Thursday, 2 April 2015

Mundanity as a barrier to faith

C.S. Lewis’ excellent book The Screwtape Letters is a story in which a senior demon (Screwtape) gives advice to a junior demon (Wormwood) about how to stop someone (the ‘patient’) becoming a Christian or living a faithful Christian life. One of the first pieces of advice that Screwtape gives is not to even argue that Christianity is false unless he absolutely has to:
By the very act of arguing, you awake the patient’s reason; and once it is awake, who can foresee the result? Even if a particular train of thought can be twisted so as to end in our favour, you will find that you have been strengthening in your patient the fatal habit of attending to universal issues and withdrawing his attention from the stream of immediate sense experiences. Your business is to fix his attention on the stream. Teach him to call it “real life” and don’t let him ask what he means by “real”.
The problem that Lewis has identified here is one that every Christian has to reckon with sometimes when trying to share Christ. In my experience, many people find Christianity implausible not because they are strongly committed to some other worldview, but rather because the idea of even thinking about what the correct worldview is gives them a kind of spiritual vertigo—they would rather ‘fix [their] attention’ on ‘the stream of immediate sense experiences’. In other words, a major obstacle in Christian witness is even getting people to ‘attend to universal issues’ in the first place. As a former pastor of mine has put it, there is:
a problem that faces any contemporary Christian apologetics: unbelief too often arises not from an informed awareness of the evidence, but from a completely closed imagination that cannot conceive of the universe having the added Godward dimension, and so is incapable of giving the matter serious consideration.
As the article I’ve linked to also says, storytelling was part of Lewis’ method for addressing this problem, to try to give people a ‘baptism of the imagination’.

This is my first post on this blog (I will put a paragraph about myself on the ‘About’ page soon). I do believe that Christianity is intellectually robust (and true!) and that very good arguments can be given for it. I plan to discuss and defend some of these arguments in my upcoming posts. But I also want to stress that there are barriers to faith that are not intellectual or even emotional—as Screwtape knew, a simple lack of curiosity or imagination can be one.

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