Thursday, September 4, 2008

Lewis' Lists

Last week I finished my class on the theology of C.S. Lewis at Reformed Theological Seminary. Although at times I felt overwhelmed by all of the required reading, overall, I felt like I've learned a lot about Lewis' views.

In spending the past several months reading his work, it was interesting for me to see that not just themes carried from one of Lewis' books to another, but (as one could imagine) some of his writing patterns did as well. One technique that I found interesting was C.S. Lewis' use of lists in a long sentence to emphasize the point he was making.

(I'm sure there's a Ph.D. dissertation in this for some enterprising young scholar who's willing to analyze Lewis' sentences that contain, say, three or more commas). Here are a few of the lists that I observed:

In "Mere Christianity" Lewis makes the point that all civilizations have a moral code or law:

"If anyone will take the trouble to compare the moral teaching of, say, the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Hindus, Chinese, Greeks and Romans, what will really strike him will be how very like they are to each other and our own."

In discussing his concept of "men without chests", (that is, a lack of a moral compass pointing to transcendent virtues) in the book "The Abolition of Man" Lewis declares:

"You can hardly open a periodical without coming across a statement that what our civilization needs is more 'drive' or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or creativity."

In his preface to the "Screwtape Letters" Lewis gives us this list when he notes that evil is something that is not done exclusively by the poor in some Dickensian back alley, but rather it is also,

"conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices; by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice."

In explaining how to tempt a Christian in "The Screwtape Letters", the veteran demon Uncle Srewtape tells his nephew to focus his "patient's" thoughts on worldly things, thus seeing faith as simply a means to a worldly end:

"Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours -- and the more "religious" (on those terms), the more securely he is ours."

In "The Great Divorce", a fictional tale describing a trip from Hell to Heaven, Lewis' narrator describes walking through a large dingy city that turns out to be Hell:

"However far I went I found only dingy lodging houses, small tobacconists, hoardings from which posters hung in rags, windowless warehouses, goods stations without trains, and bookshops of the sort that sell The Works of Aristotle."

In his book called "Miracles", Lewis describes how prophets and saints have had a sense of the greatness of God:

"Because, just touching the fringes of His being, they have seen that He is plentitude of life and energy and joy, therefore (and for no other reason) they have to pronounce that He transcends the limitations which we call personality, passion, change, materiality and the like."

In "The Problem of Pain" Lewis describes how easy it is to deceive ourselves in denying our sinful actions and thoughts:

"I do not think it is our fault that we cannot tell the real truth about ourselves; the persistent, life-long, inner murmur of spite, jealousy, prurience, greed and self-complacence, simply will not go into words."

In "A Grief Observed" (Lewis' poignant account of his thoughts and feelings after the death of his wife), he writes,

"We have seen the faces of those we know best so variously, from so many angles, in so many lights, with so many expressions -- waking, sleeping, laughing, crying, eating, talking, thinking -- that all the impressions crowd into our memory together and cancel out into a mere blur."

In "Reflections on Psalms", Lewis reflects on how enjoyment naturally overflows into praise:

"The world rings with praise -- lovers praising their mistresses, readers their favorite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game -- praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians and scholars."

Lastly, in his book called "The Four Loves" Lewis gives my favorite list as he explains how God's divine love can help us love others:

"Divine Gift-love in the man enables him to love what is not naturally lovable: lepers, criminals, enemies, morons, the sulky, the superior and the sneering."

There are more lists from the writings of C.S. Lewis, but these are a few that I found particularly interesting. Lewis, we see from these examples, was not content with simply making a generalization about his thoughts, but instead desired his readers to ponder the exact, precise, specific, explicit and unambiguous details.

Grace and Peace,

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