Prophetic Wisdom from CS Lewis

 

Last year, being a bit of a railway nerd when not blogging, I took a long day out riding trains to Milford Haven in South Wales.  I knew that it would be dark for much of the return journey, so took a book with me – a Betty Rowlands detective story, as it happens.  All was well till somewhere near Craven Arms in Shropshire when we came to the proverbial ‘juddering halt’ – nowhere near a dead stop, but clearly something unusual.  Over an hour passed before the errant electronics in the brakes could be reset; beautiful as Shropshire is, I’d already read a fair chunk of my book before the train restarted.  Arriving two hours later than expected at Milford Haven, I just had time to shop for a hot pasty before joining my train home.  Instead of getting at least back into England before it went dark, we didn’t get much past Carmarthen.  Good as it was, my book barely lasted back to the English border; luckily another traveller discarded a ‘Guardian’ whose crossword occupied most of the remaining journey.  I did some serious thinking; being, courtesy of that Mr Asperger, decidedly hyperlexic, any book (indeed probably books) which would last such a long voyage would use a lot of space, and add a considerable weight for a back which is dodgy since a car accident a few years ago.  Much as I prefer real ink-and-paper books, this situation seemed to require that I entered the 21st Century and got one of those Kindle contraptions. 

My initial Kindle loading was not all exactly light reading for train journeys; Calvin’s Institutes, Matthew Henry’s Bible Commentary (which can occupy about two feet of library shelf in book form), and the NIV among others.  But I also found what called itself ‘The Complete CS Lewis’, (“Dear Trading Standards Officer; ‘complete’ it ain’t!”) a selection of the most popular Lewis non-fiction/apologetic titles at a reasonable price.  

For various reasons I’d not read much from my Lewis collection for a few years, but now I’ve started rereading.  It came as a bit of a shock to realise that later this year will be the fiftieth anniversary of Lewis’ death (an event obscured at the time by the supposedly more important Kennedy assassination).  Lewis fan though I am, it has to be admitted that while the basic ideas in the books still stand up very well, there’s a lot of stuff in them which is now showing its age a bit and might not seem very relevant to a modern young reader.  I would still basically strongly recommend them; even when I disagree with Lewis I know I’ve been in a serious argument, not just a trading of ‘sound-bites’.    And then, in chapter 2 of “The Four Loves”, I found the following, after a discussion of patriotism and love of country….

“…the sort of love I have been describing… can also be felt for bodies that claim more than a natural affection; for a Church or (alas) a party in a Church, or for a religious order.  This terrible subject would require a book to itself.  Here it will be enough to say that the Heavenly Society is also an earthly society.  Our (merely natural) patriotism towards the latter (i.e., the church as earthly society  SL) can very easily borrow the transcendent claims of the former (the church as Heavenly Society  SL) and use them to justify the most abominable actions.  If ever the book, which I am not going to write, is written it must be the full confession by Christendom of Christendom’s specific contribution to the sum of human cruelty and treachery.  Large areas of ‘the World’ will not hear us till we have publicly disowned much of our past. Why should they?  We have shouted the name of Christ and enacted the service of Moloch.”

Lewis it seems didn’t fully make the connection of Christendom itself, the attempt at having ‘Christian countries’, being the fundamental problem here.  Both from my own memories as a young teen in the 1960s and from my reading, I think I sort of understand why, in the circumstances back then, when such issues were shall we say quiescent, and with his desire to avoid denominational controversies and stick to ‘mere Christianity’ he didn’t easily see it.  He still saw more than most of his contemporaries and many of the things he said in various contexts helped prepare me so that when the troubles in Ulster (Lewis’ home province) kicked off in the late 60s, I was able to see the connections.  Lewis, if you like, was among the giants on whose shoulders I stood to get a view beyond their own; I can’t claim much credit for it, but I do want to invite the rest of you to get up here and appreciate the view.

I’ll repeat the key bit of the quote to hammer it home; we are still waiting for “the full confession by Christendom of Christendom’s specific contribution to the sum of human cruelty and treachery.”  It is proving increasingly true in the modern world that “Large areas of ‘the World’ will not hear us till we have publicly disowned much of our past.”  And I think it is really time to recognise, as Lewis sadly couldn’t quite, that it is not just the past we need to disown; we also need to disown and thoroughly repent our continuing temptation to keep trying at variations of Christendom and constantly wanting to build for Jesus the ‘kingdom of this world’ that He himself rejected.  It won’t make us perfect – we will still be sinful human beings – but at least we may remove ourselves from the worst of the destructive possibilities of “enacting the service of Moloch”.  As Lewis pointed out about a page earlier than the portion quoted, there is a terrible logic that “If our country’s cause is the cause of God, wars must be wars of annihilation”, annihilation which believers, Christian or others, may perform thinking they are entitled to a clear conscience. 

Until we disown Christendom we not only risk adding on our own account to “the sum of human cruelty and treachery”; we also set a terrible example to others such as the extremists of Islam.  We cannot counter their terrorism from a position almost indistinguishable from their own!!  Let us be “shouting the name of Christ” in a way that honours his actual teaching.

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