Category Archives: C. S. Lewis

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”.



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Schlimbesserung is a German word for “a so-called improvement that makes things worse,”  elsewhere defined as a “disimprovement”. I found it in a comment on a blog I sometimes read,  First Known When Lost.   The word fits well the mood of this particular entry which begins:

I am conservative by nature.  But please take note, dear readers:  that is not a political statement.  I have no interest whatsoever in the acts or omissions of presidents, prime ministers, premiers, princes, or other potentates.  I feel the same way about utopian political schemes of any stripe, together with their mad inventors, purveyors, and true believers.  We all know the ultimate end of chimerical, delusive, and disingenuous dream-worlds.

Typical of this blog, there is some good poetry (a less known one by C.S. Lewis), and good art, in this case a series of three renderings of the same view in three seasons, to my mind, a comment on how things can change and yet remain the same.

Read it all here.


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From Alistair E. McGrath’s book, Mere Apologetics:

     Now there is much more to the Christian idea of faith than believing certain things are true.  For Christians, faith is not merely cognitive (“I believe this is true”), but also relational and existential (I trust this person”).  It is not just believing that God exists, but discovering that this God is wise, loving, and good—and choosing to commit ourselves to this God as a result.  As C.S. Lewis once remarked, you are not faced “with an argument which demands your assent, but with a Person who demands your confidence.”
    Faith is thus about trust in someone, not just a belief that he or she exists.  This point was made by Danish writer Soren Kierkegaard (1813-55), who emphasized that true faith in God was a “qualitative leap” from one way of existing to another. Christian faith is not the mere addition of one extra item to our inventory of the contents of the world—that is, God.  It is about realizing and embracing the new “mode of existence” this trust makes possible.

Serious Worship

I’ve been reading Joe Rigney’s bookLewis on the Christian Life: Becoming Truly Human in the Presence of God.  One of the things that strikes me is how Lewis always emphasized the otherness of God.  God is not like us.  It made me think of my own tame ideas of God, especially in relation to things I do that I know are wrong.  Somehow I expect God to excuse me, because He is so loving and gracious.  Not nearly often enough do I think what an awesome and terrible thing it is to be known by the Almighty, absolutely Righteous God.  Forgiveness in this context is truly amazing.

I think many Christians are like me, not often impressed with the otherness of God that is so wonderful but also terrible in relationship to ourselves.  I have felt the lack of apprehending God’s majesty in worship services.  I do not like glib comments that refer to God as we would to one another.  Maybe it is partly my age, but at least for me, it does not encourage me to think of God as different from myself.   And so I very much agreed with Jonathan Aigner’s recent post about worship.  Commenting on worship in an Anglican church he visited, he says:

Worship at Advent differs from common liturgical practice in the contemporary American church, to say the least. It is exceedingly beautiful, sublime even, evoking a sense of transcendence that seems strikingly out of place, even in one of the most historic cities in the country. …
On Advent’s website is their Liturgical Customary, a long document describing the movements in the historical drama that are played out in their rich liturgical worship. Some of you may not agree with every practice of Anglo-Catholic worship and that’s certainly your own prerogative. But after reading through entry after entry on liturgical posture, and possibly pausing just long enough to practice my own genuflecting in the mirror, I was bowled over by a concluding paragraph.
While the foregoing may seem excessively fussy, particularly in an age when manners are out of fashion and seminaries are apparently intent on turning the Mass into a rock-‘n’-roll show, remember that Divine Service is not a casual activity. The Lord’s Supper is a heavenly banquet, not a drive-thru lunch from a fast food shop. Lack of attention to deportment at Mass is as inappropriate as wearing torn jeans to a formal dinner. Sloppiness of appearance, movement or behavior will not show forth “the beauty of holiness and the holiness of beauty,” which is what we seek to present. (1)
After countless readings and re-readings of this paragraph, all with bated breath, I finally exhaled deeply with a series of questions.
Why aren’t we all approaching worship with reverence, seriousness, and sobriety?
Why are we trying to make worship accessible to those who don’t care about it anyway?
What’s wrong with us that we think we should get to have worship made in our own image?
Why are we so offended by the beauty of holiness?

And then this:

I fear we aren’t just guilty of domesticating the one true God, itself a grave error. In our petulant insistence on me-worship, we have shown where our ultimate allegiance lies and crowned ourselves lord of all. More terrifying still is my suspicion that most of the church doesn’t even recognize what the hell we’ve done.

Aslan is Not a Tame Lion: The Serious Mistake of Casual Worship


Who Do I Worship?

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This book helped me understand what is humanly knowable about the God who created the universe and all that is in it, who created man in his own image and for his pleasure.  It made it possible for me to worship the God who is revealed in scripture, not a god of my own (even well meaning) understanding, and it gave me even more reason to do so.

James Pringle, writing about worship and music, says  “If we don’t know Who we worship as He has revealed to us in His Word, we worship a god of our own making. That is idolatry, and Scripture has a pretty clear stance on that.”

Often, when I am preparing to worship I remember C.S. Lewis’s prayer “May the real me meet the real You.”