Religion and Obligation – But I don’t want to obey?…
People often don’t like religion because they don’t want to obey
A lot of people react to religion and want nothing to do with it. Not because they’ve considered its truth claims but because they feel it is constricting. Interestingly, we got our modern English word “religion” from the Latin word religio meaning “obligation” or “bond.”
So, it has been recognized for a long time that religion is binding. The question is, why? Why should anyone obey a religion?
If the religion’s truth claims are accurate then there would be a good reason to obey. Otherwise, I’m not going to be bound by a religion just because that’s what my grandma believed… No. If you’re going to tell me what I can do and not do, you better offer some good reasons why I should listen.
God demands obedience
1 Kings 8:60-61 says, “The LORD is God; there is no other. Let your heart therefore be wholly true to the LORD.” It is admittedly a big claim that “the LORD is God,” and He alone. But if that claim is true it seems to make sense that the LORD could demand obedience.
So, the question it seems we need to answer is not: “Should I obey?” But: “Is it true?” A lot of times it seems we’re tempted to go at it a different way. We’re tempted to think: “I don’t want to obey, therefore I won’t consider if it’s true.”
We can see the ridiculousness of that thinking when we apply it to a different context…
Imagine you’re driving on the highway with me. I’m going 95 when the speed limit is 70. You’re concerned because you know there are often speed traps in the area. Also, you don’t want to die. So, you say, “Perhaps you should slow down. There could be a speed trap.”
I, however, am rather content with the speed I am going. But you see a police car ahead. You very kindly warn me: “Um, that’s a police car… See it?! He’s right there! Slow down!”
But I don’t listen. I want to drive fast so I ignore the possibility of a cop car.
Religion and obligation
Ignoring information that might be pertinent because we want to do what we want to do might be problematic. Just because we don’t want there to be a cop to enforce the rules does not at all mean there is no cop.
I understand people not wanting to be obligated by a religion. We all naturally want to be in charge; we want to do what we want to do. We want to be God. But we can’t be God if God is God.
If God is, then God is in charge. He is God. If the religion is real, it necessarily leads to obligation.
That brings up the very important question: “Is God?”
Back to Virtue by Peter Kreeft
I recently read Peter Kreeft’s book Back to Virtue. Kreeft is a Roman Catholic philosopher, theologian, apologist, and a prolific author. He is a professor of philosophy at Boston College and The King’s College.
Here are some quotes from Back to Virtue that stuck out to me:
“We control nature, but we cannot or will not control ourselves. Self-control is ‘out’ exactly when nature control is ‘in’, that is, exactly when self-control is most needed” (Peter Kreeft, Back to Virtue, 23).
“Nothing is so surely and quickly dated as the up-to-date” (Peter Kreeft, Back to Virtue, 63).
“It is hard to be totally courageous without hope in Heaven. Why risk your life if there is no hope in Heaven. Why risk your life if there is no hope that your story ends in anything other than worms and decay” (Kreeft, Back to Virtue, 72).
“The only way to ‘the imitation of Christ’ is the incorporation into Christ” (Ibid., 84).
“There are only two kinds of people: fools, who think they are wise, and the wise, who know they are fools” (Ibid., 99).
“Humility is thinking less about yourself, not thinking less of yourself” (Ibid., 100).
“God has more power in one breath of his spirit than all the winds of war, all the nuclear bombs, all the energy of all the suns in all the galaxies, all the fury of Hell itself” (Ibid., 105).
“We can possess only what is less than ourselves, things, objects… We are possessed by what is greater than ourselves—God and his attributes, Truth, Goodness, Beauty. This alone can make us happy, can satisfy the restless heart, can fill the infinite, God-shaped hole at the center of our being” (Ibid., 112).
“The beatitude does not say merely: ‘Blessed are the peace-lovers,’ but something rarer: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’” (Ibid., 146).
“There is only one thing that never gets boring: God… Modern man has… sorrow about God, because God is dead to him. He is the cosmic orphan. Nothing can take the place of his dead Father; all idols fail, and bore” (Ibid., 157).
“God’s single solution to all our problems is Jesus Christ” (Ibid., 172).
“An absolute being, an absolute motive, and an absolute hope can alone generate an absolute passion. God, love and Heaven are the three greatest sources of passion possible” (Ibid., 192).
C.S. Lewis on Scientism in Out of the Silent Planet
Have you ever heard of C.S. Lewis’ book series, The Chronicles of Narnia? It’s good. But, Lewis’ Ransom Trilogy is even better. And one of the reasons for that is because he confronts scientism.
Scientism exalts the natural sciences as the only fruitful means of investigation. In the words of Wikipedia: “Scientism is the promotion of science as the best or only objective means by which society should determine normative and epistemological values.” In short, scientism is the view that says science, and science alone, tells us what is right and true.
Science, of course, is different. It is the study of the natural world through systematic study (observation, measurement, testing, and adjustment of hypotheses). Scientism goes beyond science and beyond the observation of the physical world into philosophy and ethics.
How can observations about the natural world tell us how to think and live? How can science tell us how to best do science? What can be said about the problems of scientism? C.S. Lewis gives us a few things to think about, and in a very enjoyable way.
Out of the Silent Planet on Scientism
Weston, one of the main characters in C.S. Lewis’ book, Out of the Silent Planet, holds to a form of scientism and belittles other ways of acquiring knowledge. Unscientific people, Weston says, “repeat words that don’t mean anything” and so Weston refers to philology as “unscientific tomfoolery.” The “classics and history” are “trash education.” He also says that Ransom’s “philosophy of life” is “insufferably narrow.”
When science is the sole means of knowledge then we are left without theology, philosophy, and ethics. We are left to decipher ought from is. And it can’t be done. Or not in a way that prevents crimes against humanity. “Intrinsically, an injury, an oppression, and exploitation, an annihilation,” Nietzsche says, cannot be wrong “inasmuch as life is essentially (that is, in its cardinal functions) something which functions by injuring, oppressing, exploiting, and annihilating, and is absolutely inconceivable without such a character.”
Weston concurs. He is ready and willing to wipe out a whole planet of beings. He says, “Your tribal life with its stone-age weapons and bee-hive huts, its primitive coracles and elementary social structure, has nothing to compare with our civilization—with our science, medicine and law, our armies, our architecture, our commerce, and our transport system… Our right to supersede you is the right of the higher over the lower.”
It is about life. Looking at life, looking at survival alone, leads us to think that alone is the goal. My life versus your life, Weston’s life versus the Malacandrian lives. That’s what we get when we derive ought from is. “Life is greater than any system of morality; her claims are absolute.” And so, if it would be necessary, Weston would “kill everyone” on Malacandra if he needed to and on other worlds too. Again, Weston finds agreement in Nietzsche: “‘Exploitation’ does not belong to a depraved, or imperfect and primitive society: it belongs to the nature of the living being as a primary organic function.”
Is Weston’s view correct? No. And we know it. That is the point C.S. Lewis makes. He offers a narrative critique of scientism in Out of the Silent Planet as well as through the whole Ransom Trilogy. He shows the havoc that scientism sheared of theology, philosophy, and ethics can unleash.
The answer is not to discard science, however. That is not what Lewis proposes either, though that is what some protest. The answer is to disregard scientism. Science is great and a blessing from God, but science on its own is not enough as our guide. We cannot, for example, derive ought from is. We cannot look at the natural world around us, at what is, and find out what we should do, how we ought to live.
 C.S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet (New York: Scribner Paperback Fiction, 1996), 25.
 Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet 27.
 Friedrich Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals.
 Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet, 135.
 Ibid., 136.
 Ibid., 137.
 Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond God and Evil, par. 259.
C. S. Lewis on Longing
You can trace the theme of longing through most of Lewis’ writings. In some places, it is explicit in other places it is implicit. For example, Perelandra does not so much make an argument as much as make you desire and long to experience something of what Lewis wrote. When reading some of Lewis, we often find ourselves hoping what he writes about is true. Lewis’ argument is not really cognitive and logical as much as it is “kardialogical,” that is, reasoned from the heart. As Blaise Pascal said, “The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know.”
It is also important here to look at what Lewis meant by longing or desire. Lewis himself said, “From the age of six, romantic longing—Sehnsucht—had played an unusually central part in my experience.” Sehnsucht is a German term that communicates the longing that all of humanity has. It means “longing,” “yearning,” or “craving.” It is a way of saying, “something is intensely missing, there must be more.” Joe Puckett defines Sehnsucht this way:
The aching, and yet pleasurable, intense longing for a life that we cannot yet have but naturally and universally crave. It is the feeling of having lost something that we once had—giving us a sense of homesickness and discontentment with the less-than-ideal world we currently find ourselves in.
Lewis was specially equipped to discuss longing since from a very young age he had experienced such longing and had the ability to write about it with apologetic force in both narrative and essay form. My thesis is that Lewis is correct, our longing does point us beyond this world. Our longing ultimately points us to the Lord and His coming Kingdom.
The Resurrection and Our Hope No Matter What
What is the correct response to the coronavirus? Should we have fear or faith?
Well, the answer to that question depends on where you’re coming from and your understanding of this world…
The Bible teaches Christians that through Christ, no matter what we face, we can have faith. We can have hope.
Reflecting on the resurrection of Jesus helps us have faith. It helps us see that we have a solid, untouchable hope.
In Acts chapter 2, Peter refers to Psalm 16 which is a Psalm that king David wrote. Psalm 16:27 says, “For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption.” In Peter’s message he said: Friends, I can confidently tell you something about king David: He is both dead and buried, and his tomb is with us today (Acts 2:29). David is dead and his body rotted.
Is Jesus Really the Only Way?
A lot of people believe that all “good” people go to heaven.
“After all, isn’t being good what really matters? If someone is good and sincere in their beliefs then they should go to heaven. Plus, aren’t all religions basically the same?”
“How could a good God allow people to go to hell?”
However, it should be asked, does God want those people to go to hell? And has God provided a way for them to be saved? The answer to the first question we’ll see is no and the answer to the second question is yes.
First, Scripture repeatedly says things like God desires all humans to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim. 2:4). Here are three more:
“The Lord is… not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).
“Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?… For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live” (Ezek. 18:23, 32).
“Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek. 33:11).
So, God’s desire is for people to come to a knowledge of the truth of salvation in Jesus Christ and repent of their sins and be saved. That is God’s desire. However, that’s not it.
Second, God has also provided the way of salvation. The one God has provided the one way of salvation through the man Christ Jesus who is the one mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5).
Imagine we were all on an island that a very wealthy and magnificent man owns. It is on fire and we all have to get off or we will die. Now, imagine that the owner of the island built a very large and sturdy bridge to the mainland so that people could escape. And in making the bridge he himself died.