I’m Not A Fatalist, But Even If I Were What Could I Do About It?

What would happen if C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud had a debate?

I just finished reading The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life by Armand Nicholi, where he takes the writings of the two men, as well as biographical materials from others, to set out their contrasting views on a number of subjects.

We think of Lewis as the great Christian thinker who could write about God in children’s stories and adult apologetics with equal facility. But one of the most fascinating aspects of Nicholi’s book is when he compares the similarities of a pre-Christian Lewis with the lifelong positions held by Freud.

One notable similarity is how they each saw the world around them and the effect this had on their ability to experience happiness.

Look at these two comparatively compatible positions:

  • Freud once defined happiness as “when fate does not carry out all its threats simultaneously.”
  • Lewis’s pre-conversion view: “I had very definitely formed the opinion that the universe was, in the main, a rather regrettable institution … a menacing and unfriendly place.”

Putting aside for a moment that fact they these are a couple of depressing ways to look at life, aren’t they well-written? Freud may have been way off base in his efforts to be a philosopher, but the man could put a sentence together. And Lewis, of course, was a master wordsmith as well.

The similarity between them is striking as well. Both felt alienated from the world around them, Freud speaking of it as full of threats and Lewis as menacing and unfriendly.

Of course, this dim view did not originate with those two. It’s typical of those who do not place their hope in God:

The Lord, the Lord Almighty, called you on that day
to weep and to wail, to tear out your hair and put on sackcloth.

But see, there is joy and revelry, slaughtering of cattle and killing of sheep, eating of meat and drinking of wine!

“Let us eat and drink,” you say, “for tomorrow we die!” (Isaiah 22:12-13.)

Eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. What else is there for those who do not respond to God’s call? Not much but the pursuit of pleasure, apparently.

But what about those who have responded to God’s call? We do not fear a death that comes on the morrow for we have the promise of resurrection with Jesus, the one who conquered death and promises us life:

For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. (Romans 6:9.)

Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself. (2 Corinthians 4:13-14.)

The Fates do not determine our existence. We are in the hands of the living God. He cares for us and always will. There is no threat against us, no menace in this world that can overcome his determination to bring us to himself for eternity.

There’s no debate about it.

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8 Responses to I’m Not A Fatalist, But Even If I Were What Could I Do About It?

  1. Your post Tim reminds me of two of my favorite passages John 10:27,28 and Acts 17:24-28. Is it not so very comforting that because nothing can ever seperate us from his love not only are we free to worship HIM but also to enjoy the beauty around us in this world that speaks of his glory and what is just a glimpse of what he has waiting for his chosen beloved.

  2. Jaimie says:

    I read this book my freshman year of college in a psychology class, and it has stuck with me ever since. I also watched a DVD of what was, I believe, a PBS program– it incorporated debate, moderated by Dr. Nicholi, among people with a variety of beliefs and background, and discussions between actors portraying Lewis and Freud. The actors would directly quote the two men, but Nicholi worked it (as he did in the book) so that they would be talking on the same topic and responding to each other. Fascinating stuff, and I learned so much from it.

    • Tim says:

      I’ve seen links to the PBS program, apparently available on DVD. That would be a fascinating production, Jaimie. I think you might have been the one who mentioned the book over at Anne Bogel’s Modern Mrs. Darcy? That’s where I first heard of it and then decided to hunt it down. Glad my library had a copy because, as you say, it’s fascinating stuff.

  3. Aimee Byrd says:

    Sounds like an interesting book, Tim. Your title says it all! Great reflections.

  4. Jeannie says:

    Yes, I love the title too! 🙂 This topic fits with the movie our family watched last night: “Brave” — or with a Scots accent, “Breave”. Its explicit message at the end is that your Fate is inside you and you have to be brave enough to find it — but really its message is about love and forgiveness. No human can do that perfectly; when we are loved and forgiven by God, though, we need not fear.

    BTW, remember I was reading “Orthodoxy”? I had to take it back to the library unfinished before going on holidays, and my parents’ library didn’t have it, so I just took it out recently to finish it, and again I was struck by Chesterton’s youthful sense that the world was small and cosy, a safe place. And then he learned why he felt that way.

    • Tim says:

      I’m glad you got back to Orthodoxy, Jeannie. I love how Chesterton eventually discovered that the coziness he felt was actually the presence of God all along.

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