C.S. Lewis: A Faith Observed

cslewisby Glenn Fairman   1/30/14
“Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” –C.S. Lewis  •  On November 22, 1963, America was shaken to its foundations by the murder of a young and virile President at the apex of our nation’s power. But lost in that maelstrom of mourning were the passing of two wildly influential men: the writers Aldous Huxley and Clive Staples Lewis. While the former was a noted visionary who articulated his commentary about the human condition by addressing topics such as enhancing perception through Mescaline or in warning us about the barbed lure of Utopia, Lewis labored in the mines of reasoned rhetoric in service to a God he had once vehemently disdained. It would be his eventual conversion that made an erudite and aloof intellect one of the shining beacons of twentieth century literature in the spheres of apologetic discourse and children’s fiction. We perhaps love him best for the latter.

No child of eight or eighty that encounters the character of Aslan can fail to embrace his goodness and moral power. Upon opening the books, no heart can tame the irresistible gravity that draws the love and awe of wide-eyed children into the Lion’s noble battles against all things evil. Although not strictly a Christian allegory, Lewis saturates Aslan’s character with the virtues of the New Testament Jesus; and therein, lays the foundation for the Gospel message with a myth that prefigures reality. Indeed, the Narnia Universe abounds with the alluring messages he lays like landmines below the surface of the adult’s willful reticence at direct evangelizing. Lewis, or “Jack” as he was known to his friends, intimately understood that it was not writers of overtly religious themes that rhetorically moved a culture, but writers in all niches of society that wrote with a Christian worldview. Lewis possessed that rare talent that allows truth to be apprehended on many levels along with the wit and humor to keep a child’s (and adult’s) rapt attention. Of the seven Narnia books, none extends above one hundred and ten pages. As such, his economy of words only highlights the enchanting and profound narratives to be found therein.

During the bombing of London amidst Britain’s darkest days of World War Two, C.S. Lewis gave a series of radio talks to a brave people steeped in anxiety about a perilous future. Those talks were later compiled and became the seminal book, Mere Christianity, which is a best seller to this day. Cherished for its plain talk about the relationship of God, Morality, and Reason in an age of human power that has gone terribly wrong, the masterpiece is a treasure trove of ideas and quotes that are loved more today than when they were first put to paper. His short book, The Abolition of Man, remains one of the greatest treatments about education and the dangers that attend the indoctrination of young minds to a moral neutrality. Indeed, the current burgeoning phalanx of modern apologetics owes much to Lewis, who divined that it was not Science and Christianity that were at war, but the clashing theistic and anti-theistic assumptions of the two worldviews. Lewis revealed that by understanding Science through anti-theistic preconceptions, modern man holds the neutral scientific method hostage to what is in reality a secular theology. In doing so, anti-theism elevates man to the vacated status of God through the dishonest premises of a circular reasoning – wholly biased in the interest of Scientism or Philosophic Naturalism. It would be this fertile strain of thinking that current philosophers such as William Lane Craig and John Lennox would pick up and run with in their project towards shifting the current failing epistemological paradigm towards an open discourse in the fields of cosmology, biology, and morality.

Although he rubbed elbows with England’s finest literary minds, including his dear friend and colleague J.R.R. Tolkien, Lewis was an intensely private man with a taste for simple pleasures and a glass of Port. Other than his cherished books, he gave away much of the money he made as an author and personally answered correspondence from his growing legion of admirers. Lewis was a firm believer in the adage that “one man sharpens another,” and therefore, was not content living in an echo chamber where only his views were parroted. Because of this virtue, he was instrumental in inaugurating Oxford’s Socratic Club: where luminaries contributed their papers and rebuttals on the Eternal Questions to often times packed houses. At these events, an eager audience frequently sat on the floor and in aisles to partake of the intellectual vitality. Anyone familiar with Lewis’ prose realizes that they are infused with a frank humility. He readily admitted the limits of his knowledge and it seems that he was ever fearful that the fame he had earned would mar both his character and the integrity of his perception. He took his occasional defeats hard and seriously but his intellectual honesty even more so.

C.S. Lewis spent the greater bulk of his life as an Oxford Don committed to the cultivation of many generations of students. Between his writing, teaching, and public addresses, there remained room for little else for this confirmed bachelor living in “a life of the mind” brimming with ideas. Near the intellectual zenith of that full life, Lewis met the American divorcee Joy Davidson and there began one of the most odd and tragically beautiful romances in literary history. His eventual marriage of convenience to this former atheist turned Christian admirer blossomed into a tender unity of kindred spirits. When Joy’s death through cancer ultimately severed their brief time together, Lewis was thrown into a suffering worthy of the Book of Job. The relationship, dramatized in the film Shadowlands, put to the test every fiber of a faith he had for decades counseled others on. The torments of loss and doubt he endured upon her death are heartbreakingly revealed in his then anonymously penned A Grief Observed. In that last handful of years, Lewis dusted away the mental abstractions of a lifetime and learned the harrowing lessons of love and loss that school us and rend our hearts in life’s bitter transaction of joy and pain.

In his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, Lewis was admittedly the most recalcitrant convert to the Christian faith. He stated: “A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere… God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous.” His famous 1932 conversion to Christianity in his brother Warnie’s motorcycle sidecar was indicative of a mind always working and reconciling truths. “When we set out I did not believe that Jesus is the Son of God and when we reached the zoo, I did.” Thus began a lifetime quest to validate and chronicle the repercussions of that conversion in a series of books and articles that tease out the raw implications of that belief. It was imperative that in providing an answer for his faith, he should be able to steer clear of that blind dogmatism that rejects the head for the heart. To Lewis, if Christianity be true, then all the truths contained within the knowledge of Philosophy and Science could be reconciled in the Cross – despite claims of Materialism and Post-Modernity to the contrary. In reflecting the light from Divine Intelligence, Lewis popularized and reinvigorated the claim that belief was rational and respectable in a benighted age wherein the sterile promises of humanistic technical proficiency gave way to the expedience of bewildered alienation and gas chambers.

Jack had a way of enshrining old veritable truths into a new light; and in turn, emboldening believers to plumb the depths of a worldview they might never have considered before. How heartening to us when he writes: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”
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Glenn Fairman writes from Highland, Ca. He can be reached at arete5000@dslextreme.com. • (1604 views)

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7 Responses to C.S. Lewis: A Faith Observed

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    It’s interesting that you would mention Huxley writing about the “barbed lure of Utopia” because when we had to write a paper (this was in the 10th grade) on the subject of utopia, I mentioned Brave New World on the grounds that the people (or almost all of them) were in fact happy. I didn’t mean this exactly as approval.

    I also find your title interesting. At a certain age, we “put away childish things” — at least partly because we don’t want to be thought childish. At some age we no longer have to worry about that, and can pick them back up again. This can include reading juvenile literature such as the Narnia and Harry Potter series, or for that matter Uncle Scrooge comic books. My favorite of the Narnia books is probably Voyage of the Dawn Treader, starting with its opening sequence. (“There was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.” And then explaining his oh-so-modern family and his total lack of friends.)

    • Faba Calculo says:

      I’ll put in a good word for the Magician’s Nephew. There’s little better than a good “secret origins” story.

  2. Steve Lancaster says:

    Lewis is the greatest Christian apologist of the 20th century. There is no reason to doubt his faith. It was Tolkien who is most instrumental in his conversion.

  3. griffonn says:

    I like Narnia – especially the books with the Pevensies/Prof. Kirk/Eustace crowd – but I do find it sometimes grating re: the “message”.

    It reminds me of Tolkien’s comment about “cordially detesting allegory” and preferring “applicability” (that is, the much more toned-down version Tolkien preferred).

    It is possible to read Tolkien’s work without actually being a Christian first, and that makes it more powerful in that it argues for what is good and right and true instead of merely explaining or illustrating concepts to the already-converted. By giving up the desire to preach, Tolkien gets something in return – although he also loses something (as is evident by the number of fans who absolutely insist Tolkien ‘wasn’t really a good Catholic’, and all the other projections onto him by wishful Catholic-hating fans).

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Well, I read the Narnia books at a time when I considered myself an agnostic, and had no problem with the message.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Ditto. I’m not a Christian and I have no problem with the message. And my philosophy is that if God is real, he is bigger than our rituals. I love that bit by Glenn about Lewis finding evidence for his Christian God in everything he saw and experienced. I personally don’t. But that would be the standard. If this God is real, he has to be more than just what we desire to believe. He has to be real. This world has to be a reflection of some underlying truth. And this truth will in no way depend upon our rituals and dogma.

        That is, if you can’t express Christian ethics and ideas without the typical liturgy, then one is likely just engaged in mental masturbation. I commend C.S. Lewis and Tolkien for doing it the way they did it.

        After all, when you find a wallet on the street and return it, do you do so because you think if you don’t that Christ will punish you? Or, instead, does honesty and goodness become a real and experiential habit? And when you return the wallet, would it not seem odd, perhaps even morally dubious, to say that you returned the wallet because God said you should, because it was written in the Bible, all without a thought to the basic idea of honesty and respect for property?

        If we can’t internalize these teachings and beliefs (absorb the meaning, not just the words) then we are little better than the mindless Leftists who spout superficial bumper-sticker slogans in place of thinking and then call it a high ethic.

  4. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    This is from an article by Theodore Dalrymple, Suicide of the West. It reminds me a lot of Glenn:

    God is dead in Europe, and I do not see much chance of revival except in the wake of catastrophe. Not quite everything has been lost of the religious attitude, however. Individuals still think of themselves as being of unique importance, but without the countervailing humility of considering themselves as having duty toward the author of their being, a being inconceivably larger than themselves. Far from inducing a more modest conception of man, the loss of religious belief has inflamed his self-importance enormously.

    For the person with no transcendent religious belief, this life is all he has. He must therefore preserve and prolong it at all costs and live it to the full. There are not many Hamlets who could be enclosed in a nutshell and count themselves kings of infinite space. For most people, living to the full means consuming as much as possible, having as many experiences as possible, and not only many experiences, the most extreme experiences possible.

    But the problem with consumption is that it soon ceases to satisfy. How else can one explain the crowds that assemble in every city center every weekend to buy what they cannot possibly need and perhaps do not want? Will another pair of shoes supply a transcendent purpose?”

    The same might be said of the experiences that people feel they must seek if they are to live life to the full. Sports become more extreme in their competitive urgency, holidays more exotic, films more violent, broadcasting more vulgar, the expression of emotion more crude and obvious. Compare advertisements showing people enjoying themselves 60 years ago and now. Mouths are open and screams, either of joy or pain, emerge. Quiet satisfaction is not satisfaction at all; what is not expressed grossly is not deemed to have been expressed.

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