The Question of God

I just finished watching the first part of the PBS special The Question of God, based on the Harvard class and subsequent book by Dr. Armand Nicholi. The program is structured around reenactments of significant moments in the lives of Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis interspersed with segments from a series of roundtable discussions where the participants discuss with Dr. Nicholi questions raised by the experiences and writings of Lewis and Freud.

I haven't read the book yet, though I do plan to in hopes that it will be a helpful resource for future discussion groups, so I can't speak to how the program jibes with the text. My understanding is that the discussion group is unique to the program.

It's all still fresh in my head, so I'm not sure what I think yet. I found the examinations of Lewis and Freud to be compelling, and certainly both men lived out the struggles of their times. Not much to say about those parts yet, except for one moment. I don't remember who it was that pointed out the scene in The Magicians Nephew, when Digory is tempted by the Witch to take the golden apple with the power to heal back to his mother, and (it's obvous in hindsight) connects that moment to the disillusionment that Lewis experienced when the prayers for his own mother's healing were not answered. It's been years since I've read that book, so it was a meaningful insight for me.

The discussions were a different matter. We'll have to see how they develop in part two, but for now they seemed more like examples of what Nicholi has done in his classes than actual attempts to hash out some of these issues. As someone who deals frequently with non-Christians, these kinds of discussions are good beginning points, but the snippets shown on the program were at times uncomfortably nebulous and undefined. You have to work towards some kind of common frame of reference at some point; the participants in the discussions in the program, however, are all over the place.

That's not to say that there weren't some surprising moments. It was unexpected to hear Michael Shermer (the editor of Skeptic Magazine, for those who don't know) admitting that most of what we believe (he included himself) is shaped and determined by non-rational reasons - who we read, what we like, the people with whom we enjoy hanging out.

All things considered, I'm looking forward to the second half. I'm curious to see where the discussions will go, and I'm enjoying the reintroduction to the lives of two of the twentieth century's most significant thinkers. If anyone is interested in reading more, here's the program's website. It has transcripts of the discussions as well as additional resources (including an essay by Steve Martin that, I'm sorry to say, just left me scratching my head).

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