Category Archives: C. S. Lewis

Future Generations

Reading from C.S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man (1943) I was struck by how his discussion of “Man’s Conquest of Nature”, particularly regarding contraception, is pertinent to abortion debate. At this point in time abortion is, at the very least, a method of contraception. Following is a quote from the book, and if you substitute “abortion” for “contraception” you will see what I mean:

“[A]s regards contraception there is a paradoxical, negative sense in which all possible future generations are the patients or subjects of a power wielded by those already alive. By contraception simply, they are denied existence; by contraception used as a means of selective breeding, they are, without their concurring voice, made to be what one generation, for its own reasons, may choose to prefer. From this point of view, what we call Man’s power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument…. And all long-term exercises of power, especially in breeding, must mean the power of earlier generations over later ones. The latter point is not always sufficiently emphasized, because those who write on social matters have not yet learned to imitate the physicists by always including Time among the dimensions. In order to understand fully what Man’s power over Nature, and therefore the power of some men over other men, really means, we must picture the race extended in time from the date of its emergence to that of its extinction. Each generation exercises power over its successors: and each, insofar as it modifies the environment bequeathed to it and rebels against tradition, resists and limits the power of its predecessors. This modifies the picture which is sometimes painted of a progressive emancipation from tradition and a progressive control of natural processes resulting in a continual increase of human power. In reality, of course, if any one age really attains, by eugenics and scientific education, the power to make its descendants what it pleases, all men who live after it are the patients of that power. They are weaker, not stronger: for though we may have put wonderful machines in their hands we have preordained how they are to use them. And if, as is almost certain, the age which had thus attained maximum power over posterity were also the age most emancipated from tradition, it would be engaged in reducing the power of its predecessors almost as drastically a that of its successors.” (added emphasis mine).

Religion and Politics

I have been thinking a lot about divisions among Christians, and how to think about them in a way that honors God. I think Lewis is spot on.

I found this quote in a wonderful book I admired and was then given, The Quotable Lewis, Martindale and Root, 1989, included in the section titled “Church: Divisions.”

Tomorrow I am crossing over (if God so have pleased) to Ireland: my birthplace and dearest refuge so far as charm of landscape goes, and temperate climate, although most dreadful because of the strife, hatred and often civil war between dissenting faiths.

    There indeed both your and ours [Catholic and Protestant] “know not by what Spirit they are led.”  They take lack of charity for zeal and mutual ignorance for orthodoxy.

    I think almost all the crimes which Christians have perpetrated against each other arise from this, that religion is confused with politics.  For, above all other spheres of human life, the Devil claims politics for his own, as almost the citadel of his power.  Let us, however, with mutual prayers pray with all our power for that charity which “covers a multitude of sins.”

In the Rooms

The church I regularly attend has recently adopted several changes, including a name change (formerly Skidaway Island Presbyterian Church, now Skidaway Community Church). We were told the church is still Presbyterian, but the hope is that the new name will attract more worshipers. I still am not sure what I should think about this.

We also are in the early stages of searching for a new minister, and like most everyone else, feeling the disruption caused by COVID, social distancing and abbreviated services.

We still include corporate confession and assurance of pardon every week (although sometimes the assurance is applied narrative rather than scripture), but we are no longer reciting the Apostle’s Creed, or another statement of faith. I think it is a mistake to omit it. We need to bear witness exactly to what we believe.

C. S. Lewis, who coined the term “mere Christianity” also warned against its misapplication and abuse:

I hope no reader will suppose that “mere” Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of the existing communions–as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else.  It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms.  If I can bring anyone into that hall I shall have done what I attempted.  But it is in the rooms, not the hall, that there are fires and chairs and meals.  The hall is a place to wait in, a place from which to try the various doors, not a place to live in.  (Mere Christianity, 1980).

There IS a Story

I continue reading Thomas Howard’s book, The Achievement of C.S. Lewis. And now I am reading a chapter, “That Hideous Strength: The Miserific Vision”, dedicated to the book from which I took the title for my blog. There is a bear in this story, Mr. Bultitude….

The figure of Mr. Bultitude introduces us to a theme that is most vividly to be seen in the matter of Merlin.  It is the theme of “no going back.”   Various other themes feed into it, such as the idea of things thickening and hardening and coming to a point, and the idea of Aslan’s refusal ever to tell what might have been, and the warning in Narnia against trusting a beast who was once a man, and Ransom not eating the fruit twice in Perelandra, not listening to a symphony again, and so forth.  It all derives from the notion that there is a Story going on, and that to retrace your steps or thumb back through the pages is to refuse somehow the movement of the Story, or worse, the wisdom of the author.  The author has a denouement in mind and you must move through the action at his pace.  Otherwise you will find yourself striving against the author himself, and to be in that position is to refuse both him and the thing he has made.  It is what Lucifer did.


Submission: Freedom

I am reading Thomas Howard’s The Achievement of C.S. Lewis.  From the chapter “Perelandra: The Paradoxes of Joy”:

This is one of the ironies often appearing in Lewis’s fiction, that perfection itself (life in Perelandra in this case) can be made to seem confining and demeaning and boring by the  sullen alchemy of evil.  Dissatisfaction, sailing under false colors of liberation and ambition and progress, is the flagship in Weston’s flotilla, as it were.  And it eventually becomes clear that this dissatisfaction with what is given stands at the polar opposite to the obedience and contentment exhibited in people like the Beavers…..In the world of Malacandra and Perelandra (and Narnia), it appears that acceptance of the given, and submission to it, is the key to contentment.  Paradoxically, of course, contrary to the accusations of all Nietzschean and Promethean romantics like Uncle Andrew and Jadis and Weston that this is all an opiate, this submission is synonymous with freedom and maturity.  It is analogous to one’s submission to the steps of a minuet or to swimming instructions:  here is how it is done, and if you want to know the lovely freedom of dancing and swimming, you must do it this way.  The same bright alchemy that transforms rules and obedience into freedom and joy here can also be seen at work in all gymnasts and ballet dancers and poets and athletes.  They have all learned how it is done.  If it is objected here that this is the very recipe itself for bondage and that on this accounting all tyrants may brutalize the creatures under their rule, it may be pointed out that it is the nature of evil, alas, to ape the good.

Science in Politics

Today I read this excerpt from a letter C.S. Lewis wrote:

Facism and Communism, like all other evils, are potent because of the good they contain or imitate….And of course their occasion is the failure of those who left humanity starved of that particular good.  This does not for me alter the conviction that they are very bad indeed.  One of the things we must guard against is the penetration of both into Christianity—availing themselves of that very truth you have suggested and I have admitted.  Mark my words: you will presently see both a Leftist and a Rightist pseudo-theology developing— the abomination will stand where it ought not….

Unfortunately I do not have access to the complete text, because I wanted to see how Lewis expanded on what he said. But I did find an interesting, somewhat related essay on-line. From that:

Fascism and communism were the two most obvious manifestations of tyranny about which Lewis wrote, but they were far from the only kinds of tyranny about which he was concerned.8 Tyranny comes in many forms, most of which are more subtle than Stalin’s gulag or Hitler’s death camps. Lewis knew this, and his most compelling writings on tyranny for us today focus on these more subtle forms of oppression. In particular, Lewis was concerned about the tyranny that could result from the union of modern science and the modern state.
To understand the dangers of a scientific state, one must first understand something about modern science.

…Modern science is premised on the notion that all things are determined by material causes. It proposes strict laws that explain natural phenomena in terms of physical, environmental or hereditary necessities–e.g., the ball falls when dropped because of the law of gravity; the dog salivates at the sound of the bell because of environmental conditioning; the mosquito generates other mosquitoes because of its genetic code. Now no matter how necessary such materialistic determinism may be in the study of the natural world, it cannot be applied indiscriminately to humans without destroying the very possibility of knowledge and virtue. Such determinism destroys the possibility of knowledge, according to Lewis, because it undermines the validity of human reasoning;9 it destroys the possibility of virtue because it denies the free choice upon which all virtue depends.

If modern science is correct that human thought and conduct are functions of non–rational causes, then the nature of politics changes fundamentally. Under the old order, politics involved serious reflection about justice and the common good. But the more man thinks he is determined by non–rational causes, the less important serious reflection becomes. Under the new order, all that matters is achieving the end result. The only deliberation is among social science bureaucrats, and the only question is not “What is just?” but “What works?” Moreover, since the new order has dispensed with the notion of man as a moral agent, “what works” will almost inevitably be intrusive. 

…Lewis does not dispute that scientists have plenty of knowledge; the problem is that most of it is irrelevant. Political problems are preeminently moral problems, and scientists are not equipped to function as moralists. Said Lewis: “I dread specialists in power because they are specialists speaking outside their special subjects. Let scientists tell us about sciences. But government involves questions about the good for man, and justice, and what things are worth having at what price; and on these a scientific training gives a man’s opinion no added value.”17

The cardinal danger of depending on science for political solutions, then, is that science is divorced from those permanent principles of morality upon which all just political solutions depend. Indeed, words like “justice,” “virtue,” “mercy” and “duty,” are terms without meaning within the scientific framework. And so while science is not necessarily tyrannical, it can easily become a tool for tyrants because it has no firm grounding in morality. The same goes for politics: Without a firm grounding in a firm morality, politics easily slides into tyranny.

And all this got me to thinking about the irony of materialists, agnostics and atheists demanding “justice.”  What does justice even mean in that worldview?

Read it all


Utterly Fundamental

I watched a BBC production of Christ Church Choir today which included a brief interview with Dr. Allan Chapman, a science historian,  of Wadham College.  At one point he was asked “What would you say is the value of faith through your general life?”  His answer, “Utterly fundamental.”

Immediately my mind remembered C. S. Lewis’s comment, “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.”

The Trouble With Writing Satire

From one of the letters of C. S. Lewis, this one referring to his book That Hideous Strength (one of my favorites of his science fiction):

I’m glad you recognized the N.I.C.E as not being quite the fantastic absurdity some people think.  I hadn’t myself thought that any of the people in contemporary rackets were really dabbling in magic; I had supposed that to be a romantic addition of my own.  But there you are.  The trouble about writing satire is that the real world always anticipates you, and what were meant for exaggerations turn out to be nothing of the sort.

C.S. Lewis’s Transposition

Recently I saw a reference to C. S. Lewis’s  “Transposition,”  which I couldn’t recall.  I found it in a collection of essays I have, C.S. Lewis The Weight of Glory.  As I read I remembered a lot of it.

From the Introduction:

“Transposition” was preached in the chapel of Mansfield College, Oxford–a Congregational institution–at the invitation of its Principal, Nathaniel Micklem (1888-1976), on the Feast of Pentecost, 28 May 1944.  It was reported in The Daily Telegraph of 2 June 1944 under the heading “Modern Oxford’s Newman” that “in the middle of the sermon Mr. Lewis, under stress of emotion, stopped, saying, ‘I’m sorry,’ and left the pulpit.  Dr. Micklem, the Principal, and the chaplain went to his assistance.  After a hymn was sung, Mr. Lewis returned and finished his sermon…on a deeply moving note.”

Lewis has probably accomplished as much as any modern writer, both in his fiction and in his sermons, to make Heaven believable.  My guess is that at sometime, but not necessarily in 1944, he may have felt that he had not succeeded as well as he might with “Transposition.”  Though he was quite ill during the spring of 1961 when…his publisher…was pressing him to edit a volume of his essays, something wonderful happened.  With a simplicity that is perhaps an instance of Heaven coming to its own rescue, Lewis was shown what glories are involved by the corruptible putting on incorruption, and there came from his pen an additional portion that raises that sermon to an eminence all its own.

That section is my favorite.  I tried to write a brief synopsis, but it just left too much out.  So I will share the beginning of that additional portion Lewis wrote later:

I believe that this doctrine of Transposition provides for most of us a background very much needed for the theological virtue of Hope.  We can hope only for what we can desire.  And the trouble is that any adult and philosophically respectable notion we can form of Heaven is forced to deny of that state most of the things our nature desires.  There is no doubt a blessedly ingenuous faith, a child’s or a savage’s faith which finds no difficulty.  It accepts without awkward questionings the harps and golden streets and the family reunions pictured by hymn writers.  Such a faith is deceived, yet, in the deepest sense, not deceived, for while it errs in mistaking symbol for fact, yet it apprehends Heaven as joy and plenitude and love.  But it is impossible for most of us.  And we must not try, by artifice, to make ourselves more naif than we are.  A man does not “become as a little child” by aping childhood.  Hence our notion of Heaven involves perpetual negations: no food, no drink, no sex, no movement, no mirth, no events, no time, no art.

Against all these, to be sure, we set one positive: the vision and enjoyment of God.  And since this is an infinite good, we hold (rightly) that it outweighs them all.  That is, the reality of the Beatific Vision would or will outweigh, would infinitely outweigh, the reality of the negations.  But can our present notion of it outweigh our present notion of them?  That is quite a different question.  And for most of us at most times the answer is no……[T]he conception of that Vision is a difficult, precarious, and fugitive extrapolation from a very few and ambiguous moments in our earthly experience, while our idea of the negated natural goods is vivid and persistent, loaded with the memories of a lifetime, built into our nerves and muscles and therefore into our imaginations.

Thus the negatives have, so to speak, an unfair advantage in every competition with the positive.  What is worse, their presence–and most when we most resolutely try to suppress or ignore them–vitiates even such a faint and ghostlike notion of the positive as we might have had.  The exclusion of the lower goods begins to seem the essential characteristic of the higher good.  We feel, if we do not say, that the vision of God will come not to fulfill but to destroy our nature; this bleak fantasy often underlies our very use of such words as “holy” or “pure” or “spiritual.”

    We must not allow this to happen if we can possibly prevent it.  We must believe–and therefore in some degree imagine–that every negation will be only the reverse side of a fulfilling.  And we must mean by that the fulfilling, precisely, of our humanity, not our transformation into angels nor our absorption into Deity.  For though we shall be “as the angels” and made “like unto” our Master, I think this means “like with the lines proper to men” as different instruments that play the same air but each in its own fashion.  How far the life of the risen man will be sensory, we do not know.  But I surmise that it will differ from the sensory life we know here, not as emptiness differs from water or water from wine but as a flower differs from a bulb or a cathedral from an architect’s drawing.  And it is here that Transposition helps me.

And his illustration is wonderful.  Read it all free here.





A Translation of MacDonald’s “Sir Gibbie”

Christine Norvell recently wrote an essay about one of George MacDonald’s novels that I’ve not read, Sir Gibbie:

Sometimes you read a book that causes you to marvel at the possibility of goodness in our human frame. As I reread George MacDonald’s Sir Gibbie (1879), I was filled with questions, the same questions I’m sure that prompted C.S. Lewis to call the novel a fantasy. In his Preface to George MacDonald: An Anthology, Lewis termed MacDonald’s novels “a rich crop,” yet at the same time writes that “none is very good.” He felt “they are best when they depart most from the canons of novel writing… to come nearer to fantasy, as in the whole character of the hero in Sir Gibbie.”

I think this book would make a nice gift for young readers, especially the recent translation from the Scots by David Jack.  I love that the original dialogue is given in double column format with the English translation to the side.  (You can read about it here)

And you may enjoy hearing David Jack’s “Scottish burr”  as he reads one of MacDonald’s poems, “Godly Ballant IV”.