Tuesday, November 28, 2006

CS Lewis

This being the anniversary of CS Lewis' birthday I thought Id make a blog entry about him. Around the time I was finishing highschool, I developed an interest in theology and apologetics. I suppose it was triggered by a variety of factors. Here in the west, we are bombarded daily by an outlook on life that is humanist, atheistic and materialistic. Furthermore almost everyone of my friends (from highschool, not the Serbian ones), lived life as if spirituality did not exist, as if the ultimate goal was sensual pleasures and material gain. This was further reinforced in the media when I got back home from school and switched on the tv. Every soap, every tv series, every reality show, churned out the same monotonous materialist God-less message. It was only logical that my faith took a heavy battering, and some temptations to fit into the western outlook of the world forced me to really agonise over the fundamental questions of life. Furthermore around that time Islam burst onto the scene, and its suicide bombers seemed to have infinitely more conviction and belief than could be found in the decadent West. From an early age Ive resisted the habit to lie to myself and have strived to be an honest seeker of the truth, so I couldnt just put these issues to the back of my mind and just ignore the fundamental questions till my death bed. As Lewis said:

If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.

I have absolute faith in the famous Bible passage: 'Seek and ye shall find'. I believe if you strive for the truth with humility and honesty then you cannot fail to find it. One of the first writers I came accross in the field of Christian apologetics was CS Lewis. It was he who honestly stated:

Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.

He is famous for his fantasy works such as 'The Chronicles of Narnia', but I am more interested in his non-fictional writings.
As a teenager, he abandoned the Christianity of his home and became interested in mythology and the occult. His separation from Christianity began when he started to view his religion as a chore and as a duty; around this time he also gained an interest in the occult as his studies expanded to include such topics. Lewis quoted Lucretius as having one of the strongest arguments for atheism:

Nequaquam nobis divinitus esse paratam
Naturam rerum; tanta stat praedita culpa
Had God designed the world, it would not be
A world so frail and faulty as we see.


Influenced by arguments with his Oxford colleague and friend J. R. R. Tolkien, and by G.K. Chesterton's book, The Everlasting Man, he slowly rediscovered Christianity. He pondered:

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?

Later he was to say:

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.

He fought greatly up to the moment of his conversion noting:

"I came into Christianity kicking and screaming."

He described his last struggle in Surprised by Joy:

"You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England."

It was intriguing to me how such a dedicated atheist could find a path to God with such resistance. Lewis' approach to religious belief as a skeptic, and his following conversion by the evidence, are what made him of interest to me. As he was later to say:

A young man who wishes to remain a sound atheist cannot be too careful of his reading.

His rejection of the luke-warm, relativistic values secular society has tried to impose on religion is demonstrated when he states:

"I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."

Lewis was basically saying that there are three options:
1. Jesus was telling falsehoods and knew it, and so he was a liar.
2.Jesus was telling falsehoods but believed he was telling the truth, and so he was insane.
3.Jesus was telling the truth, and so he was divine.

Lewis' writing style and logic remind me of the type of brains that the grammar schools of this country used to churn out, when teachers used to teach their pupils how to think, not what to think. My history GCSE should have been called 'The Evils of Nazism' GCSE, I covered no other period of history whatsoever. Not even English history! How ironic that in an attempt to build a moral framework for 'diversity', they imposed an education with no diversity. The attempts to tarnish all nationalism, tribalism, racial consciousness, and homogenous societies need to have a starting point. If they can establish Nazism as the greatest evil in history in the minds of impressionable children, then they can discredit any ideology with even remotely similar values by simply screaming 'Nazi'. Anyhow I digress. Lewis has so many great books, essays and quotes that It would take me weeks to sum up all his arguments. Niether do I have the time for that, and even if I did, I doubt anyone would have the time or inclination to read it. So I'll finish off by providing one indepth example of the value of Lewis' apologetics:
From the Problem of Pain (Chapter 3: Divine Goodness):
Any consideration of the goodness of God at once threatens us with the following dilemma.
On the one hand, if God is wiser than we His judgement must differ from ours on many things, and not least on good and evil. What seems to us good may therefore not be good in His eyes, and what seems to us evil may not be evil.
On the other hand if God's moral judgement differs from ours so that our 'black' may be His 'white, we can mean nothing by calling him good; for to say 'God is good', while asserting that His goodness is wholly other than ours is really only to say 'God is we know not what'. And an utterly unknown quality in God cannot give us moral grounds for loving or obeying Him. If He is not (in our sense) 'good' we shall obey, if at all, only through fear- and should be equally ready to obey an omnipotent Fiend...
...When the relevant difference between the Divine ethics and your own appears to you, you will not, in fact be in any doubt that the change demanded of you is in the direction you already called 'better'. The Divine 'goodness' differs from ours, but it is not sheerly different: it differs from ours not as white from black but as a perfect circle from a child's first attempt to draw a wheel. But when the child has learned to draw, it will know that the circle it then makes is what it was trying to make from the very beginning...
...By the goodness of God we mean nowadays almost exclusively His lovingness; and in this we may be right. And by Love, in this context, most of us mean kindness- the desire to see others than the self happy; not happy in this way or in that, but just happy. What would really satisfy us would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing,'What does it matter so long as they are contented?' We want, in fact, not so much a Father in Heaven as a grandfather in heaven- a senile benevolence who, as they say, 'liked to see young people enjoying themselves' and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be said at the end of each day, 'a good time was had by all'...I do not claim to be an exception: I should very much like to live in a universe which was governed on such lines. But since it is abundantly cleart that I dont, and since I have reason to believe, nonetheless, that God is Love, I conclude that my conception of love needs correction...
...Love is something more stern and splendid than mere kindness...There is a kindness in Love: but Love and kindeness are not coterminous...Kindness consents very readily to the removal of its object- we have all met people whose kindness to animals is constantly leading them to kill animals lest they should suffer. Kindness, merely as such, cares not whether its object becomes good or bad, provided only that it escapes suffering... If God is Love he is, by definition, something more than mere kindness. And it appears, from all the records, that though He has often rebuked us and condemned us, He has never regarded us with contempt. He has paid us the intolerable compliment of loving us, in the deepest, most tragic, inexorable sense...
...The lowest type, and one which is 'love' at all only by an extension of the word, is that which an artist feels for an artefact. God's relation to man is pictured thus in Jeremiah's vision of the potter and the clay, or when St. Peter speaks of the whole Church as a building on which God is at work, and of the individual members as stones... We are, not metaphorically but in very truth, a Divine work of art, something that God is making, and therefore something with which He will not be satisfied until it has a certain character. Here again we come up against the 'intolerable compliment'. Over a sketch made idly to amuse a child, an artist may not take much trouble: he may be content to let it go even though it is not exactly as he meant it to be. But over the great pictures of his life- the work which he loves, though in a different fashion, as intensely as a man loves a woman or a mother a child- he will take enless trouble- and would, doubtless, thereby give endless trouble to the picture if it were sentient. One can imagine a sentient picture, after being rubbed and scraped and recommended for the tenth time, wishing that it were only a thumbnail sketch whose making was over in a minute. In the same way, it is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but less...
...When we want to be something other than the thing God wants us to be, we must be wanting what, in fact, will not make us happy...
It is not simply that God has arbitrarily made us such that He is our only good. Rather God is the only good of all creatures: and by necessity, each must find its good in the kind and degree of the fruition of God which is proper to its nature: but that there ever could be any other good, is an atheistic dream. George Macdonald, in a passage I cannot now find, represents God as saying to men,'You must be strong with my strength and blessed with my blessedness, for I have no other to give you'. That is the conclusion of the whole matter. God gives us what He has, not what He has not: He gives the happiness that there is, not the happiness that is not. To be God- to be like God and to share in His goodness in creaturely response- to be miserable- these are the only three alternatives. If we will not learn to eat the only food that the universe grows- the only food that any possible universe ever can grow- then we must starve eternally.

LINKS
The Orthodox CS Lewis

4 Comments:

Blogger Estavisti said...

Ah, the old "Evils of Nazism" GCSE. That brings back the memories. In fairness, there was a large dose of "The Evils of Communism", but, strangely, there was nothing on British colonialism or the Vietnam War and other such equally interesting topics. Funny, eh?

1:24 AM  
Blogger Nikola said...

True but when it came to communism, they always emphasised that it was a nice dream in theory, just didnt work in practice. Whereas nazism was evil to the core, in theory and in practise. The other ideological point that was emphasised was the unique suffering of the jews, so much so that what at most was 'a holocaust' became 'the holocaust'. Hence they have been given a copyright on suffering. Notice they wont let the armenians refer to their suffering in turkey as a holocaust.

2:34 PM  
Blogger MrSmith said...

It's a very clever ploy, very Gramscian. I seem to remember that my own Evils of Nazism 'history' section was contrasted only with the abuses of Stalinism during the purges. Seems like there's no real history in the history lessons. So many things that just weren't mentioned to us as kids. As you said, Nikola, there's not even anything about English history. And what about the global history that doesn't tow the general 'The West deserves everything bad' attitude. (Pre-America jihad, Chinese revolution, Japanese cruelty during WW2).

Now, I can understand why people are annoyed with 'the decadent West', especially those outside of it. But it might be worth mentioning, I think, that those of us in the West, born of it, with it in our heritage, feel angry too. Worse, we're feeling betrayed. And that does not make us feel any less angry.

The West was not always decadent, nor was it always run by quisling failures. And in the light of our impending doom, we're beginning to wake up to it. Nazism has made a real mess of things, Godwin's law has been a spanner in the works for a long time, but we're beginning to learn not to care.

Lewis wouldn't have stood for any of this. The Calormenes are no longer coming in as merchants, they've set up their own colonies. And Chesterton.... well, he would have been even angrier.

The West can rise again. God willing, we will rise hand in hand with the Christian East, as we should.

10:39 PM  
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