The Lewis-Chambers Missed Opportunity

Another of C. S. Lewis’s regular American correspondents was Mary Van Deusen, someone with whom he shared thoughts on deep theological issues and on current events. One of her chief concerns, in the early 1950s, was the knowledge of how communists had infiltrated the American government. In one response to her, Lewis talked about how that issue showcased one problem with the modern concept of democracy:

C. S. Lewis 6Your question about Communists-in-government really raises the whole problem of Democracy. If one accepts the basic principle of Govt. by majorities, how can one consistently try to suppress those problems of public propaganda and getting-into-govt, by which majorities are formed. If the Communists in this country can persuade the majority to sell in to Russia, or even to set up devil-worship and human sacrifice, what is the democratic reply?

When we said “Govt. by the people” did we only mean “as long as we don’t disagree with the people too much”? And is it much good talking about “loyalty.” For on strictly democratic principles I suppose loyalty is obligatory (or even lawful) only so long as the majority want it. I don’t know the answer.

But of one thing he was certain: “Of course there is no question of its being our duty (the minority’s duty) to obey an anti-God govt. if the majority sets it up. We shall have to disobey and be martyred. Perhaps pure democracy is really a false ideal.”

WitnessJust a few months before this response, Van Deusen had encouraged Lewis to get the book Witness by Whittaker Chambers, who had been an underground communist agent in the 1930s, but who had then turned his back on communism and found God. As a senior editor for Time magazine, Chambers had even referenced Lewis in an essay he wrote called “The Devil.” As one reads that essay today, one can see the connection with The Screwtape Letters.

Chambers’s book that Van Deusen wanted Lewis to read was a bestseller in 1952, as it exposed not only the communist underground, but positively pointed to the need for Western civilization to return to its Christian foundations. Many have described Witness as one of the most elegantly written autobiographies of the century, and I agree with that conclusion.

When Van Deusen suggested he get the book, Lewis merely answered, “I’m afraid I can’t find a W. Chambers book. It’s better not to send the book. They all get lost in the pile on my table.” This could be one of the great lost opportunities of the twentieth century. One would have loved to know Lewis’s response to that book, which, although written as an autobiography, is a wordsmith’s delight. But it was not to be.

Our Executioner Awaits

As I continued to follow the news yesterday of the search for the Islamic terrorists in France, I wish I could say I was stunned by revelations of Western cluelessness. Unfortunately, I was not.

Imitating President Obama, we now have a multitude of voices saying that Islamic terrorists are not really Islamic. And a chorus is arising—the same chorus we’ve heard on and off since 9/11—fearful that Americans will now persecute peace-loving Muslims in our midst.

That “boy-cried-wolf” scenario, if it had any validity at all, would have occurred in those days following 9/11, but it never has.

Our mainstream media, fearful of being attacked themselves, pull back from associating this latest atrocity with Islam. They still think there can be peaceful co-existence, if only we play nice.

Whittaker ChambersListening to all this vacuous thinking reminded me of a quote from Whittaker Chambers in his book Witness. Reflecting on his world in 1925—a world unaware of the Communist threat it faced—he penned these words that could equally apply today in our time of peril:

The dying world of 1925 was without faith, hope, character, understanding of its malady or will to overcome it. It was dying but it laughed. And this laughter was not the defiance of a vigor that refuses to know when it is whipped. It was the loss, by the mind of a whole civilization, of the power to distinguish between reality and unreality, because, ultimately, though I did not know it, it had lost the power to distinguish between good and evil.… The dying world had no answer at all to the crisis of the 20th century, and, when it was mentioned, and every moral voice in the Western world was shrilling crisis, it cocked an ear of complacent deafness and smiled a smile of blank senility—throughout history, the smile of those for whom the executioner waits.

Scary words to me. Scary because they ring so true in the 21st century also. What has happened to Western culture? It has lost its Christian underpinnings. Keen analysis is rare due to our rejection of truth. We are dying, but we laugh. We have lost the power to distinguish reality from unreality because we have lost clear concepts of good and evil that come from the Biblical worldview.

Our elites, whether in government, the media, or academia, have no answers. We are in a crisis that they refuse to acknowledge. The few—the Christian few, and others who retain the Christian framework in their thinking—point to the crisis, but complacent deafness and the smile of blank senility is the only response. Our executioner awaits, if we don’t return to our roots.

A political cartoon yesterday sums up our plight:

None So Blind

Whittaker Chambers & Psalm 91

Chambers Testifying at HUACWhen Whittaker Chambers was making his testimony against Alger Hiss, his former associate in the communist underground, the stress of the situation was sometimes overwhelming. But encouragement can come in many forms. In his classic autobiography Witness, he remarks on one of those means of encouragement:

In those days, came the first of a series of letters that I was to receive throughout the Hiss Case. They came almost weekly and, in the depths of the Case, sometimes twice a week. After Hiss’s conviction, they came at longer intervals and at last stopped.

They were never signed. They were written in an angular hand and contained just three words: “The ninety-first Psalm.”

That Psalm, therefore, became a source of strength for Chambers. What did it contain? Here are some excerpts:

PrayerHe who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.

I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust!”

For it is He who delivers you from the snare of the trapper and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with His pinions, and under His wings you may seek refuge; His faithfulness is a shield and bulwark.

You will not be afraid of the terror by night, or of the arrow that flies by day; . . . A thousand may fall at your side and ten thousand at your right hand, but it shall not approach you. . . .

For He will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all your ways. . . .

“Because he has loved Me [says the Lord], therefore I will deliver him; I will set him securely on high, because he has known My name.

“He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him.

“With a long life I will satisfy him and let him see My salvation.”

Those words are not for Whittaker Chambers only. They were given by God to provide strength and assurance for all who trust in Him. May they be real in your life if you are experiencing any trouble this day. He will be with you; He will rescue you.

Cultural Collapse & the Remnant

A friend shared an article with me that I read late last night. It can be found here: http://publicreligion.org/2014/03/leaving-religion-lgbt-issues/. It’s from an organization called the Public Religion Research Institute. The point of the article is that the millennial generation is rejecting the Christian faith at a record high rate, and that the main reason for it is what they perceive as “negative teachings about, or treatment of, gay and lesbian people.” The report, based on a survey, goes on to say,

Most Americans agree that religious groups are alienating young people by being too judgmental about gay and lesbian issues. Nearly 6-in-10 (58 percent) Americans agree that religious groups are alienating young people, while roughly one-third (35 percent) disagree. Millennials remain most likely to believe that religious groups are alienating young people. Seven-in-ten (70 percent) Millennials believe that religious groups are alienating young adults by being too judgmental about gay and lesbian issues.

I felt a wave of sorrow and anguish wash over me as I was reading it. Here’s how I responded:

We’ve had nearly two generations now raised on the premises of non-judgmentalism. I think the source of most of that training has been Rogerian/Maslovian self-esteem teaching that has permeated our schools. The old cliché about getting hold of the minds of the children is coming to fruition in our day. We are seeing the results of this idea that has seeped into every part of our culture.

The medium through which this has occurred is government-controlled education. I think we will see very soon a more frontal attack on all Christian education, from homeschooling to evangelical colleges. We will be called—even more so than today—narrow-minded, bigoted, and out of the mainstream.

We will no longer be able to be comfortable with a large swath of our culture; in a sense, there will be a separation between the sheep and the goats. A divide will occur between those who hold firm to Biblical truth and those who are tossed by every trendy wind that comes along. The good news in all this is that the truth will stand out more clearly than ever before, and some will be drawn to the Lord through those who remain faithful to the message.

If this sounds too pessimistic, maybe I’m just revealing my affinity with Whittaker Chambers. Yet, as always, I believe the Lord can be seen in the dark times, and He can bring good out of evil if we stand with Him.

On the homosexual issue, I tend to agree with those who say the battle is already lost. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t continue to shine the light in this darkness. We just have to be prepared for the consequences.

I truly believe we are at a tipping point.

So was this response the result of staying up too late and being too tired? Am I too negative? Or have I caught the drift correctly? I do sense our culture is on the verge of collapse; I also sense that Christians need to wake up to this looming collapse and not pretend it’s all going to turn out alright. Can it be reversed? I don’t know, but my hope is that the Lord will once again use a remnant to make the difference, and what I do know is that I’m going to be part of that remnant. I hope you join us. Perhaps God will be able to show mercy to our society once more.

The Witness of Whittaker Chambers

Chambers at DeskEvery other year, I have the opportunity to teach a course I call “The Witness of Whittaker Chambers.” I’m teaching it again this semester. Chambers is not well known to most of our generation, but he was to an earlier one. Product of a dysfunctional family, devoid of any Christian upbringing, hit hard by life and seeking answers to the crises of the world after WWI, he turned to communism as the solution. Eventually, he became part of an underground cell that worked to place communists in key positions in the American government and pass secrets on to his master, Stalin.

Chambers finally came to realize the horror he was supporting and broke away. He then had to come to grips with the God he never knew. When he made the conscious decision to turn to God, his worldview was revolutionized. In his bestselling autobiography, Witness, he explained what happened when the transformation took place:

WitnessWhat I had been fell from me like dirty rags. The rags that fell from me were not only Communism. What fell was the whole web of the materialist modern mind—the luminous shroud which it has spun about the spirit of man, paralyzing in the name of rationalism the instinct of his soul for God, denying in the name of knowledge the reality of the soul and its birthright in that mystery on which mere knowledge falters and shatters at every step.

He now saw things in a new light and realized the connection between the spiritual and the political:

External freedom is only an aspect of interior freedom. Political freedom, as the Western world has known it, is only a political reading of the Bible. Religion and freedom are indivisible. Without freedom the soul dies. Without the soul there is no justification for freedom. . . . Hence every sincere break with Communism is a religious experience.

His masterful autobiography is filled with memorable quotes. One of my favorites is this one:

There has never been a society or a nation without God. But history is cluttered with the wreckage of nations that became indifferent to God, and died.

Perhaps it’s time we heeded these wise words uttered more than sixty years ago. His insights are more apropos today than they were when they were written. Will we ever learn?

Chambers was not too optimistic about our society’s openness to the truth. In one of his essays in Time magazine, “Ghosts on the Roof,” he commented through the imagery of the Muse of History,

I never permit my foreknowledge to interfere with human folly, if only because I never expect human folly to learn much from history.

While I tend to agree, in the main, with that sentiment, I still hold out hope for a solid remnant who will cling to truth and make a difference in our culture. Those who know the One who is the Truth have both a deep responsibility for spreading the message and a reason for hope, not only in the next world, but also in this one. We need to be faithful to the task to which we have been called.

Repealing Obamacare: Tactics vs. Strategy

I spend a lot of time writing about principles. One of my key warnings is that we remain principled in our thinking and our actions; pure pragmatism is dangerous because it neglects the basic truths. Yet that doesn’t mean that principled people shouldn’t be wise. Jesus told His disciples to be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. He said that as He sent them out to deliver His message. On occasion, Jesus even told people He had healed to say nothing, as it would have set in motion events that would have hindered His mission because it would have aroused too much animosity from enemies at the wrong time. Was Jesus unprincipled?

The apostle Paul didn’t hesitate to use his Roman citizenship to forestall a beating; in fact, he depended on that citizenship to take him to Rome for a legal appeal. Should we question his commitment to suffering for the Lord? Of course not.

Why am I broaching this subject today? I want to relate it to the attempts by some to challenge the Obama administration. As you know from reading my daily posts, I challenge the actions of the Obama administration all the time, so I’m not averse to speaking out. Not all responses to what Obama has done, though, are necessarily wise. Take, for instance, the movement to impeach him. Now, I believe he is eminently impeachable. He has willfully ignored the Constitution continually. If impeachment could be carried out successfully, I would be fully behind the effort. But there are practicalities that must be considered. Even if the House—controlled by the Republicans—passed impeachment articles, the Senate—controlled by Democrats—would never remove Obama from office.

I supported the impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton. He certainly deserved to be removed from office. Yet even in a Senate that had a majority of Republicans at that time, not one Democrat voted in favor of his removal. Does anyone think it would be different today? I have no problem with advocates of fidelity to the Constitution making the argument for why Obama deserves impeachment; that would perform a valuable educational service for the voters. But there is no hope of seeing this man kicked out of the presidency.

Unfortunately, all that would be accomplished by moving forward with articles of impeachment would be the tarnishing of Republicans in general and conservatives in particular. It shouldn’t be that way, of course, but that’s the reality we’re dealing with. Rush Limbaugh has come up with the term “low-information voters.” It accurately describes a significant segment of our electorate:

Only Candidate

In a more perfect world, such people would never be allowed to choose their leaders. This is not that more perfect world. We have to live with what we have.

Those who read this blog regularly also know I’m a firm opponent of Obamacare. My heart’s desire is to see that abomination repealed immediately, if not sooner. Yet the current effort by some senators—all of whom I admire for their principles—to defund Obamacare is doomed to failure as well. It might pass the House, but would never even get a vote in the Senate. If, by some miracle, enough Democrats, distressed over what they now see are terrible consequences of this law, vote to defund it, Obama will never sign that repeal. Unfortunately, Obamacare is here for now. It will take a Republican electoral tidal wave in the 2014 congressional elections and the election of a committed conservative as president in 2016 to relegate Obamacare to the footnote in history it deserves to be.

The wisest approach for now seems to be to find those parts of Obamacare that bother Democrats the most and focus on those. Take it apart, piece by piece. Make it untenable for it ever to come to fruition. It’s already crumbling from its own inadequacies; help it along that road so it never sees the light of day.

We are called to be both principled and wise.

I’m reminded of the concerns expressed by Whittaker Chambers to William F. Buckley back in the early 1950s as he viewed the tactics of Sen. Joe McCarthy in his fight against communism. Chambers was an ex-communist. He had been the most effective communicator of the evil of the communist system as he exposed Alger Hiss as an underground communist agent in the American government. Yet he could not support what McCarthy was doing. Why not? Here’s what Chambers wrote at the time:

Chambers at DeskAs the picture unfolds, the awful sense begins to invade you, like a wave of fatigue, that the Senator is a bore. . . . The Senator is not, like Truman, a swift jabber, who does his dirty work with a glee that is infectiously impish; nor, like F.D. Roosevelt, an artful and experienced ringmaster whose techniques may be studied again and again. . . .

The Senator is a heavy-handed slugger who telegraphs his fouls in advance. . . . But it is repetitious and unartful, and, with time, the repeated dull thud of the low blow may prove to be the real factor in his undoing. Not necessarily because the blow is low, or because he lacks heart and purpose, but because he lacks variety, and, in the end, simply puts the audience to sleep. . . .

It is more and more my reluctant opinion that he is a tactician, rather than a strategist; that he continually, by reflex rather than calculation, sacrifices the long view for the short pull. . . .

All of us would like to be his partisans, if only because all are engaged in the same war. . . . But, all of us, to one degree or another, have slowly come to question his judgment and to fear acutely that his flair for the sensational, his inaccuracies and distortions, his tendency to sacrifice the greater objective for the momentary effect, will lead him and us into trouble. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that we live in terror that Senator McCarthy will one day make some irreparable blunder which will play directly into the hands of our common enemy and discredit the whole anti-Communist effort for a long while to come.

Chambers was prophetic. McCarthy blundered. Today the term “McCarthyism” is now used to discredit any real investigation into wrongdoing. I’m not suggesting that the conservatives in Congress are like McCarthy in his flair for sensationalism without regard to fact. They clearly have the facts on their side. There is the very real threat, however, that by using the wrong strategy, they may discredit the entire effort. Any government shutdown over defunding Obamacare will be jumped on gleefully by the administration and its media allies. Republicans will be blamed. How do I know? It’s happened in the past, we have all those low-information voters, and Republicans are often the worst communicators of their side of an argument. It’s astounding how ineffective they often are when they try to educate the public.

Therefore, I support all efforts to delay Obamacare’s implementation. I support the conservative senators’ attempts to enlighten the public about its overwhelming deficiencies and its blatant unconstitutional nature (despite the unthinkable ruling last year by the Supreme Court). Take on Obama, Obamacare, and all of his unconstitutional power grabs head-on—but be wise in how to do so. Don’t be tacticians who see only the short term; devise a long-term strategy for success.

A Teaching Ministry: Worth the Effort

El PradoAs August draws near, my thoughts are beginning to turn once again to the new academic year. All my courses are ready and syllabi complete. I have to admit I always look forward to the fall semester. Fresh new faces showing up in the classroom, very welcome “old” faces, and the opportunity to share God’s truths make it all worthwhile.

I am privileged to be at a university like Southeastern where I have liberty to teach without censorship or threat of “re-education” training. This will be my eighth year here, and I’ve been able to develop new courses without hindrance. I doubt there are many universities where students can take a course on Ronald Reagan and modern conservatism—taught sympathetically, that is—or another entire course on Whittaker Chambers and the history of communism. In most places, I’m sure you can learn about communism, but only as a springboard for promoting radicalism:

Limber Up Cliches

Christian universities are not immune from such perspectives, but they’re not as prevalent as at other universities. Our students differ as well. When you think of the typical college student, what image comes to mind?

Familiar Refrain

Yes, we have our quota of students who don’t take their studies seriously, but we have a much higher percentage of those who seek to do God’s will through what they learn. That makes for a far better classroom environment. Not a perfect environment, by any means, particularly in a survey course where many students don’t really want to be there, but even that is part of the ministry God has given me. If I can, by the end of the semester, convince many of those apathetic students that learning history is essential for their overall understanding of life, I will feel like I’ve succeeded.

When you view your life’s work as a ministry, it stops being merely a “job” or “career.” I thank the Lord for the ministry He’s allowed me to have. This is my twenty-fifth year of teaching at the college level; sounds like it ought to be celebrated as some kind of landmark. I don’t need some special celebration, however; I celebrate each day as I receive reports from a few hundred of my former students who are now raising families and fulfilling the ministries God has given them. Those good reports make all the trials of these twenty-five years worth the effort.