Was CS Lewis Right About Only Two Religious Options?
The beloved story-teller and insightful defender of Christian faith, C.S. Lewis, is often noted as having said that there are really only two basic religions to choose between: Christianity, with the idea of distinct supernatural and natural realms both controlled by God, and Eastern pantheism (which takes various religious forms) in which everything is God.
Although I’ve read a number of his books, I don’t recall how he works Judaism or the other very large monotheistic religion, Islam, into the picture. What’s important is that, couched as Lewis expressed it or not, most people do, in fact, see the world and their spirituality from one of these basic perspectives. They see the world they live in either as a pure “uni(ty)verse” — all is One — or a two-tiered supernatural/natural “universe” (“biniverse”?)
What such a viewpoint (from either of these worldviews and their related religions) does is reinforce a tendency we already have… one that is gets us in trouble when we apply it too strictly to this matter, as most people do. That is to see things in either-or categories or polarities — basically opposites.
Are there really only two viewpoints to see (and interpret God and life) from?
Readers of this blog know that I frequently refer to or promote a 3rd option… a sort of “in between” position sometimes called panentheism. The word basically means God is in all things but not equated with all things, being also “beyond” them. I suppose it is simpler to think that God either really is the creation or stands apart from what he/she created.
Now, science gives preference to the simpler explanation of things, all other factors being equal. I’m not so sure theology does that very much, though I think it is an aim (and I “do” a fair amount of theology). On the surface, either of the two main worldviews are simple.
However, we have to face the fact that simple just doesn’t get it when it comes to either God or ourselves, and the nature of reality. (Those who say, “I’m a simple person” sometimes puzzle me the most.) That’s why an increasing number of people in modern, postmodern and now “integral” times and stages of thinking no longer find satisfaction in conceptualizing God as manipulating the natural realm (including us, loving us as they believe “he” does) from “outside” it. If you are theologically astute, know that I realize “incarnational theology” goes a good ways towards seeing God closer, as the popular song suggests: “What if God was one of us?”
But the bulk of Christianity still envisions things in terms of God working from the outside-in (to us) more than the inside-out (or from everywhere to everywhere). Many, many of the faithful, via misreadings of Genesis, specifically affirm goofy ideas of how God created from outside. It’s critical to them to stand against the idea that God might actually be in and behind the evolutionary process – that God might be in everything. And their God coerces from “out there” via punishments or threats of them (damnation particularly), while “he” is also seen as loving. This also holds for many who do not so adamantly oppose the idea of evolution.
My only point, for now, is to point out that more than two ways of envisioning God-in-the-world exist. We are not forced to choose between a simplistic one or two-tiered universe in which God either coercively controls everything from beyond it or effectively doesn’t exist (being identified completely with the universe). There are ways of understanding “relationship with God” without reducing God to mere humanity or difficult-to-reach divinity.
What do you know of third options? The main one I know of which has been developed systematically and extensively as a coherent picture for almost a century is called “process philosophy” and/or “process theology”.
I have found it very helpful and even inspiring for a number of reasons — both in my personal spirituality and in my hopes for the future of interfaith and science-religion relationships. Neither of Lewis’ (or most people’s) two major options provides much hope in these areas, that I can see. Happily, I observe that in various ways religious leaders, lay people and “spiritual but not religious” folks are moving toward more nuanced views akin to or specifically within a “process” perspective. It is not my purpose here to discuss this further, but will note that on the sidebar to the right are some resources that can get you started in exploring this perspective and the many things it speaks to and has to offer.