Kennedy's 'C. S. Lewis overflow'
Keeping C. S. Lewis 'alive'
Jonal entry 1002 | May 16 2007
There are occasional speculations in the media about the "next" C. S. Lewis. Should there even be one "spokesperson for Christianity" like Lewis has been, an article in First Things magazine recently asked. For in a sense, Lewis has been for this generation probably more of a spokesman for Christianity than any of the popes who've lived and passed on since Lewis's fame began, and more so than Billy Graham or any megachurch pastor or mega-best-selling Christian author. And the fact that books based on and perpetuating the "Lewis myth"as my current book project doesalongside around 200 similar ones published since his death in 1963, seems to assure that the flame will be kept alive well into the next generation and no telling how much longer.
Lewis's success can be attributed to several factors. Not only was he British, which coats him in a patina of respectability and authority to North Americans, he was a professor for most of his professional life at the most higly respected university in the English-speaking world (Oxford). Okay, he wasn't "technically" British (he was Irish born and considered Ireland "home") or technically an Oxford "professor," having never been elevated to that honor despite giving Oxford his best for most of his life, but he was not only a lecturer and tutor, he was the best-known member of the faculty and the one most capable of drawing large audiences for events ranging from university debates to paper readings at scholarly meetings, to class lectures and to sermons at one of the chapels, in his generation.
A second factor is that his writing, which can't be separated from anything in the previous paragraph, was both impeccably scholarly and generally accessible (understandable) by the wide readership he addressed, from young children in the case of his Narnian Chronicles to his peers in the faculties of Oxford and Cambridge (where he technically was a professor for the last decade of his life). But despite this, his peers resented his writing because it was (gasp) immensely popular and even, at its core and openly, "religious." Between professional jealousy over Lewis's popular success and the 1930's-through-'50s equivalent to political correctness, he was under constant attack by fellow scholars and academics, and now that there's a new wave of interest in him and his work because of the production of the Chronicles as major movie releases, a new wave of opponents are attacking his work in liberal media on both sides of the Atlantic.
And still the best answers to Lewis's attackers come from his own writings and published speeches. Though technical philosophical interests have moved on ("post-modernism" is not specifically addressed in his work, for example), Lewis's opposition to materialism (which he describes as seeing the whole universe and everything in it as the result of billions of random happy accidents taking place over billions of years) is timeless. His stand for the truth of Christian teaching and a worldview rooted in the absolutes of God and His natural law will never be passe.
So it's not as important to find a new C. S. Lewis as it is to keep alive the one we already have. Not in the sense, of course, that the "head" of the National Institute for Coordinated Experiments is kept alive in Lewis's science fiction novel That Hideous Strength, through combined science and alchemy, but in the sense of keeping his thinking, his writings, circulating by making new commentaries and applications of them through endless new books and articles incorporating them and their insights.
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