Why C.S. Lewis was wrong about ‘sixpence none the richer’

I’m an admirer of C.S. Lewis, who has given me plenty of delight and insight over the years. And I’m also a fan of the band Sixpence None the Richer (if you only know them from “Kiss Me,” you’re missing out). But I’ve come to dislike the nexus of the two — the Lewis analogy from which the band took its name.

Here’s the passage in question, from Lewis’ Mere Christianity:

Every faculty you have, your power of thinking or of moving your limbs from moment to moment, is given to 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 his 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. …

That’s a charming illustration, and it’s partly true — which is to say it’s also partly not true.

The problem can be seen once Lewis moves from the fuzzy generality of “giving anything to God” to the specific analogy of the child’s sixpence. What would it mean, actually, to try to give sixpence to God?

I don’t mean a figurative or an allegorical sixpence here, with the coins symbolizing good works or our attempts at righteousness or some other such abstraction. I mean the actual sum of sixpence in cash money.

Would would it mean, concretely, to give money directly to God?

Well, there’s the offering plate, for one thing. Many churches speak of giving our gifts to God when they pass that plate, and one never gets the sense that those churches collecting those offerings consider themselves “none the richer” for having received them. The truth is that they need that money, even if it’s only sixpence. The roof leaks, the boiler isn’t getting any younger, and if there’s any left over after that there’s also some ministry type stuff that needs doing.

But putting money into the offering plate really isn’t the same as giving the money directly to God. You’re giving that money to the church, and to say that’s the same thing might again be partly true, but partly not.

According to the Bible, though, it is possible to give money directly to God. This is something that’s mentioned — commanded, actually — in every part of the scriptures, in the law, the prophets, the wisdom literature, the Gospels and the epistles. Whoever gives to the poor lends to God, Proverbs says. “Just as you did it to one of the least of these,” Jesus said, “you did it to me.”

We can give our sixpence directly to God by giving our sixpence to the poor.

Lewis seems to have forgotten that here. (He often seems to have forgotten that, as the poor don’t show up a whole lot in his writing — certainly not with the frequency and priority that they do in the Bible.)

And when we give that sixpence to the poor only an idiot would try to argue that the poor are not sixpence to the good on the transaction. They need that money. That’s what being poor means.

What that suggests, of course, is that God needs your contribution — whether it be sixpence or five loaves and two fishes. It means that God, right now, is suffering for the lack of it. And it means that God, upon receiving it, will be sixpence to the good on the transaction.

 

  • http://www.facebook.com/EarBucket David Coulter

    Lewis also seems to ignore the story of the widow’s offering in Mark 12, where Jesus suggests that in the right context, God greatly values an offering of two cents, let alone six.

  • Lbibill

    I suspect that part of my resistance to this whole discussion is that, to me (and YMMV) C. S. Lewis took on the role of a repentant apologist.  I have one heck of a lot of trouble with most of his convoluted prose, which seems to tiptoe around some fairly simple issues.  As Peter Rollins puts it, so very elegantly “To believe is human, to question, Divine!”. 

     Universal Abundance “senses” the use of our gifts of whatever sort–song, carpentry, sculpture, coin of the realm, poetry, leading a discussion of the meaning of Borg/Crossan’s book “The First Christmas”, serving in a lay leadership role-as furthering missionally the Work and the Word.  Bringing it down to an accounting proposition debases the entire proposition.  The offering/tithe is important, I understand that.  All is important.  And all should be considered in the equation..

  • Tofu_Killer

    This also raises a question about the opposite condition.
    Is it possible to run a deficit of devotion? Can you steal from God?
    Lewis pretty clearly says no, but you seem to imply it is a possibility. Does not giving to the poor count as theft? I would like to think so.

  • DStecks

    I don’t think this discussion needs to be a referendum on C.S. Lewis, which is unfortunate, since that seems to be what happens every time he’s brought up here.

  • AndrewSshi

    I’m not sure that I agree with Fred on the lack of the poor in CSL’s writing. He wrote in a few places that our eventual salvation or damnation probably hinges on what we do on the part of the poor based on the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25.

  • Robyrt

    I think you missed Lewis’ point here. He’s talking about whether your gifts to God, financial or otherwise, materially enrich him in some way, not about whether the immediate recipient (the church, the poor, etc.) need the money. The question is whether God behaves like a fantasy novel deity, who needs the prayers and contributions of the faithful to sustain his life force, whose power on earth is limited to the reach of his followers. The answer to that one, of course, is no; God directs us to give to the poor primarily for the benefit of both parties, not because he has some cosmic need to check enough good deeds boxes.

  • MaryKaye

    Just about all pagan gods, and Yahweh in the Old Testament, like offerings.  At the temple of Kuan Yin in Honolulu I saw a sign explaining that, as the goddess of mercy, Kuan Yin should be given fruit but not meat or cut flowers.  When Jesus was presented to the temple as an infant his parents offered up two turtledoves.

    Sometimes the offerings go to enrich the temple as well, but not always–in my flavor of paganism we burn them or cast them away or put them out for wild animals, and money raised to pay for ritual supplies and so forth is not considered an offering.  (Also money raised for the poor tends not to be thought of as an offering–just a good deed.)

    I guess there are as many pagan interpretations of offerings as there are pagans.  Probably quite a few Christian ones, too, including “God doesn’t do that any more because Jesus is the one and only offering.”

    I don’t care for the Lewis quote, as I don’t care for a lot of Christian writing that works from the assumption that God is omnipotent and immovable.  The bits of Christian scripture that seem most powerful to me as a pagan are the ones that show God as vulnerable, as learning, growing, caring, risking, making sacrifices.  If your good works are literally nothing to God, it seems easy to slip into what I see as a morally sterile “I do them to earn rewards or escape punishment.”  Yet if God in fact lets mortal evil exist so that human beings can strive against it, abdicating the power to zap everyone and everything, then the sixpence *does* matter directly–if spent on things of this world, to make them better.  (I don’t know what that particular god wants, or wanted, with offerings.  Maybe someone else has a theory?)

  • http://www.facebook.com/ben.mccall.77 Ben McCall

    To say that Lewis is wrong, based on how you interpret what he said, is a thin argument at best.  The base line of his statement is that all things come from God (All things come of thee O Lord, and of thine own have we given thee)  and thus our giving something to God is not a “gift” from us, but  proper stewardship of the gifts that we have received.    In this context, Toffu_killer is probably the closest in saying that if we don’t give to the poor, we are stealing (misusing).    Giving to the poor should not bring glory to us, but should show our faith in God.

  • Fusina

    When you do it to the least of these, you do it unto me.

    Which I take to mean, God is in every one of us, and anytime we do something good for someone, it is like we do it to god. Including yourself.

    I just like making the world that infinitesimal bit happier. I am learning not to beat myself up over my failures, and also to own my success. In the grand scheme of things, I’m not famous, I’m not rich, I don’t have my own reality show (thank the gods that be)–basically, I’m nothing. But at the same time, I’m everything. And so is everyone else. Even the various Ms. Kardashians, To go back to Lewis, I have always and will always love the bit where he talks about being a “child of Adam” being enough to bow the head of the greatest king to earth and to raise the lowliest beggar to stand (total paraphrase there). To treat others as if they mean something–what I believe they mean to God–that to me is what Christianity is about.

    Well, that is enough for now. Thanks for listening.

  • http://www.blogger.com/home?pli=1 Coleslaw

    The problem can be seen once Lewis moves from the fuzzy generality of “giving anything to God” to the specific analogy of the child’s sixpence. What would it mean, actually, to try to give sixpence to God?

    I don’t mean a figurative or an allegorical sixpence here, with the coins symbolizing good works or our attempts at righteousness or some other such abstraction. I mean the actual sum of sixpence in cash money.

    That isn’t exactly what happens in the Lewis analogy, though. The child doesn’t turn around and give an actual sum of sixpence in cash back to hir father. Zie goes out and buys a gift with it, which in an ideal situation means zie spends time looking for a gift, and imagination in thinking of what hir father might like, and resists the temptation to spend the money on hirself. To most parents, that is a precious gift, irrespective of what the child actually comes up with for the money. Of course, God may well be more finicky than human parents.

    I remember the first present my son gave me that he shopped for completely on his own. He saved up from his allowance, rode his bike to the Hallmark gift store that used to be a few blocks from us, and bought me a mug with sayings about mothers on it. Yes, it’s true I gave him the allowance to begin with, but I felt a whole lot richer for the experience, even after one of my little clients broke the mug.

  • Ian

    Take your coins and throw them straight up as hard as you possibly can.  Any coins you can’t locate afterwards were presumably acceptable to God.

  • Deborah Moore

    This is a common failing I have noticed in many conservatives (Christian or secular).  They assume that charitable giving is entirely about the giver and seem to erase the recipient from the picture altogether.

  • http://www.facebook.com/john10423 John Gragson

    I don’t think the “widow’s mite” is a relevant comparison here.  The widow’s two cents were worth so much, because that was all she had.  That is the only “context” there is to that story to me.  I’ve heard apologies for suggesting that Christians should give “efficiently”, and I’m sure trying to to the most good with any given sum is a good idea–but if you give efficiently so as you can give less, I think you’re still doing it wrong.

  • Tehanu

     Yes, although I too am a lifelong CSL fan, this particular analogy falls flat for me.  Of course, he had no children of his own (his stepsons came along later) so he had no idea of the rewards of seeing children learn about giving.  In fact, calling the situation a “transaction” is exactly what’s wrong with his thinking here.  Anyway, your comment is right on, excuse the expression, the money.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ericrboersma Eric Boersma

    The danger with a “stealing from God” theology here is that it would seem to lead directly to a path of legalism. What’s the right amount to give to God? 10%? 15%? 100%? If that’s the case, then the only moral economic system from a Christian perspective is Communism.

    I don’t like the concept of stealing from God because it leads down some pretty dark paths.

  • http://www.facebook.com/john10423 John Gragson

    That is exactly right.  We don’t “earn” salvation by doing good deeds, and no “offering” is sufficient in itself.  Of course, some Christians tend to forget that “faith without works is dead” also (or more properly, hypocrisy).  We are to give to the poor because we are to love them.  We are to give to the church because we love it.

  • Münchner Kindl

    That’s a charming illustration, and it’s partly true — which is to say it’s also partly not true.

    I think this illustration falls flat on several levels.

    1. It starts out with the proposition that every human is given his life and all his talents from God.
    Non-Christians will not agree with that.
    A lot of Christians will accept that the seed of talents may be from God, but the hard work to develop that talent is their own.

    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

    And as Coleslaw illustrated within in the context of the example, the child gives back something else than the sixpence. A person born with the great gift of oratory, who works to become a missionary; a person who’s a good listener and becomes a pastoral worker or social worker; a person with patience and observation who becomes a teacher: they all transform and increase their talents (like the servants in the parable about investing their talents).

    2. It then stipulates that because God has given you the gifts, you are required and obligated to give back every minute in service to him. (I may be wrong in Lewis intention here, because he starts with “If” and I don’t have the rest of the essay for context).

    This, again, non-Christians will not agree on, and many Christians will point out that God gave us free will explictly because he values devotion made from free will more than robotic service. (He could have made people like Angels, automatically singing praise all day, but he didn’t).

    So if we decide that we must give every hour of our day back to God because he gave them to us in the first place, we are misunderstanding God seriously.

    This works with the example because a human child must learn to develop free will, responsibility, care, how to express love for somebody else etc.

    Also, humans are not made for 100% of anything. We are developed with mortal bodies and the mind of monkeys. Demanding service and devotion every waking minute is impossible.

    3. Apart from the transforming nature of the child in the example, there’s also the practical aspect: children (Lewis talks of a child, so I assume it’s younger than teen) have no other source of income than their allowance. If Lewis had talked about a teen mowing lawns to earn money from another source to buy a gift, the whole example would fall apart anyway. But a six-year-old can’t get money elsewhere. (Though if it’s a gift for father, he can ask mother and vice versa, if we stick with the old-fashioned father God)*

    *The child could also craft something, but the materials are still provided by the parents.

    4. Fred of course wants to point out the poor. But the traditional way to give to God, whether in the Hebrew Bible or other religions, is sacrifice. The interesting part is the way things are sacrificed: in some religions, things have to be destroyed, by burning or similar, so nobody profits from them.
    In many other religions (often correlating with the richness of geographic origin), it would be a sin to waste food or flowers or anything, so the sacrifice is made by sharing food with the priests / the community of believers/ the poor. (Judaism does both – burnt offerings and eaten offerings).

    This would mean that the child could take the six pence and destroy them, or buy a hot-dog for a hungry person/ a priest.

  • http://www.facebook.com/robtish Rob Tisinai

    Lewis got the analogy wrong. It’s not like a kid asking his father for sixpence so he can buy Dad a gift. It’s more like Dad saying, “Here’s sixpence, do whatever you like with it,” and the boy choosing to buy his father a gift instead of getting himself candy or a toy.

    That’s a big difference (and I bet the Dads here would back me up).

  • http://www.facebook.com/sara.rosenbaum.35 Sara Rosenbaum

    ugh. What CS doesn’t realize here is that the father will prize the gift bought with his own money (let’s say it’s a mug) far more than he did the original sixpence; in fact, if you were to take the mug from him and ransom it back, he would probably  pay much more for it than it was worth. He would be sure to take it with him if he moves house, and if it breaks he won’t say, “oh well, it’s only worth sixpence.” He’ll say “that was my  favorite mug; my child gave that mug to me.” It becomes not an object but a treasure. The story here is the story of the Fisher King, the story of the object given incalculable worth by becoming a gift, becoming a vessel of generosity and love.

    So I think the analogy is correct, but the interpretation CS gives to it is incorrect. If you believe that God gives us our talents, then he can only be hugely thrilled and pleased to receive the gift we make of them in return.

    This is pretty much in line with Jewish thinking. There’s the old story of the Rabbis arguing a point of the holy law, and one of them successfully demolishes it; and a voice is heard in heaven, gleefully delighted: “my children have defeated me! my children have defeated me!”

  • Worthless Beast

    I actually do have ideas on that… though I’m not sure they count since I’m nobody important and though a believer, not the “best” since I’m sort of independant-non-churched these days, and most of my ideas about anything come across as the ideas of a wannabe fantasy/sci fi writer…

    I tend to see, these days, the sacrificial offerings of the Old Testament and so forth as God pulling ye olde “a form you are comfortable with” stuff.  There’s another Christian blogger I read sometimes (not on Patheos), who likes to talk about how he thinks parts of the OT are done by an unreliable narrator and how a lot of it that we do know is confirmed by history can be explained by historyconfirming the times and places being rather brutal.  He even seems to imply (the way I’ve read his posts) that people may have litereally not been as empathetic back then as we are now. (It would make sense for our brains to evolve more empathy as societies got bigger, right)? As far as animal sacrifices go, people did live in a brutal world where blood (life) was given for life as just everyday survival, let alone religion.  People in the area back then gave both animal and human sacrifices and for Jewish God at the time to say “no” to the human sacrifices was probably flabberghasting enough – people back then probably couldn’t accept a diety that didn’t demand something. 

    I also read something on Cracked a while back about how ancient religious rituals may have saved humanity - something like that – and the “breeding animals to create the perfect sacrificial offering” is theorized by some to have given rise to animal husbandry and a basic understanding of genetics. When people knew traits to breed away from, it helped them improve their stock overall.  Too lazy to find the article since I think people here have probably already read it, since it’s Cracked.

  • flat

    A Lewis discussion on slacktivist, how wonderful.

    I had to think about an episode of futurama where bender has an discussion with God or a satelite.

    And God/satelite tells him that: when you have done something right people aren’t sure you have done anything at all.

  • Lliira

     only an idiot would think that the father is sixpence to the good on the transaction

    Only a complete fool would tot up interactions between child and parent in terms of monetary considerations. Gifts in general are not about “worth” in the fiscal sense, nor are they about what is “nice and proper”. Lewis was not always a complete fool, but he often was, and this is one case in which he was as much as fool as Ayn Rand at her worst.

  • Michele Cox

    If I were to give a dollar to my niece and she went out and bought me a present with that dollar, I would be *immeasruably* to the good from the transaction, and that present would have so much greater a value than the dollar I gave her that it cannot *even* be calculated.  Just sayin’.

  • TheDarkArtist

    That’s exactly what I was thinking. That’s the entire reason that (in my experience) parents who are lucky enough to be able to give their children money to buy Christmas presents do so.

    It’s not like kids have to be taught that you buy people presents on Christmas, you do it because then they give or make you something that’s priceless.

  • The_L1985

    I think Moses heard that joke, it’s such an old one. :)

  • http://blog.trenchcoatsoft.com Ross

     

    ugh. What CS doesn’t realize here is that the father will prize the gift
    bought with his own money (let’s say it’s a mug) far more than he did
    the original sixpence; in fact, if you were to take the mug from him and
    ransom it back, he would probably  pay much more for it than it was
    worth. He would be sure to take it with him if he moves house, and if it
    breaks he won’t say, “oh well, it’s only worth sixpence.” He’ll say
    “that was my  favorite mug; my child gave that mug to me.” It becomes
    not an object but a treasure. The story here is the story of the Fisher
    King, the story of the object given incalculable worth by becoming a
    gift, becoming a vessel of generosity and love.

    I suspect that CS got that and it was part of his point; he’s saying that the value the father places in the gift is not a function of material gain — he gives the sixpence and he values the gift, just not because he has made a financial profit on it.

    Except that what CS Lewis seems to have forgotten here is how money works.  Because “you give someone money and in return you get a thing which you value more than you valued the money” is how money works It’s a machine where you pass value around in a circle to make it grow. In this regard, there’s actually nothing different between a father giving his kid sixpence to buy him a present and an investor giving businessman a million dollars to build him a business.

  • stardreamer42

    You are correct, but there are parents who do exactly that, and then use it as a lever over their (adult) children. I am involved with an informal support group for people with dysfunctional families, and this is one of the things that comes up… not frequently or regularly, but it’s far from unheard-of.

  • Keulan

     My problem with this passage by C.S. Lewis is the first sentence of it. “Every faculty you have, your power of thinking or of moving your limbs from moment to moment, is given to you by God.” I’m an atheist, so I don’t think any of my faculties came from any gods.

    I also agree with what several others on this thread have said, that most parents value a child’s present much more than the money they gave their child to buy it.

  • http://apocalypsereview.wordpress.com/ Invisible Neutrino

    I can attest to this. Some of the most rankling memories I have of my teenage years have been arguments about how much control over the purse strings translates into control over other aspects of my life.

    Also, parenthetically, Tim LaHaye likes writing parents who act like that.

  • Rebecca

     I mean, yes, obviously arguments about what God says one should do are unconvincing to atheists, and arguments about what Jesus says one should do are unconvincing to Jews. I don’t think this is a point against the post.

  • Münchner Kindl

    I thought of another aspect. Not only is the example limited to those children who still depend on their money from their parents, unlike teens who can earn their own money (invalidating the example); it also assumes an old-fashioned or bad parenting practice.

    A good parent gives the child, usually when starting school at age 6, a weekly (later monthly) allowance. (Not fixed to good behaviour or doing chores). Why? In order that kids can learn how to deal with money. They can squander it on sweets the first day, or save up for a comic book after several weeks. Kids need to learn how to use their free will.
    If a kid then saves (all or part) of their weekly allowance for several weeks to buy a gift, this is quite different from walking up to Father and saying “I need six pence for a gift”. It shows that the kid values the gift and the receipent more than immediate pleasure from buying things they like (sweets or similar). It shows that the kid can wait and use self-control.

    Lewis example also doesn’t work in cases where small children craft a gift – common because small kids don’t have money (and because of the often-heard phrase that parents like something done with the own hands more than a simple store-bought gift, although this is complicated and not always true.)

  • http://www.nicolejleboeuf.com/index.php Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

    My problem with this passage by C.S. Lewis is the first sentence of it.
    “Every faculty you have, your power of thinking or of moving your limbs from moment to moment, is given to you by God.” I’m an atheist, so I don’t think any of my faculties came from any gods.

    Which is great, but, what does this have to do with Fred’s point? What does pointing out this obvious thing even add to the conversation?

    Seriously, does every single time Fred posts a piece about theological considerations, does someone have to show up and say “Of course, since I’m an atheist, the whole thing falls flat on the God-as-real/Bible-as-authority” premise”? What point does this serve? What argument does it answer?

    When Fred writes an essay about some theology and Biblical scripture, he’s not actually out to convert atheists. That atheists don’t view the Bible as authoritative or God as extant is kind of a given.

    Maybe the point is “Ha ha, look at the silly Christians splitting hairs about the nonsense they believe in. Boy is it easier being me than you!” But that would make the atheist in question look like a jerk.

    Shorter me: “Yes, I’m sure that simplifies life for you. But it also rather means this conversation isn’t about you.

  • Münchner Kindl

    It shows Lewis bad argument skills. You can make a case for giving service to God (esp. in the version that Jesus = poor) without the assumption that everything comes from God, e.g. because it’s decent to help people. Even non-Christians can get behind the latter.

    Esp. since that assumption is very problematic once continued: if God gave you your gifts, did he also give you your faults, or is somebody else (Satan?) responsible for them? Why did he give you those faults?
    People don’t develop in a vacuum, but have personal stories, often with bad experiences shaping them. If you suggest that every suffering is sent from God in order to make you grow, you very quickly get into callous theology where suffering is necessary and should not be alleviated (some people misunderstand karmic theology and rebirth, saying that the poor serve as receipents of mercy of the givers, but should not be permanently rescued).

    The concept of an all-powerful (= able to interfere), all-knowing (= interfering with small stuff on an individual level) and benevolent (= caring enough to interfere) God has been a problem since antiquity, but because it’s such a problem, post-Auschwitz many people stopped believing in a God who intereferes with miracles (or divine wrath).

    But if God doesn’t interfere in big ways, it’s hard to justify giving him credit for small stuff, either. Is it God who allocates how long you live, down to the second? Given modern medicine, this is iffy. (Does this mean you should not be rescutated, because God meant your life to end at this minute – or should you be rescuitated, because God counted on modern medicine and has granted you another five years?)

    Similar for talents: if you are not a particular gifted individual – neither sportsman, nor writer/ painter etc. nor socially gifted – but, like 80 -90% of the population, average about your talents, and neither passionately about an interest (to make up with brute work what talents short-cut), then which area are you supposed to go with your god-given gifts? God didn’t give you a manual for your life (besides  being nice), yet he has some kind of plan? That’s cruel.

  • e.domeshek

    I both love and dislike C.S. Lewis in equal measure–love him for Narnia and dislike him for his creepy, omniscient and omnipotent g-d who seems beyond taking real pleasure and delight in the vagaries of his children. But I’m surprised no one has challenged his ridiculous parable with Jesus’s own parable–the prodigal son.  That’s basically the same, exact, case. The father has several sons each of whom takes everything he has given them and uses it either to support the father (giving him the sixpence) or takes the sixpence and goes out and squanders it in the wide world.  The sons who stay behind are outraged when the one who left, who squandered his sixpence, is given another and a hero’s welcome (the fatted calf).  

    The post Jesus g-d is definitively one who can suffer a loss–unlike C.S. Lewis’s smug owner of all he surveys and owner of all that is Jesus’s g-d can lose a follower, suffers with the sufferers, rejoices with those who recieve something from others.  Its like Lewis never considered St. Theresa “No hands but yours…”In Lewis’s reading somehow the world a place in which the unbounded and undifferentiated dominance of g-d means that g-d always wins–everything is his. But that’s not true. In the Jewish tradition that is specifically not true since in order to create the world as we know it g-d had to withdraw a little bit into himself to leave a space of play for the universe/world/humanity to flourish.  In that hollow space there is lots of free will, lots of suffering, lots of sharing, lots of love, lots of everything that is not fully willed by or controlled by g-d. What we do in that sphere can redound to his credit, or shame and hurt him because of g-d’s feelings about us and what we do. Most of all: what we choose to do matters.  The image of g-d “not a sixpence the better” for the gift from us of our talents and our love is just bizarre, to me. It flies in the face of everything we know about both the Jewish and the Christian g-ds.

    aimai

  • Original Lee

    I think Lewis is trying to do at least two things with this analogy.  The first is arguing on a purely material basis: something bought with sixpence is superficially worth exactly sixpence, so of course the father isn’t going to be tuppence richer at the end of the transaction.  The second is about free will and (I think possibly also) salvation by works.  His argument is that it is impossible to pay God back for everything He’s done for us, and nothing we do will make God any more than He already is.  When we do stuff for Him or for others in His name, the addition, intangible, not-on-the-balance-sheet part of it is our love and gratitude.  Like the Visa ads say …. priceless.

  • Greenygal

    It shows Lewis bad argument skills. You can make a case for giving service to God (esp. in the version that Jesus = poor) without the assumption that everything comes from God, e.g. because it’s decent to help people. Even non-Christians can get behind the latter.

    But that’s not what Lewis is arguing here; he’s discussing the nature of Christianity, not trying to convince atheists to do things in the service of God.  The context of this writing is “Your relationship with God is not a business transaction.  You can’t do things for him and then expect him to do things for you because you have put him in your debt; it doesn’t work like that, so put the whole concept out of your head.”  I can’t tell from the text whether he’s using the metaphor of a child and a father advisedly, with the understanding that a child’s present to a parent brings the parent joy but does not make them financially richer; it’s not explicit if so.  But either way, the point of that passage is not that you should serve God; it’s that you can’t indebt him by doing so.

  • Lawrence LaPointe

    Lewis seems to have forgotten that here. (He often seems to have forgotten that, as the poor don’t show up a whole lot in his writing — certainly not with the frequency and priority that they do in the Bible.)

    Lewis didn’t blog this yesterday. It was written 1942-1944, when everybody was in the same boat called WWII. 
    Not like the inequality under today’s empire. 

  • stardreamer42

     Oh, that sort of thing is common; my parents did it with transportation (we lived out beyond where the bus lines ran, and in an area too hilly to bike easily). Anyone who had controlling or overprotective parents has had to deal with that in one form or another.

    What I’m talking about here are the parents who actually berate the child over how much they “owe” the parents for having provided food, shelter, clothing, and education, and use it as emotional blackmail over their adult children, sometimes well into middle age.

  • http://www.nicolejleboeuf.com/index.php Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little

     

    The context of this writing is “Your relationship with God is not a business transaction.

    Yes, precisely. Lewis is not trying to argue atheists into a relationship with God here. His intended audience, I’d argue, are people who already buy into the premise that a relationship with God is 1) possible, and 2) important. With those shared assumptions, even if only assumed for the sake of the discussion, it is possible to have a fruitful conversation about the nature of that relationship with God.

    But constantly popping up to deny those assumptions derails the conversation and pleases no one except trolls.

    I’m reminded of when I realized that every SINGLE time the local papers ran a feature story about local Pagan doings, the journalist always ran off to interview a nearby Christian church. For some reason a story about the Winter Solstice Open Circle and Yule Log Vigil (bring canned goods for donation if you want to skip the cash site fee!) wasn’t complete without asking a handy Methodist what he or she thought about all those witchcrafty doings over there.

    Of course, the handy Methodist could say several things. “I wish they could come to Jesus instead of consorting with Satan,” maybe, or “Well, it’s not my thing, but I am aware there are other religions in the world. So color me non-shocked.” So I guess this at least served the purpose of roughly estimating the social tolerance atmosphere. Slightly more useful after all than “In related news, local atheist would like to remind everyone that s/he thinks these sorts of conversations are a waste of space.”

  • Mark Z.

    Thank you. Someone needed to say this, and I’m glad it was you, because you say it very clearly.

  • Isabel C.

    Likewise.

    Y’all: when people are talking about what wine goes best with salmon, popping up entirely to say “Well, what about CHICKEN? HUH?” just makes you look like…dammit, what’s a sex-work-positive way to say “attention whore”? (“Drama queen” doesn’t quite have the same meanings.) Whatever that is. 

  • Mark Near

    You want to give in a way that benefits the one receiving. Most charity work these days is corrupting, and only about money. Our grandparents and their parents would look at that as a bad idea, rewarding indolence and shaming those who received. Read “The Tragedy of American Compassion”.

  • Alisa_V

    As I read that it’s a misunderstanding of a simple metaphor Lewis is employing. All the metaphor implies is that all you HAVE to give has been given to you by God. It does not deny that it is of value to offer BACK to him (through the poor etc), but it definitely refutes that the *genesis* of the ability to do so is other than from God. That to me seems like classic prideful reasoning.

    Mind you, I suspect Hegel would be with you on this – though I support the “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…” point…

  • Alisa_V

    ps: As Leigh Nash explains it smply in explaining the band’s name” It comes from a book by C. S. Lewis called Mere Christianity. A little boy asks his father if he can get a sixpence—a very small amount of English currency—to go and get a gift for his father. The father gladly accepts the gift and he’s really happy with it, but he also realizes that he’s not any richer for the transaction. C.S. Lewis was comparing that to his belief that God has given him, and us, the gifts that we possess, and to serve Him the way we should, we should do it humbly—realizing how we got the gifts in the first place”…

    The only way I see the Father being richer for the transaction is that the money’s been put to greater satisfaction than if the child had not used it (i.e. there’s pleasure in seeing the child’s use of it)[edit]

  • Alisa_V

    100%, well put. Tried to say that above, though less successfully.

  • CPD_1

    Exactly. God isn’t enriched by the gift, but he is overjoyed at us imitating him in gift giving, and in the good it does for those who receive the gift, and that is really the point Lewis makes. God doesn’t become more or less fiscally rich by our giving or not giving, but he does take joy in our giving anyway.

  • Jake

    Lewis gave away 4/5 of his income to the poor, and was know for emptying his pockets whenever he was asked for money. I may have the exact quote wrong, but I believe that when someone asked him if he was a fool for giving those who would only waste money his money he said, “I’d rather look like a sucker to many than reject just one angel.” Lewis was very devoted to the poor, and he showed it not just with words but with actions. This reflection therefore, seems a little unfair to him, as little work was actually done in finding out who he was.


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