R. J. Neuhaus on C. S. Lewis and the Public Square

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A blast from the past:

In 1998, Richard John Neuhaus wrote an article which touches on Lewis’ book Miracles. It was entitled “C. S. Lewis in the Public Square,” and you can read it here: http://www.firstthings.com/article/1998/12/002-c-s-lewis-in-the-public-square . Neuhaus speculates how C. S. Lewis would write and speak for the Christian faith were he to be living in the twenty-first century. Some things have changed since the mid-twentieth. Lewis could foresee that modern thinking would continue to wreak havoc in our society, but, in his day, he could still count on having a good deal of common ground with unbelievers. He could argue with them rationally – which he does in Miracles. He could also tell stories with meanings people would appreciate and do so with a measure of confidence that such things would echo as “true” in the minds of the public. Neuhaus spends time explaining how such a situation no longer exists in the thinking public square. People today feel the irrational is the place to look for meaning. Yes, I know that sounds crazy, but there it is. Multiculturalism has also deteriorated a common recognition of who we are as a people, based on the stories we tell about ourselves and the stories we have inherited from the past. This being the case, the public square is on a different footing from that which Lewis addressed and so we naturally wonder what he would do today.

Neuhaus’ conclusion is that Lewis would probably go on doing what he did anyway, with needful adjustments. Neuhaus says this because he recognises that the approach Lewis took in the past is still needed, in spite of its obstacles, and that Lewis would realise the same. Lewis would still argue with people about what they find as true in daily life. He would continue to speak to individuals as one human to another, trying to help them recognise what is true and real in the world in which they live; he would still appeal to common human experience. Also, Lewis would continue to tell stories; stories which reveal the truth in our universe. Though the stories of our world are being emptied, theoretically, of their worth, nevertheless the realities of our world are still there and stories still do their job in communicating them to people. People are still people.

Neuhaus also adds his own opinion of the great necessity of the witness of the Church to continue in life and liturgy (meaning, those liturgies that, in their drama, tell the story of Creation and Redemption, such as are found in the Orthodox, the Roman, and the Anglican Churches). While we seek to engage people with argument and story in the public square, we need the Church’s witness to point to as the living representative in our culture of the presence and reality of the kingdom of God; the historical presence of the Real Story of our world. I think he’s right.

You may want to keep a dictionary beside you as you read his article, but it is worth it. As for how it affects our study, we must recognise that the arguments Lewis makes in Miracles seem convincing enough to ourselves, who have a more absolutist and supernatural understanding of our world, but they may not be convincing to others. As a result, we must be creative in how we communicate the same things we learn in Miracles to the people around us.

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When it’s good to escape

Stormy

While reading “On Science Fiction” recently, I was intrigued with a paragraph in which Lewis talks about the kind of positive effect Sci-Fi stories can have on us.  He was answering the objection that people who read fantasy are reading it merely for the “escape.”  Lewis tried to show how the escape could be a healthy thing.

He described a man who was in a small cabin of a large ship, deeply involved with his mates in some sort of intense discussion about working on the ship.  If he were to take a break from the debate and go up on the deck, he would be confronted with a reality about their circumstances greater than what was going on in the cabin.  They were on a ship sailing in the midst of all the awesome sights and dangers of the ocean.  How great the contrast would be between the experience of the crew in that little cabin and what was going on all around them as they sailed the sea.  The experience on deck would surely affect the way this man thought about that debate.  Perhaps his greater view of their lives would affect the opinion he would have when he went back.  His escape from the cabin could yield an improved discussion in the cabin.  You get the point.

What intrigued me is that Lewis is here explaining the same concept Tolkien explains in his essay On Fairy Stories.  Tolkien compared the positive effects of fantasy stories to washing the windows of our minds.  They helped us see the world better.  It’s the same concept.  Lewis even goes on to quote Tolkien before the paragraph is over.

This is no surprise!  Lewis thought Tolkein’s essay the best thing anyone had ever written on the subject.  I rather thought Lewis’ attempt at an image showing the value of escape very vivid and effective.  Especially if you have been on a ship like that.  You know the contrast between the air of a cabin and the weather over the waves.

Is it a better image than washing windows?  Perhaps.  I think I’ll want to remember Lewis’ paragraph the next time I do any teaching on Tolkien’s essay.

What do you think?  Is Lewis’ image of a sailor going out on the deck better than Tolkien’s washing windows?  Has there been a memorable time when a fantasy story – either in a book or a movie – has affected you like this?  Why not answer in the comments.  Thanks!

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The Shallower the Better

I recently read someone who complained of the shallowness of Dr. Ransom in Lewis’ science fiction novels.  It seems that Lewis kept him shallow on purpose.

In his essay “On Scieperelandraimagence Fiction,” Lewis says that, in a good sci-fi story, the character needs to be shallow.  In fact, the more shallow the better!  He says that good writers know that, if you are going to have your character in very unusual circumstances, then the character needs to be an ordinary sort of person.  Otherwise, the character clashes with the odd circumstances.  The result is too much oddity.

It makes good sense.  If you are reading a story about a strange world, your imagination is interested in the strange world.  You don’t want to be having to deal with a strange character at the same time.  This is especially the case when you are wondering what it would be like for any normal fellow to be in the strange world.  If the character is too odd, your imagination is not satisfied.  You are left still wondering what it would be like for a normal person to be there.

A logical counter that Lewis uses against an objection is that, if you want a novel with character development, then look for it in a novel which is written to tell the story of characters, not of far off strange environments.

I keep thinking about how this applies to Star Wars.  There is a real sense in which the Star Wars universe is not that strange.  The planets are not shockingly different from the varied environments on our own planet.  Indeed, they just shoot in different locations here.  They often are environments on our planet!  The means of transportation – the various ships and so forth – are not too very strange.  They are like our own battleships or destroyers – indeed, our own nautical names are given to them.  The fighters are like our “fighters.”  They look different and are fit for space travel – itself not a novel idea with us anymore – but we know what these things are and are for.  We are not confronted with some technological item that is completely foreign.  The primary difference of the universe is of distance and time.   It is long ago and far, far away.  That adds a feeling of strangeness and fascination to it.  But the actual circumstances are more “cool” than strange.

This being the case, while we are fascinated – especially at the beginning – with the technology of the Star Wars saga, we are comfortable enough with it that we are ready for some character development.  And, indeed, that’s what Star Wars becomes for us.  It’s a universe with which we quickly become familiar, wherein characters are developed that interest us.  Thus Star Wars stories quickly become stories of characters instead of strange worlds.  It seems Lewis would think that fitting.

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Lewis on “Scientifiction”

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I will soon be leading a discussion on what Lewis would have probably said – based on his writings – about aspects of the Star Wars saga.  The Facebook event page is here.  I thought I’d compile info about Lewis and the sci-fi genre here.  Enjoy!

Letter to Charles Brady, 29 Oct. ’44:
Lewis says the “real father” of his Ransom books was David Lindsay’s Voyage to Arcturus.  Lewis grew up on H. G. Wells, but Lindsay combined sci-fi with a supernatural theme and Lewis especially liked that.  He said Lindsay showed him “what a bang you could get” from combining these two elements.

Letter to Arthur C. Clarke (yes that A. C. Clarke), 7 Dec. ’43:
Clarke had said that most sci-fi stories were on the level with cowboy stories for youth.  Lewis agrees, but says that the most important thing was the moral assumptions of a story.

Letter to John McCallum, 17 Feb, ’58
Lewis says the sci-fi stories of his day had become too “scientific.”

An interesting article by John Wright on the proposition:
“Arthur C. Clarke’s novel [Childhood’s End] was an answer and a rebuttal to OUT FROM THE SILENT PLANET and to THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH in the same way that C. S. Lewis’ novel was a rebuttal and an answer to FIRST MEN IN THE MOON by H.G. Wells.”

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Timeline for the WWII Evacuees at The Kilns

I have included here my research on the evacuees and their residence at The Kilns.  I’ve not seen a more detailed chronological outline than what appears below.  I’m still working on it.

Update: 9 June – I have received some more information from Lady Freud that sheds some light on the girls that arrived in the fall of 1940.  More of that anon. 🙂

1939

1 Sept 1939 -Warnie leaves Oxford for Catterick, Yorkshire

The first lot

2 Sept 1939 – Per Walter (& McGrath) 4 girls arrive; Lewis writes on 2 Sept. 1939 to APB that there are only 3; Letters, II, p. 270; McCusker also says 3.

10 Sept., 1939 – “nicest of the 3” a “Rose Macaulay child” (Sheila Morrison? See 28 April 1940 below)

15 Sept – “we have three evacuated children in the house”; to Arthur, p. 274

18 Sept – “our nicest taken away” (Rose Macaulay one) replaced by Austrian Jewess of 16; p. 276; the latter they were told could be “possibly difficult” (cf. 11 Nov.; is this Annamarie?)

5 Nov. – Annamarie being replaced.

11 Nov. – Pleasanter with Annamarie gone (probably the Jewess); replacement is quiet, shy, and a reader (just got a scholarship to HS) p. 289

19 Nov., “all four children and Maureen” off to church, forming a “crocodile”.  When did the new one come in?

 1940

The second lot

Jan. – Margaret Leyland, Mary Derrington, and Katherine Fee arrive and stay until July; see Margaret’s letter.

28 April; letter to Warnie, L II, p. 404; Sheila Morrison, “nicest of our old lot of evacuees” visits with her mother.  See below for quotation.  Cf. with 10 Sept ’39 comment.  She could be the Rose Macaulay child.  cf. p. 276; her mother described in both locations.

3 Aug; Lewis speaks of being alone in the house with Minto and Maureen out shopping.  Looks like no new lot.

Third lot

Sept., Per S. Schofield, Patricia Heidelberger and Marie Jose Bosc (“Microbe”) arrive at The Kilns.  Patricia speaks only of the two of them.

24 Oct., “a house full of really delightful children” (letter to Sis P., II 451).

 1941

I find no mention of the evacuees for this year in Lewis’ letters, but Patricia says that she and “Microbe” were there two years.

1942

Sept., Patricia and “Microbe” would have been gone by this time.

June Flewett is accepted to stay at the Kilns, aged 14, but does not because of a relocation of her school, which she was still attending.  She begins correspondence with Minto

1943 – June F. keeps up correspondence with Mrs. Moore;

Jan., letter to Arthur: L II 548, Minto laid up with terrible varicose ulcers

1 June – L II 579; Minto still ill; W. helps as secretary; Maureen married.  Rabbits now added to the hens.

June Arrives

July – with exams over, June Flewett visits The Kilns for a 2 week holiday.  She decides to stay on.

13 Sept. CSL letter to June Flewett, L II 589 (so she’s not there at this time; perhaps she sent this book to CSL via a parcel to Minto) – note: Lady Freud told me she was there from July on, yet we have this letter.  Perhaps she went home briefly.

20 Dec., to Arthur, L II 595; “things are pretty bad here” and says Minto’s ulcer is worse and worse with domestic help harder to find.

1944

June F. in residence

1945

3 Jan., June F. leaves

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Jesus as “A Chip Off the Old Block”

As I continue to read the Introduction to Reflections on the Psalms, I am struck with another example of Lewis’ use of his imagination to take us beyond our normal thoughts about Christianity. This time it has to do with the humanity of Christ.

Noting that Jesus, when teaching, would use parallelisms similar to those in the Psalms, Lewis speculates that he may have learned something of that style from his mother. She uses parallelisms in her Magnificat. He then asks if perhaps there was a good deal more about himself that came from his family. He definitely sounded like a Galilean.

Thus Lewis gets you wondering just how much there was about Jesus that he inherited from his home environment; how much was he a “chip off the old block” of the Holy Family? This wondering is quite healthy for us.

Why do I say that? Because, our tendency is to overemphasize the deity of Jesus at the expense of his humanity. The result is that we make him to be something that he is not and we miss out on what we are in Him.

Part of the glory of the Incarnation is that Jesus – apart from sin – is “another guy.” Even though he appears in amazing glory now, as we read in Revelation 1, that is because he’s a step ahead of us. He’s a glorified fellow who grew up in Nazareth. Someday we will be glorified like him. We’ll look pretty amazing as well.

But the point is, who do you think is the king over our hearts, our country, and the whole universe? It’s a man, like your brother or your father or whoever. He’s just in the unseen part of the universe that we can’t see right now. But he is there. And he went through life, trusting in God, just like we do. I think he understands what we feel like in the good and the bad. He’s “been there – done that.” And he rules his kingdom accordingly.

One more thing. He has stayed “human” because every righteous human is to stay human. We believers are not going to turn into angels when we are raised from the dead. He has gone before so he can one day raise us up and then we will “catch up” with him. And the whole universe will then see us as we really are in him: chips off of his block.

How does the fact of the humanity of Christ affect you?  Is it important to you?  How?  Why not let us know in the comment section below.  Thanks.

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The Origin of Poetry and Why It Matters

In the first chapter of his book Reflections on the Psalms, Lewis introduces us to poetic parallelism because it is so frequently used in the Psalms.  As he does so, he writes a sentence in the sixth paragraph containing a few profound ideas about poetry in general.

One of these ideas is that God is the Author of poetry as we find it in human culture.  Whatever poetry is, God is the Originator of it.  As the Originator, he has made a provision for poetry to operate in a particular way that makes it a benefit for all.

God is, of course, the Author of this poetic resource in our human makeup because poetry is a creative expression of his image, breathed into us at our creation.  The logical conclusion of this fact is that we should say God himself is poetic.  Poetry is a creative expression of his own being.

Now, if God is poetic, that has some huge implications for our lives as Christians.  What should our worship look like?  What should our service look like?  What should our lives look like?

Obviously, we think of the use of our words.  What kinds of stories and images do they portray?  Do they foster the true, the good, and the beautiful in our world?  Do they assume a fundamental order in our world that is recognized as “the beautiful?”  Do we give thought to what we say, write, and sing?

Not everyone has a lot of talent in the area of the artistic use of words, but being created in God’s poetic image, shouldn’t we all care about such things?  Should we not want to foster such things and include them in our lives?

What does the idea of God being poetic mean to you?  Do you even agree with that?  How do you see it applying to your life and our lives as believers in general?  Any other thoughts?  Please enter your comments below and lets see what we can learn from each other about this.

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“Mere Christian”

The Revd. Richard Baxter (1615-1691)

The source of C. S. Lewis’ phrase “mere Christianity,” according to Walter Hooper:

“You know not of what Party I am of, nor what to call me; I am sorrier for you in this than for my self; if you know not, I will tell you, I am a CHRISTIAN, a MEER CHRISTIAN, of no other Religion; and the Church that I am of is the Christian Church, and hath been visible where ever the Christian Religion and Church hath been visible: But must you know of what Sect or Party I am of? I am against all Sects and dividing Parties: But if any will call Meer Christian by the name of Party, because they take up with meer Christianity, Creed, and Scripture, and will not be of any dividing or contentious Sect, I am of that Party which is so against Parties: If the name CHRISTIAN be not enough, call me a CATHOLIC CHRISTIAN; not as that word signifieth an hereticating majority of Bishops, but as it signifieth one that hath no Religion, but that which by Christ and the Apostles was left to the Catholic Church, or the body of Jesus Christ on Earth.”

The Revd. Richard Baxter
Church-history of the Government of Bishops” (1680)

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