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Posts Tagged ‘C. S. Lewis’

Suppose one reads a story of filthy atrocities in the paper. Then suppose that something turns up suggesting that the story might not be quite true, or not quite so bad as it was made out.

Is one’s first feeling, ‘Thank God, even they aren’t quite so bad as that,’ or is it a feeling of disappointment, and even a determination to cling to the first story for the sheer pleasure of thinking your enemies are as bad as possible?

If it is the second then it is, I am afraid, the first step in a process which, if followed to the end, will make us into devils. You see, one is beginning to wish that black was a little blacker. If we give that wish its head, later on we shall wish to see grey as black, and then to see white itself as black. Finally we shall insist on seeing everything — God and our friends and ourselves included — as bad, and not be able to stop doing it: we shall be fixed for ever in a universe of pure hatred.

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity 91 (1952).

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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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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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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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“And we’re extremely regrettable,” said the Chief Monopod, “that we can’t give you the pleasure of seeing us as we were before we were uglified, for you wouldn’t believe the difference, and that’s the truth, for there’s no denying we’re mortal ugly now, so we won’t deceive you.”

“Eh, that we are, Chief, that we are,” echoed the others, bouncing like so many toy balloons. “You’ve said it, you’ve said it.”

“But I don’t think you are at all,” said Lucy, shouting to make herself heard. “I think you look very nice.”

“Hear her, hear her,” said the Monopods. “True for you, Missie. Very nice we look. Couldn’t find a handsomer lot.” They said this without any surprise and did not seem to notice that they had changed their minds.

“She’s a-saying,” remarked the Chief Monopod, “as how we looked very nice before we were uglified.”

“True for you, Chief, true for you,” chanted the others. “That’s what she says. We heard her ourselves.”

“I did not,” bawled Lucy. “I said you’re very nice now.”

“So she did, so she did,” said the Chief Monopod, “said we was very nice then.”

“Hear ‘em both, hear ‘em both,” said the Monopods. “There’s a pair for you. Always right. They couldn’t have put it better.”

“But we’re saying just the opposite,” said Lucy, stamping her foot with impatience.

“So you are, to be sure, so you are,” said the Monopods. “Nothing like an opposite. Keep it up, both of you.”

“You’re enough to drive anyone mad,” said Lucy, and gave it up.

C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader 183-84 (HarperCollins 1994) (1953).

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Here is a highly recommended link to a site that has selected and helpfully arranged daily readings from George Herbert’s The Temple (1633) for Lent.

Maybe the best recommendation of Herbert’s poetry (certainly the best one I know of) is the effect that his writing had on C. S. Lewis, in the last days before his conversion, when it seemed to him that all his favorite authors were lining up to take whacks at his dying atheism:

. . . the most alarming of all was George Herbert. Here was a man who seemed to me to excel all the writers I had read in conveying the very quality of life as we actually live it from moment to moment; but the wretched fellow, instead of doing it all directly, insisted on mediating it through what I would still have called the ‘Christian mythology’. . . .

C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy 214 (1956).

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