David J. Theroux, founder and president of The Independent Institute and the C.S. Lewis Society of California, discusses the writings of C.S. Lewis and Lewis’s views on liberty, natural law and statism.
Sixpence economics, like the economic teachings of Jesus’ parables, shows us the stewardship responsibility that God has given to human beings, says Jordan Ballor in this week’s Acton Commentary.
At the conclusion of the first of his two chapters exploring the theological virtue of faith in Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis provides a brief illustration that helps set the stage quite well for a discussion of the relationship between theology and economics, a relationship that currently stands in need of serious repair. Lewis wants to show that a key element of faith is the understanding of the divine origins of all things. “Every faculty you have, your power of thinking or of moving your limbs from moment to moment, is given you by God,” he writes. A consequence of this reality is that, as Lewis puts it, “If you devoted every moment of your whole life exclusively to His service you could not give Him anything that was not in a sense His own already.”
Richard Baxter, profiled in the latest issue of Religion & Liberty, penned The Saints Everlasting Rest in 1647. In the book’s dedication, Baxter wrote that he had no intention of serving God other than preaching. But he recalled, “sentenced to death by the physicians, I began to contemplate more seriously on the everlasting rest which I apprehended myself to be just on the border of.”
Baxter noted that because he was so near death that it quickened his “sluggish heart to speak to sinners with some compassion, as a dying man to dying men.” Baxter survived the ordeal, not dying until 1691, but he continually faced debilitating sickness and suffering. He was even imprisoned for refusing to cease preaching. Baxter is perhaps the most prolific author of theology in English history. He wrote 140 books, many of them while serving as a pastor. Baxter was a monumental influence on C.S. Lewis, who borrowed the title ‘Mere Christianity’ directly from his work.
The Saints Everlasting Rest focuses on heavenly and holy pursuits, pushing us away from the fleeting priorities and agendas of our lives on earth. In an age of entertainment, with gadgets like smart phones, while great technology, cause many people to focus their gaze downward and not upward. With the myriad of distractions and moral chaos we face, Baxter’s writings easily retain their relevance. Below is an excerpt from The Saints Everlasting Rest on private meditation that is included in the book, From the Library of C.S. Lewis: Selections from Writers Who Influenced His Spiritual Journey: (more…)
Over at Christianity Today Art Lindsley has a good piece on how C.S. Lewis’s support for true progress led him to oppose Progressivism:
Some of Lewis’s most pointed criticisms of “progress” came when he wrote on economics and politics, even though he did not often comment on these topics. When he was invited by the Observer in the late 1950’s to write an article on whether progress was even possible, he titled his contribution “Willing Slaves of the Welfare State.”
In this essay Lewis makes it clear he is for progress, in the sense of “increasing the goodness and happiness of individual lives.” But he expresses deep concern about the tendencies in the United Kingdom during World Wars I and II to give up liberty for security. He says Britons had grown, “though apparently grudgingly, accustomed to our chains.” He warns that once government encroaches on our freedom, every concession makes it more difficult for us to “retrace our steps.” Perhaps the most striking moment in this essay is the one on the nature of the happiness that he would like to see. Lewis says: “I believe a man is happier, and happy in a richer way, if he has ‘the freeborn mind.’ But I doubt whether he can have this without economic independence, which the new society is abolishing. For independence allows an education not controlled by Government; and in adult life it is the man who needs and asks nothing of Government who can criticize its acts and snap his fingers at its ideology. Read Montaigne; that’s the voice of a man with his legs under his own table, eating the mutton and turnips raised on his own land. Who will talk like that when the State is everyone’s schoolmaster and employer?”
The full article is here.
Augustine 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.
I 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…)
We 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…)
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.
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:
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…)