Monday 12 December 2022

Reflections on CS Lewis after reading Planet Narnia, by Michael Ward

I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe in primary school - perhaps after watching a dramatized version on television; then The Silver Chair - but did not read any other of the Narnia Chronicles as a child. Indeed, I did not read them until the past decade, after I had become a Christian; and I came to the books via Brian Sibley's superb BBC Radio dramatizations

Yest, despite this very delayed, and rather gradual, path to appreciation; I now recognize the Narnia books as among the very best of their kind - and I return to re-read (and/ or re-listen) over and again; and have read several books of scholarship and analysis about them. 

Of these, Planet Narnia stands-out as the most impressive and memorable - not just for its insights into the world of Narnia, but also because it contains a great deal of absolutely fascinating and valuable information on the medieval world view, in particular the 'astrological' cosmology.   

Planet Narnia puts forward the interpretative key that each of the seven Narnia books is presided-over and permeated-by one of the seven medieval 'planets' - Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter. 

I found Ward's evidence and argument completely convincing - which means that this is a remarkable and rare example of literary criticism - in exposing a major aspect of a major author's major work; that had been (apparently) completely hidden and undiscovered for more than half a century. 

I read the book a couple of years after it was published, and have just been re-listening to the audio version - and am impressed anew at the detail and thoroughness with which PN is argued. 

But this time of reading, my own understanding of Christianity has moved far away from that of Lewis - which was, pretty much, where it began; since Lewis was very important in my own conversion. 

Now, I find myself somewhat amazed, and rather appalled, at the complexity and subtlety of CS Lewis's style of Christianity, both his personal faith and his public apologetics and devotional work. 

Lewis has long had the reputation of being a plain speaker and tough arguer - yet his discussions of Christianity - of the nature of God, the nature and mission of Christ, the nature of virtue and sin, and so forth - seems to demand quite extraordinary powers of concentration, memory, and contextual scholarship. 

Now, my feeling is: This cannot be right! 

It (surely?) cannot be necessary

It (surely?) cannot be that the 'religion' (shall we call it?) founded by Jesus would really be such as to need such an apparatus of specific expertise and authority - given that God created this varied and changing world, and a multitude of extremely different individual people living in a very wide range of social circumstances...

Lewis does as good a job as anyone of 'explaining' the inexplicable aspects of traditional Christianity; but I now feel sure that the inexplicable aspects are the consequence of human misinterpretation - not a part of God's plan or Jesus's ministry.  

In other words, the 'explanations' do not really explain - they merely kick the can - when they ought to be challenging the premises. Like 'explaining' my evil by Adam's transgression, or Adam's evil by the devil, or blaming the devil's evil on his prideful rejection of God... 

None of these displacements get any closer to explaining how there is any evil At All in a creation made by a wholly-Good God; if that God is also assumed to have made everything from nothing and been omnipotent.

(The simple answer is that God is Not omnipotent - whatever that really means; and Jesus never said he was! Indeed, Christianity depends on God Not being omnipotent.)  

Or; Lewis does as good a job as anyone of the explaining how Christ is both God and Man - when God is regarded as both wholly transcendent and wholly immanent. 

Or how God lives out of time and knows all that happened and will happen - yet Man lives in time, and has free agency. Or how God is both a monotheistic unity; and also divided into three persons.  

But in the end, these are just hypnotic word webs that are attempting to enable belief in inherited incompatible doctrines.  

But how is it that incompatible doctrines were not a problem for so many centuries? Lewis himself shows us the reason - and why what once worked as Christian belief, no longer works. 

CS Lewis was indeed, as he claimed to be, a 'dinosaur' - the last of the medieval minds. He was a Man whose mind was essentially medieval - which (by my understanding) was a transitional mind between the pre-historic almost-unconscious and immersive simplicities of animism, and modern alienated individuality. 

This middle consciousness has both elements of ancient unconscious participation and also (to an exceptionally high degree, more than modern Man) the abstracting and intellectualizing tendency. 

It is, indeed, the automatic and instinctual spirituality, mysticism and supernaturalism of a mind like CS Lewis's; that enables him to embrace such logically rigorous complexities of theology - without destroying his faith. 

It was because Lewis (like the medievals) had a foot in the ancient animistic world of a universe of Beings, that he was able wholeheartedly to embrace a faith rooted in abstract reasoning. One foot in the past, the other in modernity; his mind's instinctual unconscious irrationality was strongly operative, even when he was using cold logic, discussing detached attributes and aspects, or deploying reductionistic, analytic modelling of reality.

We Modern Men find that abstraction and intellectuality deaden and demotivate; and then they become dishonest. Lacking such a foot-in-the-past and the consequent prior motivational truthfulness, then rigour dissolves into expediency (as we see with the near-total corruption of science over recent decades). 

Instead of combining unconscious rootedness with explicit rigour; Modern Man oscillates-between incoherent, vacillating emotions - and lying, manipulative modelling.

We have inherited much the same - and incoherent, off-centred - doctrines of Christianity as in Lewis's day; but have lost our roots in spontaneous tradition and common sense. 

Typical, representative, modern Man is severely innerly-de-motivated; such that he cannot resist the short-term expedient. 

But those who recognize the unsatisfactoriness of  the typical mainstream modern condition no longer have the Lewisian possibility of sustaining a serious and motivating Medieval consciousness. 

Such is Lewis's charisma, and our gratitude to him for his unequalled success as a Christian apologist in modern times; that there is a danger in trying to emulate his faith and its basis. 

However; emulation is not possible - we, now, are fundamentally different consciousnesses from Lewis; and to attempt to replicate Lewis is merely to mimic. 

And (de facto) mimicry is grossly insufficient as a basis for Christian living in these End Times.  

So we can learn a great deal from CS Lewis; but should not try to replicate and sustain his theology. Many of those who tried to do sustain Lewis's specific metaphysical and theological ideas - and his lifestyle advice -  have, so far as I can tell, failed the Litmus Test issues of our time. 

That is; rigorous, high-status, Lewis scholars and disciples often have converged with mainstream totalitarian leftism - and thereby (overall) joined sides with the powers of evil and against God. 

In other words; one can be a devoted Lewisite, and live as a Lewisite Christian - yet be an enemy of Christ!

So far, so depressing! Yet this disastrous (albeit covert) mass apostasy has a positive aspect. 

If we can recognize that someone can adhere to the letter of CS Lewis's theology and doctrines (and the same applies for all other theologies and doctrines) - yet not be a real Christian; this implies an opposite: that real Christianity is separable from metaphysics, theology and doctrine

If we can recognize that being a real Christian has independence from Lewis's specific metaphysics, theology and all the rest of it - and at the same time can recognize that the Narnia Chronicles are imaginatively-permeated with a real, various and rich Christian spirit...

Then maybe the path is clear to understanding what it is to be a real Christian independently of the classical and traditional structures that came to us via the middle ages

The path is opened to a Romantic Christianity that motivates us to adhere to the side of God and the commitment to follow Jesus Christ through the pressures and corruptions of these End Times - while also recognizing a common real-Christianity, and the possibility of genuinely-Christian alliance, across many denominations and churches. 

1 comment:

Bruce Charlton said...

Comment from John Fitzgerald:

"Yes, Planet Narnia's a wonderful work. I remember when I read it for the first time thinking how right and apposite it felt. I don't know why I didn't come up with it myself to be honest! I've been reading and studying Dante a lot this past couple of years. Paradiso in particular and the poet's journey through the planets has a really Narnian feel. I've come to appreciate Narnia a lot more through reading and meditating on Dante and the whole Medieval worldview, which seems way more real to me than the current, somewhat pre-fabricated, paradigm feels. Another top book in this respect - 'The Medieval Mind of C.S. Lewis' by Jason M Baxter."