On the Church and Society
December 5, 2005
C.S. Lewis was born in the late nineteenth century, and died more than forty years ago. So, what could this guy possibly contribute to the early twenty-first century?
Well, as it turns out, a heck of a lot.
Obviously, there is the release of the new movie "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe." The Narnia series, written by Lewis, has been enjoyed by children for decades, and offers rich Christian themes to be explored and mined by young and old alike.
Indeed, Lewis probably gained his most widespread and lasting popularity due to Narnia, and this film hopefully followed by others in the seriees will only add to his reputation and reach. Normally, that would be more than enough for a lifetime of work. But rather incredibly, Lewis offers much more.
Not only was Lewis also a professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Oxford and Cambridge, but he wrote literary criticism, including the classic Oxford "English Literature in the Sixteenth Century," science fiction, and fantasy. And of course, Lewis was a Christian lay theologian.
The lasting and powerful appeal of his "Mere Christianity" across denominations ranks as a formidable accomplishment. And "The Screwtape Letters" provides a powerful reminder of Satan's deceptive temptations.
Lewis also weighed in on a host of problems and challenges that persist today, and offered observations that still warrant consideration and reflection.
For example, what about the current plague of moral relativism? Lewis noted in "The Poison of Subjectivism" that some argue against an "immutable moral code" as a hindrance to "progress." He logically countered: "Our ideas of the good may change, but they cannot change for either the better or the worse if there is no absolute and immutable good to which they can approximate or from which they can recede."
Could Lewis offer any insights on using other human beings through embryonic stem cell research for the purposes of advancing health care? In "The Abolition of Man," Lewis' powerful warning that "if man chooses to treat himself as raw material, raw material he will be" should give pause, to say the least.
It often is the fault of the church itself that moral relativism and the devaluation of human life have advanced so far. When various churches reject fundamental morality, and turn their backs on the authority of Holy Scripture and Christian tradition, what should we expect from the culture at large?
The Anglican Church in Europe and the Episcopal Church in America serve as glaring examples. Some might wonder what Lewis, as an Anglican Christian himself, might think as the Anglican community rips itself apart in the early twenty-first century due to a rejection of traditional morality and orthodox Christianity by liberals within the church. We do not have to speculate, however.
In 1959, Lewis raised grave concerns about "a theology which denies the historicity of nearly everything in the Gospels to which Christian life and affectations and thought have been fastened for nearly two millennia." He predicted that if his church ceased to offer what has long been recognized as Christianity, many would simply look for another church where Christianity is taught. And if a person agrees with this different theology, "he will no longer call himself a Christian and no longer come to church."
Lewis powerfully concluded: "Once the layman was anxious to hide the fact that he believed so much less than the Vicar: he now tends to hide the fact that he believes so much more. Missionary to the priests of one's own church is an embarrassing role; though I have a horrid feeling that if such mission work is not soon undertaken the future history of the Church of England is likely to be short."
Lewis, of course, turned out to be right on target. Forty-six years ago, he foresaw the devastation to be wrought by what he called "modern theology." In the struggle to maintain Anglicanism in Europe and America as substantively Christian, traditionalists fortunately can turn to one of their own, C.S. Lewis, who ranks as the greatest defender of the Christian faith over the past century.
Raymond J. Keating, also a columnist with Newsday, can be reached at ChurchandSociety@aol.com.
Copyright © Raymond J. Keating