Monday, July 5, 2010

C.S. Lewis, Apostle to the Skeptics

"By the very act of arguing, you awake the patient's reason; once awake, who can foresee the result?" C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

Chad Walsh writing in his delightful 1949 apology, first serialized in the Atlantic Monthly magazine, later published in book form has much to say about the genius of the Irish author, Lewis whom he likens to Saint Paul. No "Christian apologist in the English speaking world today is as much talked about and argued about as C.S. Lewis." So it remains today, 50 years later.
At Oxford university, England the young Lewis studied the Classics. While there he seemed "a gifted student with a bit more imagination than average," writes Walsh. A favorite author of the young Lewis was G. K. Chesterton. At age 30 he joined the Anglican Church of England. In 1933 Lewis published Regress, a volume which brought him notice.

And now we rejoin him at the Screwtape Letters' apology by Chad Walsh. With the publication of the "Screwtape Letters starting in 1941, Lewis was a surprise to everyone." Walsh describes the book as a "neat turning the tables on everyone... the writing from the viewpoint of Hell--put the shoe on the other foot; he [Lewis] charged the secularists with intellectual fuzziness. And the secularists-- those who had a sense of humor--read the book for a good natured laugh."

In the course of 31 letters, His Infernal Excellency finds "numerous occasions to warn Wormwood that Reason and Thought are menaces to the purposes of Hell. 'The trouble about argument is that it moves the whole struggle onto the Enemy's ground." Wormwood as Lewis conceives, is not to clarify or reason with one, but to confuse, to befuddle. Some have called this the 'divine lie.' In another passage in the book, Hell is mentioned as having made Wormwood's job all the easier by encouraging 'evolutionary' European thought . This, says Screwtape gives the 'invisible agents' of Hell an excellent opportunity to whisper suggestions to them "while their minds rattle around an intellectual vacuum."

Later he writes that "no one except specialists read old books... In this way, the present period of history is cut off from other periods, and there is little danger that the characteristic truths of the past will correct the typical errors of the present." Ultimately, Lewis, in the voice of Screwtape, has much to say about Faith. Despite his view of Faith, Lewis does not see that, for the most part, Faith is set apart from Reason, unlike most scholars of his time. Lewis insists that Reason is the key to every enduring Faith.

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