Hello, readers! I have one blog post yet to write about my holiday in Spain, but inertia has kicked in so pardon the brief interruption for a little bit of an opinion column.
C.S. Lewis has joined Twitter from the dead, thanks to a devoted admirer, and is posting a daily thought copied from one of his books or other writings. He can be found here. Today, I happened to see his “tweet for the day,” which is as follows:
This is a classic example of a Lewisism, because Lewis’ trademark rhetorical device is the false dilemma. His writings are littered with false dilemmas in which the reader is asked to choose between the “Christian answer” to something, and a totally absurd alternative.
That’s what we have here. If Christianity is true, it is of “infinite importance,” which is a pretty obvious consequence. But if Christianity is “false,” then it “is of no importance.”
Lewis had good reason for thinking this was a deep thought, and no doubt so do his many followers; for what it is standing in for, what it is pretending to be, is this: “Christianity, if false, should be rejected; if true, it should be followed.” That’s so obvious it’s dumb; by changing “should be rejected” to “is of no importance,” he makes the insight obvious but clever-sounding.
It’s also totally wrong. In fact, it sounds like a joke. Christianity, if false, still dominated western society for millennia, had an incalculable impact on European, African, and American art, culture, and politics, informed the mindsets of thousands of historical figures and hundreds of important philosophers, was responsible for many innovations, inspirations, and acts of great moral courage, and was equally responsible for the deaths of millions of people. Christianity, if false, arguably changed history more than any other religious movement despite that falsehood.
Obviously Lewis has done something typically Lewisian: committed a logical fallacy. This can be plainly seen by working backwards: (1) The King James Bible is of literary importance; (2) The King James Bible is a product of Christianity; (3) “Christianity if false is of no importance & if true is of infinite importance”; (4) since the King James Bible is not of no importance, as a product of Christianity it must be of infinite importance; (5) therefore, Christianity is true.
Voila! I have just proved Jesus was God by noticing that Barack Obama quotes the Bible. The proper response to C.S. Lewis’ assertion is probably: “What? That’s just silly.”
Unfortunately, “that’s just silly” also characterizes my responses to many of the C.S. Lewis quotes on this Twitter account: