The Wartburg Watch has commenced what will apparently become a multi-post series on the question, Are gays called to lifelong celibacy?
Yawn. Since I’m neither Christian nor gay, it’s not a question that holds a lot of interest for me. I’m interested in the way people reason about these sorts of questions, however, and I want to point toward something I found in the pro-celibacy argument.
Yet as I thought of this image of humans placing themselves in judgment, it brought to mind an observation C. S. Lewis made in his essay “God in the Dock.” Lewis wrote:
The greatest barrier I have met [in presenting the Gospel] is the almost total absence from the minds of my audience of any sense of sin… The early Christian preachers could assume in their hearers, whether Jews, Metuentes, or Pagans, a sense of guilt. (That this was common among Pagans is shown by the fact that both Epicureanism and the mystery religions both claimed, though in different ways, to assuage it.) Thus the Christian message was in those days unmistakably the Evangelium, the Good News. It promised healing to those who knew they were sick. We have to convince our hearers of the unwelcome diagnosis before we can expect them to welcome the news of the remedy.
The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man, the roles are quite reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock. He is quite a kindly judge; if God should have a reasonable defense for being the god who permits war, poverty, and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that man is on the bench and God is in the dock.
Humility is important in the Christian life, and I have tried to write with the humility of one who will be judged by Christ. Yet in my own life, I have had to learn (and it is one of life’s most difficult lessons) to be humble enough not to make myself judge of God’s revelation. It is all too easy for me to demand that the Bible ‘justify the ways of God to men,’ and refuse to obey until it has satisfied all my objections.
Lewis makes a striking claim here: ‘Witnessing’ is hard work in the 20th-century, because people just don’t feel as small and guilty and worthless as they ought; he has to first convince them that they are small and guilty and worthless before they will accept the ‘Good News.’
And they wonder why they are so often regarded as unwelcome nuisances.
But the author of this piece doesn’t need any convincing. No. He has accepted it whole-hog, though he is forced to acknowledge that it is sometimes difficult to suppress his intelligence: “It is all too easy for me to demand that the Bible “justify the ways of God to men,” and refuse to obey until it has satisfied all my objections.”
The god of the Bible is cruel, unreasonable, makes no sense? Why, the problem is not the Bible, but you who presume to think and judge. This is the death-wish theology of Original Sin in all its ugliness — it demands the deliberate self-annihilation of a man’s mind.
I don’t overstate what is going on here. Recall, in more recent times, these remarks by Albert Mohler:
The vast majority of men and women throughout the centuries of western civilization have awakened in the morning and gone to sleep at night with the fear of hell never far from consciousness — until now.
The self-help author Napoleon Hill, writing a decade before Lewis, made a like observation:
That is where my [Satan] cleverness comes in. There is the exact explanation of how I control 98 percent of the people of the world. I take possession of people during their youths, before they come into possession of their own minds, by using those who are in charge of them. I especially need the help of those who give children their religious instruction because it is here that I break down independent thought and start people on the habit of drifting, by confusing their minds with unprovable ideas concerning a world of which they know nothing. It is here also that I plant in the minds of children the greatest of all fears — the fear of hell!
Notice this: Lewis and Mohler both condemn the loss of an ambient sense of guilt and worthlessness. Hill, writing during the years of the Great Depression, condemns their teachings.
Lewis and Mohler are both modern men; they both should know enough of psychology, and have seen enough of life, to know what a poisonous and enervating teaching they carry. Mohler’s guilt is the greater, to my mind, because he knows — or, at least, has no excuse for not knowing — that the Christian meta-narrative is false. There was no Adam and Eve, there was no Fall — and there is no such thing as Original Sin.