National Repentance…CS Lewis

I wish I had this essay in pamphlet form every time the first Thursday in May rolls around (National Day of Prayer).  It is titled “Dangers of National Repentance” and can be found in the God in the Dock collection of essays.

“The first and fatal charm of national repentance is, therefore, the encouragement it gives us to turn from the bitter task of repenting our own sins to the more congenital one of bewailing–but first, of denouncing–the conduct of others.  If it were clear to the young that this is what he is doing, no doubt he would remember the law of charity.  Unfortunately, the very terms in which national repentance is recommended to him conceal its true nature.  By a dangerous figure of speech, he calls the Government not ‘they’ but ‘we’.  And since, as penitents, we are not encouraged to be charitable to our own sins, nor to give ourselves the benefit of any doubt, a Government which is called ‘we’ is ipso facto placed beyond the sphere of charity or even of justice.  You can say anything you please about it.  You can indulge in the popular vice of detraction without restraint, and yet feel all the time that you are practicing contrition.  A group of such young penitents will say, ‘Let us repent our national sins’; what they mean is, ‘Let us attribute to our neighbour (even our Christian neighbour) in the Cabinet, whenever we disagree with him, every abominable motive that Satan can suggest to our fancy.”
But we would never do any of that in America, would we?

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on that Sermon on the Mount…CS Lewis

In another essay entitled “Rejoinder to Dr. Pittenger” from the God in the Dock collection, Lewis gives a dead-on evaluation of the Sermon on the Mount in response to criticism that Lewis liked Paul’s theology of sin too much and didn’t “care for” Jesus’ more optimistic ethics, such as found in the Sermon on the Mount.  (For anyone who has read Lewis and knows how LITTLE time and energy he spends discussing Pauline theology, this accusation itself is ridiculous.  This compares to someone accusing Martin Luther of spending too much time in practical books like James and not enough reading Paul.)

From Lewis:

“The statement that I do not ‘care much for’ the Sermon on the Mount but ‘prefer’ the ‘Pauline ethic’ of man’s sinfulness and helplessness carries a suggestion of alternatives between which we may choose, where I see successive stages through which we must proceed.  Most of my books are evangelistic, addressed to tous exo [Greek for “those without/outside”].  It would have been inept to preach forgiveness and a Savior to those who did not know they were in need of either.  Hence St. Paul’s and [John] the Baptist’s diagnosis (would you call it exactly an ethic?) had to be pressed.  Nor am I aware that our Lord revised it (‘if ye, being evil…’)

As to ‘caring for’ the Sermon on the mount, if ‘caring for’ here means ‘liking’ or enjoying, I suppose no one ‘cares for’ it.  Who can like being knocked flat on his face by a sledge-hammer?  I can hardly imagine a more deadly spiritual condition than that of the man who can read that passage with tranquil pleasure.  This is indeed to be ‘at ease in Zion.’  Such a man is not yet ripe for the Bible…”

On Trimming Theology…CS Lewis

In an essay entitled “Horrid Red Things” from the God in the Dock collection, which later appears as a chapter in the longer work Miracles, Lewis makes a bold challenge to those of his day attempting to strip the Christian faith from its theological baggage, especially that of an historical* or miraculous nature.

“I think there are two things that Christians must do if they wish to convince this ‘ordinary’ modern man.  In the first place, they must make it quite clear that what will remain of the Creed after all their explanations and reinterpretations will still be somehting quite unambiguously supernatural, miraculous, and shocking.  We may not believe in a flat earth [and I add that most Christians in history didn’t either, contrary to the myths about Columbus] and a sky-palace.  But we must insist from the beginning that we believe, as firmly as any savage or theosophist, in a spirit-world which can, and does, invade the natural or phenomenal universe.  For the plain man suspects that when we start explaining, we are going to explain away: that we have mythology for our ignorant hearers and are ready, when cornered by educated hearers, to reduce it to innocuous moral platitudes which no one ever dreamed of denying.  And there are theologians [and still are today] who justify this suspicion.  From them we must part company absolutely.  If nothing remains except what could be equally well stated without Christian formulae, then the honest thing is to admit that Christianity is untrue and to begin over again without it. [italics mine]

Speaking of education…CS Lewis

Every teacher (perhaps every parent?) should read CS Lewis’ “The Abolition of Man“- a critique of modern (and its step-child postmodern) education to its core.

A few quotes:

On the push for criticism of literature over understanding (and perhaps subsequent enjoyment) of literature–

For every one pupil who needs to be guarded from a weak excess of sensibility there are three who need to be awakened from the slumber of cold vulgarity.  The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts.”

A hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head.

On the biases of such skepticism (or UK spelling- scepticism) and subjective thinking,

“Their scepticism about values is on the surface: it is for use on other people’s values; about the values current in their own set they are not nearly sceptical enough.”

“An open mind, in questions that are not ultimate, is useful.  But an open mind about the ultimate foundations either of Theoretical or of Practical Reason is idiocy.  If a man’s mind is open on these things, let his mouth at least be shut.”

On the Second Coming- CS Lewis

From the title essay “The World’s Last Night”, a few thoughts by Lewis on the second coming and date-setting.

Comparing our role in regards to Christ’s return as to actors in a play…

“To play well the scenes in which we are “on” concerns us much more than to guess about the scenes that follow it.

In King Lear (III:vii) there is a man who is such a minor character that Shakespeare has not given him even a name: he is merely “First Servant.”  All the characters around him–Regan, Cornwall, and Edmund–have fine long-term plans.  They think they know how the story is going to end, and they are quite wrong.  The servant has no such delusions.  He has no notion how the play is going to go.  But he understands the present scene.  He sees an abomination (the blinding of old Gloucester) taking place.  He will not stand it.  His sword is out and pointed at his master’s breast in a moment: then Regan stabs him dead from behind.  That is his whole part: eight lines all told.  But if it were real life and not a play, that is the part it would be best to have acted [emphasis mine].”



On “Democratic Education”- CS Lewis

From his essay Screwtape Proposes a Toast, found both at the end of many editions of The Screwtape Letters, and in a collection of essays entitled The World’s Last Night.

In several essays he wrote, CS Lewis lamented the “democratizing” of education, specifically the tendency in public education to treat all students as equals, forcing the apt to lag behind and the less capable to overfeed on the wonder of their own self-esteem continually reinforced by doting educators (my words, not his.)  In a world where everyone goes to university, the value of a university education severely decreases.  In this case, England was about 30-40 years of the US.  If you don’t get what I am saying, google “Grade Inflation” and see what shows up.

But onto Lewis’ words, placed in the mouth of dear uncle Screwtape…

“For “democracy” or the “democratic spirit” (diabolical sense) leads to a nation without great men, a nation mainly of subliterates, full of the cocksureness which flattery breeds on ignorance, and quick to snarl or whimper at the first hint of criticism.  And that is what Hell wishes every democratic people to be.  For when such a nation meets in conflict a nation where children have been made to work at school, where talent is placed in high posts, and where the ignorant mass are allowed no say at all in public affairs, only one result is possible.”

A similar essay called “Lilies that Fester” can also be found in The World’s Last Night and other Essays.