There are several C S Lewis essays narrated with doodles on YouTube. This essay on ‘Religion and Science’ takes the form of a dialogue between Lewis and a ‘rationalist’ colleague who is perhaps a caricature, but whose thought, or rather assumptions, in my view fairly represents a common trope. Have a listen, and then Google ‘flat earth slander’.
Hi. This blog has been neglected for a long time for various reasons. In fact, believe it or not (*) I had even forgotten its existence. I had a reminder when I looked up ‘C S Lewis and H P Lovecraft’ and Google took me here to find an essay I remember writing! Anyway, like old Merlin, the blog is waking up.
The need for Lewis hasn’t gone away. I am principally interested in Jack as a Christian apologist, and as I said to an on-line atheist duelling partner recently, the interesting thing about him is that he had a brilliant mind, rejected the Christianity he had been raised in, had his mind trained in hard line reductionist materialist scepticism, took three Firsts at Oxford (including philosophy) and then returned to Christianity, and then WROTE ABOUT IT, using words, wit and wisdom to address all of the intellectual and other obstacles which are laid in the path of the potential convert. And the thing of it is, those very same obstacles continue being laid out. So, we still need Jack’s wisdom.
Anyhow, right now I am re-reading ‘That Hideous Strength’ in an old unabridged edition with an odd cover that I picked up recently on a stall somewhere.
Every time I read it, I get something new. Since my last reading a few years ago, I have reflected on (amongst other things) the criticism some reviewers have made of Lewis’ characterisation of Jane Studdock. I may return to consider this in more depth later, but the usual thing is that she is portrayed as a stereotype of the ‘submissive’ stay at home wife, which of course she isn’t in the book but it’s implied that she ought to be. This criticism is as unfair as Cathy Newman’s famous ‘So I might as well just go and play with my Sindy dolls then?’ rebuff to Jordan Peterson over the ‘gender pay gap’.
At the start of the novel, we find Jane musing on the fact that her life hadn’t been going as well since she married Mark. Her treatise on John Donne hadn’t been going so well, despite the fact that she and Mark had decided they would not have children, or at least not for a long time, so that she could finish it, but somehow she wasn’t making the progress she had dreamed off. How is this misogynistic? Men and women’s dreams can both fail. And Mark is presented as being a far from ideal man and husband. I strongly argue that Mark and Jane are equally presented as flawed humans who believe some things that aren’t true, make poor decisions and let others down. If anything, Mark is presented as a worse person than Jane. He certainly does worse things.
The novel was written to articulate Lewis’ feelings about a whole range of things that he thought were not all right. yes, he thought that there were some ‘not right’ things about some modern young women, for sure. Does he criticise some of Jane’s feminism? For sure. But what and who else does he criticise? Her husband Mark, university lecturers and officials, industrialists, journalists, local government councillors, writers, policemen and policewomen, politicians, sociologists, scientists and a few others.
Anyhow, this is mainly a short blog post to say that although I haven’t posted much for a few years, I’ll hopefully be posting more in future. There is certainly plenty of insanity that needs to be exposed and confronted.
(*) If you knew me, you’d believe it. I get flights of ideas, start projects then get distracted, and over the last 3 years have had a few emotional crises, a 2 month sabbatical in Australia and New Zealand, initiated and developed a major international skin cancer diagnostics conference, Oh and been quite ill. Never mind.
‘The universe is very big, and the laws of physics exist, therefore no God’
The above statement is, in a nutshell, one of the most common ‘arguments’ used by atheists. Put as baldly as the above, it makes no sense as an argument, and is seen as a dogmatic assertion. In fact, it is a philosophical statement, the philosophy in question being naturalism.
I gave a talk to a men’s group in Titchfield, Hampshire last Tuesday, on ‘C S Lewis: fairy tales, faith and thinking.’ in the course of which I considered the philosophical assertions made by the late Stephen Hawking, who boldly asserted that because there is no heaven or afterlife for worn out computers, there isn’t one for men either. I may post a summary of that talk later, but for now, would like to cast a few thoughts on this idea that because science is very clever, there is no room for God. Stephen Hawking used to believe this. But it is a philosophical position, not a finding of science.
‘But philosophy is bunk’ says the materialist. ‘I don’t have any philosophy, or opinions, or faith. I merely accept the verifiable scientific facts.’ As Christopher Hitchens boasted, ‘Our beliefs are not beliefs.’ However, such persons ARE philosophising, whether they admit it or not. They have made a potent and all-embracing truth claim, which begs many questions and assumes various axioms. The truth claim of materialism may be put forward for discussion and testing, but it is not a finding of fact-it’s an opinion, just like the opinion that one person one vote democracy is the ‘best’ form of government. It may or may not be (C S thought it was, but only because it provided a mechanism to restrain evil rulers) but we can talk about it and establish it-or not- by proper examination.
Naturalism is a philosophy. That’s right, a philosophy-something that people think. Naturalism asserts that nature, i.e. stuff that we can see, feel and measure and which behaves according to natural laws, is all that exists. A neat summary of this is the well known statement by Carl Sagan, who asserted, ‘The Cosmos is all that exists, and all that ever has existed or ever will exist.’ As Cornelius Hunter correctly observes (see link) that is a truth claim, but it does not come from science. It’s a statement of philosophy or faith. What’s more, it’s a comfort to many. C S Lewis in his atheist days was glad that (as he then believed) there was no God, because it meant he could live as he pleased and if life ever turned irredeemably sour, he could kill himself with no eternal consequences (see Surprised By Joy).
We are all philosophers, and we all live by our philosophies, good or bad, whether our philosophies are well founded or not. We ought to be very wary that we have not simply drifted into a philosophy by the company we keep or the stuff we let the MSM and our peer groups put into our minds.
There is a great bit in Lewis’ ‘The Pilgrim’s Regress’ where John (the pilgrim who represent’s Lewis’ search for joy (‘The Island’) when he encounters Mr Enlightenment. The latter assured John that ‘There is no Landlord’ (1). This is what John wants to hear, troubled as he is by his guilty conscience, but he asks how Mr Enlightenment knows. He responds ‘Christopher Columbus, Galileo, the earth is round, invention of printing, gunpowder!’ (2). There follows an exchange in which John explains that people in Puritania (where John grew up and left) knew that the earth was ‘as round as an orange’ by Mr E denies this. He is quite certain that the Puritanians have no knowledge of modern science, hence they are stupid enough to believe in The Landlord. He combines misrepresentation, straight falsehood and basic category error.
Mr Enlightenment is talking classic atheist hubris. OK, he’s a caricature, but not wide of the mark. I come across the sterile and irrelevant ‘conflict between religion and science’ stuff all the time. Lewis was great on exposing the peurility of this approach. As he wrote elsewhere (and although his studies were mainly in philosophy, language, medievalism and literature etc he was by no means ignorant of science) ‘ You cannot use nature to answer the question ‘is there anything beyond nature.’
It’s careless, lazy and culpably ignorant to assert that the existence of physical laws and clever human inventions like Smartphones and smart bombs remove God from the picture. C S Lewis and many great thinkers in the centuries before him (thinkers he studied but we, with our Netflix and Snapchat, have forgotten) knew that. We ought to know better.
(1) The Landlord represents God in this story
H P Lovecraft, C S Lewis, and me.
This personal reflection mainly concerns the effect on me of deep and prolonged exposure to two influential 20th century writers, Howard Price Lovecraft and Clive Staples (Jack) Lewis. They had much in common, in that each man created a unique and compelling mythos, but their philosophies of life and therefore the moral and intellectual natures of the universes they created were diametrically opposed. I am not the best read 62-year-old in England, my choice of a medical career saw to that, (my favourite subjects at school were English and French, before the desire to become a doctor took hold) but at major turning points in my life I was heavily engaged with the visions of each of these two men. These are some personal thoughts on their very different speculative fiction outputs.
A few disclaimers. I am a reader but no literature student, I’m a GP (Primary Care Physician) turned dermatologist. With a few exceptions, I haven’t read any H P Lovecraft for about 45 years, and, for reasons which will become clear, haven’t revisited his work for this essay, apart from some on line research. By contrast, I continue to re-read Lewis, even unto the physical disintegration of books. In June 2009 I attended a colloquium in Oxford about the book Perelandra (see below) where I met the estimable Inklings scholar Sǿrina Higgins, at whose suggestion I wrote this essay after a Twitter comment on the subject of Charles Williams being a riposte to H P Lovecraft. Also, I am a convinced Christian and this inevitably colours my interpretation and the significance I assign to things. That said, I’m not writing an anti-Lovecraft polemic, or even especially in praise of Lewis, but to tell a story which reflects how potently written speculative fiction might, for good or ill, affect a vulnerable mind. Oh, and some plot spoilers. Anyway, here goes.
Who reads H P Lovecraft? Well, I did for one. Back in the late sixties and early seventies, I was a bit of a loner and a weirdo. Decades, marriage, fatherhood and a moderately successful medical career later, I still am, but back then, more so. I was a teenager who thought his parents were boring, enjoying new freedoms, desperately trying to find out who I was, and in the words of the Steppenwolf song ‘Looking for adventure, whatever comes my way.’ There was the usual incalculable interplay between genetics, environment and what some call chance and others Providence. How much of how I turned out was down to my free will, if any, I can’t say.
I had a taste for the exotic and alternative from a young age. Raised as a Roman Catholic, I was into Zen and ‘free thinking’ although never an atheist. My emotional and artistic preferences were impacted dramatically on 29th December 1966, my 11th birthday, when I saw Jimi Hendrix playing ‘Hey Joe’ on British TV programme Top of The Pops. (1) Those three minutes changed my life. If you weren’t there, you can’t appreciate how shocking Hendrix’s stage show and tortured electric guitar playing were, even polarising opinion in the playground where I received taunts and abuse from Monkees fans. But I wouldn’t back down-this was my music and I wholly identified with it. I was already being bullied for being taller and cleverer than most other kids. I used to pace the playground making up stories with 2 other brainy outcasts, excluded like me from football by our less imaginative peers. I didn’t fit in, so I read and read, living in a world of my imagination which I fed with fantasy fiction.
Advancing into my teens, still the brainy and socially awkward loner, I discovered the public library. I read every fantasy, adventure, sci-fi and horror book I could find. Henry Rider Haggard was a favourite, especially his Zululand romances with their exotic differentness and an element of the supernatural (2). ‘Nada the Lily’ remains a favourite, showcasing the Rider Haggard hero Umslopogaas who appears in several other tales. He was a misunderstood outcast with an enchanted axe-very like Jimi Hendrix. I couldn’t get enough. Then came Tolkien.
Having discovered and devoured The Hobbit, I remember the day I first found a copy of The Fellowship of The Ring in the library. I speed read it in an afternoon and literally ran a mile to get back to the Fullwell Cross library before closing time to order The Two Towers and The Return of The King. The fact that most of my friends thought LOTR ‘tedious and absurd’ to quote JRRT’s foreword, just encouraged me about how cool I was, being into stuff that most folks weren’t into.
By now I was 16 and content to be an outsider, especially as I now had a few friends who were also bored by football and mainstream pop music. Exotic, avant-garde, rebellious, even morbid and dangerous tastes were something to seek out and celebrate. And then one day a friend, let’s call him Roy, introduced me to H P Lovecraft. Roy was a long-haired outsider and close friend who was into eastern religions and later came out as homosexual. I hadn’t known that when we shared a tent while walking Hadrian’s Wall. One of my memories of Roy was when I was in hospital after a fencing accident (I was stabbed in the throat) and he fainted at the sight of me, keeled over and banged his head. They put him in the bed next to me. Another friend was also heavily into Lovecraft. He was an outspoken atheist and communist.
I instantly became addicted to Lovecraft. Like my beloved Tolkien, and to a lesser extent Mervyn Peake (The Gormenghast Trilogy) he had created an imaginary world which was strange and different, peopled with fascinating characters, which challenged the conventional and opened up hitherto unimagined possibilities. Unlike Tolkien, whose ‘sword and sorcerer’ adventures were in far off Osgiliath, Lothlorien, Fangorn Forest, The Misty Mountains, Rohan and Mordor, Lovecraft’s world was rooted in our own time and space. His tales were set in the Antarctic, the seas off New Zealand, the fictional New England towns of Arkham and Innsmouth, the swamps of Louisiana, and other present-day locations. But just around the corner from those sleepy towns and ordinary offices and universities, lay dark secrets in hidden manuscripts and unspeakable horrors. Furthermore, these were horrors against which there was no defence, no conquering hero, no righteous Aragorn, Treebeard or Gandalf to put things right. Above all, no wise and good Deity could deliver you from the malign or indifferent attentions of the mad gods of space, Nyarlathotep the crawling chaos, the evil rat Brown Jenkin, the noxious Yog-Sothoth who froths in primal slime, or countless other malign entities. A pitiless universe indeed, of which I will offer a handful of examples.
In ‘The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath’ (3), a man with a boring daytime job and longings for something more wonderful, went looking for a beautiful city through unknown and exotic realms, travelling through enchanted dreams rather as the Pevensie children went through a wardrobe to Narnia. Yes, there was an evil witch in Narnia, but the place was inherently good, and if there was a witch there was also Aslan. On the bizarre journey to Kadath, there were ogres whose mouths opened sideways, various nameless shadows, Gugs and Ghasts, insanity, deceit and illusion, hoary Nodens bellowing from the deep, the indifferent, ineffectual ‘old gods’ of earth, and the cruel, potent gods of space, but no comfort, meaning, security or hope.
Lovecraft’s universe had always been fallen, or rather had never risen much above primal chaos, but with no perfection to hope for or redemption promised. The meaning of this became clearer to me much later, but as a teenager who had been schooled neither in sound Christian theology nor good critical thinking skills (beyond the materialistic scientific method) this darkness was delicious. It seeped into the hidden reservoirs of my subconscious and took up residence inside me. However many differing views might exist on how our personalities form, form they do, and stuff we imbibe evidently must have a role in such formation. It might have been better for me if my IQ had been twenty points lower and I had been obsessed with football and Tamla Motown dance music like so many of my peers.
A key story in the HPL mythos is ‘The Call of Cthulhu’. Cthulhu is not a supernatural demon, but a physical entity of great power and malice who evolved in far-off regions of unknown space, travelled to Earth, and with his terrible minions is in a suspended state under the sea waiting for his time to arise and destroy or enslave humanity. We read of some kind of signal (Cthulhu’s call) that is perceived by some. Men are driven mad, some create models or drawings of a being which is a cross between a man, a squid and a dragon. Members of the Cthulhu cult sacrifice human victims whose bodies are described as being ‘curiously subtracted from’. The story reveals that only a few of the cultists were ‘sane enough to hang.’ Eventually, volcanic activity and underwater earthquake off the coast of New Zealand reveals the monstrous, ‘Dead Cthulhu who lies dreaming in his house at R’lyeh’.
The Wikipedia entry tells us about ‘The nightmare corpse-city of R’lyeh…built in measureless eons behind history by the vast, loathsome shapes that seeped down from the dark stars. There lay great Cthulhu and his hordes, hidden in green slimy vaults. ‘
As with many of Lovecraft’s horrific visions, such as ‘The Shadow out of Time’ there is nothing that humans can do but await their fate at the hands (claws, tentacles…) of various extra-terrestrial horrors, and it may be better to do so in blissful ignorance since there is nothing they can do to save themselves anyway.
I remember seeing a poster at Leytonstone underground station advertising the film of Lovecraft’s ‘The Dunwich Horror’. The blurb read ‘A few years ago in Dunwich, a half-witted girl gave birth to illegitimate twins. One of them was almost human.’ I never had the chance to see the film, but read the book when I could. There was talk of ‘that upstairs’ and ‘clearing off the Earth’, oh and tentacles.
The mention of tentacles reminds me of the musical parody (?!?) of Lovecraft’s work ‘A Shoggoth on the Roof’ but shoggoths are shape-shifting monsters who will melt your head as soon as look at you and are far from amusing. These extra-terrestrial entities appear in one of Lovecraft’s most powerful works, ‘At the Mountains of Madness’ a horror story set on the fictional Plateau of Leng in Antarctica. An expedition wakes up things they shouldn’t have woken up and an ‘Alien’ like scenario ensues. (As an aside, I once saw an episode of ‘The X Files’ which borrowed hugely from this plot. Lovecraft remains very influential even where not credited). Only 2 survivors escape, one of whom goes mad after (like Lot’s wife) looking behind and seeing something that ‘ought not to be’. A brief quote from the story reads
‘Something about the scene reminded me of the strange and disturbing Asian paintings of Nicholas Roerich, and of the still stranger and more disturbing descriptions of the evilly fabled plateau of Leng which occur in the dreaded Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred. I was rather sorry, later on, that I had ever looked into that monstrous book at the college library.’ (my emphasis-SH)
The arcane book The Necronomicon is an overarching ‘Elder Scrolls’ style background document referenced in many Lovecraft stories, to some extent analogous to back-stories such as The Lay of Leithian alluded to in Tolkien. I was wryly amused to rediscover the above underlined quote in which Lovecraft’s narrator expresses regret that he had ever looked into ‘that monstrous book’. As a reader of this essay will appreciate before its conclusion, I can identify with that thought. I don’t want to come over all preachy and tell people what not to read, but I agree that some material is best avoided, as once seen it cannot be unseen.
The overall context of HPL’s imagined universe is that there is no god, demon, angel or spirit-but everything is evolved in a meaningless universe. But some beings that evolved over ‘strange aeons’ in the far reaches of deep space, where perhaps the laws of physics are different to those we know, have evolved to such a degree that their properties appear supernatural to us. This is a common theme in science fiction from The War of the Worlds to Babylon 5, but Lovecraft put a particular spin on it and took it further than most. Read this quote from ‘The Call of Cthulhu’ which illustrates the bleak despair of Lovecraft’s imagination.
‘The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.’
I only ‘got’ this scientistic, godless horror about Lovecraft’s vision when watching the BBC TV ‘Mastermind’ quiz show a few years back, when a contestant chose H P Lovecraft as her special subject. Asked by presenter John Humphrys what she found fascinating about his work, she replied that his writing was influenced by his strong atheistic convictions. His monsters might seem supernatural, but weren’t. They were evolutionarily derived material beings who happened to have developed immortality and super human powers, including the ability to change shape and possess human minds. This is really awful when you let it sink in. If there is a ‘traditional’ devil, well that’s bad, but then by the same token there is a God who can save you from him. But what if beings that acted like devils and could drag you down to some kind of hell, whether you deserved it or not, existed in a materialistic an amoral universe, and had no benevolent and righteous divine counterpart?
In Lovecraft’s cosmic vision, there might be a naturalistic hell or devils that neither science nor God could save you from. Think of ‘Dead Cthulhu’ lying for aeons confined in a submarine hall of foul slime, perhaps partly conscious and in misery. Care to join him? You might have no say in the matter. Something like this is suggested in CSL’s ‘That Hideous Strength’, where the hubristic biologist Filostrato boasts of his power to prolong human lives indefinitely, in a happy or otherwise condition …‘They cannot refuse the little gift’. I realised that Lovecraft’s achievement had been to create a compelling, but horrible, universe in which the atheist’s hope (I use the word thoughtfully) of dreamless sleep after death might be overthrown. There might be an endless torment you could fall or be dragged into, regardless of justice, and nobody to save you. A pitiless universe with a hell but no heaven, devils but no God.
I went to some trouble to obtain as full a collection of Lovecraft as possible, and read and re-read them. I welcomed the Gugs and Ghasts, Nyarlathotep, the noxious Yog-Sothoth, the ghouls that haunted the Pyramids, the Colours out of Space, Mad Abdul Alhazred and all the rest into my eager imagination, where they took up residence and did their thing.
One night, walking home around 2 am from my girlfriend’s house (Julia and I have now been married 42 years) I experienced a sensation that I have never had before or since. I felt that some malevolent entity was looking down on me from behind. I hadn’t taken drugs, maybe some wine hours earlier but not much, and I felt terrified. Although I was walking down a long suburban street, I felt as though I was completely alone in the world, it was as if the houses were all empty. It makes my flesh creep now to remember it. The feeling didn’t go away. I started to run.
When I got home, 3 anxious miles away, the house was empty, the rest of my family had gone on a trip I hadn’t wanted to join them on (I told you I was a loner), and I did something I had almost never done before. I knelt by the side of my bed and prayed fervently to God asking for deliverance and safety. I have a clear memory of two things happening next. First, I felt there were several bat-like things flying around my head, and next I felt a voice saying ‘Go downstairs and into the garden and burn those books, and do it now.’ I really didn’t want to do that. Not only had I spent what to me was a lot of money on them, but I had persuaded another friend to read them and promised to loan them. I remember telling him with bravado the effect of the books was like taking LSD. (I never took LSD but had helped a friend through an acid-induced psychotic episode one night, which I won’t forget). If I burned the books, I would look very silly in my friend’s eyes. It is an indication of how disturbed I felt that 10 minutes later there was a fire going on an upturned dustbin lid, which I fed until the last page was consumed. I felt somewhat better, prayed some more, and was able to sleep.
PS I am not saying that I was being stalked by an evil entity of any kind, or even asking readers to believe that I had an answer to prayer, just that it felt like that. By all means put the whole thing down to a fevered and immature imagination. But I am truthfully recounting my feelings. What I insist on is that I was absolutely terrified, it was because of what I had been reading for the last several months, and that this was not like me.
A couple of days later at school (I was studying science A levels than for medical school) I sheepishly told Roy what had happened, or at least an edited version of it. He laughed, and said Nyarlathotep was a great idea but I shouldn’t take him so seriously. But soon after he lent me a copy of ‘Perelandra-A Voyage to Venus’ by C S Lewis which he said he thought might help. He was right, it did.
I had a smattering of Lewis, like many others having read and enjoyed the Narnia books and studied Out of The Silent Planet for English Literature, without seeing the Christian nature of the books. I was raised as a Catholic who respected Jesus but was no committed believer, I essentially thought and lived as I pleased. Reading Perelandra didn’t change that immediately, but restored an equilibrium in the world of my imagination, rather like a detox or hangover cure. A cleansing of the Augean stables. Lewis’s universe, like Lovecraft’s, contained terrible dangers and cruel monsters who meant me harm, but there was a Remedy available on application, however wretched and weak you were. As Lewis put it, there was such a thing as the Normal or Straight, a Power that cared about me, a Goodness that would have the last word. Evil was real, but it would be defeated. Beauty and ugliness, good and evil, truth and lies, sanity and madness were not equally matched ‘yin and yang’ complementary opposites, but goodness, truth, beauty and sanity were RIGHT and they would triumph over the WRONG of ugliness, lies, evil and madness in the end. The universe was not meaningless. Life was not a sick joke. We might be victims, but not helpless as we had a Helper.
I could expand on the last paragraph in more words and with abundant examples from Lewis’s rich world of wisdom, but as a 17-year-old the above is what I understood and felt at the time, although 17 year old me wouldn’t have put it quite like that. In simple terms, H P Lovecraft messed my head up, C S Lewis put it right again. The memory of that is very clear despite the intervening years.
I have occasionally re-read or watched a YouTube narration of a Lovecraft story, almost like a man revisiting the scene of a serious accident to see if he can deal with his emotions. I recently re-read At The Mountains of Madness, which can be taken as a quality sci-fi chiller, rather like the ‘Alien’ or more recent ‘Life’ films. Lovecraft has inspired and been plagiarised by many writers. But I want no more brain input about alien mind possession, demonic man-eating rats or squid-like demigods that suffocate into your mind. I’m like Puddleglum in ‘The Silver Chair’, resisting the intoxicating spell being cast on him in Underland. I prefer the sun, and Aslan-even if they aren’t true, they are better than what the foul demon disguised as a kindly queen is offering us. But the sun, and Aslan, are true. It was healing to my wounded 17-year-old mind to receive this Lewisian riposte to Lovecraft’s miserific vision. The imagination, like the intellect and our basic desires, can be a battlefield where good needs to triumph over evil.
I have re-read the Cosmic Trilogy maybe 15 times since then and got more out of it with each reading, but never did it do me as much good as on the first reading. Please do read the whole Ransom Trilogy in order, but here is a quote from the first chapter of ‘Voyage to Venus’ which may amplify some of the thoughts I expressed above. Elwin Ransom’s associate reflects on the eldils, who as cosmic travellers visiting Earth have things in common with some of Lovecraft’s creations.
‘We tend to think about non-human intelligences in two distinct categories which we label ‘normal’ and ‘supernatural’ respectively. We think, in one mood, of Mr. Wells’ Martians (very unlike the real Malacandrians, by ‘ the bye), or his Selenites. In quite a different mood we let our minds loose on the possibility of angels, ghosts, fairies, and the like. But the very moment we are compelled to recognise a creature in either class as real the distinction begins to get blurred: and when it is a creature like an eldil the distinction vanishes altogether. These things were not animals-to that extent one had to classify them with the second group; but they had some kind of material vehicle whose presence could (in principle) be scientifically verified. To that extent they belonged to the first group. The distinction between natural and supernatural, in fact, broke down; and when it had done so, one realised how great a comfort it had been-how it had eased the burden of intolerable strangeness which this universe imposes on us by dividing it into two halves and encouraging the mind never to think of both in the same context. What price we may have paid for this comfort in the way of false security and accepted confusion of thought is another matter.’ (my emphasis-SH).
One can almost see Lewis as a literal (and literary) antidote to Lovecraft’s poisoned cosmos.
The wider effect of C S Lewis’ writings on my life would take a much longer essay than this. Briefly, as well as Perelandra rescuing my polluted imagination from H P Lovecraft’s dismal thought-bombs, The Screwtape Letters were instrumental in my Christian conversion at age 19, and Mere Christianity then provided me with a very necessary intellectual underpinning for my new faith, which quickly came under assault. I have loved the Narnia stories and Ransom trilogy especially, but there is hardly anything he wrote that hasn’t given me pleasure, wisdom, joy or all three. And he has shown me time and time again how vain atheism and various other ‘cheats’ (4) are.
On the last point, just one quote, from ‘The Great Divorce’. A damned (literally) heretic bishop is saying to a penitent former heretic, on matters where he prefers endless speculation to simple faith (e.g. The Resurrection) says ‘Surely, it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive?’ The response comes, ‘If that were true, and known to be true, how could anyone travel hopefully?’ Absolutely cracking stuff-and there’s tons of it! I am so looking forward, if allowed, to the day when I will pour Jack a pint of cider in my heavenly orchard. Thanks mate, you made a difference.
Am I saying Lovecraft’s books are evil, even demonic? Am I saying people, especially Christians, shouldn’t read them? No. But as the Apostle Paul wrote in 1st Corinthians 10:23, ‘All things are lawful but not all things are edifying/helpful.’ I heard a preacher at the University Christian Union respond to the question ‘Should Christians read or watch unedifying material (e.g. pornography, violence, horror etc) in order to better relate to the culture we live in?’ with the advice that if we in clear conscience feel moved to do so, go ahead, but tell a friend we are doing it, and spend three times as long with The Bible or other edifying material. Because our minds are corruptible and we are what we eat. Why eat poison?
A final point. I am a creationist. I’m not going to expand on that here, beyond saying that all Creedal Christians must by definition be creationists even if they (unnecessarily to my mind) concede that ‘God created through evolution over millions of years.’ Lewis was also a creationist (5) if not a six day young-Earther. Perelandra and The Magician’s Nephew are both written from a creationist perspective, and he wrote an essay ‘Funeral of a Great Myth’, the myth in question being evolution. H P Lovecraft on the other hand was emphatically a materialistic evolutionist, who believed that all living entities, known and unknown, emerged ultimately from dirty water, gas and sparks by mindless, blind chance. This conviction fully informed his vision of horrors from deep space and time that were more evolved than humans and saw us as prey. Materialistic evolutionism is consistent with his vision of a chaotic, pointless and pitiless universe-something which honest atheists will sometimes admit to. Lewis saw a fallen world, yes, but one which had fallen from beauty and would be restored by her Maker. These alternative visions, informed by opposing world views, seem to me to be a true dichotomy. It is one or the other, Nyarlathotep or Maleldil, the crawling chaos or the loving Father. The fact that we do, in the end, have to choose between mutually exclusive opposites is a major theme in Lewis, e.g. ‘The Great Divorce.’
I can respect Lovecraft’s stark, nihilistic atheism in the same way as I respect the brutal honesty of the English poet and Latin scholar A E Housman, who wrote several poems commending suicide as a sensible way out of a chronically unsatisfactory existence into oblivion. C S Lewis wrote in ‘Surprised by Joy’ that in his atheist days this thought had occurred to him and been a comfort. And, indeed, suicide is rational for the chronically unhappy if materialism is true and if dreamless sleep is better than constant pain, physical or mental. Again, few atheists will be as honest as A E Housman and openly state this, but the bleak logic is inescapable. Lovecraft with his cold and creepy mythos faced the real implications of materialism-a meaningless, godless, pitiless universe that had come from nothing by chaotic, undesigned processes and was meandering and juddering its way back to nothing. And so what?
Thank God there is a better vision available.
Kind regards to all readers and writers of speculative fantasy fiction. Stay safe out there, take no hurt and give no hurt.
- Incidentally, Hendrix was heavily into sci-fi. 2 of his best loved works, ‘Third Stone From the Sun’ and ‘1983, a Merman I Should Turn to be’ concern the destruction of earth by hostile aliens!
- I discovered much later that C S Lewis appreciated Henry Rider Haggard as a creator of myth, even though he wasn’t impressed by his writing skills. See his essay ‘The mythopoeic gift of Henry Rider Haggard’
- The plot of ‘The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath’ is similar to that of ‘A Voyage to Arcturus’ which influenced Lewis’s sci-fi trilogy. Lewis thought (and I agree) that the latter book was clever and full of invention but rather nasty, which sums up my view of Lovecraft’s work. Everything is indeed connected!
- The term ‘Cheats’ is used by Lewis in a foreword to his first spiritual autobiography ‘The Pilgrim’s Regress’. He meant by this term the various intellectual and philosophical arguments that had distracted and obstructed him on his journey to Christ. He wrote the book as a counterblast against these cheats. It is an angry and difficult book and although rewarding to any Lewis lover, should not be attempted before reading ‘Surprised by Joy’, his second and far more readable spiritual autobiography written years later when his thoughts had matured and his writing skills been refined.
- I have written a 30,000-word treatise on creation and evolution in all of Lewis’ writings. I may tidy it up and publish to Kindle (or even this blog) later this year.
Dr Stephen Hayes
Botley, Hampshire, England
Easter Sunday, 1st April 2018
Brief thoughts on C S Lewis, Christmas,paganism and fairy tales.
As I mentioned in my last post, Lewis thought there were three Christmases, the Christian religious festival, the popular public festival (hospitality and merrymaking) and the commercial racket. In his 2 essays on the subject (see last post for links) he mentioned the Christian festival briefly, as his main object was to criticise the commercial racket of ‘Xmas’. I would like to reflect a little on the Christian festival of Christmas, or as it used to be and still is called in some circles, ‘The Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord.’
I am going to respectfully ignore the protests of some of my stricter Calvinist and Puritan brothers, like Jack I am no teetotaller and ‘much in favour of merrymaking’ (1) and also not bothered about the precise date of the birth in Bethlehem (we don’t know, it probably wasn’t December 25th and it doesn’t matter). I am not in the least bothered that pre-Christian pagans celebrated the feast of Sol Invicta in midwinter. But there is, I think, some merit in considering some of the arguments put up by the followers of Sir James Frazer.
Who’s he? I hear some folks ask. He was one of those people who wrote a book that had a big influence on Western thought, and if you haven’t read the book, I can guarantee you have been influenced by it, and probably misinformed by it, for it is a book intended to deceive. I refer to ‘The Golden Bough’. This was originally published in 1890 under the title ‘The Golden Bough: A Study in Comparative Religion’ later reissued as ‘The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion.’ My study copy was printed in 1922.
Frazer was a Fellow of the Royal Society and his book was very influential on intellectuals. In ‘Surprised by Joy’ (SBJ) Lewis mentions that it was on the shelf of his hyper-sceptical atheistic mentor Kirk (2) and that he was ‘great’ on it. This was a man who was quite convinced that ‘science’ had disproved and replaced all forms of religion, and that just as Darwin had set out to displace God from biology, so Frazer had used the sciences of sociology and anthropology to demonstrate that Christianity was just another myth among many similar myths. It is that last message that has penetrated so deeply into current western thought, and is behind the frequent dismissal of Christianity as ‘fairy tales’.
I must digress at that point. The great thing about Lewis was that, having had a Christian upbringing, becoming an atheist (his atheism pre-dated but was much reinforced by his tutelage in scepticism and logic under Kirk) he became obsessed by myths and fairy tales (see SBJ and his essay ‘Sometimes Fairy Tales say best what’s to be said,’ also this link to a short essay about CSL and fairy tales) and then , having become an adult convert to Christianity, was able to look back on all his experiences, learning, thoughts, beliefs and imaginings and make sense of them in a Christian context, using his logically trained, brilliant and well stocked mind. But he actually KNEW something about ‘fairy tales’. He studied and loved them, and what’s more contributed some of the best loved fairy tales of the modern era in the Narnia stories. He described my favourite of his books, ‘That Hideous Strength’ as ‘a fairy tale for grown ups’. He was therefore well qualified to state that the Christian narrative bore no resemblance whatever to the classic form of fairy tales and myths.
Back to the main point, the lies (for that is what they are) set out in Sir James Frazer’s ‘the Golden Bough’. Essentially, Frazer recounted many accounts of different tribal and historical religions, doing his best to demonstrate that the idea of a god-man, who died and came back to life again, was extremely common throughout history, typically as a ‘corn god’ myth, and that this was of course a product of the evolution of human society. Christianity, he claimed, was simply one more version of this story, to be filed along with Adonis, Atys, Dionysus, Isis and Osiris, John Barleycorn and various others. We could therefore, he implied but (like Darwin before him) was careful not to quite explicitly state, safely disregard the idea that Jesus of Nazareth was actually God’s Son. Science was on our side! Science is win!! Religion is fairy tale!!!
Frazer, ironically, relied heavily on the stories told by Christian missionaries for his information about the practices and rituals of various folk and nature religions of the world, of which the book is filled to the point of tedium. Very likely, like Darwin, he began with his conclusions and then arranged selected data to suit them (ignoring any data that didn’t) and then called the result ‘science’. Certainly, Frazer makes assertions about Jesus and Christianity which are so wide of the mark that it seems doubtful that he had read the New Testament carefully, if at all. For example, he makes the schoolboy, error of describing Jesus as essentially a great moral teacher (3) and one who called his followers to celibacy! And of course he completely ignored the historical foundations of Christianity, which unlike any of the myths he referred to is grounded in space and time and came from a prepared people, the Jews, whose unique history includes many prophecies about a coming Messiah that were fulfilled in detail by Jesus. This evidence runs counter to Frazer’s preferred conclusions, so is ignored by him. Nevertheless, the book’s ideas, I suppose we may call them ‘memes’, spread widely, much more widely than the readership of The Golden Bough.
The Golden Bough is mentioned again in SBJ, towards the end of the narrative where Lewis described God ‘closing in on me.’ In his room at Oxford, a ‘hard boiled atheist’ said to him ‘Rum thing, all of that stuff of Frazer’s about the Dying God, it almost looks as if it really happened once.’ Lewis was shocked by this, his intellectual defences against Christianity as historically true were almost completely broken down by now and this was quite devastating to him. Lewis was a contented atheist who didn’t want Christianity to be true, he was fighting against the growing realisation that most of the arguments he had heard against it were ‘cheats‘ (4).
At this season of Advent, we may reflect on the historical evidence for Christ’s birth. It is strong, in stark contrast to any supposed historical basis for the origin of the pagan myths with which Frazer contemptuously bundled in Christianity. Here is a link to an extract from Lee Strobel’s book ‘The Case For Christmas’.
In a later essay I will consider Lewis’ reflections on mythology, and why Christianity has mythic qualities but is completely distinct from myths like those of Asgard, Olympus and other pagan story telling. Nobody was better qualified to skewer Frazer’s fake arguments than Lewis, who loved myth, created fairy tales, but whose resistance to Christianity was eventually broken down, under the merciful and gracious calling of the Spirit of God, by logic and reason. Christmas is special, regardless of accretions like Santa Claus, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, The Nutcracker Suite and other actual fairy tales, baubles and tinsel, the distractions of feasting, shopping and junk TV, it commemorates the most important thing that has ever happened. And there is a bunch of fulfilled Old Testament prophecies to validate it. Why not inform yourself about these? they feature in many church services, even Carols from Kings on the BBC.
(2) Surprised by Joy , Collins, 21st Impression, October 1982, page 113
(3) In Lewis’s classic trilemma, set out in Mere Christianity, he asserts that nobody who made the claims about himself that Jesus of Nazareth made could have been a great moral teacher. Jesus claimed to be God, to have seen Abraham, to be able to forgive sins, to be the one who would preside over the final judgment of the entire human race. Jesus claimed that ‘all authority in heaven and earth has been given to me’ (Mathew 28:18). Anyone who said these things would either be a raving lunatic ‘on the level of a man who believed he is a poached egg’, or a wicked deceiver, or else the claims were true. Hence Lewis’ classic trilemma, ‘mad, bad or God.’
(4) In a revised preface to ‘The Pilgrim’s Regress’, Lewis described all the ideas that had stood in the way of his becoming a Christian as ‘cheats’ which he had now seen though. He apologised for the anger in the book, written furiously over a few weeks shortly after his conversion. the book, one of his most difficult to read, is a spiritual autobiography written as an allegory in which the pilgrim, John, searches for a beautiful island he saw in a vision, but distracted and led astray by various lies and false philosophies until he eventually is forced to embrace the truth he has been running away from-that coming to the end of his self and accepting Christianity is the only way he can get to the island. The book should, in my opinion, be read after SBJ, as it says many of the same things but in more obscure and difficult language and style, as Lewis acknowledged.
The following is from my Facebook page 22nd November 2013
>C S Lewis went to heaven 50 years ago today. No writer has influenced me more. My favourite quote is from his speculative novella The Great Divorce.
An apostate bishop (think of John Shelby Spong) who denied the Resurrection says to an orthodox believer who insists that revealed doctrinal truth exists
‘Surely it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive?’
The response from the saint comes
‘If that were true,and known to be true, how could anyone travel hopefully?’
See you, Jack.<<
I’m always hearing variants of this idea. The late Christopher Hitchens thought he had invented a knockdown killer punch when he came up with the question ‘Can you name any good deed that could only be done by a believer and not by an atheist?’
Clever rhetoric, good at temporarily stalling and distracting, but it begs 2 massive questions, each of which leads to several other questions which Hitchens’ question does nothing to resolve.
1) What do we mean by good? (supplementary questions-Who decides what is good (some people think killing Jews is good)? How do we measure good? Why does ‘goodness’ matter if there is no fundamental and objective standard of good? Why should I strive to be ‘good’ if there is no coming judgment? etc)
2) What use is ‘could have’ if we don’t actually do the good deed? ‘Coulda, woulda shoulda’ in other words, potential versus performance. Any overweight person COULD go on a diet and get down to their ideal weight, but how many DO SO?
In the Christmas song ‘A Fairy Tale of New York’, about a substance abusing couple cussing each other as they split up at Christmastime, the Shane McGowan character in the song boasts ‘I could have been someone.’ to which his soon to be ex-partner Kirsty McColl replies ‘Well so could anyone!’ It is what we do, not what we imagine that we ‘could’ do, that matters. (If anything matters, which if Hitchens’ materialism is true, arguably it doesn’t. It certainly won’t matter after the heat death of the universe when all consciousness has been extinguished and there is no memory of anything)
I found this interesting post in ‘the American Spectator’ which underlines this point. Liberals and leftists like to believe that as we become less ‘religious’ (by which they generally mean ‘as we reject the claims of Christ’, we become more charitable.
The Christian message is not fundamentally about being better people. As C S Lewis wrote, the command of Christ is not to become somewhat improved versions of who we were, but to become New Men. We can’t achieve this by embracing improved philosophies, but only by real transformation.
In fact, I am persuaded that genuine Christians, men and women who have humbled themselves before Christ and His word, will be better people and build better institutions and societies. If you have any doubts about that, look at the secularist societies of the 20th century in particular-the Spanish Inquisition was a vicarage tea party compared to the misdeeds of atheist rulers like Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mengistu, Brezhnev, Hoxher and dozens of other socialist rulers who shared many of C. Hitchens philosophical convictions and rejected Christ.
But even if our investigations lead us to the conclusion that Christianity makes better people, who make better societies, that’s not the main point of Christianity. that would be the free pardon and certificate of adoption into God’s family which Christ offers.
As a character of C S Lewis says in ‘The Great Divorce’, ‘I don’t want any bleeding charity, I just want my rights.’ His heavenly respondent advised him to accept The Bleeding Charity’ (i.e. Christ). He won’t like it a bit if he gets what he deserves.
We don’t need justice, we need mercy and grace. Thank God they are available in Christ.
‘What Christmas means to me’
Christmas is coming, and like every year much the same stuff gets trotted out by newspaper columnists who have to write their quota. Amongst the old chestnuts are (usually unfounded) stories about various busybodies ‘banning Christmas’, and in 2017 a few new bits of what can fairly be called ‘Fake News.’
I was prompted to write this after reading a Twitter comment by Dan Hannan, Conservative MEP and writer. Responding to the alleged row about a TV advert by Tesco which features a Muslim family buying a turkey, he asked ‘Is there a single genuine Christian who is offended by this?’. Hannan offered the view that the alleged ‘row’ was entirely bogus, manufactured to produce controversy. The most annoying thing about this sort of hype is that opponents of Christianity use it to smear genuine believers as petty and uncharitable. A more realistic Christian view of Christmas is seen in seasonal charity appeals like that of St Martin’s in the Fields church, which does excellent year-round work for London’s homeless, in Christ’s name.
Another dull feature of the season is the commercialism, attested to by the huge number of print and electronic adverts which arrive from all directions. It’s hard to ignore it. The American ‘festival’ of Black Friday has recently been introduced to Britain, basically a shopping frenzy. The sense of the word ‘black’ in this phrase is economic, based on the idea that many shops trade at break-even or loss for the first 10 months of the year, but then ‘go into the black’ as they make a profit on pre-Christmas sales.
C S Lewis on Christmas is worth reading. In his thoughtful essay ‘What Christmas means to me’ he suggested there were three Christmases. The first was a Christian festival which believers celebrate. The second is ‘…a popular holiday, an occasion for merry making and hospitality…’ which was connected to but not the same as the first. Given that we are now a diverse and secularised society, it would seem reasonable to allow that this festival is communally owned and people can develop their own traditions as they please.
There seems common agreement that this mainly secular Christmas at best involves friends, family, feasting and perhaps even some charity. Christians don’t ‘own’ those things or this festival, and it makes us look silly if we claim to. The values of this ‘Christmas’ are perhaps best set out in Charles Dickens’ ever-popular story ‘A Christmas Carol’ (*), which although not explicitly Christian, may be the only time in the year when most Britons hear anything like a sermon warning them of wrath to come if they die as impenitent sinners. They won’t hear that in many British churches these days.
There is however a third ‘XMAS’ which Lewis heartily detested, and described as ‘A commercial racket’. This racket, he suggested, is imposed on an unwilling public by the shopkeepers. In ‘The Racket’, people are pressured by persuasive advertising to shop until they were exhausted and in debt, feeling compelled to purchase as presents ‘gaudy trinkets’ and various junk that nobody in their right mind would buy for themselves. He asked ‘Have we really no better use for materials and for human skill and time than to spend them on all this rubbish?’ The essay, and its satirical companion ‘Xmas and Christmas: A Lost Chapter from Herodotus’ can easily be found on line and are well worth reading.
I have given thought to Christmas earlier than usual this year as I have been practicing carols for some street performance, and reflecting on the words. Yes, there is a variety of songs associated with Christmas time ranging from the overtly secular like ‘Jingle Bells’ and ‘White Christmas’ to the theologically bizarre, such as ‘The Little Drummer Boy’, ‘I Saw Three Ships’ and ‘The Cherry Tree Carol.’ But amidst all this, there is still the truly astonishing story of God become man.
Let’s be clear about this: if the Christmas story as recounted by the Gospel writers Matthew and Luke is true, if the birth in a cattle shed in Israel to a virgin mother ‘by prophet seers foretold’ really was God become man, then this was, and still is, the most important event in history. And there are some really champion words in some of the better carols, which should be sung-preferably loudly, and in public. If Christmas is for real, the baby in the manger is the Creator, as emphasised by the opening words of John’s Gospel, often used at Christmas services including the much loved ‘Carols from Kings’ which the BBC transmits on Christmas Eve.
As Charles Wesley wrote in one of his hymns
‘Our God contracted to a span
incomprehensibly, made man.’
We must not let the tinsel and dross distract us from this glorious fact.
Many popular carols are neither great poetry or sound theology, but there are gems. The much-forgotten advent carol ‘This is the Truth sent from Above’ tells the story of Creation, the Fall, and the promise of the Redeemer. A verse often omitted from the popular Wesley seasonal hymn ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ includes the line ‘bruise in us the serpent’s head’, a direct reference to the promise given in Genesis 3:15.
Another Creation mention comes in a couplet in ‘See Amid the Winter’s Snow’, where we sing
‘Lo, within a manger lies, He who built the starry skies.’
This is echoed by the modern Graham Kendrick song ‘The Servant King’ in the line,
‘Hands that flung stars into space, to cruel nails surrendered.’
The final verse of ‘The First Noel’ splendidly links Creation with Redemption in the verse
‘So let us all with one accord
Sing praises to our Sovereign Lord
Who has made heaven and earth from naught
And by His blood mankind has bought.’
One of my favourite seasonal hymns is the German carol ‘There is a Rose e’er blooming’ which as well as having a lovely melody, mentions the Isaiah prophecy concerning the Saviour that was to come.
‘Isaiah ‘twas foretold it, this Rose I have in mind
With Mary we behold it, that virgin mother kind
To show God’s love aright
She bore to men a Saviour
When half spent was the night.’
There is much beauty among the baubles.
So, heeding the words of C S Lewis, let us keep the festival of Christmas with quietness, charity, hospitality and goodwill to all men, but at the heart of it, with reverence and awe. The Devil may have done his worst to poison ‘The True Meaning of Christmas’ and lull men and women to sleep with overconsumption and junk TV, but he can’t kill it as long as there are those who will join the shepherds and the wise men in bowing to their Saviour and Lord, who came down to this ruined world for the sake of us helpless sinners.
‘In this is love, not that we loved Him, but that He first loved us.’ (1 John 4:10).
Dare I say ‘Happy Christmas’?
(*) My favourite versions of ‘A Christmas Carol’ are the Muppets’ Christmas Carol, and the Patrick Stewart version.
Clive Staples Lewis (Jack to his friends) was a Belfast born Oxford educated academic and writer who lived from 1898 to 1963, coincidentally dying on the same day as J F Kennedy and Aldous Huxley. All three men had a celebrated effect on our civilisation. Kennedy is remembered as a reforming and inspirational US president who was infamously assassinated (also a notorious adulterer although this tends to be downplayed) and Huxley is remembered for writing future dystopian novel Brave New World (also for experimenting with drugs like Mescaline, inspiring the anti establishment rock group The Doors who named themselves after one of his books.) But why the enduring interest in C S Lewis, arguably the least exciting but most important of these three dead white men? I hope to write much more over time but here is a brief outline introduction for the beginner.
Two things stand out for me about Lewis. First, the events and ideas that shaped him intellectually, and secondly the books and essays he wrote with their unique ability to communicate meaning about the universe as it really is. I was going to say ‘unique insights’ but I am not sure that he had any particularly unique insights, just that he had a clear view, fine and well trained intellect, excellent communication skills and the passion and diligence to communicate those insights. He himself said that we should prefer old books to new and was highly suspicious of ‘progress’. I’ll try to unpack and enlarge that later.
Briefly and skipping over the dates and evidences, Lewis was raised as an Anglican (church of Ireland), suffered the loss of his mother aged 9, had a miserable time at 2 boarding schools, became deeply infatuated with pagan mythology, rejected Christianity as a myth (see later reflections on ‘The Golden Bough’), became an atheist (while tempering his materialism with as much mythology and spiritualising as he wanted) and then received a very rigorous training in logic before gaining acceptance at Oxford. Before taking up his place to study classics and literature at Oxford, he volunteered to fight in France and saw the horrors of war before being blown up and returning home wounded.
He was an outstanding student, becoming one of a very few scholars to ever gain three firsts at Oxford. He became a very popular lecturer and tutor. Skipping over details of his complicated personal life (it’s all in the biographies although some details are disputed) he began to feel he was being ‘stalked by God’ as discussed in his autobiographical writing (*).
He explained why he definitely did not want there to be a God, certainly not the personal and demanding Deity of the Bible, as he wanted ‘limited liabilities’ and freedom to indulge himself as he wished, whether in the pleasures of the body or the mind and imagination. He thought the matter was settled, but found he was beginning to get thoughts and ideas that e could not logically defeat. To cut the story short, he passed from atheist materialism to theism, and then from theism to Christianity, and he did so very much by a rigorous intellectual process.
I should stop there and say that Lewis later wrote that he assumed that the kind of conversion he had experienced was common but later discovered that it was not. But the point I want to make here is that these things were true and relevant about Lewis
1) Very gifted intellectually with an acknowledged first class brain
2) Rigorously trained in logic by a private tutor
3) A top Oxford scholar studying classics, language, history, philosophy, myth and also well conversant with modern science.
4) Had embraced atheism (including all the common arguments against theism and Christianity) and also pagan mythology, which he instinctively loved from an early age
5) Had been a soldier in a war and seen men killed, and been wounded himself
6) Eventually was tracked down by ‘The hound of heaven’ (**) and found that all of his intellectual objections to Christianity were actually illogical and wrong.
7) Wrote about this process in particular in 2 spiritual autobiographies (*). And did so in particularly well written and well informed terms as a master of language and communication that his gifts, education and experiences had enabled him to be.
So, in a nutshell, this is a man whom Providence gifted with an unusually clever mind, allowed to experience and embrace a wide range of beliefs that from the Christian world view are subtle deceptions, and then after becoming a convinced Christian through a process of reason as well as heartfelt conviction, wrote about it all for the rest of us. He has left us a gold mine of distilled wisdom which I want to celebrate.
(*) The first book Lewis published after his conversion was ‘The Pilgrim’s Regress’ which tells in allegorical form the story of all the ‘cheats’ that had taken him in and how he eventually saw through them. It is a difficult book but worth reading, but not before reading ‘Surprised by Joy’ (SBJ) which he wrote a decade later after much more living and reflection and having improved as a writer. Both books address the same material but SBJ is much easier reading and also has a lot more about the writer’s early life. More later.
(**) There is a poem of this name which is about the idea that God may ‘dog’ us until we give in. Lewis wrote in SBJ that he felt that God was playing him at chess and despite his best efforts he could not successfully defend himself and eventually ‘…gave in and admitted that God was God, perhaps the most reluctant and dejected convert in all England.’
I have had the privilege of meeting 3 of the people on this platform. Enjoy.