Thursday, June 30, 2011

Can Christians change the world?

People-Holding-HandsA Christian society is not going to arrive until most of us really want it: and we are not going to want it until we become fully Christian. I may repeat ‘Do as you would he done by’ till I am black in the face, but I cannot really carry it out till I love my neighbour as myself: and I cannot learn to love my neighbour as myself till I learn to love God: and I cannot learn to love God except by learning to obey Him. And so, as I warned you, we are driven on to something more inward—driven on from social matters to religious matters. For the longest way round is the shortest way home.

“Social Morality” – part 4
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Harper Collins Edition 2001) 87.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Giving: more than we can spare

donald-trump-thumb-autox379-206308One more point and I am done. In the passage where the New Testament says that every one must work, it gives as a reason ‘in order that he may have something to give to those in need’. Charity—giving to the poor—is an essential part of Christian morality: in the frightening parable of the sheep and the goats it seems to be the point on which everything turns. Some people nowadays say that charity ought to be unnecessary and that instead of giving to the poor we ought to be producing a society in which there were no poor to give to. They may be quite right in saying that we ought to produce this kind of society. But if anyone thinks that, as a consequence, you can stop giving in the meantime, then he has parted company with all Christian morality. I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charities expenditure excludes them. I am speaking now of charities’ in the common way. Particular cases of distress among your own relatives, friends, neighbours or employees, which God, as it were, forces upon your notice, may demand much more: even to the crippling and endangering of your own position. For many of us the great obstacle to charity lies not in our luxurious living or desire for more money, but in our fear—fear of insecurity. This must often be recognised as a temptation. Sometimes our pride also hinders our charity; we are tempted to spend more than we ought on the showy forms of generosity (tipping, hospitality) and less than we ought on those who really need our help.

Social Morality” – part 3
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Harper Collins Edition 2001) 86-87.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

That is not how Christianity works

The second thing to get clear is that Christianity has not, and does not profess to have, a detailed political programme for applying ‘Do as you would be done by’ to a particular society at a particular moment. It could not have, it is meant for all men at all times and the particular programme which suited one place or time would not suit another.bahrain-wtc-wind-turbines And, anyhow, that is not how Christianity works. When it tells you to feed the hungry it does not give you lessons in cookery. When it tells you to read the Scriptures it does not give you lessons in Hebrew and Greek, or even in English grammar. It was never intended to replace or supersede the ordinary human arts and sciences: it is rather a director which will set them all to the right jobs, and a source of energy which will give them all new life, if only they will put themselves at its disposal.

Social Morality” – part 2
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Harper Collins Edition 2001) 82-83.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Christ did not come to preach any brand new morality

The first thing to get clear about Christian morality between man and man is that in this department Christ did not come to preach any brand new morality. The Golden Rule of the New Testament (Do as you would be done by)Zara Phillips riding GlenBuck is a summing up of what every one, at bottom, had always known to be right. Really great moral teachers never do introduce new moralities: it is quacks and cranks who do that. As Dr Johnson said, ‘People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.’ The real job of every moral teacher is to keep on bringing us back, time after time, to the old simple principles which we are all so anxious not to see; like bringing a horse back and back to the fence it has refused to jump or bringing a child back and back to the bit in its lesson that it wants to shirk.

“Social Morality” – part 1
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Harper Collins Edition 2001) 82.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Long distance friends

mailboxI am all in favour of your idea that we should go back to our old plan of having a more or less set subject—an agendum—for our letters. When we were last separated the correspondence languished for lack of it. How much better we did in our undergraduate days with our interminable letters on the Republic, and classical metres, and what was then the “new” psychology! Nothing makes an absent friend so present as a disagreement.

C.S. Lewis, “From Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer,” The Essential C.S. Lewis (Touchstone, 1996) 407.

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Future of Forestry

birch treesHow will the legend of the age of trees
Feel, when the last tree falls in England?
When the concrete spreads and the town conquers
The country’s heart; when contraceptive
Tarmac’s laid where farm has faded,
Tramline flows where slept a hamlet,
And shop-fronts, blazing without a stop from
Dover to Wrath, have glazed us over?
Simplest tales will then bewilder
The questioning children, “What was a chestnut?
Say what it means to climb a Beanstalk,
Tell me, grandfather, what an elm is.
What was Autumn? They never taught us.”
Then, told by teachers how once from mould
Came growing creatures of lower nature
Able to live and die, though neither
Beast nor man, and around them wreathing
Excellent clothing, breathing sunlight –
Half understanding, their ill-acquainted
Fancy will tint their wonder-paintings
Trees as men walking, wood-romances
Of goblins stalking in silky green,
Of milk-sheen froth upon the lace of hawthorn’s
Collar, pallor in the face of birchgirl.
So shall a homeless time, though dimly
Catch from afar (for soul is watchfull)
A sight of tree-delighted Eden.

“The Future of Forestry” was published in 1938 in The Oxford Magazine under the pseudonym Nat Whilk. Today it can be found in Poems and Collected Poems (Harvest Books, 2002) 63. In the poem, Lewis expressed his concern that industrialization was encroaching upon nature to the extent that children will some day not even know what a tree is. Not only trees themselves, but chestnuts and seasons as well.
Clearcutting Nova Scotia billboard

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The efficacy of prayer (part 7, surprising conclusion)

favouritismIt would be even worse to think of those who get what they pray for as a sort of court favourites, people who have influence with the throne. The refused prayer of Christ in Gethsemane is answer enough to that. And I dare not leave out the hard saying which I once heard from an experienced Christian: “I have seen many striking answers to prayer and more than one that I thought miraculous. But they usually come at the beginning: before conversion, or soon after it. As the Christian life proceeds, they tend to be rarer. The refusals, too, are not only more frequent; they become more unmistakable, more emphatic.”
    Does God then forsake just those who serve Him best? Well, He who served Him best of all said, near His tortured death, “Why hast thou forsaken me?”‘When God becomes man, that Man, of all others, is least comforted by God, at His greatest need. There is a mystery here which, even if I had the power, I might not have the courage to explore. Meanwhile, little people like you and me, if our prayers are sometimes granted, beyond all hope and probability, had better not draw hasty conclusions to our own advantage. If we were stronger, we might be less tenderly treated. If we were braver, we might be sent, with far less help, to defend far more desperate posts in the great battle.

C.S. Lewis, “The Efficacy of Prayer,” originally from The World’s Last Night and Other Essays, here from The Essential C.S. Lewis (Touchstone, 1996) 380. 

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The efficacy of prayer (part 6)

woman PrayingPetitionary prayer is, nonetheless, both allowed and commanded to us: “Give us our daily bread.” And no doubt it raises a theoretical problem. Can we believe that God ever really modifies His action in response to the suggestions of men? For infinite wisdom does not need telling what is best, and infinite goodness needs no urging to do it. But neither does God need any of those things that are done by finite agents, whether living or inanimate. He could, if He chose, repair our bodies miraculously without food; or give us food without the aid of farmers, bakers, and butchers; or knowledge without the aid of learned men; or convert the heathen without missionaries. Instead, He allows soils and weather and animals and the muscles, minds, and wills of men to co-operate in the execution of His will. “God,” said Pascal, “instituted prayer in order to lend to His creatures the dignity of causality.” But not only prayer; whenever we act at all He lends us that dignity. It is not really stranger, nor less strange, that my prayers should affect the course of events than that my other actions should do so. They have not advised or changed God’s mind—that is, His over-all purpose. But that purpose will be realized in different ways according to the actions, including the prayers, of His creatures.

C.S. Lewis, “The Efficacy of Prayer,” originally from The World’s Last Night and Other Essays, here from The Essential C.S. Lewis (Touchstone, 1996) 380. 

Monday, June 20, 2011

More on prayer as request (Efficacy of prayer–part 5)

Empirical proof and disproof are, then, unobtainable. But this conclusion will seem less depressing if we remember that prayer is request and compare it with other specimens of the same thing.
Winnipeg firefighter Alex Babinsky sparked cheers in Chicago when during taping of Oprah’s final show on Tuesday, he dropped to his knee on stage and asked his girlfriend, Jenna Steinsvik to marry him.    We make requests of our fellow creatures as well as of God: we ask for the salt, we ask for a raise in pay, we ask a friend to feed the cat while we are on our holidays, we ask a woman to marry us. Sometimes we get what we ask for and sometimes not. But when we do, it is not nearly so easy as one might suppose to prove with scientific certainty a causal connection between the asking and the getting.
    Your neighbour may be a humane person who would not have let your cat starve even if you had forgotten to make any arrangement. Your employer is never so likely to grant your request for a raise as when he is aware that you could get better money from a rival firm and is quite possibly intending to secure you by a raise in any case. As for the lady who consents to marry you—are you sure she had not decided to do so already? Your proposal, you know, might have been the result, not the cause, of her decision. A certain important conversation might never have taken place unless she had intended that it should.
    Thus in some measure the same doubt that hangs about the causal efficacy of our prayers to God hangs also about our prayers to man. Whatever we get we might have been going to get anyway. But only, as I say, in some measure. Our friend, boss, and wife may tell us that they acted because we asked; and we may know them so well as to feel sure, first that they are saying what they believe to be true, and secondly that they understand their own motives well enough to be right. But notice that when this happens our assurance has not been gained by the methods of science. We do not try the control experiment of refusing the raise or breaking off the engagement and then making our request again under fresh conditions. Our assurance is quite different in kind from scientific knowledge. It is born out of our personal relation to the other parties; not from knowing things about them but from knowing them.
Our assurance—if we reach an assurance—that God always hears and sometimes grants our prayers, and that apparent grantings are not merely fortuitous, can only come in the same sort of way. There can be no question of tabulating successes and failures and trying to decide whether the successes are too numerous to be accounted for by chance. Those who best know a man best know whether, when he did what they asked, he did it because they asked. I think those who best know God will best know whether He sent me to the barber’s shop because the barber prayed.

C.S. Lewis, “The Efficacy of Prayer,” originally from The World’s Last Night and Other Essays, here from The Essential C.S. Lewis (Touchstone, 1996) 380. 

Friday, June 17, 2011

The efficacy of prayer (part 4)

Other things are proved not simply by experience but by those artificially contrived experiences which we call experiments. Could this be done about prayer? I will pass over the objection that no Christian could take part in such a project, because he has been forbidden it: “You must not try experiments on God, your Master.” Forbidden or not, is the thing even possible?
    I have seen it suggested that a team of people—the more the better—should agree to pray as hard as they knew how, over a period of six weeks, for all the patients in Hospital A and none of those in Hospital B. Then you would tot up the results and see if A had more cures and fewer deaths. And I suppose you would repeat the experiment at various times and places so as to eliminate the influence of irrelevant factors.
jewel-&-blu-in-rio    The trouble is that I do not see how any real prayer could go on under such conditions. “Words without thoughts never to heaven go,” says the King in Hamlet. Simply to say prayers is not to pray; otherwise a team of properly trained parrots would serve as well as men for our experiment. You cannot pray for the recovery of the sick unless the end you have in view is their recovery. But you can have no motive for desiring the recovery of all the patients in one hospital and none of those in another. You are not doing it in order that suffering should be relieved, you are doing it to find out what happens. The real purpose and the nominal purpose of your prayers are at variance. In other words, whatever your tongue and teeth and knees may do, you are not praying. The experiment demands an impossibility.

C.S. Lewis, “The Efficacy of Prayer,” originally from The World’s Last Night and Other Essays, here from The Essential C.S. Lewis (Touchstone, 1996) 379-380.

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

The efficacy of prayer (part 3)

moving-mountainsThere are, no doubt, passages in the New Testament which may seem at first sight to promise an invariable granting of our prayers. But that cannot be what they really mean. For in the very heart of the story we meet a glaring instance to the contrary. In Gethsemane the holiest of all petitioners prayed three times that a certain cup might pass from Him. It did not. After that the idea that prayer is recommended to us as a sort of infallible gimmick may be dismissed.

Mark 11:22-24
“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

C.S. Lewis, “The Efficacy of Prayer,” originally from The World’s Last Night and Other Essays, here from The Essential C.S. Lewis (Touchstone, 1996) 379.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Prayer is request (The efficacy of prayer–part 2)

The question then arises, “What sort of evidence would prove the efficacy of prayer?” The thing we pray for may happen, but how can you ever know it was not going to happen anyway? Even if the thing were indisputably miraculous it would not follow that the miracle had occurred because of your prayers. The answer surely is that a compulsive empirical proof such as we have in the sciences can never be attained.
    Some things are proved by the unbroken uniformity of our experiences. The law of gravitation is established by the fact that, in our experience, all bodies without exception obey it. Now even if all the things that people prayed for happened, which they do not, this would not prove what Christians mean by the efficacy of prayer. For prayer is request. The essence of request, as distinct from compulsion, is that it may or may not be granted. And if an infinitely wise Being listens to the requests of finite and foolish creatures, of course He will sometimes grant and sometimes refuse them. Invariable “success” in prayer would not prove the Christian doctrine at all. It would prove something much more like magic—a power in certain human beings to control, or compel, the course of nature.

Here’s an interesting response to this reading from Lewis. It’s a song called “Unanswered Prayers” by Garth Brooks – so popular that his fans in Ireland were able to sing it with him.

C.S. Lewis, “The Efficacy of Prayer,” originally from The World’s Last Night and Other Essays, here from The Essential C.S. Lewis (Touchstone, 1996) 379.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Efficacy of Prayer (part 1)

barber-poleSome years ago I got up one morning intending to have my hair cut in preparation for a visit to London, and the first letter I opened made it opened  made it clear I need not go to London. So I decided to put the haircut off too. But then there began the most unaccountable little nagging in my mind, almost like a voice saying, “Get it cut all the same. Go and get it cut.” In the end I could stand it no longer. I went. Now my barber at that time was a fellow Christian and a man of many troubles whom my brother and I had sometimes been able to help. The moment I opened his shop door he said, “Oh, I was praying you might come today.” And in fact if I had come a day or so later I should have been of no use to him.
    It awed me; it awes me still. But of course one cannot rigorously prove a causal connection between the barber’s prayers and my visit. It might be telepathy. It might be accident… I think those who bet know God will best know whether He sent me to the barber’s shop because the barber prayed.

C.S. Lewis, “The Efficacy of Prayer,” originally from The World’s Last Night and Other Essays, here from The Essential C.S. Lewis (Touchstone, 1996) 378, 380.

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Monday, June 13, 2011

Stephen to Lazarus

Sailing in the Bay of Fundy, sighting a whaleBut was I the first martyr, who
Gave up no more than life, while you,
Already free among the dead,
Your rags stripped off, your fetters shed,
Surrendered what all other men
Irrevocably keep, and when
Your battered ship at anchor lay
Seemingly safe in the dark bay
No ripple stirs, obediently
Put out a second time to sea
Well knowing that your death (in vain
Died once) must all be died again?

C.S. Lewis, “From Poems,The Essential C.S. Lewis (Touchstone, 1996) 422.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Thinking about one’s job (part 2)

stars06[Ransom answered,] “Yes. I shall arrive knowing the language. It saves a lot of trouble—though, as a philologist I find it rather disappointing.”
    “But you’ve no idea what you are to do, or what conditions you will find?” [asked Lewis.]
    “No idea at all what I’m to do. There are jobs, you know, where it is essential that one should not know too much beforehand ... things one might have to say which one couldn't say effectively if one had prepared them. As to conditions, well, I don’t know much. It will be warm… Our astronomers don’t know anything about the surface of Perelandra at all. The outer layer of her atmosphere is too thick" [answered Ransom].

C.S. Lewis, Perelandra (1943) Chapter 2.

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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Thinking about one’s job (part 1)

night-moon“Don’t imagine I’ve been selected to go to Perelandra because I’m anyone particular. One never can see, or not till long afterwards, why any one was selected for any job. And when one does, it is usually some reason that leaves no room for vanity. Certainly, it is never for what the man himself would have regarded as his chief qualifications. I rather fancy I am being sent [to Perelandra] because those two blackguards who kidnapped me and took me to Malacandra, did something which they never intended: namely, gave a human being a chance to learn that language” [said Ransom].

C.S. Lewis, Perelandra (1943) Chapter 2.

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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The last interview (Part 11)

Because Professor Lewis has written so extensively, both in fiction and nonfiction, about space travel (see his trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength), I was particularly interested in what he would have to say about the prospects for man’s future.
Sherwood Wirt: What do you think is going to happen in the next few years of history, Mr. Lewis?

Apollo 13 liftoffC.S. Lewis: I have no way of knowing. My primary field is the past. I travel with my back to the engine, and that makes it difficult when you try to steer. The world might stop in ten minutes; meanwhile, we are to go on doing our duty. The great thing is to be found at one’s post as a child of God, living each day a though it were our last, but planning as though our world might last a hundred years.
    We have, of course, the assurance of the New Testament regarding events to come (Matthew 24:4-44; Mark 13:5-27; Luke 21:8-33). I find it difficult to keep from laughing when I find people worrying about future destruction of some kind or other. Didn’t they know they were going to die anyway? Apparently not. My wife once asked a young woman friend whether she had ever thought of death, and she replied, ‘By the time I reach that age science will have done something about it!’

Wirt: Do you think there will be wide-spread travel in space?

Lewis: I look forward with horror to contact with the other inhabited planets, if there are such. We would only transport to them all of our sin and our acquisitiveness, and establish a new colonialism. I can’t hear to think of it. But if we on earth were to get right with God, of course, all would be changed. Once we find ourselves spiritually awakened, we can go to outer space and take the good things with us. That is quite a different matter.

Sherwood Wirt interviewing C.S. Lewis, “Cross-Examination,” God in the Dock (Eerdmans: 1970) 266-267 with appropriate additions from the originally published interview in Decision magazine, September 1963, ©1963 Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The last interview (Part 10)

Sherwood Wirt: What is your view of the daily discipline of the Christian life — the need for taking time to be alone with God?

C.S. Lewis: We have our New Testament regimental orders upon the subject. I would take it for granted that everyone who becomes a Christian would undertake this practice. It is enjoined upon us by Our Lord; and since they are His commands, I believe in following them. It is always just possible that Jesus Christ meant what He said when He told us to seek the secret place and to close the door’ (Matthew 6:5-6).


Matthew 6:5-6
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Sherwood Wirt interviewing C.S. Lewis, “Cross-Examination,” God in the Dock (Eerdmans: 1970) 265-266 with appropriate additions from the originally published interview in Decision magazine, September 1963, ©1963 Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The last interview (Part 9)

Billy and Ruth Graham 1955 UK tourSherwood Wirt: Do you approve of men such as Bryan Green and Billy Graham asking people to Come to a point of decision regarding the Christian life?

C.S. Lewis: I had the pleasure of meeting Billy Graham once. We had dinner together during his visit to Cambridge University in 1955, while he was conducting a mission to students. I thought he was a very modest and a very sensible man, and I liked him very much indeed.
In a civilization like ours, I feel that everyone has to come to terms with the claims of Jesus Christ upon his life, or else be guilty of inattention or of evading the question. In the Soviet Union it is different. Many people living in Russia today have never had to consider the claims of Christ because they have never heard of those claims.
    In the same way, we who live in English-speaking countries have never really been forced to consider the claims, let us say, of Hinduism. But in our Western civilization we are obligated both morally and intellectually to come to grips with Jesus Christ; if we refuse to do so we are guilty of being bad philosophers and bad thinkers.

Sherwood Wirt interviewing C.S. Lewis, “Cross-Examination,” God in the Dock (Eerdmans: 1970) 265-266 with appropriate additions from the originally published interview in Decision magazine, September 1963, ©1963 Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The last interview (Part 8)

The Edmund Fitzgerald by dureallSherwood Wirt: Do you feel, then, that modern culture is being de-Christianized?

C.S. Lewis: I cannot speak to the political aspects of the question, but I have some definite views about the dc-Christianizing of the church. I believe that there are many accommodating
preachers, and too many practitioners in the church who are not believers. Jesus Christ did not say ‘Go into all the world and tell the world that it is quite right.’ The Gospel is something completely different. In fact, it is directly opposed to the World.
    The case against Christianity that is made out in the world is quite strong. Every war, every shipwreck, every cancer case, every calamity, contributes to making a prima facie case against Christianity. It is not easy to be a believer in the face of this surface evidence. It calls for a strong faith in Jesus Christ.

Sherwood Wirt interviewing C.S. Lewis, “Cross-Examination,” God in the Dock (Eerdmans: 1970) 265 with appropriate additions from the originally published interview in Decision magazine, September 1963, ©1963 Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The last interview (Part 7)

Sherwood Wirt: Do you believe that the Holy Spirit can speak to the world through Christian writers today?

cslewisC.S. Lewis: I prefer to make no judgment concerning a writer’s direct ‘illumination’ by the Holy Spirit. I have no way of knowing whether what is written is from heaven or not. I do believe that God is the Father of lights — natural lights as well as spiritual lights (James 1:17). That is, God is not interested only in Christian writers as such. He is concerned with all kinds of writing. In the same way a sacred calling is not limited to ecclesiastical functions. The man who is weeding a field of turnips is also serving God.

Wirt: An American writer, Mr Dewey Beegle, has stated that in his opinion the Isaac Watts hymn, ‘When I Survey the Wondrous Cross’, is more inspired by God than is the ‘Song of Solomon’ in the Old Testament. What would be your view?

Lewis: The great saints and mystics of the church have felt just the opposite about it. They have found tremendous spiritual truth in the ‘Song of Solomon’. There is a difference of levels here. The question of the canon is involved. Also we must remember that what is meat for a grown person might be unsuited to the palate of a child.

Sherwood Wirt interviewing C.S. Lewis, “Cross-Examination,” God in the Dock (Eerdmans: 1970) 264 with appropriate additions from the originally published interview in Decision magazine, September 1963, ©1963 Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The last interview (Part 6)

Sheep on the RoadSherwood Wirt: How would you suggest a young Christian writer go about developing a style?

C.S. Lewis: The way for a person to develop a style is (a) to know exactly what he wants to say, and (b) to be sure he is saying exactly that. The reader, we must remember, does not start by knowing what we mean, If our words are ambiguous, our meaning will escape him. I sometimes think that writing is like driving sheep down a road. If there is any gate open to the left or the right the readers will most certainly go into it.

Sherwood Wirt interviewing C.S. Lewis, “Cross-Examination,” God in the Dock (Eerdmans: 1970) 263 with appropriate additions from the originally published interview in Decision magazine, September 1963, ©1963 Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.