RE: [mythsoc] Fw: Remembering C.S. Lewis...
- Thanks, Ted! Nice to see CSL toasted in the NY TIMES.
I should tell you that CSL also got a lovely remembrance on *Fox News
Sunday* from Tony Snow. He did a beautiful thumbnail reflection on CSL in
his "Parting Thoughts" segment this past Sunday. I don't have the text,
but you might be able to find it if you go to the Fox News web site. I
might investigate this matter and see what I can find. ---djb
Date: Sun, 23 Nov 2003 21:02:56 -0600
Subject: [mythsoc] Fw: Remembering C.S. Lewis...
Sent: Saturday, November 22, 2003 11:26 AM
Subject: Remembering C.S. Lewis...
At the time we were experiencing the death of JFK, another man died in
November 22, 2003
A Mind That Grasped Both Heaven and Hell
By JOSEPH LOCONTE
Forty years ago today, as the world mourned the assassination of an
American president, the passing of the 20th century's most influential
Christian writer was hardly noticed: Clive Staples Lewis, professor of
English literature at Oxford and Cambridge, died on Nov. 22, 1963. In his
ability to nurture the faithful, as well as seduce the skeptic, C. S. Lewis
had no peer.
Lewis was an atheist for much of his adult life, an experience that may
have helped immunize him from the religious cliché, the reluctance to ask
hard questions, the self-righteousness of the zealot. "Mr. Lewis possesses
the rare gift," according to an early reviewer, "of being able to make
righteousness readable." Lewis was not a theologian, but he expressed even
the most difficult religious concepts with bracing clarity. He was not a
preacher, yet his essays and novels pierce the heart with their nobility
The lessons found within his writings continue to resonate today. In fact,
it's hard to imagine a time when the need for sane thinking about religion
was more momentous. Cite an act of terror, from the sniper shootings in
Washington to the bombings in Baghdad and Istanbul, and faith is close at
hand. Many are now tempted to equate piety with venality - or worse - and
it's here that Lewis may have the most to teach us.
Born in 1898, Lewis reached maturity in the 1930's, when Europe was being
convulsed by the rise of new tyrannies: communism in Russia and fascism in
Spain, Italy and Germany. At the same time, trends in psychology and
theology were discrediting Christian doctrines of sin and repentance. The
"root causes" of international disorder were said to be social and
political arrangements, like runaway capitalism or the flawed Treaty of
Versailles. But Lewis, like his friend J. R. R. Tolkien, knew the trouble
lay deeper, and marshaled his literary imagination to explore it.
In a harrowing scene from his science fiction novel "Perelandra," the
protagonist, Prof. Elwin Ransom, battles a mad scientist horribly
disfigured by his lust for power. Lewis writes: "What was before him
appeared no longer a creature of corrupted will. It was corruption itself
to which will was attached only as an instrument." The Christians, Lewis
argued, were right: the mystery of evil was rooted in the tragedy of human
nature. Pride, and the poisoned conscience it created, functioned as the
engine of the world's woes. Unchallenged, it led to a "ruthless, sleepless,
unsmiling concentration upon self, which is the mark of Hell."
Many modern liberals dismiss Lewis's concept of the diabolical as a
"medieval" superstition. Yet many religious conservatives seem to make evil
the brainchild of God himself. For them, all individual and social sin -
including the terror of Sept. 11 - is the perfect will of a Divine Judge
(as the Rev. Jerry Falwell claimed at the time). Lewis disagreed: Evil is
always man's doing, yet it is never his destiny. The power of choice makes
evil possible, but it's also "the only thing that makes possible any love
or goodness or joy worth having."
While Oxford agnostics howled, Lewis gave BBC talks on theology that were a
national sensation. Even his beloved children's stories, "The Chronicles of
Narnia," ring with biblical themes of sin and redemption. No one did more
to make "the repellent doctrines" of Christianity plausible to modern ears.
Nevertheless, Lewis acknowledged that religion easily becomes a device to
exploit others - sometimes, as in the case of sexually abusive priests, at
the very steps of the altar. The pretense of piety, he said, has left a
record of violence that should shame every honest believer. "Of all bad
men, religious bad men are the worst," he wrote in "Reflections on the
Yet, unlike the cynic, Lewis refused to blame the faith itself for the
shortcomings of the church. Instead, his writings offer bright glimpses
into the moral beauty of divine goodness, what Lewis called "the weight of
glory." It is this vision of the Holy, he observed, that has produced many
of the masterpieces of art and music. This same vision motivates the
faithful to risk everything to relieve the world's suffering: caring for
plague victims, defending the rights of children, guiding slaves to
freedom, breaching war zones to feed the poor.
"If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did most for
the present world were just those who thought most of the next," he wrote
in "Mere Christianity," one of his best-known works. "It is since
Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have
become so ineffective in this." In an era when God himself seems to be on
trial, that's a timely message - for the half-hearted pilgrim as well as
the devoted doubter. Probably just what C. S. Lewis had in mind.
Joseph Loconte, religion fellow at the Heritage Foundation, is editor of
the forthcoming "The End of Illusions: America's Churches and Hitler's
Gathering Storm, 1938-41.''
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Dr. Theodore J. Sherman, Editor
Mythlore: A Journal of J. R. R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Charles Williams, and
Associate Professor of English
Box X041, Middle Tennessee State University
Murfreesboro, TN 37132
615 898-2653 Office
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