“Think a Little Bit” is the Comments Section handle used by a New York Times reader in Illinois. And that’s all we know.
This past Sunday “Think a Little Bit” commented on a column by Ross Douthat and the comment made it to the “Times Pick” list.
Douthat, a practicing Roman Catholic, may be the most conservative of the Times’ columnists, and regularly speaks about things of the faith and of his church. The headline, whether Douthat’s or an editor’s, was click-baitish enough, “Can Politics Save Christianity?” I took the bait.
The column was Douthat’s Christmas column and ended with a warm “Merry Christmas.” In the column Douthat wrote about the politics of his local parish in Connecticut and connected them with things happening in the whole world. Implicitly, the piece argued for the importance of Christianity and the church to the wellbeing of the whole world. I suppose that is what prompted “Think a Little Bit” in Illinois to respond.
Mostly off-topic, TALB in Illinois wrote, “I would like to know – is it possible to be a good person without fear of hell or reward of heaven? I believe it works for me – I don’t need religion or God to want a fair and kind world for all of us.”
“Nails it!” responded DeeK in Seattle.
Most of those who replied to TALB appear to be atheists or disaffected former Christians. They want something better for our world and they want their goodness to matter. And I say, “God bless them, every one!”
TALB’s thoughts are not original, but they certainly are true, if not very clever. The answer to the question posed about the possibility of human goodness without heaven or hell is an absolute “Yes!” And, of course, TALB in Illinois wants a fair and kind world and doesn’t need God to affirm such a desire. Perhaps such fairness and kindness need no more than goodness without God.
Yes, God bless “Think a Little Bit” in Illinois. The world would be a better place with more people like TALB.
I said that TALB’s thoughts are not very original, and I did not mean to diminish the effort or the conviction TALB put into them. But they are not very original. Or maybe all that clever.
C.S. Lewis answered TALB nearly 80 years ago in a chapter in Mere Christianity he called “Nice People or New Men.” We would say “nice people or new folks.”
Lewis writes, “Niceness” – wholesome, integrated personality – is an excellent thing. We must try by every medical, educational, economic, and political means in our power, to produce a world where as many people as possible grow up “nice”; just as we must try to produce a world where all have plenty to eat. But we must not suppose that even if we succeeded in making everyone nice we should have saved their souls. A world of nice people, content in their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God, would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world – and might even be more difficult to save. For mere improvement is not redemption, though redemption always improves people even here and now and will, in the end, improve them to a degree we cannot yet imagine. God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man.
The goodness TALB purports to have achieved without God is the kind of niceness C.S. Lewis saw all around him in the 1940s.
The gospel is not about niceness so much as it is about newness. The project God began in Bethlehem (okay, from before the dawn of time, for the Reformed among us), is not about improvement so much as it is about redemption. It is about our desperate need for salvation more than our need to be nicer, though we really need to be nicer. God bless those trying to be nicer, God bless them, every one!
Lewis is right. The point is not that we become better people, but that we become sons and daughters of the Living God.
As Charles Wesley put it,
Mild he lays his glory by,
Born that man no more may die,
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.
Hark! the herald angels sing, “Glory to the newborn king!”
Merry Christmas, and God bless us, every one.