by Robert Stauffer
As an admirer of C. S. Lewis, I enjoyed the article in the last issue of Orthodox America by Theodore Hadzi-Antich, describing how Lewis led him ultimately to a renewed and deeper appreciation of his Orthodox Faith. However, based on my own experience, I would have to disagree with his statement that
“for those who come to the table with a blank slate, i.e., with no faith at all, C. S. Lewis is probably not the best place to start investigating the truths of Christianity.”
I was born into an essentially atheistic family. Insofar as my parents had a philosophy of life at all, it was that of the American Dream: earn what you can, enjoy what you can, and don’t worry about the afterlife. As I was growing up, I did not think deeply enough to question this worldview. Consequently, when I left home to attend college, the only thing that gave my life meaning was the prospect of pulling down a hefty salary someday.
In college I was introduced to Western philosophy, and this prompted me to examine my life and the world around me more deeply and with more intensity than I ever had before. I slowly and quite painfully realized that riches and success do not lead insuperably to a happy and meaningful life. My own experience served as a testimony to this, for despite my bloated dreams of future earthly wealth and comfort, I had to admit that I was living in a sinkhole of despair. I took frequent long walks at night, looking up at the silent sky, and the thought that there was nothing up there looking back at me-just a cold, empty, impersonal universe-left me with a black emptiness inside that words simply cannot describe. I realized to my horror that my life “meant” absolutely nothing: I came together by chance, I would be dissolved by chance, and nothing that I did in between really mattered. Because I did not know God, I had no choice but to believe this was the truth, and yet this “truth” was draining me of any will to live.
When I was about to hit rock bottom, a friend suggested that I read a book by C. S. Lewis entitled Mere Christianity. I got a copy and read it from cover to cover. The book opens with Lewis’ argument for God’s existence, and though some have found his argument to be unpersuasive, I found it to be logically compelling.
In essence, Lewis argued that the human awareness of good, evil, and the sanctity of life points us to God, because these higher-order ideas cannot trace their origins back to a universe consisting entirely of cold atoms and impersonal natural laws. The fact is, argued Lewis, if the atheists are correct then any talk of good, bad, or the meaning of life is sheer gibberish. In light of this, the fact that we human beings do believe in good and evil, and believe instinctively that our lives are meaningful, is “proof” that the universe cannot be impersonal and random. There must be a Creator in order for life to be meaningful and sacred. As Lewis shrewdly put it,
“If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning.”
That one simple statement contains a world of truth.
Thus, after reading Lewis, I came to believe that there is more to the universe than impersonal matter and energy: behind the curtain of our visible world lies another: the world of God and spirit. Shortly thereafter, I had an experience that confirmed this newfound belief. In 1989, I came home from college for spring break. Shortly before my trip home, my family had bought a harmless-looking game called Ouija. My family claimed that it worked, but, ever the young rationalist I was certain the game was either a gimmick or an outright fraud. After approaching the Ouija board and trying it myself, however, I discovered that it was no fraud. I soon found myself having conversations with disembodied “entities” that I could neither see nor hear, and who “spoke” to me by spelling out messages on the game board. Many of these spirits claimed to be the spirits of deceased human beings, although one claimed to be “Satan,” and yet another claimed to be “God.” Many of the spirits’ messages were laced with profanity, others revealed a subtle undercurrent of cold superiority or mocking laughter.
Over time, I began to test what these spirits could know and what they could not. One evening, while “playing” the Ouija game, I was wearing a T-shirt with a tacky logo on the front that read
“Yes, there really is a Kalamazoo.”
(I had bought the shirt in Kalamazoo, Michigan.) I asked the spirits to tell me what color my shirt was. Silence. It was as if the spirits were pondering their response. Then the reply came, slowly:
I was flabbergasted. From the standpoint of philosophical atheism, these invisible spirits who could read my T-shirt and tell me what it said simply defied any “scientific” or “logical” explanation. Where the atheistic worldview fell short of an explanation, however, Christianity was quite up to the challenge. In the wake of such a bizarre experience, Christianity had the most sane explanation: the foul-mouthed invisible entities I was “speaking” to were nothing other than fallen angels-demons. C. S. Lewis taught me in the realm of abstract philosophy that God exists. The Ouija board taught me in the realm of actual experience that the devil exists. The combined effect of these lessons was to drive me inexorably to Christianity.
I returned to college after spring break and never touched the Ouija board again. A few months later, with the encouragement of some Christian friends, I prayed to the Lord Jesus Christ for the first time in my life, and from that moment I called myself a Christian, which in my religiously naïve mind was synonymous with “Protestant.”
Shortly thereafter, I began to attend a Protestant Bible church on the outskirts of my college campus. As I learned more about the New Testament, I became painfully aware that my new Christian lifestyle, although a notch higher than my lifestyle as an atheist, still fell woefully short of the New Testament model exhibited by Christ and the Holy Apostles. Although in my mind I had been given the irrevocable free pass into heaven that constitutes “salvation” for many Protestants, I was still bothered by my distressingly sinful behavior. After graduating from college, I enrolled in a Protestant seminary, hoping that a more scholarly study of the Bible would deepen my understanding of it, and draw me closer to God. My coursework there grounded me in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic, and sharpened my exegetical skills, but this “sophisticated” Bible study did not seem to help my battle against sin-and it raised more questions in my mind than my Protestant professors could satisfactorily answer. Some passages of Scripture allowed for as many as three or four viable interpretations. No wonder there was such a myriad of Protestant groups, each with their own particular theology.
With so many options, how was one to choose, to
“rightly divide the Word of Truth”?
Then I was hit by a novel thought-novel to me, at least: I was reading the Bible in a vacuum, but the Bible was not written in a vacuum. The same Apostles who wrote the New Testament also planted scores of churches and taught those churches Christian doctrine and liturgical practice in person and face-to-face. When the Apostles could not be present, they wrote letters to the churches, letters which simply complemented or expounded upon what they taught orally. There could be no contradiction or conflict since the Apostles were the source of both, and both flowed from the same fount, the Spirit of Truth Himself. It became clear to me that the living tradition of the Church “interpreted” the living words of the Bible, and vice-versa.
With this “revelation,” I immersed myself in the writings of the Early Church Fathers. They introduced me to a worldview radically different from that which I had known as a Protestant. The Church Fathers taught that a man is born again through the waters of Holy Baptism.1 The Fathers anointed the newly baptized with Holy Chrism, sealing the Gift of the Holy Spirit.2 They referred to the Virgin Mary as the New Eve 3 and the Mother of God. 4 They called the Church “holy.” 5 They worshipped in churches overseen by bishops, priests, and deacons. 6 They fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays. 7 They signed themselves with the Sign of the Cross.8 They did not look to the bishop of Rome to oversee the entire Church; rather, all bishops were considered to be equal in authority.9
After pouring over the words of the Fathers, I was led to the conviction that the Tradition of the Apostles, this harmony between the written and oral teachings, has been preserved today only in the Orthodox Church. In 1999, on the Feast of the Protection of the Mother of God, I was officially joined to the Orthodox Church through the Mystery of Holy Baptism. In that Mystery, and in the life of the Church in general, I have experienced a Grace that is beyond description. Of course, my battle against sin is not over; it has only just begun. However, I now have the Orthodox Mysteries, and especially the powerful weapons of Repentance and Holy Communion, to help me in this struggle.
This is how our merciful and long-suffering God drew me to His Church. May His name be praised both now and ever, and unto the ages of ages. Amen.