Fifty years ago today saw the passing of not only JFK, but the remarkable C.S. Lewis. And Aldous Huxley. A bad day in the affairs of men.
C.S. Lewis was one of the most powerful Christian thinkers and writers of the twentieth century. He resisted the zeitgeist in order to lay his claim to his own thinking which brought a fresh approach to Christian apologetics. He certainly was a powerful influence to me. He still is.
One of his Lewis’ influences was G.K. Chesterton. Lewis had this to say of him:
“In reading Chesterton, as in reading MacDonald, I did not know what I was letting myself in for. A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere.”
It was in one of Chesterton’s traps that Lewis found himself ensnared. I discovered and read Lewis before I discovered Chesterton, but immediately I surmised that Lewis had also studied and digested him, and regurgitated him in his own manner. The Lewis quote above was a reference to Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man, which Lewis said was partially responsible for his conversion to Christianity from his purposefully contrived atheism. Lewis lists the book among the ten that most influenced him.
While I have grown to love Chesterton and his remarkable way of getting to the core truth of any matter he took up, it was Lewis’ incorporation of him that really set me on fire with Mere Christianity, The Abolition of Man, and The Great Divorce. All three of these works are among the highest and best of Christian thinking in the 20th century. I think they have yet to be improved on.
I immediately saw the connection upon reading the first Chesterton essay. It is always exciting to get back to source material. The closer to the source, the more you learn about the people that influenced the influential people. You get the seeds that others planted and reap fruits you never had to sow, picking flowers where others have exposed the thorns. Those others struggled with the thorns; through their work we manage to avoid them.
Lewis was born in 1898. Chesterton on 1874. Chesterton was a well known writer while Lewis was still in school ultimately failing to be too careful in what he read. As he indicated, athests can’t be too careful.
I was a bit different than Lewis. I started out as a Christian. I longed to be sophisticated enough to be able to abandon my Christian mores, but the sophistry of my pusilanimous sophistication was entirely too thin for me to have much heart in the matter. I simply was unable to maintain my adoptive anti-Christian philosophy because the words coming out of my mouth were unconvincing to me, and cetainly not convincing to anyone else. Subsequently, I went in a terrible direction, becoming more religious than faithful and a pompous boor in the process. It was Lewis that made me see the error of my ways, forcing me to admit that there are those who will not see what I see and those who cannot see what I see. My job is not to convince anyone of anything. My job is to be the Christian I am called to be and to share the joy of my relationship with my Creator. It is God’s job to do anything beyond that. Without Him in the equation I am bound to fail, because my faith is not about me and my will: it is about Him and His.
Things are not always what they seem to be, and for good reason. If they were what we thought they were, we should be able to declare that we are able to put on the mind of God, rendering ourselves not only His spokesperson but His grand vizier. We would anoint ourselves with an understanding of Him that is more a reflection of our own will than His, in effect, projecting onto God our own deficient qualities, thus making gods of ourselves. This is the entire trouble with man…we would make gods of ourselves.
Lewis understood that. So did Aldous Huxley in Brave New World, which showed us the natural result of our own self-willed godliness in the guise of the faceless Ford, sustained by those who would co-opt the minds and bodies of others for their own purposes. It does not take a fictional dystopia to illuminate things for us. Religion and subsequent theocratic rule has been and is being forced onto those who have a divergent views. This has occured numerous times in Christian communities, too. It seems likely that we all would admit that The Crusades, regardless of the stated nobility of their purpose, were never about God. Nor was the Spanish inquisition, nor the persecution of the Albegensians and the Hugenots, nor the witch hunts in New England, nor the acts of the Ku Klux Klan, nor the fervent activities of the Westboro Baptist Church. There are many dark periods in Christian history, and some of them are still among us now. It is not God who calls for such behavior in men, but men’s own projection of their will onto God. God is God; men’s perversions committed in His name are never done for Him, but the for the furthering of the cause of the perpetrators. God rejects all such acts out of hand. What does God need from us in the way of defense or protection? What does God lack that men must furnish?
The Pharaohs enjoyed their own deification. Not to be outdone, Roman emperors claimed the same god-like qualities for themselves. It is the natural ending place of perverted men to see themselves as god. God, on the other hand, sees them quite differently. I cannot speak to exactly what God sees when He views men, but He does not see god-like similarities. He most likely sees the natural result of humans that have failed to acknowledge something much higher than themselves; God will have the final answer.
In the final book of the Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, which are far more than mere children’s fantasy books, The Last Battle has the most profound description of Heaven and its entrance. Everyone is welcome, but some can’t get there because they can’t see it. It’s not that any entity is preventing them from seeing it, it’s simply that in the midst of it they cannot see it. It’s THEY who cannot see it. Not seeing, they refuse to believe that they are in anyting other than a dark, stinking, soggy cattle stall because they are too smart to be taken in by what they perceive as fables and lies. They are too sophisticated to be deceived by those who are not as worldly as they are. And in the midst of plenty they are in desperate want. You must read it for yourself. The final chapter makes my heart swell with the magnificance of the best explanation of God’s final solution for us all that I could never have imagined myself. It could be wrong, of course, but I have yet to see anyting put forth that is as simple, as forthwirght, and as likely truthful. If we would just slow down and receive it as a gift from Him it can all be ours, since there are no limits to an eternal expanse.
So many are just too sophisticated to see any relevance in a God who exists externally of their own ego. Rather, they would make gods of themselves.
Thanks to C.S. Lewis for the profound influence in my life. I am merely scratching the surface of his work which gets richer and richer upon every reading. Like him, I was surprised by joy somewhere along the way. It is joy I have now, and it is joy that I will keep; happiness is a poor substitute.