C.S. Lewis: A Faith Observed
On November 22, 1963, America was shaken to its foundations by the murder of a young and virile president at the apex of our nation's power. But lost in that maelstrom of mourning were the passing of two wildly influential men: the writers Aldous Huxley and Clive Staples Lewis. While the former was a noted visionary who articulated his commentary about the human condition by addressing topics such as enhancing perception through mescaline or in warning us about the barbed lure of Utopia, Lewis labored in the mines of reasoned rhetoric in service to a God he had once vehemently disdained. It would be his eventual conversion that made an erudite and aloof intellect one of the shining beacons of twentieth-century literature in the spheres of apologetic discourse and children's fiction. We perhaps love him best for the latter.
No child of eight or eighty ("Some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again," as Lewis once put it.) that encounters the character of Aslan can fail to embrace his goodness and moral power. Upon opening the books, no heart can tame the irresistible gravity that draws the love and awe of wide-eyed children into the Lion's noble battles against all things evil. Although not strictly a Christian allegory, Lewis saturates Aslan's character with the virtues of the New Testament Jesus; and therein, lays the foundation for the Gospel message with a myth that prefigures reality. Indeed, the Narnia Universe abounds with the alluring messages he lays like landmines below the surface of the adult's willful reticence at direct evangelizing. Lewis, or "Jack" as he was known to his friends, intimately understood that it was not writers of overtly religious themes that rhetorically moved a culture, but writers in all niches of society that wrote with a Christian worldview. Lewis possessed that rare talent that allows truth to be apprehended on many levels along with the wit and humor to keep a child's (and adult's) rapt attention. Of the seven Narnia books, none extends above one hundred and ten pages. As such, his economy of words only highlights the enchanting and profound narratives to be found therein.
During the bombing of London amidst Britain's darkest days of World War Two, C.S. Lewis gave a series of radio talks to a brave people steeped in anxiety about a perilous future. Those talks were later compiled and became the seminal book, Mere Christianity, which is a best seller to this day. Cherished for its plain talk about the relationship of God, Morality, and Reason in an age of human power that has gone terribly wrong, this masterpiece is a treasure trove of ideas and quotes that are loved more today than when they were first put to paper. His short book, The Abolition of Man, remains one of the greatest treatments about education and the dangers that attend the indoctrination of young minds to a moral neutrality. Indeed, the current burgeoning phalanx of modern apologetics owes much to Lewis, who divined that it was not Science and Christianity that were at war, but the clashing theistic and anti-theistic assumptions of the two worldviews. Lewis revealed that by understanding Science through anti-theistic preconceptions, modern man holds the neutral scientific method hostage to what is in reality a secular theology. In doing so, anti-theism elevates man to the vacated status of God through the dishonest premises of a circular reasoning -- wholly biased in the interest of Scientism or Philosophic Naturalism. It would be this fertile strain of thinking that current philosophers such as William Lane Craig and John Lennox would pick up and run with in their project towards shifting the current failing epistemological paradigm towards an open discourse in the fields of cosmology, biology, and morality.
Although he rubbed elbows with England's finest literary minds, including his dear friend and colleague J.R.R. Tolkien, Lewis was an intensely private man with a taste for simple pleasures and a glass of port. Other than his cherished books, he gave away much of the money he made as an author and personally answered correspondence from his growing legion of admirers. Lewis was a firm believer in the adage that "one man sharpens another," and therefore, was not content living in an echo chamber where only his views were parroted. Because of this virtue, he was instrumental in inaugurating Oxford's Socratic Club, where luminaries contributed their papers and rebuttals on the Eternal Questions to often times packed houses. At these events, an eager audience frequently sat on the floor and in aisles to partake of the intellectual vitality. Anyone familiar with Lewis' prose realizes that they are infused with a frank humility. He readily admitted the limits of his knowledge and it seems that he was ever fearful that the fame he had earned would mar both his character and the integrity of his perception. He took his occasional defeats hard and seriously but his intellectual honesty even more so.
C.S. Lewis spent the greater bulk of his life as an Oxford Don committed to the cultivation of many generations of students. Between his writing, teaching, and public addresses, there remained room for little else for this confirmed bachelor living in "a life of the mind" brimming with ideas. Near the intellectual zenith of that full life, Lewis met the American divorcee Joy Davidson and there began one of the most odd and tragically beautiful romances in literary history. His eventual marriage of convenience to this former atheist turned Christian admirer blossomed into a tender unity of kindred spirits. When Joy's death through cancer ultimately severed their brief time together, Lewis was thrown into a suffering worthy of the Book of Job. The relationship, dramatized in the film Shadowlands, put to the test every fiber of a faith he had for decades counseled others on. The torments of loss and doubt he endured upon her death are heartbreakingly revealed in his then anonymously penned A Grief Observed. In that last handful of years, Lewis dusted away the mental abstractions of a lifetime and learned the harrowing lessons of love and loss that school us and rend our hearts in life's bitter transaction of joy and pain.
In his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, Lewis was admittedly the most recalcitrant convert to the Christian faith. He stated: "A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere... God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous." His famous 1932 conversion to Christianity in his brother Warnie's motorcycle sidecar was indicative of a mind always working and reconciling truths. "When we set out I did not believe that Jesus is the Son of God and when we reached the zoo, I did." Thus began a lifetime quest to validate and chronicle the repercussions of that conversion in a series of books and articles that tease out the raw implications of that belief. It was imperative that in providing an answer for his faith, he should be able to steer clear of that blind dogmatism that rejects the head for the heart. To Lewis, if Christianity be true, then all the truths contained within the knowledge of Philosophy and Science could be reconciled in the Cross -- despite claims of Materialism and Post-Modernity to the contrary. In reflecting the light from Divine Intelligence, Lewis popularized and reinvigorated the claim that belief was rational and respectable in a benighted age wherein the sterile promises of humanistic technical proficiency gave way to the expedience of bewildered alienation and gas chambers.
Jack had a way of enshrining old veritable truths into a new light; and in turn, emboldening believers to plumb the depths of a worldview they might never have considered before. How heartening to us when he writes: "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."
Glenn Fairman lives in Southern California and blogs as The Eloquent Professor at www.palookavillepost.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.