Did Lewis Dislike Americans?

I’ve come across people who believe that C. S. Lewis really didn’t like America or Americans. Dealing with that issue was one of the goals of my book, so I made sure I covered it in the very first chapter. It begins with this snippet from Lewis’s early life:

On the very first page of The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C. S. Lewis, author Alan Jacobs tells the story of a precocious “Jack” Lewis, probably no more than eight years old at the time, entering his father’s study to make this following pronouncement: “I have a prejudice against the French.”

Naturally, his father, Albert, wanted to know why his younger son would have such a definite opinion. The answer he received is perhaps an indication of the astute reasoning that would continue to be a hallmark throughout C. S. Lewis’s life: “If I knew why,” he calmly asserted, “it would not be a prejudice.” Early on, then, it appears that Lewis had a clear understanding of the unreasonable nature of coming to conclusions about people without evidence.

One perhaps might be excused for thinking Lewis had a dislike for America—and Americans—if all one had to go on were early statements prior to his conversion. Firsthand contact with Americans was minimal in his life until he became famous in America, during World War II. After that, though, as his correspondence with Americans became nearly a flood, one sees instead a man who treats people as individuals, and not as stereotypes. It is instructive to witness this metamorphosis over time and trace not only Lewis’s changing attitude toward America but also his impact on individual Americans.

As one studies Lewis’s voluminous correspondence, one notices the first mention of America appears in a letter just prior to his eighteenth birthday to lifelong friend and Belfast neighbor Arthur Greeves. As might be expected, given his later career as a professor of literature, Lewis indicates to Greeves that he is beginning to read some American authors, singling out Nathaniel Hawthorne, whom he admires. Yet he thought it a shame that someone of Hawthorne’s genius had to be an American.

When Lewis returned to Oxford after the war to resume his studies, he commented on the increasing number of Americans on campus, calling it an invasion. He related a story to his father about a professor who read a paper at a literary meeting and who acknowledged his effort wasn’t all that good; he thought he needed to apologize for even offering it. He had meant to publish it, he told the group, but felt it was so bad that he sent it to an American magazine instead. Lewis found that appropriately amusing.

All of these comments emanate from a pre-Christian Lewis. This doesn’t mean that his conversion necessarily changed all of his thinking about Americans, but slowly, over time, he got to know more Americans on a personal basis, and those views were tempered accordingly.

Although Lewis declined all invitations to visit America due to his personal circumstances, that did not mean he wasn’t attracted to some of what the New World had to offer. Sprinkled throughout his letters to Americans, one finds comments that reveal the longing of his heart to make the journey.

He was developing a new appreciation for the literary tastes of the American public, confessing to American correspondent Warfield Firor that he would love to visit the country where his own favorite book at the time—Perelandra—had been more enthusiastically received than in his native land.

The lean years after WWII saw Lewis on the receiving end of American largesse. Numerous American Christians who loved his writings and who heard of the shortages in his country, opened up their wallets and showered him with gifts—food, stationery, and assorted luxuries. Lewis was overwhelmed by their spirit of giving.

What irritated Lewis considerably was the reluctance of the British government to publicly acknowledge the help flowing from American citizens. In one of his few comments during his lifetime that praised the press, he informed another American correspondent, Edward Allen, that reports from the press were showing the British just how much they had the Americans to thank for their better standard of living.

If Lewis had harbored any lingering prejudices against Americans, this flood tide of giving after World War II gave him the basis for changing his earlier views. And by the way he communicated his gratitude, one may say with a great degree of certitude that his views definitely did change.

Perhaps the most fitting conclusion to this specific question of Lewis’s attitude toward Americans comes from Walter Hooper, who met Lewis in the last year of his life, and for a few months served as his private secretary. In an e-mail exchange I had with Hooper, he offered these thoughts:

Lewis himself drew my attention to another illustration of ignorance that needs unmasking. I forget where it is, but Jonathan Swift, the Irish writer, when asked if he liked or disliked the Irish, the English, the Japanese, etc. etc, pointed out that he didn’t know all the Irish people, so how could he possibly know where he liked or loathed them. Of course, like nearly everyone else, some Irish he liked, some he didn’t.

And so to Lewis, who I think must have liked many, many Americans considering that roughly three-quarters of his letters were to them. One of them to whom he wrote to for years, Mary Willis Shelburne, he provided with a pension, paid for by his American publishers. And as we all know, he married an American, and—hardly of similar importance—he made another his secretary.

My research pretty well laid to rest the issue for me. Lewis, as a young man, had a typical attitude toward the nation that seemed to be supplanting Britain as world leader. His conversion, coupled with increased contacts with Americans, led to a reversal of his earlier—and youthfully arrogant—views.

You can read about this in much more detail in my book, America Discovers C. S. Lewis: His Profound Impact, by going to this Amazon page.

My Irma Sabbatical

For those of you who check this site regularly (and are not on Facebook with me), and who might be wondering where I am, I left home due to Irma and won’t be back until late Thursday. I’ll probably start pondering some principles again this Saturday.

FYI, our home was untouched even though the hurricane went right through our city. Grateful to God for His protection.

Affirming the Nashville Statement

Last week, more than 150 evangelical leaders met in Nashville to endorse what has been called the Nashville Statement, a concise affirmation of what the Bible teaches about sexual morality—doctrines long established and agreed upon throughout the history of the Christian church.

Therefore, they should not have been controversial. But we live in an America rapidly becoming intolerant of Biblical beliefs, especially in the area of sexual morality.

Sex before marriage has become commonplace, sexual relations outside the marriage covenant are looked upon mostly as regrettable but not necessarily sinful (that word has lost most of its meaning), and homosexuality is not only more accepted, it’s positively applauded by the secular culture-shapers in the media, both news and entertainment.

Sadly, even those who call themselves Christian have begun to succumb to the siren song of “follow the culture to stay relevant” and have shied away from the “sin” label for those involved in homosexuality.

Some have retaliated against the Statement, deeming it hateful, bigoted, and all the other negative terms that have lately been appropriated to describe anyone who takes a stand for Biblical morality.

Yet if one actually reads the Statement, one sees that it comes from a heart of compassion, clearly noting that God’s grace is sufficient to save anyone from a life of sexual impurity.

Anyone wanting to read the Nashville Statement can go to it here.

I do want to share some of the preamble because it lays out the basis for publicly making this Statement.

Evangelical Christians at the dawn of the twenty-first century find themselves living in a period of historic transition. As Western culture has become increasingly post-Christian, it has embarked upon a massive revision of what it means to be a human being.

By and large the spirit of our age no longer discerns or delights in the beauty of God’s design for human life. Many deny that God created human beings for his glory, and that his good purposes for us include our personal and physical design as male and female. It is common to think that human identity as male and female is not part of God’s beautiful plan, but is, rather, an expression of an individual’s autonomous preferences.

The pathway to full and lasting joy through God’s good design for his creatures is thus replaced by the path of shortsighted alternatives that, sooner or later, ruin human life and dishonor God.

The signers then ask these questions:

This secular spirit of our age presents a great challenge to the Christian church. Will the church of the Lord Jesus Christ lose her biblical conviction, clarity, and courage, and blend into the spirit of the age? Or will she hold fast to the word of life, draw courage from Jesus, and unashamedly proclaim his way as the way of life? Will she maintain her clear, counter-cultural witness to a world that seems bent on ruin?

The Statement is saying that we are on the wrong path as a society and that we are in danger of spiritual destruction if we don’t return to the Truth.

C. S. Lewis, in a famous and oft-quoted passage in Mere Christianity, writes of being on a wrong path and what must be done when one realizes it. He also deals with the silly cliché that one cannot turn back the clock, as if whatever is happening now is automatic progress and to turn back to “old” concepts of morality is ludicrous. Lewis dares to differ:

First, as to putting the clock back. Would you think I was joking if I said that you can put a clock back, and that if the clock is wrong it is often a very sensible thing to do? But I would rather get away from that whole idea of clocks.

We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.

Those in the so-called progressive Christian community have set out on a course that leads to spiritual destruction. They are not progressive at all; rather, they are simply hearkening back to the oldest sin in the world, first breathed in the Garden, when man was told he could decide for himself what is right and wrong and God can’t tell him otherwise.

Lewis concludes,

There is nothing progressive about being pigheaded and refusing to admit a mistake. And I think if you look at the present state of the world, it is pretty plain that humanity has been making some big mistake. We are on the wrong road. And if that is so, we must go back. Going back is the quickest way on.

The Nashville Statement is a clarion call to go back—back to the Biblical standards for sexual morality. Our society is making a big mistake; we are on the wrong road. Sin is sin and must be called by its correct name. A return to Biblical fidelity is the only answer to the dilemma in which we find ourselves.

Why Sin Is So Sinful

I’m contemplating the nature of sin this morning. It’s not that sin is suddenly abounding in the world in a way it never has before. Sin is sin; it’s always been the problem ever since the Garden.

But when I think about the nature of sin, the complete and utter selfishness of every sinful thought and action is what comes to the forefront in my contemplation. Self-centeredness—the absurd perspective that places what we want above what God desires for us—is the height of stupidity.

We take all the potential blessings God has given us—our ability to reason, to feel, to choose—and we twist and distort those potential blessings into something horrid and destructive.

C. S. Lewis, in his Letters to Malcolm, follows this line of reasoning as well, except that he puts it in much clearer terms than I can ever hope to do:

The only way in which I can make real to myself what theology teaches about the heinousness of sin is to remember that every sin is a distortion of an energy breathed into us—an energy which, if not thus distorted, would have blossomed into one of those holy acts whereof “God did it” and “I did it” are both true descriptions.

We poison the wine as He decants it into us; murder a melody He would play with us as the instrument. We caricature the self-portrait He would paint. Hence all sin, whatever else it is, is sacrilege.

We take what is meant for our good and turn it into an abomination. Nearly every sin I can think of is the abuse and misuse of of what a loving God has given us.

That’s what makes sin so sinful.

If not for the amazing mercy extended to us through the Cross, we would be without hope. Why should God care so much for us? We don’t deserve His love. It truly is unfathomable.

Yet I accept it with an eternal gratitude, and I now want my life, and all the gifts God has bestowed, to be a testament to His love. May we all have that response.

The Antifa Cancer

In the wake of the Charlottesville turmoil I wrote a post condemning the white supremacists who initiated the confrontation. I don’t agree with President Trump’s comment that there were nice guys among the crowd of Nazis, etc. Nothing about any ideology that promotes racial supremacy and racial inferiority is “nice.” If you want to review my comments, go to the calendar on this sidebar and click on August 14.

In that same post, I also pointed out the problem that exists with those who rose up in opposition to the white supremacists, led by a mob that calls itself Antifa.

Notice that this group dresses all in black and covers their faces. They also carry clubs and other articles of weaponry wherever they rear their ugly heads. As I look at them, I’m reminded of Mussolini’s thugs or Hitler’s Brownshirts.

In their minds, they believe they are anti-fascist (thus the odd name) and are on the cutting edge of opposition to the neo-Nazis and their compatriots. In fact, they are, by their own rhetoric, anti-Christian, anti-capitalist (comrades Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro, and Che would have loved to link arms with them), and anti-America.

Antifa is not the vanguard of liberty; it is quite the opposite. While the news media has been slow to recognize what they really stand for, some political cartoonists have shown a greater instinct for analysis:

A meme I used in my earlier post remains relevant:

Michael Ramirez, one of our best political cartoonists, captures the reality well:

The latest incident occurred on the Berkeley campus (where else?) as Antifa thugs attacked someone they decided was a Nazi (he wasn’t) and beat him unmercifully. Fortunately, bystanders intervened and probably saved his life.

Antifa showed up at Berkeley to stop a rally in favor of free speech. They succeeded.

Let’s be honest about who Antifa seems to emulate:

Conservatives and Republicans (not always the same) came out immediately and distanced themselves from the white supremacists. Not so with the liberals/progressives and Democrats, who have remained largely silent about Antifa. I’ll give credit to Nancy Pelosi for calling them out the other day, but hers is the only voice on that side that I’ve heard saying anything critical about Antifa’s ideology and methods.

If Democrats have any lingering shred of decency left, they need to rise up against this violent, fascist organization, and not consider them political allies.

White supremacy needs to be condemned. Antifa needs to be condemned. Both are a cancer on our society.

All Saints: A Review

Picture an Episcopal church called All Saints in the middle of Tennessee with only a handful of congregants. Then picture a pastor who has been sent to that church for the sole purpose of shutting it down and selling the property so that a mega-store can be built on the site.

Then, unexpectedly, refugees from Burma, Christians from the persecuted Karen tribe, arrive in the area. Because their tribe had been Christianized through Anglican missionaries, they find their way to tiny All Saints.

God touches the pastor’s heart as he realizes these people need this church. They need his help to find jobs and provide for their families. Since they have been farmers, the pastor comes up with a plan to turn the church land into a working farm to sustain the refugees.

He challenges the Episcopal authorities with the vision of reaching out to the refugees. Despite meeting with stiff resistance, he persists through trials and heartaches. In the process, Christ’s love is manifested in the community, the church’s attendance grows, and the Karen Christians become part of the larger family of God at All Saints.

To top it all off, it’s a true story.

When I went to see this film, I was wondering if it could really be as good as the review I had read. We all have seen “Christian movies” that have fallen short of the mark, although well intentioned.

All Saints is that truly rare film that combines a poignant story, realistic dialogue, strong character development, professional acting, and a quality of production that is, well, quality.

I give it my highest recommendation. I urge you to see it because it is bold in its proclamation of Biblical truth, offers spiritual edification, and leaves you with the feeling that someone in the film industry “gets it.”

What a joy (and a relief) to come out of the theater with the sense that God had His hand in this endeavor.

Lewis on Intellectual Pride

How does one decide which C. S. Lewis essay one likes best? Just when you have read one and concluded nothing could be better, another one invades your mind and spirit, and you’re now convinced this has to be the crowning jewel.

As an academic, I am drawn to the essays in which Lewis takes aim at those of us in academia. He’s particularly pointed in those because he’s also taking aim at himself.

One of the greatest temptations for scholars is to take pride in their scholarship. I use Lewis’s essay, “Learning in War-Time” in the course I teach on him, and hope it can be a warning for the budding scholars in the classroom.

Lewis is clear that there are many paths people may follow as they walk out their Christian commitment, one of which is the world of higher education. Here’s what he has to say to those of us who trod this path:

The intellectual life is not the only road to God, nor the safest, but we find it to be a road, and it may be the appointed road for us. Of course it will be so only so long as we keep the impulse pure and disinterested. That is the great difficulty.

Then comes the specific warning:

As the author of the Theologia Germanica says, we may come to love knowledge—our knowing—more than the thing known: to delight not in the exercise of our talents but in the fact that they are ours, or even in the reputation they bring us.

Every success in the scholar’s life increases this danger. If it becomes irresistible, he must give up his scholarly work. The time for plucking out the right eye has arrived.

A dagger straight into any inflated pride—my inflated pride at times—or at least into the temptation to fall into that sin. This Scripture in I Corinthians 8 comes to mind:

We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.

Why is intellectual arrogance so quick to rise within us? It makes us feel important. We understand more than others (we think). That makes us better than the ignorant masses (we boast).

Now, we may never say such a thing out loud, but if that attitude becomes more than just a fleeting temptation and it takes root in our heart, it’s time for a deep repentance and a humbling of our spirit.

As we’re reminded in the book of James, chapter 4, “God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

All intellectual boasting is sin. Instead, we should be eternally grateful that God is willing to use us in intellectual endeavors, and that He can only use us in that way if we remain humble and submit that talent to Him.