Friday, January 31, 2014

C.S. Lewis and politics

Micah Watson, in an essay about C.S. Lewis and politics, reminds us that he wasn't particularly obsessed with current political events and, indeed, thought there were far more important things on which to concentrate:
Lewis was known to avoid and indeed disdain newspapers. He turned down an honorary recognition from Winston Churchill so as to avoid encouraging those who would dismiss him as politically partisan. He did not keep up with the latest political news, and I suspect he would find our twenty-four-hour news cycle and social media conglomerate a particularly modern abomination. ....

In his sermon “The Weight of Glory,” Lewis reminds us that human beings have an eternal destiny, whether of unimaginable joy or abject horror and misery. In contrast, the lives of governments, businesses, cultures and even taxes have the lifespan of gnats. Governments are temporary, people are eternal. ....
Nevertheless, in that essay "The Political and Apolitical C.S. Lewis," Watson identifies "four lessons that remain salient for contemporary Christian thinking about politics." I like what Watson did here and—as almost always with lessons derived from CSL—I agree. I have excerpted and added emphasis:
The first lesson is that politics is not everything, nor is it nothing. Lewis noted that the people who did the most for this world are those who had their minds most on the next. This world has a built-in purpose; history has a direction to it that leads to God and a coming reality that frames everything we do in this already-but-not-yet phase of life. .... Politics is one of these second things, as it is a practice necessary to protect and promote the good earthly gifts God has provided. ....

Men and women are made in God’s image, and destined to a future existence that dwarfs this earthly sojourn. At the same time, human beings are fallen. These bedrock truths about the human condition limit the scope of government.

Lewis supported democracy, he wrote in his essay “Equality,” because he believed in the Fall. ...Lewis wrote that human beings are so fallen that they cannot be trusted with untrammeled power, and democracy, for all its faults, better checks this dynamic than other systems. ....

Lewis believed that while God revealed political ends, or goals, in the Bible, He did not usually prescribe the specific means to achieve these ends. God tells us to feed the hungry but leaves it up to us to learn how to cook. ....

The best Christian political thought and action will be accomplished, then, not by clergy per se but by Christians engaged in the practice of politics...

In an essay titled “Meditation on the Third Commandment,” Lewis considers the dangers of conflating Christian involvement in politics with a formal Christian party.... The problem is that politics is, in part, about means to achieve ends, and Christians can and do disagree in good faith about the best means. ....

Lewis did not think retreating from the public square was an option. “The practical problem of Christian politics is not that of drawing up schemes for a Christian society...but that of living as innocently as we can with unbelieving fellow-subjects under unbelieving rulers who will never be perfectly wise and good and who will sometimes be very wicked and very foolish.” .... [more]