Dedicated to one of the great thinkers and authors of our time: C.S. Lewis.
I hope you find each quotation interesting and inspiring.
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
On Creative Evolution
One reason why many people find Creative Evolution so attractive is that it gives one much of the emotional comfort of believing in God and none of the less pleasant consequences. When you are feeling fit and the sun is shining and you do not want to believe that the whole universe is a mere mechanical dance of atoms, it is nice to be able to think of this great mysterious Force rolling on through the centuries and carring you on its crest. If, on the other hand, you want to do something rather shabby, the Life Force, being only a blind force, with no morals and no mind, will never interfere with you like that troublesome God we learned about when we were children. The Life Force is a sort of tame God. You can switch it on when you want, but it will not bother you. All the thrills of religion and none of the cost. Is the Life Force the greatest achievement of wishful thinking the world has yet seen? ~C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book I, Chapter 4
Health is a great blessing, but the moment you make health one of your main, direct objects you start becoming a crank and imagining there is something wrong with you. You are only likely to get health provided you want other things more--food, games, work, fun, open air. In the same way, we shall never save civilisation as long as civilisation is our main object. We must learn to want something else more.
Most of us find it very difficult to want "Heaven" at all--except in so far as "Heaven" means meeting again our friends who have died. One reason for this difficulty is that we have not been trained: our whole education tends to fix our minds on this world. Another reason is that when the real want for Heaven is present in us, we do not recognise it. Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise. [...]There was something we grasped at, in that first moment of longing, which just fades away in the reality. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book III, Chapter 10 (1952)
But of course the doctrine of Creation leaves Nature full of manifestations which show the presence of God, and created energies which serve Him. The light is His garment, the thing we partially see Him through, the thunder can be His voice. He dwells in the dark thundercloud, the eruption of a volcano comes in answer to His touch. The world is full of his emissaries and executors. He makes winds His messengers and flames His servants, rides upon cherubim, commands the army of angels.
All this is of course in one way very close to Paganism. Thor and Zeus also spoke in the thunder; Hermes or Iris was the messenger of the gods. But the difference, though subtle, is momentous, between hearing in the thunder the voice of God or the voice of a god. As we have seen even in the creation-myths, gods have beginnings. Most of them have fathers and mothers; often we know their birth places. There is no question of self-existence or the timeless. Being is imposed upon them, as upon us, by preceding causes. They are, like us, creatures or products; though they are luckier than we in being stronger, more beautiful, and exempt from death. They are, like us, actors in the cosmic drama, not its authors. ~C.S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, "Nature" (1958)
But now for the pleasantest part of my duty. It falls to my lot to propose on behalf of the guests the health of Principal Slubgob and the Tempters' Training College. Fill your glasses. What is this I see? What is this delicious bouquet I inhale? Can it be? Mr. Principal, I unsay all my hard words about the dinner. I see, and smell, that even under wartime conditions the College cellar still has a few dozen of sound old vintage Pharisee. Well, well, well. This is like old times. Hold it beneath your nostrils for a moment, gentledevils. Hold it up to the light. Look at those fiery streaks that writhe and tangle in its dark heart, as if they were contending. And so they are. You know how this wine is blended? Different types of Pharisee have been harvested, trodden, and fermented together to produce its subtle flavour. Types that were most antagonistic to one another on earth. Some were all rules and relics and rosaries; others were all drab clothes, long faces, and petty traditional abstinences from wine or cards or the theatre. Both had in common their self-righteousness and the almost infinite distance between their actual outlook and anything the Enemy really is or commands. The wickedness of other religions was the really live doctrine in the religion of each; slander was its gospel and denigration its litany. How they hated each other up there where the sun shone. How much more they hate each other now that they are forever conjoined but not reconciled. Their astonishment, their resentment, at the combination, the festering of their eternally impenitent spite, passing into our spiritual digestion, will work like fire. Dark fire. All said and done, my friends, and it will be an ill day for us if what most humans mean by 'religion' ever vanishes from the Earth. It can still send us the truly delicious sins. The fine flower of unholiness can grow only in the close neighbourhood of the Holy. Nowhere do we tempt so successfully as on the very steps of the altar. ~C.S. Lewis, "Screwtape Proposes a Toast", The Screwtape Letters (1942)
There is, I understand, a species of modern poetry which is so written that it cannot be fully received unless all the possible senses of words are operative in the reader's mind. Whether there was any such poetry before the present century--whether all old poetry thus read is misread--are questions we need not discuss here. What seems to me certain is that in ordinary language the sense of a word is governed by the context and this sense normally excludes all others from the mind. When we see the notice 'Wines and Spirits' we do not think about angels, devils, ghosts and fairies--nor about the 'spirits' of the older medical theory. When someone speaks about the Stations of the Cross we do not think about railway stations nor about our station in life.
The proof of this is that the sudden intrusion of any irrelevant sense--in other words the voluntary or involuntary pun--is funny. It is funny because it is unexpected. There is a semantic explosion because the two meanings rush together from a great distance; one of them was not in our consciousness at all till that moment. If it had been, there would be no detonation. This comes out very clearly in those numerous stories which decorum forbids me to recall (in print); stories where some august person such as a headmistress or a bishop, on a platform, gravely uses a word in one sense, blissfully forgetful of some other and very unsuitable sense--producing a ludicrous indecency. It will usually be found that the audience, like the speaker, had till then quite forgotten it too. For the shouts of open, or the sibilations of suppressed, laughter do not usually begin at once but after several seconds. The obscene intruder, the uninvited semantic guest, has taken that time to come up from the depths where he lay asleep, off duty. -C.S. Lewis, Studies in Words (Introduction), 1960
It is true that when a pessimist's life is threatened he behaves like other men; his impulse to preserve life is stronger than his judgment that life is not worth preserving. But how does this prove that the judgment was insincere or even erroneous? A man's judgment that whisky is bad for him is not invalidated by the fact that when the bottle is at hand he finds desire stronger than reason and succumbs. Having once tasted life, we are subjected to the impulse of self-preservation. Life, in other words, is as habit-forming as cocaine. What then? If I still held creation to be "a great injustice" I should hold that this impulse to retain life aggravates the injustice. If it is bad to be forced to drink the potion, how does it mend matters that the potion turns out to be an addiction drug? Pessimism cannot be answered so. Thinking as I then thought about the universe, I was reasonable in condemning it. At the same time I now see that my view was closely connected with a certain lopsidedness of temperament. I had always been more violent in my negative than in my positive demands. Thus, in personal relations, I could forgive much neglect more easily than the least degree of what I regarded as interference. At table I could forgive much insipidity in my food more easily than the least suspicion of what seemed to me excessive or inappropriate seasoning. In the course of life I could put up with any amount of monotony far more patiently than even the smallest disturbance, bother, bustle, or what the Scotch call kurfuffle. Never at any age did I clamor to be amused; always and at all ages (where I dared) I hotly demanded not be be interrupted. The pessimism, or cowardice, which would prefer nonexistence itself to even the mildest unhappiness was thus merely the generalization of all these pusillanimous perferences. And it remains true that I have almost all my life, been quite unable to feel that horror of nonentity, of annihilation, which, say, Dr. Johnson felt so strongly. I felt it for the first time only in 1947. But that was after I had long been reconverted and thus begun to know what life really is and what would have been lost by missing it.
They who add years to years in lumpish aggregation, or miles to miles and galaxies to galaxies, shall not come near His greatness. 'The day of the fields of Arbol [the Sun] will fade and the days of Deep Heaven itself are numbered. Not thus is He great. He dwells (all of Him dwells) within the seed of the smallest flower and is not cramped: Deep Heaven is inside Him who is inside the seed and does not distend Him. Blessed be He!
I think the trouble with me is lack of faith. I have no rational ground for going back on the arguments that convinced me of God's existence: but the irrational deadweight of my old sceptical habits, and the spirit of this age, and the cares of the day, steal away all my lively feeling of the truth, and often when I pray I wonder if I am not posting letters to a non-existant address. Mind you I don't think so--the whole of my reasonable mind is convinced: but I often feel so. However, there is nothing to do but to peg away. One falls so often that it hardly seems worth while picking oneself up and going through the farce of starting over again as if you could ever hope to walk. Still, this seeming absurdity is the only sensible thing I do, so I must continue it. ~C.S. Lewis, Letter to Arthur Greeves, (24 December 1930)
Some twenty years before Lewis wrote the scene in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe where Aslan breathes life into the stone statues bewitched by the White Witch, he wrote a comparable scene into the alliterative poem "The Nameless Isle". In this story, a throng of statues is brought back to life by an elf who plays a magic flute, and at the last frees a beautiful maiden from her prison of stone:
Noble creatures were coming near, and more Stirring, as I saw them, out of stone bondage, Stirring and descending from their still places, And every image shook, as an egg trembles Over the breaking beak. Through the broad garden --The dew drenched it--drawn, ev'n as moths, To that elf's glimmering, his old shipmates Moved to meet him. There, among, was tears, Clipping and kissing. King they hailed him, Men, once marble, that were his mates of old, Fair in feature and of form godlike, For the stamp of the stone was still on them Carved by the wizard. They kept, and lived, The marble mien. They were men weeping, Round the dwarf dancing to his deft fingers. Then was the grey garden as if the gods of heaven On the carol dancing had come and chos'n The flowers folded, for their floor to dance. Close beside me, as when a cloud brightens When, mid thin vapours, through comes the sun, The marble maid, under mask of stone, Shook and shuddered. As a shadow streams Over the wheat waving, over the woman's face Life came lingering. Nor was it long after Down its blue pathways, blood returning Moved, and mounted to her maiden cheek. Breathing broadened her breast. Then light from her eyes' opening all that beauty Worked into woman. So the wonder was complete, Set, precipitate, and the seal taken, Clear and crystal the alchemic change, Bright and breathing.
C.S. Lewis, The Nameless Isle, Lines 542 - 573 (1930)
Caspian looked up at him, but the Doctor's hood concealed most of his face.
"The virtue of this tower," said Doctor Cornelius, "is that we have six empty rooms beneath us, and a long stair, and the door at the bottom of the stair is locked. We cannot be overheard."
"Are you going to tell me what you wouldn't tell me the other day?" said Caspian.
"I am," said the Doctor. "But remember. You and I must never talk about these things except here - on the very top of the Great Tower."
"No. That's a promise," said Caspian. "But do go on, please."
"Listen," said the Doctor. "All you have heard about Old Narnia is true. It is not the land of Men. It is the country of Aslan, the country of the Waking Trees and Visible Naiads, of Fauns and Satyrs, of Dwarfs and Giants, of the gods and the Centaurs, of Talking Beasts. It was against these that the first Caspian fought. It is you Telmarines who silenced the beasts and the trees and the fountains, and who killed and drove away the Dwarfs and Fauns, and are now trying to cover up even the memory of them. The King does not allow them to be spoken of."
"Oh, I do wish we hadn't," said Caspian. "And I am glad it was all true, even if it is all over."
"Many of your race wish that in secret," said Doctor Cornelius.
"But, Doctor," said Caspian, "why do you say my race? After all, I suppose you're a Telmarine too."
"Am I?" said the Doctor.
~C. S. Lewis, Prince Caspian (1951) _________________
Note to the blog: I want to thank you for your patience with the lack of posts. My life has changed in many ways since we moved to Georgia, but I find myself missing my daily C.S. Lewis. I plan to start blogging again, but posts will be much more sporadic and subject to my schedule, which is now spent most of the day away from a computer. My best wishes to everyone who gets The Window LiveJournal feed and RSS feed. ~Arevanye
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