Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Problem of Pain: Chapter 4 - Human Wickedness

For anyone new here, I am doing a series of "book club" posts going through "The Problem of Pain" by CS Lewis. The format I post in is similar to my bible posts, section headings in bold, summary in regular text, my comments in italics. The only difference here is there are no section headings in the book so I make them up.

People are Inherently Evil

We have used free will to become evil, this is so obvious it hardly needs to be stated. But this doctrine is hard to bring into practice nowadays. It used to be that it was known, even if a disciple of Jesus was preaching to Pagans, they had their gods to solve the problem of people being evil, but in modern day society this is not something that people assume. Christianity needs to first "preach the diagnosis and then preach the cure".

This is something I find completely disgusting about Christianity. It teaches that people are bad deep down, and the only way we can be good is through Jesus. This idea is so ingrained that Lewis doesn't even explain it, it is so obvious to him he just states it like everyone should take it for granted like he does. He says Christianity preaches the diagnosis, I say they preach the disease.

Why They Must Preach the Diagnosis

There are 2 main reasons that this is the case. We are taught simple ethics where kindness is the only good and cruelty is the only bad. In such a situation it is easy for someone to think they are good with little evidence, especially if they haven't had much challenge thrown their way.

Well I do agree that simple ethics is a bad idea. Replacing one simple ethic with another doesn't seem a good strategy.

People are taught that shame is bad, even when it is attached to bad things. We are told to get things out in the open and not be embarrassed by them. These things are very natural and we shouldn't be ashamed. "unless Christianity is wholly false, the perception of ourselves which we have in moments of shame must be the only true one"

Again, this attitude is something I see as incredibly dangerous. We shouldn't be ashamed of things that are natural just because they are in an ancient book, and to think our only true picture of ourselves comes in our moments of shame says a lot about Lewis' worldview. This seems to be a good answer to the question of "what's the harm"

To be a true Christian you must start with this sense of sin. If you try to be a Christian without the assumption that men are bad, you will fail as God will seem like he is "always making impossible demands and always inexplicably angry".

Can't help but agree

In a rare moment of guilt we might realize that our character is evil. In our core we ought to be hateful to all good men and good powers above if they exist. A God who did not regard this with distaste would not be a good being.

I just can't relate to this at all. I've never felt that I should feel hatred toward good men. Are so many people like this at their core? I think people have just been told that so many times that they believe it, but really they are good people.

How the Illusion of Our Goodness is Strong in Modern Times

When we get one of these moments of revelation of how bad we are at the core we need to take that idea on for when it is not so obvious. This is harder to do in modern times as it is easy to be in a "fool's paradise". There are many ways we can fall prey to this illusion.

1. We focus on outward appearance and unfair comparison. Who we are even choosing to compare ourselves to is suspect. It is like the tennis player who calls his typical play is bad days. Another man's character is between him and God.

While he did make a few decent points, we shouldn't spend all of our time comparing ourselves to others, and it is easy at times to make easy comparisons and to discount our bad qualities. But he talks as if this is the only possible way of doing things. He is very negative and talks as if no one compares themselves worse to others than reality.

2. We can focus on corporate guilt in place of personal guilt.

3. We think time forgives sins. Only the blood of Christ can forgive sins. For all we know God is reliving our childhood sins for eternity.

4. Safety in numbers. If all people are bad then badness is excusable. Many of us have experienced a situation where everyone acted a certain way and it seemed like the only possibility, but when you leave your pocket of reality you find out that most other people act a very different way. It is possible that the entirety of the human race is like this as a pocket of bad. "...a consistent practice of virtue by the human race even for ten years would fill the earth from pole to pole with peace, plenty, health, merriment, and heartsease, and that nothing else will."

I don't know what "fill the earth from pole to pole" is supposed to mean, but this is the kind of bald, somewhat nonsensical, assertion that this chapter is filled with.

5. Although we cannot see this humanity as a pocket described above, we can see small pockets by examining different societies. We might think we are not so bad by comparing ourselves to our ancestors, but "considering how the cruelty of our ancestors looks to us, you may get some inkling how our softness, worldliness, and timidity would have looked to them, and hence how God looks at us both"

I'm not really sure what point he is making actually. I guess maybe that we both have faults? I thought he was going to say that we look at our ancestors as barbaric, imagine people from the future looking at us, would they also think we are barbaric. I would respond that yes that is possible, but we are working toward a better society.

6. I am harping on kindness, but as plato said, you can't be kind unless you possess the other virtues, for if you are cowardly conceited and slothful and you haven't been unkind to your neighbor, it is because they have never gotten in your way.

Seems like he just argued that focusing on kindness is fine, for by this logic, if you are kind then you must have the other virtues too. Unless perhaps he is claiming we don't get in each other's way enough.

7. The holiness of God is something more than moral perfection.

I'm not really sure what he was saying here

8. Many try to shift the responsibility of the bad deeds to a God or devil character, you shouldn't do this


This is Not the Doctrine of Total Depravity

We are not completely depraved, for then we would be unable to see our depravity. Also, there is much good in people.

Well at least he can see that.

Overall I must say I think the contents of this chapter sum up a large part of what I find horrible about Christianity. The view that we are evil to the core spelled out so clearly. Getting this into your mind on a base level is a terrible thing, it is a shame we do this to so many kids

Next week, Chapter 5, the fall of man


  1. People are Inherently Evil. He gives absolutely no justification for this statement that people are all evil. And why would God create people that are so evil or have it so engrained that at the first chance of free will they will cause each other harm? (This section seems to miss things as you've previously pointed out, like natural disasters causing so much pain and death). And I never feel like I am getting an answer as to why God ordered such wicked things of his followers, like the wholesale slaughter, rape, and slavery of civilizations. I think he seems to say overall, that “we can't judge God, he knows better than we do.” He says about the early Christians, “When the apostles preached, they could assume even in their Pagan hearers a real consciousness of deserving the Divine anger. The Epicurian philosophy claimed to deliver men from the fear of eternal punishment.” I know what he's trying to say, but what about when people converted to Pagan religions in even earlier times? Isn't it just trading one myth for another?

    Why They Must Preach the Diagnosis. I agree with both of you on the issue of simple ethics. But I am really uneasy with his calling “humanitarianism” and “sentimentality” “covert propaganda for cruelty.”

    I really don't like his idea that shame is bad. I think shame can be a good thing. I think it can keep you in check as to when you are doing wrong. I for example, might do something without thinking in the moment, and not feel bad at that instant. But later, when I have time to think about what I did, I might change my mind. On the sin thing, I agree as well. Unfortunately, he doesn't really justify this at all.

    I also agree with you a hundred percent here on his notion that we feel like we ought to be hateful to all good men. I could see someone being jealous maybe, but not outright hateful. You would have to be a terrible person to feel that way I think. It makes me wonder what kind of character CS Lewis was. Maybe it was the people he either grew up with or surrounded himself with at some point in his life. But either way, to have this horrible outlook on humanity. It just makes me feel sorry for the guy.

    How the Illusion of Our Goodness is Strong in Modern Times
    I narrowed it down to just a few comments, since my pages are stuffed with writing on critiquing these examples.

    4. Safety in numbers. Just because everybody does it, doesn't make it right. I couldn't help but think of all the horrible things the church has done in the past. I am sure since God ordered that stuff, it's the exception to the rule. And by “pole to pole” I think he is just saying that the world would be a much better place. Of course, you'd still have natural disasters..

    5. Again, if society is getting better, its definitely not because of the bible. As I have stated before, the bible has never really changed, but our “interpretations” of it have as time goes by.

    6. I thought his part on how “every vice leads to cruelty” wasn't really thought out. They can of course, but there are plenty of examples of “vices” that don't lead to cruelty. One that's forbidden in the bible is masturbation. I really don't see how something like that would harm anyone else.

    7. God being more morally perfect than perfect. This seems like a variation on theargument

  2. "I never feel like I am getting an answer..."

    I know how you feel. I think there just aren't any good answers to these questions. I really haven't been at this for all that long, but I constantly see atheists asking these types of questions and never see satisfactory answers. It's just "have faith" and the same old tired apologetics that are full of logical fallacies.

    "I really don't like his idea that shame is bad"

    I might be a little confused on this, but my impression was he was saying that other people (I guess the humanitarians and such) are saying shame is always bad, and his point was that they are wrong.

    6. cruelty to the unborn! This is why definitions are so important, depending on how you define "vice" and "cruelty" his statement could make sense. (I'm such a math teacher)

    7. your link is broken

  3. I think I miss that part about shame. I think you are right. Maybe things were different back then, but I don't really think I've ever heard anyone claim that.

    The links were to two pages with the ontological argument. I am still really new to html code, so I apologize for that =P

  4. The way I was reading it, was he was talking about whatever the progressives at the time were saying is ok and he thinks is not. For example, he would probably say that being gay is not ok, he would probably say that if you are gay you should be ashamed of it. I would say (along with a bunch of other people) that if you are gay you should not feel shame, it is who you are, you should be proud of it. If I apply the shame portion of this chapter, I would think he is saying that I am telling people that they should not be ashamed of something that is bad. I don't know what the equivalent issue would be for when he was writing the book, but that is the impression I got when reading.

    For the link thing, this
    is the template I use. The first green box. I suppose I could bookmark it, but I just google "html link" each time and it is the first hit.

  5. You do make a really good point. Thanks for clarifying that. :) And thanks for the link.


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