The Non Either/Or of C.S. Lewis

Recently, Philip Pullman made a series of negative statements (or someone said he made a series of negative statements), about Christians and C.S. Lewis, and people have been forming camps.

I'm not going to talk about that.

However, you can read my brother Eugene's insightful analysis of the issue on his blog.

Since C.S. Lewis' name has been bandied about during this kerfuffle (not really a kerfluffle, but I like the word), I decided to post about C.S. Lewis.

Based on the plethora of books I have read by Lewis and about Lewis, you might imagine me a no-holds-barred Lewis aficionado. And, well, yeah, I kind of am. But over the years, I've also formed the conclusion that Lewis was not someone I would enjoy having over for lunch. For that matter, I don't think Lewis would have enjoyed coming over to lunch at my place. As Eugene says on his blog, "I also have the feeling that the eccentric Lewis was in person--like Einstein--a less agreeable person than his hagiographies make him out to be."

And I can't say that I even agree with all of what Lewis wrote. In fact, if you parse it out, you might discover that I disagree with over 1/3 of what the guy actually said.

So why IS he one of my favorite writers?

I've decided that even though I'm not as pessimistic or as Anglican or as wacky Edwardian as Lewis, underneath all that stuff, we share a fundamental viewpoint. It is a viewpoint missing from academic discourse. And occasionally religious discourse. And well, just about everywhere, if I'm honest. The best summary of this viewpoint comes from (yet another) book I'm reading about Lewis:
Everything he desired was an object of imagination; everything he believed was an object of reason. (Cunningham, 68).*
Lewis was both a logical Englishman and a dreamy, romantic Celt (his own generalizations, not mine.) And he reached a point in his life where he allowed both facets of his personality to exist simultaneously.

To me, this kind of approach is like finding a safe harbor. I sit in classes, I tutor online, I go to church, and I feel like I'm surrounded by people saying, "You must be one or the other!"

"You must accept jargon and touchy-feelingness as evidence or you must be an advocate of dead-white patriarchal males." "You must advocate rules and structure, or you must advocate creative, out-of-the-box thinking." "You must be an hoity-toity intellectual, or you must be spiritual."

I can always find people in these environments willing to give up the either/or. (And I personally believe that Mormons, whether they want it or not, find themselves at the smack-dab center of these either/or tensions. Stick grace, works, agency, democratic ideals, a heirarchal church and final judgement, continual progression, Joseph Smith, salvation of the dead, the temple, and, hey, the Protestant work/education ethic into one mix and viable either/ors just don't last that long.)

Nevertheless, there seems to be a strong human proclivity towards either/ors, or maybe it is just easier to discuss human behavior in those terms. I don't know. But I do know that Lewis is a huge comfort to me. Behind everything that he writes, no matter how daft, is this mind that won't reduce everything to logic or to gushy feelings or to jargon and politics or to relative experiences. He just won't give it all up to one side or the other. It's such a relief!

I also admire Lewis as a writer, which is kind of a different issue. I have this fall-down-on-my-face-oops-not-suppose-to-worship-idols response to writers who can communicate as easily as Lewis. I find Lewis' writing superhumanly fresh. I know he can be didactic, but I never notice because, golly, the writing just flows. I think a lot of us desperate writers start with ideas and images in our heads, and we then struggle to get them out in ways that sound right. Although Lewis states that he started his Narnia books with images, I think the man thought in words. Language wasn't a tool for him; it was the way his synapses worked.

He also had an uncanny ability to understand human fallibility. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, he creates and explains Edmund's betrayal in a way that underscores the humanness of Edmund's betrayal (and he does it so easily, you hardly notice). Edmund isn't being evil or wicked or demonic or beyond the pale. He is being human and petty and prideful and self-protective (the part where he lies about being in Narnia with Lucy is heart-stabbing and yet, and yet, it goes on every day in your average Junior High). Edmund's petty, spiteful, self-absorbed behaviors have horrendous consequences. Maybe, they wouldn't have quite the degree of horrendous consequence in the material world (instead Edmund would grow up and turn into a horrible, self-serving manager whose co-workers detested him), but in the world of myth, a hero's behaviors must have horrendous consequences, and Lewis believed (as I do) that the end game of earthly religion is myth come alive.

*The book is C.S. Lewis: Defender of the Faith by Richard B. Cunningham. It is about C.S. Lewis as an apologist. Don't be mislead by the title. It is not about Lewis' contributions to Christianity. Instead, it is a fearfully academic book about apologetics--I get through about three pages every Sunday.


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