A clip from EWTN’s “Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings:’ A Catholic Worldview” portraying a debate between C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien on whether or not myths are lies. This debate was ultimately instrumental in C.S. Lewis’s conversion to Christianity.
Saw this floating by on Facebook in the wee hours of the morn’
“What is exciting” said Beebe, “is that the manuscript includes some of Lewis’s best and most precise statements about the nature of language and meaning. Both Lewis and Tolkien wrote separately about language, communication, and meaning, but they published nothing collaboratively.”
The article Beebe wrote documenting his discovery, “Language and Human Nature Manuscript Fragment Found: C. S. Lewis On Language and Meaning,” will be published next year in the Journal Seven: An Anglo-American Literary Review. The journal Seven publishes scholarship that focuses on the work of seven prominent 20th Century British authors including both Lewis and Tolkien.
“Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought. But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true? It’s like upsetting a milk jug and hoping that the way it splashes itself will give you a map of London. But if I can’t trust my own thinking, of course I can’t trust the arguments leading to Atheism, and therefore have no reason to be an Atheist, or anything else. Uniess I belleve in God, I cannot belleve in thought. So I can never use thought to disbelieve in God.”
“And let me make it quite clear that when Christians say the Christ-life is in them, they do not mean simply something mental or moral. When they speak of being ‘in Christ’ or of Christ being ‘in them,’ this is not simply a way of saying that they are thinking about Christ or copying Him. They mean that Christ is actually operating through them; that the whole mass of Christians are the physical organism through which Christ acts – that we are His fingers and muscles, the cells of His body. And perhaps that explains one or two things. It explains why this new life is spread not only by purely mental acts like belief, but by bodily acts like baptism and Holy Communion. It is not merely the spreading of an idea; it is more like evolution – a biological or super- biological fact…. He uses material things like bread and wine to put the new life into us.”
The breakdown of the book is fairly simple. McGrath divides the book into two parts, the first being “The Purpose, Place and Relevance of Christian Theology” and the second “Engaging with Our Culture.” In the overall scope, I had a difficult time detecting a progression of thought, rather the book feels a little more like collected essays. I don’t think this was the intention, but in the introductory chapter, McGrath does state that the book reflects material developed for a number of public lectures he gave from 2008-2010 (see pages 8-9).
The first part of the book begins by discussing theology more generally, then moves to more specific topics. Thus, the first two chapters are entitled “Mere Theology: The Landscape of Faith 1” and “Mere Theology: The Landscape of Faith 2.” Immediately, many will notice the influence of C.S. Lewis in this book. This influence manifests itself throughout the entire first part of the book, though McGrath does include some critique of Lewis. The final four chapters of this part of the book deal with the gospel, suffering, nature and apologetics. I will state already that I find McGrath’s chapter on apologetics helpful since he critiques modern approaches taken by many religious believers.
The second part of the book, while having the general title of “Engaging with Our Culture,” deals with religious belief and science, in particular. Within this focus on religious belief and science, McGrath focuses intently on the new atheism. A more specific critique of Dawkins plays prominently. This focus on the sciences and the new atheism might not seem to make sense in a book entitled “The Passionate Intellect.” Yet when considering McGrath’s initial study in the sciences (mentioned in the previous post), one can see that this is one of his intellectual passions, whether or not it is one of the reader’s. Three chapters in this section deal with the sciences and the final two deal with the idea that religion “poisons everything” and the relationship between atheism and the enlightenment.
The book ends with requisite notes and an index. The notes contain enough for the interested reader who wants to go further to find many helpful resources. In the next post, I will include my personal reaction. You might look for that around Monday or Tuesday.