I have always been puzzled by AN Wilson, but then I'm not English, and Wilson seems so very English, so I've always put my confusion down to that. Now I realize I may not be alone in my puzzlement.
As a beginning librarian I had to write a review and recomendation on a work of apologetics by Wilson. At first I was thrilled. I was hungry for a new, intelligent, insightful take on our common faith. I was hoping for something like a postmodern update on "Mere Christianity."
But when I read it I felt as if the reasons Wilson gave for his faith were far too weak and unstable to bear much freight. Wilson's encounter with Tolstoy was Wilson's touchstone for Christianity, and frankly, Tolstoy, while a magnificent writer, was a very, very strange man. Far stranger, and madder, it seems, than Lewis. Tolstoy may have died a saint, but he was more than a bit of a devil to his family, especially his wife, and that disquiets me. I realize the state of the soul and spirit and the state of the personality can be far away from each other, but aren't the soul and spirit supposed to interpenetrate the personality and bring it around? The way Wilson presented his Tolstoyian plea for Christianity, I just felt the yawning gap. I remember thinking that Wilson's Christianity didn't seem quite solid enough to be writing a book that was supposed to convince others. As the cliche goes, it felt like he was trying to convince himself. It was all ethical and rational, all what
Lewis would call thin soup with nothing thick to it. It didn't seem to run thru Wilson, just around him. I didn't think it would stick.
And I was right. Soon after Wilson declared he was no longer a Christian. And wrote a bio of Lewis.
I am more forgiving of artistic biographies than the author of the essay from the link because I tend to think that anyone who reads only one biography is just not getting it. Biographies to me are like translations. Read as many as you can, as many takes, as many perspectives and techniques and approuches as possible. Then let them all run together inside you, mix it up with your own intuition, and look for a flavor, a color or smell, more than a fact. There is no such thing as any human being who can be completely explained or understood, regarless of how many facts you mount up about them. However much we know about any human being's life, it is still a small bit of distorting light compared to all that we do not know. So be humble, be accurate, leave lots of room for what is unknowable, and don't get too caught up in analysing Metternich's laundry list. Hmmm, I should probobly have been less perturbed by my inadequate understanding of Tolstoy.
And I was probably not the only one who had looked to bright, Oxonian Wilson to perhaps provide a "Mere Christianity, Part 2." I wonder if that might have been part of what did in Wilson's faith. What a heavy mantle to inherit. How best to shrug it off?
Well, assign Christianity to the nursery, a nursery that you have had the maturity to leave, hoodwink your literary father with an oedipal blindfold, spin him around a few times and sneak out the door.
OK -- that was unfair. Grossly unfair, but I share a tendency with Wilson to get creative and dramatic. And it is so very hard not to let it run away with you. I can sympathize with Wilson on that. As I am learning, it takes a whole lot of self-discipline to rein in the imaginative element just sufficently to keep it from falsehood, uncharity or slander, while still giving it enough room to goose up these dull marks on the screen.
Back in the late 70s, early 80s, I was occaisonly able to attend meetings of the NY CS Lewis Society. I remember being told, in a very sotto voice sort of way, that it was had --on good authority -- though what that authority was, was never put to any test -- that Lewis was a virgin. I remember being both a bit suspicious and, even more, put off by this bit of nudge nudge, wink wink "inner ring" knowledge. It seemed I was supposed to take on faith what I was being told. But since God is the only thing I really feel comfortable taking on faith(and that only because of enough evident grace to help me along,) it bothered me. The elitism bothered me and the expectation that I should and would swollow it whole without back-up bothered me but I guess what bothered me most was the unspoken assumption that this was a -good- thing. I sensed that Hopper might be at the bottom of it, though nothing outright was said. It was all very "we in the know." Ick.
Wouldn't it be ironic if Lewis really had been a virgin, thou I'm not sure what authority could back that up. I hope for his sake that it isn't true. Did the Gresham boys or Maureen Moore ever hear any odd noises from the bedroom down the hall? Or is it, as perhaps it should be, a bit of a mystery.
Bonny -- I loved your piece about identifying in books with whatever person is being written about, male or female. A part of our being has no sex, no age, no class, no condition other than awareness. We are heros, villians, talking beasts, angealic spirits, warts and kings.
Do I get in trouble if I suggest (I'll use initials to soften the blow) G W B as the jock in question for your short story?
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