note that most converts to Catholicism did just that.

Bruce Charlton said...

@SDR - But who is teaching sound theology when the local priest is not, the Bishops are not, the monks and friars are not... and when the church as a whole rejects tradition (Vatican II).

A modern Catholic convert must go through a very different process than one of even half a century ago.

Sylvie D. Rousseau said...

Your assessment is too dramatic. There are still priests, bishops, monks, friars, and the popes, who teach the faith correctly, and sound theology by the fact. I know of some in each group, not necessarily personally, but enough to have my faith regularly nourished and comforted.

And Vatican II is not at all a rejection of Tradition. The impression comes from the fact it was badly understood and implemented by most, but not all. Paul VI complained about that in the early years after the Council and called the unfortunate initiatives the auto-destruction of the Church. But she is still standing, I can assure you.

I began to learn theology in the Jerusalem Bible (1973 edition directed by the Jerusalem School Dominicans), in Vatican II documents, and in the preaching of priests, some of them in charismatic-style, and some in more traditional assemblies and retreats. These priests were profoundly spiritual and orthodox in their faith.

Whenever I feel like sulking about the poverty of preaching and liturgy in local churches (not all the time, fortunately), I remind myself that the Holy Eucharist is still validly consecrated and confession is still available.
You might like this letter of Tolkien on the subject: http://foodwhichendures.blogspot.ca/2010/05/jrr-tolkien-on-scandal-faith-and.html

In the end, all our trials are part of the harsh medicine God has to administer to us. But sometimes there are unexpected flowers on the road, like this revival in a Chicago parish: http://www.cantius.org/go/search/default/video_about_saint_john_cantius_church/

(Maybe I already gave you those links; if so, I apologize.)

Tucker said...

In other words, modern apologetics must start with a discussion of grounds for belief, which means exposing the basis by which people arrive at beliefs

Beautifully encouraging counterpoint to what I've been reading at the Orthosphere about the apparent hopelessness and impossibility of modern evangelism.

As a fairly shy university student, I used not to know how to begin talking to people about Christianity, but as I've gone along, I have found two main evangelistic strategies to be effective:

The first is simply to ask people some variation of, "So why do you think that way?", and go from there. It sounds so trivial, and yet it's exactly as you've suggested: most people do *not* know why they believe what they believe; they've never thought about it at all before; and if they've got an ounce of fairness and intellectual curiosity in their body whatsoever, they'll come away from such a discussion really questioning their previously held assumptions and intuitions. They may not become Christians overnight, but they will likely become more open.

The other strategy I have found effective is the old "lifestyle" method, which includes not just "being a good person", but consciously *avoiding* committing *bad* acts even when "everyone" else is doing it. This forces a lot of people to confront those nagging doubts about moral relativism that linger in the back of their minds, and does *not* always or necessarily come across as self-righteousness.