Having previously enjoyed Lewis's theological writings, I was very disappointed by this one. When defending the idea of Christianity he doesn't really ever understand the objection that it might be all a made-up myth; often he depends his point of view by presupposing the truth of Christianity. He has a weak argument from ontology when he argues in favour of belief in miracles: "even to think and act in the natural world we have to assume something beyond it” (Miracles)
He seems endlessly sceptical when it comes to historical assertions and endlessly gullible when it comes to scriptural ones: “When the Old Testament says that Sennacherib’s Invasion was stopped by angels, and Herodotus says it was stopped by a lot of mice who came and ate up all the bowstrings of his army, an open-minded man will be on the side of the angels ... there is nothing intrinsically unlikely in the existence of angels ... but mice just don’t do these things.” (Miracles). He accuses science of being dogmatic because it extrapolates observations beyond what has been observed; this is how he refutes the second law of thermodynamics, a refutation needed by him in order to justify the resurrection (surely dogmatism involves asserting things against all other evidence).
He uses the oft-repeated idea that if science cannot explain everything (as it admits) therefore his dogma MUST be true to fill the gap: “It is certainly a possible supposition that behind this mystery some mighty will and life is at work. If so, so any contrast between his acts and the laws of nature is out of the question. It is his act alone that gives the laws any events to apply to.” (The Laws of Nature) It is breathtaking how he can move from identifying a hole to filling it with "out of the question" in consecutive sentences.
- “The laws of nature explain everything except the source of events ... how there came to be space and time and matter at all.” (The Laws of Nature)
- “Either the stream of events had a beginning or it had not. If it had, then we are faced with something like creation.” (The Laws of Nature)
In this book he does not tackle the Problem of Evil (how a supposedly omnipotent and good God can allow innocent people to suffer. In some ways, he embraces evil. He tells us that the Christian concept of the Incarnation (God came to earth in the body of a man) "lights up nature’s pattern of death and rebirth; and secondly, her selectiveness; and thirdly, her vicariousness.” (Death and Rebirth) This implies that he approves of 'selectiveness' (which he suggests is the antithesis of democracy, or egalitarianism: “I cannot conceive how one would get through the boredom of a world in which you never met anyone more clever, or more beautiful, or stronger than yourself.”; Death and Rebirth) and 'vicariousness': “one person profiting by the earnings of another person ... is the very centre of Christianity.” (Death and Rebirth). These doctrines may seem fine when you are an Oxford don in the Senior Common Room; they may seem less wonderful if you are poor and suffering. Inequality and capitalism are the way God has made the world.
He can be even more right wing. For me, the essence of being a good citizen is getting along with others and assisting those who are less fortunate than oneself. Not for CSL: “The vital elements of citizenship - loyalty, the consecration of secular life, the hierarchical principle, splendour, ceremony, continuity.” (Myth Became Fact).
He is a traditionalist in the church: “To cut ourselves off from the Christian past and to widen the divisions between ourselves and other churches by establishing an order of priestesses in our midst, would be an almost wanton degree of imprudence.” (Priestesses in the Church?)
He is dismissive of other religions: "We all know about Adonis, and the stories of the rest of those rather tedious people” although he accepts that non-Christians can live a good life ... if they cannot believe in Christianity. But being good is not that important: “Mere morality is not the end of life.” (Man or Rabbit)
Some wonderful or interesting moments:
- “The interpretation of experience depends on preconceptions.” (Miracles)
- “It is a great step forward to realize ... that even if all external things went right, real happiness would still depend on the character of the people you have to live with.” (The Trouble with X)
- “You also have a fatal flaw in your character. ... It is no good passing this over with some vague, general admission such as ‘Of course I know I have my faults’. It is important to realise that there is some really fatal flaw in you: something which gives the others just that same feeling of despair which their flaws give you. And it is almost certainly something you don't know about ... You say ‘I admit I drank too much last Saturday’; but everyone else knows that you are habitual drunkard.” (The Trouble with X)
- “As the state grows more like a hive or an ant-hill it needs an increasing number of workers who can be treated as neuters.” (Priestesses in the Church?)
- A right is “a claim guaranteed me by the laws, and correlative to an obligation on someone else's part.” (We have no right to Happiness)
It isn't a difficult book to read: each short essay is a few pages and they could be read on their own. He is able to convey his views clearly and concisely. But other books are better.
CS Lewis was also the author of: these books reviewed in this blog:
- His science fiction trilogy
- Literary criticism:
Of course he wrote the Narnia children's books as well.
July 2020; 108 pages
July 2020; 108 pages