Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Problem of Pain: Introduction - Part 2

Lewis continues:

In what follows it must be understood that I am not primarily arguing the truth of Christianity but describing its origin - a task, in my view, necessary if we are to put the problem of pain in its right setting.

This is the first place, I think, that Lewis slips from his focus. He has stopped thinking about pain, and started thinking about suffering. We don't know if death is painful, or even if birth is. Newborns can't speak and well, the dead have stopped talking. We can certainly see and know that the process leading up to death is often painful - except in those rare instances where doctors tell us that death was instantaneous. I would suggest that both birth and death might elicit exactly the same expression - if possible - "OH?!"

In my story, the transition of Christ from the cross into death is rather abrupt. He is in pain, and then not. A short time later, Christ realizes he is alone, without the Father. It is a loss, a pain that is felt as the pain he felt on the Cross. On the Cross, Christ suffers. The physical pain is certainly one issue, but He yells on the Cross - not about the physical pain, but "My God, My God, why has thou forsaken me!?" It is the absence of God that causes Christ to cry out.

Lewis wants to equate pain with suffering. It is understandable, we do it all the time. However, pain, the physical result of hurt, is part of life. There is no need to explain it, answer it. The physical world functions in a way that living things often get in the way and get hurt in the process. If you step on a sharp rock in bare feet, you are not likely to look at God and ask why it had to happen. Lewis wants to talk about suffering but is stuck on pain. For Lewis, the problem with pain is that it exists. I can not imagine a universe of birth and death that could exist without it. Suffering may be a different matter.

Lewis wants to take us to a specific location, the root of good. He needs to take us there because without good, there is no bad. No evil. But getting from the foundation of humanity to good requires a few slights of hand.

In all developed religion we find three strands or elements, and in Christianity one more. The first of these is what Professor Otto calls the experience of the Numinous.

This experience, this awe, is excited by the Numinous.

What is certain is that now, at any rate, the numinous experience exists and that if we start from ourselves we can trace it a long way back.

Getting to the Numinous is an early human process of fear. We fear what we do not know, that fear turns to dread of things we fear in anticipation, and finally in awe, we feel something that goes beyond fear or dread, it is...small. Lewis calls it a profound disturbance. I, like many others, observe that if God did not exist, mankind would create him. Lewis does just this. It is a esponse to an awareness of the world and our place in it. Or, our apparent or perceived place in it.

Numinous comes from "why". Why did this person die and not that person? Why did the rains that always come, fail. In the absence of knowledge, an unseen force must be at work. The unexplainable becomes the Numinous - death by lion, explainable; death by lightning, not...hell, lightning is not explainable! But our ability to ask the question provokes the question. A gazelle does not ask why a lion takes it's herdmate.

We want justice, balance, fairness. We want events to having meaning. It seems that "life happens" is not enough for most people...despite the t-shirt sayings to the contrary. There are events that have results we don't like. We call these events bad. There are events that have results we like. We call these events good.

God is the creation of good. We like good. We want more good. Events that produce good will be repeated. Events that produce bad will be avoided. When similar events fail to produce good, or worse yet, produce bad, some kind of explanation is necessary. The Numinous gains currency. It might have takenmilenia, but over time, the Numinous would have grown.

We do not know how far back in human history this feeling goes. The earliest men almost certainly believed in things which would excite the feeling in us if we believed in them, and it seems therefore probable that numinous awe is as old as humanity itself. But our main concern is not with its dates. The important thing is that somehow or other it has come into existence, and is widespread, and does not disappear from the mind with the growth of knowledge and civilisation.

Lewis either lacks the knowledge or purposefully ignores it. First, Judaism is not the first monotheistic religion. Christianity is not the first religion based on a virgin birth and a resurrection. And atheism is growing. Religion goes farther back that our major religions might like to acknowledge. Knowledge is replacing the awe factor.

Now this awe is not the result of an inference from the visible universe. There is no possibility of arguing from mere danger to the uncanny, still less to the fully Numinous.

Just saying so does not make it so. I can easily argue that such a process is likely, even probable. Lewis can not imagine that it is possible to get to God from everyday experience UNLESS something inherent in us allows us to make a jump from fear to awe.

You may say that is seems to you very natural that early man, being surrounded by real dangers, and therefore frightened, should invent the uncanny and the Numinous. In a sense it is, but let us understand what we mean. You feel it to be natural because, sharing human nature with your remote ancestors, you can imagine yourself reacting to perilous solitudes in the same way; and this reaction is indeed 'natural' in the sense of being in accord with human nature. But it is not in the least 'natural' in the sense that the idea of the uncanny or the Numinous is already contained in the idea of the dangerous, or that nay perception of danger or any dislike of the woulds and death which may entail could give the slightest conception of ghostly dread or numinous awe to an intelligence which did not already understand them. When man passes from physical fear to dread and awe, he makes a sheer jump, and apprehends something which could never be given, as danger is, by the physical facts and logical deductions from them.

Lewis acknowledges that as we are products of our ancestry, we are likely to share a natural affinity, a natural kinship, with those that came well before us. To say we understand early humans because as humans we can understand is the circular logic being stuck within the system causes. Lewis gives the bias a glancing blow. But he can not see the flaw in his logic. How did early humans deal with the GOOD things that happened for no apparent reason? If anything, he knows early humans were smart. One of them more than likely equated a random good with a random bad and coming from the same unknowable place.

Maybe I am being too hopeful. Maybe those early people took the good random events and just accepted them without question. Maybe they only were concerned with the bad random events. I don't think so. It seems to me that human nature is more interested in making good events repeat than in working to prevent bad events from happening. How else can you explain addictions?

Establishing that early humanity, inherent in our creation, had a predisposition to make a jump from bad events to the awe of the Numinous seems to ignore a good portion of what we know about early societies and human nature. Humans want good things to happen. Good was/is defined as having good shelter, good food and hopefully, good company. Bad was not having those things. If random chance exceeded the intellectual grasp of early humans, some unseen force was at work. Over 30 or 40,000 years, it is likely that entire systems of behavior grew around the occasional, repeatable, random event. Such as fire from the sky preceding cold, wet weather.


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