Posts tagged with: C. S. Lewis

SmotherAugustine observes that humans are constituted in large part by their sociality. As he puts it in the City of God, “For there is nothing so social by nature as this race, no matter how discordant it has become through its fault.”

I have written that a corollary of the natural law is a vision of society as one based on mutual aid. This includes economic exchange as well as the economy of gifts and the corresponding gratitude, as I have highlighted this week.

But this orientation towards others can take a negative turn. As I noted yesterday, Augustine describes a corrupted kind of “spiteful benevolence.”

C.S. Lewis explores this as well in his description of the person who must always be giving to the point of fostering dependency, foisting oneself upon others, and even creating the need for intervention if necessary. This “unselfish” giving of oneself to others can turn into the most depraved kind of selfishness.

As Wormwood relates a description of such a person in The Screwtape Letters, “She’s the sort of woman who lives for others–you can always tell the others by their hunted expression.”

This kind of need to be needed is of course a corruption of love. By contrast, the true expression of love is exemplified in no more glorious a fashion than the truly other-directed self-giving of a mother.

This is something to remember and celebrate this Mother’s Day.

Great Divorce, C.S. LewisI recently discussed our pesky human tendency to limit and debase our thinking about economics to the temporary and material. Much like Judas, who reacted bitterly to Mary’s outpouring of expensive ointment, we neglect to contemplate what eternal purposes God might have for this or that material good and the ways through which it might be used or distributed.

C.S. Lewis captures the tendency powerfully in his book, The Great Divorce, providing a clear contrast of heaven and hell through a series of conversations and spiritual choices.

Beginning the story in a dreary town described as being “always in the rain and always in evening twilight,” Lewis provides us with a setting very much like earth but with a bit more darkness and—take note—a bit more surface-level comfort and security (“they have no Needs,” as one character describes it).

Lewis follows one man’s journey beyond the town (which we quickly discover to be hell or some type of purgatory), toward an ever-increasing light (which we quickly discover to be heaven). Along the way, he encounters a series of fellow travelers, each struggling with his or her own obstacle to the divine—an earthbound idol that must be pried from their paws.

In one particular conversation, Lewis points specifically to the economic sphere, using a character he calls “the Intelligent Man” to propose an economic solution that, according to his limited, earthbound assumptions, will certainly relieve what he believes to be an inevitable, ever-increasing darkness:

What’s the trouble about this place? Not that people are quarrelsome—that’s only human nature and was always the same even on earth. The trouble is they have no Needs. You get everything you want (not very good quality, of course) by just imagining it. That’s why it never costs any trouble to move to another street or build another house. In other words, there’s no proper economic basis for any community life. If they needed real shops, chaps would have to stay near where the real shops were. If they needed real houses, they’d have to stay near where builders were. It’s scarcity that enables a society to exist. Well, that’s where I come in…I’d start a little business. I’d have something to sell. You’d soon get people coming to live near-centralisation. Two fully-inhabited streets would accommodate the people that are now spread over a million square miles of empty streets. I’d make a nice little profit and be a public benefactor as well.

His approach has some charming elements, to be sure. Indeed, if I myself were to encounter a dreary town such as this, I, too, would be quick to emphasize the positive socializing effects of market collaboration and cooperation. “The townspeople boast an unhealthy and isolating sense of entitlement,” I might be tempted to say. “Thus, we should proceed to foster a healthy web of bottom-up independence, interconnectedness, collaboration, and specialization.” (more…)

Blog author: jsunde
posted by on Tuesday, January 8, 2013

marylazarusWe humans have a pesky tendency toward earthbound thinking. The natural world comes more easily to us, for obvious reasons, and thus, even when we aim to overcome our disposition and contemplate ways to improve things beyond the immediate, it’s hard for us to break out of the box.

Much like Judas Iscariot, who reacted harshly to Mary’s outpouring of expensive ointment on Jesus’s feet, we are prone to react only to the material implications, ignoring altogether whether God might prefer us to do something so peculiar as “keep it for the day of [Jesus’s] burial,” as was the case for Mary.

It is for this reason that the Apostle Paul urged us to present our bodies as a “living sacrifice” — to not be “conformed to this world,” but be “transformed by the renewal of your mind.” Such a life, Paul explains, demands a transcendent perspective made up by constant “testing” of the world as we naturally see it, that we might “discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” This is a life consisting of far more than surface-level observations of the physical world, requiring us to submit our reasoning about everything from material prosperity to human happiness to the ultimate will of the Supreme Creator.

This call to active and continuous spiritual discernment reaches into every dusty corner of our day-to-day lives, and it involves plenty of overlap with what we might call the “natural realm” (unhealthy dualism in the other direction is, of course, a competing temptation). Thus, in exploring something as overarching and all-encompassing as our social and economic thought, we should be wary of allowing these natural tendencies and earthly values to serve as the dominating inputs, legitimate and valuable though many of these features may be when properly ordered (e.g. “happiness”).

When we attempt to subvert God’s transcendent reality, the problem can play out in a variety of ways and in varying degrees. Most clear, perhaps, at least in recent memory, is the example of Soviet Communism — an orientation that Whittaker Chambers once described as “man’s second oldest faith,” whose “promise was whispered in the first days of the Creation under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil”:

[Communism] is the vision of man’s mind displacing God as the creative intelligence of the world. It is the vision of man’s liberated mind, by the sole force of its rational intelligence, redirecting man’s destiny and reorganizing man’s life and the world. It is the vision of man, once more the central figure of the Creation, not because God made man in His image, but because man’s mind makes him the most intelligent of the animals. Copernicus and his successors displaced man as the central fact of the universe by proving that the earth was not the central star of the universe. Communism restores man to his sovereignty by the simple method of denying God.

But although the glaring errors of atheism help illuminate where things can turn sour, the trickier questions lie with the rest of us who do seek to place God at the center of all things, yet still find ourselves persistently struggling with how that should look in our day-to-day endeavors. (more…)

Blog author: jcarter
posted by on Thursday, October 11, 2012

C.S. Lewis may not have written specifically about economics, but as Harold B. Jones Jr. explains, there’s reason to consider him a defender of the free market:

. . . C. S. Lewis had much in common with the great free-market thinkers of his time. He is discovered on careful examination to have been writing about many of the same issues as Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek and on these issues to have been in perfect agreement with them. The dates are worth considering. Bureaucracy, one of Mises’s critiques of governmental economic intervention, came out in 1944. Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom came out the same year. Lewis had released The Abolition of Man only a year before, and in the year that followed his That Hideous Strength made its debut. All these books were written to defend the idea of the individual human being as the locus of rational choice and moral responsibility. Mises and Hayek wrote as economists and Lewis as a lay theologian, but all three wrote to challenge the assault on human nature in the name of a false ideal.

Read more . . .

Blog author: Mindy Hirst
posted by on Monday, September 10, 2012

Most of the time we spend on this planet we are looking down. Down at our desks . . . down at our feet . . . down at the dishes. Life is full of little details that require us to look down, put our backs into the work and get things done.

But the problem with this common posture, as C.S. Lewis puts it, is that “…as long as you’re looking down, you can’t see something that’s above you.” Of course you say! But think about that for a minute. If you are always focused on the details of the day, then you never see the scope of the world above and around you.

This is a problem. Too often those whom God has called to bless the world have their faces focused squarely in this world’s dirt and cannot get a sense for what they are about and what God is doing through their work.

As a leader, your role very difficult. You have to vigorously affirm the dirt that each of those in your church or organization is plowing and at the same time you must lift their eyes to see why they are doing their work.

You see, the “why” gives inspiration to the “how” of the everyday. Your efforts to lift their eyes above the kitchen sink, the office desk or the path, will allow them to see how their efforts to be On Call in Culture are blessing the world and making a difference.

We have created a new resource along these lines for pastors and spiritual leaders seeking to Lead Up in their congregations. Click here to download it.

From the producers of Little Miss Sunshine comes this charming mix of comedy, suspense, drama, and—possibly—science fiction. Safety Not Guaranteed is the story of melancholy Darius (Aubrey Plaza), an intern at a Seattle magazine, who goes on assignment with reporter Jeff (Jake M. Johnson) and fellow intern Arnau (Karan Soni) to investigate the author of a peculiar classified ad that reads:

*WANTED*
Someone to go back in time with me. This is not a joke. You’ll get paid after we get back. Must bring your own weapons. Safety not guaranteed. I have only done this once before. (more…)

“We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise,” wrote C.S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man. “We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”

Even if you’ve read that passage many times (like me) you might have glossed over (as I did) the word “enterprise.” Jacqueline Otto explains why it is significant:

Is it possible then, as Lewis asserts, that by making men without chests, we make men that are not inherently moral—who are not capable of being enterprising? Men who do not understand the moral urgency of freedom?

Of course, the power of the use of the word and is that it suggests the interdependency of virtue and enterprise. If we continue to make men without chests, not only will we end up with amoral men—traitors, even—but we will end up will a society not capable of engaging a free market.

We will end up with a people who, like Brooks rightly points out, claim to love free enterprise but who will do nothing to defend it. They will be a people lacking the capacity for freedom.

Read more . . .

Blog author: kspence
posted by on Friday, June 24, 2011

Jeffery C. Pugh has landed every blogger’s dream: the book deal for a best-of collection of his musings. Devil’s Ink: Blog from the Basement Office is an answer to the question “What if Satan kept a blog?”—one of several (the opportunity to pun is apparently irresistible) all of which immediately invite comparison with C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. Pugh anticipates that comparison in his book’s preface, saying he offers “another way of looking at evil,” a modern way that reflects how the “locale of evil has changed,” and confronts particularly its rise in popular culture.

He certainly offers a different perspective on evil; so different, in fact, that rather than avoiding comparison with Lewis, he forces it. Pugh presents only one kind of “evil” in his bloggings from the throne of Hell—and such is the nature of a blog that the action of evil can be nothing else than as he presents it. That evil is not the personal sin that Lewis explored in Screwtape’s letters on the art of temptation, but a kind of corporate, structural sin based on a view of human history as class conflict.

Pugh offers some insightful entries on pride and on spiritual community, but he is continually caught up in the idea that evil is found in the structures of society rather than in men’s sinful hearts. In fact he rarely uses the word sin, preferring the more ambiguous “evil.” Post after post deals with war, human suffering, and the vulgarity of popular culture—all of which are valid subjects of reflection, but which totally consume the author’s ethical thoughts.

One sees flashes of Lewis in postings like “Spiritual but Not Religious,” when he warns that “Spirituality pursued without the community of faith is easily dealt with and dispersed. Discipline pursued in the community of faith makes them stronger and less susceptible to us.” But the community is not the basic moral unity—that unit is the individual person, and when Pugh says in his preface that “it is difficult sometimes to see evil when one lives in the midst of it; it is usually in retrospect that one sees how evil manifested itself,” it becomes clear that he does not realize where evil—where sin—is first of all to be found. The Screwtape Letters draws the reader to look inward; Devil’s Ink lets him off the hook by directing his meditation at society.

This confused ethics comes from Pugh’s view of history as a narrative of class warfare. As he writes in a post about Utopia (in which he reveals a real misunderstanding of Thomas More’s work), the Devil scores a big victory when man ceases to see revolutions as “the historical eruptions of the masses who want more and desire what the other has.” Pugh is not the writer that Lewis was, and so it is often difficult to find his voice in the Devil’s, but in this case the context makes it clear: the author’s embrace of history-as-class-warfare leads him away from a proper understanding of personal sin.

A recent post on the Devil’s Ink blog illustrates Pugh’s confusion. He is right that attention paid Kim Kardashian, Lindsay Lohan, and Anthony Weiner is attention distracted from worthwhile pursuits, but he cannot resist seating evil in the popular culture that promotes those three. “The ways [humans] construct their society, the type of human beings those environments create, and the material effects of those communities” are the Devil’s prime victories, not the corruption of men’s souls. Such a view is not fundamentally different than those of Marx and Lenin, with Christianity sprinkled over the top.

What is to be recommended in the book? Some of Pugh’s irony is indeed funny, as the blurbs on the back cover note. Jabs at public figures are often landed to humorous effect, although each laugh is a reminder of the author’s search for moral fault anywhere but the self. Stanley Hauerwas is quoted on the back: “Pugh’s devil is indeed deadly serious, but in this hilarious and wise book we learn to laugh at Satan. Pugh teaches us how important it is to defy evil with humor.” One is instantly reminded of Screwtape’s advice on counterinsurgency: “The fact that ‘devils’ are predominantly comic figures in the modern imagination will help you.”