Saturday, October 21, 2006

C. S. Lewis -- The Prophet


I am currently reading C. S. Lewis's Of Other Worlds: Essays and Stories (among other things). A piece within entitled "Unreal Estates" contains the transcript of a recorded dialogue between C. S. Lewis, Kingsley Amis, and Brian Aldiss. At one point, not far into the dialogue, Aldiss says to Lewis, "It's almost a quarter of a century since you wrote that first novel of the [space] trilogy." Lewis responds, "Have I been a prophet?" Aldiss says, "You have to a certain extent. ... ."

As I read that, I chuckled because in the piece just prior to "Unreal Estates," I was meditating on the notion that Lewis has been more prophetic about a number of things than he probably ever imagined. Consider the following from "A Reply to Professor Haldane." In order to understand it properly, you must understand that when he uses the word "democrat" he does not mean a party affiliation, but rather a supporter of the democratic system of government.
"I am a democrat because I believe that no man or group of men is good enough to be trusted with uncontrolled power over others. And the higher the pretensions of such power, the more dangerous I think it both to the rulers and to the subjects. Hence Theocracy is the worst of all governments. If we must have a tyrant a robber baron is far better than an inquisitor. The baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity at some point be sated; and since he dimly knows he is doing wrong he may possibly repent. But the inquisitor who mistakes his own cruelty and lust of power and fear for the voice of Heaven will torment us infinitely because he torments us with the approval of his own conscience and his beter impulses appear to him as temptations. ...

"Being a democrat, I am opposed to all very drastic and sudden changes of society (in whatever direction) because they never in fact take place except by a particular technique. That technique involves the seizure of power by a small, highly disciplined group of people; the terror and the secret police follow, it would seem, automatically. I do not think any group good enough to have such power. They are men of like passions with ourselves. The secrecy and discipline of their organisation will have already inflamed in them that passion for the inner ring which I think at least as corrupting as avarice; and their high ideological pretensions will have lent all their passions the dangerous prestige of the Cause. ...

"I must, of course, admit that the actual state of affairs may sometimes be so bad that a man is tempted to risk change even by revolutionary methods; to say that desperate diseases require desperate remedies and that neceessity knows no law. But to yield to this temptation is, I think, fatal. It is under that pretext that every abomination enters. Hitler, the Machiavellian Prince, the Inquisition, the Witch Doctor, all claimed to be necessary. ...

"[W]e have the emergence of 'the Party' in the modern sense--the Fascists, Nazis or Communists. What distinguishes this from the political parties of the nineteenth century is the belief of its members that they are not merely trying to carry out a programme but are obeying an impersonal force: that Nature, or Evolution, or the Dialectic, or the Race, is carrying them on. This tends to be accomplished by two beliefs which cannot, so far as I can see, be reconciled in logic but which blend very easily on the emotional level: the belief that the process which the Party embodies is inevitable, and the belief that the forwarding of this process is the supreme duty and abrogates all ordinary moral laws. In this state of mind men can become devil-worshippers in the sense that they can now honour, as well as obey, their own vices. All men at times obey their vices; but it is when cruelty, envy, and lust of power appear as the commands of a great super-personal force that they can be exercised with self-approval. ..."

As I read these words, I contemplated 100 applications of the principles Lewis unfolds here. So, I will not attempt to enumerate them all here. I will simply ask the question, "In what way do you believe that Lewis's words in this passage of this essay are prophetic, and especially relevant for our day? How would you apply his ideas to life inside the church? How would you apply these ideas to the goings on of the world, politics, the current state of global conflict, etc.?"

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