Wednesday, March 02, 2005


Numinous and historical After observing that the Christian and the pagan have "more in common" with each other than either does with the modern "post Christian" man, C.S. Lewis goes on to discuss the nature of the elusive thing we mean by the word faith. It is a difficult word, perhaps now more than ever, because our daily lives are so noisy and so busy that we don't pause to catch our breath and simply take the stunning fact of our own existence fully in. Some of us do not allow ourselves downtime as that is not going to win us anything, or, if we do, we fill it with spiritual grease - television or computer tasks. In an essay entitled Is Theism Important? Lewis divides faith into two sorts. The first, Faith-A, is the sort of thing I've talked about a lot on NWW. It is a colder rational awareness that theism, if it is not compelling, at least has merits. It is a small opening in which the mind begins to open up to the implications of how difficult it is refute theism; no matter how odd it appears, the alternatives are odder still. Apologetics is full of this sort of stuff. Writing about Faith - B, Lewis says:
I doubt whether religious people have ever supposed that Faith-B follows automatically on the acquisition of Faith A. It is described as a 'gift.' As soon as we have Faith-A in the existence of God, we are instructed to ask from God Himself the gift of Faith-B. An odd request, you may say, to address to a First Cause, an Ens Realissium, or an Unmoved Mover. It might be argued, and I think I would argue myself, that even such an aridly philosophical God rather fails to invite than actually repels a personal approach. It would, at any rate, do no harm to try it. But I fully admit that most people who, having reached Faith-A, pray for Faith-B, do so because they have already had something like religious experience. Perhaps the best way of putting it would be to say that Faith-A converts into religious experience what was hitherto only potentially or implicitly religious. In this modified form I would accept... [that] philosophical proofs never, by themselves, lead to religion. Something at least quasi religious uses them before, and the 'proofs' remove an inhibition which was removing their development into religion proper. [emphasis mine]
What is this "something" that Faith-A transforms? Lewis draws on a German theologian, Rudolf Otto, and places the "seed of religious experience in our experience of the Numinous." In English, the Numinous might be called Awe or the fear of God. Fear is an awkward choice because it does not fully address the idea. It isn't actually wrong but it is lopsided. Lewis continues:
... until religion comes and retrospectively transforms it, [the Numinous] usually appears to the subject to be a special form of aesthetic experience... [it] developed into the Holy only insofar as [it] became connected with the morally good. This happened regularly in Israel, sporadically elsewhere... [until] The object of faith is at once the ens entium [being of beings] of the philosophers, the Awful Mystery of Paganism, the Holy Law given of the moralists, and Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified under Pontius Piltae and rose again on the third day. Faith.. does not flow from philosophical argument alone; nor from experience of the Numinous alone; nor from history alone; but from historical events which fulfill and transcend the moral category, which link themselves with the most Numinous elements in Paganism, and which demand as their pre supposition the existence of a Being who is more, but not less, than the God whom many reputable philosophers think they can establish.
I'm still working on Faith-B. It'll be a lifelong process, I'm certain. That previous experiences are seen in a new way is something that I can affirm. We are always re-evaluating experience as we learn new things but this is of a different order. There had always been, all along, things that I had seen or felt but did not know what to make of. They were put them aside until "later." It was only when I began to feel the floor of my old ways of thinking and looking slide out from under me that I was able to begin to accommodate them. Later had begun to arrive.

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