I must talk in this chapter about what the Christians call Faith.
Roughly speaking, the word Faith seems to be used by Christians in two
senses or on two levels, and I will take them in turn. In the first sense it
means simply Belief-accepting or regarding as true the doctrines of
Christianity. That is fairly simple. But what does puzzle people-at least it
used to puzzle me-is the fact that Christians regard faith in this sense as
a virtue, I used to ask how on earth it can be a virtue-what is there moral
or immoral about believing or not believing a set of statements? Obviously,
I used to say, a sane man accepts or rejects any statement, not because he
wants or does not want to, but because the evidence seems to him good or
bad. If he were mistaken about the goodness or badness of the evidence that
would not mean he was a bad man, but only that he was not very clever. And
if he thought the evidence bad but tried to force himself to believe in
spite of it, that would be merely stupid.
Well, I think I still take that view. But what I did not see then- and
a good many people do not see still-was this. I was assuming that if the
human mind once accepts a thing as true it will automatically go on
regarding it as true, until some real reason for reconsidering it turns up.
In fact, I was assuming that the human mind is completely ruled by reason.
But that is not so. For example, my reason is perfectly convinced by good
evidence that anaesthetics do not smother me and that properly trained
surgeons do not start operating until I am unconscious. But that does not
alter the fact that when they have me down on the table and clap their
horrible mask over my face, a mere childish panic begins inside me. I start
thinking I am going to choke, and I am afraid they will start cutting me up
before I am properly under. In other words, I lose my faith in anaesthetics.
It is not reason that is taking away my faith: on the contrary, my faith is
based on reason. It is my imagination and emotions. The battle is between
faith and reason on one side and emotion and imagination on the other.
When you think of it you will see lots of instances of this. A man
knows, on perfectly good evidence, that a pretty girl of his acquaintance is
a liar and cannot keep a secret and ought not to be trusted; but when he
finds himself with her his mind loses its faith in that bit of knowledge and
he starts thinking, "Perhaps she'll be different this time," and once more
makes a fool of himself and tells her something he ought not to have told
her. His senses and emotions have destroyed his faith in what he really
knows to be true. Or take a boy learning to swim. His reason knows perfectly
well that an unsupported human body will not necessarily sink in water: he
has seen dozens of people float and swim. But the whole question is whether
he will be able to go on believing this when the instructor takes away his
hand and leaves him unsupported in the water-or whether he will suddenly
cease to believe it and get in a fright and go down.
Now just the same thing happens about Christianity. I am not asking
anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him that the
weight of the evidence is against it. That is not the point at which Faith
comes in. But supposing a man's reason once decides that the weight of the
evidence is for it. I can tell that man what is going to happen to him in
the next few weeks. There will come a moment when there is bad news, or he
is in trouble, or is living among a lot of other people who do not believe
it, and all at once his emotions will rise up and carry out a sort of blitz
on his belief. Or else there will come a moment when he wants a woman, or
wants to tell a lie, or feels very pleased with himself, or sees a chance of
making a little money in some way that is not perfectly fair: some moment,
in fact, at which it would be very convenient if Christianity were not true.
And once again his wishes and desires will carry out a blitz. I am not
talking of moments at which any real new reasons against Christianity turn
up. Those have to be faced and that is a different matter. I am talking
about moments where a mere mood rises up against it.
Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art
of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your
changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes. I
know that by experience. Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which
the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods
in which Christianity looked terribly probable. This rebellion of your moods
against your real self is going to come anyway. That is why Faith is such a
necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods "where they get off," you can
never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist, but just a
creature dithering to and fro, with its beliefs really dependent on the
weather and the state of its digestion. Consequently one must train the
habit of Faith.
The first step is to recognise the fact that your moods change. The
next is to make sure that, if you have once accepted Christianity, then some
of its main doctrines shall be deliberately held before your mind for some
time every day. That is why daily prayers and religious reading and church
going are necessary parts of the Christian life. We have to be continually
reminded of what we believe. Neither this belief nor any other will
automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed. And as a matter of
fact, if you examined a hundred people who had lost their faith in
Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have been reasoned
out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away?
Now I must turn to Faith in the second or higher sense: and this is the
most difficult thing I have tackled yet. I want to approach it by going back
to the subject of Humility. You may remember I said that the first step
towards humility was to realise that one is proud. I want to add now that
the next step is to make some serious attempt to practise the Christian
virtues. A week is not enough. Things often go swimmingly for the first
week. Try six weeks. By that time, having, as far as one can see, fallen
back completely or even fallen lower than the point one began from, one will
have discovered some truths about oneself. No man knows how bad he is till
he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people
do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. only those who
try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the
strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You
find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying
down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not
know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in
one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life
by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse
inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man
who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full
what temptation means-the only complete realist. Very well, then. The main
thing we learn from a serious attempt to practise the Christian virtues is
that we fail. If there was any idea that God had set us a sort of exam, and
that we might get good marks by deserving them, that has to be wiped out. If
there was any idea of a sort of bargain-any idea that we could perform our
side of the contract and thus put God in our debts so that it was up to Him,
in mere justice, to perform His side-that has to be wiped out.
I think every one who has some vague belief in God, until he becomes a
Christian, has the idea of an exam, or of a bargain in his mind. The first
result of real Christianity is to blow that idea into bits. When they find
it blown into bits, some people think this means that Christianity is a
failure and give up. They seem to imagine that God is very simple-minded! In
fact, of course, He knows all about this. one of the very things
Christianity was designed to do was to blow this idea to bits. God has been
waiting for the moment at which you discover that there is no question of
earning a pass mark in this exam, or putting Him in your debt.
Then comes another discovery. Every faculty you have, your power of
thinking or of moving your limbs from moment to moment, is given you by God.
If you devoted every moment of your whole life exclusively to His service
you could not give Him anything that was not in a sense His own already. So
that when we talk of a man doing anything for God or giving anything to God,
I will tell you what it is really like. It is like a small child going to
its father and saying, "Daddy, give me sixpence to buy you a birthday
present." Of course, the father does, and he is pleased with the child's
present. It is all very nice and proper, but only an idiot would think that
the father is sixpence to the good on the transaction. When a man has made
these two discoveries God can really get to work. It is after this that real
life begins. The man is awake now. We can now go on to talk of Faith in the
Lewis discuses the two levels of Faith.
- Lewis admits to being puzzled by the concept of simple belief being a virtue. How did he resolve this puzzlement?
- Lewis defines Faith as ...
- How does one train the habit of Faith?
- Before discussing the second level of Faith, Lewis returns to cultivating humility and suggests that one try to live the Christian life for a while. one will then discover by failure that ...
"Faith" in the first sense: Belief -- "accepting or regarding as true the doctrines of Christianity."
- Obviously, something should be accepted or rejected based on the facts about what seems to be true.
- Being honestly wrong about something doesn't mean a person is 'bad,' only (possibly) 'not very clever.'
- If a person thinks the evidence for something is bad, but he wills himself to believe it anyway, he's just stupid.
This assumes that we accept and reject things strictly on reason, which is not true.
- example of panic on the operating table
It is not reason that is taking away my faith: on the contrary, my faith is based on reason. It is my imagination and emotions. The battle is between faith and reason on one side and emotion and imagination on the other.
- example of the girl that lies, and the boy can't keep his head about her.
The same thing happens in Christianity.
- You should only accept Christianity, if your best reason says that it's true.
- Within a few weeks of accepting it, something will come along that makes you question Christianity:
- bad news, trouble, or your friends who aren't Christians.
- temptation, when Christianity not being true would seem convenient.
- In these times, your emotions will carry out an assault on what your reason accepted.
- These are all moods that rise up against what you accepted by reason.
Now Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted in spite of your changing moods. For moods will change, whatever view your reason takes.
So, you must train the habit of Faith.
- Recognize that moods change
- Spend some time, every day deliberately reflecting on some of the main doctrines of Christianity. (quiet time, small groups, prayer, Bible reading)
- "We have to be continually reminded of what we believe."
- No belief will automatically remain alive in the mind.
- People who abandon Christianity rarely have been reasoned out of it -- they simply drift away.
Faith in the second/higher sense - stick to it.
'"No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good."
- It is silly that people who always yield to temptation think that those who don't aren't tempted, only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in."
- Those to always give into temptation live the sheltered life of never having to face the struggle of fighting it.
- Jesus is the only complete realist because he is the only man who every faced temptation and never yielded -- thereby facing the full fury of temptation and evil.
We find that a serious attempt to practice Christian virtues results in our failing. In that failing we find that our only hope is to rely on God -- that we cannot do it without him.
- we learn that we can never be good enough to put God in our debt.
Then comes another discovery. Every faculty you have, your power of thinking or of moving your limbs from moment to moment, is given you by God. If you devoted every moment of your whole life exclusively to His service you could not give Him anything that was not in a sense His own already. So that when we talk of a man doing anything for God or giving anything to God, I will tell you what it is really like.... When a man has made these two discoveries God can really get to work. It is after this that real life begins. The man is awake now. We can now go on to talk of Faith in the second sense.