Reading and the Cultural Moment, with C.S. Lewis

So much of C.S. Lewis’ uniqueness comes down to his sheer love of diversity. He loved variability, colour, the exchange, the alienation of encounter and unity with others. His weird dystopia That Hideous Strength was, in many ways, a protest against the tendency of totalitarianism to create monoculture by erasing the individual. Forests are diverse and unkempt, as humans are. There would be, for Lewis, nothing as anti-forest and anti-human as the hum of traffic on a commuter freeway or that particularly depressing institutional paint they put up in government offices.

Lewis loved difference and diversity and freedom of expression–doctrines in danger in today’s culture war. It doesn’t take long within any of today’s major social movements to find out that diversity is fine and great as long as everyone acts like us or looks like us or thinks like us or uses the same secret words we use.

This is, I think, a particularly Screwtapian age.

Indeed, Screwtape would be terrified if at this time our social and political leaders said things like, “I think you are wrong–maybe even fatally wrong–but I will let you speak for three reasons: One, you are a person worthy of the dignity of free thought. Two, I may learn from you. Three, even if you are totally wrong, I can still use our conversation to make my position stronger. Four, social power works to police ideas and quiet certain voices; I don’t want to be someone who does this.”

Fortunately for the Lowerarchy, there is not much chance of that happening any time soon–at least not among people who are deeply ethical and desiring to live authentically. In this moment, people who live deeply in these ways look at those who disagree and only see baskets of deplorables or fake news or bigots, rather than a conversation of great importance. The passion of culture warriors in this age is so great that they cannot even perceive of their own hypocrisy.

Screwtape’s domain is well-guarded from within, often by people very intent on doing the right thing.

Perhaps our cultural moment is unusual, though. How did C.S. Lewis approach cultural criticism? After all, he was a controversialist in a time and place much different than our own. Not all his lessons transfer to our times, but I think there is one area that helps us step back and prepare for cultural engagement beyond this particular pinprick of history.

Lewis suggested that we can add to our appreciation of diversity by reading old books.

In his introduction to Sr. Penelope’s translation of St. Athanasius’ On the Incarnation,[1] Lewis wants to challenge the

“strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books.”[2]

Lewis suspects that the idea comes first not from the hardness of older books but from our educational instinct to provide mediators for old works. Instead of just reading a good translation of, say, The Symposium, contemporary students

“would rather read some dreary modern book ten times as long, all about ‘isms’ and influences and only once in twelve pages telling him what Plato actually said.”[3]

Though no doubt such trust in masters is humble in attitude, Lewis rejects this approach in his own teaching and works to pin the student to the primary text. His preference for primary sources extends to theological study:

“Wherever you find a little study circle of Christian laity you can be almost certain that they are studying not St Luke or St Paul or St Augustine or Thomas Aquinas or Hooker or Butler, but M. Berdyaev or M. Maritain or Mr Niebuhr or Miss Sayers or even myself.”[4]

He was always concerned that literary scholarship might become “a baleful thing which is always taking you out of the literature itself.”[5] Often my best students, unless they come from schools that focus on literary theory and hermenuetic, have exactly the same concern. Lewis does not reject secondary literature or contemporary books altogether, but he would suggest that if you join a dinner party late, sometimes you cannot see the entire thread of certain conversations.

More than this, old books can work as an antidote to certain diseases that are peculiar to contemporary culture:

Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook—even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united—united with each other and against earlier and later ages—by a great mass of common assumptions.[6]

Here we see Lewis struggling with worldviews and the perspectival nature of knowledge acquisition—conversations that would develop much later, and places where he doesn’t really have language yet to talk about.[7] But part of his interest in considering books from other times and cultures is a research and reason principle:

“I ought to check the results of my own thinking by the opinions of the wise.”[8]

For Lewis, though, there is an intellectual discipline at play that he had to develop in his own formation: we must, as he learned from Owen Barfield, reject “chronological snobbery,” which is

“the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited.”[9]

Certain ideas of the past are and should be rejected by new modes of thinking and new considerations of evidence. But in superseding the instinctive modern idea that past ages have nothing to teach us, we can then use the conversations of past ages to critique our own. In the same way, we might ask, “how could they have thought that?” of a past age or a different culture, so that age or culture might ask the same as us. And certainly some future age will look back at our own and wonder how we were so narrow-minded, backward, divisive, and slow.

It is worth noting that Lewis is writing this during WWII while his country’s great opponent, the great civilizational leader Germany, came to its totalitarianism and holocaustism largely through the influence of one man and his book, Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf. A past age, Lewis suggests, would see what our age is blind to. They would be able to see the cultural forces that allowed this idea to emerge and the invisible bargains we make with our ideological enemies in debate with them. By consuming only contemporary ideas, we can never see outside of our own worldview. Old books can be a resource in self-critique:

Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us.[10]

Lewis suggests that in order to resist the echo chamber of our viral thinking as a culture—what he calls elsewhere “a tiny windowless universe” mistaken “for the only possible universe”[11]—we will discover that the

“palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books.”[12]

As the pressures of culture swirl around us, then, taking a step out of a cultural moment can diversify our thinking. It is also an inoculation against the cultural viruses of whatever age–even when the very air is poisonous to breathe.

I hope over the next couple of weeks to come back and keep thinking about this prophetic moment in Lewis. Next week (if I can get to it), I want to say, “Yes, but….” Then I’d like to suggest a Lewisian approach to books that have a worldview different than our own.

[1] Later anthologized as “On the Reading of Old Books” in God in the Dock.

[2] C.S. Lewis, “Introduction” of St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation (trans. Sr. Penelope; Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1982), 3.

[3] Lewis, “Introduction,” 3.

[4] Lewis, “Introduction,” 3.

[5] Lewis, Discarded Image, ix.

[6] Lewis, “Introduction,” 4-5.

[7] E.g., see Paul Ricoeur, on “the mythical nucleus of society” in “Myth as the Bearer of Possible Worlds,” in A Ricoeur Reader: Reflection & Imagination (ed. Mario J. Valdés; Hertfordshire: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1991), 483. On worldview see also William A. Young, The World’s Religions: Worldviews and Contemporary Issues (2d ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson-Prentice Hall, 2005), ch. 1, who considers the categories of Symbols, Myths, Rituals, and Questions. N.T. Wright (New Testament and the People of God (Vol. 1: Christian Origins and the Question of God; Mennapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 121-6) agrees with Ricouer on the presuppositional nature of worldviews, and largely with Young on the categories, including Story, Praxis, Symbols, and four basic questions: 1) Who are we? 2) Where are we? 3) What is wrong? 4) What is the solution? James W. Sire (The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog (4th ed. Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP, 2004), ch. 1) focuses on 7 major questions, adding an eighth in the 2011 5th ed., and defines worldview as “a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being,” p. 17; for Sire’s approach in detail see James W. Sire, Naming the Elephant: Worldview as a Concept (Grand Rapids: IVP, 2004). Charles Taylor uses the term “social imaginary” to describe “the way that we collectively imagine, even pretheoretically, our social life,” A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press, 2007), 146; see his fourth chapter, “Modern Social Imaginaries,” for the definition applied.

[8] Lewis, “Christianity and Culture.”

[9] Lewis, SBJ, 207.

[10] Lewis, “Introduction,” 5. Emphasis original.

[11] Lewis, “Christianity and Culture.”

[12] Lewis, “Introduction,” 5.

[13] Lewis, Discarded Image, ix.

[14] Lewis, Discarded Image, ix.

[15] Lewis, Discarded Image, x.

[16] Lewis, Discarded Image, x. Alister McGrath notes that Lewis’ image here may be taken from the image of a tourist so “heavily pilloried” in works like E.M. Forster’s Room With a View; Alister E. McGrath, C.S. Lewis: A Companion and Guide (New York: HarperCollins, 1996), 188.

[17] Lewis, Discarded Image, x.

About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
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55 Responses to Reading and the Cultural Moment, with C.S. Lewis

  1. “Words cannot guarantee their truth content. Rather they assemble a context in which the question becomes – “Is this true of false ?” – and relevant? … Truth does not, and never has, come unadorned. It must appear in its proper clothing or it is not acknowledged, which is a way of saying that the “truth” is a kind of prejudice. Each culture conceives of it as being most authentically expressed in certain symbolic forms that another culture may regard as trivial or irrelevant” [Neil Postman]

    Liked by 2 people

  2. dalejamesnelson says:

    Alan Jacobs offers the term “totalitarian presentism.”


    Liked by 1 person

  3. joviator says:

    If we look at what Hillary Clinton said in the “basket of deplorables” comment referred to above, it looks rather different from the customary portrayal. I certainly agree with what she really said, and I suspect Lewis wouldn’t have found fault. Screwtape is definitely at work, but on the communication channels between us, not on Sen. Clinton herself.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are comfortable calling 23% of Americans what she called them? She said, “You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. (Laughter/applause) Right? (Laughter/applause) They’re racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic – Islamophobic – you name it.” And then she wonders why the people she claims to help didn’t trust her. Until Democrats find a strategy to treat every person–no matter how evil their views–as people, they won’t be believable to the 1/3 of Americans who choose every election. I had hopes Democrats would undergo self-reflection in the critical 2016 loss, but they seem content to blame other people.
      The penalty of liberal betrayal of Americans is Trump, and Democrats are angling toward another Trump win in 2020.
      I don’t want to play the “What would Lewis think” game. The verbicidal use of “Racism!” or “Bigot!” by social activists is only going to make things worse for those of us who want to see a world of equality. He had a pretty interesting view of race for his time, and I would be curious to see what he would have said if he knew the American situation. But Lewis would also be pretty allergic to political correct side-speak, I think.
      I’m also afraid of saying what I think Lewis would think that I might bend him to my view of things. I just don’t know that Lewis could talk about race, equality, and things like that as we do.


      • joviator says:

        I defer to your expertise on Lewis’s opinions, of course. His fiction is not gentle describing people who hold reprehensible opinions, but if that’s not generally true of his thought I’ll withdraw it.

        I doubt there is anyone who wants to see a world of equality who thinks being called “racist” is a killing blow. I grew up in the Jim Crow South; I can speak from both sides. If the shoe didn’t fit, they wouldn’t wear it.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yewtree says:

          People who grew up in an obviously and generally racist environment (eg South Africa, southern USA) are not usually uncomfortable about being called, or even referring to themselves as, racists. Regardless of whether they recognize racism as a reprehensible attitude, they’re aware that the entirety of white culture is saturated with it, and therefore they must have absorbed some of it.

          People who grew up in a culture that is in denial about its own racism (eg UK, Canada, northern USA) are much more uncomfortable about being called a racist. You can sometimes tell people from these cultures that their attitudes, or a specific attitude, are/is racist, but woe betide you if you call them a racist.

          Also worth mentioning that someone can hold racist views and not actually act on them, and not be evil. The other day I heard a story of a man who believed that Black people were inferior, but did everything in his power to help them. Did he hold racist views? Yes. Was he a big bad racist? Um, that is more difficult to answer. I would still argue with his views but I can’t fault his actions.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Thanks Joe. Yes, Lewis didn’t hold back on some opinions. I don’t remember a lot of insults like Trump’s constant stream or Clinton’s sweeping a quarter of Americans into a single category. But he may well have approved.
          On the verbicidal nature of today’s activists, I’ll give an example from my community. I was wearing an “Every Child Matters” t-shirt, bright orange, part of a Canadian memorial of our history of cultural genocide against indigenous peoples, including kidnapping and reprogramming aboriginal children en masse. This was a pretty big campaign and someone called me a racist because it was co-opting the Black Lives Matters movement.
          That’s what I mean by the verbicidal nature of activism. I could give right-wing examples too, but I’d rather be self-critical. It’s especially true on transgender discussions, where anyone with a question or concern is labelled pretty quickly. That’s fine if people want to do that, but it will ultimately work against our hope of freedom and equality in two ways. First, it ruins good words like “bigot” or “racist” or “Nazi,” softening them. While I appreciate Yewtree’s sentiment, calling Trump “Nazi” is exactly what I mean. It isn’t true. It isn’t even true that he is fascist. He is certainly a womanizer, a bigot, and unwilling to take strong stands against racism (as his conservative predecessors did). Using untrue or exaggerated claims will ruin the word.
          Second, we reduce our credibility as a movement when we are not perfectly true, and lose the opportunity to win people to a greater understanding of truth.
          That’s my thought–mine, not Lewis’s, I’m afraid. It isn’t that I don’t have sides, and I will speak to the side. I just won’t lie or bend the truth. And if I were a Democrat leader who really wanted liberty and equality, I would search hard in my movement’s soul and find out why Americans chose a womanizing, insulting, brash, greed-soaked, bigot over Mrs. Clinton. If the answer is “because Americans are ______,” then Democrats will lose again and real people will pay the price of their inability to be committed to liberal and democratic principles of equality, freedom, and self-critique.

          Liked by 1 person

          • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

            I only know Michael Isikoff’s Uncovering Clinton: A Reporter’s Story (1999) in his audiobook abridgement read by himself, but it bowled me over. Following on from it (among other things), I think if one were to ask, ‘why did some Americans chose Mr. Trump over an insulting, brash, greed-soaked, bigot like Mrs. Clinton who is also the enabler of her womanizing (indeed, accused rapist), insulting, brash, greed-soaked, bigot of a husband’, the answer might be ‘anything but the Clintons again’.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Yewtree says:

              I think a lot of the people who disliked the Clintons in that way voted for Hill Stein instead. And the crowning irony of the whole situation, by the way, is that the Clintons suggested that Trump should run — possibly even in the hope that he’d be seen as such a ridiculous option that Hillary would win easily.

              Conclusion: they are, at the end of the day, the ruling classes.

              Regarding Brenton’s Every Child Matters T-shirt — the ignorance of some people around Orange Shirt Day, and almost everything to do with Indigenous people, is breathtaking sometimes. And yes, social justice activists can be [expletive deleted] sometimes, but no more than everyone else.

              I think there should be more nuanced words available. Sure, everyone is a little bit racist, but very few people are actual big bad racists (or transphobes).

              As to Trump’s putative fascism — more astute political analysts than I have concluded that he’s a fascist.

              Liked by 1 person

              • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

                Somewhat belatedly: yes, I wouldn’t be surprised if people voted for Dr. Stein, and other candidates, in preference to Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Trump. One way and another, for years in fact, I’ve seen controversy about what might be called prudential and conscientious voting. That is, people contending that if you do not vote Against Major Party Candidate Thus by voting prudentially in Favour of Major Party Candidate So, you are effectively voting For the other of the two. But not a few people might not feel able in good conscience to do that sort of ‘ Voting Against’ in a given instance, even though ´Third Party’ Candidate Whoever is probably very, very unlikely to get elected. The most popular ‘ third party’ U.S. Presidential candidate, ever, former President Theodore Roosevelt, probably only managed to split the Republican (etc.?) vote by running for the Progressive Party, facilitating the victory of Woodrow Wilson.

                Liked by 1 person

              • Yewtree says:

                And there you have neatly outlined the problem with first-past-the-post voting systems. In the UK, USA, and Canada (and possibly other places where FPTP is used) it only really offers a choice between the two main parties. Okay so UKIP would get more seats if the UK had proportional representation— but so would the Greens and the Lib Dems. And if Canada had PR, both the Greens and the NDP would get more seats.

                Whatever your political party preferences, it would be fairer if the political system was more representative of what people actually voted for.


              • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

                It’s an interesting and complicated history, on lower levels in the United States, about which I don’t know enough – though this seems to have some interesting brief accounts:

                Click to access Wsipp_Proportional-Representation-in-Local-Elections-A-Review_Full-Report.pdf

                I see, for example, it says Cincinnati had Single Transferable Vote electoral plan from from 1925-55, but Wikipedia has information about the further history and continuing, if varying, success of a third party after 1955 in its article, “Charter Party”.

                Liked by 1 person

          • joviator says:

            I agree with a lot of this. I’m going to disagree with “Americans chose”, though. Hillary Clinton got more votes, so it’s a misleading construction. As has been made clear twice in the last 20 years, the class of people who choose the President is a small subset of “Americans”, and they don’t particularly agree with the rest of us.

            Liked by 2 people

            • We have a similar problem here in Canada, a first past the post approach that means that (in a multi-party system), it only takes 37% to win a majority government. Yours, of course, is ridiculously complex.
              Still, if the parties were switched, Democrats should feel that they have a right to rule.
              You have some disturbing problems in your system, but it will take the collective will of the people to address them.

              Liked by 1 person

              • joviator says:

                That’s factually incorrect. Al Gore stood down in 2000 because he judged that fighting the Supreme Court would damage the country. Every Democrat in the Senate went along with him. The two parties are not equivalent, no matter how much the NYT wants us to think they are.


              • Sorry for the delay Joe, but I’m not sure your point exactly. Bush in ’00 lost pop vote but Gore didn’t push the legal challenge on the voter fraud issues. But am I right your point is that the parties are not morally equal?
                President Trump’s right to rule is legal, right now. His approach to rule may be legal or illegal, moral or immoral, wise or unwise, religious, irreligious, or antireligious, etc.


            • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

              The thing is, Electors for the Executive have been a feature of the American system since the adoption of the Constitution, and is arguably an approach more magnificently than “ridiculously complex”. I have the impression, for example, that there is a lot more respect for the States as states under the Constitution in this as in other contexts, than for the ancient historical nation-states as states in the current European Union (!).

              Liked by 1 person

          • dalejamesnelson says:

            Thanks for your remarks about name-calling, Brenton. It would do a lot of good if we could have a five-year moratorium on the use of “Nazi,” “fascist,” “genocide,” etc. except where these words were literally true. If the injustices decried by Black Lives Matter are going to be called “genocide,” then what word do you use when you -really- mean what was attempted with regard to the Armenians (1915-1923) or the Jews during World War II? I know something about these two monstrosities (having taught David Kherdian’s The Road from Home: The Story of an Armenian Girl for many years in freshman comp, for one thing). When someone asserts “genocide” of Black Americans today, my reaction is to suspect that the speaker is someone primarily interested in “venting” and virtue signaling and in preaching to the choir — while, if he or she would forego the emotivism and actually make his or her case, I might hear something worth hearing. As things are — I will have “left the room” by then. Life’s too short and I’m not obligated to listen respectfully to cliches (now that I have retired).

            It’s a moral principle, that language ought to be used with respect, and one of the first principles thereof is that one should never stretch a word out of shape, in order to say something for a cheap effect, that can be said clearly without doing so. For example, don’t say something is “unique” unless it is; if something is “unusual” or “very unusual,” I will appreciate your saying so, but not “unique” unless that’s what it is. Language is constantly pulled toward the loss of meaning by such usages. (I believe, likewise, in spite of accepted journalistic practice now, that using “they” as a singular pronoun in one’s writing is almost always something that ought to be avoided. There are ways to get around the “generic male,” if one or one’s audience can’t abide it, that are not clumsy, without misuse of plural pronouns.)

            Probably one of the reasons why I am inclined to read less and less contemporary writing and to continue to explore the riches of earlier writing is so as to avoid the bad usages I have suggested here (and, yes, I know Jane Austen could use a plural pronoun for a singular person, etc.).

            Much “political” talk today reminds me of two out-of-shape middle-aged bores who haven’t filed for divorce yet but want to be divorced more than anything. I will leave them to it. There are better things to listen to and read, as C. S. L. knew.

            I have been faithful to thee, Calliope, in my fashion. ; )

            Dale Nelson


            • Thanks Dale. I’d add a couple of provisos to that. “Genocide” was meant to be a bit more broad of a term, so that if the Nazis had been terrible at killing Jews, the Roma, the disabled, homosexuals, and others, it could still be a genocide if they destroy culture, psychologically terrorize them, or break them in other ways. But “them” is an interesting question. The Roma, Jews, and Armenians (I just read an essay about the son of a survivor) are all religio-ethnic groups, esp. Jews & Armenians. Polish people, Communists, the disabled, and homosexuals aren’t, and are each a different kind of category. Genocide covers WWII holocaustism well.
              But I think it also covers the British-Canadian policy to “kill the Indian to save the child” in Canada. Hence my orange shirt. The impact of that persecution is still clear today.
              Also, to Yewtree’s point: Though I don’t think Trump is a fascist–I think he is an opportunist and a phallocrat–fascism is a category while Nazi is simply an insult. He could technically be a fascist.
              I agree about the tiresome overuse of words. But I’m also sympathetic to resistance movements: What do we do when our government is oppressive? Our first sword should be verbal.


              • dalejamesnelson says:

                I’m not sure about “was meant to be,” Brenton.

                Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin invented the term, defining it as “a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves.”


                It is indeed “a very specific term,” as the Holocaust Encyclopedia states, and it is one without a synonym. But in broader usage, such as is common today, it loses its indispensable significance.

                It may be argued that “consciousness” advances by means of words, when words are used with care, helping us to see the reality more clearly. The misuse of words is deleterious to the perception of reality. The use of words to obscure reality is a great evil, and one without which our present way of life probably could not persist. Blake called this situation a matter of “mind-forg’d manacles.”

                Here’s something everyone should print and put where he or she will see it often:

                “In our day many ingenious theories have been put forth as to the origin of language. But Dr. Pusey [an Oxford University professor of Hebrew] believed that the only one which does justice to what it is in itself and to its place in nature as a characteristic of man is the belief that it is an original gift of God; the counterpart of that other and greater gift of His, a self-questioning and immortal soul. Language is the life of the human soul, projected into the world of sound; it exhibits in all their strength and delicacy the processes by which the soul takes account of what passes without and within itself; in it may be studied the minute anatomy of the soul’s life – that inner world in which thought takes shape and conscience speaks, and the eternal issues are raised and developed to their final form. Therefore Dr. Pusey looked upon language with the deepest interest and reverence; he handled it as a sacred thing which could not be examined or guarded or employed too carefully; he thought no trouble too great in order to ascertain and express its exact shades of meaning…”

                Source: H. P. Liddon, 1884

                Liked by 1 person

              • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

                Is it worth noting here the term and studies of the late R.J. Rummel, with respect to ‘democide’?:


                Liked by 1 person

      • “You don’t have to think about the realities and values of your “World-View” in order for it to affect the way you live”[Dallas Willard]
        I am no expert on the “world-view” of Jonathan Haidt but he has made some very astute and deep observations on “identity politics”. Please bear with me in my ignorance here because I have not read any of his books, and forgive my own translation of his message but I have attempted to condense and summarize many hours of his YouTube videos while translating it into language I can understand at the same time. (And as Neil Postman puts it – “our dominant means for construing, understanding and testing reality itself undermines reality, forces an abandonment of exposition into the background, and in some instances obliterates it altogether.”)
        The “rider” = the individual and the “elephant” = the “world-view”, identity group or the “ideological possession” of both.”
        The movement of an individual from “rider” to “elephant” is an attempt to deflect or deceive. The point of moving from the position of indivicual rider to your elephant is that you can hold individual’s responsible but you cannot hold groups responsible, simply because you can’t enforce the relationship between rights and responsibilities in groups without an elite group being introduced to do the enforcing, and that is the objective of “elephant” or “world-view” creation in the first place.
        If you can convince individual’s that because groups have the power to create and remove rights then you can convince them that your group will do that fairly. Terms like “white cultural hegemony” are used by individuals who want to avoid responsibility for their thoughts and actions by jumping across and into a group or onto an “elephant”.

        “The direct implication of this truth is that love must precede all true knowledge. Spiritual knowledge is to know things “subject to subject” (I-Thou), whereas carnal knowledge is to know things “subject to object” (I-it). There is, of course, a place for both, but most have never been told about how to know things “centre to centre” (subject to subject) instead of just subject to object”. [Richard Rohr]

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yewtree says:

        Regarding referring to Trump supporters as a basket of deplorables: I think the problem you’re highlighting is that we are all too ready to dismiss the whole person on the basis of their reprehensible views.

        Their opinions are certainly deplorable, but unless they have effaced every fibre of goodness in their beings, every last bit of the imago Dei, then they’re still a person made in the divine image (as you might phrase it) / a child of the gods (as I would phrase it).

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Yewtree says:

    Love this. And another reason for reading books from the past: not to keep reinventing previous struggles, and not to forget that previous generations also struggled.

    I wouldn’t say Mein Kampf was responsible for that zeitgeist; rather a whole bunch of socio-economic factors led to there being a desire to embrace the ideas expressed therein; similar to the socio-economic factors currently prevailing.

    I’d also add the caveat that some differences of opinion are acceptable and others aren’t.

    It’s ok by me if you believe in God Almighty, the Trinity etc, though I do not.

    It’s not ok by me if you believe that Donald Trump is a good person.

    It all depends on the consequences of your belief. I think.


    • Yewtree says:

      I came across a couple of things the other day that explained really well why no-platforming of actual Nazis is a good idea.

      One is that it actually works: starving them of the oxygen of publicity makes it impossible for them to attract adherents.

      Another is that they don’t care about tolerance and free speech, and will, if given power, certainly prevent you from exercising your right to free speech (the Popperian paradox of tolerance).

      The most persuasive explanation is this. If you invite your friends round for dinner, an acceptable difference of opinion is that one drinks wine and another drinks beer, and someone else doesn’t drink at all; or one eats meat and another is a vegetarian. What is absolutely unacceptable and deserving of exclusion from the dinner table is a preference for eating human flesh. So the analogy is that the difference between Christians and Pagans is like the difference between wine-drinkers and beer-drinkers; but Nazis are like the eaters of human flesh, beyond the pale, so they do not get invited to the table.

      And I’d suggest that thinking it’s ok to separate children from their parents with no possible means of reuniting them puts Trump’s regime firmly in the Nazi camp. Obviously not everyone who voted for him is a Nazi, but I think that he is.


      • I confess I find your “no-platforming” analogy less persuasive than you do, that’s if your definition is the same as mine – ” – “I may disagree with what you say but will defend to the death your right to express it” – simply because the major benefit of “freedom of speech is that cannibal’s, Nazis and idiots get to self -identify and a choice of dinner guests indicates a lack of maturity to tolerate and deal with diverse opinions.


        • Yewtree says:

          I don’t know if you’re on Twitter, Patrick, but here’s a thread about the rise and fall of Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts (you should still be able to see it without a Twitter account).

          The conversation we are having now is a civilized debate. If a fascist joined in, he would by now have accused one or other of us of virtue signalling, called us snowflakes and cucks (whatever that actually means), and twisted the argument out of all recognition. I’ve tried debating with fascists online and they are working from a completely different set of starting assumptions.

          The disconnect of starting assumptions also happens when I try to discuss theology with Christians (but at least I can assume goodwill and decency on the part of the Christian, and a civilized debate can be had, unless they also happen to be a fascist).

          Fascists are not interested in rational debate or having their minds changed to a more reasonable position. They are only interested in intimidating people.

          That’s why Cable Street was a battle not a debate. That’s why we ended up fighting a war to defeat the Nazis. That’s why Germany made neo-Nazi parties illegal. And that’s why the Antifascists show up to far right marches and seek to shut them down — because they are about intimidation, not debate.


          • I am not on Twitter or Facebook, never have been, and have no intention of going there.

            “The elementary unit of social life is individual human action. To explain social institutions and social change is to show how they arise as the result of the actions and interactions of individuals.” [Jon Elster] Group-identity is a “collective” or an “elephant”, an individual “rider” cannot debate a collective productively.

            Only when you discuss subject (rider) to subject (rider) is any real resolution possible, and even then “People in flight from them “self” are intrinsically violent” [Richard Rohr].

            “… the collective has no existence and reality but in the actions of individuals. It comes into existence by ideas that move individuals to behave as members of a definite group and goes out of existence when the persuasive power of these ideas subsides.” [Ludwig von Mises]

            To de-platform those who are de-platforming you will not give either party an opportunity to change their mind.


    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      An interesting addition here is the late Nicholas Goodrick-Clarke’s The Occult Roots of Nazism: The Ariosophists of Austria and Germany, 1890–1935 (1985). Eric Voegelin is interesting about what-all contributed to preparing the Germans for the possibility of embracing Hitler, but I’m not sure what to recommend in particular – perhaps Autobiographical Reflections? Leopold Schwarzschild’s World in Trace (1943) is striking in its presentation of how much of the Nazi regime was merely in continuity with what preceded it. So is, in its own way, Sebastian Haffner’s The Ailing Empire (English translation of Von Bismarck zu Hitler – though I have only read the Dutch translation).

      Liked by 1 person

      • My basic assumptions are drawn from the way Jesus interacted with “elephants” or “collectives” and I wish I had the time to delve deeply into the factual history of how He “walked through the crowd” to avoid being thrown from a cliff after declaring exactly who He was in the synagogue, or what He wrote in the sand in front of the crowd who were threatening “the woman caught in adultery”.

        I note, however, that it was the three collectives of “religion”, “politics” and “finance” that Satan used to tempt Him with in the wilderness before beginning His ministry, and it was those same three elephants that were responsible for getting Him crucified. Personal relationship was definitely His means of communication and debates or discussions though.

        “But make no mistake— it was his basin work which set the stage for the cross. It was in fact the politics of his basin ministry that led to his death. The cross didn’t fall miraculously from the sky. Jesus could have avoided it by softening his message, by staying out of Jerusalem, or by not offering free forgiveness, but he didn’t. He boldly announced and enacted the kingdom of God. The cross was the natural reaction of evil forces to the assertive presence of loving service without regard to sex, nation, religion, or ethnicity. The rugged tree was the violent tool of the powerful trying to crush his basin ministry. Without a basin there would likely have been no cross. In other words, we must distinguish between the cross and what led up to it. Basin and cross, flags of two kingdoms, show the sharp difference in their values and methods. ” [Donald Kraybill] This is what I am going to ponder.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Patrick, I hope that in the midst of this cogent, powerful note you are having a bit of fun with us. This bit:
          ‘My basic assumptions are drawn from the way Jesus interacted with “elephants” or “collectives” and I wish I had the time to delve deeply into the factual history of how He “walked through the crowd” to avoid being thrown from a cliff after declaring exactly who He was in the synagogue, or what He wrote in the sand in front of the crowd who were threatening “the woman caught in adultery”.’
          The factual history is just there in the text, I think. No secrets beyond what we see.


          • I hope that in the midst of this cogent, powerful blog posting that you are having a bit of fun with me when you comment – “The factual history is just there in the text, I think. No secrets beyond what we see.”
            Considering your profession and that your blog post was written to encourage the re-reading of the old books, and you even quote Lewis criticizing the superficiality of what Christian nowadays study and discuss –
            “Wherever you find a little study circle of Christian laity you can be almost certain that they are studying not St Luke or St Paul or St Augustine or Thomas Aquinas or Hooker or Butler, but M. Berdyaev or M. Maritain or Mr Niebuhr or Miss Sayers or even myself.”
            -then surely you, before me, and before most, are aware of Scripture that –
            “The Bible’s value as a religious document is intimately and inseparably related to its value as literature. This proposition requires that we develop a different understanding of what literature is, one that might – and should – give us some trouble” [Robert Altar] … and that … “This proposition, conversely requires that we develop a more troublesome understanding of what a religious document might be.” [Robert Altar] … and that … “It may actually improve our understanding of the Torah to remember that it is quoting documents, that there is, in other words, a purposeful documentary message that must be perceived as a unity, regardless of the numbers and types of smaller units that form the building blocks of its composition. Here, the weight of literary interest falls upon the activity of the final redactor, whose artistry requires far more careful attention than it has hitherto been accorded.” [Joel Rosenberg]


            • I may have been misreading you, because these all make sense to me (and have read them, my favourite being Altar’s little books). I must be missing something about what you mean, then. Like, do we have what he actually wrote in the sand? Or do we know how he walked through the crowd? Or do you mean, “what are the historical and literary and social contexts I can appreciate, as best I can?” If that’s so, that is how I read old books, the Bible and classics and Lewis.


      • dalejamesnelson says:

        What would happen if some thousands of people took Solzhenitsyn’s axiom seriously? He wrote “Live not by lies.”

        1.Do not lie. Be willing to say you don’t know, or don’t know all the subtleties, but don’t lie.
        2.Refuse to stick around and listen to liars if you can help it, without being inexcusably rude.
        3.Don’t spend a lot of time reading things aboutpeople who lie unless you ought to read those things.

        And remember again lewis’s remark:

        There are several reasons to do something. There are:
        1.Things we have to do.
        2.Things we ought to do.
        3.Things we like to do.

        But (I would say) we are selling away previous hours and days -for crap- when we occupy ourselves with rubbishy media products, foolish, emotivist “discussions” and activism, etc. We need to wake up — wake up! Realize that one has already wasted too much time with foolishness, with reductivist ideology, etc.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Excellent observation Dale. Our personal time is non negotiable and like Eugene Peterson thought – “There is only one way of reading that is congruent with our Holy Scriptures, writing that trusts in the power of words to penetrate our lives and create truth and beauty and goodness, writing that requires a reader who, in the words of Rainer Maria Rilke, “who does not always remain bent over his pages; he often leans back and closes his eyes over a line he has been reading again, and its meaning spreads through his blood.This is the kind of reading named by our ancestors as lectio divina, often translated as spiritual reading, as reading that enters our souls as food enters our stomachs, spreads through our blood, and becomes holiness and love and wisdom.
          All serious and good writing anticipates precisely this kind of reading ruminative and leisurely, a dalliance with words in contrast to wolfing down information” and should not waste “the time allotted to us” on modern “fast food” foolishness. Love your take on this.

          Liked by 1 person

          • dalejamesnelson says:

            I imagine that much that takes place in university classrooms, ithat’s written in blogs and tweets, that’s written on signs, &c., is mostly unreal. It’s as if what Screwtape writes to Wormwood in Letter XII is become incarnate in the political sphere:

            “The Christians describe [God] as one ‘without whom Nothing is strong.’ And Nothing is very strong: strong enough to steal away a man’s best years not in sweet sins but in a dreary flickering of the mind over it knows not what and knows not why, in the gratification of curiosities so feeble that the man is only half aware of them, in drumming of fingers [on keyboards!] and kicking of heels, in whistling tunes that he does not like, or in the long, dim labyrinth of reveries that have not even lust or ambition ot give them a relish, but which, once chance association [or CNN] has started them, the creature is too weak and fuddled to shake off.”

            Rather — our calling as human beings, and especially as Christians, is to be People of the Logos — all that “logos” means, including its being a Name of the Son of God. It is richly significant of our “fuddled” time that it has become the generation in which “logocentrism” is the name for something -bad-! How very eloquent of our time that is.

            Dale Nelson

            Liked by 2 people

      • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

        I just ran into this – I don’t know its source – but it seems to be Voegelin himself, speaking things which are also in his Autobiographical Reflections, and relevant to the discussion, here. I’ve only read an abridged English version of the first major work by Karl Kraus to which he refers, and part of a biography of Kraus (not untroubling in various respects…). I read somewhere a quotation from Kraus very similar to what Lewis wrote to I.O. Evans on 26 September 1945 about some aspects of That Hideous Strength: “The trouble about writing satire is that the real world always anticipates you, and what were meant for exaggerations turn out to be nothing of the sort.”

        Liked by 1 person

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  14. Stacie Myr says:

    Didn’t he make a parallel argument that one should also read science fiction as a way to step out of the 20th century and look at it from a distance (or at least imagine the possibility— or need for— looking at it from the outside)?

    I recall seeing this argument a number of years ago, but now am wondering if this was in his writing, or am I conflating another writer’s essay on SF with his on old books.


    • Stacie Myr says:

      That is, did he ever make the argument that one should read history and old books and also one should read science fiction so that one is in essence looking at-interrogating- one’s own age from a past and future perspective simultaneously? “On the Reading of Old Books” and “De Audiendis Poetis” both capture a past perspective, and “On Science Fiction” covers the expanded imagination and emotional experience of SF. But did he also say to read SF in parallel with old books?


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