The four men that have impacted my thinking and my faith the most throughout my life and what I learned from each one.
It all started with a tattered copy of the Chronicles of Narnia handed down from my older siblings when I was about 8 and I was hooked.
I spent all my free time for the next few months completely absorbed in this alternate universe called Narnia. Later, my love of Narnia led me to other Lewis books looking for more of the same – ‘Till we all have Faces’, his science fiction trilogy and then his philosophical / theological works. ‘God in the Dock’, ‘The Four Loves’, ‘Mere Christianity’…
I would stay up late devouring whatever I could find of his, not understanding half of it but wishing I did. I still remember the feelings I had while reading ‘The Voyage of the Dawn Treader’. It was like I had passed over into some new reality along with Reepacheep floating on a sea of flowers. It produced a deep longing in me that I have never been able to reproduce in adulthood. Even back then I understood the chronicles somehow related to the Sunday school stories I grew up with but I was unsure how. These stories seemed so much more potent, and produced such strong emotions in me.
There is no one else that comes as close to capturing the mystery of the Christian God in fable as CS Lewis.
Reading Lewis made me realize that I not only had a hunger for deeper meaning in the stories I read but also that metaphor and philosophy were powerful tools to explain Christianity in a deeper way. That longing is necessary for a relationship with God and only they who seek find.
When I got into my teen years I picked up ‘Crime and Punishment’ because I heard somewhere that it was a famous book. I remember it being a struggle for me to get through and difficult as a teenager to relate to but I have never forgotten the scene when the old mare gets beat by her owner.
“Hit her in the face, in the eyes, in the eyes,” cried Mikolka.
Only Dostoevsky can express the cruelty of everyday humans and expose humanity for what its nature is capable of in a way that even modern horror novels are incapable of.
Later, when l read ‘The Brother’s Karamazov’ my full appreciation for him blossomed.
Here was a Christian author who was honest about what it was like to be a human and live and struggle and doubt and love and suffer. His characters were larger that life but at the same time relatable. He is the master at giving a character a life philosophy and letting them live that philosophy out to see where it will lead. Maybe Tolstoy could come close but in my opinion there has not been an equal to him in the dramatic novel. Ironically, he is well known as a devout Christian yet his arguments for atheism by him and his Grand Inquisitor are still some of the best.
The Karamazov family is a type of Myers Briggs test for the soul and who you relate to in that story will tell a lot about who you are.
He was the first to put existentialism into words we all could understand by asking the question – if not God and eternity then what does anything matter in this finite existence?
Another Russian, Solzhenitsyn famously wrote:
If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?
That is exactly what Dostoevsky teaches – You are the problem and you need to take responsibility for your own demons no matter what you believe, but what you truly believe ultimate decides who and what you are. That is what I learned from him
Jordan B Peterson
I was watching a biography on Dostoevsky on YouTube and after it ended YouTube decided to autoplay this benign looking pale professor lecturing about Dostoevsky, Nietzsche and Existentialism with a crappy camera. The quality didn’t bother me as I watched the hour and a half lecture transfixed (even though it was past 11 pm and I had to get up for work at 5 am the next day). I always had this underling belief that everyone is living by some philosophy whether they know it or not and it is silently guiding them and now here was someone connecting these concepts of philosophy and psychology like I had never heard any one do before.
The next day I found out of course that it was JBP (not as famous at the time), a humble, psychology professor from my home country. Imagine that, and he came from a small town in Alberta near where I had even worked. This was all very bizarre and slightly unbelievable. Every lecture of his I consumed felt like it was putting pieces into place for me that I had always felt should be there but couldn’t articulate why. (this seems to be a themes of his fans) Concepts that all my years in church could not fit in and frankly were probably not welcome.
I grew up in a Christian home and I had rarely (there were a few exceptions) heard a pastor explain the power of the scriptures not only psychologically but also philosophically like this ‘secular’ psychologist who took the Lord’s name in vain did which kind of freaked me out. Reading CS Lewis (who I think would have gotten along well with JBP) had prepped me to look for the deeper philosophical meaning and the underlining themes that drive stories and utlimatley drive truth in everyone’s life but JBP made it practical and modern for me.
Richard Feynman was famous for his simple explanation of the complexities of physics (among a few other things) which has helped numerous people understand everything from Chemistry to Electricity. Especially this point…
If, in some cataclysm, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed on to the next generations of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words? I believe it is the atomic hypothesis (or the atomic fact, or whatever you wish to call it) that all things are made of atoms—little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another. In that one sentence, you will see, there is an enormous amount of information about the world, if just a little imagination and thinking are applied
Similarly, JBP talks about the dominance hierarchy in nature and uses lobsters as an illustration. Why is this important? Because it is the motive force behind almost all human enterprise and if you apply it to life it provides clarity in the same way the idea that everything is made up of tiny particles does. It helps you understand yourself, those around you and it even helps you understand scripture.
Feel depressed? It is possibly because you are not where you think you should be in life (a dominance position). Feel anxious? It is possibly because you are worried that you could lose your place in society (or your children won’t have the same place in society). This force acts on us constantly like the force of gravity.
As near as I can tell, JBP believes this is a natural force caused by the processes of evolution and woven into our DNA.
Christians believe that this was an unintended consequence of sin entering the world. That in that moment, somehow, reality shifted and the natural world changed into something that was different than what it was originally. That this ‘shift’ was allowed and possibly even caused by God. All of creation was subjected to it and can be easily seen in nature’s continual fight for food, for sunlight, for a mating partner – Nature red in tooth and claw.
Now Christianity’s answer to this dominance struggle is faith. It activates the opposing force (God’s glory) that cancels it out like the force of lift cancels out the force of gravity.
I just visited Kitty Hawk and on the Wright Brother’s monument is this fitting inscription:
In Commemoration of the Conquest of the Air
By the Brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright
Conceived By Genius
Achieved by Dauntless Resolution and Unconquerable Faith
There are many other things that I have learned from Dr. Peterson which could go into a blog all its own but I’ll leave it at that for now.
William Lane Craig
Modern Christianity owes a lot to WLC.
Now, I hear pastors talk about the Kalam cosmological argument and other various reasoning for God from the pulpit, but when I was growing up in church no one even thought about giving philosophical arguments for the existence of God except maybe showing an odd video by Francis Schaeffer.
I can only think this is because it was always just assumed that if you are in church you must believe there is a God. For many Christians this is true. Like myself, they go for years and years not questioning basic belief in God until something happens and they are in pain. Pain has a wonderful side effect for people who believe in God – doubt.
It was WLC that gave me a hard look at what it really looks like to fully not believe in God. At a pivotal point in my life I read his paper ‘The Absurdity of Life Without God’. It was the first time I really comprehended nihilism and the devastating effects staring into the abyss has on ones soul. It seems the more rational you are the harder it is to get away from its pull and no one can argue rationally that after death if there isn’t immortality anything matters. Try staying motivated with that locked in your mind…
For me the threat of nihilism took every honest option away except Christianity because of the Ontological Argument. The Story of Christ is the greatest story that could ever be told about the greatest/best most good person that could ever live. No one can even write a story with a character in it that would be better than the Jesus of the Gospel’s. Some of the closest who came to it were Tolstoy in his short story ‘God Sees the Truth but Waits’ and Beaumont’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’.
Each of these men at different stages contributed pieces and parts to make up how I think about life and why I believe what I believe. As I grow older I see and understand concepts that I could not when I was younger and I am sure as I grow older still this list will grow but I am pretty sure no one will be removed. At least not CS Lewis and Dostoevsky.
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