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Sunday, November 17, 2013

C.S. Lewis: In Memoriam

On September 8, 1947, C. S. Lewis was featured on the front of Time Magazine with the caption: His Heresy: Christianity. As some readers know, Lewis was a novelist, poet, literary critic, and academic. He held academic positions at both Oxford University (Magdalen College), 1925–1954, and Cambridge University (Magdalene College), 1954–1963. He was also good friends with J.R.R. Tolkien of The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings fame. Today, he is best known for his fictional work, in particular The Chronicles of Narnia, but at the time of the Time Magazine cover, he was probably best known for his wartime broadcasts on Christianity, many of which served as the basis of his classic book on Christian apologetics, Mere Christianity.

Lewis was not always a Christian. Although he had been baptized in the Church of Ireland, which was part of the Anglican Communion (i.e., the Church of England), he fell away from his faith when he was 15; he later described his young self as being paradoxically "very angry with God for not existing." Largely due to the influence of Tolkien and some other friends, Lewis first embraced theism in 1929 and Christianity in 1931, albeit quite reluctantly. He joined the the Church of England much to the disappointment of Tolkien, who had hoped he join the Roman Catholic Church (Tolkien was a devout Roman Catholic). Because Lewis had fallen away from the faith and was drawn back kicking and screaming, following his conversion, he was called "The Apostle to the Skeptics."

Interestingly, although Lewis was an Anglican, of which the American Episcopal Church is a part, Lewis has found a larger following among evangelicals than among mainline Protestants. In fact, the flagship evangelical magazine, Christianity Today, named Mere Christianity as the best book of the twentieth century.

Lewis is commemorated on the 22nd of November in the church calendar of the Episcopal Church, which marks the day he died in 1963. In fact, he died the same day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated (Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World, also died the same day), which is why his death received little press coverage at the time. To mark the 50th anniversary of his death, this Friday Lewis will be honored with a memorial in Poets' Corner at Westminster Abbey.

Lewis is also the subject of the latest Research on Religion podcast, "Micah Watson on C.S. Lewis," which can be downloaded from iTunes or listed to at the Research on Religion website. Here's the summary of the podcast:
On the 50th anniversary of C.S. Lewis’s death, we take a moment to review his life, times, and writings with Micah Watson, an associate professor of political philosophy at Union University in Jackson, TN... We begin with a general overview of Lewis’s life, growing up in Northern Ireland, his drift away from Christianity, his astounding brilliance in school, his time as a soldier during WWI, and then his gradual return to the Christian faith. In somewhat of a non-synchronous fashion, we flitter in-and-out of his time at both Oxford and Cambridge, mixing intellectually with the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien and Owen Barfield. We then develop the intellectual themes of his writing, both fiction and nonfiction. We learn about the wide range of genres and styles of writing that he undertakes, including everything from apologetics to science fiction to children’s books and poetry. His broad repertoire — including radio broadcasts — earned him some cautionary disrespect from his intellectual colleagues, but also allowed him to reach audiences that he may not have had access to otherwise. 
Prof. Watson walks us through some of Lewis’s works, including The Space Trilogy, and how he developed his immaginative thoughts. We learn how Lewis uses imagery and narrative to circumvent the ”watchful dragons” of more orthodox Christianity. Prof. Watson considers Lewis’s ability to speak in the vernacular to a non-academic audience one of the main reason why he remains so popular today. He also notes that following a debate with G.E.M. Anscombe, Lewis stops writing pure apologetics and weaves his defense of Christianity into a more nonfiction narrative style. Given Micah’s own interest in political theory, we also talk about natural law and Lewis’s political views, which were never strongly stated but were nonetheless present in his scholarship. The interview ends with Micah’s reflections on how Lewis has influenced our contemporary intellectual landscape and his own personal development as well.

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