On Lewis and his worldview

Andrew Sullivan has a lengthy e-mail from one of his legion of readers regarding C.S. Lewis. The writer (who, like Sullivan, admires Lewis) praises his writing on joy, and his subtle ability to understand and describe human psychology. He takes issue, however, with his staunch conservatism, his affection for the old and established and his suspicion of the new and the political. The whole thing is worth reading, but there was one bit that particularly stuck out to me.
His motives can't be proved. Fair enough. What's palpably ridiculous are his warmed-over medieval arguments for the objective truth of Christian doctrine. One was that Christ had to be "either a God or a devil" - or self-delusive megalomaniac, as we'd now say. While sniping at the imperfections of scientific Biblical scholarship, Lewis shut his eyes to the painstaking work of two centuries that convincingly discerned different voices, sources, periods, influences on Biblical text. There's also no recognition in his work that people from different eras might perceive and express truth differently -- i.e., that someone in an earlier era who claimed to deliver God's words directly might be neither a fraud nor God's stenographer.
I'm leading a discussion group at church about "The Screwtape Letters," which has prompted me to reread it. There is much to admire in Lewis's theology, and his astute observations about human behavior and relationships. As is always the case when I read Lewis (one of my two favorite authors), I find myself with new insights into my own faith and interactions with others. However, I also bump into difficulties.

Lewis patently has no time, at all, for the concept of the "historical Christ." In fact, he views this formulation of the Christian narrative as actively harmful to the lives of the faithful. I, in my turn, disagree with him. At least for me, there is nothing weakened or diminished in Christ's message or ministry by understanding what he said in the context of when and where he was saying it. Perhaps some pursue the study of Christ as historical figure for the purpose of debunking his divinity or undermining his spiritual credibility, but writing off the entire study of Christ's historicity as an attack on faith is strangely anti-intellectual for a writer who so clearly honors the role of reason in the formation of faith.

I find myself tempted to write at greater length about Lewis's cultural conservatism, and perhaps will at some other time. Suffice it to say that it is an interesting experience to read one of the seminal works of a writer whose work has had a formative influence on one's thinking and believing, and bump into areas where one can't help but think the writer is wrong. I would ponder what this might mean about me as a reader, but nobody needs to read pointless navel-gazing.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder if Lewis ever read *The Quest for the Historical Jesus* by Albert Schweitzer.