Tom Pittman's WebLog

2009 August 18 -- C.S.Lewis Again

Before shipping it all off to charity, I picked out a few books from my late mother's estate library I thought I might want to read. A couple of them were my favorite author, C.S.Lewis. I just finished The World's Last Night, a collection of essays including one by that title and another Screwtape episode.

In "Screwtape Proposes a Toast" Lewis has his demon praising (in other words, Lewis is condemning) the virtues of "democracy" -- not the political system, but the habit of equalizing people without regard to their achievements:

At universities, examinations must be framed so that nearly all the students get good marks. Entrance examinations must be framed so that all ... citizens can go to universities, whether they have any power (or wish) to profit by higher education or not. At schools, the children who are too stupid or lazy to learn languages and mathematics and elementary science can be set to doing the things that children used to do in their spare time. Let them, for example, make mud-pies and call it modelling. But all the time there must be no faintest hint that they are inferior to the children who are at work.
Apparently England was doing these foolish things before the USA got on the bandwagon. The department chair at the university here got on my case for refusing to teach that way. It wasn't why they fired me, but it could have been.

Lewis expands on that principle in the next essay, where he contrasts "Good Work and Good Works". I cannot do his point justice in this space, but he clearly has no use for working at a job whose sole function is to get paid, and not to do something people need. Creating a false need through advertising earns his great ire.

But I think the best is the title essay at the end, where he explains the necessity of a Second Coming of Jesus Christ. As part of his reasoning, he finds it necessary to refute the critics who point to Mark 13:30 as if it proves that Jesus was wrong about his return. Quite the opposite, Lewis argues, because only 14 words later Jesus insists that he does not know when it will be. Here now is the real insight:

The one exhibition of error and the one confession of ignorance grow side by side. That they stood thus in the mouth of Jesus himself, and were not merely placed thus by the reporter, we surely need not doubt. Unless the reporter were perfectly honest, he would never have recorded the confession of ignorance at all; he could have had no motive for doing so except a desire to tell the whole truth. And unless later copyists were equally honest they would never have preserved the (apparently) mistaken prediction about "this generation" after the passage of time had shown the (apparent) mistake. This passage (Mark 13:30-32) and the cry "Why hast thou forsaken me?" (Mark 15:34) together make up the strongest proof that the New Testament is historically reliable. The evangelists have the first great characteristic of honest witnesses: they mention facts which are, at first sight, damaging to their main contention.
On another occasion, I observed that the New Testament documents cannot have been corrupted as is sometimes alleged, because the followers at that time would object to the dishonesty inherent in making changes. Both are compelling, but I think Lewis has the stronger argument.

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