Posts Tagged ‘c.s. lewis’

I read this some time ago and thought it was great.  I meant to bring it to your attention, and then Steph and I had a baby and I forgot.  Sounds reasonable enough right?  So, below is an excerpt from Iain’s excellent article.  I hope you’ll click through and read the whole thing.


Saint Anthony apparently lost his keys at one point in time.  He prayed and the Lord revealed to him where they were.  Saint Joseph had trouble selling their house in Nazareth until he stood on his head in his front yard and it sold automatically.  Today, if you lose your keys or can’t sell your house, there is a saint whom you can invoke to solve your dilemma.  Never mind that the powers these saints have incurred have little or nothing to do with their actual history!  In much the same fashion, one of my favorite saints (I’m using the term now in a Protestant sense) is often invoked quite inappropriately.  It’s ironic that one of the sharpest Christian minds of the 20th Century is so often evoked to justify fuzzy theological, biblical or moral thinking.  I’m speaking of C.S. Lewis.

When Lewis was 16 years old, he came under the tutelage of W.T. Kirkpatrick, or ‘The Great Knock’ as he was affectionately known.  Lewis tells of his first acquaintance with The Great Knock.  After a long train ride, Lewis commented that the countryside was not as rugged as he had expected it.  The Great Knock immediately began to question him on what he considered ‘rugged’ and what rational grounding he had for expecting the countryside to be more rugged here than elsewhere.  For three years, Lewis’ mind was shaped under this unflagging rationalist.  It is no surprise that the man’s mind was razor-sharp when it came to logical thinking.  Even still, I have heard Lewis quoted to justify lax thinking in terms of redemption, hell, the authority of the Scriptures, and any number of indispensable Christian doctrines!  I think Lewis himself would be aghast at how frequently his fans invoke his name to dismiss intense theological reasoning.

click here to read the whole thing

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“Exmas”: a satirical essay by C.S. Lewis

Posted: December 23, 2010 by limabean03 in The Christian Life
Tags: ,

I found myself chuckling out loud a few times during this great piece of satirical writing. Lewis’ fictional country of Niatrib represents Great Britain but it could just as easily be present day America. I’m sure you can figure the rest out on your own. Enjoy!

In the middle of winter when fogs and rains most abound they have a great festival which they call Exmas , and for fifty days they prepare for it in the fashion I shall describe. First of all, every citizen is obliged to send to each of his friends and relations a square piece of hard paper stamped with a picture, which in their speech is called an Exmas-card . But the pictures represent birds sitting on branches, or trees with a dark green prickly leaf, or else men in such garments as the Niatirbians believe that their ancestors wore two hundred years ago riding in coaches such as their ancestors used, or houses with snow on their roofs. And the Niatirbians are unwilling to say what these pictures have to do with the festival, guarding (as I suppose) some sacred mystery. And because all men must send these cards the market-place is filled with the crowd of those buying them, so that there is great labour and weariness.

But having bought as many as they suppose to be sufficient, they return to their houses and find there the like cards which others have sent to them. And when they find cards from any to whom they also have sent cards, they throw them away and give thanks to the gods that this labour at least is over for another year. But when they find cards from any to whom they have not sent, then they beat their breasts and wail and utter curses against the sender; and, having sufficiently lamented their misfortune, they put on their boots again and go out into the fog and rain and buy a card for him also. And let this account suffice about Exmas-cards.

They also send gifts to one another, suffering the same things about the gifts as about the cards, or even worse. For every citizen has to guess the value of the gift which every friend will send to him so that he may send one of equal value, whether he can afford it or not. And they buy as gifts for one another such things as no man ever bought for himself. For the sellers, understanding the custom, put forth all kinds of trumpery, and whatever, being useless and ridiculous, sell as an Exmas gift. And though the Niatirbians profess themselves to lack sufficient necessary things, such as metal, leather, wood and paper, yet an incredible quantity of these things is wasted every year, being made into the gifts.

But during these fifty days the oldest, poorest and the most miserable of citizens put on false beards and red robes and walk in the market-place; being disguised (in my opinion) as Cronos. And the sellers of gifts no less than the purchasers become pale and weary, because of the crowds and the fog, so that any man who came into a Niatirbian city at this season would think that some great calamity had fallen on Niatirb. This fifty days of preparation is called in their barbarian speech the Exmas Rush .

But when the day of the festival comes, then most of the citizens, being exhausted with the Rush , lie in bed till noon. But in the evening they eat five times as much supper as on other days and, crowning themselves with crowns of paper, they become intoxicated. And on the day after Exmas they are very grave, being internally disordered by the supper and the drinking and reckoning how much they have spent on gifts and on the wine. For wine is so dear among the Niatirbians that a man must swallow the worth of a talent before he is well intoxicated.
Such, then, are their customs about the Exmas. But the few among the Niatirbians have also a festival, separate and to themselves, called Crissmas , which is on the same day as Exmas. And those who keep Crissmas, doing the opposite to the majority of the Niatirbians, rise early on that day with shining faces and go before sunrise to certain temples where they partake of a sacred feast. And in most of the temples they set out images of a fair woman with a new-born Child on her knees and certain animals and shepherds adoring the Child. (The reason of these images is given in a certain sacred story which I know but do not repeat.)

But I myself conversed with a priest in one of these temples and asked him why they kept Crissmas on the same day as Exmas; for it appeared to me inconvenient. But the priest replied, “It is not lawful, O Stranger, for us to change the date of Crissmas, but would that Zeus would put it into the minds of the Niatirbians to keep Exmas at some other time or not to keep it at all. For Exmas and the Rush distract the minds even of the few from sacred things. And we indeed are glad that men should make merry at Crissmas; but in Exmas there is no merriment left.”

And when I asked him why they endured the Rush, he replied, “It is, O Stranger, a racket, using (as I suppose) the words of some oracle and speaking unintelligibly to me (for a racket is an instrument which the barbarians use in a game called tennis ).

But what Hecataeus says, that Exmas and Crissmas are the same, is not credible. For the first, the pictures which are stamped on the Exmas-cards have nothing to do with the sacred story which the priests tell about Crissmas. And secondly, the most part of the Niatirbians, not believing the religion of the few, nevertheless send the gifts and cards and participate in theRush and drink, wearing paper caps. But it is not likely that men, even being barbarians, should suffer so many and great things in honour of a god they do not believe in. And now, enough about Niatirb.

Read it yourself in C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock “Xmas and Christmas: A lost chapter from Herodotus”

This topic is of particular interest to me as more and more of the people at Trinity begin to pick up serious works of theology and report back the tremendous blessing that their theological studies have brought them.  In the words of one person, “Studying theology helps me know God better and I find the better I know him the more I love him.”

Everyone has warned me not to tell you what I am going to tell you in this last book. They all say `the ordinary reader does not want Theology; give him plain practical religion’. I have rejected their advice. I do not think the ordinary reader is such a fool. Theology means ‘the science of God,’ and I think any man who wants to think about God at all would like to have the clearest and most accurate ideas about Him which are available. You are not children: why should you be treated like children?

In a way I quite understand why some people are put off by Theology. I remember once when I had been giving a talk to the R.A.F., an old, hard-bitten officer got up and said, `I’ve no use for all that stuff. But, mind you, I’m a religious man too. I know there’s a God. I’ve felt Him out alone in the desert at night: the tremendous mystery. And that’s just why I don’t believe all your neat little dogmas and formulas about Him. To anyone who’s met the real thing they all seem so petty and pedantic and unreal !’

Now in a sense I quite agreed with that man. I think he had probably had a real experience of God in the desert. And when he turned from that experience to the Christian creeds, I think he really was turning from something real to something less real. In the same way, if a man has once looked at the Atlantic from the beach, and then goes and looks at a map of the Atlantic, he also will be turning from something real to something less real: turning from real waves to a bit of coloured paper. But here comes the point. The map is admittedly only coloured paper, but there are two things you have to remember about it. In the first place, it is based on what hundreds and thousands of people have found out by sailing the real Atlantic. In that way it has behind it masses of experience just as real as the one you could have from the beach; only, while yours would be a single glimpse, the map fits all those different experiences together. In the second place, if you want to go anywhere, the map is absolutely necessary. As long as you are content with walks on the beach, your own glimpses are far more fun than looking at a map. But the map is going to be more use than walks on the beach if you want to get to America.

Now, Theology is like the map. Merely learning and thinking about the Christian doctrines, if you stop there, is less real and less exciting than the sort of thing my friend got in the desert. Doctrines are not God: they are only a kind of map. But that map is based on the experience of hundreds of people who really were in touch with God-experiences compared with which any thrills or pious feelings you and I are likely to get on our own are very elementary and very confused. And secondly, if you want to get any further, you must use the map. You see, what happened to that man in the desert may have been real, and was certainly exciting, but nothing comes of it. It leads nowhere. There is nothing to do about it. In fact, that is just why a vague religion-all about feeling God in nature, and so on-is so attractive. It is all thrills and no work; like watching the waves from the beach. But you will not get to Newfoundland by studying the Atlantic that way, and you will not get eternal life by simply feeling the presence of God in flowers or music. Neither will you get anywhere by looking at maps without going to sea. Nor will you be very safe if you go to sea without a map.

C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Macmillan 1977) pg 135-135

An excerpt from his paper “Fern seeds and elephants” critiques modernist theology in the Church of England and ends with this amusing sentence that rings oh so true in these days.

“Once the layman was anxious to hide the fact that he believed so much less than the vicar; now he tends to hide the fact that he believes so much more. Missionary to the priests of one’s own church is an embarrassing role; though I have a horrid feeling that if such mission work is not soon undertaken the future history of the Church of England is likely to be short.”

be sure to read the whole essay here

I have excerpted below from Lewis’ classic work Mere Christianity. The following paragraphs are for me, some of the most significant of the whole book. Admittedly, I stopped right when it gets good, but perhaps I will post that as well when my fingers are rested a bit

The better stuff a creature is made of- the cleverer and stronger and feer it is- then the better it will be if it goes right, but also the worse if it goes wrong. A cow cannot be very good or very bad; a dog can be both better and worse; a child better and worse still; an ordinary man, still more so; a man of genius, still more so; a superhuman spirit best- or worst- of all.

How did the Dark Power go wrong? Here, no doubt, we ask a question to which human beings cannot give an answer with any certainty. A reasonable (and traditional) guess, cased on our own experiences of going wrong, can, however, be offered. The moment you have a self at all, there is a possibility of putting yourself first- wanting to be the centre- wanting to be God, in fact. That was the sin of Satan: and that was the sin he taught to the human race. Some people think the fall of man had something to do with sex, but that is a mistake. (The story in the Book of Genesis rather suggests that some corruption in our sexual nature followed the fall and was its result, not its cause.) What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was theidea that they could “be like gods”- cold set up on their own as if they had created themselves- be their own masters- invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history- money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, empires, classes, slavery- the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.

The reason why it can never succeed is this. Godman us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on Gasoline, and it would not run on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.

That is the key to history. Terrific energy is expended- civilisations are built up- excellent institutions devised; but each time something goes wrong. Some fatal flaw always brings the selfich adn cruel people to the top and it all slides back into misery and ruin. In fact, the machine conks. It seems to start up all right and runs a few yards, and then it breaks down. They are trying to run it on the wrong juice. That is what Satan has done to us humans.

C.S. Lewish, Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan 1977) pg 54-55

Preached 2.08.09

“All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.” –Blaise Paschal Pensees VII.1.425

Paschal’s quote from Pensees is useful for the fact that it reminds us of something that every inch of our current era strains to help us forget, namely, that you and I are desiring creatures.  What do we desire?  Essentially we desire, Paschal says, to be happy.  Our hearts desire our happiness, our minds conceive of what might make us happy, and our bodies strain to achieve this end.  It is out of a desiring heart, that our mind say “going to the mall today will make me happy,” so our bodies strain to the mall.  It is out of the desiring heart that our mind says “watching House tonight will make me happy,” so my body strains to watch House, even if I’m tired or have other responsibilities.  We are desiring creatures and we always do what we desire and what satisfies us in the end. 

Why do we behave this way?  Well, we behave this way in short because we believe that there is something out there that will eventually satisfy our desire.  Of course the comeback is, just because I think there is something out there, doesn’t mean it exists.  I could imagine a pristine island in the South Pacific that has a sign on the beach that says “reserved for Rob Sturdy” and it doesn’t mean it exists.  But, on the other hand, a baby who is newly born, who desires food desires the food because he was made to consume it.  So, while it doesn’t necessarily prove it, I think it is a strong argument that a desire to be in heaven after we die, to have communion with God, to have a transcendent purpose in life, is a reasonably strong argument that such things exist. (more…)

santa1Thanks to Charlie Jordan for forwarding this thought provoking article.  The author’s logic is the type that makes me squirm while simultaneously perking my interest.  At the end of the day, I like it…I think

I suspect that fairy tales and Santa Claus do prepare us to embrace the ultimate Fairy Tale, the one Lewis believed was ingrained in our being. New research from the Université de Montréal and the University of Ottawa indicates that children aren’t overly troubled upon learning that Santa is a myth. But the researchers remained puzzled because while children eventually abandon Santa, they keep believing in God. Lewis would say this is because God is real, but Mr. Dawkins fears it is the lasting damage of fairy tales. While Mr. Dawkins stands ironically alongside Puritans in his readiness to ban fairy tales, Christian apologists like Lewis and Chesterton embraced them, precisely because to embrace Christian dogma is to embrace the extrarational.

Today’s Christian apologists, by contrast, seek to reason their way to God by means of archaeological finds, anthropological examinations and scientific argumentation. That’s all well and good, but it seems to miss a fundamental point illuminated by Chesterton, which is that, ultimately, belief in God is belief in mystery.

read it all here