Friday, November 5, 2010

Reflective Reviews: John Beversluis' "C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion," Part 3

Having found it necessary to douse a certain upstart fire this morning – metaphorically speaking – today’s entry shall be shorter than planned, and the series may extend into the middle of next week.

We pick up where Beversluis tackles Lewis for his evaluations as a literary specialist. Lewis, as a seasoned expert in literature, had properly rebuked Biblical scholars for designating the Gospels as myth or legend, pointing out that as one who had himself read countless myths and legends, he was well acquainted with them and knew that the Gospels were not of that genre.

Beversluis disdainfully dismisses this as a “question based on the false assumption that wide reading in a particular genre necessarily makes one’s judgment more reliable than narrow intensive reading in the same genre.” [121] The assumption, however, is not to be deemed so recklessly false on such short notice: It is based on the principle, indisputable, that more experience generally trumps lesser experience.

This may beg exceptions, of course, which is what is being done here: In essence, Beversluis is arguing that perhaps some Biblical scholars achieved sensitivity equal to or greater than Lewis’ in a shorter period of time, and with a less generous data set. But that in itself is an assumption that requires proving by Beversluis, not merely assertion; indeed, it requires a heavier burden of proof, since Beverlsuis himself is not an expert in myths and legends. His objection here is merely a posture.

In any event, this ignores the more “rigorous” study done since and apart from Lewis, which designates the Gospels in the genre of Greco-Roman bioi. There is no authorial intent of myth or legend. Designating them as such is based, in general, on their reporting of events that critics personally find incredible, which is merely Hume’s defeated premises all over again.

Hereafter, Beversluis egregiously nitpicks a generalization of Lewis on “liberal” Biblical scholarship, which he supposes Lewis seldom or never read. He goes as far as to take Lewis’ “all” description of such theology with highly fundamentalist intent, as though Lewis were claiming to have done an exhaustive survey of every single liberal. In all this, Beversluis is again unfairly demanding of a popularizer the precision of a scholar.

All that said, though, in the end the problem with Lewis is not that he generalized, but that he was not right enough. Despite Beversluis’ bewilderment that Lewis thought to dismiss “the life’s work of a great New Testament scholar like Bultmann” with a citation of John 8:8, it remains that Bultmann’s work has been discovered as highly anachronistic by further and more sophisticated scholarship, and he is no longer regarded as an authoritative voice, save my those on the fringe of lunacy in scholarship themselves (eg, Robert Price). See more on this here.

A section follows in which Beversluis takes particular pains to rebut Lewis’ arguments regarding how Jesus’ profession to forgive sins indicates his divinity. I will say here that I think Lewis offered too heavy a concentration of the relevant passages. Although I agree they offer strong indications that Jesus harbored a divine self-identity (see here) there are much more direct claims that would have provided better argumentation.

That said, Beversluis is not immune from criticism for his own rebuttal. He pinions Lewis for saying that in these passages, Jesus “unhesitatingly” behaved as if he were the offended party. Beversluis appeals to the reputedly “fragmentary, episodic,” [123] etc. nature of the Gospels – repeating his prior arguments in summary, which we have shown to be lacking – as a reason why Lewis could not possibly know that Jesus behaved in an “unhesitating” way.

The appeal to the condition of the Gospels is mere rhetoric. Beyond that, though Lewis might not be expected to know this, the claim of honor implied by Jesus in these passages does indicate a serious lack of hesitation and a bold confidence: To have made such a claim before a crowd, which would stand ready to challenge (as they did) any exceptional claim of honor, would have required either the boldness of certainty or the insanity of one so certified -- or else a serious death wish.

As a bonus, Beversluis also fails to understand how Jesus was acting as the offended party; see the link some explanation. He further fails in wondering how this interpretation of Jesus’ actions could be right, if he also gave his disciples the power to forgive sins. [124] The answer would be quite obvious to one schooled in the social strictures of the period: Jesus is thus acting as an authorized broker of forgiveness, able to delegate the privilege of forgiving sins to others. It is merely a further example of Jesus asserting his divine prerogative. Beversluis speculates that perhaps Jesus too believed he had been delegated to forgive sin, but in so doing he merely adds what he wants to the story in order to reach a desired conclusion.

Too much is made in what follows of Lewis’ popular rhetorical expression; let us get to the meat of the matter, to the point where Beversluis objects to Lewis’ inability to effect a “clinical diagnosis.” I need say little but this article, in which I discuss that very thing -- also, in a supplement to the article, in which I discuss such suggestions as paraphrenia. If Beversluis wishes to deal with something on the order of “expert psychiatric opinions,” [126] here is his opportunity, for I have used such experts as sources in my study (and which he would find much more detailed than what he finds in Kreeft and Tacelli).

In close for today, I would remark upon an opinion Beversluis solicited from a psychiatrist [127]. It offers the highly decontextualized suggestion that Jesus’ claims of divinity reflected some mystical sense of the “divine within him” in the same sense that being divine is “open to all of us…” In essence, this psychiatrist has suggested that Jesus believed something akin to pantheism, which is historically nonsensical, and requires a great deal more to be proven (eg, that such thought lines existed or emerged in monolatrous Jewish Palestine, and would earn any sort of following).

In our next entry, we will discuss Beversluis’ efforts to suggest that Jesus was indeed mentally ill, which will offer some refreshing humor.

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