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C.S. Lewis vs. the "contemptible" Psalms


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#1 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 14 June 2011 - 03:39 PM

FWIW, I don't think I side fully with either Lewis or his critic here (they BOTH seem to think in simple either-or terms that seem overly simplistic to me), though I am certainly sympathetic to at least some of Lewis's arguments:



#2 Holy Moly!

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Posted 16 June 2011 - 11:55 PM

Meanwhile I love the psalms and loathe CS lewis!

#3 NBooth

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Posted 18 June 2011 - 01:03 PM

Hmm. I think Lewis is overrated, but I can't say I find the criticisms in the video very convincing. I might have, several years ago, but it's awfully simplistic to say "Well, it's Jesus, so it's all good." Can we really imagining Jesus wistfully imagining a day when his enemies' babies have their heads dashed out on stones? If we can (I would suggest) our image of Christ is flawed, at best. Besides, Lewis isn't doing straight theology here, anyway; these are "reflections"--more like reader-responses than the sort of thing one would do in a sermon or systematic. He's understandably troubled by these texts, and trying to work out how to respond (as did certain Church Fathers when, for instance, they suggested that the infants referred to as having their heads bashed in were actually evil thoughts--a possibility, IIRC, Lewis raises and rejects). Pushing all the troubling stuff aside with a "well, it's Jesus not David speaking" doesn't really grapple with what the text is doing. It's cheap.

[This is leaving aside the use of troubling Psalms in the NT. The New Testament writers were far looser in the way they utilized the Old Testament than I think the critic in the video would care to admit, and it shouldn't take more than a couple of examples--"out of Egypt I have called my son," for instance--to show that they thought more in terms of typology than straight prediction. It would make more sense to imagine the Apostles creatively re-interpreting the Psalms to fit their point than to say that the Apostle's interpretations are and forever were the only true meaning of whatever text they're dealing with.]

#4 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 19 June 2011 - 10:15 AM

NBooth wrote:
: Hmm. I think Lewis is overrated, but I can't say I find the criticisms in the video very convincing.

I think both Lewis and his critic make the mistake of assuming that the Psalms must EITHER be human compositions that reflect some of our baser tendencies OR divinely inspired; they just disagree on which side of the line the Psalms fall.

: He's understandably troubled by these texts, and trying to work out how to respond (as did certain Church Fathers when, for instance, they suggested that the infants referred to as having their heads bashed in were actually evil thoughts--a possibility, IIRC, Lewis raises and rejects).

I'd be interested to hear Lewis's thought process on this. FWIW, the "evil thoughts" interpretation is still a common one in the more traditionally inclined churches, e.g. Orthodoxy, and I've never been entirely on board with that. Obviously, we can re-purpose any passage we want to, and certainly Christian tradition has often made a point of doing so (see, e.g., the way the passage in Isaiah about a woman conceiving a son during the reign of King Ahaz becomes, in Matthew's gospel, a prophecy about the virginal conception of Jesus). But when I hear people try to wish away the literal meaning of the psalms like that, it bothers me. To do so disrespects the Psalmist, no?

#5 NBooth

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Posted 19 June 2011 - 10:16 PM

I'd be interested to hear Lewis's thought process on this. FWIW, the "evil thoughts" interpretation is still a common one in the more traditionally inclined churches, e.g. Orthodoxy, and I've never been entirely on board with that. Obviously, we can re-purpose any passage we want to, and certainly Christian tradition has often made a point of doing so (see, e.g., the way the passage in Isaiah about a woman conceiving a son during the reign of King Ahaz becomes, in Matthew's gospel, a prophecy about the virginal conception of Jesus). But when I hear people try to wish away the literal meaning of the psalms like that, it bothers me. To do so disrespects the Psalmist, no?


I'm not sure where my copy of Reflections is (I became disenchanted with Lewis a while back and haven't picked him up since). As I recall, though, his thought process is much like your own; that to hew away from the literal meaning is to disrespect the Psalmist. And I happen to agree--although I think the allegorical method at least has the integrity to say "no, this is unacceptable, so we must seek a way to retain the text and also retain the broader message of Scripture and Church history." That is, they might be trying to wish the meaning away, but at least they're aware that there's a problem. I don't think the critic in this video is, really.

#6 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 19 June 2011 - 10:45 PM

NBooth wrote:
: That is, they might be trying to wish the meaning away, but at least they're aware that there's a problem.

Well, they might be aware that there's a problem, but they're not necessarily aware that they're aware, if you know what I mean. I've come across Orthodox people who insist quite adamantly that if the Fathers say Psalm 137 is all about "evil thoughts", then by golly, that's what the Psalmist was talking about and anyone who says otherwise just hasn't seen the light. (Perhaps I caricaturize. But still, it was quite surprising to me that the people in question didn't seem to want to even consider how that verse might have been interpreted in the thousand years or so between its composition and St. Augustine's interpretation of it.) (I hasten to add that I have never had a conversation like that with anyone in person; this took place in an online discussion group before I converted to Orthodoxy.)

#7 MattPage

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Posted 20 June 2011 - 01:26 PM

Slightly off topic, but Peter I remember you saying before Lewis describing his conversion to Christianity as his realisation that this myth happened to be true. Where does he say that and does he expand on it at all?

Matt

#8 M. Leary

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Posted 21 June 2011 - 03:15 PM

Matt, check out the end of the essay "Is Theology Poetry." He elaborates on the myth business there.

#9 MattPage

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Posted 21 June 2011 - 03:20 PM

Thanks. That's the one in "Screwtape Proposes a Toast" isn't it?

#10 M. Leary

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Posted 21 June 2011 - 03:55 PM

The bulk of it is right here in Weight of Glory.

#11 Rich Kennedy

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Posted 11 July 2011 - 05:28 PM

I come to this whole thing rather late. Forgive me. I wonder if this is not a sort of life in a theocracy. And was not Israel and later Judah not a theocracy with a temporal king? Would it not be proper for David in particular as king and earlier as God's anointed to ask such retribution on his enemies? Would it not be plausible for worship in such a context to possibly use some of these psalms in liturgical context when the nation is beset by serious trouble? God may hear such prayers and act accordingly by His wisdom, even as He stayed His hand when Moses demanded that God start again with a new chosen people while in the wilderness.

Even today. is it not useful to know that God will hear such a prayer and take advantage of the brokenness and desperation of one who bears such thoughts and passions to Him who knows that these thoughts and passions are there in the bosom of His child anyway? Would it not be useful in a cathartic way to not hold back such a prayer in my anguish over great stress to my Savior? Let Him correct my notion that this stress and the source of this stress is worthy of God's love and grace as I am "worthy". I find it comforting that such true bearing of the soul is part of the Canon. I see no profit in being politically or theologically correct in His presence in an intimate setting. Laying our burdens on Him is just that. Even hate, murderous thoughts, and the urge to slaughter. Who else can I go to in such a state?

Edited by Rich Kennedy, 11 July 2011 - 05:30 PM.