December 10, 2009

We have all agreed that we’re crazy, and probably fools to boot. Yet seven of us, despite single digit temperatures and slowly freezing feet, turned up to share a few hours of companionship beneath a dark sky riddled with stars. The immortal hunter Orion blazed and bent over us in cold benediction. The dogs Canis major and Canis minor, which contain Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, followed the hunter as the embers burned low and he sank into unfathomable distance beyond the horizon.  A bottle of white wine sat on the table and slowly turned to slush. The seasoned maple logs burned hot, and the cedarwood smoke drifted and mingled with the smoke from struck wooden matches and various aromas of tobacco. We wrapped ourselves in a stack of blankets. Some wrapped their whole bodies, some their legs, some wound them around their necks like scarves. One way or another we tried to stay warm.

The night began with Jerry relegating his importance as a person to a status lower than whale puckey which resides at the bottom of the ocean. Whale puckey is what you think it is. Why this was mentioned I cannot recall, but there you have it. Someone asked a question about Jerry’s dissertation. For all those who never knew or don’t remember, here is a brief explanation: the title is C.S. Lewis and a Problem of Evil: An Investigation of a Pervasive Theme. It is about subjectivism in Lewis’s works. According to Lewis, there are knowers and objects to be known and our thought operates with some degree of scoliosis, so we measure it by the plumb-line of reality, taking our lead from subjective reality. But if someone denies reality, and projects on it what they want it to be, they enter into subjectivism, spinning reality like a spider spins its web.  Lewis was concerned with this issue, even in his pre-Christian writings, and  Jerry tried to show how this was a pervasive theme. He looked at villains from four decades of Lewis’s fiction, showing how these villains were subjectivists.

Jerry then proceeded to comment on his dissertation (accompanied by much laughter): “Well the only people who are really interested in it are hospitals; they’ve been getting it for their insomniac wards and it’s been healing them. It’s nice when you can make a contribution to cultural development and the betterment of society.”

The talk then became quite rarefied. I don’t claim to do it justice, but here are the bones of it. Errancy/inerrancy. Is the Bible without error or not? When Jesus talked about the mustard seed being the smallest seed was he in error? Because we now know it is not the smallest seed. Or was he simply speaking idiomatically, like a scientist who tells his wife to look at the sunset or sunrise? The scientist does not believe that the sun sets, because he knows the universe is heliocentric, but he speaks from a phenomenological perspective.

We ditch inerrancy and move on to repentance. Jerry describes it using  Aristotle’s notion of hamartia, an archery term that means “missing the mark” or “falling short” (otherwise known as the “tragic flaw”). He demonstrates this by telling the story of the time when he tried chewing tobacco. Alone in his house, he stuck a wad in, swallowed a little, then swallowed a lot. With the room spinning, the house spinning, he made his way cautiously downstairs, trying to keep his friends from seeing his condition, and fell into the alley where he vomited into a trash can worrying that he might die, and then worrying that he won’t die because it’s not getting any better (here we laugh), and finally ends laying in the alleyway feeling miserable. After this occasion, chewing tobacco no longer looked good and didn’t have the glamour it possessed before. This is a portrayal of repentance; we miss the mark, then turn with changed minds.

Talk then swirled and coalesced around questions concerning how much we should use our minds to question and delve into our faith. Most agree instantly that the intellect must be employed. But then a question is raised about whether it would be beneficial to cause someone who has a simple, perhaps childlike, faith to begin asking deep philosophical or intellectual questions that would perhaps be out of their range of understanding. It is agreed that one should use whatever intellectual capacity they are given to explore faith. We should use our minds to inquire, not simply accept.

Other talk was bandied about, including a return to Jerry’s notion of a literal seven-day earth interpretation of the creation account in Genesis 1 and 2 and a belief that earth was created already greatly aged. For example, if Adam was created as an adult, he must have had language and memory and other abilities already intact. So earth could have been created the same way. But here I am running out of memory, and the night was so exceedingly cold at 12:30 a.m., that I’m afraid I let my attention flag and my pipe burn out. So be it.


~ by Mark Neal on December 12, 2009.

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