Wednesday, July 28, 2004
Reading has been happening, amid our nomadic days, and herewith some of what has risen to the top. First, two grave disappointments--I have liked CS Lewis's writing on Christianity--Screwtape, Mere Christianity, Surprised by Joy. I found some of the same expressive honesty that I like in Merton, and some of the same passionate, muted, intellectual self-awareness. So I picked up two more of his: The Great Divorce and The Business of Heaven. I read the intro of The Great Divorce and was excited--it is an extended allegory exploring how we must forsake all earthly things to reach heaven (and when we do we will discover earth as a kind of hell relative to heaven), and if the ways in which we cannot--our attachments and contortions, our self-deceptions. Lewis cited as a source of inspiration a scifi story about a man who travels back in time and finds the past is immutable--that the rain hits him like bullets, and food is like concrete--because he has no power to change it. Sounds promising, right? Unfortunately the whole of The Great Divorce does not travel far beyond that, and there are a lot of waterfalls and angels and unicorns in between. Other than that idea (of the eternal feeling immutable to us, and the idea that our souls must adapt by shedding our connection to earth to be drawn heavenward), the story obscured rather than clarified. The set of conversations were more suited to Davey and Goliath than to what I hoped for from Lewis. One star.

Then I turned to The Business of Heaven ('Surely joy is the serious business of heaven'). This is an edited compilation of reflections, drawn from a bunch of Lewis's other writing. Again, high hopes as I started skipping around. But I stumbled on an entry where Lewis celebrates the British monarchy:
"We Britons should rejoice that we have contrived to reach much legal democracy [we still need more of the economic] without losing our ceremonial monarchy." he claims that we all have a craving for inequality, that it is our "taproot in Eden", and that those who are without it are "men to whom pebbles laid in a row are more beautiful than an arch". I wavered a little here, hoping he would rescue himself with a defense of beauty rather than status quo, but here was his conclusion:

"Where men are forbidden to honor a king, they honor millionaires, athletes or film stars instead: even famous prostitutes or gangsters. For spiritual nature, like bodily nature, will be served; deny it food and it will gobble poison." This is about as short-sighted a justification of the status quo as I have ever read, dressed up in spiritual language. Why are the kings food and the others poison? because a thousand years ago they had a generation of thuggish relatives that were able to seize power? That they have managed to manipulate the preservation of their own property for so long that they somehow now serve a social function as objects of veneration? My respect for Lewis has plummeted. Both books are away, and it will take a great deal for me to turn to them again. Lewis is off the list.

On the good reading, I am reading some Graham Greene (The Heart of the Matter, and just finishing The End of the Affair), of which responses soon.


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