Sunday, May 18, 2008

C.S. Lewis and Hallowed Secularism

5/18/2008--I am reading C.S. Lewis, although not in honor of the new Narnia movie. Lewis is the great Christian popularizer. He was trying to reconnect dull Christian, and newer post-Christian, readers with the power of the Christian tradition. He illustrates both the strength and impossibility of that tradition for secularists.

For the strength, one need only look at the great speech by the physicist Weston in the first book of the Planet trilogy--Out of the Silent Planet. The materialist and humanist traditions that this character symbolizes are quite willing to destroy the life forms of an entire planet in order to allow humans to populate the solar system.

It is an anti-imperialism moment in the book, but Lewis means more than that. Humans on their own are incapable of living in peace with others or with themselves. We cannot trust the universe to provide our needs, nor accept any limits on our growth. The Weston speech is reminiscent of Daniel Quinn’s book Ishmael, which makes this same point about surplus agricultural life. Quinn is making a kind of anthropological argument while Lewis is speaking theologically.

Here is the root of global warming and the culture of denial. It cannot be true that there are to be limits on us. (No doubt some readers are asking themselves how religion can be of help when this engulfing civilization that has created the crisis is Christian at its origin and still Christian in many ways. Lewis would scoff at the notion that America is Christian in any meaningful sense. And if you read his orthodoxy, you will not recognize much of American Christianity).

But for the weakness, you need only look at Lewis’ attempt to re-tell and update the Fall of humanity in the second book of the Planet trilogy—Perelandra. As made literal, the story is boring, ridiculous and irrelevant. The book makes you happy that Eve ate the fruit. And it reminds you why you are a secularist.

No comments:

Post a Comment