No Accounting For Taste

Rand, of A Pattern of Sound Works, has posted a scathing criticism of C.S. Lewis,
one of my favorite authors and someone partially responsible for my return to faith. NOTA BENE: The following fisk is not personal. Rand comments a lot at Christian Conservative and seems to be a nice guy. From what I’ve seen, he comments intelligently and politely. He’s just kinda off his nut about Lewis. 😉

I know Lewis’ works. I’ve read “The Great Divorce“, “Mere
” and parts of “The Screwtape Letters“.
All and all, I wasn’t impressed.

How about Miracles, The Problem of Pain, The Abolition of Man,
The Four Loves, or A Grief Observed?

The Great Divorce” was cute fiction, and “The Screwtape
” was creepy fiction, but in the end, they were both vain FICTION,
with very little by way of edifying theology (if any at all).

The Great Divorce, like all of Lewis’ fiction, was intended to stimulate
introspective thought on the part of the reader. I guess you can drag a man to knowledge
but you can’t make him think.

To call The Screwtape Letters “creepy fiction” demonstrates a complete
ignorance of the point of the book. What makes it creepy is not that the main characters
are devils trying to turn a soul away from God, but rather the seemingly mundane
aspects of life that can profoundly affect us. As the saying goes, “The devil’s
in the details.” As I read the book (and reread it) I found myself disgusted
by my own pettiness as I saw it reflected in the young devil’s prey. From conversations
I have had and reviews I have read, mine was a common experience. The Screwtape
was not intended to be a dissertation on theology any more than it was
an amusing bedtime story. It’s about avoiding self-righteousness, seeking continual
conversion, and being truly repentant.

Mere Christianity” on the other hand, was not meant to be fiction,
it was an attempt at boiling down Christianity to it’s very base, and that was the
problem with this book. In “Mere Christianity“, Lewis attempts
to present how pure and wonderful Christianity is in it’s foundation, before dumb-dumbs
like Rand come along and complicate things with holiness and DOCTRINE (oh no! I
said the “d” word!).

Lewis was not opposed to doctrine. He merely felt too inadequate to write about
it. He rewrote a chapter of Miracles because he was bested in a debate. He
never wrote advanced theological topics again. Rand’s concerns about being treated
like an imbecile are misplaced. Mere Christianity was intended for a specific
audience. It was not intended as complete theological treatise or even a thorough
introduction to Christianity. It was merely meant to convince, or at least picque
the interest of, skeptics. I think it’s safe to assume that Rand is long past that
phase and does not need Mere Christianity any more than I need Windows
for Dummies

Let me also add that a believer really doesn’t need to read C.S. Lewis to see that
there is something fishy going on with his books. Notice that every faith, from
the Roman Catholic to the Mormon, from the Anglican to the Pentecostal, all these
groups are perfectly okay with Lewis’ writings. Am I really one of the few who finds
this to be a bit weird?

Popularity across denominations denotes heresy? How is that an argument?

As far as I’m concerned, the only way an author can get away with pleasing such
a large variety of faiths is to write fluff and stuff (nothing concrete),
or to be everything to everyone; neither being very profitable to the Christian,
or honoring to God.

Lewis has been criticized by some for addressing the common man rather than academics
with his writings. However, what his critics miss is that Lewis wasn’t trying to
be everything to everyone. He was motivated to get people “in the door”
to Christianity. As I said above, he didn’t feel fit to guide anyone farther than
that. Like John the Baptist, he called people to repent and believe. Once he’d disciples,
he passed them along to those more capable. Lewis’ writings are responsible for
bringing countless numbers of people to Christ. They are not “fluff and stuff”.
Lewis didn’t boil away all the details of Christianity and pass off the remainder
as the real thing (as many current Christian writers are wont to do), but rather
gave gentle introductions in hopes that readers would seek the rest of the Truth
for themselves.

Beware of C.S. Lewis’ works my friends. Guard yourself from esteeming
men who do not conform to the proper doctrines of the Word of God

As defined by whom?

Are there any other God-bloggers out there willing to come to Lewis’ defense? I fear my rebuttals will fall on deaf ears since, a Roman Catholic, I am a heretic in Rand’s eyes.

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About Funky Dung

Who is Funky Dung? 29-year-old grad student in Intelligent Systems (A.I.) at the University of Pittsburgh. I consider myself to be politically moderate and independent and somewhere between a traditional and neo-traditional Catholic. I was raised Lutheran, spent a number of years as an agnostic, and joined the Catholic Church at the 2000 Easter Vigil. Why Funky Dung? I haven't been asked this question nearly as many times as you or I might expect. Funky Dung is a reference to an obscure Pink Floyd song. On the album Atom Heart Mother, there is a track called Atom Heart Mother Suite. It's broken up into movements, like a symphony, and one of the movements is called Funky Dung. I picked that nickname a long time ago (while I was still in high school I think), shortly after getting an internet connection for the first time. To me it means "cool/neat/groovy/spiffy stuff/crap/shiznit", as in "That's some cool stuff, dude!" Whence Ales Rarus? I used to enjoy making people guess what this means, but I've decided to relent and make it known to all. Ales Rarus is a Latin play on words. "Avis rarus" means "a rare bird" and carries similar meaning to "an odd fellow". "Ales" is another Latin word for bird that carries connotations of omens, signs of the times, and/or augery. If you want to get technical, both "avis" and "ales" are feminine (requiring "rara", but they can be made masculine in poetry (which tends to breaks lots of rules). I decided I'd rather have a masculine name in Latin. ;) Yeah, I'm a nerd. So what? :-P Wherefore blog? It is my intention to "teach in order to lead others to faith" by being always "on the lookout for occasions of announcing Christ by word, either to unbelievers . . . or to the faithful" through the "use of the communications media". I also act knowing that I "have the right and even at times a duty to manifest to the sacred pastors [my] opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church, and [I] have a right to make [my] opinion known to the other Christian faithful, with due regard to the integrity of faith and morals and reverence toward [my and their] pastors, and with consideration for the common good and the dignity of persons." (adapted from CCC 904-907) Statement of Faith I have been baptized and confirmed in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I, therefore, renounce Satan; I renounce all his works; I renounce all his allurements. I hold and profess all that is contained in the Apostles' Creed, the Niceno- Constantinopolitan Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. Having been buried with Christ unto death and raised up with him unto a new life, I promise to live no longer for myself or for that world which is the enemy of God but for him who died for me and rose again, serving God, my heavenly Father, faithfully and unto death in the holy Catholic Church. I am obedient to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church. That is, I promote and defend authentic Catholic Teaching and Faith in union with Christ and His Church and in union with the Holy Father, the Bishop of Rome, the Successor of St. Peter. Thanks be unto Thee, O my God, for all Thy infinite goodness, and, especially, for the love Thou hast shown unto me at my Confirmation. I Give Thee thanks that Thou didst then send down Thy Holy Spirit unto my soul with all His gifts and graces. May He take full possession of me for ever. May His divine unction cause my face to shine. May His heavenly wisdom reign in my heart. May His understanding enlighten my darkness. May His counsel guide me. May His knowledge instruct me. May His piety make me fervent. May His divine fear keep me from all evil. Drive from my soul, O Lord, all that may defile it. Give me grace to be Thy faithful soldier, that having fought the good fight of faith, I may be brought to the crown of everlasting life, through the merits of Thy dearly beloved Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Behind the Curtain: an Interview With Funky Dung (Thursday, March 03, 2005) I try to avoid most memes that make their way 'round the blogosphere (We really do need a better name, don't we?), but some are worth participating in. Take for instance the "interview game" that's the talk o' the 'sphere. I think it's a great way to get to know the people in neighborhood. Who are the people in your neighborhood? In your neighborhod? In your neigh-bor-hoo-ood...*smack* Sorry, Sesame Street flashback. Anyhow, I saw Jeff "Curt Jester" Miller's answers and figured since he's a regular reader of mine he'd be a good interviewer. Without further ado, here are my answers to his questions. 1. Being that your pseudonym Funky Dung was chosen from a Pink Floyd track on Atom Heart Mother, what is you favorite Pink Floyd song and why? Wow. That's a tuffy. It's hard to pick out a single favorite. Pink Floyd isn't really a band known for singles. They mostly did album rock and my appreciation of them is mostly of a gestalt nature. If I had to pick one, though, it'd be "Comfortably Numb". I get chills up my spine every time I hear it and if it's been long enough since the last time, I get midty-eyed. I really don't know why. That's a rather unsatisfying answer for an interview, so here are the lyrics to a Rush song. It's not their best piece of music, but the lyrics describe me pretty well.

New World Man He's a rebel and a runner He's a signal turning green He's a restless young romantic Wants to run the big machine He's got a problem with his poisons But you know he'll find a cure He's cleaning up his systems To keep his nature pure Learning to match the beat of the old world man Learning to catch the heat of the third world man He's got to make his own mistakes And learn to mend the mess he makes He's old enough to know what's right But young enough not to choose it He's noble enough to win the world But weak enough to lose it --- He's a new world man... He's a radio receiver Tuned to factories and farms He's a writer and arranger And a young boy bearing arms He's got a problem with his power With weapons on patrol He's got to walk a fine line And keep his self-control Trying to save the day for the old world man Trying to pave the way for the third world man He's not concerned with yesterday He knows constant change is here today He's noble enough to know what's right But weak enough not to choose it He's wise enough to win the world But fool enough to lose it --- He's a new world man...
2. What do you consider your most important turning point from agnosticism to the Catholic Church. At some point in '99, I started attending RCIA at the Pittsburgh Oratory. I mostly went to ask a lot of obnoxious Protestant questions. Or at least that's what I told myself. I think deep down I wanted desperately to have faith again. At that point I think I'd decided that if any variety of Christianity had the Truth, the Catholic Church did. Protestantism's wholesale rejection of 1500 years of tradition didn't sit well with me, even as a former Lutheran. During class one week, Sister Bernadette Young (who runs the program) passed out thin booklet called "Handbook for Today's Catholic". One paragraph in that book spoke to me and I nearly cried as I read it.
"A person who is seeking deeper insight into reality may sometimes have doubts, even about God himself. Such doubts do not necessarily indicate lack of faith. They may be just the opposite - a sign of growing faith. Faith is alive and dynamic. It seeks, through grace, to penetrate into the very mystery of God. If a particular doctrine of faith no longer 'makes sense' to a person, the person should go right on seeking. To know what a doctrine says is one thing. To gain insight into its meaning through the gift of understanding is something else. When in doubt, 'Seek and you will find.' The person who seeks y reading, discussing, thinking, or praying eventually sees the light. The person who talks to God even when God is 'not there' is alive with faith."
At the end of class I told Sr. Bernadette that I wanted to enter the Church at the next Easter vigil. 3. If you were a tree what kind of, oh sorry about that .. what is the PODest thing you have ever done? I set up WikiIndex, a clearinghouse for reviews of theological books, good, bad, and ugly. It has a long way to go, but it'll be cool when it's finished. :) 4. What is your favorite quote from Venerable John Henry Newman? "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt." 5. If you could ban one hymn from existence, what would it be? That's a tough one. As a member of the Society for a Moratorium on the Music of Marty Haugen and David Haas, there are obviously a lot of songs that grate on my nerves. If I had to pick one, though, I'd probably pick "Sing of the Lord's Goodness" by Ernie Sands.

9 thoughts on “No Accounting For Taste

  1. Philip Shropshire

    CS Lewis, like many former atheists, gave up reality. He needed those tasty bliss station moments. For most people, its either drugs or religion. Being that this is the United States, a lot of folks are into both…

    No, the best putdown of CS Lewis came from a brilliant piece of fiction by Greg Egan called the “Oracle”, where the time traveling AI (have you resigned yet? God hates you for doing AI research doncha know…)meets up with thinly veiled characters that strongly resemble Alan Turing (who’s gay so he’s burning in some Catholic hell I guess) and our own CS “Screwtape Letters” Lewis. It’s an incredible read. The link is here:

    The punchline: The oracle gives the CS Lewis character a choice between self controlled evolution and eternal life and death and the certainty(?) of being united in heaven with your God…He chooses death of course! How fitting. No wonder you admire the man so…

  2. Steve N

    Funky, you were way too kind. Rand’s rant is a classic example of simultaneous gnat-straining and camel-swallowing. He is a “Christian” who has reinvented Christianity for himself, reserving the right to exclude (or at least threaten to exclude) those who don’t subscribe to his peculiar “orthodoxy.” At best he is a dolt, at worst: schismatic. The very idea that edifying “theology” (man’s futile, and inherently flawed, attempt to wrap his head around God) was even a goal, much less a product, of Great Divorce or Screwtape would be, had it not such tragic consequences, laughable in the extreme. In short, Rand has made a god in his own image: a god of theology, a modern ashtoreth of mental masturbation, representing the absolute worst of evangelicalism. God help us…

    My $0.02

  3. sibert

    I’m not a blogger, nor am I intimately familiar with this medium. I’ve not read all of Lewis’s work but have reread those which Spirit used to speak to me. I am someone whose life has been changed by C.S. Lewis’s writing. He appeals to people, I think, because he was indeed interested in communicating “mere” christianity; our faith at it’s most basic, distilled, simplest form. Far too many of us spend far too much time making it all far too complex. Once Lewis broached the simple, the complex always became a wonderful treat to explore, not an orthodox moral calculus to be mastered. The man was simply a genius and a saint.

  4. Steve N

    Well, Ashtoreth was a fertility goddess… once I latched onto the metaphor, I just kept… hrm… “wacking away”… as it were…


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