26 August 2007

There Will Be Surprises

I just looked up the quote I mentioned in my copy of Mere Christianity, and I thought I'd post some of the actual text here. Ever since I first read it, I've found it very helpful in maintaining perspective both with myself and in the way I approach and/or view those around me. There's something beautiful about the imagery of the naked soul:

"Human beings judge one another by their external actions. God judges them by their moral choices. When a neurotic who has a pathological horror of cats forces himself to pick up a cat for some good reason, it is quite possible that in God's eyes he has shown more courage than a healthy man may have shown in winning the V.C. [Victorian Cross... similar to a Congressional Medal of Honor.] When a man who has been perverted from his youth and taught that cruelty is the right thing, does some tiny little kindness, or refrains from some cruelty he might have committed, and thereby, perhaps, risks being sneered at by his companions, he may, in God's eyes, be doing more than you and I would do if we gave up life itself for a friend.

It is as well to put this the other way around. Some of us who seem quite nice people may in fact have made so little use of a good heredity and a good upbringing that we really are worse than those whom we regard as fiends. Can we be quite certain how we should have behaved if we had been saddled with the psychological outfit, and then the bad upbringing, and then with the power, say, of Himmler [the man who controlled the SS and Gestapo during Nazi reign]? That is why Christians are told not to judge. We see only the results which a man's choices make out of his raw material. But God does not judge him on the raw material at all, but on what he has done with it. Most of the man's psychological makeup is probably due to his body: when his body dies all that will fall off him, and the real central man, the thing that chose, that made the best or the worst out of this material, will stand naked. All sorts of nice things which we thought our own, but which were really due to a good digestion, will fall off some of us : all sorts of nasty things which were due to complexes or bad health will fall off others. We shall then, for the first time, see every one as he really was. There will be surprises."

4 comments:

ur lone star wannabe lover said...

I really like this quote/idea.

agirlwho said...

That seems refreshing and frightening at the same time. It makes me wonder if I am doing enough with the tendencies for good that I already have and if I am stretching myself enough to reach out beyond my normal capacities. I will be glad when I am stripped of all the earthly concerns and troubles that I have, but I want to make sure that I am not found lacking. Thanks for posting that. :)

Kengo Biddles said...

Thanks for this post!

jimf said...

> "Most of the man's psychological makeup is probably due
> to his body: when his body dies all that will fall off him,
> and the real central man, the thing that chose, that made the
> best or the worst out of this material, will stand naked.
> All sorts of nice things which we thought our own, but
> which were really due to a good digestion, will fall off
> some of us : all sorts of nasty things which were due to
> complexes or bad health will fall off others."

Well, this is one of the central questions that must be answered
for oneself if one ever faces up to the task of deciding,
using one's **adult** faculties, whether to continue with the
family-inculcated beliefs in a religious tradition (especially
the Western Judeo-Christian tradition, whose latest offspring
include Islam and Mormonism).

As much as I love this C. S. Lewis description of the
uncovering of the "eternal man", my own intellectual processes
have led me to cast my lot in with Bertrand Russell (1959):

WOODROW WYATT: Have you ever had religious impulses, Lord Russell?

BERTRAND RUSSELL: Oh, yes! When I was adolescent, I was **deeply**
religious. I was more interested in religion than in
anything else except, perhaps, mathematics. And, uh,
being interested in religion led me -- which it doesn't
seem often to do! -- to look into the question whether
there was reason to believe it. I took up three questions.
It seemed to me that God, and immortality, and free will
were the three most essential questions. And I examined
these one by one, in the reverse order, beginning with
free will. And, uh, gradually, I came to the conclusion
that there was **no** reason to believe **any** of these.
And, uh, after that, I thought I was going to be very
disappointed, but oddly enough I wasn't.

WYATT: But how did you come to convince yourself there's
no reason to believe in any of these three things?

RUSSELL: . . . About immortality, well, it seemed
to me quite clear that, uh, the relation of body and
mind, whatever it may be, is much more **intimate** than
is commonly supposed, and uh, that there's **no**
reason to think that a mind persists when a brain decays.

. . .

WYATT: Do you think that you and I are going to be
just snuffed out completely when we die?

RUSSELL: Certainly, yes, I don't see why... what...
I mean, I know that the body disintegrates, and I
think that there's no reason **whatever** to suppose
that the mind goes on when the body is disintegrated.