C. S. Lewis, best known as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, was also one of the most profound thinkers of twentieth century Christianity. Along with J. R. R. Tolkien, he has inspired millions of people, include all of the authors at Lantern Hollow Press. On Sundays we would like to take a moment to offer up a little Lewis for your consideration.
We were promised sufferings. They were part of the program. We were even told, “Blessed are they that mourn,” and I accept it. I’ve got nothing that I hadn’t bargained for. Of course it is different when the thing happens to oneself, not to others, and in reality, not imagination.
—A Grief Observed
In A Grief Observed, Lewis wrestled with the implications of the death of his wife, Joy. It was the first time that much of what he had been speaking about philosophically came home to him in a literal way. He found in that terrible moment, as we all do, that pain and grief are one thing in the abstract and quite another when experienced. The very best philosophy at that moment will seem nothing more than mere moonshine (though it may still be objective correct simultaneously). This is a realization to which much of the western church–the American version in particular–is being rudely awakened.
America has been a nominally Christian nation* since its founding era. As far back as the beginnings of its individual colonies, it was a haven from persecution. We most often think of the Pilgrim Separatists of Plymouth, but there were many, many other sorts of believers that fled here to escape persecution, real and imagined, including Baptists, Anabapists, Moravians, Quakers, and Catholics. They created a society were religious differences would be tolerated, including deism and atheism.
Since that time, America has been slowly redefined into a bastion of secular humanism, a peculiar kind of belief that, while claiming no god in particular in practice worships natural law and humanity as its chief expression. Like the other religions it claims to critique, secular humanism can tolerate no meaningful dissent in public, and therefore we have seen Christianity’s special place in America regularly rolled back in favor of this new faith through movements that have redefined such classic ideas as the separation of church and state. As that has happened, we have seen accompanying howls of outrage and indignation from politically active Christians who often have had trouble distinguishing their patriotism from their faith.
To this, I believe Lewis would say, “So what?” As he noted above, we are promised sufferings and persecutions. Anyone who signed you up for the Christian faith with the understanding that you would be guaranteed a happy, successful life free from frustration and grief is as bad a historian as they are a friend. The reality is that the state of affairs that existed in the United States for its first 200 years is the exception, not the rule. Indeed, when things go back to “normal,” we will “have gotten nothing that [we] hadn’t bargained for.”
Of course, that is very easy to say. The real rub will come the first time I personally have to confront what that actually means–in my life, for my family, and for my loved ones. I can only pray I bear it well when it does.
*By “Christian nation” I mean a nation that was founded largely (but not wholly) as an outgrowth of philosophical presuppositions native to the Christian faith and meant to govern a population that largely agreed with that faith. I do not mean, as many secularists do in such conversations, that it was a theocracy. It was not and has never been anything of that sort, and to point that out is not particularly noteworthy.
Click here for the entire run of “Meditations with C. S. Lewis” so far. Interested in more about C. S. Lewis? Check out Passing Through the Shadowlands–an extended project where I am blogging through his life in letters, essays, and books.