Joy Davidman Gresham Lewis on Materialism

joyJoy Davidman was an accomplished poet, a sharp thinker, a successful student. She was also an ardent materialist.

A young poet like me could be seized and shaken by spiritual powers a dozen times a day and still take for granted that there was no such thing as spirit. That was what beautiful things did to you. (118)

She guessed that her sensations were just nerves or glands. But her materialism didn’t work for her, deep down:

The very young carry a kind of insurance against atheist despair. Though they believe in nothing else, they will believe firmly in the importance of their own emotions and desires. (87)

What is an “emotion” or a “desire” in a materialist worldview but more nerves and glands, conditioned by untold millennia of natural selection and following in an unbroken chain of causation from the Big Bang?

But Joy prided herself on being a devoted materialist. She thought, as she described it later,

I remember announcing to my parents that I was an atheist at the age of eight. By high school I had it all worked out. Men are only apes, virtue is only custom, life is only an electro-chemical reaction, mind is only a set of conditioned reflexes, and anyway most people aren’t rational like me. Love, art, and altruism are only sex, the universe is only matter, matter is only energy. I’ve forgotten what I said energy was, only. (3–4)

That last line is utterly brilliant. I hope and pray—and prod—that more materialists would come to the place Joy came to:

[I was the] portrait of a happy materialist, but somewhere deep inside there was this girl with dreaming eyes furiously scribbling verses. (4)

Her heart was restless until it found rest with her creator.

HT: Abigail Santamaria

Author: Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

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