Jon Kennedy's 'Postcards from
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Mere Christianity; Space
in a Hindu creation text

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Jon Kennedy
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JONAL ENTRY 1204 | NOVEMBER 24 2011

I got one response to the previous Jonal, which is on point and should lead to considerable discussion:

I found your writing on "Space Is The Place" extremely interesting, as is the Book of Genesis. I ask if you are familiar with the Rig Veda, some 1028 hymns, especially the Hymns of Creation; Hymn #129 and #130, written in Sanskrit between—"depending on your beliefs"—7000 BC to 2000 BC. I particularly like the translation by Wendy Dongier O'Flaherty, ref: Nasadiya: The Hymns of the Rig Veda on the web from her book The Rig Veda - Anthology.

There was neither non-existence nor existence then.
There was neither the realm of space nor the sky which is beyond.
What stirred?
Where?
In whose protection?
Was there water, bottomlessly deep?
There was neither death not immortality then.
There was no distinguishing sign of night nor day.
That ONE breathed, windless, by its own impulse.

It goes on for about six or sevem stanzas and ends with:

Whence this creation has arisen
- perhaps it formed itself, or perhaps it did not -
the ONE who looks down on it,
in the highest heaven, only He knows
or perhaps even He does not know.

It is more my idea of "The Beginning" than anything I have ever read; still leaves a lot of questions but isn't [that] what a belief system isfinding the answers you believe in?

SHALOM
Bud Book

I had never looked into the Vedas, but the poesy of these excerpts give a clue to why C.S. Lewis considered Hinduism (the religion behind the Vedas) the only real competitor for Christianity among the major world religions. These hymns echo Genesis in some ways, while contrasting in others, and also remind me of snippets of Native American doctrines about creation and the heaven and earth that have come to my attention over the years.

Lewis said religions are like soups, either thick or clear. By thick, he had in mind religions with lots of physical demonstrations of fervent conviction, and by clear he meant those whose faith is mostly cerebral or structured around theology and teachings about everything from the nature of God to principles to live by. In Christian frames of reference, the "thickest" sects appear to be the Pentecostals and perhaps black congregations where physical expressions of fervor seem dominant. The "clearest" are probably the Puritans (mostly extinct) and the Reformed and Presbyterian cousins of Puritans like Orthodox Presbyterians and Christian Reformed donominations, whose seminaries and colleges—and their theologians and teachers—seem to serve as their spiritual centers.

Lewis advocated a strong balance between the thick and the clear: those Christians with liturgies, corporate fasts and feasts, and a strong devotion to the "real presence" of Christ's flesh and blood in the eucharist, are thick on one hand, but when they also have a deep reservoir of complex doctrines and beliefs, they also are strong on the clear side. He felt such a balance characterized his own Anglican communion as well as Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and much of Lutheranism. On the world stage, he characterized Christianity as clear(er) and Hinduism as thick(er). His main criticisms of Hindu doctrines seem to be that in being "thick," it elevates the sensuous and carnal while ignoring moral holiness. He mentioned that Indian law prohibited importing pornography, except for that used in the practice of religion (this was true in Lewis's time, much earlier than the wide acceptance of pornography in the West). And it failed morally through its propagation of the caste system, which considers whole ethnic groups unclean and untouchable.

In many of his writings Lewis confirms the orthodox position of all practitioners of biblical religion (Jews and Christians alike) that any religion outside biblical parameters is of satanic origin. The Puritans of Jonathan Edwards's party stress that Satan is an expert theologian, and I have observed elsewhere that even in his seduction of Adam and Eve, most of what Satan said to them was true. They should desire to be like God through coming to know good and evil, he said, all but two words of which was not consistent with God's own will for them. (Those words were "and evil"; people of biblical faith should become more godlike through their knowledge and practice of good, but should not ever know evil in the biblical (subjective) sense. But Lewis also stressed that all religions have much in common, and most have many helpful teachings and truths, and some have more in common with biblical religion than others, just as some wrong answers in arithmetic come closer to the right answer than others. To the extent that any pagan religion followed "natural law," it was helping its practitioners live better lives and was preparing for their eventual encounter with the Gospel.

I'll have more thoughts about the Rig Veda hymn later. What do you think?

Don't overeat, and do have a happy Thanksgiving.

— Webmaster Jon Kennedy