chocolate eggs and Jesus risen (C.S. Lewis)

Friday, October 14, 2005
I see that the subject of religion has cropped up, so here is C.S. Lewis on the subject. I can't say that I understand this passage in any deep sense, but I agree with it, and I like it:

There is a stage in a child's life at which it cannot separate the religious from the merely festal character of Christmas or Easter. I have been told of a very small and very devout boy who was heard murmuring to himself on Easter morning a poem of his own composition which began 'Chocolate eggs and Jesus risen.' This seems to me, for his age, both admirable poetry and admirable piety. But of course the time will soon come when such a child can no longer effortlessly and spontaneously enjoy that unity. He will become able to distinguish the spiritual from the ritual and festal aspect of Easter; chocolate eggs will no longer seem sacramental. And once he has distinguished he must put one or the other first. If he puts the spiritual first he can still taste something of Easter in the chocolate eggs; if he puts the eggs first they will soon be no more than any other sweetmeat. They will have taken on an independent, and therefore a soon withering, life.

15 comments:

JoeC said...

The Guardian UK (yeah, i know) had an informative article on some of the possible causes and relationships between religion and evolution.
The url:
http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/research/story/0,9865,1591084,00.html

Nothing on our planet causes more death, destruction, and violence than religion.

However, wars fought in the name of religion are one of the reasons technology has advanced so fast and far.

And then, OT, what would happen to our planet, if our warriors are weeded and bred out and we are challenged with an alien species bent on our destruction?

Knucklehead said...

Joec,

Nothing on our planet causes more death, destruction, and violence than religion.

This is one of the great boogeymen of the 20th century and it pains me greatly to see it continue on into the 21st.

Authoritarianism, especially the expansionist varieties, is far and away the greatest cause of death, destruction, and violence.

Religion has sometimes provided the impetus for expansionist authoritarianism but such has not always been the case.

To make the case that "religion" is the greatest cause of death, destruction, and violence you must stand reality on its head and declare authoritarianism a form of religion rather that accepting that sometimes religion is a form of authoritarianism.

Eric Blair said...

Well, if one accepts the proposition that Marxist-Lenninism could be described as a religion...

Knucklehead said...

Eric,

That's precisely the proposition I reject.

I used to love "sets" back in math class when I was a kid. Don't know why, I thought sets were fun.

Marxist-Leninism is a member of the authoritarian set. As a monarchy, fascism, other various strains of the virus.

Religion is a different set with different members - for the most part. We could identify the union of the Authoritarian and Religion sets - the members that are part of both sets.

The authoritarian set is by far the most dangerous set. It counts its tally of death and destruction in the tens and even hundreds of millions killed and brutalized.

The Religion set is not nearly, not even close, as dangerous. And a great deal of the destruction and death, the suffering and brutalization, caused by the Religion set has been done by those members of the set which are also members of the Authoritarian set.

I have actually gone out and done research on the big kahuna killers. I didn't save it and won't bother doing it again. The Authoritarians win hands down and the only way the "religion kills more people..." argument can be made to hold water is to relabel the Authoritarian set as and subsume into it the Religion set and call the whole thing "Religion". I don't believe that is a valid categorization.

MeaninglessHotAir said...

Knucklehead,

I have no doubt in my mind that there is at least one new secular "religion" out there (and probably several) that is just as religious as the old religions, even though it has officially rejected "God". Communism and Naziism were both religions. It wasn't collectivizing the peasantry that caused a huge boost to Russia's output, it was the belief system that sprang up for a generation before dying out. People in that generation believed they were really building a better world and it really fired their motors up, made them want to work in the morning.

Working to make a better world is far more motivating that working for a mere paycheck.

But I take your point.

truepeers said...

For the young boy, the thing (chocolate) and the sign (easter) at first appear one and the same, in a glorious unity. But he naturally consumes the chocolate and thus discovers that the sign survives the thing in which it was once incarnated. He remembers the sign, easter, once the egg is gone, and so he now faces the choice that Lewis mentions.

Do I focus on eating more chocolate in hopes of returning to that feeling of unity I once had when the chocolate was both sweet and significant? Or do I get religious and try to understand how significance can survive the consumption of the thing; in other words, do I now go looking elsewhere for a divine being that appears to have been only temporarily incarnated in the once sweet and significant egg?

JoeC confuses the desire to consume eggs with the desire to find the divine being that guarantees the significance of easter eggs, a desire and significance that extends, in both cases, beyond mere appetite.

Religion aims to defer our consuming desires. But in doing so it must make eggs significant: not simply tasty but also sacred. This is a big gamble. Religion bets that more of us will seek the significance of the sign/thing than indulge in mindless consumption of sacred things.

Obviously this gamble doesn't always pay off. But it must serve us more often than not, or we wouldn't be here today. Our forebears would have destroyed the human race long ago.

Joe, if not religion, then what do you have to offer? I'm getting hungry and don't like the way you are eyeing that sweet little t-bone over there. Shall we make it sacred, doubling "the stakes" in our rivalry? In other words, shall we remain animals and just fight over a piece of meat, or shall we become human and have the choice of temporarily forgetting the meat and fighting also for a sacred and divine being? Which way will prove evolutionarily more successful in the long run?

truepeers said...

I should add, Joe, that once we agree to make the meat sacred, we can then have a ritual feast where the meat is no longer an all-or-nothing-but-leftovers object of our rivalry, but a sacred thing that we can divide and distribute more or less equally. We can do this because in agreeing to make it sacred in the first place(whether god intervened to show us the way, or whether we discovered it ourselves), we create/are given a model of egalitarian human sharing in a divine being. So have faith, friend.

Knucklehead said...

MHA,

Perhaps I should select a better label than "Authoritarianism". Perhaps "Statism" would be a better choice. I'm not convinced and prefer authoritarianism (I've changed my mind on that, not long ago I preferred "statism").

Anyway, I assert that "authoritarianism" is a very different thing than "religion" despite the fact that some religions are, or have been, "authoritarian" and regardless of the fact that strains of authoritarianism sometimes have deeply held sets of elaborate beliefs, dogma, ritual, etc. which exhibit strong similarities to "religion".

But I believe it is an intellectual mistake (and a grievous political mistake!) and deeply unfair to religions and the religious to consider religion a subset of authoritarianism or, worse yet, equate the two.

We can easily find examples of religion which are not authoritarian. We cannot find examples of authoritarianism which are not, well, authoritarian.

Almost all versions of statism are also authoritarian. I can't think of one which is not but I'll grant that there may be an example or three somewhere. Some versions of religion are authoritarian but many versions are not.

Condemning religion for the sins of authoritarianism is a mistake. Assigning the murderousness of authoritarianism to religion is a mistake. The salafists are not murderous because they are religious, they are murderous because they are authoritarian. Their religion just happens to be an authoritarian one.

Or, to try and put it a different way, murderousness is an attribute of authoritarianism rather than one of religion. Where the sets share members the murderousness of the members is an attribute of their authoritarianism rather than an attribute of their religiousness.

I do not believe this is a petty semantic difference without a distinction - I think it is key to understanding where the murderous problems lie. Those who fail to see this key decision are, in my experience, prone to condemning religion and the religious when it is authoritarianism and its adherents who should be condemned. These are the people who see a block of rock with some words on it and feel that someone is sticking a gun to their head to force "religion" upon them. Authoritarians require no blocks of rock (which doesn't mean they aren't sometimes fond of them) but are far too prone to sticking guns to people's heads.

JoeC said...

Knucklehead said...

"Authoritarianism, especially the expansionist varieties, is far and away the greatest cause of death, destruction, and violence.

Religion has sometimes provided the impetus for expansionist authoritarianism but such has not always been the case".

I personally feel and believe that anytime people worship a false ideology, you can group it with and under the heading of "religion".

Authoritarianism may be what you choose to call it. Control of people through intimidation, torture, death, indoctrination, whatever "title" you put it under, the core remains the same.

The results are certainly the same.

How was Hitler any different than anyone of the "gods" people worship these days? Stalin? Mao?

Allah and Mohammed, the current devils, are no different than any of the three I named above.

Just longer lived.

Knucklehead said...

Joec,

I suppose we will have to agree to disagree.

Take it or not as you see fit, but the warning I am trying to present to you is that if you insist on lumping the acts of authoritarians in with "religion" you will widely and falsely accuse and condemn religions, and the religious, of crimes for which they are not guilty.

If, on the other hand, you see authoritarianism for what it is, and religion for what it is, you will accuse and condemn that which should rightly be accused and condemned.

As I said above I am convinced that conflating religion and authoritarianism is an intellectual mistake and a very dangerous political mistake. Continue making it if you chose to do so. I've tried to help you cease to make it, I can do no more.

terrye said...

I would say communism has killed more people. And I do not believe we can compare communism and the gulags to the Golden Rule.

The abuse of religion is not the fault of the religion. Communism however, it evil to its very foundation.

Knucklehead said...

Technology is not serving me well today. A similar but somewhat different discussion is ongoing at Roger's Place. Nobody here needs that link.

In the comments a commenter by the name of Paul made what struck me as a very good case.

In the vein of my comments above I went through an extensive attempt to respond to Paul but cannot post it because I'm getting a server error apparently from Roger's host. Not being one to let all that work go to waste (or, rather, not being willing to see it posted somewhere) I'm putting it here before it is lost to me.

==================================

I urge you to consider updating the case laid out by Hicks. It is a strong case, and thank you for presenting it, but it requires updating of a key word - and the word is "religion" (my mission for today is to struggle against anti-religion bigotry).

Please bear with me here. I understand that the word "bigotry" is loaded with insult but I assure you I mean no insult and only wish to confront, and hopefully make a dent in, what I honestly believe is a modern American and Euro bigotry that few people seem to realize they carry around.

The source of classical liberalism is, indeed, the enlightenment thinkers, in particular those of the Scottish enlightenment. This intellectual movement dates back to the early part of the 18th century - closing in on 300 years, with its rip-roaring burst from the gate being a quarter millenium ago and with its intellectual zenith roughly 150 years ago. That is a long time.

One of the philosophical and practical matters that the enlightenment thinkers struggled against was authoritarian religion. Many of the earliest enlightenment thinkers were, in fact, ministers, pastors, whatever. These thinkers brought to their society the notion that knowledge, and hopefully wisdom, was best achieved through empirical observation and inductive reasoning. What they were were working against was authoritarianism or, perhaps more accurately, earthly authoritarianism.

At the risk of link whoring I have laid out the basics of this in the comments at [link to here].

But I'll attempt to elaborate further.

The enlightenment thinkers were quite effective in their battle against authoritarianism in both the religious and secular spheres. In fact they were able to give us a secular sphere. The religions they were exposed to and made empirical observation of and inductive reasoning about were generally authoritarian in the earthly sense. Those religions were primarily Christian; in particular Roman Catholic and Anglican.

Many of them were, however, not hostile to the notion of religion itself, or the ultimate authority of "God". Some of the most active proponents and "exporters" of the intellectual ideas of the enlightenment were, in fact, missionaries. ("Livingstone, I presume" ring any bells? Witherspoon, who it can be argued was the father of American Liberal Arts education, was a pastor before coming to the US to take the position of president of Princeton.)

The fact that some were intellectually hostile to "religion" as ancient supersition is not a brush with which we can paint the entire enlightenment that yielded classical liberalism. What they wrought gave us secular government and non-authoritarian (earthly sense) religion. The remnants of the authoritarian religions of their times are, at worst, only very weakly authoritarian today. The Roman Catholic church can no longer launch armies. Anglicans have bishops and such but they no longer wield the power of death. In short, they are no longer authoritarian in any meaningful earthly sense - they have no ability to coerce those who wish not to be coerced.

Which is to say that if we could transport the enlightenment thinkers to our own times they, as whole, would very likely find little to grumble about wrt to religion in its American and European varieties (other than, perhaps, how far they have fallen into disuse). They would, however, eagerly take up the fight against authoritarianism in its modern forms.

The struggle we classical liberals have before us today is not one against religion. It is against authoritarianism. We are well advised to recognize the difference in our modern world.

If you [Paul] take the entire case you laid out so well above and do a find and replace of all occurences of "religion" with "authoritarianism" I believe you might agree that nothing is lost and much gained. Please note that I make no claim that there are no longer religions which are also dangerously authoritarian. I do assert, however, that the danger lies with the authoritarianism and not the religion. A subtle but important distinction.

If you are still with me, thanks! I'll duck in preparation for your return fire ;)

JoeC said...

knucklehead, I understand perfectly the distinction you are making, with words. I appreciate and understand why you do so.

Islam is not a religion. It is an authoritarian manifesto disguised as a religion.

Thanks!

Knucklehead said...

Joec,

Islam is not a religion. It is an authoritarian manifesto disguised as a religion.

Well, no, that's not at all what I said.

Islam is a religion. I make no claim otherwise.

There are adherents to Islam, and sects owithin it, which are not authoritarian and, therefore, represent no danger to the world and have not engaged in spreading death and destruction. They are in the religion set but not in the authoritarian set. It is, or should be, a source of shame to Islam as a whole that

Unfortunately large swaths and several sects of Islam are virulently authoritarian. They are part of that intersection (BTW, I incorrectly used the term "union" above when what I intended was "intersection") of the authoritarian and religion sets.

It is, or should be, a source of shame to Islam as a whole and Muslims in general that so many followers of their religion are murderous authoritarians. It would be helpful if they actively stood up and tried to fight against the murderous authoritarian influences within their religion.

The battle is against all forms of violent authoritarianism including those portions which also happen to be Islamic (or any other religion). The battle is not against any form of religion that is not authoritarian.

Terrorism, as so many have pointed out, is a tactic of war. We cannot really fight a global war on terror. But we cannot fight a global war against Islam either - there is no good reason to and it would be very ill-advised. What we need to fight against is authoritarianism in all its forms. A portion of that is Islamic but not all of Islam is authoritarian.

Knucklehead said...

It is obvious (nah duh!) that I'm flogging this horse mercilessly.

But it just occured to me that my flogging could be interpretted as a defense of Islam. That I've boughten into the PC tripe that Islam is the "Religion of Peace". That is not the case.

Islam has a very serious problem. Its problem is that it is infested with authoritarianism. It is particularly infested with the most violent strains of authoritarianism in play in our world today.

My point is that we must not fall in to the trap of believing that it is religion that is the problem. Religion is not the problem. Authoritarianism is the problem and there are strains of it that are not religion.

In fact strains, or sects, of "secularism" are becoming increasingly authoritarian and if they continue trending in the direction they are trending they will become a source of murderousness. That is the nature of bigotry in all its forms.

Declaring everything which is virulently and violently authoritarian a "religion" is not useful and runs the risk of creating yet another form of virulent and potentially violent authoritarianism. Today's growing cult of anti-religionists could easily become tomorrow's murderous death cult.