Lewis & Righteous Indignation

C. S. Lewis 4C. S. Lewis, writing in Reflections on the Psalms, contrasts the anger displayed toward evil men in some of the psalms with the apparent lack of vindictiveness found in some pagan writings. Does this reveal a better spirit among the pagans? Not so, he says.

He gives a personal example to illustrate how lack of anger can often be the worst response. During WWII, he was taking the train one night (as he often did, traveling to speak and then returning home late) and found himself in a compartment with a number of young soldiers. He was more than a little dismayed by the comments he heard:

Their conversation made it perfectly clear that they totally disbelieved all that they had read in the papers about the wholesale cruelties of the Nazi régime. They took it for granted, without argument, that this was all lies, all propaganda put out by our own government to “pep up” our troops. And the shattering thing was, that, believing this, they expressed not the slightest anger.

It’s worth noting that Lewis himself rarely read the newspapers because he considered most of what was contained therein to be lies, yet he certainly had no reason to doubt what the papers were saying about Hitler and his horde. The attitude of the soldiers stunned him:

That our rulers should falsely attribute the worst of crimes to some of their fellow-men in order to induce others of the fellow-men to shed their blood seemed to them a matter of course. They weren’t even particularly interested. They saw nothing wrong in it.

If you were being asked to go to war and possibly lose your life, and you were convinced that the rationale for doing so was based on a fabric of lies told by your government, wouldn’t that bother you more than a little? Apparently not in this case. Lewis then compares these apathetic soldiers to psalmists who didn’t hide their anger:

Now it seemed to me that the most violent of the Psalmists—or, for that matter any child wailing out “But it’s not fair”—was in a more hopeful condition than these young men. If they had perceived, and felt as a man should feel, the diabolical wickedness which they believed our rulers to be committing, and then forgiven them, they would have been saints.

But not to perceive it at all—not even to be tempted to resentment—to accept it as the most ordinary thing in the world—argues a terrifying insensibility. Clearly these young men had (on that subject anyway) no conception of good and evil whatsoever.

Good & EvilLoss of the entire concept of good and evil betrays a society wandering in a fog of moral apathy. “Thus the absence of anger, especially that sort of anger which we call indignation,” Lewis concludes, “can, in my opinion, be a most alarming symptom. And the presence of indignation may be a good one.”

It’s perfectly fine to feel righteous indignation toward evil. In fact, if we feel nothing at all when confronted with the evils of our day, there is something terribly wrong with us.

Lewis: The “Higher” Temptation

Reflections on the Psalms 2Reading C. S. Lewis’s Reflections on the Psalms for the first time, I came away with some “reflections” that surely should make us stop and think for a while. For instance, when commenting on what some might call the intemperate language toward enemies found in some of the psalms, Lewis notes that it is probably because the Jews took right and wrong more seriously than others.

He did see, however, a danger in having this heightened sense of right and wrong, if someone were to let that go out of control. Here’s how he put it:

Ir seems that there is a general rule in the moral universe which may be formulated “The higher, the more in danger.” The “average sensual man” who is sometimes unfaithful to his wife, sometimes tipsy, always a little selfish, now and then (within the law) a trifle sharp in his deals, is certainly, by ordinary standards, a “lower” type than the man whose soul is filled with some great Cause, to which he will subordinate his appetites, his fortune, and even his safety.

Now, there is nothing wrong with having one’s soul filled with God’s Cause, but Lewis offers a warning, even to those of us who are striving to ensure God’s ways are the standard in our society. He goes on:

But it is out of the second man that something really fiendish can be made; an Inquisitor, a Member of the Committee of Public Safety. It is great men, potential saints, not little men, who become merciless fanatics. Those who are readiest to die for a cause may easily become those who are readiest to kill for it.

I don’t believe I would ever be tempted to kill for what God has put in my soul—that would be at odds with the love of God in my heart—but it is a temptation to strike out verbally against those whom I see destroying what God wants to do.

Lewis continues with another example from his own profession:

C. S. Lewis 13One sees the same principle at work in a field (comparatively) so unimportant as literary criticism; the most brutal work, the most rankling hatred of all other critics and of nearly all authors, may come from the most honest and disinterested critic, the man who cares most passionately and selflessly about literature.

Write a book sometime, and you will know what Lewis means. He concludes with this:

The higher the stakes, the greater the temptation to lose your temper over the game. We must not over-value the relative harmlessness of the little, sensual, frivolous people. They are not above, but below, some temptations.

Another application. I speak and write on political and governmental issues, and I share my views with vigor. There is always the temptation, as one deeply involved with the study of history and government, to lash out at those who have no idea what is going on and who, I believe, are leading us down a path to destruction.

I may be absolutely correct in my analysis (as indeed I think I am), but there is the temptation at all times to go beyond a proper critique and to lose the spirit of the Lord in my communications. I’m constantly drawn back to how God wants me to communicate His truths.

I appreciate Lewis’s insight here, and his caution. May we all take his words to heart.

Lewis: Jesus as the Original Origin

As avid a reader of C. S. Lewis as I have been throughout my life, some of his lesser-known works escaped me until recently. For instance, after seeing the video Planet Narnia, I was fascinated by the way Lewis incorporated the medieval worldview into the series. I also discovered that he had explained it in The Discarded Image, so I readily obtained that book and burrowed through it (not one to recommend to a new reader since it is one of his most scholarly).

Then I decided to delve into a few others I’d never read. The first was Reflections on the Psalms. I admit I have always been reluctant to read that one because I’m not in complete agreement with his view of how to understand the Old Testament as part of God’s Word, but I finally realized that since this was Lewis, I had no need to doubt his genuineness or his high view of Scripture.

I’m glad I jumped over that mini-obstacle. Reflections on the Psalms is like all of Lewis’s works—brimming with insight and unique ways of expressing the faith.

Reflections on the Psalms

Reviewing it once again, I was struck by a passage that compared the Old Testament with the words of Jesus. Lewis begins,

This is one of the rewards of reading the Old Testament regularly. You keep on discovering more and more what a tissue of quotations from it the New Testament is; how constantly Our Lord repeated, reinforced, continued, refined, and sublimated, the Judaic ethics, how very seldom He introduced a novelty.

While some critics might see the lack of novelty in Jesus’ words a reason to discount His significance, Lewis exposes the faulty reasoning behind that criticism:

This of course was perfectly well-known—was indeed axiomatic—to millions of unlearned Christians as long as Bible-reading was habitual. Nowadays it seems to be so forgotten that people think they have somehow discredited Our Lord if they can show that some pre-Christian document (or what they take to be pre-Christian) such as the Dead Sea Scrolls has “anticipated” Him. As if we supposed Him to be a cheapjack like Nietzsche inventing a new ethics!

Lewis then brings the reader to the main point:

Every good teacher, within Judaism as without, has anticipated Him. The whole religious history of the pre-Christian world, on its better side, anticipates Him. It could not be otherwise. The Light which has lightened every man from the beginning may shine more clearly but cannot change. The Origin cannot suddenly start being, in the popular sense of the word “original.”

You simply cannot make “The Origin” more original. Everything flows from Him already. He is the “original Origin,” and we don’t really add anything to what He already is.

C. S. Lewis: Impact on Americans (Part 7)

This will be my final installment detailing the results of the Wade Center survey I conducted to find out how C. S. Lewis has influenced Americans of our generation. My previous post dealt with whatever further comments respondents wanted to make. Here are the rest of those for your edification. Perhaps you may identify with the sentiments expressed.

Space TrilogyBeyond the purely intellectual appeal, Lewis and his writings also have impacted the emotions and encouraged Christians in their various struggles. “I am working through some very difficult personal and family issues at this point in my life, and Lewis’s Space Trilogy has Ransom, its protagonist, facing challenges that are shockingly relatable, in spite of their obvious differences in nature,” related another respondent. “I have no Unman to fight off, for example, but the nearly overwhelming burden of evil is clear and present. God has used these books in particular, as well as all of Lewis’s work in general, to improve my life and my understanding of His holy nature.”

One woman was willing to share her personal struggles and how staying in touch with Lewis made a huge difference in her life:

Screwtape Letters 2When I walked away from my Christian faith during my twenties and early thirties, Lewis was one of the few Christian authors I still trusted and could stand to read.

I was grieving, angry, and depressed, and when I reread The Chronicles of Narnia, the hope that shone through them was almost painful. Emotionally, it was as though a frozen and numb part of me began to regain feeling. Some years later, a passage from The Screwtape Letters was instrumental in helping me realize that I’d been angry at the church when, in fact, the church had been my truest friends and best support through very dark days.

Another had the privilege of spending some time at Lewis’s home, the Kilns, and came away humbled by the experience. He and his wife sometimes read Lewis aloud to one another in the evenings. “I’ve never read a story, book, or essay by him I did not enjoy. Even his literary criticism is wonderful!”

One sentence from another respondent speaks of how Lewis has made God more real to him: “I find very moving the endings of Perelandra, Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Last Battle, and The Great Divorce; where the veil is briefly pulled back and God’s reality shines in.”

Narnia, naturally, has impacted those who were first introduced to Lewis as children. One comment might express how many children have felt after reading those books: “As a kid when was sick I used to pray, ‘God, I don’t care if I die as long as you take me to Narnia.’”

There was one respondent, though, who went into greater detail on how Narnia affected, and continues to affect, her. She had much more to say than what is quoted here, but this selection adequately reflects her views:

Chronicles of NarniaPerhaps the most thrilling liberation of being a child in Narnia is Lewis’s assertion that children can understand complex things. The problem with most children’s TV shows, children’s books, children’s anything is that they work too hard to suit children. Books that oversimplify ideas so children can understand them teach children to think simplistically.

All sorts of ideas from Lewis’s non-fiction work and from classical philosophers appear somewhere in Narnia. I discovered Aristotelian logic from Professor Kirke, Plato’s Theory of Forms in Aslan’s country, and the fallacious nonsense of an ad hoc rescue from Narnian dwarves. I love Narnia not only because I find things to ponder in it, but because it taught me how to ponder.

C. S. Lewis created a complex world, and it taught me to think complex thoughts. I am content in Narnia not because I am comfortable, but because I am uncomfortable. It stretches me—my leadership, my character, and my understanding. It acknowledges not that I am a grown-up, but that I am a person, and therefore capable of maturity regardless of my age.

While that excerpt from a more lengthy comment focused entirely on Narnia, another respondent sought to explore the wider scope of Lewis’s writings:

C. S. Lewis manages to express in many unique and wonderful ways ideas about Christianity that are difficult to describe. Narnia tells of a lion whom you fear, but is good—we should fear God, but love God.

Screwtape shows how devious and unrelenting (even in the face of conversion of the subject) Satan can be in the temptations of a person/Christian. In Mere Christianity, Surprised by Joy, “The Weight of Glory,” etc., Lewis expresses truths about Christianity in practical and meaningful ways that are easy to understand and remember. I love the variety of his writings.

Yet it is not only the writings of C. S. Lewis that have captured the hearts of many; it is also the man himself. As one wrote, “We’ve all heard the question of what single person, living or dead, we would most like to meet. I can name dozens of intriguing figures I would love to meet, but none so much as Lewis.”

Another expressed the identical sentiment, but in a different way, when she shared this hope: “I long to go with others on a walking tour in heaven with Jack (as he used to do with Warnie and others) and have a good lengthy chat with this man who for years now has seemed like a good, dear friend.”

I hope this series has been both spiritually and intellectually stimulating. And might I add: please, if you think of it, pray that my book-length manuscript on Lewis’s impact on Americans will find its publisher. Thank you.

C. S. Lewis: Impact on Americans (Part 6)

For the past five Saturdays I’ve shared results of my survey with the Wade Center on how C. S. Lewis’s life and writings have influenced Americans of our current generation. The earlier questions were quite specific, but at the end of the survey, I gave an opportunity for the respondents to add anything else they thought worthy of sharing. Here are some of those reflections.

C. S. Lewis 13A number of respondents credit Lewis with halting their slide into unbelief while in college. “Lewis sustained me through years of doubting my faith in college,” wrote one. “I’m not exaggerating to say that Lewis re-evangelized me when I might have otherwise abandoned my childhood faith.” “Lewis, along with Francis Schaeffer,” opined another, “helped me to remain orthodox while most of my college friends have fallen by the wayside.”

Still another remembered,

When I was an arrogant college student who believed only weak and/or stupid people believed in Christ, Lewis showed me beyond question that faith could make sense even to an intellectual. He awakened my spiritual imagination with his fiction and persuaded my reason with his nonfiction. He also gave me a grounding in traditional Christianity that facilitated my later conversion to Orthodoxy.

PuddleglumA respondent who is currently working through a doctoral degree had this to say about how Lewis provides help: “Lewis is frequently on the tip of my tongue—his characters remain alive in my heart as friends and relatives—his lessons often spring to mind. As a doctoral student in theology, I often find connections to Puddleglum or Eustace at the heart of theological arguments.”

And those who have moved on into their careers, such as this respondent, can also point to Lewis as an inspiration: “I have always appreciated Lewis’s clear, precise, and elegant writing style. As an academic researcher, I have tried to emulate his style in my professional writing.”

Another provided a more in-depth scrutiny of how Lewis dealt with the intellect:

Mere Christianity Quote #4Lewis’s works exemplify what I consider a Holy Spirit baptized intellect. Knowledge on holy fire. His ability to frame the issues in a succinct way and then address them with such extremely critical thinking skills provides a wonderful exemplar for Christians all over the world on how to not only be people of faith, but also engage our intellect (verbal and writing skills) to provide a “defense for the hope that is within us.”

His work, Mere Christianity, remains one of my favorite recommendations for intellectual unbelievers who are serious about weighing through claims of Christian faith. I believe many will either embrace Christ for the first time or reinforce their beliefs in Him through its reading.

“Since my study of C.S. Lewis, I have not been able to talk about anything else,” enthused one respondent. “It is as though I am on fire after having been asleep.”

I have more excellent testimonies to share; I’ll save the rest for next Saturday.

C. S. Lewis: Impact on Americans (Part 5)

This week, I’m sharing some of the comments respondents to my Wade Center survey gave regarding the movie versions of Narnia. For the sake of brevity here, I’m excluding comments on earlier productions, such as a 1979 animated Lion, Witch, and Wardrobe and BBC productions of four of the Narnia books back in 1988-1990. So here is the amended question I asked:

Have You Viewed Any of the Narnia Hollywood Productions? If So, What Is Your Opinion of Them?

The Chronicles of NarniaSome respondents were fulsome in their praise of the recent movies, such as the one who commented simply, “I love them. Excellent films and all seem to follow the book fairly closely.” Added to that was another’s perspective: “I thought these films portrayed Lewis’s books very well. They made Lewis’s characters come to life.” And a third contributed, “I believe they are a creative representation of the Biblical narrative that can penetrate hearts and souls.”

All of these responses concentrated on the substance of the films and a sense of satisfaction that they conveyed the essence of what Lewis sought to communicate. Another thought the quality of the production highlighted Lewis’s themes: “Amazing! I love the graphics, the film quality supported the story line and made it so real to me.”

Others, while supportive of the movies, noted some concerns about alterations of the message and about parts that were omitted and/or the addition of extra material that Lewis himself had not introduced. For instance, one respondent commented, “I have seen all three Narnia theatrical films. I enjoyed all three and thought they were generally well done. I was a little disappointed that they ‘watered down’ the Christian elements a bit, but I still thought they were good films and largely faithful to Lewis’s ideas and vision.”

Prince CaspianAnother seemed to suggest that there are natural limitations whenever one tries to convert a book into a film: “I appreciated how they brought the Narnia books to the big screen and made them understandable and attractive for a wider audience. I don’t believe that the movies could ever have quite the depth of the books but I did appreciate the translation of some elements to visual art.”

Similar in tone was this remark: “I have viewed the first two Narnia films. I enjoyed them, but felt that the content of the Narnia stories is better communicated in book form. Film diminishes the charm of Lewis’s authorial voice.”

Despite those positive and semi-positive reviews, comments decrying the loss of Lewis’s vision and disappointment with some of the decisions on how to communicate the message of the books on screen were more numerous. Here are the most representative samples in this grouping:

Voyage of Dawn Treader 2I have seen all three films based on The Chronicles of Narnia. I think they are well done cinematically, although some scenes hint at a low budget and inexperienced actors.

They maintain the integrity of Lewis’s characters and stories in name and outline, but the deviations therefrom are numerous and sometimes so great as to ruin almost entirely the theological, personal, and practical insights and applications made available in the books.

I watched the Chronicles of Narnia films. I think they were good, but commercialized. I think that C.S. Lewis has saturated the market, which is good, but I believe people begin to miss the depth that he provided. Also, the struggle that C.S. Lewis had with the Christian faith. I believe that the popularity of these movies has brought popularity to C.S.Lewis, but I hope that people explore more of his works and begin to wrestle with the different thoughts and ideas that he presented.

I have been SO upset about the ways in which the movies, especially The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, diverged from the book. The book is my favorite of the series, as it is many others. The movie just took liberties that were “unforgivable.” Wardrobe was good, and Caspian was a “B” also because of things like having the White Witch show up.

I felt very disconnected from the Disney/Walden Media death scene (and movie as a whole) and felt the newer live action films lacked the understanding of the spiritual undertones of the works and Aslan’s character. . . . Disney/Walden’s LWW was the strongest of the recent films. Most people I’ve talked to felt that Prince Caspian was a huge letdown and Voyage could not make up the difference.

How to summarize? Of the three Hollywood films, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe comes across as the best. There is a strong sense of disappointment in Hollywood’s renditions of Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Finally, there is strong criticism of deviations in the Hollywood scripts and depictions.

Next Saturday, I turn to my final question, which allowed the respondents to say anything they wished about the influence of Lewis on their lives. The survey turned up some fascinating comments.

C. S. Lewis: Impact on Americans (Part 4)

In my 2014 survey, conducted with the help of the Wade Center at Wheaton College, I asked respondents to comment on the Shadowlands films, one produced by the BBC, and the other, more prominent one, by Hollywood.  Here’s the question I asked, along with the responses.

Have You Viewed Any of the Shadowlands Productions? If So, What Is Your Opinion of Them?

In asking this question, I knew most people would be familiar with the big-budget Hollywood version starring Anthony Hopkins (Lewis) and Debra Winger (Joy) that came out in 1993. Not as many, I was sure, would be cognizant of the earlier BBC production from 1985 that aired on both CBS and PBS, with Joss Ackland as Lewis and Claire Bloom as Joy.

Yet that BBC offering won more than a dozen prestigious awards, including the International Emmy for Best Drama and two British Academy Awards. My hope was to get comments that might compare the two, and I did get some, although the majority of respondents were, as I expected, more aware of the 1993 version.

ShadowlandsSome respondents were very pleased with the Hollywood production. As one enthused, “Beautiful story. I saw the Winger/Hopkins movie. . . . I laughed, I cried, I wept when they couldn’t. From the leads to the housekeeper, beautiful casting and wonderful execution.” Another explained, “I have only seen part of the Anthony Hopkins film version, but I enjoyed it. I appreciated being able to visualize Lewis as a person rather than a picture.”

Others, though, thought the Hopkins-Winger version was deficient, particularly in its portrayal of Lewis’s faith and the kind of man he was. As one noted, “It is a good movie, but it is absolutely false in its pale and timid portrayal of Lewis’s robust personality.” Another cast aspersions on the director’s decision on how to portray Lewis: “Richard Attenborough’s film. Serious falsification of Lewis. Simplification and belittling, as if he was a pompous idiot until Joy showed up.”

More than one thought Winger did an exceptional job depicting Joy, but their enthusiasm was tempered by the Lewis persona as shown in the film: “While a good movie on its own (I thought Debra Winger nailed what I think Joy was like), there was much left out, especially in relation to Lewis’s faith. This was a disappointment.”

Others did their best to try to appreciate the good while recognizing the shortcomings. Here are two examples: “It missed much of what makes Lewis so impacting but was entertaining and enlightening into his everyday life”; “It was OK. He didn’t seem like C.S. Lewis . . . not jovial enough.”

Shadowlands BBCThose who saw both adaptations seemed clearly to come out in favor of the 1985 BBC TV movie. One respondent definitely preferred Ackland’s Lewis to Hopkins’s version, while simultaneously praising the production values of the latter: “Joss Ackland has made the best Lewis so far. The Anthony Hopkins Shadowlands was the best film overall, best cinematography.”

Another who preferred Ackland to Hopkins still had kind words for Winger’s portrayal: “I think the actor portraying Lewis in the BBC version was great. I think the actress in the Hollywood version who portrayed Joy was great. I did not care for Anthony Hopkins, felt like he didn’t even try to portray Lewis—just a stereotype of an English professor.”

This comment from another respondent was similar: “The first, BBC, version is infinitely superior in almost every regard. Closer to the facts, and more true to the spiritual journey. The only superiority of the later theatrical film is Debra Winger’s performance as Joy.”

One summarized what seems to be the main complaint for those who were less than thrilled with Hollywood’s offering: “The one with Anthony Hopkins had good acting, good production values, but the script was horrible. The one with Joss Ackland was much better.”

In order to represent fairly the consensus of the survey respondents to the two films, one would have to say that, in general, for those who saw both, they acknowledged the excellent production values of Hollywood’s 1993 version, but were far more enamored with the depiction of Lewis in the BBC version, which they felt was closer to the reality of who the man was.

So much for those films, but what about the Narnia movies that have been produced thus far? How did my respondents react to them? That will be the topic next Saturday.