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I Met God — God Without Religion, Scripture, or Faith
A Book by J. Neil Schulman
Chapter 4: No Religion, Too

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Okay, let’s hear that.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: And it happens in 1995 when I went to a summer event of the C.S. Lewis Society. It happens when I meet C.S. Lewis’s stepson, Douglas Gresham. He’s come to the United States and is talking at this event that I, as a member of the C.S. Lewis Society, am attending.

After my agnostic period pretty well ends in 1988, and I pretty well consider myself a theist from that point on, I start shopping around to see: am I supposed to become a Christian?

Remember, I don’t have anybody Jewish really vying for my attention at that point.

Again, I’ve met Dennis Prager and I knew he was a practicing Jew. But I was left out of it. In other words, again, the performance aspect, the behaviorist aspect, of Judaism — the rituals, the tradition all that — these were still not things which were appealing to me. My God encounter wasn’t drawing me in that direction, and Christianity was.

And it reaches the point where I meet with Douglas Gresham. He’s giving this talk, and I really, really warm to the guy immediately. I mean, all my prejudices were in favor of him. I’d read a lot of Lewis and here’s his stepson — in essence, one of the only two sons he ever had, the other one being his brother David, who wasn’t there.

Douglas Gresham was a very fundamentalist Christian, and on this day, where I attended a C.S. Lewis event at this monastery where Douglas Gresham was the speaker, I had a long conversation with him, and I was right up to the point of thinking maybe I should convert to Christianity at this point. Maybe I should go through the whole thing and be baptized and take Communion. Maybe that’s what all of this as been leading to.

I contemplated it and bounced. I tried to take the leap into Christianity and I bounced off it as if it was a solid wall. The results of that are memorialized in the last poem in the Self Control Not Gun Control volume called “A Non-Christian’s Prayer to Christ.”

BRAD LINAWEAVER: I agree, it’s in there, more than any of your other poems.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: The poem is dated June 29, 1995, and so this event happened June 28, 1995.

And the results of it were that I discovered in Christianity something that bothered me about individualism for the first time. That was the idea that if I were saved because I accepted Jesus the way that Christianity was being taught to me – that it demanded that as a precondition to being a Christian you had to accept Jesus as your personal Savior – it was going to be leaving behind everybody I loved. It was going to leave behind my mother and father, it was going to leave behind all of my friends, it was going to leave behind my sister – none of whom were Christians who had accepted Jesus into their heart as their personal Savior.

It seemed evil to me. It seemed wrong to me that I couldn’t do anything about that. I mean, I’m supposed to be so selfish as to save myself and leave everybody I love behind? What’s that? How could I do that? I can’t do that. I know that I’m never going to be converting all of them to Christianity. That means that I’m going to have to accept eternal life by myself.

That’s not a gift. That’s a punishment. And what god would set things up in such a way as to punish you for following him?

At that point I decided, as much as Christianity had been attracting me through C.S. Lewis and all that, if that was what Christianity actually said — if that was what the nut of it was — I wanted no part of it.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: I’ve shown your poem to “conventional” Protestants. I’ve shown your poem to “conventional” Catholics, quite a number of them. Since 1995 when this came out – we’re now in the year 2004 – so for almost a decade I’ve shown this poem to quite a number of “conventional” Christians. The reaction of most of them is exactly what you would expect.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Well, what is the reaction that I would expect? Tell me.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: The majority are deeply bothered by your poem because it’s making them consider the very point you just raised. Therefore they have to reject what your poem is saying because that’s where their minds start. They shut down their brains. To use a phrase from Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, when you stop thinking it’s a “blank out.” In Objectivism, if you challenge an irreducible primary — this is some of the content of their faith — it’s an irreducible primary.

However, from my perspective as a lapsed Episcopalian, what I’ve discovered that’s really interesting is those Christians who understand C.S. Lewis the best, when I showed themthis poem, their reaction is not negative.

Therefore, I use your poem as one more way of reaching a conclusion I’ve been moving toward for a large part of my life, which is that C.S. Lewis is so out of step with the rest of Christianity, it’s astonishing that most of Christianity — that uses him to try to make people into converts — do not understand the deep message of C.S. Lewis.

I don’t believe the “Mere Christian Church” idea in The Rainbow Cadenza is a foolish idea at all. Even though Lewis would think that it’s foolish, and maintain there’s something to be said for the denominations, that’s not essential to his message. His message is far more radical. I believe, in earlier eras, C.S. Lewis would have been condemned by all the Christian churches you’ve ever heard of as a Gnostic heretic, and I believe that C.S. Lewis’s Christianity is totally radical, when you consider what he’s actually saying in the seventh book of the Narniaseries, which was your first positive impression of a Christian mind — when you didn’t even know it was a Christian mind — and that is that the soldier who is worshiping what everybody else thinks is a demon or an evil god —

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: His name is Emeth.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Right. Because he thinks that he’s worshiping the God of goodness, he is in effect and in reality worshiping the God of goodness, because his intent is such. Because he thinks he’s worshiping goodness, he is worshiping goodness.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: What Aslan says is that no worship that is vile could be directed toward me and no worship which is good could be directed to the demon, that the prayers reach their true heart’s desire.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: This point I’m making, this is a very important point. Very few Christians or Jews, or anybody else, are going to pay attention but it’s very important. If I ever do become a Christian again, I will be of the C.S. Lewis stripe. When you’re dead — in the C.S. Lewis version — you are not finished and your chance to still hear the message of Jesus, and still be saved, continues after death.

Oddly enough, the Roman Catholic Church — which should take that position with their doctrine of Purgatory, something you would think would permeate Roman Catholic teaching — does not.

And oddly enough, many Protestants believe that when you die your chances are all used up. You can see that in all the fundamentalists and all the evangelicals.

Here we have C.S. Lewis who is an Ulster Protestant, a High Church Protestant, who I think has thought this thing through further than the Roman Catholic Church which has a structural legalistic afterlife bureaucracy that might be indistinguishable from Hell, or the militant fundamentalist Protestants who just can’t wait to send you to Hell if you make the least mistake. What’s fascinating to me is the Lewis version of Christianity is not normal Christianity at all.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: And it goes back further than the seventh book of The Narnian Chronicles, The Last Battle. It goes back to The Great Divorce where you have a bus of people from Hell who get to visit Heaven and get new chances.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: And they stay in Hell because they turn it down.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: But one makes it through.

BRAD LINAWEAVER: I know. But why are most people in Hell? Because, in effect, Lewis is arguing, they choose to be in Hell.

Now, I’ve heard all kinds of orthodox Catholics and orthodox Protestants, of different denominations, recite those words in various forms. You hear it on the surface and I swear, underneath the surface, they don’t mean it. They say the words but they don’t believe it. I’ve heard “conventional” Christians, Catholics and Protestants, who, when I read Lewis’ comment that the sins of the spirit are worse than the sins of flesh, they nod, they agree, they say the words right back … and they continue living lives that are absolute monuments to not believing one word they just said. They live as though they don’t believe it, as though they believe the sins of the flesh are worse than the sins of the spirit. That’s how they live. Then they say, “Oh, yes, of course Lewis is right — the sins of the spirit are worse than the sins of the flesh.” And they go right back acting like the sins of the flesh are worse.

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: And you’re right. Lewis did not believe that. He literally believed that the sins of the spirit are worse. What’s more, he believed that we retain our free will even after death. That we still have the ability to turn around. It may be harder then. It’s like we talked about how the Jewish conception of original sin is that it’s harder but not impossible.

BRAD LINAWEAVER:And every fundamentalist Christian, every evangelical Christian, and all too many Catholics, actually, have used the line from Jesus Christ, from the New Testament, “No one comes to the Father but through me” but they finish the sentence as follows: “Nobody comes to the Father except through me in this lifetime, in the choices you make in this incarnation, right up to the moment of your death, in this particular fraction of space-time.”

But that’s not what it says. It says, “No one comes to the Father but through me.” It doesn’t say how many chances you have. It doesn’t say when your opportunities end. It does not say!

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: Also, let me tell you something else it does not say. “No one comes to the Father except through me” does not mean that you have to say a particular recitation of words, do a Jewish sort of performance, such as “Yes, I declare that Jesus Christ is my personal Savior and I except Him into my heart!”

BRAD LINAWEAVER: Yada yada yada!

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: It’s not demanding the performance. It’s not demanding the behavior. It’s merely stating a fact like, “If you want to get to Los Angeles you have to take the I-10 Freeway. There’s no way to get to Los Angeles unless you get on the I-10.”

BRAD LINAWEAVER: You’re a guy who walked away from all that Jewish ritual and here’s your Christian alternative: Christian ritual. But the fascinating thing — and why I think that Jesus Christ is such an interesting figure to you — is you’re actually paying attention to some of the actual content that’s coming out of what he is supposed to have said, according to those gospel accounts.

And the last thing is, you are not having any of the conventional Jewish responses. You don’t have one molecule of that in you. And instead of getting rewarded by Christians for liking Jesus, your reward is, “Oh, but you’ve got to be just like us!”

You’re right back in Hebrew school.


BRAD LINAWEAVER: Do you think it’s possible that most conventionally religious people, Muslims, Christians, Jews and others — and we’ll throw in the Buddhists and the Shintoists and the Hindus — would not allow God to have a direct contact with them — would not allow a revelation from God to take place — if it interrupted one of their prayers?

J. NEIL SCHULMAN: I think your question is entirely on point. I think that religion for most people — I’m not going to say for all people, because there are always the exceptions within the system — but for the vast majority of people religion is not fundamentally about seeking God at all.


Next in I Met God — God Without Religion, Scripture, or Faith is Chapter V: Escape from Heaven

I Met God — God Without Religion, Scripture, or Faith is
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