Sunday, July 5, 2015

England, UK, Great Britain--What's the Difference?!

I just want to say sorry to my UK readers upfront. But seriously, some of my American brethren aren’t even aware there is a difference between England, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom (and let me tell you, the Olympics and the World Cup don’t help). And here I am purporting to sort out the difference, and I’m pretty sure I’ll still get something wrong.

Anyway, I’m writing this in preparation for my impending UK Oxford study tour. I’m leaving Monday night, and really looking forward to learning, seeing, and interacting with all of the rich British evangelical and Baptist history. And I hope I meet some real live British people!

Back to the regularly scheduled program: England is a country and located on an island just off of continental Europe (across the English channel from France). Take a look at this map to get a sense of it:
England: They Really Do Color the Border Red

England is located on an island called Great Britain. This island is home to three countries: England, Wales (to the west), and Scotland (to the north, which is not fully in view in the picture. Sorry.). These three nations, in addition to Northern Ireland (located at the northern end of the island of Ireland), form the United Kingdom. Finally, the British Isles are an archipelago made up of tons of islands including Ireland and Great Britain. Get it?

For reasons not really known to me (but I’m sure are easily searchable), the UK competes as Great Britain in the Olympics (and it includes athletes from Northern Ireland who do not live on the island of Great Britain). And I suppose because they invented soccer, the four individual nations all get their own national teams. This also likely means we shouldn’t refer to England’s soccer team as “the British team.” So, hopefully this has been helpful for some of us Americans (including the media) who may have been understandably confused at all the nuances that exist in the United Kingdom!

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Book Reviews: The Problem of Pain and A Grief Observed

The Problem of Pain (TPP) and A Grief Observed (AGO) are two very contrasting, but ultimately complimentary, views on the problem of pain and suffering. It is important to note that Lewis deals with both the emotional and physical aspects of suffering. He also is only addressing the traditional “problem of evil” as a part of his treatise on suffering; he is not speaking solely or even necessarily mostly about moral evil (and is almost leaving it to one side entirely in AGO).
In TPP, Lewis sets up the problem of pain quite well; he is not fond of the strawman argument. Essentially, the universe is a dark and cold place, that came from non-life, that treats life cruelly (with respect to disease, death, and extinction), and ultimately results in the heat death of the universe, where all things must end (552). He ends this section with the atheistic challenge: “Either there is no spirit behind the universe, or else a spirit indifferent to good and evil, or else an evil spirit” (552). The challenge for Christian theism should be evident.
Lewis responds, not by challenging the basic premises in the argument, but by instead bringing up a problem: the idea of morality (557). In a completely reductive universe, morality could not really be binding. Thus, he explains, “it is either inexplicable illusion, or else revelation” (557). The problem of pain still remains, but there is at least some reason to think that theism contains an answer.
Chapter Two begins with the classic formulation that if God were wholly omnipotent, then he would want to see his creatures as happy as possible (560). That obviously has not happened; thus, God must not be omnipotent (or not good). However, Lewis takes pains to argue that what is truly impossible is not a thing for omnipotence to do (560-61). Thus, if forcing a free creature is a truly impossible act, God cannot be blamed for not doing so. And yet this means that a truly free creature can bring about great suffering upon himself and others with poor moral choices. This truly free creature was meant to be in a love relationship with God at the center (574).
A central insight as to how much pain is brought about by man concerns his own perception of the evil man commits. Lewis writes, “As soon as we perceive our badness, it [God’s wrath] appears inevitable, a mere corollary of God’s goodness” (581). Thus, the wrath of God only seems unintelligible when we have failed to understand our own depravity. When it is fully understood, we recognize our characters need a radical transformation. This will form the basis of Lewis’ defense of the existence of human pain. In a world in which creatures interact, there is the possibility of pain. Further, since a man’s character (given sin, freely chosen of one’s own will) is such that he will not grow, pain is needed. Finally, a nature governed by general laws will need to be only rarely divinely interfered with (otherwise there is no point to nature at all).
Lewis then provides a defense of both Hell and Heaven, showing that God, in the end, leaves some people alone as they desire (627). He closes with a chapter on animal pain that a reader will find incredibly insightful, despite the fact he insists it is all speculation (629). He suspects that there may be animals in the eschaton who were joined in a human master, so that our resurrection involves theirs. There may be “soulish” animals (who have higher-order being) who experience resurrection. Finally, there may be types of animals who appear in the eschaton, even if the “original” animals do not live again (637).
AGO is a much shorter book, coming in at 42 pages. Here Lewis is not making an argument as much as a journal that chronicles his thoughts in the aftermath of his wife’s death. This edition begins with a great introduction from Lewis’ stepson, Douglas H. Gresham. The very first chapter is both raw and emotional. It comes within the very first weeks after his wife’s passing (the journaling nature of the work is revealed in that he only refers to his wife as “H”). He attempts to explain his pain by way both of asking questions (such as “why is God absent?”) and by the insight that his imagination cannot bring his wife’s face to mind (662).
The second chapter deals with Lewis’ apparent loss of faith. In these reflections, he looks like a man tossed back and forth between defeated doubt (665) and intellectual faith (668). A faith untested is a faith unknown, he claimed (665). In the next chapter, he realizes that a life without pain means no faith that is strong, at least in his case. His faith was exposed as a “house of cards” (672), and now he is stronger for it. At this juncture, he is still unsure whether or not God is truly for his good or evil (673). Finally, Lewis concludes that he had been thinking about himself, then his wife, and finally God—and all along, he should have been praising God for his goodness, for his wife, and then his faith would have followed along (682). AGO is a book about a journey of rediscovering faith in the midst of indescribable loss.
Critical Evaluation
            Lewis writes so clearly and candidly in both TPP and AGO that one may find himself wanting to agree with everything he writes, whether or not it seems to him to be pious or even theologically accurate. TPP is dealt with from a purely intellectual perspective; in fact, Lewis very nearly apologizes for not having experienced certain types of pain himself (though he did indeed lose his mother to cancer when he was a young boy). In TPP, the goal was to tell a story of how it is that a loving and good God, who is all-powerful, could allow so much pain and suffering, and even the existence of an eternal Hell. Lewis achieves this masterfully. In AGO, there is less of an overarching goal as much as a series of lessons. These lessons find their culmination in a practical application of grief and pain, and in that he achieves his objective—at least for him, and others who may be like him.
            In TPP there are several strengths. First, Lewis excels at providing a thorough discussion. He includes moral evil, the origin of moral evil, human pain and its purpose given moral evil, the natural world, animal pain, Heaven, and Hell; he also includes God’s omnipotence and goodness, as well as a brief discussion on libertarian freedom. It seems that he left no major aspect unexamined. Second, Lewis did well to assume the evolutionary account of man and still provide an answer. He told a story of how sin may have arisen in the hearts of prehistoric man, even in an evolutionary context, where man ceased to function as God intended (and therefore as man ought to function), and thus sin entered into the world (595). Thus, Lewis argues that, “Science, then, has nothing to say for or against the doctrine of the Fall” (591). On this point he seems quite right.
Third, his theodicy of Hell shows itself to be quite strong. Lewis argues that justice is necessary to any conception of punishment (after all, why punish me if I do not in fact deserve to be punished?). From this, he draws a distinction between condoning and forgiving—and argues that forgiveness must be accepted by the one being forgiven in order for it to be applied (623). Thus, if someone will not accept God, then he will leave them alone (627). He then addresses the objection that eternal punishment does not fit the temporal crime by suggesting that perhaps the eternal punishment is itself timeless (624). This is at least an interesting suggestion, to say the least!
Finally, his defense of animal pain and suffering is worthy to be considered. Lewis argues that most animals are only aware of a succession of pain states, but not that they themselves are in such pain states. Thus, there is a lack of consciousness needed to truly suffer. Thus, most of what goes on in the animal kingdom is not what we would qualify as pain. Next, for even the higher animals that may possibly know that they themselves are in pain, it may be that resurrection in the service of man awaits them; even if not, it may be that the animals were abused by Satan just as mankind was.
AGO’s primary strength is in its candor. Lewis’ openness about his grief and struggles allows the reader to identify with him (and not merely pity him)—even if they have not undergone the specific type of pain he has. Its strength lies in that it is no mere academic exercise. Though it is surely intellectual, it does not come across as sterile. It does not serve to contradict TPP, but complement it. This is why it seems so back-and-forth, verging on contradictory. He recognizes God as undergoing the ultimate grief of sending his own Son, but struggles to reconcile his feelings with a God of ultimate love. In the end, AGO encourages us to view God first, what pleases us or what has grieved us second, and only ourselves third.
            Both TPP and AGO are amazing works that can and should be read by Christians and non-Christians alike; however, this is not to say that they are perfect works without any room for improvement or lacking any error. First, in TPP, it is not clear Lewis has established his refutation of the temporal/eternal objection to Hell. This is because, amongst other things, it controversially assumes a B-theory of time, whereby those who are in Hell can be timelessly “removed” from chronological existence. Consider the fact that it seems one can argue that the condemned can be said to be condemned at one moment, and uncondemned at a prior moment (that is, not experiencing the punishment of Hell). Or consider that one could argue that eternal, in Scripture, seems to mean “everlasting” rather than “timeless” punishment. If this is so, Lewis’ response falls apart. He also fails to recognize other, perhaps more important responses, such as a sin against an infinitely holy God is an infinite crime, or that the condemned reap more and more punishment as they continually resist God in their God-abandoned state.
            Next, in his chapter on animal suffering, Lewis makes the following claim: “This [the claim that animal suffering results from the Fall] is now impossible, for we have good reason to believe that animals existed long before men” (631). Aside from controversially assuming an evolutionary-like story, even evolution does not preclude human sin from being the reason animal suffering came about. Consider William Dembski’s retrocausal account. It could be that God viewed what would happen, perceived in his omniscience that man would sin, and for that reason, God imparted the consequences unto the world. Now whether or not a Dembski-like account succeeds is not the point; the question is whether it is even possible. It seems that it is, meaning Lewis need not dismiss such an account out of hand (even though, in fairness, he was not aware of it).
            If AGO has a weakness, it must only be in its strange assumption that Lewis’ wife no longer existed currently. Perhaps this is due to his belief in Purgatory, or perhaps he was merely emphasizing the nature of time and existence, but either way it seems false. He seems to rely on the claim that passages that speak of hope and life after death and reunions with others as entirely unscriptural if interpreted literally (666-67). Perhaps in one sense he is right: but surely there is a literal truth behind even the most fanciful of metaphors. And what would that literal truth be? “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.” While Lewis does eventually recognize there is more to his wife’s person than her body, it does seem that he does not take seriously the idea that she is in Heaven with God even now, and that is an unfortunate loss of comfort.

            Both TPP and AGO are strongly recommended. TPP is recommended both for believers and unbelievers alike. AGO is recommended primarily for believers; I suspect that unbelievers will not grasp it without a faith already in Christ. While believers who have not undergone such grief as Lewis may struggle to understand it, it will give them at least an empathetic insight into those who are hurting, and for that reason they will find it very helpful.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Book Review: Mere Christianity

Mere Christianity is a work derived almost completely from radio broadcasts originally done on BBC radio in England during World War II. Lewis largely wanted the book to read as a talk (5), and that is indeed how it reads. It is familiar, warm, and yet cuttingly insightful when it comes to the condition of man and the truth-claims of what he calls “mere Christianity.” His main goal was to state the basic, core beliefs that virtually all Christians across history have held to be true and do so in a way that accounted for their plausibility.
The work is actually divided into four books (which should rather be called “parts”). The first book features Lewis unraveling his masterful use of the moral argument for God’s existence. He wrote quite methodically; not attempting to go too fast, he wanted to claim only what his argumentation had warranted, and nothing further.
First, Lewis argued that everyone has a particular concept that there is an objective moral standard, and that this standard dictates what is right and wrong. He argues for universal perception of this moral law, in part, by stating that no one ever tries to simply shrug off the standard. Instead, they argue that they meet the standard, or there is some particular circumstance that excuses them in this case, and so on. He puts it like this: “Quarrelling means trying to show that the other man is in the wrong. And there would be no sense in saying that a footballer had committed a foul unless there was some agreement about the rules of football” (16). As an aside, Lewis excels at showing his point by way of analogy.
Lewis then deals with objections to the moral law, showing that it is not merely social convention or useful behavior by using counterexamples from everyday life (26). He closes this chapter by pointing out this means there is “a real law, which none of us made, but which we find pressing on us” (27). He has not yet argued about who or what made this law, but has established that we all think it to be there. After this, he closes the first book with two main contentions. First, that there is a higher power that created these moral obligations. Second, Christianity is the remedy for those who have broken the moral law—which is all of us (35). This serves as a good segue into the next book.
The second book concerns Christian doctrine in particular, and how it differs from other religions. Lewis argues that Christianity must be more than a pagan kind of dualism, because one of the sides is good, and thus is a better representative of an objective moral standard than the other. Thus, the two sides are not really equal, and only one of them is God (44). Christianity also has a remedy for sin, and that is found in the person of Jesus Christ. This is where Lewis’ famous trilemma appears: Jesus is either a liar, lunatic, or Lord (50-51). This weight presses upon the skeptic as Lewis moves to the third book.
This book concerns Christian behavior. Lewis nicely defines morality according to three parts: “fair play and harmony between individuals . . . harmonising the things inside each individual. Thirdly, with the general purpose of human life as a whole;” he also argued that most people are only ever concerned with the first part, to their detriment (67). He then speaks of the cardinal virtues, and argues that each act makes a man more like heaven or more like hell (81). Thus, for Lewis, life was a progression unto an eternal state: eternal joy or eternal condemnation. Of particular note is his distinction between two kinds of faith. First, is intellectual acceptance of the truth of Christianity and its teachings (115). However this faith is not merely intellectual. That is, Lewis argues that reason is not cold and divorced from the emotional life of man. Thus, when one is tempted to forego Christian beliefs about morality because it suits him, true faith is in fact a virtue, for it overcomes the emotion to retain this belief even still (116-17). Second, faith is believing something “that cannot be understood until after you have gone a certain distance along the Christian road” (119). This naturally leads the reader into the fourth and final book.
This book engages the deeper doctrine of God, including the Trinity and the Incarnation. Lewis maintains that the nature of the tri-personal God is like a cube, and it is only when we are able to perceive all of the dimensions that we are able to understand that it is made up of more than one square (133). He also attempts to tackle the idea of a timeless God, and explains that the Holy Spirit is the way in which we “catch” the spirit of God (143). Finally, he argues that it is our choice whether or not we will resist God and his actions to make us into true Sons of God (148); it is at this stage of being conformed to the image of the Son that we become our true selves (175). It is this closing thought Lewis dwells on to create a final dilemma for the reader: “Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in” (177).
Critical Evaluation
            Lewis accomplishes his goal of presenting a plausible version of mere Christianity for those unbelievers. He does not adjudicate between Christian denominations, nor does he intend to do so. It is important to note that there appear to be doctrines (at least one) that does not belong to the essential aspects of Christianity—namely, the defense of a timeless God. While the timelessness of God has been defended far and wide, it is now usually recognized that one is not completely outside of the pale of orthodoxy by conceiving of God as somehow in time. This is the only real bias I can detect that may impact the facts of the matter; the book was very well done!
            A particular strength of Lewis is his ability to relate to the “common man,” or the outsider layman. By using both analogies and thought experiments, he is able to relate difficult concepts in a way that makes them sensible. It is true that these are not perfect analogies, but he never claims they are—and in fact takes great pains to note they are not so perfect. They do, however, tend to accomplish his goal of showing how Christian doctrine impacts life, and each individual human as well. Two particular points of emphasis will be considered.
            First, Lewis considers the point of Christian virtues, given that one is saved purely of faith and not of any merit. He writes, “Now there are a good many things which would not be worth bothering about if I were going to live only seventy years, but which I had better bother about very seriously if I am going to live for ever. Perhaps my bad temper . . . might be absolute hell in a million years” (68). He exposes that the inner man is either becoming more and more like Christ, or turning inwardly into self. This is why all three facets of morality (as Lewis outlined them) matter: they are intertwined so that they affect the others!
            Second, Lewis hints at here what has later been called his argument from desire. He writes, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world” (114). The critic may attempt to defeat Lewis’ underlying premise: for every natural desire there is some thing in existence that can satisfy it. Suppose someone has the desire to become the number 42, for example. There is nothing in the world that can satisfy this desire. But Lewis’ response may be two-fold. First, no one is born with such a desire. Second, if there is a natural desire present, this irrational desire is possibly reducible to it. The desire to be something else is a desire not to be inadequate, not to be limited, not to be finite, not to be contingent, not to be mortal, etc. The satisfaction of even this desire, then, may or may not be found in the world, but one can imagine that the Christian God fulfills these desires via eternal life!
            Next, someone may complain that Lewis presupposes some kind of telos or purpose to human existence. It is true that if there is no purpose to human existence, then God does not exist (and neither does eternal life). However, the “common man” does not believe life to be devoid of purpose, and thus this complaint just will not do for the majority of people. Additionally, one detects a kind of proper basicality to the belief that one’s life has objective purpose.
            While I found much strength to Lewis’ arguments, I did not find much about which to complain. However, two sections will be considered. First, he writes, “Almost certainly God is not in Time” (138). This is quite a contentious claim! A counterexample seems to be found in the Incarnation itself: at one point, God (Jesus) did not have human flesh (a human nature), and at another point in time he did. This, however, Lewis combats by claiming such human nature as “somehow included in His whole divine life” (139). If there are no temporal parts to the experience of God, then it seems mysterious, if not contradictory, to suggest that Jesus’ humanity was an eternal, and hence metaphysically essential, part of Jesus’ life. To see why, consider this: suppose Jesus’ human nature is a timeless part of the divine life. Further suppose God actualizes a world containing no moral agents and no human creatures. It would therefore be a puzzling thing to say that Christ should have humanity as part of his nature. So suppose a defender of Lewis makes a counterfactual claim that were it to be the case that humans were not created, then it would be the case that Jesus would lack humanity as part of the divine life. But then it would be the case that the taking on of humanity was logically posterior to the contingent decision to create free human moral agents. Thus, there is a logical part of God’s life such that he does not have Jesus taking on human nature, and Lewis’ view seems to be incorrect.
            A second criticism focuses on Lewis’ “hard inclusivism.” He claims that it may be the case that God counts for righteousness the true faith of adherents of other major world religions, casting off the bad (165). This is only a minor criticism, because it does not affect his larger point in that chapter. However, it seems that he is overstating his case with respect to Old Testament saints prior to the patriarchs. It does not seem to be the case that these saints were adherents to other world religions at the same time they were regarded to be saints. At the very least, hard inclusivism seems to be more difficult to defend.

            This book was an extremely powerful defense of the doctrines of mere or basic Christianity. It was aimed at the unbeliever (for a rational defense), but there is much in this work for the believer as well. First, it models for believers how to speak to unbelievers concerning the doctrines of the Gospel. Second, it helps the believers to understand aspects of the faith that they never had before. Finally, it helps believers understand that Christian truth applies to every facet of life. This book comes highly recommended for everyone, regardless of age or ability.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Book Review: Surprised by Joy

Surprised by Joy. By C.S. Lewis. Boston: Mariner Books, 2012. 238 pages. Reviewed by Randy Everist.

            This book, penned by C.S. Lewis originally in 1955, is intended to be a story of how Lewis was converted, and is not, primarily, to be conceived of as an autobiography (vii). As such, while the story is nearly completely chronological, it is more thematically arranged than anything else. This theme moves from early childhood to early adulthood; it seems that he was converted by 1929.
            The first stage of Lewis’ life concerned the state of imagination. This occupied much of his young life and played an important role in it (15). One can see in his creation of “Animal Land” and its rich history his imagination that would set the stage for his later works of fiction. In many ways, it is quite appropriate for Lewis to have begun with the child-like wonder of Joy, hinted at in imagination, because of his life stages. Those stages, as they seemed represented, were as follows: imagination, with the hints of Joy; introspection, with its self-serving attempt at religious devotion; intellectualism, with education leading to arrogance and a rejection of God; interference, with Lewis’ views being laid bare for the contradictions that they were; and finally, invitation, with his acceptance of theism (and later Christianity).
            For Lewis, Joy is “a technical term and must be sharply distinguished from Happiness and from Pleasure” (18). Joy is a desire “which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction” (18). As such, the pursuit of it could just as often have resulted in grief or sorrow, or a sense of loss. This is because Joy, for Lewis, seemed often enough elusive. He remarked that, in a sense, his life was about nothing less than the pursuit of Joy (17). The phase of imagination, unfortunately, was interrupted by the death of his mother (succumbing to cancer). It is remarkable that so tragic and impactful an event should have been given such little coverage (perhaps two and a half pages); yet Lewis implicitly recognizes its significance whenever he writes of the relationship between him and his father.
            The phase of introspection, as it seems to be, occurs when Lewis is sent off to school. He curiously nicknames the headmaster of his school Oldie, and Oldie was a very stern man (26). The students were actually taught very little, and Oldie was content only to teach them geometry and administer a good beating. Interestingly, this is treated by Lewis almost as though it had happened to someone else. One would be forgiven for thinking that it was not of much impact to his life. Clearly, however, it was. Aside from his own father, Lewis referred to Oldie by name the most throughout the rest of the book.
            While Lewis’ intellectual and imaginative life faltered while at Oldie’s school, he did eventually move on to another school. Within these school changes, he began to rediscover his imagination. It was also during this time he would have classified himself as a true believer. A telling anecdote about his immature faith is that Lewis would attempt what he called “realizations;” these were prayers where he tried to focus on really meaning what he was praying (61-62). Of course, this can lead to an infinite regress. For what if one wants to be sure he really means that he wants to really mean his prayers? One can never be sure of an answer to this question. As a result, this introspection resulted in spiritual frustration.
            The third phase is of intellectualism, leading to Lewis’ rejection of God altogether. Throughout each of these phases, one gets the sense that Lewis retained what he would later call “signposts” of the truth: he was able to see glimpses of the real Joy, but it was not itself real Joy. It merely pointed to God. When Lewis went to Wyvern College, this had the ultimate result of his intellectual pursuits as an atheist. In Wyvern, there was a class system where new students were obliged to serve the older, so that they may not think too highly of themselves (88-89). However, Wyvern gave him a sense of superiority over others who were not as widely read as he (101). He writes of his anger with God thusly: “I maintained that God did not exist. I was also very angry with God for not existing. I was equally angry with Him for creating a world” (115).
            Despite the entire point of Surprised by Joy being to tell the story of Lewis’ conversion, the actual details surrounding the conversion itself (the final two stages) occupy very little of the work. In fact, it is the entire book that is the story of his conversion, since the sum of his experiences explains what occurred, rather than merely relaying information. The stages of interference and invitation nearly run together. Though separated by a gulf of time where Lewis accepts mere theism but not Christianity, it seems clear from this vantage point that he was always headed that direction. God used men like J.R.R. Tolkien, who was both a “Papist” and a “philologist,” (216) to help him to see that some of the most intelligent people he had ever encountered were believers, and they seemed to be closer to the truth behind Joy than were the irreligious.
            Lewis came to believe that either Hinduism or Christianity was true, but not both. Indeed, he came to believe that what was good, true, and commendable about any given religion could be accounted for better by one of these two. In the end, it was Christianity’s historical claim that persuaded him to become a Christian. Lewis came in, as he describes it, “kicking and screaming,” and eventually praised God for his love and mercy (229).
            Lewis accomplishes his goal of conveying his conversion story. He weaves a metanarrative through the telling of various episodes of his life, showing how each plays a role in not only his deconversion (if it may be called that), but his conversion to Christianity as well. It comes highly recommended for laypeople, pastors, and lovers of literature. Stylistically, he occasionally relays anecdotes or hints of anecdotes that serve to confuse (such as his hint that he has a major story left out on p. 198—why mention it?), though usually all becomes clear from his particular anecdotes.
            A particular strength of Lewis—perhaps the particular strength of his—is his ability to see into the heart of the nature of man. This existential reflection seems to be woven throughout the entire work. For example, he recognizes that no particular experience of Pleasure or Happiness is itself Joy. This is because Joy, as a technical term with a stipulative definition given, is just a sign pointing to the more permanent. He recognizes that God designed man to be in fellowship with Him, and thus no earthly pleasure can be a fulfilling and lasting eternal Joy.
            Psychologically, Lewis also recognized the arrogance that came with his youthful atheism. He writes that he was shocked he did not recognize as absurd that what was so easily understood as a young man escaped the veritable minds of Christians that had come before him (215). This absurdity was, Lewis suggested, due to his blindness. An extrapolation of this suggestion is that there are undoubtedly others who are atheists and remain comfortable in their intellectual superiority due in large part to blindness. It is to Lewis’ credit that he does not attempt to diagnose the whole world; he is giving a tale of how he came to Christianity, not necessarily others. He clearly achieves his goal of relaying that metanarrative, with each of the major parts intact.
            Another strength was Lewis’ ability to speak with humility. One never reached the sense that he was extolling his intellectual prowess in coming to the truth of Christianity, nor was he demeaning the intelligence of those who did not so come. In fact, some of his kindest remarks are reserved for Kirk, the man who taught Lewis logical thinking and reasoning. His intellectual conversations did not seem to be fraught with conflict, and the times when it may have been, he frankly admitted it had been so on his part alone. This level of honesty allows the reader to take Lewis at his word, and thus makes his message more likely to come through than it would have otherwise.
            Nonetheless, the book is not without some weaknesses (albeit seemingly minor ones that do not affect his overall point much). First, it seems he makes far too little of the horrifying situation at Wyvern with respect to the “Tarts” (88). He almost casually relates that the younger boys were asked or persuaded to do sexual favors for the older boys, and that this was due in large part because there were no females around. This struck me as quite depraved, and while Lewis stated he did not focus on it because it was not a vice with which he struggled, it would seem that two responses are in order.
            First, his defense of these homosexual acts being no worse than other particular vices is a double-edged sword. While it seems he exposes some hypocritical attitudes by some toward homosexuality, it does seem to fly in the face of Romans 1. All sins are sins against God and therefore worthy of punishment, but not all sins bear the same consequences (both temporal and eternal). If this is the case, it is most plausibly because some sins really are farther away from the moral standard than others. Second, I think Lewis has underestimated the effect this likely had on his deconversion. Having such debauchery as normal, even if one does not partake in it, surely affects one’s soul. An unregenerate soul, further, cannot be expected to cope as well. With atheism often comes moral lapse preceding; this appears to be the case here as well.
            Next, Lewis seemed receptive to a type of thoroughgoing evidentialism that he did not repudiate or even seem to amend in his later years (136). The idea is that he seemed to accept the idea that in order to believe some particular proposition, one must have evidence for that proposition. But evidence is not always available for a particular proposition, and yet sometimes people are justified in holding that position. Take the proposition that “My name is Randy.” I certainly can investigate this belief by perusing legal documents, consulting the state, interviewing doctors, etc.—even though these will eventually run into a problem—but I am nonetheless justified in taking my parents’ word for it (all things being equal). There are also some beliefs for which there can be no further justifying evidence: these beliefs are called foundational beliefs. In normal situations, evidence is needed for holding a belief, but not in all.
            Finally, Lewis seems to take for granted a certain Kantian view on a few areas (including ethics and metaphysics). For example, he granted Kant’s view of the distinction between the noumena (the really “real”) and the phenomena (the mere appearance of the real) (198-99). However, if this is accepted, then one cannot really speak of God as he is in reality, since God belongs to the noumenal realm. Only an approximation of what God appears to us to be like can be known. Possibly, this is illustrated in his metaphor of Shakespeare inserting himself as a character in one of his plays as standing for the Incarnation (227). In this case, Shakespeare’s character is not actually himself, but a mere representation. This can be seen in a character’s interactions with the author, as claimed by Lewis. He suggests a mere character cannot interact with the author (226). But if this is so, what if Shakespeare’s character, who is in the story, is killed? Does it follow the author actually dies? If not, then it seems the character of the author and the author himself are not identical, and surely identity is necessary for sameness of persons!

            This book was a fascinating, encouraging, and honest read. It was intellectual without being heady; existential without being flighty; insightful without being arrogant. I can wholeheartedly recommend it for anyone interested in the spiritual lives of those non-Christians around them, and for anyone who has ever struggled with deconversion and doubt.