Arts, Media, and Entertainment

Visions of the Good Life

Tonight and next Wednesday PBS will air the two-part series "The Question of God." It's based on the book The Question of God written by my good friend Harvard professor Dr. Armand Nicholi, based, in turn, on his course which he has taught at Harvard for the last twenty-five years. The Question of God compares the secular worldview of Sigmund Freud and the biblical worldview of C. S. Lewis. Lewis and Freud both attempted to answer the question, "What does it mean to live the good life?" And no two thinkers brought stronger, more diametrically opposed answers to that question. Freud talked about the "pleasure principle." He believed that sexual freedom gave the greatest pleasure and, therefore, the greatest happiness. So Freud saw sexual repression as the enemy of humanity. Therefore, he thought it was healthy and even exhilarating to challenge existing moral restraints. That philosophy had an enormous influence on the existentialists of the 1960s. Camus, Sartre, and others took Freud's principles, along with those of Kinsey and others, and threw off all restraints. Like Freud, they believed life had no ultimate meaning except their own pleasure. Unlike the doctrinaire atheists of today, Freud admitted that the people who practiced moral rectitude did seem to be happier. He envied Christians for their belief in God and the moral law because they seem to live happier lives. But, he said, they were just engaged in wish fulfillment because there wasn't any moral truth and there wasn't any God. Lewis, on the other hand, wrote "for any happiness, even in this world, quite a lot of restraint is going to be necessary [and] . . . surrender to all our desires leads to . . . everything that is the reverse of health." Lewis argued that there is the Tao, the moral law that governs all people at all times. The good life for Lewis was the moral life lived in harmony with the Tao, in harmony with the way God created reality. Moral relativism, he argued, would lead to a life of unhappiness and a lack of human fulfillment -- precisely what has happened in modern times. Nicholi also looks to Lewis and Freud on the question of love. Freud believed all love was sexual or subliminally sexual. And this sexualization of love, he believed, marks every relationship we have. Lewis spent his life diagnosing what love is. Writing in The Four Loves, he explored the whole idea of agape love, a love that is self-sacrificing. That kind of love was utterly incomprehensible to Freud as it would be to any materialist. If this world is all there is, self-sacrifice is never in our best interest. Both the book and program build on Nicholi's experience in the classroom. His analysis and arguments are tried and true through his work with generations of students. And that is why I want to encourage you to tune in to the series and read the book. As you do, focus in on what Freud and Lewis say about the good life and about love. You'll discover that their answers to these fundamental questions made all the difference in their lives. And that's the acid test, isn't it? Freud was miserable much of his life, living according to his worldview. Lewis found joy and meaning in his. And the choice between Freud's worldview and Lewis's makes all the difference today in our lives. For further reading and information: Dr. Armand Nicholi, The Question of God: C. S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex, and the Meaning of Life (Free Press, 2002). Learn more about the PBS program "The Question of God." Find out where and when the program will air in your area. PBS has provided a free discussion guide. (Adobe Acrobat Reader required.) Buy the video or DVD of the PBS program "The Question of God." Find out the address and phone number of your local PBS station and thank them for airing "The Question of God." BreakPoint Commentary No. 040914, "'The Question of God': The PBS Show." See the section on C. S. Lewis's The Four Loves from the PBS show. Read an excerpt from chapter six.
  1. S. Lewis, The Four Loves(1960).
  2. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy(1955). Read an excerpt from chapter fourteen.
BreakPoint Commentary No. 040412, "Everything Old Is New Again: C. S. Lewis and the Argument from Reason." David K. Naugle, Th. D., "The Good Life," Worldview Church eReport, February/March 2004.


Chuck Colson


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