on November 26, 2011
The book opens with a neat little introduction by Walter Hooper which reminds the reader of the intense personality of "Jack." A window into the humor of one of the greatest Christian minds of the last century does the reader much good in empathizing with the writer. This factor is all-important because most readers are not comfortable with the level of detail to which Lewis will go to make his points. In the mind of this reviewer, many millennials will miss much from this great writer for this reason.
The first address, "The Weight of Glory" is an address on the nature of glory. Lewis begins the address by reminding the reader that they are too often distracted by simple distractions of life and fail to see that something greater remains just out of view. As he makes this argument, Lewis utters his classic statement, that "it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased" (26). Point made. Lewis moves on now to the substance of his argument (35). What is the meaning of glory? Lewis answers in one sense that glory is the answer to depth of the human desire for acceptance and admiration. In the Gospel, "only...by the work of Christ" (38), the believer is made an object of glory and is accepted by God. The end result is that "the door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last" (41). But Lewis doesn't end here, but now turns to another aspect of the concept (42). Glory is the transformation of mortality into immortality, the elevation of the creature to its creative glory. In this context Lewis closes with another of his oft quoted statements. "It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations [sic] - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit..." (45-46).
The second address speaks to an issue that one would think inapplicable to the modern world, but much here should resonate with the modern reader. Lewis here addresses a group of young men pursuing a university education while bombs fell on the streets. No one knew if their work of education would be an exercise in futility. For a group of listeners who saw their time as an abnormality, Lewis reminded them that "life has never been normal" (49) and encouraged them not to allow the concerns of war dissuade them from the task at hand. He reminded them to take their task as a religious duty for "every duty is a religious duty, and our obligation to perform every duty is therefore absolute" (53). But before glorifying scholarship, Lewis strikes at the knees of the young listeners. The ordinary duty of a believer may also be quite, daresay, ordinary. With a great reminder of the perspective of heaven, Lewis states that "all of our natural activities will be accepted, if they are offered to God, even the humblest, and all of them, even the noblest, will be sinful if they are not" (54). He goes on again to strike at the heart of intellectualism. "I reject at once the idea which lingers in the mind of some modern people that cultural activities are in their own right spiritual and meritorious--as though scholars and poets were intrinsically more pleasing to God than scavengers and [shoe shiners]....The work of Beethoven and the work of a [cleaning maid] become spiritual on precisely the same condition, that of being offered to God" (55). Stopping short of wholly discouraging education, Lewis then reminds the listeners of some "enemies" of the scholar. First, Lewis notes that excitement can draw the scholar off to pursue what seems more romantic, but ends up only distracting from a noble cause. "If we let ourselves, we shall always be waiting for some distraction or other to end before we can really get down to our work" (60). Next, is the challenge of frustration. By becoming unduly focused on the future, scholars may be enticed to demur from the call to education. In return, Lewis calls his hearers to leave the future to God as that is where it has always been. Lastly, Lewis warns the band of students to shake off fear as they pursue education. War is just a reminder of death, whose victims cannot be increased or decreased. To allow it to control us is wrong, but rather one should allow war to bring to remembrance the reality of death.
The third treatise entitled "Why I am not a Pacifist" was delivered to the Oxford Pacifist Society. Lewis begins by laying out a substantial number of logical arguments against pacifism. He begins by making an astute observation. The human conscience accepts ideas of right and wrong often without logical explanation. There should be a logical interaction between morality and reason, but unfortunately many simply make decisions with their consciences and come to opposing positions. These positions allow for no debate or reasoning. So, from the outset, Lewis admits a degree of futility in his speech. But he begins by cutting down the generalization that war always does more harm than good. Quite apropos for the modern age, Lewis agrees that "it is...true that wars never do half the good which the leaders of the belligerents say they are going to do" (73), but still holds that wars serve a certain utility. He then moves to the argument from self-defense and the defense of the weak (76). Next, he reminds his listeners that the supposition that death and pain are the worst evils may, in fact, be wrong and suggests another possibility or two (77). Ultimately, Lewis argues that if Pacifism succeeds, it will itself be annihilated, because where it wins, the state will be overcome and a totalitarian regime will not tolerate the weakness of the theory. In classic form, Lewis concludes that "Pacifism of this kind is taking the straight road to a world in which there will be no Pacifists" (78). Turning now from the authority of logic, Lewis reminds the listeners of their human authorities. The weight of the state authority should weigh on the Pacifist to reconsider (80-82). Lastly, Lewis draws upon the weight of Divine authority. Under this head, the subject takes a different turn. Lewis portrays the contrasting points within Scripture and church history where different perspectives are given on the matter. He carefully weighs the evidence and concludes that Christianity does not mandate Pacifism (82-88). In the end, Lewis admits a degree of uncertainty, but ends up finding the Pacifist position "very doubtful" (90).
Fourth comes Lewis' heady idea of "Transposition." This reviewer is not going to attempt a thoroughgoing explanation of the concept because the metaphysical argument is still gelling and the reader would likely do better wading in the waters of the argument on their own. The only thought that seems fair to suppose is that Lewis is hinting at something of a fourth dimension beyond sensory perception, but which breaks into the physical universe in spasms of miracles and Divine intervention. This dimension is superior to the physical universe in a similar way that three dimensions are superior to a two-dimensional painting. In one of the soaring heights of the address Lewis picturesquely begins by quoting the Apostle John ""We know not what we shall be"; but we may be sure we shall be more, not less, than we were on earth. Our natural experiences (sensory, emotional, imaginative) are only like the drawing, like penciled lines on flat paper. If they vanish in the risen life, they will vanish only as pencil lines vanish from the real landscape, not as a candle flame that is put out, but as a candle flame which becomes invisible because someone has pulled up the blind, thrown open the shutters, and let in the blaze of the risen sun" (111).
The fifth article is Lewis' speech on the relationship between Christian Theology and poetry. In a beautiful turn, Lewis denies that Christianity bears a great resemblance to poetry. Yes, there is a sense in which Christianity, in the heart of the believer, becomes a kind of poetry (122), but ultimately the epic of Christianity is something more real and historical (128-129). Christianity is not like poetry (which is fact turned into myth), but Christianity is something greater, something like "myth become fact" (129). To this end Lewis postulates in regard to "the humiliation of myth into fact, God into Man; what is everywhere and always, imageless and ineffable, only to be glimpsed in dream and symbol and the acted poetry of ritual becomes a small, solid--no bigger than a man who can lie asleep in a rowing boat on the Lake of Galilee"(130). So if Christianity is something more like fact, then what can be said for the prevailing theories of the day? Lewis retorts that the theory of naturalistic evolution is more poetry in Christianity. In an epic that simply must be read, Lewis tells the nihilistic epic of evolutionary atheism (123-125). Ultimately, Lewis points out that the atheists have rejected special creation a priori. Their presuppositions do not allow for a Creator, so to allow for such a consideration makes no sense; however, Lewis looks on their naturalistic explanation for the metaphysical realm (cf. 139-14) as "immensely unplausible" (137). Against this backdrop, Lewis argues that after abandoning naturalism he was led inevitably to idealism, which led him to Theism, which led him to Christ. "And when you examined [the claims of Christ] it appeared that you could adopt no middle position. Either He was a lunatic, or God. And He was no lunatic" (138). In conclusion, Lewis summarizes naturalism as poetry and Christianity as myth made fact and soars to his own heights of epic poetry in his final statement. "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else" (140).
The sixth address is entitled "The Inner Ring." Here Lewis describes the cliquish nature of human relationships. The rings of acceptance are a natural part of life (148), but "dangerous" (149). Articulately, the reader will see how exclusion and inclusion in the rings of culture drive all sorts of ill behaviors and motivations. Lewis brings this issue to the forefront because he believed that "unless you take measures to prevent it, this desire is going to be one of the chief motives of your life" (152). The end of the rings is twofold. The primary danger is that a passion for achieving the innermost circle makes "a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things" (154). The secondary danger is something of a spiral into nihilism. "As long as you are governed by that desire you will never get what you want. You are trying to peel an onion; if you succeed there will be nothing left. Until you conquer the fear of being an outsider, an outsider you will remain" (154).
Seventh is a fascinating essay on the utter difference between the community of the Body of Christ and the popular expressions of individualism, on the one hand, and collectivism, on the other. Christianity is not a "solitary affair" (160), but neither is it the rush and bustle of our modern society. "We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and privacy, and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship" (160). Another aspect of how the church stands out against the ideas of the day is brought to the surface. In culture, diversity is often sought at the expense of unity or unity at the expense of diversity. In the Body, both unity and diversity are elevated. One body, unified by Christ, has many parts (166-167). This otherworldly love and community only can come from one source, for "if there is equality, it is in His love, not in us" (170). All of humanity is able to draw ultimate significance and value from Christ (174-174) and thereby to find something that is beyond what culture can offer, namely "natural self" or "collective mass," but instead "a new creature" (176).
The eighth essay was quite challenging. Here Lewis strikes a nerve when he speaks of the Lord's explanation that one will not be forgiven except that he forgive others. This sobering thought is expounded in about seven little powerful pages. The writer postulates that humans often approach God not seeking forgiveness, but in offering excuses. In turn, when it comes to human forgiveness there are certainly similarities, but also significant differences. "In our own case we accept excuses too easily; in other people's we do not accept them easily enough. As regards my own sins it is a safe bet (though not a certainty) that the excuses are really not so good as I think; as regards other men's [sins] it is a safe bet (though not a certainty) that the excuses are better than I think" (182). In conclusion, Lewis reminds the reader of the Dominical instruction that "to be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you" (182).
Finally comes Lewis' discourse on "A Slip of the Tongue." It is here that the reviewer must again admit his inability to follow the argument of Lewis. As best understood, it seems to be a series of thoughts regarding a failure to look to the eternal. The temporal distractions of life take their toll in drawing one's affections from the eternal. In a stroke of genius, Lewis quotes Thomas More before climbing to another literary peak. ""If you have not chosen the Kingdom of God, it will make in the end no difference what you have chosen instead." Those are hard words to take. Will it really make no difference whether it was women or patriotism, cocaine or art, whisky or a seat in the Cabinet, money or science? Well, surely no difference that matters. We shall have missed the end for which we were formed and rejected the only thing that satisfies. Does it matter to a man dying in a desert by which choice of route he missed the only well?" (191)
In these nine selections, the reader will find a wealth of information on a variety of topics. The level of understanding for the modern reader will range from simple to highly complex. The mental gymnastics are half the fun of a volume such as this and well worth the cost. So grab some Starbucks, kick back, and enjoy!