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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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Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive.

God in the Dock

A frightening truth about evil that most of us tend to forget is how difficult it is to recognize it for what it is without the benefit of hindsight.  Very few people, not even Adolf Hitler, have committed evil for its own sake.*  At the time an act is committed, there is something about it that seems somehow “good,” and, as Lewis observes above, the worst evil is often perpetrated specifically because someone believe he or she is doing it all for the sake of someone else.

Here, as much as I love Lewis and Tolkien, I think that when our literary education stops with Narnia and the Lord of the Rings we contribute to the problem.  Both show real evil, but the lines of demarcation between right and wrong are very clearly set.  For instance, I haven’t heard anyone seriously argue that Sauron was simply misunderstood and should have been given a fairer shake.  When we read those books, we all know who the bad guys are, and we are all happy when, as Lewis put it, “they are soundly killed.”  From this and other similar depictions (in movies, for example) we often get the idea that evil is something that should be clearly identifiable as evil.  Worse, we come to think that we must somehow recognize something as evil before it really could be evil.  After all, I could never be duped into supporting something like that!

For what Lewis and Tolkien were trying to create (particularly for Lewis, writing as he was for children) I don’t see this as a criticism of either author.  Narnia is precisely the depiction of evil that I want my daughter (at the ripe old age of 8) to cut her teeth on when she reads a book.  The first step is to understand that evil is very real, and that we must show bravery in the face of it.

I do think that I am making a very explicit criticism of what we are as a subculture if we go no farther.  In real life, evil is very convincing and we have to be intelligent, critical, and discerning if we don’t want to be taken in by it.  Lewis and Tolkien both depicted this sort of evil in their less familiar works.  Tolkien did so regularly in The Silmarillion, and Lewis was even more detailed and explicit about it in The Space Trilogy (particularly Perelandra).  There is an art to it, and it is a difficult one to master. It is all too easy for an author to simply depict evil as good, and then declare himself/herself profound.** Those who get it right, though, let us see evil as it would like us to see it, but then also help us see beyond the facade to the true monster that lurks behind.  We understand how someone could think it “good” but we see it well enough to reject it anyway.

Literature is one of the best places for developing our ability to analyze and think well about these sorts of of situations before we encounter them in real life.  So, if you haven’t stepped beyond Narnia with Lewis, now is a good time to start.

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*Hitler literally believed he was aiding human evolution by purging it of those who were polluting it.  Viewed from that perspective, not only was it justified but, if he had been right, it would have been the “moral” thing to do.

**I find that many adults who read books with “real” depictions of evil are really reading this sort of moral escapist drivel.  In the end, this does far more harm than good by simply blurring the lines between right and wrong without equipping us with the tools we need to see through the haze.

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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“Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.”

The Abolition of Man

Or not.

Alright, so the above is actually one of the false Lewis quotes that is circulating the internet.  Yes, I got caught by it.  I pulled it from a list of Lewis quotes when I was trying to get ahead of the curve on these posts.  I do think it more or less sums up Lewis’s sentiments, though, so please take the below for what its worth.  If the quote is false, perhaps there is some truth in what I have to say about it….

To follow up on last week’s meditation on the more famous passage from The Abolition of Man, this week we have a point of explanation.   As a result of the world’s “values-free” philosophy, education often does more harm than it does good.*  It makes us more intelligent sinners, and while it might delay the price for our sins, it virtually insures that we will one day pay dearly for them.

 As I have mentioned before, anyone with an ounce of real historical knowledge should have no illusions about humanity’s ultimate tendencies.  History is littered with the bodies of millions–perhaps billions–of victims who fell prey to our bent towards evil and selfishness.  Millions more have suffered to the point that one of the most common charges against God’s existence** is the reality of evil, much of which has it’s origins in the human mind.

Even if you haven’t given the grand sweep of history much thought, you can probably just think back across your own life to points where you have felt the temptation to do something you know was wrong.  While I certainly doubt/hope you weren’t thinking about mass murder, the fact is that lying, cheating, stealing, adultery, and other “common” sins are still evil and they do harm others, though on a lesser scale.  Most of us give in to temptation often enough to have some real sense of our own natures.  It gives the wiser of us the perspective to look at someone farther down the path of evil than we are and say, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

Hence, the education of children has always needed to be two pronged:  internal and external.  In the former, the child is taught how to defend against his or her own nature.  They develop the ability to resist the temptation to selfishness, laziness, and downright evil.  In the latter they are given the skills they need to interact with the outside world–with colleagues, employers, and jobs.

When you teach only the latter–as we tend to do today–you often by default simply teach a person how to justify and gratify their selfish tendencies and to prolong them as long as possible.  They are given no defenses against themselves.  Human nature then runs amok and is in fact further enabled to do, ultimately, more damage to the individual and the society as a whole.

Let me offer a quick example:  Student cheating.  As a college professor, I have seen the numbers of students cheating rise dramatically in the past ten years.  Of course, there has always been cheating in school, but (at least when I was coming through high school and college in the 1990s) almost everyone admitted that it was wrong.  Not so today.  With the increase of “values-free” education, we have seen a corresponding rise in the number of proud cheaters who believe in a “might makes right” (It’s not wrong if I’m “smart” enough not to get caught), “end justifies the means” (I have to cheat to get into a good college) philosophy.  In one CNN article, 75% of students in a survey admitted to “serious cheating” and 50% said there was nothing wrong with it.  I catch them on a regular basis–stealing or even buying work from the internet–even at Christian institutions.  I’m sure I would be frightened to know how many slip through.   In the words of Rutgers Professor Donald McCabe in the article above, “Students today find it so much easier to rationalize their cheating.”

Of course they do, when our “values-free” educational system has taught them the very justifications they are using!  We are getting what we paid for:  “more clever devils.”

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*This observation is neither an argument for avoid school nor a justification for anti-intellectualism.  It is an imperative to do education right.

**I do find it ironic how many atheists will toss this argument up against a good God’s existence with complete abandon, and then immediately offer up humanity–the most observable of the sources of evil–for worship in His place.

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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