One of the traits I see in C. S. Lewis, and what makes his writings so endearing—at least from my particular take on life—is the way he can critique a predominant belief in society at large, yet do so in a manner that is not merely some kind of self-righteous invective.
He can skewer a prevailing untruth with winsome words that can make a person think seriously about the untruth’s inherent untruthfulness.
In his essay, “On Living in an Atomic Age,” Lewis aims at our will to survive, given this new threat that now hovers over us. Survival, Lewis explains, is not the highest good in itself. When we make it so, we miss the mark.
It is part of our spiritual law never to put survival first: not even the survival of our species. We must resolutely train ourselves to feel that the survival of Man on this Earth, much more of our own nation or culture or class, in not worth having unless it can be had by honourable and merciful means.
Was he referring to a survival-of-the-fittest mentality? Or was he aiming at pride, which can manifest itself in pride of country or pride in our success? Maybe we don’t have to choose one or the other. It’s probably both. He continues:
Nothing is more likely to destroy a species or a nation than a determination to survive at all costs.
Those who care for something else more than civilization are the only people by whom civilization is at all likely to be preserved.
Those who want Heaven most have served Earth best.
Those who love Man less than God do most for Man.
At every point, Lewis challenges priorities, exhorting us that God’s way is usually the opposite of the way we naturally think. When we put national survival first, we will probably end up destroying the nation through our myopia.
When we make saving civilization (however one may define that) our greatest goal, perhaps we doom ourselves to being uncivilized in the end.
When we focus entirely on the Earth (may I throw in here concerns about the environment that go beyond the basic Biblical mandate of stewardship?), we don’t serve the Earth best. Having a heavenly perspective does more for our earthly existence than exalting the Earth itself.
We can only love Man properly when we love God properly. Without the love of God inspiring our actions, those actions degenerate into humanistic drivel that accomplishes nothing eternal.
There will come a day, we are told, when all we see around us will be no more. But that’s just fine with me. That prophecy comes with a promise: there will be a new world that will never need saving.
We won’t be in survival mode. We will be in praise-and-worship mode forever.