Where were you on November 22, 1963? We’re presenting a MercatorNet special — profiles of the three men who died that day: US President John F. Kennedy, the literary critic, novelist, and Christian apologist C.S. Lewis and the author of Brave New World, Aldous Huxley.
Three great men died on November 22, 1963. President John Fitzgerald Kennedy of course; Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World; and C S (Clive Staples) Lewis, arguably the greatest communicator of the Christian message in the 20th century. Kennedy actually left very little legacy, Huxley’s central triumph was to warn of the dangers of the future state, but Lewis has converted numbers beyond counting to Christianity and continues to be read by millions.
He wrote Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, Surprised by Joy, The Four Loves and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, among so many other titles. Several of his Narnia books have been made into movies and there was even a Hollywood film, Shadowlands, about Lewis himself and his love for and marriage to American author Joy Davidman. Beyond his Christian apologetics, he was regarded as one of the finest minds of his generation. His English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama and The Allegory of Love are still considered to be academic masterpieces. But his timeless genius was his ability to convey highly complex ideas in a straightforward and understandable manner. Like some grand knight of common sense he charged through the ranks of cluttered thinking and atheism.
Sometimes ironic, often paradoxical, he cut away at the opposition. This, from The Weight of Glory, published in 1941, illustrates the point:
“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.”
Nine years later came the first of the Narnia series, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, rich with Christian metaphors but deliciously subtle so as to appeal to adults as well as children. Then came Mere Christianity, surely his seminal work. Here is a taste:
“There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of Heaven ridiculous by saying they do not want to spend eternity playing harps. The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them. All the scriptural imagery (harps, crowns, gold, etc) is, of course, a merely symbolical attempt to express the inexpressible. People who take these symbols literally might as well think that when Christ told us to be like doves, He meant that we were to lay eggs.”
His relationship with Joy Davidman was brief but profound. He married her after she had developed cancer, and her death broke him like no intellectual opponent could ever do. He wrote: “Grief still feels like fear. Up till this time I always had too little time. Now there is nothing but time. Almost pure time, empty successiveness.” Even in grief he could dissect and analyze. He recovered sufficiently to move from his academic position at Oxford to Cambridge, wrote and lectured more, and finally died aged 64.
In many ways his importance today is greater than ever, in that critics of Christianity so relish painting believers as being anti-intellectual and intimidated by cerebral battles. Lewis melts that painting into a mush of many colours, proving then and reminding us now of the seamless garment of intelligence and religion, of faith and reason. There is no contradiction, but a continuum. Lewis’s great achievement I suppose was — through his writings and example — to live on beyond his death; rather like his messiah in a way really, and that would have delighted him.
Michael Coren’s new book is The Future of Catholicism (Signal Books/Random House). His website is www.michaelcoren.com