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Book Title: Onversneden Christendom|
The author of the book: C.S. Lewis
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Date of issue: November 2011
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I had to stop reading this, it was making me ill. It may be that every single sentence in this book is either wrong or offensive or inane or all three. Here's a passage from page 45 - CS is talking about what he calls Dualism (i.e. Manichaeism) whereby the existence of evil is explained by there being two equal forces in the Universe which are in perpetual contention, the Good one and the Bad one. CS says:
"If Dualism is true then the Bad Power must be a being who likes badness for its own sake. But in reality we have no experience of anyone liking badness just because it is bad. The nearest we can get to it is in cruelty. But in real life people are cruel for one of two reasons - either because they are sadists, that is, because they have a sexual perversion which makes cruelty a cause of sensual pleasure to them, or else for the sake of something they are going to get out of it - money, or power, or safety. But pleasure, money, power and safety are all, as far as they go, good things. The badness consists in pursuing them by the wrong method, or in the wrong way, or too much. i do not mean, of course, that the people who do this are not desperately wicked. I do mean that wickedness, when you examine it, turns out to be the pursuit of some good in the wrong way. You can be good for the mere sake of goodness : you cannot be bad for the mere sake of badness."
I was never that well versed in the subtleties of philosophical debate, and it is true that my brain has been progressively enfeebled by a constant dripfeed of Old Peculiar, chicken tikka masala and Italian exploitation movies, yet even I can see that this adds up to a pile of shit of Brobdingnagian proportions. Dualism is wrong because it is impossible to “like” badness for its own sake, huh? Because when you do bad things you’re really trying to achieve ends which are really good, but you’re going about it the wrong way, huh? Well now, let’s take our old devilish no-friend-of-mine Adolf Hitler. He was quite convinced that he was doing a GOOD THING by ridding Germany of all Jews. The idea was to eradicate every last one of them. The ultimate idea (though he recognised this was something for later generations and he would not live to see the glad day) was to murder every single Jew throughout the world, because in the very depths of his racist insanity he thought the Jews were Evil. So getting rid of them was Doing the World a Favour. As in – eventually, they will thank me for this gruelling but essential task. Okay, C S Lewis – ANALYSE THAT! How in whatever grotesque rhetorical contortion could that be construed as pursuing a GOOD thing in the wrong way?? There was a classic multiple murderer in 1972 in California called Herbert Mullin – he was a schizophrenic who was obsessed with the impending Big Earthquake and went around randomly beating 13 people to death because his brain told him THAT WAS THE WAY TO STOP THE EARTHQUAKE! I get it, CS, he was trying to do a GOOD thing in a BAD way. So he’s your example. But uh-oh, what about Josef Fritzl and the family in the basement? He knew what he was doing was Very Bad and it gave him a big thrill. He would go to friends' barbecues and fry steaks and chuckle to himself "if only they knew about my incest family in the basement!" Or anyway, take the case of any common or garden wife beater – what GOOD are they trying to achieve in the “wrong way”? Oh, wait – CS says that “power” is as far as it goes a good thing. So it must be that the violent man’s partner is preventing him feeling adequately powerful and so he wishes to restore his power over her – which CS thinks is good – but “in the wrong way”. My brain is reeling from the Grand Canyon of wrongness of all of this. I’m a little shocked.
This was written in 1952 and CS comes across as a wise old buffer in a cardigan speaking to an earnest younger man. Both their wives are rustling up something to eat in the kitchen and talking about whatever mysterious things women find so interesting. Meanwhile the men thrash out the deep questions. Here’s a pearl I think we all ought to cherish:
“there are situations in which it is the duty of a married man to encourage his sexual impulse” (p.25)
“the reason we do not execute witches is that we do not believe there are such things. If we did… surely we would all agree that if anyone deserved the death penalty, then these filthy quislings did?” (p.24)
Surely we would, us avuncular old shitbags in cardigans puffing on our pipes and living in the real world as we do.
I think a copy of Mere Christianity should be provided free to every impressionable schoolchild in the country. It’d put them off for life.
WHY I THOUGHT OF READING THIS IN THE FIRST PLACE
Originally Pink Floyd was Syd Barrett's band - he was the lead guitarist, lead singer and only songwriter. Then he drank 5000 gallons of LSD and fried his brains. The other boys in the band were disturbed by his weird behaviour but he was still the golden goose for them. They would go round his house and he would teach them his new songs. One day, just before they decided he was too crazy and chucked him out, they went round and he taught them a new song with lots and lots of chords in it. Syd told them it was called "Have You Got It Yet?". He played it again and gleefully sang the chorus (have you got it yet, have you got it yet). They were baffled. he played it again. They still couldn't figure it out. Then they realised that every time he played it he was changing the chords around completely. "Have you got it yet?" - good one, Syd. Very funny.
For me, Christians are Syd barrett and I am one of the the duller Pink Floyd members. Every time the Christians play me their song they change the chords. So I still can't figure out what they mean when they speak these simple phrases with those little big words - "God", "saved", "life", "sin" - that kind of thing. Are the Christians deliberately vague and terminally woolly or are they subtle and insightful? Are they serious or do they just want to be in a big club? So I thought I would go back to C S Lewis and try to figure it out again.
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CLIVE STAPLES LEWIS (1898–1963) was one of the intellectual giants of the twentieth century and arguably one of the most influential writers of his day. He was a Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Oxford University until 1954. He was unanimously elected to the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University, a position he held until his retirement. He wrote more than thirty books, allowing him to reach a vast audience, and his works continue to attract thousands of new readers every year. His most distinguished and popular accomplishments include Mere Christianity, Out of the Silent Planet, The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters, and the universally acknowledged classics The Chronicles of Narnia. To date, the Narnia books have sold over 100 million copies and been transformed into three major motion pictures.
Lewis was married to poet Joy Davidman.
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