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Seton Hall University

Inside the Core this Week: C. S. Lewis  

Image of CS Lewis Inside the Core this week, many Core students may be reading C. S. Lewis' Mere Christianity. Lewis is also one of two main subjects of my Core III class, Fantasy and Faith: Tolkien, Lewis, and their Precursors, which I am teaching this semester. In that class we focus on Lewis' works of both adult and children's fantasy, respectively Till We Have Faces and two of the Narnia books, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and The Last Battle. Lewis' Mere Christianity presents the theology reflected in his works of fiction, and I do, in fact, use at least one excerpt from it in class.

In a famous passage of Mere Christianity, Lewis makes an argument about Jesus that has often been quoted:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

It is a passionate, but also very logical argument, and Lewis puts it (in another form) into the mouth of the deeply logical professor in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. When the youngest of the Pevensie siblings, Lucy, goes into a magical wardrobe and enters the land of Narnia (meeting a faun, who invites her to tea), she excitedly tells her brothers and sister, none of whom believes her. The younger of the two brothers, Edmund, mocks her, but the two elder siblings, Peter and Susan, are sincerely disturbed because "logically," so they think, what their sister is telling them cannot be true. When they present their concern to the professor, he argues back, making the logical point that is really an allusion to the quote given above:

"Logic!" said the Professor half to himself. "Why don't they teach logic at these schools? There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn't tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad. For the moment then and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth."

Clearly, the professor is making the same argument that Lewis makes about Jesus. To say what Jesus said, in his time and place (first century Judea), would not be something a "good moral teacher" would do. So there is a decision to be made concerning him. Lewis is encouraging his readers to make the same decision about Jesus that the professor insists is the correct choice regarding Lucy – have faith in claims that may seem hard to accept, when the one who makes them is trustworthy and good.

Lewis, who had come to Oxford as an atheist, became a believing Christian through the influence of J. R. R. Tolkien, a devout Catholic Christian, and a philologist at Oxford (as well as being the author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings). In fact, it was a conversation with Tolkien (and Hugo Dyson) that led Lewis down the path of belief. Once a convinced Christian, he wrote prolifically about issues of faith, knowing many of the arguments used against it, as he had once used them himself. Even if you are not taking Core II this semester, Mere Christianity (or any of the Narnia books, but particularly The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) would be a wonderful read for the end of Lent and the beginning of the Easter season.

Categories: Arts and Culture

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  • Nancy Enright
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