Green Room

Today’s other 50th anniversary: the passing of C. S. Lewis

posted at 2:31 pm on November 22, 2013 by

Actually, this is not the only literary connection to this particular date.  Both C. S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley died on November 22nd, 1963, and both deaths were understandably overshadowed by the assassination of John F. Kennedy.  Huxley is most remembered for Brave New World, arguably the best of the dystopian novels expressing the dangers of science combined with totalitarianism in the vain pursuit of human/social perfection.

C. S. Lewis is of another literary class, however, and a more recent personal favorite.  He authored the fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia, some volumes of which have recently been rendered in cinematic form, which remains his most popular work.  Unlike J.R.R. Tolkien with Lord of the Rings, Lewis apparently intended Narnia to express Christian philosophy and doctrine in literature form to younger readers. Lewis tackled the subject more directly in his famous work Mere Christianity, but the work that resonates most with me is The Screwtape Letters, which I only read for the first time last year.  It’s witty, charming, utterly accessible, and delivers one of the best and most efficient treatises on spiritual warfare imaginable.  The Screwtape Letters is a surprisingly quick read, but the prose stayed with me ever since my first reading of it.

The best way to experience The Screwtape Letters, though, is to find the John Cleese audio version of the book. Nominated for a Grammy in the spoken-word category, it brings the text alive in a way that colors even the traditional reading of the book afterward.  Once one hears Cleese voicing the demon Screwtape, a mid-level functionary in the “Lowerarchy” advising/warning his nephew Wormwood, it’s impossible to imagine any other voice at all for the role. Unfortunately, the John Cleese version has long since been out of print, and is almost impossible to find on the used market.  YouTube has most of the Cleese recording available by chapters, with a few gaps.

Letter 22 is nearly the pinnacle of Cleese’s excellence; the final Letter 31 is best, but that gives the game away:

I have these playing in my car nearly non-stop these days.  I never fail to find something meaningful for my faith and life in the recording, and find it a good way to remain vigilant in my daily life as a Christian.

Recently in the Green Room:



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“If you examined a hundred people who had lost their faith in Christianity, I wonder how many of them would turn out to have reasoned out of it by honest argument? Do not most people simply drift away?” C.S. Lewis

davidk on November 23, 2013 at 4:18 PM

No, I’m getting further and further away from that guy. Not because he’s despicable or whatever, simply because there is no evidence to suggest that we even NEED a “savior” in the first place, and secondly because even IF a “savior” was required to “save” us I would consider it my duty to try and stop his “sacrifice”.

You’ve made several statements similar to the above in this thread. First of all, I’m not sure how anybody, particularly a conservative, could look around at the perpetual state of people in this world and conclude that we are not in need of a savior. Even the best men are depraved when compared to the Holiness and perfection of God. God gave us free will and we have chosen to use it to smear the world with a litany of evils, big and small. And just as if a muddy man can’t sit upon a perfectly immaculate, clean white couch without making it no longer perfectly white and clean, a perfectly Holy God simply cannot have fellowship with creatures such as ourselves without first “cleaning us” of our imperfection and sin – or He would no longer be Holy! So yes, we cannot have everlasting fellowship with God without first becoming clean. We need a savior, as none of us are clean or can ever be so ourselves.

So God has a tremendous problem on His hands… One the one hand, he is perfectly Just, and on the other, he is perfectly Loving and Merciful. How to reconcile the two? It’s a nearly impossible problem. Imagine being at a mall in Saudi Arabia, and all of a sudden you hear shouts of “Thief! Thief!” and turn to see a man carrying a bundle of bread running out of the door, with police a hundred yards or so behind. You impulsively grab the man and wrestle him to the ground, ready to hand him over to the law. But then, he looks up at you, and you see a scared human being, probably just out to feed his kids. He seems like a good, sincere man who is just in over his head. He looks in your eyes and says “please let me go, sir, you don’t understand…” And you realize he is right. You see your own self in him. Now, in the next few seconds, you have a choice – if you continue to restrain this man and he is taken by the police, they will likely torture him and cut his hand off or worse, as punishment for stealing the bag of bread. What do you do? If you let him go, you satisfy the virtue of mercy, but you have not been perfectly just. This guy DID steal something, after all. If you continue to restrain him you have satisfied justice, but have not been perfectly merciful to someone who has asked for your help, either.

This is the predicament of a perfectly Just and perfectly Merciful God, and it is one reason why a non-Trinitarian God is totally inadequate. So how does God solve this problem? He does so in a way that was set up before the creation of the universe itself, built into its very fabric. He shows us mercy if we ask for it, but he also satisfies justice because the cost of the violation does not go unpaid. But HE is the one who pays for it on our behalf. It is just like a soldier who gives up his life for his friends so they may live. And you say this is no cost to God, but it was a terrible cost. He became man, lived a perfect life, and in enduring the curse of crucifixion and taking on the sins of the world, he not only had to take on all the evil and sin of the entire world upon his own perfect, sinless nature, but he had to endure separation from The Father on that cross as he took that sin (as the Father cannot be in fellowship with non-perfection). This is where Jesus’ cry “Father, why hast thou forsaken me?” comes from (it is quoted from the Psalms). The sacrifice of Christ goes well beyond the excruciating physical torment of crucifixion itself. By far the worst of it was literally enduring separation from God – what we call Hell. After an eternity of unbroken, loving fellowship with the rest of the Godhead he took sin upon himself and was separated from that infinite Love. The eternal fellowship was broken, and had to be endured in an infinite way. The price paid was beyond our understanding. But our debt is now paid. All we have to do is accept it and follow Christ.

daviddunn on November 23, 2013 at 4:21 PM

“It is only our bad temper that we put down to being tired or worried or hungry; we put our good temper down to ourselves” C.S. Lewis

davidk on November 23, 2013 at 4:23 PM

“There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “All right, then, have it your way” C.S. Lewis

davidk on November 23, 2013 at 4:26 PM

Can a god really “sacrifice” himself? He didn’t “suffer” anything, and his “sacrifice” was to protect us from HIM and his “judgement”.

Why even go through the whole charade? He could just do as he admonishes us to do and forgive us without having to sacrifice himself to himself to appease himself. It’s just inane.

SauerKraut537 on November 23, 2013 at 12:03 PM

Please see my previous comment to you – Christ suffered beyond description, not just physical crucifixion but also having to take on his own sinless, perfect nature all the past, present and future evil and sin of the entire world, then, for the first time in eternity, endure separation from the perfect infinite Love of the Godhead – or what is known as Hell.

But your second point here is mistaken, too, and it is actually a point Muslims like to make to Christians when arguing against the Atonement. “Why does God need to sacrifice his own son? Why can’t he just forgive and be done with it?” The answer is another reason that a non-Trinitarian God is wholly inadequate. As a perfect moral being, God MUST satisfy both perfect Love and Mercy and perfect Justice at the same time. A violation of God’s nature, sin, COSTS SOMETHING, and that cost MUST be paid… somehow… to satisfy perfect justice. Imagine a group of kids break a lamp with a baseball. Something has been broken, and on way or another there WILL be a cost to pay by somebody, no matter what. What are the options? If the master of the house makes the kids pay themselves, then they have paid the cost to repair the lamp. Or the master of the house can simply not make them pay, forgive them and send them on their way – but the lamp is STILL BROKEN. The cost in this case is in the form of the house going without light. The third option is what God has done… HE paid the cost himself for our sin.

He can forgive, yes, but to satisfy perfect Justice the cost of the transgression must be paid. Only the Trinitarian Christian God of the Bible can find a way, through the heartbreakingly beautiful Atonement, to satisfy both perfect Mercy and perfect Justice at the same time.

daviddunn on November 23, 2013 at 4:33 PM

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:

I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;

the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.

Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

I Corinthians 1:18-25

davidk on November 23, 2013 at 4:33 PM

“If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desire not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, we are like ignorant children who want to continue making mud pies in a slum because we cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a vacation at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” — C.S. Lewis

davidk on November 23, 2013 at 4:38 PM

“Can a mortal ask questions which God finds unanswerable? Quite easily, I should think. All nonsense questions are unanswerable.” C.S. Lewis

davidk on November 23, 2013 at 4:40 PM

I will also agree with the recommendation for Till We Have Faces…

That book, which is a retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche with Christ standing in for the God, is an absolute masterpiece of English literature. Rich beyond words, and truly unforgettable. “Why do Holy Places have to be dark places?”

Also, the Great Divorce is a wonderful companion piece to The Screwtape Letters, being that same kind of quasi-fiction take on important theological topics. In this case, how the gates of Hell are locked on the INSIDE, not the outside.

The Space trilogy has very much to recommend it, too. Look at how eerily prescient his description of modern institutional liberalism was in That Hideous Strength?

And of course, his many non-fiction works are tremendous as well. Essay books like God in the Dock and the Weight of Glory continually blew my mind. Just incredible insight combined with an ability to put things in a way that seem to turn lights on in new places that you can’t believe you didn’t see were there before. He was able to make you see things that seem at once obvious, but that which you were not really aware of until he flipped that switch.

daviddunn on November 23, 2013 at 4:44 PM

One reason I visit Hot Air:

“The next best thing to being wise oneself is to live in a circle of those who are” C.S. Lewis

davidk on November 23, 2013 at 4:48 PM

“When you argue against Him you are arguing against the very power that makes you able to argue at all: it is like cutting off the branch you are sitting on.” C.S. Lewis

davidk on November 23, 2013 at 4:56 PM

“He that but looketh on a plate of ham and eggs to lust after it hath already committed breakfast with it in his heart”

C.S. Lewis

davidk on November 23, 2013 at 4:03 PM

I don’t care who you are, that’s funny. : )

… also an excellent analogy.

listens2glenn on November 23, 2013 at 5:08 PM

“When we want to be something other than the thing God wants us to be, we must be wanting what, in fact, will not make us happy” CS Lewis

I love CS Lewis and what he did to help people like me understand the healing uplifting love that God gives to us. Free. Golden ticket. I did not know about this date. If ever there was a man who deserves rememberance, it is CS Lewis. Amen.

Wileygrl3 on November 23, 2013 at 11:25 PM

NRO has some good articles on Lewis:

Joe Rigney:
That Hideous State
C. S. Lewis’s social critiques are more relevant than ever in the Age of Obama.

…The humanitarian theory of punishment does away with traditional notions of “desert” and “retributive justice” in favor of punishment as deterrent and cure. Crime is viewed in pathological terms, as a disease in need of treatment rather than as an evil act in need of just punishment. This view of punishment has the appearance of mercy, but it can’t be truly merciful because it is wholly false. As Lewis wrote in 1953, in the essay “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment” (included in the collection God in the Dock),

The Humanitarian theory wants simply to abolish Justice and substitute Mercy for it. This means that you start being “kind” to people before you have considered their rights, and then force upon them supposed kindnesses which no one but you will recognize as kindnesses and which the recipient will feel as abominable cruelties. You have overshot the mark. Mercy, detached from Justice, grows unmerciful.

Further down:

It is these progressive, humanitarian, and statist notions that lie beneath the surface of some of Lewis’s descriptions and characterizations in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Silver Chair (two of the seven Chronicles of Narnia, published in the early Fifties). Lewis did not expect children to be able to understand the dangers of progressivism, humanitarianism, or statism, or even to understand what these various modern idolatries were. But he did hope to inculcate in them a healthy suspicion of their proponents by including snapshots of them in his books.

The first two snapshots Rigney includes are quotes on Eustace Scrubb’s parents and his school and Lewis’ pointed and humorous takedowns of progressive philosophy.

The move from school to government yields Lewis’s third snapshot of progressivism. Governor Gumpas of the Lone Islands is a “chickenhearted man” who is always “muddling and messing about with accounts and forms and rules and regulations.” He is the consummate bureaucrat, objecting to King Caspian’s arrival with talk of appointments, applications, and commissions of inquiry. He justifies the thriving slave trade in his territory as an unavoidable necessity, “essential to the economic development of the islands,” his position duly supported by graphs and statistics. When Caspian unilaterally ends the trade and frees the slaves, Gumpas objects in the name of “progress” and “development” (Dawn Treader, ch. 4)….

Lewis greatly feared that the danger of hunger, the dread of war, and the increasing complexity of the global economy would lead citizens to make a “terrible bargain,” to trade liberty for the promise of security and stability. Ancient man sold himself as a slave in order to eat, embraced the witch-doctor in order to save himself from the sorcerer, and relied on the warlord to stave off the barbarians. Now the modern technocrats offer us the hope of economic stability and permanent employment, if only we will become “willing slaves of the welfare state” (the subtitle of “Is Progress Possible?”).

INC on November 24, 2013 at 12:00 AM

M. D. Aeschliman:

C. S. Lewis: Jack the Giant-Killer
He took on many modern shibboleths, but above all philosophical subjectivism.

…Lewis was unafraid of the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the age, believing, with his older contemporary Dean W. R. Inge, that “he who marries the spirit of the age will soon be a widower.”

…The great sociologist Peter L. Berger tells us that “relativism has massively invaded daily life in the West,” partly because students are educated by teachers who promote, wittingly or unwittingly, relativistic ideas. Lewis’s Abolition of Man is precisely a book for teachers (and parents and citizens) because it reiterates in a fresh, lucid, modern idiom the central arguments against relativism and subjectivism that have always formed the spine of Western civilization inasmuch as it has been a civilization and not merely an aggregation of competitive selves, countries, classes, coteries, or companies. His own writing — in scholarly, apologetic, and fictional modes — is a standing reproach to an academy of nominalism and neophilia and a literary culture of histrionic, incessantly autobiographical posturing, from Walt Whitman to Allen Ginsberg and Norman Mailer.

INC on November 24, 2013 at 12:05 AM

Mark Steyn:

Knockouts High and Low
Without self-restraint, we slip toward barbarism.

…Lewis endures because of the Narnia books (and films), but there’s a lot more in the back of his wardrobe. In his book The Abolition of Man, he writes of “men without chests” — the chest being “the indispensable liaison” between the head and the gut, between “cerebral man” and “visceral man.” In the chest beat what Lewis calls “the trained emotions.” Without them there is no honor or virtue, but only “intellect” and/or “appetite.”

Speaking of appetite, have you played the “Knockout” game yet? Groups of black youths roam the streets looking for a solitary pedestrian, preferably white (hence the alternate name “polar-bearing”) but Asian or Hispanic will do….

… “No justification of virtue will enable a man to be virtuous,” wrote Lewis — and, likewise, no law can prevent a thug punching an old lady to the ground if the thug is minded to….

Restraint is an unfashionable concept these day, but it is the indispensable feature of civilized society. To paraphrase my compatriot George Jonas, punching a spinster’s lights out isn’t wrong because it’s illegal, it’s illegal because it’s wrong. But, in a world without restraints, what’s to stop you? If a certain percentage of your population feels no moral revulsion at randomly pulverizing fellow citizens for sport, a million laws will avail you naught: The societal safety lock is off.

That’s “visceral man.” What about Lewis’s “cerebral man”? In free nations, self-restraint is required not only of the underclass but of the rulers, too. Harry Reid is an unlikely gang leader, but, for a furtive little rodent, he landed a knockout punch on America’s governing norms….

As noted last week, the president knows no restraints either. He has always indicated a certain impatience with the “checks and balances” — “I’m not going to wait for Congress” has long been a routine applause line on the Obama ’prompter….Brazen and unrestrained, Obama and Reid are also, in Lewis’s phrase, “men without chests.” Cleverness, unmoored from Lewis’s chestly virtue of honor, has reduced them to mere tricksters and deceivers. So the president lied about his law for four years, and now lies about his lies….

One final anniversary thought: In his novel That Hideous Strength, C. S. Lewis gives his fictional bureaucracy the acronym NICE — the National Institute for Coordinated Experiments. A few years ago, the British government dusted it off for real — the National Institute for Clinical Excellence. It performs cost-benefit analyses of medical treatment and patient care — i.e., NICE is a euphemism for “death panel.” After January 1, when his victims start getting turned away from pharmacies and doctors, maybe Obama could relaunch the website as

INC on November 24, 2013 at 12:16 AM

The last paragraph of “Men Without Chests,” from The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis:

And all the time — such is the tragi-comedy of our situation — we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more ‘drive’, or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or ‘creativity’. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.

INC on November 24, 2013 at 12:21 AM

For an interesting look at the three men and their religious views, check out Prof. Peter Kreeft’s book Between Heaven and Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C. S. Lewis & Aldous Huxley:

ebrown2 on November 22, 2013 at 4:35 PM

I purchased that while in college, and still have it. By its placement in my home, I see it nearly every day! 🙂

My introduction to Peter Kreeft came via “The Best Things in Life,” which I stumbled upon in my college’s library. Outside of the Bible, it has influenced my life more than any other book (I really like Kreeft’s “Socrates” character.)

Anti-Control on November 24, 2013 at 5:57 AM

My introduction to Peter Kreeft came via “The Best Things in Life,” which I stumbled upon in my college’s library. Outside of the Bible, it has influenced my life more than any other book (I really like Kreeft’s “Socrates” character.)

Anti-Control on November 24, 2013 at 5:57 AM

For me I would have to put Herbert Scholossberg’s Idol’s for Destruction as the book which profoundly affected me above all other books. I recommend it to all thinking people.

davidk on November 24, 2013 at 10:31 AM

I love how Lewis used fiction as socratic method to teach the truths he expounded in other writings:

Till We Have Faces, lessons from The Four Loves (especially the gaping maw of selfishness that is, “after all I’ve done for you!!!”)


That Hideous Strength, The Pilgrim’s Regress, and the Narnia books, on the dangers of so-called Progressivism that he taught in The Abolition of Man.

Of all the fiction books by Lewis that I have read, I count these three scenes the best:

1. Lucy’s read of the “wonderful story” in the Magician’s book, where the story went by so quickly that all she could remember was a few things, including a tree and a hill (which of course the movie version ruined…GRRR);

2. Orual’s realisation that her lifelong “accusation” against the gods was really nothing more than a few screeching lines of selfishness borne out of jealousy (and God’s lenience with her despite her motives); and

3. The moment in That Hideous Strength where Jane Studdock realises that her fight to be “equal” with her husband was a significant contributor to the unhappiness in their recent marriage (the other, of course, being that Mark Studdock was a shameless panderer to college politics rather than to serious subject matter).

And of course there are numerous others. For example, the scene where Caspian’s body is brought back to life in Aslan’s Country by a drop of His blood is enough to move me to tears just thinking about it.


Wanderlust on November 24, 2013 at 5:30 PM

daviddunn on November 23, 2013 at 4:21 PM

Most excellent.

AH_C on November 24, 2013 at 11:17 PM

He was able to make you see things that seem at once obvious, but that which you were not really aware of until he flipped that switch.


Exactly, well put. For me, it is Lewis’ discussion in Mere Christianity about God’s relationship with ‘time’ – how, just as God is ‘everywhere’, He is also ‘everytime’ – that opened my mind to how the story of Genesis and the science of evolution can both be true. Looking in the Bible and expecting to find a science lesson is like looking in War and Peace and expecting to find the phone book.

Knott Buyinit on November 24, 2013 at 11:41 PM

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