Chad Walsh’s Baptized Imagination

One of C. S. Lewis’s earliest American friendships was with Chad Walsh, a professor of English at Beloit College in Wisconsin. Like Lewis, Walsh traveled the road from atheism to Christianity, and Lewis helped him on that journey.

“In my case there was no childhood faith,” Walsh wrote in an account of how he eventually found the Christian path.

If I ever believed in God as a small child, no memory of the time remains with me. I regarded myself as an atheist from the moment I learned to read—and, indeed, pamphlet editions of Ingersoll, et cetera, were part of my earliest reading.

Why would a young boy be so attracted to a non-Christian worldview? Walsh, although ultimately placing the blame on his own stubbornness and pride, also pointed to a reaction he had to the community in which he was raised:

Undoubtedly my atheism was in part a revolt against the Fundamentalism of my home town—Marion, Virginia. . . . It was not a winsome faith, and I was in full agreement with H. L. Mencken about the superstitious backwardness of the ‘Bible Belt.’

He eventually escaped what he considered the confines of that small town and found the atmosphere of the University of Virginia more to his liking. There he didn’t have to worry about people shoving religion at him. He was free, he felt, but the freedom did not settle the bigger questions that began to crowd upon his mind. While he claimed to be a self-satisfied atheist, doubts crept in. “Is there such a thing as good or evil?” he often wondered. “Is there any meaning in life and the universe?” World events in the 1930s helped crystallize the answers.

The rise of Hitler in Germany, and the growing awareness of the actions of that regime, forced him to confront the problem of evil in the world. Walsh’s companions in atheism and/or agnosticism, when challenged by Walsh to come up with a response to what Hitler was doing, would provide excuses, albeit excuses that were actually consistent with their worldview.

Walsh recounts,

They agreed with me that the world was a senseless jungle. Very well, they reasoned, if the world is a jungle, it’s absurd to speak of right and wrong. Everything is relative. Hitler thinks he’s doing right to invade Poland and murder the Jews. Very well, it is right for him. It’s all in the way you look at it.

That response shook him. He knew he had to come to grips with the reality of evil.

Walsh’s second question, about the meaning of life and the universe, intruded more on his thoughts once he was forced to recognize that real goodness and real evil existed, and that there was a decided difference between the two. If everything was some kind of cosmic accident, what did that say about his personhood? Was he living an illusion?

His atheism was crumbling. He lived in a transition from atheist to Christian for a few years, trying to figure out what he should believe. It all came down to the person of Jesus Christ.

Walsh began reading the New Testament. What he found surprised him. He had preconceived ideas of Jesus as some weak character—the words “meek and mild” were stuck in his mind from childhood. What he saw in the pages of the Gospels was something different:

The man I encountered in the Gospels was a towering figure of strength; even his death was that of a man strong enough to accept death voluntarily. So I was up against the final question: What or who was Jesus?

Eventually, reason led to faith.

As I recount in my book, America Discovers C. S. Lewis, along the way, Walsh had begun to read some Lewis, and that helped him see the reality. But then he had an experience with one of Lewis’s books that absolutely transformed him.

A friend enthusiastically lent him a book she had just finished reading; she just knew he would love it. That book was Perelandra, the second in Lewis’s Space Trilogy in which the protagonist, Elwin Ransom, is transported to Venus to save an innocent world from falling into sin. Walsh was transported as well:

I quickly consumed it from cover to cover. I was struck first of all by the sheer beauty of the book. It transported me into a kind of Elysian Fields—or better yet, an unspoiled Eden, inhabited by the innocent and unfallen.

A second revelation was that, even though he had always been a science fiction fan, he had never read any science fiction like this, where it could be used as a “vehicle of great philosophic and psychological myth.” The third revelation, though, was the greatest of all:

Finally, and most importantly, in Perelandra I found my imagination being baptized. At the time I was slowly thinking, feeling, and fumbling my way towards the Christian faith and had reached the point where I was more than half convinced that it was true. This conviction, however, was a thing more of the mind than of the imagination and heart.

In Perelandra I got the taste and smell of Christian truth. My senses as well as my soul were baptized. It was as though an intellectual abstraction or speculation had become flesh and dwelt in its solid bodily glory among us.

Walsh then became the first person to write a book about Lewis. To do so properly, he knew he had to visit Oxford and interview him. That’s the tale I’ll tell in a Lewis post next Saturday. Please come back.

Reviving Obamacare Repeal

A final attempt this year at Obamacare legislation is coming up for a vote in Congress next week. Will it advance the principle of eventually overturning the [Un]Affordable Care Act or will it leave too much in place? I’ll come back to that, but first some context.

Despite assurances to the contrary from progressives/Democrats, Obamacare fails on nearly every promise. It is not affordable and insurance companies are pulling out regularly. In some areas, there is only one company taking part, meaning consumers really have no choice.

Those who can’t bear to think of it going away are blind to its disastrous nature:

And when the word “entitlement” gets attached to anything, people feel they are, well . . . entitled. People worry, so they cling to false promises and ignore the reality.

Republicans have used Obamacare repeal and replace as a rallying cry ever since 2010. Many are sincere; others just wanted to stir the base to get reelected. When Republicans finally took both houses of Congress and the presidency, they had their chance to show their true colors. For some, the true color was yellow. The move to remove stalled.

Repeal would be easy, we were told. No problem. When it didn’t turn out that way, voters were given a substitute promise.

That hasn’t happened either, by the way.

Now we have a proposed bill that doesn’t repeal most Obamacare regulations, pre-existing conditions are still covered (too popular to touch), and it keeps spending money at a rapid rate.

So it should be rejected?

Here’s where principle comes in. If a new law moves the ball down the field, so to speak, and gets us closer to where we should be, isn’t that worth supporting? Take abortion, for instance. I believe all abortions are wrong, morally wrong. Some would say that any bill that allows any abortions at all to remain legal should be rejected. However, I would look at such a bill and say instead that many thousands of innocent lives can be saved with it and it should be passed.

It would get us closer to where we need to be.

This current Obamacare modification bill does the following:

  • It repeals the individual mandate.
  • It repeals the employer mandate.
  • Its block grant approach puts state governments in charge of the funds, allowing states to develop their own system, thereby reducing control by the federal government.
  • It defunds Planned Parenthood.

For all those reasons, especially the last one, Democrats will not support it.

For me, as I look at those benefits of the proposed bill, I believe it will advance the cause of eventually overturning this monstrous system. I therefore hope it will pass.

It’s one last opportunity this year to make a dent in something that never should have become the law of the land in the first place. Republican senators should find their courage, set aside petty concerns about whether their state will get enough funding, and vote to take this significant step in the right direction.

Clearing Away the False Image

From the start of the Trump presidency, I committed myself to be a fair and balanced commentator. Regular readers of this blog know I wrote consistently during the primary season that Trump should not be the Republican nominee; those regular readers also know I could not bring myself to vote for him in the general election (no, I didn’t vote for the person he donated to for many years either).

I have tried to be honest about his accomplishments (the Gorsuch pick for the Supreme Court being the primary example) while maintaining a deep concern over the character of the man occupying the Oval Office.

The Left, of course, has gone even crazier than they did during Reagan’s years, and their characterization of Bush Jr. as Hitler has only gone on steroids in the first months of Trump’s tenure.

I never watch award shows anymore because they have become progressive-fests, lashing out at all things Christian, conservative, and Trump (he’s neither of those first two, by the way).

From what I’ve read, the latest Emmy awards were one long diatribe against Trump. The ratings turned out to be the lowest ever.

Certain media giants—CNN and MSNBC come to mind—have devoted themselves to Trump-bashing. But if you turn to Fox News for balance, you have to stay with the actual news programs like Special Report to find the balance; all the opinion programs are so blatantly pro-Trump that the hosts are little more than court jesters at times.

Trump’s most ardent apologists will find an excuse for anything he does. His latest foray into “reaching across the aisle” to Democrats basically violates most of what he promised his base, yet, for many, he can do nothing wrong. Why is he hobnobbing with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer? It’s those stubborn Republicans who won’t get anything done, we’re told. He had no choice. Yet for someone who’s supposed to be a master dealmaker, he didn’t get anything in return for his latest hobnob.

Trump was a Democrat most of his life. His recent “conversion” to the Republican party, in my view, was always more of a convenience than a heartfelt conviction. He needs to be careful. His new allies are not really his friends.

So what am I trying to communicate here today? Merely this: if you have been one of those who defend the president no matter what, clear away the false image you may have of Donald Trump and see him for what he is, then be sober and sensible in your evaluation of his words and actions.

Don’t drink the Koolaid. Don’t go down with this ship. Maintain an integrity that will stand the test of time. Be someone that others will trust when this bizarre chapter in American politics has mercifully ended.

As Far As the East Is From the West

Those of us who call ourselves disciples of Christ sometimes need more humility. We need to be reminded again and again that the position we have in the Kingdom of God is not something we have earned. Rather, we have been extended an undeserved mercy.

All too often, we forget that He brought us out of the pit, out of utter spiritual darkness. That truth should create within us an enduring gratitude.

In my own experience, I can say that I hit bottom spiritually at one point, and that God nevertheless never gave up on me and brought me back into His family. When I realized the reality of His forgiveness, I was almost stunned; I referred to Him as “The God of the Second Chance.”

No matter what we have done in our past, if we come to Him in genuine repentance and look to the Cross, He wipes away all the sin and shame. One of my favorite passages is found in I Corinthians 6 where the apostle Paul provides a list of sinfulness that excludes people from the Kingdom—yet he doesn’t end there.

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.

Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

I’m eternally grateful that the list is followed by that declaration of total spiritual renewal.

The dominion of hell wants us to wallow in our past sins, of course, bringing up the memories of the sins that now bring revulsion. The satanic hope is to paralyze us with remorse so that we are unproductive for the Lord. The enemy of our souls seeks to weigh us down with the enormity of our past sins.

We cannot allow that to happen. We need to have the words of Psalm 103 in our hearts and even say them out loud whenever necessary:

He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.

As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.

If you are plagued by the memory of distant sins, come back to the truth of those words. The east and the west never meet; they go on in opposite directions forever. In the same way, your former sinful life is precisely the opposite of the new life you now have in Christ. We are to move forward for Him in confidence that He truly loves us and our sins are removed, never to be brought to mind again.

As the prophet Isaiah tells us, speaking for God,

I, even I, am the one who wipes out your transgressions for My own sake, and I will not remember your sins.

If God Himself has blotted out the memory of our sins from His own mind, so should we.

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.