Since 1990, through five distinct phases, my research team has surveyed and assessed the values and worldviews of undergraduates around the world (but primarily in the United States). Each phase has keyed on a specific theme, including the self or personhood. The overall objective has been to determine the extent, character and implications of a “postmodern turn”–i.e., a worldview-shift away from both traditional and modern assumptions/values-among tertiary-levle students. Secondary questions explored included, a) whether undergraduates at public universities are “more postmodern” than those who attend private, church-affiliated colleges; and, b) to the degree that a postmodern turn is found, whether undergraduates are in general more inclined to a worldview of extreme self-referentiality (here characterized as “radical postmodern”) on the one hand, or a tested or “anchored” self-referentiality, here termed “transmodern,” on the other. The background, rational and methodology of the work are summarized, as are key concepts such as worldviews and the nature of postmodernity.
The Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture, the major think tank of the intelligent design movement, aims to “defeat scientific materialism and its destructive moral, cultural and political legacies,” and to “replace materialistic explanations with the theistic understanding that nature and human beings are created by God” (CSC 1999). Intelligent design advocates have sought to accomplish these goals by attempting to prove that modern evolutionary theory is wrong because it does not explicitly account for the creative action of a “Designer.” The intelligent design movement has achieved widespread support among fundamentalist and evangelical Christians who believe God’s special creation of Adam and Eve was physical as well as spiritual. The vast majority of scientists and a United States federal court of law, however, have rejected intelligent design and declared it to be religiously motivated pseudoscience (Forrest and Gross 2005).
There are some quotations so arresting, so perfect in simplicity, that they never leave the memory. They are honeyed phrases for the mind: “Beauty will save the world,” says a prince in Dostoevsky’s unfortunately-titled The Idiot. The prince speaks as one having authority: beauty will save the world. Or there is Keats in his “Ode on a Grecian Urn”: ” ‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty’-that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know”. Or St. Augustine saying to God in his Confessions, “Late have I loved you, beauty so old and so new”. It is yet more surprising to find Genesis in league with each of the above, for in Genesis’s opening chapter the refrain so quietly insistent, “And God saw that it was good,” contains a Hebrew word which may be translated either as good or as beautiful. The feel of the whole chapter changes if one hears God proclaim that the light, the sun, the greenery, the animals are all beautiful, and mankind very beautiful.
C. S. Lewis begins his sermon, “The Weight of Glory,” with these justly-famous words:
If you asked twenty good men today what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you had asked almost any of the great Christians of old, he would have replied, Love. You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological importance. The negative idea of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point. I do not thik this is the Christian virtue of Love. The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire.
A garden enclosed is my sister my spouse;
a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.
To Christian writers, landscape and its seasons are not merely backdrops for plots and characters. As places of destination they are integral elements of quest narratives or pilgrimages. More importantly, nature’s cyclical patterns often function as maps of the human soul: “[t]o the Christian, the seasons’ round, often represented by a contrast between spring garden and winter wilderness, is a natural figure of man’s spiritual life” (Stewart 105). This correspondence between microcosm and macrocosm is a classical belief that pervaded Christian literature in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. One specific structure of landscape that has been widely used by Christian writers to narrate the cycle of Christian history, from paradise to wilderness and back to paradise, is the enclosed garden (hortus conclusus). The enclosed garden was such a common trope in medieval and Renaissance art that “scarcely an event from the life of Christ exists for which some artist at some time or other has not provided a backdrop of an unfinished enclosure [….] The touchstone of the enclosed garden [was] an emblem (hortus mentis) of man’s inner being. This is how the figure was used by St. Teresa and St. John, and how it was used by Herbert, Vaughan, and Marvell” (Stewart 47, 169). As J.T. Rhodes and Clifford Davidson also affirm, “[t]he beginning and end of time were marked by the garden” (95).
Owen Barfield, a close friend of C. S. Lewis, was a philosopher and writer at heart. His numerous books range from a children’s fairy tale, to a drama retelling the story of Orpheus, to deeply philosophical books on theology and literary criticism. However, Barfield earned his living as a solicitor. For thirty years he rode the train to and from his law offices and plodded determinedly through meetings with clients, court appearances, legal documents, and a daily barrage of legalese. During his years as a solicitor, Barfield suffered a great deal of frustration, even angst. In his poetry and fiction, and perhaps most overtly in his novel, This Ever Diverse Pair (1950), we can identify these feelings as Barfield depicts the threat of stagnation-or worse, the threat of complete disconnect with our birthing selves, a fragmentation in which the creative voice is lost.
What does it mean to be a person? This is one of the central moral questions of our age. Bioethics is particularly engaged with this question. What is human life? When does it begin and end? Does human life have any intrinsic value, dignity, or rights to be protected? Are there any boundaries regarding the manipulation of genetic material, cloning, or embryos? We tend to speak in strong terms about “human rights” and “civil rights” as though there were a secure, generally accepted basis for them to stand on. But is this true? The conversation often seems to ignore the fact that different worldviews lead to widely divergent answers to the question “What is a person?” Most secular modern or post-modern conceptualizations of the nature of personhood are not robust enough to support the notions of human rights and civil rights that we tend to assume.
The oft-made claim that The Chronicles of Narnia is an allegory, though partially true, does not quite do justice to the power of the work, or the beautiful, grace-filled, and luminous world Lewis creates. In a work of allegory, as Lewis explains it in The Allegory of Love, characters are visibilia (“visible things”) invented to express or represent certain “immaterial facts” about the world of our experience, such as our passions or states of mind, as we see in Lewis’ own example:
If you are hesitating between an angry retort and a soft answer, you can express your state of mind by inventing a person called Ira with a torch and letting her contend against another invented person called Patientia. This is allegory.
But this, of course, is what we tend not to find in Narnia. Reepicheep, the Beavers, Ramandu, Jewel are not visibilia standing in for certain invisibilia of our world-representing things like Courage, Constancy, or Wisdom-though they may possess such qualities. The creatures of Narnia have a certain (admittedly fictional) integrity of their own that works against reading them as mere stand-ins or simulacra for aspects of our world, even if Lewis has certain didactic aims in their creation.
It is probably no surprise to anyone that it is increasingly difficult to maintain a Christian witness on many college campuses. Recently, InterVarsity has had to fight to remain at Harvard, Rutgers, and North Carolina. At North Carolina, a Christian fraternity was “de-recognized” and, according to Jo Stanley, a Christian group at the University of California Hastings College of the Law lost an appeal to be reinstated as a campus organization just this last April. The main reason these groups are facing problems is that they insist their members be Christian, something which flies in the face of non-discrimination policies that allow participation and membership in university organizations without regard to age, race, color, national origin, religion, disability, sex or sexual orientation. Writing in the October, 2003 issue of Christianity Today, Andy Crouch states:
There is nothing so close to the university’s heart as the dream of education as a liberating force. The liberation being most avidly sought in universities today is sexual—removing the shame from a wide variety of sexual orientations that are summed up in organizational names like “The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning Alliance…At UNC, some members of the gay community, aware of InterVarsity’s traditional views, were vocal in calling for the group’s removal from campus. (64)
There can be no doubt that Christians who work in the secular university face many obstacles today. How do we maintain our witness for Christ when the temptation, perhaps even the threat, to be silent, is very real? At what point must we decide to speak up or hold our tongue? What will speaking up cost us in the way of prestige or even our careers? It is a time when we must truly be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. Is there anyone to turn to for advice?
Ten years ago, at a gathering at Lambeth Palace, an “alternative worship” service was vividly described as follows:
“On the first visit to a service, the main impression is visual. Screens and hanging fabrics, containing a multiplicity of colours, moving and static images continuously dominate the perceptions. There are other things: the type of music, often electronic, whose textures and range seem curiously attuned to the context of worship, smells, the postures adopted by the other worshippers…. As the mental picture begins to fill up with details, there is a growing appreciation that considerable technological complexity is sitting alongside simplicity and directness. The rituals—perhaps walking though patterns, tieing [sic] a knot, or having one’s hands or feet anointed—are introduced with simple, non-fussy directions. The emphasis is on allowing people to do what will help, liberate, and encourage their worship rather than on the orchestration of a great event…. Where something is rather obscure, its purpose is to invite further reflection, perhaps teasing the worshippers to look deeper beyond the surface meaning…. For many of those who stay, they have never before had an experience of Christian worship like it. It is as though they have come to a new place which they instantly recognize as home.”
Then, as now, the Rev. Dr. Paul Roberts pleaded for a renewed appreciation of the artistic sensibility in worship, not for art’s sake alone, but as part of a “vibrant missionary engagement” with postmodern aesthetics—embracing its “richer, multi-layered, and more fluid textuality—envisioning meanings and appreciating multivalence through a variety of media.”1
I was raised in a mainline evangelical church,1 but it wasn’t until I became an adult that I made a personal and strong commitment to God. The church of my childhood years was associated with a traditional and reserved Calvinistic heritage. However, the church of my young adult years, in the 1970’s, was strongly influenced by the more demonstrative and charismatic orientation of the Jesus People movement on the West Coast of the United States. Later, in my middle adult years, I found myself drawn to yet another church within a traditionally Wesleyan context. Even though the specific sequence of changes varies, friends and colleagues who have followed parallel paths usually agree that our respective theologies are much fuller and richer because of the spiritual journeys we have taken over our lifetimes.
It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses.
—from “The Weight of Glory”
When he was president of the Oxford Socratic Club during the 1940s and 50s, C.S. Lewis featured weekly discussions on “repellent doctrines.” By these, he meant traditional Christian teachings that seemed puzzling or implausible—teachings on suffering, miracles, hierarchy, and the like. Lewis thought these doctrines conveyed truths that modern people most needed to know but were least likely to recognize: “We must never avert our eyes from those elements in [our religion] which seem puzzling or repellent; for it will be precisely the puzzling or the repellent which conceals what we do not yet know and need to know.”1 For many Christians today, deification would be such a doctrine. Deification (also known as theosis or divinization) sees salvation not merely as divine pardon but rather as a process of spiritual transformation that culminates in mystical union with God. As Lewis understood it, human beings could one day enter into the very beauty and energy of God and become “true and everlasting and really divine persons.”2 In his book Mere Christianity, which can be seen as a manifesto on the subject, Lewis argues that the whole purpose of Christianity is to turn people into what he variously calls “new men,” “little Christs,” “Sons of God”—and “gods and goddesses.”