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Jack in Retrospect: February 19th-25th

February 19, 2013

Retro Weekly 2-19The following is part of a weekly series reflecting on the life of C.S. Lewis. It summarizes various events or happenings during his lifetime for this week or significant occurrences related to him after his death.

During the week of February 19th – 25th in the life of C.S. Lewis includes the beginning of his fourth and final BBC series of talks, another installment in the eventual book The Great Divorce and the start of a lecture series that would become one of his most insightful works aimed at a secular audience.

Starting off the week is a letter Lewis wrote to Sister Penelope on the 19th thanking her for a copy of her book that was a translation of Saint Athanasius’s The Incarnation of the Word of God. This is worth mentioning because Lewis had written the preface to the work. This introduction was later released in God in the Dock under the title of “On the Reading of Old Books.” If you are fairly familiar with Lewis you might not be surprised to learn that he advocated the reading of original sources.

Given Lewis’s great ability to defend the Christian faith some are surprised that he didn’t speak out against evolution very much (or clearly to some). On the 21st this week he dealt with this topic in a brief essay called, “Who Was Right – Dream Lecturer or Real Lecturer?” It was published in The Coventry Evening Telegraph, but when released in God in the Dock the title was changed to “Two Lectures.” In addition to being short, the piece doesn’t come out and say evolution is wrong, but presents two opposing sides by recalling some points from a lecture he heard and then the telling of a dream where the lecturer “was saying all the wrong things.” But then he questions if this is true and asks us to consider the reverse. Lewis concludes by posing the question, “Is it not equally reasonable to look outside Nature for the real Originator of the natural order?”

The fourth and final BBC radio series kicked off on the 22nd. The series itself was first called “Beyond Personality” and the first talk was entitled “Making and Begetting.” However, on the 24th the text was reprinted in The Listener and it was called “The Map and the Ocean.” This was the first time Lewis’s broadcasts were made available before being collected in a book (one of the talks from his third series was illegally published; that will be detailed during the month of October).

The two titles for the fourth series debut provides some hints at what was presented by Lewis. He noted the word “begetting” or “begotten” are not used today, but its use in the creeds is important to underscore what is meant when the statement Jesus was “begotten, not created” is made. The other title was likely chosen by The Listener because Lewis opens his talk by drawing a parallel between Theology and a map.  He states there is a vast difference between experiencing the ocean in person and through a map, but the map does contain the combined experience of “hundreds and thousands of people.” Likewise, Theology can seem rather dry compared to a firsthand experience with God, however, Theology is useful in the same way a map is meant to be.

The sixteenth installment from what we know as The Great Divorce was published on the 23rd in 1945. This is the first third of what is now the eleventh chapter. It features a mother wanting to see her son, Michael and not understanding why she can’t at the moment. It is revealed that she is “treating God only as a means to Michael” and that she needs to discover how “to want God for His own sake.”

Finally, the first two of three of the Riddell Memorial Lectures were given at the end of this time period. Lewis had been asked by the University of Durham to deliver them over the three evenings of the 24th – 26th in 1943 (the final talk will be covered next week). All three talks were released in the book, The Abolition of Man (see the weekly for January 1st-7th). As noted there, the speeches were given before a mainstream audience.

While dealing with the topic of Natural Law it doesn’t go as far as similar material he presents in the first book of Mere Christianity. The initial lecture, “Men without Chests” finds Lewis chiefly using “The Green Book” as an example of a text advocating moral relativism even though it is an English textbook.  Lewis goes on to defend what he chooses to call the Tao. For him “It is the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of things we are.” Without believing this truth people are unable to act virtuously because they are being ask to produce something without having a means (the organ) to generate it.

In the second talk, “The Way,” Lewis continues to use “The Green Book” as a springboard to persist in his defense of objective values. He notes the authors of that book want to present a new set of values that avoids such a bad word as “good” to replace it with other terms that actually become meaningless. He also questions the advice to follow one’s instinct by saying, “Telling us to obey Instinct is like telling us to obey ‘people’. People say different things: so do instincts. Our instincts are at war.”

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