The harder-edged, uncomfortable C. S. Lewis

He’s most noted for Mere Christianity, the explication of the faith that all Christian traditions would espouse.    Most assume, therefore, that C. S. is a watered-down, lowest-common-denominator theologian.  A closer look, however, reveals something else, something more disturbing.  While Lewis wanted to see Christian traditions united, he also believed that one should seek Truth at all costs and settle for nothing less.  Apply this to the “denominational search,” and you will see that Lewis is arguing for the Truth of one particular Christian confession over another.  (Yes, while Lewis held to Anglicanism, an interesting case can be made that today he would have chose Orthodoxy.  The modern Anglican church has abandoned the historic faith; Lewis rejected predestinarianism, thus ruling out Reformed confessions;  Lewis was uncomfortable with Catholicism; and finally, much of his theology is already compatible with Orthodoxy).    In other words, Lewis would be banned at many CS Lewis message boards (I got kicked off one for saying things that a Jewess on the board did not like).

Agrarian Economics

Lewis rejected both state socialism and free market capitalism.  It is important to place Lewis in his Chestertonian context.   Therefore, I maintain that Lewis held to a form of distributist economics.  In That Hideous Strength one of the New World Order-type bad guys remarks that one of their colleagues had gone off the deep end and was committed to distributism.  In Mere Christianity (pages 81-82) Lewis rejects interest-based capitalism (which essentially destroys all modern economics, statist or free-market).  In The Great Divorce Lewis notes that the truest form of love rejects the division between meum and teum; individual rights, when carried to its logical conclusion, is simply hell.  (By the way, this is simply Augustine.  Take it up with him).

But does this make Lewis an agrarian?  Not really, but it does make him a distributist, and when applied to a rural context, it supports agrarianism.  I realize that distributism and agrarianism are not synonymous, but they are close enough.

Fighting the New World Order

In That Hideous Strength Dr Ransom admits that they might have to fight off the bad guys with pistol fire, if necessary.  Just reflect on that statement for a while.   How often does that talk get quoted in Lifeway bulletins?

Monarchy

“We read in That Hideous Strength that the first time Jane Studdock looks at Ransom her world is unmade.  Why?  Because up until that moment Jane believes in a world of total egalitarianism.  Now she realizes, once again, in the depths of her soul, that hierarchy holds a deeper truth than the legal fiction of equality.  Lewis writes,

She had (or so she had believed)  disliked bearded faces except for old men with white hair.  But that was because she had long since forgotten the imagined Arthur of her childhood…for the first time in many years the bright solar blend of king and lover and magician which hangs about that name (Lewis is here referring to King Solomon) stole back upon her mind.  For the first time in all those years she had tasted the word King itself with all linked associations of battle, marriage, priesthood, mercy, and power.  At that moment, as her eyes first rested upon his [Ransom’s] face, Jane forgot who she was, and where…her world was unmade; she knew that.  Anything might happen now.

“With these words Lewis introduces us to the importance of monarchy.  It is vital because it reminds us that we do not live in an egalitarian world but rather a world in which hierarchy exists at all levels (144).

Will Vaus, Mere Theology.

Lewis writes that his Narnia stories implicitly make people royalists for a while.  I mean, how often do you read of a charming fairy tale whose hero is a democratically-elected leader living in the hustle and frustration of an urban apartment?  No, despite people’s (usually inadequately thought through) commitment to democracy, these people still feel a powerful monarchist pull on their soul when they read Lewis, Tolkien, and fairy tales in general.

Conclusion

CS Lewis in no way should be considered a soft, evangelical theologian, but a hard-edged thinker whose thought lends towards distributism, Orthodoxy, and monarchy.

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One comment on “The harder-edged, uncomfortable C. S. Lewis

  1. Bruce G Charlton says:

    From my readings of Lewis I agree with this.

    Yet there is one conflicting factor in this picture, which is that Lewis explicitly stated himslef to be pro-democracy in several places (as – he believed – setting a limit on corruption).

    This conflicted with Tolkien, who was explicitly anti-democracy (and pro-monarchy) and saw democracy and egalitarianism as a dangerous distortion of Christian theology (democracy tending not to generate universal humility, but instead universal pride).

    And Lewis also wrote explicitly against theocracy – becuase he thought it gave (fallen) rulers extra encouragement in their wickedness to believe they were doing God’s work: he seems to have favoured some kind of secular state or division of powers.

    Again this contrasts with Tolkien, who sees the good monarch (such as Aragorn) as ruling by God’s grace and in His name: esepcially the good Christian monarch.

    My take on this is that Lewis had great instincts, and is *always* worth reading; but hadn’t the time fully to think through these matters in the way that Tolkien had (Lewis worked much harder, read more, was much more productive; but Tolkien spent a great deal more time *thinking*). Hence, Lewis’s thought retained some contradictions.

    In my opinion, when Lewis and Tolkien differ on matters of substance, Tolkien’s is usually the deeper perspective – indeed few ever have lived who were deeper thinkers than Tolkien.

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