Exclusivism, brokenness, and good health

Exclusivism, brokenness, and good health January 8, 2024


At Magdalene College, Cambridge
Magdalene Bridge and College, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom (Wikimedia Commons photograph by Simon Palmer)
Relatively late in his teaching career, C. S. Lewis left Magdalen College, Oxford, and took a professorship in this college, Magdalene College, in the University of Cambridge. Both are roughly a couple of hours outside of London, albeit in quite different directions.

As I say, I re-read C. S. Lewis’s book Mere Christianity on the flight over.  It has been a fair while since I’ve read that particular book, and here are a couple of the many passages that struck me.  I supply no page references both because there are multiple editions and because I was reading it on my iPad:

I have been asked to tell you what Christians believe, and I am going to begin by telling you one thing that Christians do not need to believe.  If you are a Christian you do not have to believe that all the other religions are simply wrong all through.  If you are an atheist you do have to believe that the main point in all the religions of the whole world is simply one huge mistake.  If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all those religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth.  When I was an atheist I had to try to persuade myself that most of the human race have always been wrong about the question that mattered to them most; when I became a Christian I was able to take a more liberal view.  But, of course, being a Christian does mean thinking that where Christianity differs from other religions, Christianity is right and they are wrong..  As in arithmetic – there is only one right answer to a sum, and all other answers are wrong; but some of the wrong answers are much nearer being right than others.

The first big division of humanity is into the majority, who believe in some kind of God or gods, and the minority who do not.  On this point, Christianity lines up with the majority – lines up with ancient Greeks and Romans, modern savages, Stoics, Platonists, Hindus, Mohammedans, etc., against the modern Western European materialists. (C. S. Lewis, “The Rival Conceptions of God,” in Mere Christianity)

And this, from a few pages later:

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust.  But how had I got this idea of just and unjust?  A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.  What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?  If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it?  A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal; a fish would not feel wet.  Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own.  But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too – for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies.  Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist – in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless – I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality – namely my idea of justice – was full of sense.  Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple.  If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creature with eyes, we should never know it was dark.  Dark would be a word without meaning.  (C. S. Lewis, “The Rival Conceptions of God,” in Mere Christianity)

High Street and Magdalen Tower
Magdalen Tower, from High Street
Magdalen College, Oxford, where C. S. Lewis spent much of his academic career, was founded in 1458.
(Wikimedia Commons public domain image)

But now — partly adhering, though not by design, to a celebration of British authors — I serve up something from the Christopher Hitchens Memorial “How Religion Poisons Everything” File™, which never fails in its steady stream of horrors visited upon innocent humanity:

Michael W. Parker, DSW; W. A. Achenbaum, PhD; Walter L. Larimore, MD, and Harold G. Koenig, MD, “Rowe and Kahn’s Model of Successful Aging Revisited: Positive Spirituality—The Forgotten Factor,” The Gerontologist 42/5 (2002), 613–620.  At the time of this article’s publication, the authors were affiliated, respectively, with the Department of Psychology, The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa; the Department of Social Work, The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa; the College of Humanities, Fine Arts and Communication, The University of Houston, Texas; Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs, Colorado; and Duke University Medical Center and GRECC, VA Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina:

Purpose: We explain a new concept, positive spirituality,and offer evidence that links positive spirituality with health; describe effective partnerships between health professionals and religious communities; and summarize the information as a basis for strengthening the existing successful aging model proposed by Rowe and Kahn.Design and Methods:  A missing component to Rowe and Kahn’s three-factor model of successful aging is identified, and we propose strengthening the model with a fourth factor, positive spirituality.Results: We developed an enhanced model of successful aging based on Rowe and Kahn’s theoretical framework. Evidence presented suggests that the addition of spirituality to interventions focused on health promotion has been received positively by older adults.Implications:Leaders in gerontology often fail to incorporate the growing body of scientific evidence regarding health, aging, and spirituality into their conceptual models to promote successful aging. The proposed enhancement of Rowe and Kahn’s model will help health professionals, religious organizations, and governmental agencies work collaboratively to promote wellness among older adults.

In other words, the authors argue that religion and spirituality are good for the health of older people — a group in whom, by the way, and rather curiously and for no obvious reason, I seem to take an ever-growing interest.

Posted from London, England



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