Wednesday 5 May 2010

CS Lewis' "Mere Christianity" - making me think!

May 5, 2010

I’ve been reading again from CS Lewis’ book, “Mere Christianity.” I love what he says and how he says it. I also enjoy his sometimes rather “un-PC” choices of expression. It is refreshing to read someone who expresses what they have carefully thought through in language that is clear and not befuddled by undue concern over how others might find it “old-fashioned” or even “wrong.” Of course, Lewis wrote mainly in the first half of the twentieth century, and his language – and even some of his viewpoints – do reflect on both the time period and the fact that he writes with very British English. I am relieved that the publishers (at least of the edition I've been reading from) have not edited out parts that our modern sensibilities might find, shall I say, disconcerting!

We really do need to read works written from widely varying time periods and cultural backgrounds. This helps us to see things in the long haul view, the big picture. And it helps us understand where we’ve come from and how our own current views have developed. It also helps us to see more clearly what we are really saying, ourselves, as we write. After all, our own ideas will also be seen by many as old-fashioned and even naïve or incorrect, very shortly – as any parent of teenagers can attest.

Anyway, I’d like to share a couple examples of Lewis’ writing from “Mere Christianity,” selections that really make me listen, make me consider carefully what I think, and inspire me to write clearly and honestly, as well. (For those who may not be aware, CS Lewis is also the author of the popular “Narnia” children’s books, which have been recently been made into successful films). CS Lewis writes:

- “…because Christ said we could only get into His world by being like children, many Christians have the idea that, provided you are ‘good,’ it does not matter being a fool… [But] Christ never meant we were to remain children in intelligence…. He wants a child’s heart, but a grown-up’s head. He wants us to be single-minded, affectionate and teachable, as good children are; but He also wants every bit of intelligence we have to be alert at its job…. The proper motto is…. ‘Be good, sweet maid, and don’t forget that this involves being as clever as you can…. I warn you, you are embarking on something which is going to take the whole of you, brains and all…. Anyone who is honestly trying to be a Christian will soon find his intelligence being sharpened…. Christianity is an education itself.”

I believe, from my own experience, and from reading and observing the lives of those who have been “honestly… Christian” through time, Lewis is right. And he’s not just talking about some “religious part” of life. He is talking about one’s whole existence, because true Christianity is a walk, a journey, a relationship with God – and with His family, and His creation – that involves everything we do.

This is why, as I plunge into this new “writing business” of mine, that I really do have to use every bit of my intelligence. I also have to build and strengthen my relationships with God and with others, care for my body (eat well, exercise, get enough sleep, and such), be aware of and care for the world around me, and so on. And yet, I also do need to have a child’s heart, just as Lewis explains here.

Another quote:
- “I may repeat, ‘Do as you would be done by’ till I am black in the face, but I cannot really carry it out till I love my neighbour as myself: and I cannot learn to love my neighbour as myself till I learn to love God: and I cannot learn to love God except by learning to obey Him.”

Beyond the obvious fact that a lot of modern folks aren’t going to be all that pleased by what Lewis is saying, particularly about the “obeying” thing (you really do want to read the context of this quote!), this is a good example of what I mean by how it is important to read things written in language that is different from how we express things. Certainly, Lewis wrote in English; in fact, he was a very highly educated and respected writer and teacher, one of the greatest of his century. But it sounds a little odd to us, as he uses British expressions and spelling.

We, in twenty-first century North America, would likely say, “blue in the face;” in fact; there are those who might take Lewis’ expression as racially slurred. And we’d no doubt say, “Do unto others as you would have done unto you,” or words to that effect. Editing writers, especially good writers of the past, to make them “easier to understand” and to be “politically correct” is not only an insult to the writer, and often changes their intended meaning, but it takes away our opportunity to see things in different ways, to open our minds, to understand the past (which of course affects our present, and our future).

One more quote:
- “The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronizing and spoiling sport, and back-biting; the pleasures of power, of hatred. For there are two things within me, competing with the human self which I must try to become. They are the Animal self, and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold, self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute.”

Think about that!

By the way, CS Lewis is great to read when you start beginning to think that you have Christianity – or life generally – all figured out. Oh, and his Narnia series, and his space trilogy too, are great examples of the whole “child heart – adult mind” tension that he is speaking of in the first quote.

What? You haven’t read his space trilogy? Drop what you’re doing and get yourself to the bookstore. Ask for CS Lewis’ Perelandra, Out of the Silent Planet, and That Hideous Strength. And all seven books from the Narnia series, if you haven’t read them yet. Oh! On the other hand, why not just pick up a copy of his Complete Works and keep it on your bedside stand or wherever your favorite reading spot is?

And get thinking! With your child’s heart and your adult intelligence both.

(And if you’re interested in what else I’m doing with this whole “writing business,” feel free to go over to my Pen and Paper Mama blog, and check out my recent postings, including today’s, May 5th on “My business update”).

(And while you’re at it, feel free to take a look at all my other blogs and sites, links to the right of this screen).

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