Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Intellectual heresy

In the issue of Time dated September 8, 1947, almost exactly sixty years ago, the cover article was "Don v. Devil," and the picture on the cover, as you can see, was identified as "Oxford's C.S. Lewis, His Heresy: Christianity." The article begins:
The lecturer, a short, thickset man with a ruddy face and a big voice, was coming to the end of his talk. Gathering up his notes and books, he tucked his horn rimmed spectacles into the pocket of his tweed jacket and picked up his mortarboard. Still talking — to the accompaniment of occasional appreciative laughs and squeals from his audience — he leaned over to return the watch he bad borrowed from a student in the front row. As he ended his final sentence, he stepped off the platform.

The maneuver gained him a head start on the rush of students down the center aisle. Once in the street, he strode rapidly — his black gown billowing behind his grey flannel trousers — to the nearest pub for a pint of ale.

Clive Staples Lewis was engaged in his full-time and favorite job — the job of being an Oxford don in the Honour School of English Language & Literature, a Fellow and tutor of Magdalen College and the most popular lecturer in the University. To watch him downing his pint at the Eastgate (his favorite pub), or striding, pipe in mouth, across the deer park, a stranger would not be likely to guess that C.S. Lewis is also a best-selling author and one of the most influential spokesmen for Christianity in the English-speaking world. (read the article)
Many of Lewis's best known books had not yet been written in 1947, although The Screwtape Letters, portions of Mere Christianity, and the space trilogy were in print. Miracles was about to be published. The article provides a reasonable introduction to his ideas, and a favorable one.

At the time there were a number of well-known authors and poets who were identified with orthodox Christianity — among them Auden, T.S. Eliot, and Dorothy L. Sayers. It had become intellectually respectable to be a Christian. At the end of the Time article Lewis is quoted as warning that this was a fashion — and fashions change:
Recently in Oxford's lively undergraduate magazine, Cherwell, he wrote: "Perhaps no one would deny that Christianity is now 'on the map' among the younger intelligentsia, as it was not, say, in 1920. Only freshmen now talk as if the anti-Christian position were self-evident.... [Yet] we must remember that widespread and lively interest in the subject is precisely what we call a fashion.... Whatever...mere fashion has given us, mere fashion will presently withdraw. The real conversions will remain, but nothing else will. In that sense we may be on the brink of a real, permanent Christian revival: but it will work slowly and obscurely in small groups. The present sunshine...is certainly temporary. The grain must be got into the barn before the wet weather comes."
Don v. Devil -- TIME

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