A Road to Discovery

The word “theology” simply means the science of God. In The New Democratic Review: The Wicked Paradox: The Cleric as Public Intellectual, Stephen Mack discusses religion and politics. Mack states that the problem with these two is they are both fighting for the same spot in the human mind. When prompted to think of a public intellectual or leader, I surprisingly could not. What came to mind, however, is a lion, running through grassland. Referred to as Aslan, this lion is a mythical character based off of the novels The Chronicals of Narnia, by author C.S Lewis. Little did I know, and a large deal of people reading and viewing The Lion, the Witch and the Wardroobe, is the character portrayed as Aslan is based off of a historical and religious figure named Jesus Christ. The overlap of the two blew my mind; parallels were drawn in relation to religion and democracy. What I viewed as entertainment is really a form of education and in a way, cultural representation. It destroys the binary on media entertainment and culture. Though I did not draw parallels between our society and Narnia’s in this film or novel, the character roles and symbolism within, compelled me to expand on the topic.

In The New Democratic Review: The Wicked Paradox: The Cleric as Public Intellectual, Stephen Mack relates the two by personal identity: religion and democracy “offer a vision of personal identity that is derived from beliefs about how we should relate to everything around us.” It groups people together to form something much more powerful. The study of the works and life of C.S Lewis has provided me with a solid foundation on the complicated Christian faith and is rooted in facts, science, and logic, but presented in a nontraditional manner allowing for a comprehensible, healthy democracy to function. As Stephen Mack states “American democracy has always depended on public figures—and public intellectuals—whose work has been animated by strong faith” and if it were not for C.S Lewis devoting much time, energy and effort in to an area of expertise, then many would not have the foundation they do today.

“I have found a desire within myself that no experience in this world can satisfy; the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world”. -C. S Lewis

In 2016 society is in despair, lacking truth and wisdom that is unfaultable. In a world with so many temptations, challenges, sufferings, moral dilemmas, issues, crime, and evil: where do people turn? What are the sources of life and wisdom in this world? Where do they stem from and how are they to be obtained? How does one decipher what is moral, ethical or neither? This is where the public intellectual, philosopher (whatever you want to call it) enters. In order to better understand the position or classification of a public intellectual a shift in thinking needs to occur. In Stephen Mack’s’ The New Democratic Review: The “Decline” of the Public Intellectual states “notions of the public intellectual need to focus less on who or what a public intellectual is—and by extension, the qualifications for getting and keeping the title. Instead, we need to be more concerned with the work public intellectuals must do, irrespective of who happens to be doing it”. Whether or not you agree is ultimately not the point, it is the function and role they play in society, the public intellectuals function is to offer criticisms and expertise.

Born November 29, 1898, Clive Staples Lewis is a man with one of the most powerful minds this world has ever seen and a true public intellectual of no comparison. C.S Lewis was born in Belfast, Ireland under Florence and Albert Lewis. He was one of two children and had an older brother named Warren. In 1908, Lewis lost his mother to cancer, serving as a challenging time in his life, and shortly after his mother’s death Lewis began to turn away from his belief system. Early on, Lewis started to question things and set out on a quest for truth that was naturally set in him and very innate. At a young age, Lewis developed a love for Greek mythology and started to pursue his studies in that field. In 1916 he gained a scholarship at Oxford University and in the summer of 1917 Lewis joined the Officers’ Training Corps at Oxford University (The Backward Glance: CS Lewis and Ireland). The draft for the First World War was happening and by his 19th birthday he was serving in the front line. This was a challenging time in Lewis’ life due to the passing of many friends and peers, causing Lewis to develop a form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and early on-set depression. These hard times and disheartening conditions gave him inspiration for much of his work, and guided him in the direction of a higher power.

In 1918 he left the war and headed back to Oxford to continue his studies in Greek and Latin literature along with Philosophy and Ancient Greek History (The Backward Glance: CS Lewis and Ireland). By 1924 Lewis became a philosophy tutor at University College and in 1925 he taught at Magdalena College for 29 years until 1954. Although Lewis did come from a religious family, his religion did not follow for a large part of his life. By the age of 15, he was a complete atheist. One of Lewis’ favorite quotes opposing Christianity and being an atheist was by Lucretius in De Rerum Natura stating “Had God designed the world, it would not be a world so frail and faulty as we see”. In Lewis’ book, The Great Divorce, he goes into detail about his conversion to Christianity and largely credits J. R. R. Tolkien, best known for the creation of Lord of the Rings, whom Lewis was extremely drawn to. Interesting enough, it took the influence and thoughts of another public intellectual to inspire and somewhat produce another. Lewis was steady in his resistance to Christianity. He describes his struggle in Surprised by Joy as “kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance to escapes”(C.S Lewis).  From 1941 to 1943, Lewis spoke on religious broadcast by the BBC from London, and in 1942 he became the first President of the Oxford Socratic Club. In 1954 he was the chair of Mediaeval and Renaissance Literature at Magdalene College where he finished out the rest academic career (The Life of C.S. Lewis Timeline – C.S. Lewis Foundation).

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has not risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else”. –C.S.Lewis

There is no questioning the level of intellectual capacity that C.S Lewis possessed; it was extraordinary. He was the first to triple the highest honors in three areas of study at Oxford (The Life of C.S. Lewis Timeline – C.S. Lewis Foundation). Well known for being able to his “literate his thoughts”, Lewis was an inexhaustible writer. While at Oxford he aided in nurturing some of the strongest minds, tutoring people such as John Betjeman, Kenneth Tynan, and Roger Lancelyn Green. Lewis’ first novel after his conversion to Christianity was, The Pilgrim’s Regress, describing his journey to Christianity. His next work of literature was Space Trilogy which was mostly science fiction, then That Hideous Man (The Life of C.S. Lewis Timeline – C.S. Lewis Foundation). His most highly acclaimed and popular novel is The Chronicles of Narnia, a series of seven novels written with over 100 million copies and in 41 different languages.

“Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil”. –C.S Lewis

In Randy Alcorns speech, “C.S. Lewis on Heaven and the New Earth: God’s Eternal Remedy to the Problem of Evil and Suffering” he uses the works of C.S Lewis to explain the concept of knowing God. He points out how Lewis spent a large portion of his life neglecting the Christian faith, then came to faith by finally acknowledging God and developing a relationship with him. C.S. Lewis once addressed his atheism in an interview stating: “look at the universe we live in, history is largely a record of crime, war, disease, and terror. The Universe is running down, all story’s will come to nothing… So if you ask me to believe that this is the work of a benevolent and omnipotent spirit I reply that all the evidence points in the opposite direction” (C.S. Lewis on Heaven and the New Earth). What made him so dynamic and convincing is his strong stance on the opposite of what he originally defended.

Religious intellectuals have responsibilities and are historically the most prevalent in informing the public concerning moral dilemmas. One common objection to Jesus Christ is not that he did not exist; there are historical artifacts, testimonies, and masses of evidence that this person did exist, but rather his divine proclamation. A common refute C.S Lewis defends in his writing is the argument made against Jesus and him being a great moral teacher, just like the other prophets and so on. Lewis argues that Jesus made his divine state clear and defends this in his novel Mere Christianity. In his novel, C.S Lewis states “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell” (Mere Christianity). He goes on to say, “the choice is simple, you either believe it or not, either he is the Son of God or a crazy person” (Mere Christianity). Lewis continues “You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to” (Mere Christianity, Lewis).

After being an atheist for 33 years, Lewis finally converted to Christianity in 1921. This not only qualifies, but also gives more credit to C.S Lewis’ writing because it shows he has experienced common doubts and spent almost half of his life forming a completely opposite opinion of what he did so many great works on and later dealt with.

One of the greatest questions C.S Lewis was able to clearly articulate against the many skeptics today is why an all powerful God would allow suffering in the world. Lewis simply states that when our own life is less agreeable to us we are forced to sink or swim. We are forced to grow. “God will and can take away the plausible sources of false happiness. Suffering can be the form of transforming grace” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity). In my lifetime I can honestly say I have never grown, changed, or been challenged from situations where I was content or perfectly at peace. It has always been in my darkest, toughest times that I was able to make it through and look back to see how far I had come and had grown. Suffering is not to break you, but to build you.

Another question he dealt with, and was known for refuting was “can you live a good life without Christianity”? In a video accompanied with photo, C.S Lewis works come to life entitled Man or Rabbit? (https://www.youtube.com/ManorRabbit). Lewis says “One of the things that distinguishes man from the other animals is that he wants to know things, wants to find out what reality is like, simply for the sake of knowing.” He states that when the desire to know is completely quenched in anyone, it dehumanizes them; if Christianity claims to give an account of facts there are only two possible answers. It is true or false. Naturally, “humans would want to know the answer and if such a thing is untrue then no “honest man will want to believe it” (Man or Rabbit). The truth of the matter is the knowledge of tangible facts is ultimately what makes the largest difference in human’s actions.

C.S Lewis goes on to state: “There have been good men who did not believe in it (Christianity). These men are in a state of honest ignorance” (Man or Rabbit). He further goes on to explain the denial of truth, by giving simplified comparisons. “He is like the man who will not look at his bank account because he is afraid there will be no money, or the man who doesn’t want to go to the doctor when he is not feeling well because he is afraid of what the doctor will say” (Man or Rabbit). This is dishonest error according to C.S Lewis. When the truth is presented to you, one has a responsibility to discover what is true or not. If one simply avoids it out of fear, his dishonest ignorance will lead him astray (Man or Rabbit, C.S Lewis).

Lewis concludes by stating the ultimate truth results in a transformation, comparing a human to a rabbit “the worried, consciences ethical rabbit, cowardly and sensibly rabbit should bleed and sequel as the furry comes out. Then the impossible will happen with the wisdom and truth of God” (Man or Rabbit, C.S Lewis). Lewis states the good life as a final goal misses the very point of our existence. We are not placed on earth to overcome it alone; we are made for something much more. “Morality is a mountain we can not climb on our own mountain” (Man or Rabbit, C. S Lewis).

The problem with people like Richard Dawkins and foundations such as the Freedom from Religion program, is they make claims that are false. On its website it states: “The history of Western civilization shows us that most social and moral progress has been brought about by persons free from religion” (https://ffrf.org/about). This is simply false, civil rights leader Martin Luther Kings was not only a Baptist pastor but used Scripture and based much of his movement off of the Gospel. In The New Democratic Review: The Wicked Paradox: The Cleric as Public Intellectual, Stephen Mack makes clear that “Nearly every significant movement for social reform in American history was either started or nurtured in the church. Labor reform, the abolition of slavery, the temperance movement, women’s suffrage, public welfare, prison reform, the civil rights movement, the War on Poverty—each of these began as matters of conscience for early supporters”. Often times, people view religion as a chore or a duty and they do not see it as adding to their life, but restricting it. The number one cause of atheism is not people disbelieving in the bible or God, but rather seeing people claim to be Christian while their actions show otherwise. I must say this is a very valid and worthy reason of dyeing truth, because it is the best example of hypocrisy.

What gives C.S. Lewis the most creditability and classifies him, as a public intellectual in this case, is that Lewis has been on both sides of what he is fighting against. There is nothing bias about his epistemology. He is an expert in his field. C.S Lewis is needed in society for that reason, “It is only because learning the processes of criticism and practicing them with some regularity are requisites for intellectual employment. It’s what we do at our day jobs” (The New Democratic Review: The “Decline” of the Public Intellectual states). The youth should know of C.S Lewis and other influential public intellectuals. They spend a lifetime being experts in an area or field of study to eliminate confusion and do their best to answer questions. It is not that one must agree with everything stemming from the individual, but that the option and decision is willfully left to the individuals. In the writings of C.S Lewis, there is much comfort to be taken. Some may say it is intellectual stunt on the brain, while I argue that it is rather dealing with the heaviest, most serious topics and questions about the Universe, in a positive way as a result of the Christian faith. C. S. Lewis’s lifetime commitment to exploring religion and extraterrestrial dimensions of this world, provides a holistic perspective about controversial subjects, and therefore provides a great base for society when exploring their beliefs and morale.


Work Cited

Alcorn, Randy. “C.S. Lewis on Heaven and the New Earth: God’s Eternal Remedy to the Problem of Evil and Suffering.” YouTube. YouTube, 21 Oct. 2013. Web. 06 Feb. 2016.

Beversluis, John. C.S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1985. Print.

Bresland, Ronald W. The Backward Glance: CS Lewis and Ireland. Belfast: Institute of Irish Studies, Queen’s U of Belfast, 1999. Print.

Christopher, Joe R., and Joan K. Ostling. C.S. Lewis: An Annotated Checklist of Writings about Him and His Works. Kent, OH: Kent State UP, 1974. Print.

Keefe, Carolyn. C.S. Lewis: Speaker & Teacher. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 1971. Print.

Mack, Stephen. “The New Democratic Review: The “Decline” of the Public Intellectual (?).” The New Democratic Review: The “Decline” of the Public Intellectual (?). 17 Jan. 2016. Web. 06 Feb. 2016.

Mack, Stephen. “The New Democratic Review: The Wicked Paradox: The Cleric as Public Intellectual.” The New Democratic Review: The Wicked Paradox: The Cleric as Public Intellectual. Web. 06 Feb. 2016.

 Man or Rabbit? by CS Lewis. Dir. C.S Lewis. YouTube. YouTube, 12 May 2014. Web. 06 Feb. 2016.

Mills, David. The Pilgrim’s Guide: C.S. Lewis and the Art of Witness. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Pub., 1998. Print.

Lewis, C. S. Beyond Personality: The Christian Idea of God. New York: Macmillan, 1945. Print.

Lewis, C. S. Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1956. Print.

Jacobs, Alan. The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005. Print.

“The Life of C.S. Lewis Timeline – C.S. Lewis Foundation.” CS Lewis Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Feb. 2016.

Man or Rabbit

Stephen Mack

The Cleric as Public Intellectual

The Life of C.S. Lewis


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