Monday, October 07, 2013

Do You Really Want Answers? by Everett Piper

More than sixty years ago, in The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis challenged Christian scholars to enter the “town square” and the “market place of ideas.” He argued that if we failed to do so, we would become “men without chests:” a culture of heartless people satisfied with our own subjectivity and divorced from any common agreement of what is right and wrong; a culture of disconnected individuals who care little for what is immutable and enduring, accurate or true. Lewis warned of a time when life’s big questions would lie fallow in a field of disingenuous inquiry, where shallow people with shallow minds would have little interest in a harvest of meaningful and objective answers.

Today is a time of big questions:
  • Life: When does it begin, and when does it end, and who has the right to define it and take it?
  • Global warming: Is its premise scientific, political, principled or pragmatic?
  • Sexuality: What is healthy and best for our bodies, our souls, our families and our society?
  • Tolerance: Are all worldviews epistemologically, ontologically and morally equal, or are some philosophies and religions simply better and more accurate than others?
  • Marriage: Should its definition be God’s or the government’s?
  • Justice: If radical Darwinism and moral neutrality are true, isn’t the concept of justice rather arbitrary and meaningless? The strong should subdue the weak and the “fittest” should survive, shouldn’t they?  If we are all nothing more than the products of happenstance and chance then there is no reason to object to those with power prevailing over those without it.  In fact, in such a world, all “morality” is really nothing more than the imposition of bourgeois rules upon the oppressed proletariat. Right?
All these questions and so many more… But do we really want answers? Do we assume the existence of right and wrong, accuracy and inaccuracy, in our asking or do we care more about silencing our opponents than correcting our own opinions? Stop and think about it. Does our query assume one answer is going to be closer to the truth than another?  Are we honest enough to want an answer even at the expense of our personal ideologies or political agendas?  Do we want to learn or are we content to lecture – even if the facts prove we are wrong?

In The Great Divorce, Lewis challenges such intellectual laziness and political expediency. “Our opinions were not honestly come by,” he said. “We simply found ourselves in contact with a certain current of ideas and plunged into it because it seemed modern and successful . . . [We] just started automatically writing the kind of essays that got good marks and saying the kind of things that won applause.”

He goes on: “You and I [are] playing with loaded dice. We [don’t] want the other to be true. We [are] afraid . . . of a breach with the spirit of the age, afraid of ridicule . . .”

“Having allowed [ourselves] to drift, unresisting . . . accepting every half-conscious solicitation from our desires, we reached a point where we no longer believed the [truth]. Just in the same way, a jealous man, drifting and unresisting, reaches a point at which he believes lies about his best friend.”

Lewis concludes: “Once you were a child. Once you knew what inquiry was for. There was a time when you asked questions because you wanted answers, and were glad when you had found them. Become that child again . . . You have gone far wrong. Thirst was made for water; inquiry for truth.”

So, the key question really is this: Do we actually want answers or are we more interested in what seems “modern and successful . . . [seeking] good marks and saying the kind of things that win applause?” Do we embody the childlike sincerity Lewis encouraged or do we look more like manipulative teenagers, hungry for popularity? Do we want our arguments to be right and true or would we rather be politically correct, and “fashionable?”

Os Guinness, in his book Time for Truth, challenges this adolescent tendency to eschew the factual in favor of the faddish. “Truth does not yield to opinion or fashion,” he says. “It is simply true and that is the end of it. It is one of the Permanent Things. Truth is true even if nobody believes it and falsehood is false even if everybody believes it.” Both Lewis and Guinness make it clear that confidence in popular thought and what is trendy has very little, if anything, to do with ideological veracity. Truth is not determined by vim, vigor or a vote.

So if you and I really want answers – If we really want our ideas to be confirmed if they are right and corrected if they are wrong – then perhaps we should humbly set aside our adolescent desire for “good marks” and instead seek what is true (even if it is dreadfully unpopular) and give up what is false (even if it is a dearly loved passion). The integrity of real questions demands nothing less.
“Once you were a child. Once you knew what inquiry was for. There was a time when you asked questions because you wanted answers, and were glad when you had found them. Become that child again . . .” —C.S. Lewis

Apologetics 315 Guest Writer Everett Piper has served as the president of Oklahoma Wesleyan University since August of 2002. His credentials include a B.A. from Spring Arbor University, a M.A. from Bowling Green State University and a Ph.D. from Michigan State University. He is an Adjunct Scholar for the Oklahoma Council for Public Affairs, and a current member of the Council for National Policy. He has written routinely for numerous publications including the Examiner Enterprise,,,, Tulsa’s Community Spirit, and Chuck Colson’s Breakpoint magazine. Dr. Piper has a daily radio broadcast, titled Ideas Matter and he is the author of two books: The Wrong Side of the Door: Why Ideas Matter and Why I Am a ‘Liberal’ and Other Conservative Ideas. Check out the Josh McDowell Institute Conference website.


John Moore said...

I totally want answers. On the other hand, so much depends on how you ask the question. Almost all the questions in this post have built-in assumptions, so it's almost like question-begging.

For example, concerning tolerance you ask whether all worldviews are equal, or whether some are truer than others. But the whole point is to tolerate people who are wrong. If everybody were right, tolerance wouldn't be an issue.

Another example: you ask whether the definition of marriage should be God’s or the government's, but why must there be just one definition? Give unto God that which is God's and unto Caesar that which is Caesar's.

The key question is whether we actually want answers or are more interested in applause. Or in validation of our preconceived notions. Or maybe we only want truth for the sake of applause. Or maybe we doubt that we can ever comprehend the actual answers. Etc.

Do we actually want to ask honest questions?

janitorialmusings said...

John Moore,

I think you miss the point about tolerance. People often think tolerance means you can't tell someone they are wrong.

Concerning marriage: would you seriously accept such a tactic in other areas? Suppose the government wants to say poor people are no longer persons deserving equal protection under the law. Would you be satisfied with the idea that "Oh well, God has his definition and the government is allowed to have it's own!" Such an idea is laughable, yet you actually suggest the same principle with a straight face when it comes to gay marriage. Why? Because you have your own built-in assumptions.

MaryLou said...

It helps to define what we mean when we use certain words, doesn't it? The traditional definition of the word 'tolerance' is to treat the person with whom you disagree with respect. However, today, it seems that some people think it means to allow people to believe, say and do whatever they want without any criticism. With that meaning, it is just as John Moore says -- we all remove our right to say that anything or anybody is wrong. And how stupid is that?

MaryLou said...

After I entered that post, I realized that it was janitorialmusings who said that tolerance shouldn't be taken to mean that we can't say someone is wrong, not John Moore. My apologies for that mistake.

And I also wanted to clarify the point that I am NOT calling you "stupid", John. I just meant that if we do not have the right to point out that someone is wrong, then chaos would ensue -- and that's stupid!

I need to read my posts more carefully before sending them off so blithely!

John Moore said...

It's wrong to think we can't say someone's wrong. I think we agree on that. Tolerance is a matter of how you say it. You don't have to say it constantly. You don't have to say it with violence or with legislation. Maybe tolerance means you just say it now and then, and in the meantime you get on with business, working together with others who are wrong.

About marriage versus poverty, I don't think that's a good comparison because poverty is suffering whereas marriage is not. Christ said to help the poor, but on the other hand he said the poor will always be among us. I think that means we should do things ourselves, and we shouldn't hope for an extreme government-instituted solution.

The Janitor said...

>>because poverty is suffering whereas marriage is not.

That's an irrelevant difference to the point. You suggested that the government could respect and protect an immoral institution on the basis that the government can establish it's own definitions, distinct from how God (or the church or Christians) define things. Then on that same principle the government can establish it's own definition of human and, thereby, disqualify the poor from so being. And you can't object to that.

To see how your attempt to get around this is irrelevant consider: You say poverty is suffering. I reply: Not if the government says otherwise. The government has it's definition of suffering and the Christian has his. Give to Caesar what is Caesar's!

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