A Literary Critique Of C. S. Lewis Essay

A Literary Critique of C. S. Lewis:
The Case for Christianity, The World’s Last Night
and Problem with Pain
I. Introduction
II. Brief Biographical Information
III. The Case for Christianity
– Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe
IV. The Problem with Pain
– Divine Omnipotence
V.The World’s Last Night
– The Efficacy of Prayer
VI. Conclusion
A Critique of C. S. Lewis
“A Relativist said, ‘The world does not exist, England does
not exist, Oxford does not exist and I am confident that
I do not Exist!’ When Lewis was asked to reply, he stood
up and said, ‘How am I to talk to a man who’s not there?'”
– C. S. Lewis: A Biography
Clive Staples Lewis was born, in 1898, in Belfast. C. S. Lewis
was educated at various schools in England. In 1914, Lewis began
studying Latin, Greek, French, German and Italian under the private
tuition of W. T. Kirkpatrick. He then moved to Oxford where his studies
were interrupted by World War I (1917). Two years later he was back in
Oxford resuming his studies. In 1924, Lewis was “elected” to teach
Literature and Language at Magdalen College, Oxford and remained there
till 1954. During this time period in his life, Lewis wrote the
majority of his work. Lewis moved to Cambridge for the remainder of his
life teaching Medieval and Renaissance Literature.1
C. S. Lewis was a man dedicated to the pursuit of truth who”
believed in argument, in disputation, and in the dialectic of Reason. .
.”2 He began his pursuit of truth as an atheist and ended up as a
Christian. His works the Problem of Pain and Mere Christianity dealt
with issues he struggled with. Mere Christianity consists of three
separate radio broadcasts. One of the broadcasts was titled The Case For
Christianity.

In The Case For Christianity, Lewis discussed two crucial topics
in his apologetic defense of Christianity. They were the “Right and
Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe” and “What Christians
Believe”. This critique will address the first chapter. “Right and
Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe”, can be broken into
three parts. The first deals with moral law and its existence. The
second addresses the idea of a power or mind behind the universe, who,
is intensely interested in right conduct. Also that this power or God
is good. Good as in the area of truth, not soft and sympathetic. The
third point moves to Christianity, its attributes and why it was
necessary for the long” round-about” approach .
The law of nature binds humans as would the laws of gravity
apply to a falling stone. It is called the law of nature because it
does not need to be taught.Lewis points out that an odd individual
may exist “here and there who didn’t know it, just as you find s few
people who are colour-blind or have no ear for tune. But taking the race
as a whole, they thought that the human idea of Decent Behavior was
obvious to every one.”3
Lewis brilliantly defended his statement of natural law’s
existence. Two arguments, which argue for relativity, posted against
him are the “herd” instincts or genetic inborn in us ( i.e. motherly
love, survival or sexual impulses) and that which is taught socially or
learned. Historically, these to interpretations of human behavior have
clashed, however, he suggest that “reason” is above both. He clarifies
his position by classifying impulses as separate from the decision to
follow the impulse itself. The “learned” argument is refuted by his
analogy of a boy on the island who is unaware of the existence of the
process of multiplication. He never attended school and learned them.
The education would be classified as “human convention”. This human
convention, consequently, did not invent multiplication just as it did
not invent the law of nature.
However, this comparison is based on a false assumption.The
law of nature, as Lewis argued, is not taught but some how exists as an
inherent part of the human psyche. This law also presents itself in the
form of decisions and actions in line with what ought to be done. There
is no school-room which imparts this law and the practice of it.
Consequently, mathematics needs to be taught and learned. The attempts
to equate the law of nature with mathematics in an analogy is
misleading. The only connection between mathematics and the law is the
nature of its existence and the commonality of not being a human
convention.

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Lewis classified a natural law or the existence of a system of
absolutes as crucial in religion and especially in Christianity. Lewis
developed an argument through the comparison of moral systems and what
is judged as right or rather what ought to be. Using extremes, such as
Christianity and the Nazi systems of morality, he concludes his
analysis. In this comparison one might say that the Christian morality
is preferable to the Nazi. Why? and by what standard has the Nazi
system been rejected? Lewis explains this as an underlying right or
absolute. This absolute system is based on those things which ought to
take place. In conclusion of this point, Lewis states that the law of
nature exists, dictating what humans ought to do or right and wrong.

The second part of his argument dealt with questions of the
existence of the universe and the power or mind behind it. He
addressed the possibility of evolution and its feasibility. The idea
that matter just exists and by a fluke came together in perfection
producing what we see around us today, was one of the two possibilities
that Lewis purposed. The second possibility is that behind the universe
is a calculating “mind”. He brilliantly refutes science’s ability to
find out what is behind the formation of the universe. For even if
science completely answered the mysteries surrounding how the universe
is here, it cannot discern the reason “why” it is here. Thus he
concluded that a mind is behind the universe’s existence and this mind
cannot be seen. The reasons for the invisibility or intangibility of
the mind is, again brilliantly, explained in an analogy. Lewis
states,”If there was a controlling power outside the universe, it could
not show itself to us as one of those facts inside the universe- no more
than an architect of a house could actually be a wall or staircase or
fireplace in that house.”4
The concept of a good power or mind is misleading. When God is
referred to as good, the immediate thought is a warm loving personality.
Lewis referred to this good as representative of truth. The law of
nature is defined by what man ought to do or as absolute truth. When
one acts according to what they ought to do, the law of nature has no
consideration of how painful or dangerous it might be. This good which
Lewis argued for is cold and hard, without personable traits. He
attributed good as “either the great safety or the great
danger-according to the way you react to it. And we have reacted the
wrong way.”5
The third aspect argued and justified the need for people to
repent and the promise of forgiveness. In this stage, two realizations
must be made: First, that there is after all a “real moral law, and a
power behind the law, and that you have broken that law and put yourself
wrong with that Power.”6 Secondly, the stage of dismay which precedes
comfort. This first realization is built on the logic of the previous
arguments. To perceive the situation as desperate sheds light on and
assists one to understand what the Christians are “talking about”. The
conclusion of this argument demands that individual recognize that
coming to terms with what ought to be or truth is indeed a sobering
experience.

When discussing the concepts of absolutes and that God is good
one would ask about His power. If indeed God is the creator of this
universe, then his power would be immense. The word “omnipotent” is
used to describe the power of God in this context. The question then
arises concerning a good God and the existence of pain and evil in his
creation. If pain exists in this universe then God is either not truly
good or lacks power to stop it.
Lewis dedicates a chapter in his work, The Problem of Pain, to
explaining this apparent contradiction. He also tackles the concept of
impossibility in relation to omnipotence. The dialectic analysis
consists of things “intrinsically possible” and the things
“intrinsically impossible”.7 A God of omnipotent power can do all
things intrinsically possible. The reference to God performing the
intrinsically impossible is nonsensical and foolishness to Lewis. The
attribution of miracles and supernatural occurrences to God can be
explained as possible, though humans perceive it as impossible.

Clyde S. Kilby argues the point of free will and God’s power in
context to Lewis’ work on the existence of pain. Kilby states that:
“Suppose that in my eagerness to be perfectly happy I persuade God
day after day to change all prevailing conditions to my wishes.

But if all conditions follow my wishes, it is obvious that they
cannot possibly follow your wishes also and you will therefore
be deprived of your freedom. Freedom is impossible in a
world subject to whim.”8
Therefore, pains existence in a universe created by a “good and
omnipotent God is logically feasible.

The next work by C. S. Lewis is The World’s Last Night. This
work contains an essay on prayer. Lewis examined prayer and its purpose
by asking certain questions. Questions like, “What evidence would prove
the efficacy of prayer?” 9 If a prayer is “answered”, “how can you ever
know it was not going to happen anyway?”10 The answer to a prayer does
no provide irrefutable evidence of the efficacy of prayer.
“Does prayer work?” Lewis states that prayer is not a machine
by which one could plug in the right phrases and get the results. He
defines prayer as either a “sheer illusion or a personal contact between
embryonic, incomplete persons (ourselves)and the utterly concrete
Person.”11 If in fact prayer is a sheer illusion its purpose would be
for the vocalization of wishful thinking. Whether the desired result
comes to pass is completely based on fate or the simple fact that it
was going to happen anyway.
If is indeed a contact to an “utterly concrete Person” to what
avail?What advice can a finite and intellectually limited person give
to an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent being? Lewis states, “Our
act, when we pray, must not, any more than all our other acts, be
separate from the continuous act of God Himself, in which alone all
finite causes operate.”12 Prayer, according to Lewis, is a
statement according to the “will” or actions of God.

The will of God is knowable according to Lewis. However, he
does not mention what God’s will was/is. In the following paragraphs
Lewis conveniently changes his direction addressing an other aspect of
prayer. He also does not explain how one goes about finding God’s will
or why would God want to hear billions of little voices telling Him
what His will is. Lewis does a poor job justifying the efficacy of
prayer.

It can be seen that C. S. Lewis’ analysis was always in terms of
black and white or extremes. Any other alternative is either
foolishness or unthinkable. He wielded the dialectic process of
analysis as though it were second nature to him. His well trained mind
synthesized theological dilemmas for the layman. Constantly referring
to himself as a layman himself, Lewis left the details of theological
doctrine and philosophy to those who were “experts”. He was only
interested in his own personal questions concerning Christianity and
sharing his well thought out answers to others.
This critique of C. S. Lewis contains various selections from
three of his books. The first work address the topic of “Right and
Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe.” In this section Lewis
argues for the existence of absolutes, God and the validity of
Christianity. The second work which was examined was The Problem of
Pain. A selection on the omnipotent power of a “good” God was discussed
in terms of the “intrinsically impossible” and the existence of pain.
Thirdly, the “efficacy of prayer” was addressed in critical questioning
of the purpose its existence.

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