Thinking like C.S. Lewis
Jonal entry 1016 | August 22 2007
Based on the discussion in recent weeks about C. S. Lewis's quest to change the world's course through the proper use of words, we turn now to some applications of the principles he recommended. As one gets immersed in Lewis's works, he becomes more and more impressed by the breadth of his knowledge but, even more importantly, at his adeptness at accessing the knowledge. Having been in the business of applying the knowledge I accrued in eight-plus years of university and graduate schooling, and some years of teaching at the college and university level, I know I also have broad knowledge, but what impresses me about my own knowledge is how hard it is to apply it: "dredging" seems the most applicable word for that process. But by all accounts, Lewis was always sharp, always able to pierce through to the real issue and enlighten its discussion, whatever the topic. (He did not, however, discuss sports, which is usually topic A among men coming into loose proximity, as in faculty dining halls or fitness clubs.)
So for fun and intellectual growth, let's now try to apply Lewis's approach to several of today's "hot-button issues": the separation of church and state and the gay rights movement.
I feel certain Lewis would reject most approaches seen in political speech and writing about "church-state" conflict because most of those who consider this a hot-button issue are using inappropriate and ill-defined terms. What they mean, almost always, is not a conflict between the state and any organized church, as both of them are properly understood, but between the areas of spirituality and social life or what most authors who've contributed to this area call "the public square." What they really advocate is not the separation of church and state, because in neither North America nor England is any church trying to interfere with operations of the state, but instead individuals and interest groups who hold certain "religious" beliefs and want to influence public thought and even public policy—to the extent of getting laws enacted that favor their ideas of what's best for society over against the opposite ideas).
Advocates of what they call separating church and state have a definition of "religion" that no one who actively tries to live by religious ideals could accept. To "us," if I may show my own hand and as I think I'm savvy enough to know Lewis's on this, religion is "whatever is most important in life." As Jesus put it: Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Whatever you value, you devote your life to, in other words.
To the other side, "religion" is narrowly defined as cultic, as referring to a set of practices and doctrines of specific churches, things "airy-fairy" and more akin to lighting candles and supporting the parish budget than seeing and showing how Christ is Lord of everyday life. Invariably, those who oppose religious/social overlaps want to define what religion means to us based on their own religious presuppositions. To them, "abortion" is a "religious" issue because they could care less about how unborn fetuses are disposed of and can't help assuming that anyone who claims to care about that issue has been brainwashed by some kind of cult. To us, its a social issue, a real-life issue, because the unborn are human life and all human life should be protected under society's laws. (And to us the only "rights" that matter are those of the direct targets of an operation that always first maims, then kills.)
I've seen no evidence that Lewis ever encountered the use of "gay" to refer to homosexual; he uses "gay" occasionally without apology in its real meaning—to be lighthearted and happy—and of course as a philologist* he would have insisted on keeping that proper use. But he left this world before "gay" became commonly used as a term of and for homosexuality. There is evidence, however, that one of his closest lifelong friends was homosexual (and Lewis knew it), there's a strong suggestion that the male nurse who lived in his house in his last weeks (who he obviously enjoyed and liked, according to anecdotes about their time together) was homosexual, and one of the main characters in That Hideous Strength, the head of the institutional security force or police, was a sadistic lesbian.
Based on his stated opposition to liberal theology and repeated reaffirming of traditional biblical and church teaching on sexual morality, I'm sure Lewis would have opposed "gay" as a word for homosexuals and either "gay" or homosexual as a "minority" with entitlements to specific protections under law. He would have demolished any argument for "gay marriage" based on the misuse of both of those words, and their use to refer to the licensing of a sexual union based on sodomy or any other biblically proscribed sex activity. But in his autobiographical Surprised by Joy, after saying it was one moral prohibition toward which he had never had the least temptation, he showed tolerance toward males who practiced homosexual relations in boarding school and, based on the tenor of his collected work, it's a safe assumption that he would have opposed any discriminatory application of laws and punishments toward homosexuals over against heterosexuals (in other words, if a lover's lane is a private matter in the view of local police, it is private for all who use it; and if it's not private for some, it's not private for any).
In other words, despite Ghandi's alleged skepticism about loving sinners but not sins (and without denying some truth to his supposition) it's not possible to be a follower of Christ and not sincerely make that distinction,
*Unlike his friend J.R.R. Tolkien, Lewis was not a philologist in the sense of an academic specialist, but was one by dictionary definition as one of the top experts in languages and the meanings of words in his generation. The same was applied earlier to his role as theologian.
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