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Posts Tagged ‘C. S. Lewis’

C. S. Lewis, best known as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, was also one of the most profound thinkers of twentieth century Christianity.  Along with J. R. R. Tolkien, he has inspired millions of people, include all of the authors at Lantern Hollow Press.  On Sundays we would like to take a moment to offer up a little Lewis for your consideration.

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A great many of those who ‘debunk’ traditional or (as they would say) sentimental values have in the background values of their own which they believe to be immune from the debunking process.

The Abolition of Man

Debunking values in general is a dangerous game, and it is one that most philosophers and educators undertake without giving proper thought to the possible outcomes.  They always seem to presume that when they are done there will some solid moral ground on which they will be left standing.  Unfortunately, as Lewis notes here, they always seem to cut their own feet from under them, and society as a whole is left to clean up the mess.

This is evident in the continuing spread of Lewis’s old enemy, naturalism, throughout western culture.  The idea that there are no moral absolutes but those which nature can provide has spread like an intellectual oil spill.  At first the idea was billed (and often still is) as freedom from the outdated mores of a dying religion that held back human development.  Over time, though, it became clear that what its adherents really meant was that we should believe in “only the morals we agree are pretty good.”  It hasn’t taken long for people to ask the next logical question, “Why stop there?”

Some fell into the belief that nature itself authors our moral code by imposing its own absolutes through evolution.  The highest and most important of these absolutes is often the struggle for improvement through natural selection.  As they began to re-evaluate human activity based on these standards, they took steps to act on their beliefs, leading to the eugenics movements of the first half of the twentieth century, and culminating with Adolf Hitler’s attempt to purge entire “unfit” races from the human gene pool.  Others, while not so drastic, still took the logical step of treating humans like the animals they believe we are.

A later group fell into what eventually became post modern relativism–the idea that since there is no truth imposed upon us, we define right and wrong entirely on our own.  That sounds attractive, until someone defines it as “moral” to lie to you, cheat you, steal from you, hurt you, murder you, etc.

In most cases, the moral debunkers do a far more effective job tearing down than they do building up.    Humans dethrone God and religion in morality, and they place themselves in the empty seat.  In the former example above, humanity takes control of its own evolution in the pursuit of natural moral law.  In the latter, they literally become god-like themselves; they are the final arbiters of their own reality.  In either case, can anyone give one convincing reason we should not commit any “crime” we like, as long as we can get away with it?  Their replacement morality cannot seem to survive even the most basic scrutiny, but they never seem to figure it out until after the fact.

It is therefore usually only a matter of time before someone calls the debunker’s moral bluff.  Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the Columbine High murderers, exhibited traits of both of the above approaches.  Both specifically called themselves gods in their private journals.  Harris even wore a shirt that read “NATURAL SELECTION” on the day of the massacre, and saw himself acting on behalf of evolution.  Defenders of the above positions often try to hide behind the pair’s obvious madness, but that falls far short of providing a full explanation of how and why it happened.

The possibilities are terrifying, but these are completely “reasonable” conclusions to reach when we begin an assault on traditional values assuming that we will stop somewhere “moral” by default, as Lewis noted.  In the end, if a moral system has no sufficient answer to two little words (“Why not?”) then perhaps we would all be better off if it kept its debunking ways to itself.

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Interested in more about writing and reading from a Christian perspective?  Check out While We’re Paused–the official blog of Lantern Hollow Press.

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C. S. Lewis, best known as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, was also one of the most profound thinkers of twentieth century Christianity.  Along with J. R. R. Tolkien, he has inspired millions of people, include all of the authors at Lantern Hollow Press.  On Sundays we would like to take a moment to offer up a little Lewis for your consideration.

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“Now the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed.”  The Magician’s Nephew (126)

We forget that the we ourselves are the most important ingredient in the making of an idiot.  That usually means that we are more effective in making idiots our of ourselves rather than of others.

Of course, I’m not making any particular statement here about the state of education in general.*  There is a significant difference between “ignorance” and “stupidity.”  The former is a simple lack of knowledge about a particular subject or subjects.  That can be be caused by influences external to ourselves that we may not have control over.  The latter, on the other hand, is generally willful in some way.  It implies that the requisite knowledge to address a situation is at least available, but the person has somehow failed to do the right thing.  It is therefore possible to be ignorant without being stupid, and to bear no responsibility for it.  On the other hand, when we are being stupid, we are almost always ignorant and it is almost always our own fault.

In the character of Uncle Andrew in The Magician’s Nephew (to whom the quote above was applied) we have a brilliant example of stupidity in action.  He is perfectly capable of following what is going around him, but he chooses to understand only what suits him.  He has decided that he is, in fact, one of the “profound students and great thinkers and sages” and a powerful magician (18).  That presupposition renders him unable to see truths about himself that are very plain to everyone else–that he is really a doddering old coward, a greedy fool, and a ridiculous knave.  He is oblivious to his cowardice in forcing Digory to rescue Polly and deludes himself into thinking that the witch could fall in love with him.  Is it any surprise, then, that when he arrives in Narnia at its creation, he succeeds in making himself “stupider” than he really is?  As a result, he not only misses out on a tremendous adventure, he goes down in Narnian history as the least of all men–and in human history this “profound student, great thinker, and sage” is remembered not at all.

I’m afraid to ask myself how often do I follow Andrew Ketterley’s example.  Often enough, I have no doubt.  Lewis is reminding us that we should do all we can to see ourselves, the world around us, and how we relate to it was as much clarity as we can muster,  especially if we don’t think we’ll like what we see.

After all, I am “stupid” enough already–I need go no further!

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*Were you to ask, I could give you an earful.  In fact, I will in a few more weeks.

Interested in more about writing and reading from a Christian perspective?  Check out While We’re Paused–the official blog of Lantern Hollow Press.

References:

  • The Magician’s Nephew.  New York:  Collier Books, 1974.

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C. S. Lewis, best known as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, was also one of the most profound thinkers of twentieth century Christianity.  Along with J. R. R. Tolkien, he has inspired millions of people, include all of the authors at Lantern Hollow Press.  On Sundays we would like to take a moment to offer up a little Lewis for your consideration.

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[T]hough the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still that she did not know.  Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of Time.  But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation.

–Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

One pre-requisite of any religion worth my time and effort is that it must be able to blow my mind, to provide me with insights that no mere human invention could.  In order to do that, the object of belief must, by definition, transcend anything that intellect could obviously produce.*  It is that fact about Christianity, and its Narnian equivalent, that Aslan is alluding to here.

The problem for any of the purely secular religions–including all the variations of scientism, atheism, and secular humanism–is that they are limited by the very real shortcomings of the human mind, since we are dependent wholly on ourselves for their formulation.  A purely naturalistic intellect and the evidence it observes can only take us as far as the edge of all possible human knowledge (to assert otherwise is to make the claim in blind faith and to imagine something frankly akin to a supernatural god).  We know that human knowledge, while impressive to creatures like us, is not and never could be infinite.  We are severely limited to the few years allotted our short lives and, were we to somehow extend them, we would still be bound by the realities of our position inside time and space.  Even if I lived forever, I could never know everything, especially things that happened before I came along or that fell outside the purview of time itself.  In the words of Hamlet, “there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”  Indeed, there are more things out there than philosophy or science ever could dream of, even in theory–and that is saying something.**

The Christian God, quite explicitly, transcends both Time and Space.  Genesis tells of God hovering over the deeps when there are no words to truly describe what He knew.  With Him was Christ, the Word, through whom “all things were made.”  As such, the power and majesty of God and Christ emerge as not only believable but what we should expect to see if Christianity is actually what it claims to be.  This stands in sharp contrast to so many other early religions, where the gods are really little more than exalted, petty men and women, squabbling with themselves and with humans for pieces of a self-created pie.

Of course, it isn’t my purpose here to convince anyone of the essential Truth of particular facts–those are discussions for another time and place where space isn’t so limited.  I am merely attempting to say that on this one point–the sheer size and majesty of the God to which Lewis alludes–makes good sense indeed.

In a few short words, then, Lewis has pointed us to precisely the sort of God I would expect to find as the mastermind behind Time itself.  In comparison, the vaunted might of the human intellect seems suitably small.

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*It must also exist.  While I’ve never been swayed by his famous argument, I would agree with St. Anselm on that much.

**That said, I must stick up for the many, many amazing things that we can know and are still learning through the very good, very useful pursuit of science.  In the end, though, the more we discover, the more we realize how much there is still to learn!  All of human experience, which is much more vast than the tiny slice we’ve collected and call “human knowledge” is but the blink of the cosmic eye.  The effect of all this should be humbling, to those not drunk on the tiny draught of understanding of which we as a species have so far partaken.

Interested in more about writing and reading from a Christian perspective?  Check out While We’re Paused–the official blog of Lantern Hollow Press.

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C. S. Lewis Malvern College

Cherbourg School was connected to Malvern College at the time Lewis attended.

Finally got the chance to look through Jack’s letters from Cherbourg School today.  I need to take some time to examine them in more depth, but I did notice a number of general themes/issues that stood out right at the beginning and most of them have to do with his relationship to his father.

In Surprised By Joy, Lewis noted that he was mortally ashamed of the way he had treated his father, Albert.  He said that as time passed he intentionally put on a more and more elaborate mask with Albert.  Jack hid his true thoughts and real self from Albert while keeping up a pretense that he really was his father’s best friend.  While I’m not sure that it was intentional at this point in his life, the letters from Cherbourg appear to lay the groundwork for that later pattern:

  • There is almost a formula to Jack’s letters.  He seems to have a list of non-revealing discussion points that he moves through–the weather, the geography, local points of interest, trips to see the theater or hear a musical performance, and then finally requests for things he’s forgotten/needs.  None of this reveals anything in particular about Jack, what he’s experiencing, or what he’s thinking.  None of the important changes and revelations from Surprised By Joy make an appearance.
  • In his one letter to Warnie, he is already referring to his frustrations with his father’s company–“Rows after tea and penitentiary strolls in the garden are not pleasant…” (25), even as he later entreats his father to “pour out all your troubles” onto Jack’s young shoulders.  He said that he would bear the burden “as you know, very gladly.” (27)  There is clearly already a bit of a dual life story being written.
  • More than one Lewis scholar as noted the paucity of letters from Jack during his time at Cherbourg, and Hooper in particular takes this as evidence of the “personal renaissance” that Jack was undergoing.  While I do agree with that, there seem to be hints in the text that there were a number of other letters that simply haven’t survived (something Hooper does allow for, though he emphasizes the other explanation).  For instance, Jack specifically mentions to Warnie, “Please write soon (how often have I made that request and received no answer to it)…” (25).  He later mentions to Albert that Warnie “seems to consider the answering of letters a superfluous occupation” (26) implying of course that he was a regular attempted correspondent.
    • I think it worth noting that though there are a few possible inferences to draw from this, it would be a fallacy to attempt to do so.  We would be, obviously, arguing from an absence of evidence.

Finally, a quick note on Hooper’s chronology.  He dates LP IV: 49-50 (Jack’s letter to Warnie asking about Warnie’s getting the boot from his position as prefect)  to “1? July 1913” and LP IV 44-5 (Jack corresponding with Albert about Warnie’s demotion) to “6 July 1913.”  This seems to be out of order, for what that might be worth.  In 44-6 Jack specifically mentions that “shortly after I wrote my letter to you, I decided to write him…. [emphasis added]”  From the subsequent description of the letter’s contents, it is clear that Jack is describing 49-50.  Therefore, if 44-5 is correctly dated to 6 July, 49-50 must have been written on the same day.

No biggie, but there it is.

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C. S. Lewis, best known as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, was also one of the most profound thinkers of twentieth century Christianity.  Along with J. R. R. Tolkien, he has inspired millions of people, include all of the authors at Lantern Hollow Press.  On Sundays we would like to take a moment to offer up a little Lewis for your consideration.

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We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, “Blessed are they that mourn,” and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.

A Grief Observed

In A Grief Observed, Lewis wrestled with the implications of the death of his wife, Joy.  It was the first time that much of what he had been speaking about philosophically came home to him in a literal way.  He found in that terrible moment, as we all do, that pain and grief are one thing in the abstract and quite another when experienced.  The very best philosophy at that moment will seem nothing more than mere moonshine (though it may still be objective correct simultaneously).  This is a realization to which much of the western church–the American version in particular–is being rudely awakened.

America has been a nominally Christian nation* since its founding era.  As far back as the beginnings of its individual colonies, it was a haven from persecution.  We most often think of the Pilgrim Separatists of Plymouth, but there were many, many other sorts of believers that fled here to escape persecution, real and imagined, including Baptists, Anabapists, Moravians, Quakers, and Catholics.  They created a society were religious differences would be tolerated, including deism and atheism.

Since that time, America has been slowly redefined into a bastion of secular humanism, a peculiar kind of belief that, while claiming no god in particular in practice worships natural law and humanity as its chief expression.  Like the other religions it claims to critique, secular humanism can tolerate no meaningful dissent in public, and therefore we have seen Christianity’s special place in America regularly rolled back in favor of this new faith through movements that have redefined such classic ideas as the separation of church and state.  As that has happened, we have seen accompanying howls of outrage and indignation from politically active Christians who often have had trouble distinguishing their patriotism from their faith.

To this, I believe Lewis would say, “So what?”  As he noted above, we are promised sufferings and persecutions.  Anyone who signed you up for the Christian faith with the understanding that you would be guaranteed a happy, successful life free from frustration and grief is as bad a historian as they are a friend.  The reality is that the state of affairs that existed in the United States for its first 200 years is the exception, not the rule. Indeed, when things go back to “normal,” we will “have gotten nothing that [we] hadn’t bargained for.”

Of course, that is very easy to say.  The real rub will come the first time I personally have to confront what that actually means–in my life, for my family, and for my loved ones.  I can only pray I bear it well when it does.

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*By “Christian nation” I mean a nation that was founded largely (but not wholly) as an outgrowth of philosophical presuppositions native to the Christian faith and meant to govern a population that largely agreed with that faith.  I do not mean, as many secularists do in such conversations, that it was a theocracy.  It was not and has never been anything of that sort, and to point that out is not particularly noteworthy.

Interested in more about writing and reading from a Christian perspective?  Check out While We’re Paused–the official blog of Lantern Hollow Press.

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C. S. Lewis, best known as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, was also one of the most profound thinkers of twentieth century Christianity.  Along with J. R. R. Tolkien, he has inspired millions of people, include all of the authors at Lantern Hollow Press.  On Sundays we would like to take a moment to offer up a little Lewis for your consideration.

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For this is one of the miracles of love; it gives — to both, but perhaps especially to the woman — a power of seeing through its own enchantments and yet not being disenchanted.

A Grief Observed

Love–in its truest sense–is not something that obscures our view of reality.  Instead, it sharpens it.  Through real love, according to Lewis, we see the one we love with crystal clarity…and we decide that we will love them anyway.

To Lewis, as to any really wise person, love is much more than a cascade of fuzzy emotion directed at what amounts to an idol.  It is something that really transcends both the lover and the object of his/her affection.  To use another of Lewis’s famous quotes, “Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.”  It is a decision to which we choose to adhere far more than it is mere feeling. We want the best for someone we love, even in the times we may not like them very much.

Most of the modern world defines “love” no more deeply than the flurry of emotion that accompanies infatuation.  Unfortunately, this does not last and eventually we see through the idealized fantasy version of the person that we have “fallen for” and realize who they really are (who we all are)–a broken, imperfect creature with a tendency towards selfishness and failure.  In that moment, if we define love on terms as shallow as infatuation, our “love” for them ceases.  We become “disenchanted.”

Shortly after we quit “loving” them, we begin to feel that we need not be obligated to them either.  We go in search of a new “love” who will excite in us the same feelings the first one did.  Relationships fall apart, marriages end in bitter divorce, and children are often the innocent victims.  Society as a whole then suffers as a result of a misunderstanding by the sum of its parts.

The cycle is vicious and predictable. It also can be broken with a simple, infinitely difficult step:  We make the decision to practice real love with those to whom we have offered the word in lip-service for far too long.

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Interested in more about writing and reading from a Christian perspective?  Check out While We’re Paused–the official blog of Lantern Hollow Press.

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C. S. Lewis, best known as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, was also one of the most profound thinkers of twentieth century Christianity.  Along with J. R. R. Tolkien, he has inspired millions of people, include all of the authors at Lantern Hollow Press.  On Sundays we would like to take a moment to offer up a little Lewis for your consideration.

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“Peace, Beaver,” said Aslan.  All names will soon be restored to their proper owners.  In the meantime we will not dispute about noises.”

–The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe

Names are powerful things, even though we may not often think of them as so.  Most cultures take them very seriously, and this is often reflected in literature.  We need only think of Hermionie Granger’s admonition to Lucius Malfoy that “fear of a name only increases the fear of the thing itself,” to see it.  While I don’t know that Lewis was thinking along these lines in particular, I find Aslan’s statement to be almost prophetic.

Christians believe that names matter.  God has promised this Himself:

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.  To him who overcomes, to him I will give some of the hidden mana, and I will give him a white stone, and a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who recieves it.

–Revelation 2:17

A True Name, directly from God, that only He knows.  That is a gift indeed.

Of course, in the short run, not all names are going to be with their proper owners.  People who should be held in esteem and spoken of in terms of honor and grace are regarded with disdain and subjected to names so vile that I won’t repeat them here.  Others who should be ashamed of what they’ve done are held up as the finest examples of humanity and showered with praise.  There is something in us that cringes at both extremes.  We get angry when we see this kind of injustice, though at times we may not even realize why.

The good news is that God sees through to the very heart of things, and He is the ultimate Namer of whom we are but a poor imitation.  One day, as Aslan promised Beaver, all names will be restored to their proper owners.  In the meantime, we “need not dispute about noises” and let what others think of us weigh too heavily on on our minds.  We should take curses and praises both with the proverbial grain of salt.

Remember, the One who really matters sees us as we truly are.  His name is waiting for us.

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Interested in more about writing and reading from a Christian perspective?  Check out While We’re Paused–the official blog of Lantern Hollow Press.

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