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Archive for the ‘C. S. Lewis’ Category

Some time ago a good friend of mine wrote a note, in the midst of a set of truly appalling circumstances, about the importance of non-judgment. For, she said, we don’t really know what anyone is up against. We do not know the history of the one whose action we judge. And, if we were given the history and circumstances of those we judge, would we have done better? 

Nothing in the note, especially given the circumstances it addressed, was wrong. Quite the contrary, in its place it was exactly right. And yet, after reading it through twice, I had a nagging thought that it was incomplete. Yet that’s about all that anyone is willing to say publicly about judgment these days: “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” There is more that needs to be said, though, and hardly anyone is saying it.

Hi Ed Nathan Jr.

Thus saith the kidnappers of Nathan Arizona, Jr.: “Now y’all without sin can cast the first stone.”

 

The thing more that needs saying has to do with the distinction between appraising and condemning. The connotations attached to these two words are quite different, though both can be used as synonyms for judging. Appraising and condemning may sometimes be distinguished in their effects, but more often in their respective intentions and underlying assumptions. The condemning man, when pointing a finger at a wrongdoer, doesn’t stop to think whether he’d have done any better — but probably assumes he would have. The appraising man also does not stop to think whether he’d have done better, but for a very different reason: what he would have done isn’t the standard.

There’s a reason the demanding teacher — the relentlessly critical appraiser of thoughts and words — is an archetypal character. And it’s no accident that under that archetype’s crusty exterior is a heart of gold. The exacting teacher is the one who cares. It is precisely because he does care that he will push his students to and just beyond the point they think of as “the limit” — but not so far beyond them that the students will break. The teacher knows the standard for all is wisdom, virtue, and high beauty, and that only great exertion will get us there.

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eros

“Do not stir up or awaken love until it pleases” (Song of Solomon 8:4.)

Few things will reduce us to inglorious paralysis like letting Eros put a halo, a mitre, or a crown on the inflated head that already bobs unstably on his pencil neck. Submission to a god who’s famously a thrall even to a moderately stiff breeze is the kernel of sundry evils – from Duke Orsino’s pathetic lovesickness in Twelfth Night to the poetry of Lord Byron to Marianne Dashwood’s brush with death in Sense and Sensibility and to scores of appalling “it’s not you, it’s me” speeches. That isn’t to say Eros is bad company. He can be delightful wearing the appropriate headwear: a jester’s hat.

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One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans. All your patient sees is the half-finished, sham Gothic erection on the new building estate. . . . Make his mind flit to and fro between an expression like ‘the body of Christ’ and the actual faces on the next pew. It matters very little, of course, what kind of people that next pew really contains. You may know one of them to be a great warrior on the Enemy’s side. No matter. Your patient, thanks to Our Father Below, is a fool. Provided that any of those neighbors sing out of tune, or have boots that squeak, or double chins, or odd clothes, the patient will quite easily believe that their religion must therefore be somehow ridiculous. At his present stage, you see, he has an idea of ‘Christians’ in his mind which he supposes to be spiritual but which, in fact, is largely pictorial. His mind is full of togas and sandals and armour and bare legs and the mere fact that the other people in church wear modern clothes is a real – though of course an unconscious – difficulty to him. Never let it come to the surface; never let him ask what he expected them to look like. Keep everything hazy in his mind now, and you will have all eternity wherein to amuse yourself by producing in him the peculiar kind of clarity which Hell affords.

C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters 5-7 (Harper 2009)(1942).  HT: Sam Smith.

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Most of us know what we should expect to find in a dragon’s lair, but, as I said before, Eustace had read only the wrong books. They had a lot to say about exports and imports and governments and drains, but they were weak on dragons.

C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

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My dear Wormwood,

* * *

. . . Men are not angered by mere misfortune but by misfortune conceived as injury. And the sense of injury depends on the feeling that a legitimate claim has been denied. The more claims on life, therefore, that your patient can be induced to make, the more often he will feel injured and, as a result, ill-tempered. Now you will have noticed that nothing throws him into a passion so easily as to find a tract of time which he reckoned on having at his own disposal unexpectedly taken from him.

It is the unexpected visitor (when he looked forward to a quiet evening), or the friend’s talkative wife (turning up when he looked forward to a tete-а-tete with the friend), that throw him out of gear. Now he is not yet so uncharitable or slothful that these small demands on his courtesy are in themselves too much for it. They anger him because he regards his time as his own and feels that it is being stolen. You must therefore zealously guard in his mind the curious assumption “My time is my own.” Let him have the feeling that he starts each day as the lawful possessor of twenty-four hours. Let him feel as a grievous tax that portion of this property which he has to make over to his employers, and as a generous donation that further portion which he allows to religious duties. But what he must never be permitted to doubt is that the total from which these deductions have been made was, in some mysterious sense, his own personal birthright.

You have here a delicate task. The assumption which you want him to go on making is so absurd that, if once it is questioned, even we cannot find a shred of argument in its defence. The man can neither make, nor retain, one moment of time; it all comes to him by pure gift; he might as well regard the sun and moon his chattels. . . . When I speak of preserving this assumption in his mind, therefore, the last thing I mean you to do is to furnish him with arguments in its defence.

There aren’t any. Your task is purely negative. Don’t let his thoughts come anywhere near it. Wrap a darkness about it, and in the centre of that darkness let his sense of ownership-in-time lie silent, uninspected, and operative.

C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters 125-27 (HarperCollins 2009)(1942).

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And [Tirian] called out “Aslan! Aslan! Aslan! Come and help us now.”

But the darkness and the cold and the quietness went on just the same.

“Let me be killed,” cried the King. “I ask nothing for myself. But come and save all Narnia.”

And still there was no change in the night or the wood, but there began to be a kind of change inside Tirian. Without knowing why, he began to feel a faint hope. And he felt somehow stronger.

C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle 49-50 (1956).

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Did I hate him [i.e. Bardia], then? Indeed, I believe so. A love like that can grow to be nine-tenths hatred and still call itself love. One thing’s certain; in my mad midnight fantasies (Ansit [Bardia’s wife] dead, or, better still, proved whore, witch, or traitress) when he was at last to be seeking my love, I always had him begin by imploring my forgiveness. Sometimes he had hard work to get it. I would bring him within an ace of killing himself first.

C. S. Lewis, Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold 266-67 (1956).

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