Archives For Freedom

C.S. Lewis & Alcohol

December 15, 2016 — 12 Comments

chaliceWe children of alcoholics often have a difficult time determining the proper place for alcohol in our lives. Because we’ve seen the damage its abuse can cause, some are tempted to condemn it all together.

At the same time, like the abused child who is likelier to grow up becoming an abuser himself, as a group we are vulnerable to misusing alcohol ourselves.

The church’s attitude towards “drink” does not always help. Many denominations overlook the fact that it is drunkenness that the Scriptures condemn, and extend the prohibition to all drink that contains alcohol.

They are like the exegete who transforms the warning about the “love of money” being the root of sin into a rejection of all mediums of exchange beyond barter itself.* They overlook the attitude towards the object, and make the object itself the objectionable thing. Thus, money becomes the problem.

In the case of alcohol, it is no longer inappropriate or damaging use that is condemned, it is the drinking of anything containing alcohol that is reasoned to be sinful. Moving the bar in this fashion is simple legalism.

But this column isn’t about legalism. I don’t have an axe to grind. And, as the saying goes, some of my best friends (and family members) abstain from all drink. Similarly, I rarely drink myself. My point is not that wariness about alcohol’s dangers may be wise, but pushing God’s cautions to the degree where we call sin that which is not, is wrong in and of itself.

The solution does not come in the form of devising a pasteurization process so we can improve on the first eighteen centuries of Christian worship and now enjoy “Dr. Welch’s Unfermented Wine” for holy communion.

At the other extreme, there are some religious communities that celebrate their freedom in the gospel to degrees that may invoke Romans 14:21. There is something uncomely, perhaps even sinful, in a church celebrating this liberty. (And I write this as a pastor in a denomination that frequently takes note of the arrival of Oktoberfest.)

Neither prohibiting what God has deemed lawful, nor uncritically embracing secular festivities is the right course. The proper solution to the question of how drinking can or should fit into our lives is found by looking at the Scriptures themselves.

The Biblical Christian View on Alcohol

The Scriptures could not be clearer on the use of alcohol. Unless God has directed an individual to a particular course (or vow) in their personal life, the general rule is this: in moderation, treated as a beverage without the goal of intoxication, drinks containing alcohol are okay.

I know that some churches teach otherwise, but from the Bible itself it is clear that merely drinking a glass of wine or beer is not a sin. It is drinking to excess, that is sinful.

C.S. Lewis provides an extremely clear explanation of this distinction in Mere Christianity. He explains how the principle of temperance is applicable to many aspects of our lives.

Temperance is, unfortunately, one of those words that has changed its meaning. It now usually means teetotalism. But in the days when the second Cardinal virtue was christened ‘Temperance,’ it meant nothing of the sort.

Temperance referred not specially to drink, but to all pleasures; and it meant not abstaining, but going the right length and no further.

It is a mistake to think that Christians ought all to be teetotallers; Mohammedanism, not Christianity, is the teetotal religion. Of course it may be the duty of a particular Christian, or of any Christian, at a particular time, to abstain from strong drink, either because he is the sort of man who cannot drink at all without drinking too much, or because he is with people who are inclined to drunkenness and must not encourage them by drinking himself.

But the whole point is that he is abstaining, for a good reason, from something which he does not condemn and which he likes to see other people enjoying.

One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he cannot give up a thing himself without wanting every one else to give it up.

That is not the Christian way.

An individual Christian may see fit to give up all sorts of things for special reasons—marriage, or meat, or beer, or the cinema; but the moment he starts saying the things are bad in themselves, or looking down his nose at other people who do use them, he has taken the wrong turning.

One great piece of mischief has been done by the modern restriction of the word Temperance to the question of drink. It helps people to forget that you can be just as intemperate about lots of other things. A man who makes his golf or his motor-bicycle the centre of his life, or a woman who devotes all her thoughts to clothes or bridge or her dog, is being just as ‘intemperate’ as someone who gets drunk every evening.

Of course, it does not show on the outside so easily: bridge-mania or golf-mania do not make you fall down in the middle of the road. But God is not deceived by externals.

If he were alive today, Lewis could easily add sports-mania and social media-mania to his list of excesses that voraciously consume a person.

The fact that C.S. Lewis could enjoy a pint of beer with his friends becomes a stumbling block to some who would otherwise benefit from reading his work. Likewise, some readers of Mere Inkling may consider this post an endorsement of drinking.

That could not be farther from the truth. We children of alcoholics are acutely aware of the pain and chaos caused by its abuse.

On the contrary, these words are written to caution my brothers and sisters in Christ about a potentially more destructive sin, legalism.

Fortunately, the simple solution to both problems is an unfiltered, honest reading of God’s word.

_____

* This is an exaggeration, of course. Few, if any, reject all coin and currency, even if they misquote 1 Timothy 6:10 in alleging “money is the root of many evils.”

** “It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble” (Romans 14:21).

 

chaldean

“Liberal and democratic principles are worth nothing here [in Iraq]. Islam does not say that all men are equal.” Amal Nona

You cannot state the truth more concisely than that.

Nona is a Chaldean Catholic archbishop who “doesn’t have a diocese anymore. He doesn’t have a church. ISIS destroyed all that, and his people are scattered. But he’s not afraid to speak forthrightly, even when ISIS was at his doorstep.” (“Happy Warriors”)

The Chaldean Catholic Church is no stranger to persecution. They are descendants of the Assyrians who maintained the faith through the Muslim conquest up until today. They are a courageous people, but that is not the subject I wish to address here.

As the archbishop alludes, the reason that Western nations have been utterly unsuccessful in transplanting democracy to countries with Islamic majority populations is that democracy is alien to their worldview.

To the literalist Muslim (i.e. those who accept the words of the Quran at face value), it’s ludicrous to claim that Christians are equal to followers of Islam. Even without appealing to detailed Sharia law, the simple notion that infidels should possess the same rights as the followers of Allah is foolish, or worse. They are dhimmi—second class citizens, at best and actively persecuted and martyred, at worse.

This is the default setting for Islamic nations. Just look at Turkey and Egypt, two nations with actual democratic governments. The terrorist Muslim Brotherhood continues to exert destructive influences in both, and Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has used the excuse of the recent coup attempt to further destroy the vestiges of democracy (e.g. free speech) which he has long been undermining. Egypt is currently enjoying a respite after removing Mohamed Morsi, a man with a similar, anti-democratic agenda.

Retired military analyst Ralph Peters recently penned a frightening (and I believe accurate) appraisal of where Erdoğan will take his nation.

The ragtag ISIS caliphate is merely the forerunner of the more ambitious caliphate to come. It’s coming in Turkey.

The immense and destructive crackdown underway in Turkey now, with at least 10,000 Turks taken into custody and as many as 100,000 others dismissed from their positions—not only soldiers, but judges, civil servants, police and academics—isn’t an end-game. It’s a beginning. . . .

Erdoğan didn’t need a reason for this pre-planned purge. He had his reasons and his lists of names. He needed an excuse. The failed coup was a gift.

Now we’re witnesses to the destruction of Turkey’s secular society and the forced-march reversion to religious regimentation and obscurantism, to intolerance and oppressive fundamentalism. This is the triumph of mosque over modernity, not of the rule of law, but of its supersession.

Professors have been forbidden to leave the country. The government demanded the resignation of all the deans of higher-level schools and universities. Book-banning is on the way, and book-burning wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

To those of us in the West, including numerous Muslim immigrants who have recognized the universal benefits of freedom of conscience and equal rights, the historic interpretations of government based on the Quran seem disconcerting. Part of the reason they seem unfathomable, is because we do not take the time to study them. Nor do we listen to the voices of minority populations who have been long subjugated and deprived of what we deem basic human rights.

Archbishop Nona, and others like him, need to be heeded. His warning about the challenge of translating democratic principles, points to the proper beginning place: education. It is no accident that the Muslim countries with the highest educations and most moderate (i.e. non-fundamentalist) adherents replicate democratic freedoms most consistently.

I consider the best course for promoting peace to be educating all people, and encouraging freedom of conscience, especially when it comes to religion and speech. And I recognize that the statement with which we began remains a vital fact that must be recognized at the outset of that effort. The following observation appeared in an article last year.

The lust for power corrupts religion, just as the quest for piety is vulnerable to hubris. As Cengiz Erdoğan, a CHP [minority political party] member who runs a car repair workshop, put it to me: “He’s power-hungry and he’s dedicated to the Islamist way.” Or, as C.S. Lewis once warned: “Of all bad men, religious bad men are the worst.”

The principles guiding Democracies and Republics arose in the Western world. There they found fertile soil. Yet even here in the West, we see on a daily basis that democracy is fragile. Tolkien and Lewis scholar, Joseph Laconte, wrote an “optimistic” essay about the 2015 elections in Turkey. Erdoğan had been prevented from achieving an absolute majority.

The danger, at least for the moment, has been averted. . . . [Some Turks fear] Erdoğan’s early reformist talk was a mere façade for his hardcore Islamism.

That may be reason enough to cheer Turkey’s election results: they offer the hope that corrupted religion will find it harder to derail the nation’s experiment in democratic self-government. More than hope, of course, will be needed. For if secular authoritarianism has left the stage in Turkey, its religious counterpart is waiting hungrily in the wings.

Unfortunately, what political minorities in Turkey feared, is now coming to fruition, with a vengeance.

A Positive Postscript from the Chaldeans

Christianity rejects the notion that any person possesses greater worth than another. In the Christian world there are no castes . . . there are no dhimmi.

Each and every life is precious. In fact, the Good Shepherd is not content to keep the faithful ninety-nine under his protection, he leaves them to go out in search of the one—the individual one—that has strayed.

Chaldean Christians have some of the most ancient roots in Christian history. Despite the fact that most the Assyrian Christians have been driven from their ancestral homes, and are unlikely to ever be allowed to return, they have retained their hope. That is because they do not place their faith in humanity or their own strength. The following description of Archbishop Nona comes from another article.

I’d even go so far as to say that before me is a happy man. Indeed, he tells me: “We were always a minority. We always knew it was not important what we have but what we do. The Lord shows us how it is important to be happy in all situations.”

He emphasizes that the Christian has no other identity than as a Christian. The Gospel is what you want to conform your life to, he says. “For us, we want to practice our identity. We are not another identity. Our identity is to live like Jesus Christ.”

There is no other life, he says, for a Christian. Christ becomes everything, and so there is no life without Christ. “I think all our problems lie in this point: that in our life, sometimes we forget to live like Jesus. It’s not theology, it’s reality.”

It is not difficult to hear echoes of C.S. Lewis in his words. And these come not from a mutual acquaintance between the two . . . rather from a common acquaintance with the Messiah.

In the end, it’s not about theology, philosophies or human political institutions. It’s about a Redeemer.

_____

The icon above is of Saint Addai (Thaddeus of Edessa). He was a missionary to Mesopotamia, and contributed to the Divine Liturgy used by much of the Eastern Church. The image portrays Addai presenting the Mandylion to King Abgar of Edessa.

Governmental Coersion

February 2, 2016 — 2 Comments

bookThe title of the book is provocative. And it’s message is sure to offend some. But at the same time, its theme will provide encouragement to those who resist the pressure to conform to the spirit of this age.

You Will be Made to Care is due for release this week. It’s subtitle describes its focus: The War on Faith, Family and Your Freedom to Believe. The authors are evangelical Christians who have also been active in the political realm.

I’ve never offered a formal “book review” on this blog, and this will sound decidedly “Christian,” so fair warning for whether or not you wish to read on.

Like the majority of evangelical Christians in the United States, Erick Erickson and Bill Blankschaen advocate what are commonly called “traditional” values. In essence, that means their position reflects the one that was normative in the country until the past couple of decades.

I must acknowledge up front that in light of my review, I will be offered a signed copy of the book itself. I mention that fact because integrity requires me to do so. At the same time, I assure you that my own integrity would not allow me to offer an insincere recommendation, for any inducement. (Besides, having written book reviews for several military and civilian publications in the past, I am aware of the fact that receiving gratis copies of the texts is not uncommon.)

The initial chapter of the book describes the rapid shift in American moral values during the recent past.

After decades of culture wars, failed leadership in both parties, and almost eight years of a progressive president committed to fundamentally transforming America, there’s a sense that we are no longer slouching toward Gomorrah, as Robert Bork famously put it, but rushing headlong toward inevitable decline.

The authors make a persuasive argument that not only are citizens now pressured to tolerate lifestyles with which they disagree (something we understand is a fact of life in a democracy) . . . they are increasingly being pressured to act affirmatively to support and promote those very alternatives. They will be made to care!

My Personal Experience

I served twenty-four years as an Air Force chaplain, with twenty two of that on active duty. The armed forces are considered a bastion of conservative culture. That’s a good thing when it comes to patriotism (something becoming less common in the general culture). It can have some downsides also, but they are outweighed by the stability that is provided for this community that discharges the most important responsibility of any government, protecting the nation (i.e. the people, and in the case here in the United States, of the Constitution itself which enshrines their rights).

Because the president is the commander in chief, and the executive branch controls the military, it is vulnerable to excessive interference. One form of this comes in “social engineering,” where the political powers impose revisions they deem appropriate, with little or no regard for the utility or ethics of that intervention.

In some cases this is a good thing. The Republican dictate that African-Americans should be allowed to serve in the military was one such triumph. Another came more than eighty years later, when President Truman desegregated the armed forces in 1948.

In 1994, President Clinton implemented a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy to allow homosexuals to serve in the military. This simply formalized the existing reality. However, in 2011 President Obama removed the ban to public practice of this previously “alternative” lifestyle. But this has not proven adequate for those who would “make others care.”

Through aggressive indoctrination and ruthless suppression of any competing voices, social engineers press forward their goal of eradicating any “traditional” voice on this subject.

And here is where Erickson’s and Blankschaen’s warning becomes most frighteningly accurate. When they have stilled any contrary voices, they notch the pressure up one more degree and say it is no longer sufficient to tolerate a given activity, now you must actively support or even celebrate it.

The pressure is being ratcheted up on chaplains even as you read this. The goal of some would be to purge all evangelicals from the ranks, and replace them with clergy from religious bodies that affirm the new policies. Either that, or dispense with chaplains altogether. After all, to many inquisitors of the new age the very notion of the world having a Creator is itself archaic and regressive.

Do Not Despair

This book would not be worth the read if it merely diagnosed the disease. But the authors also offer a remedy.

Now is not the time for quitting. Now is the time for engaging culture strategically with an understanding of the times in which we live and a reinvigorated faith in God. Now is the time for building up our own faith and intentionally surrounding ourselves with a community that shares our beliefs. These may well be “times that try men’s souls . . . Such times can produce a new generation of heroes because they offer an opportunity for clarity, authentic community, and courageous leadership.

C.S. Lewis, whose words and thoughts frequent the columns here at Mere Inkling, waged a cultural battle during his life. He paid a price for his defense of the Gospel and of traditional values. He was ridiculed for his “simple” faith that trusted the words of Jesus and the Scriptures.

Lewis knew the truth of the Lord’s warning. “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:18-20)

Lewis did not bemoan this fact. Rather than be shunned into silence he championed the truth. This book advises we follow the same course (and even includes a couple of pertinent Lewis quotes). The following sounds like something that Lewis would have written if he were alive today (in either Europe or America).

In addition to supporting live-and-let-live legislation and leaders who demonstrate the courage to stand for your freedom of conscience, there is really something much more basic to Christianity that each of us should do as citizens—love your neighbor. I don’t mean love them in some sort of philosophical or esoteric way, but really and truly connect with the people in the community in which you live and do good to and for them.

Right now the publishers are offering a special incentive to preorder the book. By going to this link, You Will Be Made to Care, you will find details about the bonus materials. It’s quite an eclectic list, including a collection of devotions, a sermon entitled “The Believer in the Public Square,” an audio collection, and a PDF cookbook. (Invite me over if you decide to make some of the cappuccino knots; they look delicious.)

A Final Lewis Thought on Government Oppression

I recently read some correspondence between C.S. Lewis and fellow writer Idrisyn Oliver Evans in 1954. Apparently Evans had taken a government job that involved the oversight of some government publications. Lewis’ fictitious titles are entertaining and insightful.

You inflict, as well as suffering, the punishment of Tantalus in your description of your new job. I can’t imagine what sort of books that library contains. Is it titles like Seven Ways of Spoiling a Landscape, The War Against Agriculture, Amenities are Bunk and Liberty: Its Cause and Cure? But I expect you would commit the sin of Tantalus if you told me.

Liberty: Its Cause and Cure. Brilliant!

Lewis was not able to preserve the letter he received, but we do have a copy of this subsequent letter to his friend. I was taken aback by his comment about the civil service. Lewis must certainly have been writing in the context of governmental bureaucracy and the growth of regulations restricting freedom.

The previous criticism, quoted above, is referred to in passing, but Lewis hastens to note it included a “grain of seriousness.”

The words are sobering, especially for those of us who align with civic institutions. And they provide a fitting close for the review of a book warning about the government’s growing predilection to use its coercive power so that we would all be made to care . . .

There was a grain of seriousness in my rally against the Civil Service. I don’t think you have worse taste or worse hearts than other men. But I do think that the State is increasingly tyrannical and you, inevitably, are among the instruments of that tyranny . . .

Free C.S. Lewis Course

November 10, 2015 — 11 Comments

hillsdaleA free college course about C.S. Lewis? Too good to be true? No, it’s for real . . . and it’s offered by a well respected American College that traces its roots back more than 170 years. (Note, for the Europeans reading this, that makes it quite mature here in North America.)

Hillsdale college is currently offering its online course, “An Introduction to C.S. Lewis: Writing and Significance” at no charge. Here is the link to the enrollment page.

In addition to being a first class college today, Hillsdale has a very distinguished past. Founded in 1844, its leadership in the anti-slavery cause allowed it to host two speeches by Frederick Douglass. The first was delivered during the Civil War itself.*

C.S. Lewis offered a fascinating twist on the injustice of slavery. In an essay entitled “Equality,” written 80 years after Douglass decried slavery at Hillsdale, Lewis advocated democracy as an imperfect philosophy. I agree with his inference that despite its shortcomings, it is the least-flawed form of government.

I am a democrat because I believe in the Fall of Man. I think most people are democrats for the opposite reason. A great deal of democratic enthusiasm descends from the ideas of people like Rousseau, who believed in democracy because they thought mankind so wise and good that everyone deserved a share in the government. The danger of defending democracy on those grounds is that they’re not true. . . . I find that they’re not true without looking further than myself. I don’t deserve a share in governing a hen-roost, much less a nation. Nor do most people—all the people who believe advertisements, and think in catchwords and spread rumours.

The real reason for democracy is . . . Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows. Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.

This is the barest example of C.S. Lewis’ keen mind. Enrolling in the course will certainly introduce participants to much, much more.

Like most online resources, this class is offered for personal growth. While a certificate is offered to those who complete the course, it doesn’t result in formal college “credit.” That said, the course could also be of great benefit to a motivated high school student.

Formal studies, even those like this one for which we set a personal pace, are worthwhile. Not only do we profit from the wisdom of the team of professors. Most of us also benefit from the discipline a course offers. Left to our own devices, most of us would not end up with the well-rounded familiarity with Lewis’ work that this class promises.

Shared Wisdom from Douglass and Lewis

One contemporary author noted a parallel thought in the writings of these two men. Thomas Sowell is a distinguished thinker and a talented writer. (Traits he shares with these two gifted authors.) On his website** Sowell has an extremely selective collection of quotations, on which he pairs the following. The first was written by Frederick Douglass and the second by C.S. Lewis.

Everybody has asked the question. . . “What shall we do with the Negro?” I have had but one answer from the beginning. Do nothing with us! Your doing with us has already played the mischief with us. Do nothing with us! If the apples will not remain on the tree of their own strength, if they are wormeaten at the core, if they are early ripe and disposed to fall, let them fall! I am not for tying or fastening them on the tree in any way, except by nature’s plan, and if they will not stay there, let them fall. And if the Negro cannot stand on his own legs, let him fall also. All I ask is, give him a chance to stand on his own legs! Let him alone! (Frederick Douglass, “What the Black Man Wants”).

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. (C.S. Lewis, “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment”).

I think Sowell’s connection of these two excerpts is quite perceptive. Although he is an economist by PhD, I regard him as a brilliant sociologist as well.

Education is a worthwhile pursuit. It is one embraced by Douglass, Lewis and Sowell. Hillsdale’s invitation to enroll in this course allows all of us to engage in the same meaningful exercise. After all, learning is one of the pleasures that makes life truly worth living.

_____

* You can read about Douglass’ speeches at Hillsdale College here.

** This link will take you to Sowell’s website.

Impromptu Poetry

May 8, 2014 — 2 Comments

eyeI had to endure a to and fro transcontinental trip this week. Endure is the right word, when flying miles above what would otherwise be a scenic, albeit lengthy, journey.

One positive thing about flying is that I have time to catch up on some of my “pleasure” reading. This week it included an article about cinquains.

A quintain is a poem with five verses. A cinquain is a specific form which has the following number of syllables in each of the lines: two, four, six, eight, and two.

I took a break from my reading and drafted a few of these small poems. I found it quite simple, and it’s likely you may as well.

I make no promises about the quality of my verse, but perhaps you’ll find one or more of them interesting. Or, at least they may inspire you to write some of your own.

Springtime

Narnian hope

Delayed by the White Witch

Borne by Aslan’s Resurrection

New dawn

Pilgrim

Traveling through

This world is not my home

Destined for a new creation

With Christ

True hope

He died for us

Emancipation now

Washed clean by the blood of the Lamb

New life

Inklings

Lewis, Tolkien

Friends rounded out the group

Imaginations unfettered

Wonder