Christian Books: CS Lewis, and Mere Christianity

Dinner Topics for Wednesday

keyExpert Children’s Book Reviewers tell us there is a great dearth of good literature for children and young adults. They are not being taught about God in schools, or even the Universal Morality that Lewis refers to. If we want our children to have good character, which is founded upon Judeo-Christian principles, we need to teach them ourselves. C S Lewis’ work  will bless families for generations to come.  Let’s start today to strengthen our families—turn off the TV and reach for these timeless classics.  ~C A Davidson

Related post on moral compass

From Wikipedia

C.S._Lewis,_BelfastClive Staples Lewis (29 November 1898 – 22 November 1963), commonly called C. S. Lewis and known to his friends and family as “Jack”, was a novelist, poet, academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian, and Christian apologist. Born in Belfast, Ireland, he held academic positions at both Oxford University (Magdalen College), 1925–1954, and Cambridge University (Magdalene College), 1954–1963. He is best known both for his fictional work, especially The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Space Trilogy, and for his non-fiction Christian apologetics, such as Mere Christianity, Miracles, and The Problem of Pain.

Lewis and fellow novelist J. R. R. Tolkien were close friends. Both authors served on the English faculty at Oxford University, and both were active in the informal Oxford literary group known as the “Inklings“. According to his memoir Surprised by Joy, Lewis had been baptized in the Church of Ireland (part of the Anglican Communion) at birth, but fell away from his faith during his adolescence. Owing to the influence of Tolkien and other friends, at the age of 32 Lewis returned to the Anglican Communion, becoming “a very ordinary layman of the Church of England“.[1] His faith had a profound effect on his work, and his wartime radio broadcasts on the subject of Christianity brought him wide acclaim.

In 1956, he married the American writer Joy Davidman, 17 years his junior, who died four years later of cancer at the age of 45. Lewis died three years after his wife, from renal failure, one week before his 65th birthday. Media coverage of his death was minimal; he died on 22 November 1963—the same day that U.S. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and the same day another famous author, Aldous Huxley, died. In 2013, on the 50th anniversary of his death, Lewis will be honoured with a memorial in Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey.

Lewis’s works have been translated into more than 30 languages and have sold millions of copies. The books that make up The Chronicles of Narnia have sold the most and have been popularized on stage, TV, radio, and cinema.

Christian apologist

In addition to his career as an English professor and an author of fiction, Lewis is regarded by many as one of the most influential Christian apologists of his time; Mere Christianity was voted best book of the twentieth century by Christianity Today in 2000.[58] Due to Lewis’s approach to religious belief as a sceptic, and his following conversion, he has been called “The Apostle to the Skeptics.”

Lewis was very interested in presenting a reasonable case for Christianity. Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, and Miracles were all concerned, to one degree or another, with refuting popular objections to Christianity, such as “How could a good God allow pain to exist in the world?”. He also became known as a popular lecturer and broadcaster, and some of his writing (including much of Mere Christianity) originated as scripts for radio talks or lectures.[59][page needed]

According to George Sayer, losing a 1948 debate with Elizabeth Anscombe, also a Christian, led Lewis to reevaluate his role as an apologist, and his future works concentrated on devotional literature and children’s books.[60] Anscombe, however, had a completely different recollection of the debate’s outcome and its emotional effect on Lewis.[60] Victor Reppert also disputes Sayer, listing some of Lewis’s post-1948 apologetic publications, including the second and revised edition of his Miracles in 1960, in which Lewis addressed Anscombe’s criticism.[61] Noteworthy too is Roger Teichman’s suggestion in The Philosophy of Elizabeth Anscombe[62][page needed] that the intellectual impact of Anscombe’s paper on Lewis’s philosophical self-confidence should not be overrated: “… it seems unlikely that he felt as irretrievably crushed as some of his acquaintances have made out; the episode is probably an inflated legend, in the same category as the affair of Wittgenstein’s poker. Certainly Anscombe herself believed that Lewis’s argument, though flawed, was getting at something very important; she thought that this came out more in the improved version of it that Lewis presented in a subsequent edition of Miracles – though that version also had ‘much to criticize in it’.”

Lewis also wrote an autobiography titled Surprised by Joy, which places special emphasis on his own conversion. (It was written before he met his wife, Joy Gresham; the title of the book came from the first line of a poem by William Wordsworth.) His essays and public speeches on Christian belief, many of which were collected in God in the Dock and The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, remain popular today.

His most famous works, the Chronicles of Narnia, contain many strong Christian messages and are often considered allegory. Lewis, an expert on the subject of allegory, maintained that the books were not allegory, and preferred to call the Christian aspects of them “suppositional“. As Lewis wrote in a letter to a Mrs. Hook in December 1958:

If Aslan represented the immaterial Deity in the same way in which Giant Despair [a character in The Pilgrim’s Progress] represents despair, he would be an allegorical figure. In reality however he is an invention giving an imaginary answer to the question, ‘What might Christ become like, if there really were a world like Narnia and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He actually has done in ours?’ This is not allegory at all.[63]

“Trilemma”

Main article: Lewis’s trilemma

In a much-cited passage from Mere Christianity, Lewis challenged the view that Jesus, although a great moral teacher, was not God. He argued that Jesus made several implicit claims to divinity, which would logically exclude this:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.[64]

This argument, which Lewis did not invent but developed and popularized, is sometimes referred to as “Lewis’s trilemma“. It has been used by the Christian apologist Josh McDowell in his book More Than a Carpenter (McDowell 2001). Although widely repeated in Christian apologetic literature, it has been largely ignored by professional theologians and biblical scholars.[65]

Lewis’s Christian apologetics, and this argument in particular, have been criticized. Philosopher John Beversluis described Lewis’s arguments as “textually careless and theologically unreliable,”[66] and this particular argument as logically unsound and an example of false dilemma.[67] Theologian John Hick argues that New Testament scholars do not now support the view that Jesus claimed to be God,[68] New Testament scholar N. T. Wright criticizes Lewis for failing to recognize the significance of Jesus’ Jewish identity and setting – an oversight which “at best, drastically short-circuits the argument” and which lays Lewis open to criticism that his argument “doesn’t work as history, and it backfires dangerously when historical critics question his reading of the gospels,” although he believes this “doesn’t undermine the eventual claim.” [69]

Lewis used a similar argument in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, when Digory Kirke advises the young heroes that their sister’s claims of a magical world must logically be taken as either lies, madness, or truth.[61]

Universal morality

right-wrongsignOne of the main theses in Lewis’s apologia is that there is a common morality known throughout humanity. In the first five chapters of Mere Christianity Lewis discusses the idea that people have a standard of behaviour to which they expect people to adhere. This standard has been called Universal Morality or Natural Law. Lewis claims that people all over the earth know what this law is and when they break it. He goes on to claim that there must be someone or something behind such a universal set of principles.[70]

These then are the two points that I wanted to make. First, that human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. Secondly, that they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in.[71]

Lewis also portrays Universal Morality in his works of fiction. In The Chronicles of Narnia he describes Universal Morality as the “deep magic” which everyone knew.[72]

In the second chapter of Mere Christianity Lewis recognizes that “many people find it difficult to understand what this Law of Human Nature … is”. And he responds first to the idea “that the Moral Law is simply our herd instinct” and second to the idea “that the Moral Law is simply a social convention”. In responding to the second idea Lewis notes that people often complain that one set of moral ideas is better than another, but that this actually argues for there existing some “Real Morality” to which they are comparing other moralities. Finally he notes that sometimes differences in moral codes are exaggerated by people who confuse differences in beliefs about morality with differences in beliefs about facts:

I have met people who exaggerate the differences, because they have not distinguished between differences of morality and differences of belief about facts. For example, one man said to me, “Three hundred years ago people in England were putting witches to death. Was that what you call the Rule of Human Nature or Right Conduct?” But surely the reason we do not execute witches is that we do not believe there are such things. If we did – if we really thought that there were people going about who had sold themselves to the devil and received supernatural powers from him in return and were using these powers to kill their neighbours or drive them mad or bring bad weather, surely we would all agree that if anyone deserved the death penalty, then these filthy quislings did. There is no difference of moral principle here: the difference is simply about matter of fact. It may be a great advance in knowledge not to believe in witches: there is no moral advance in not executing them when you do not think they are there. You would not call a man humane for ceasing to set mousetraps if he did so because he believed there were no mice in the house.[73]

Lewis also had fairly progressive views on the topic of “animal morality”, in particular the suffering of animals, as is evidenced by several of his essays: most notably, On Vivisection[74] and “On the Pains of Animals.”[75][76]

Legacy

Lewis continues to attract a wide readership. In 2008, The Times ranked him eleventh on their list of “the 50 greatest British writers since 1945”.[77] Readers of his fiction are often unaware of what Lewis considered the Christian themes of his works. His Christian apologetics are read and quoted by members of many Christian denominations.[78] In 2013, on the 50th anniversary of his death, Lewis will join some of Britain’s greatest writers recognized at Poets’ Corner, Westminster Abbey.[79]

Lewis has been the subject of several biographies, a few of which were written by close friends, such as Roger Lancelyn Green and George Sayer. In 1985 the screenplay Shadowlands by William Nicholson, dramatising Lewis’s life and relationship with Joy Davidman Gresham, was aired on British television, starring Joss Ackland and Claire Bloom. This was also staged as a theatre play starring Nigel Hawthorne in 1989, and made into the 1993 feature film Shadowlands starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger. In 2005, a one-hour television movie entitled C. S. Lewis: Beyond Narnia, starring Anton Rodgers, provided a general synopsis of Lewis’s life.

Read more about C.S. Lewis

 

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One comment on “Christian Books: CS Lewis, and Mere Christianity

  1. It had been drilled into my thinking that the only or best sanctuary of bona fide goodness is within the Christian faith, and that only sin, depravity and despair lie outside of it. A simple equation was burned almost irrevocably into my mind: Christian = good; Unchristian = bad. Within Christianity dwell chastity, sobriety, wisdom, peace, love, humility and every other virtue. Outside of it lie fornication, licentiousness, drunkenness, pride, deceit, anger, violence, arrogance, and every other vice.

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