Saturday, 8 January 2011


In The Problem of Pain, C S Lewis wants to make the distinction between 'miracle' and 'nonsense': 'What is the meaning of God's Omnipotence? Can he do whatever He pleases? Yes, except for the intrinsically impossible. You may attribute miracles to Him but not nonsense: nonsense remains nonsense even if we talk it about God.' This is a by-the-way point for Lewis, as he moves on to his larger thesis (that pain is a logically necessary component of a world of the free communion of souls, regardless of the omnipotence of that world's creator). But it strikes me in ways Lewis evidently didn't intend. Because in a particular sense, 'nonsense' is an exact synonym for 'miracle'. Generating bread and fish from thin air makes a nonsense of the laws of physics. The resurrection makes a nonsense of mortality. Two possible and divergent intellectual possibilities develop from this insight. Either we commit to a universe that makes sense, and banish the miraculous, as science suggests we do -- almost certainly correctly. Or else we embrace the notion that religion is inherently nonsensical; and not in a merely pejorative sense. Holy fools are still holy, after all.


mahendra singh said...

For quite some time you've been delicately (and very instructively) circling around the central fact of all religion, the fact that all religion is magical thinking.

CS Lewis uses the word Nonsense here as pejorative but I suggest that Nonsense might be considered as the structural magic of language and logic at work in its purest form.

I think Max Müller said that mythology (and hence magic/religion) is corrupted language. When magic works upon language, the more literal-minded call it religion and fall down before it.

In fact, they cannot distinguish between magic, language or religion at all … in fact, they are pre-lapsarian, aren't they … the fruit of knowledge has never tainted their minds even once. The relationship between language and reality still baffles them, they mistake one for the other and act out their magical thinking in both spheres.

I sense a fact-gathering process for a future Sf novel in all this … I hope!

Adam Roberts Project said...

Thank you for the kind words, Mahendra. I agree: one larger benefit of Carollian study might be to remove the knee-jerk pejorative sense from the word 'nonsense'. There's something very interesting going on, in a larger cultural and discursive sense, where 'nonsense' is concerned.

'Future SF novel' ... surely a tautology!