Wednesday, December 07, 2005

A Proper Concern for Doctrine

Everything over in Pontifications these days seems to come down to remarks like these:

Something [in Lewis's writings] seems to be missing. What this is, I think, is a lack of a proper concern for doctrine. He notes often, very rightly, that as a layman with little theological training it is not his concern in his books to decide sticky points but to stick to the basics of Christianity. But this is only possible to a certain extent. What was that comment of his on the Eucharist? “Jesus said, Take, eat; not, Take, understand.” This is true but it bothers me that Lewis seems unwilling to pick a side.

While there’s no forgetting Lewis’s huge positive impact on me, as a Catholic I have had to outgrow his doctrinal “squishiness”. As well meaning and ecumenical as it is, the idea of “mere Christianity” is about as silly as the idea of a “mere Jesus” (and, yes, by that I mean I am reminded of Jefferson’s ‘improved’ New Testament).

The last reference is a cheap shot, and it serves as an emblem of the inevitable doctrine that any relaxation of dogmatism leads straight to utter latitudiarian indifference. It's rubbish, of course; Lewis himself stands as an object counterexample.

Surely it is reasonable to deduce that the abundance of wrong answers-- that is, heresies-- is driven in large part by the deep desire to have answers. Where the material isn't sufficient to support this urge, error is inevitable, because one's critical faculties are dulled by the desire to come up with something. I'ts not the only source of error, of course; rationalizing one's behavior is obviously important too.

But Lewis's "Mere Christianity" is plainly what you get when you impose a consensus on Christendom as a whole. And when it is neglected in favor of controversies over everything else-- the inevitable outcome of "proper concern for doctrine"-- it becomes impossible to resist the consequence that these other issues are what is important.

The original article that set this all off skips over the bigger reason why Tolkien is more palatable to the masses than Lewis: unless you read The Silmarillion, which can be a rather daunting task, the essential Miltonian character of Tolkien's created world isn't evident. Indeed, it is masked to the point where I believe that Christians see it as Christian only because they know of Tolkien's Catholicism. Others do not.

I am particularly struck by the focus on Lewis's lack of doctrine on the Eucharist. But really it cannot be necessary for someone to hold an opinion on the mechanics of the Godly presence in communion, and the notion that the only unacceptable position is to hold the wrong view is lame. All of this of course is argued out over the background of rejecting Lewis's church for its deviations.

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