Why C. S. Lewis gives me the creeps

lewis-cs-101x100 One of the books I use in my Introduction to Philosophy course is Lewis’s Mere Christianity. It’s very clear and accessible and covers a wide range of traditional religious philosophical themes. I’m reviewing it now in preparation for the new semester which begins (yikes) in two weeks.

I find Lewis’s chummy, let’s-pop-round-to-the pub-for-a-quick-one writing style a bit much — and especially irritating when combined with breathtakingly anti-human statements.

For example, in a chapter (Book 3, Chapter VIII) lambasting pride as “The Great Sin” and as the “complete anti-God state of mind,” Lewis contrasts it to humility. Humility is based upon a full realization of your original sinfulness and helplessness. When that realization happens and you accept it, Lewis states, you feel “the infinite relief of having for once got rid of all the silly nonsense about your own dignity.” Humility enables us to “take off a lot of silly, ugly, fancy-dress in which we have all got ourselves up and are strutting about like the little idiots we are.”

All of that set us up for a right relationship with God: “The real test of being in the presence of God is, that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object.”

Wow. Tell us what you really think, Clive.

If philosophy is autobiography, that’s quite a statement.

It’s quite a statement even if it isn’t: the generalization about human nature is audacious.

27 thoughts on “Why C. S. Lewis gives me the creeps

  • August 21, 2013 at 11:57 pm
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    (In order to teach philosophy — or theology — one should know the subject matter.)

  • August 22, 2013 at 6:43 pm
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    Hi Arlen: Can you show me from Lewis’s text where he makes the distinctions you suggest? I don’t see anything in Mere Christianity that’s close to what you claim he’s saying.

  • December 29, 2013 at 12:59 am
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    If you don’t find C.S. Lewis’ writings life affirming, either you haven’t read more than a few quotes plucked out by some deranged fruitcake on his blog, or you are mentally retarded.

  • December 29, 2013 at 9:22 am
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    I’m hoping there’s a third alternative, Joe.

  • December 29, 2013 at 8:40 pm
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    Haha, ok a bit harsh maybe… Anyway I’ve read as much C.S. Lewis as I can get my hands on, and most of it is brilliant writing, whether you agree with what he says or not. I can’t really relate to your feelings about him giving you the creeps or being irritating or ‘anti-human’ because I get a completely different impression from his own writings and others writing about him. I don’t know how many of his works you have read but if you were to read say The Four Loves, The Problem of Pain, A Grief Observed, a biography or 2, some of his letters, essays and a few fictional works, I would be extremely surprised if you would still describe him as anti-human. Sure being a Christian usually involves believing that humanity was created good and ‘fell’ through pride, or wanting to be God, but I’m pretty certain that C.S. Lewis would agree that humans are still essentially good, albeit fallen, creatures, and the way to recover our former glory is through humility and submission to God. Take for example this extract from a sermon titled The weight of glory:
    “If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an
    ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” There are a million other quotes but you’ll have to read them yourself. I think the apparent anti human sentiment you detect in that short excerpt from Mere Christianity you would find then in all Christians (but not only Christians) and is a description of what they believe is true human nature, i.e. made in Gods image, corrupted through pride, but meant for glory.

  • September 7, 2015 at 12:22 am
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    What were you prefer Lewis to say?

  • September 7, 2015 at 12:22 am
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    ooops….’would’

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