Wednesday, May 21, 2014

How Christians could influence politics

[Jacques] Maritain has hinted at the only way in which Christianity (as opposed to schismatics blasphemously claiming to represent it) can influence politics. Nonconformity has influenced modern English history not because there was a Nonconformist Party but because there was a Nonconformist conscience which all parties had to take into account. An interdenominational Christian Voters’ Society might draw up a list of assurances about ends and means which every member was expected to exact from any political party as the price of his support.thinking writing letter to MP Such a society might claim to represent Christendom far more truly than any ‘Christian Front’; and for that reason I should be prepared, in principle, for membership and obedience to be obligatory on Christians. ‘So all it comes down to is pestering MPs with letters?’ Yes: just that. I think such pestering combines the dove and the serpent. I think it means a world where parties have to take care not to alienate Christians, instead of a world where Christians have to be ‘loyal’ to infidel parties. Finally, I think a minority can influence politics only by ‘pestering’ or by becoming a ‘party’ in the new continental sense (that is, a secret society of murderers and blackmailers) which is impossible to Christians. But I had forgotten. There is a third way — by becoming a majority. He who converts his neighbour has performed the most practical Christian-political act of all.

*MPs – Members of Parliament in the UK and Canada, in the US write to your Congressman or Senator.
“Christians and politics,” Part 3 of 3 from C.S. Lewis, “Meditation on the Third Commandment,” God in the Dock (Eerdmans: 1970) 199.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Why C.S. Lewis believed a new Christian political party was impossible

What, then, will the Christian [Political] Party actually do?
American and Christian flags(1) Philarchus, a devout Christian, is convinced that temporal welfare can flow only from a Christian life, and that a Christian life can be promoted in the community only by an authoritarian State which has swept away the last vestiges of the hated ‘Liberal’ infection. He thinks Fascism not so much an evil as a good thing perverted, regards democracy as a monster whose victory would be a defeat for Christianity, and is tempted to accept even Fascist assistance, hoping that he and his friends will prove the leaven in a lump of British Fascists.
(2) Stativus is equally devout and equally Christian. Deeply conscious of the Fall and therefore convinced that no human creature can be trusted with more than the minimum power over his fellows, and anxious to reserve the claims of God from any infringement by those of Caesar, he still sees in democracy the only hope of Christian freedom. He is tempted to accept aid from champions of the status quo whose commercial or imperial motives bear hardly even a veneer of theism.
(3) Finally, we have Spartacus, also a Christian and also sincere, full of the prophetic and Dominical denunciations of riches, and certain that the ‘historical Jesus’, long betrayed by the Apostles, the Fathers, and the Churches, demands of us a Left revolution. And he also is tempted to accept help from unbelievers who profess themselves quite openly to be the enemies of God.
The three types represented by these three Christians presumably come together to form a Christian Party. Either a deadlock ensues (and there the history of the Christian Party ends) or else one of the three succeeds in floating a party and driving the other two, with their followers, out of its ranks. The new party -— being probably a minority of the Christians who are themselves a minority of the citizens — will be too small to be effective. In practice, it will have to attach itself to the un-Christian party nearest to it in beliefs about means— to the Fascists if Philarchus has won, to the Conservatives if Stativus, to the Communists if Spartacus. It remains to ask how the resulting situation will differ from that in which Christians find themselves today.

“Christians and politics,” Part 2 of 3 from C.S. Lewis, “Meditation on the Third Commandment,” God in the Dock (Eerdmans: 1970) 197. Numbering and separating into multiple paragraphs were edits made for clarity.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Christians and politics

Christian teabaggerFrom many letters to The Guardian,1 and from much that is printed elsewhere, we learn of the growing desire for a Christian [political] ‘party’, a Christian ‘front’, or a Christian ‘platform’ in politics. Nothing is so earnestly to he wished as a real assault by Christianity on the politics of the world: nothing, at first sight, so fitted to deliver this assault as a Christian Party. But it is odd that certain difficulties in this programme should be already neglected while the printer’s ink is hardly dry on [Jacques] Maritain’s Scholasticism and Politics.2
    The Christian Party must either confine itself to stating what ends are desirable and what means are lawful, or else it must go further and select from among the lawful means those which it deems possible and efficacious and give to these its practical support. If it chooses the first alternative, it will not be a political party. Nearly all parties agree in professing ends which we admit to be desirable security, a living wage, and the best adjustment between the claims of order and freedom. What distinguishes one party from another is the championship of means. We do not dispute whether the citizens are to be made happy, but whether an egalitarian or a hierarchical State, whether capitalism or socialism, whether despotism or democracy is most likely to make them so.

1The Guardian was a weekly Anglican newspaper founded in 1846 to uphold Tractarian principles, and to show their relevance to the best secular thought of the day.
2Jacques Maritain, Scholasticism and Politics, trans. M. J. Adler (London, 1950).

“Christians and politics,” Part 1 of 3 from C.S. Lewis, “Meditation on the Third Commandment,” God in the Dock (Eerdmans: 1970) 196-197.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Signs of spring

Alberta prairie crocus  in iceThe miracles that have already happened are, of course, as Scripture so often says, the first fruits of that cosmic summer which is presently coming on. Christ has risen, and so we shall rise. St Peter for a few seconds walked on the water; and the day will come when there will be a re-made universe, infinitely obedient to the will of glorified and obedient men, when we can do all things, when we shall he those gods that we are described as being in Scripture. To be sure, it feels wintry enough still: hut often in the very early spring it feels like that. Two thousand years are only a day or two by this scale. A man really ought to say, ‘The Resurrection happened two thousand years ago’ in the same spirit in which he says, ‘I saw a crocus yesterday.’ Because we know what is coming behind the crocus. The spring comes slowly down this way; but the great thing is that the corner has been turned. There is, of course, this difference, that in the natural spring the crocus cannot choose whether it will respond or not. We can. We have the power either of withstanding the spring, and sinking back into the cosmic winter, or of going on into those ‘high mid-summer pomps’ in which our Leader, the Son of man, already dwells, and to which He is calling us. It remains with us to follow or not, to die in this winter, or to go on into that spring and that summer.

The Grand Miracle – Part 2
C.S. Lewis, “The Grand Miracle” God in the Dock (Eerdmans: 1970) 87-88.
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Thursday, May 1, 2014

Without the miraculous, it would not be Christianity

jesus-christ-resurrectionOne is very often asked at present whether we could not have a Christianity stripped, or, as people who ask it say, freed’ from its miraculous elements, a Christianity with the miraculous elements suppressed. Now, it seems to me that precisely the one religion in the world, or, at least, the only one I know, with which you could not do that is Christianity. In a religion like Buddhism, if you took away the miracles attributed to Gautama Buddha in some very late sources, there would he no loss; in fact, the religion would get on very much better without them because in that case the miracles largely contradict the teaching. Or even in the case of a religion like Mohammedanism, nothing essential would be altered if you took away the miracles. You could have a great prophet preaching his dogmas without bringing in any miracles; they arc only in the nature of a digression, or illuminated capitals. But you cannot possibly do that with Christianity, because the Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, what is uncreated, eternal, came into nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing nature up with Him. It is precisely one great miracle. If you take that away there is nothing specifically Christian left. There may he many admirable human things which Christianity shares with all other systems in the world, but there would be nothing specifically Christian.

The Grand Miracle – Part 1
C.S. Lewis, “The Grand Miracle” God in the Dock (Eerdmans: 1970) 80.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Explaining vs. explaining away

water-into-wineWhere, then, do we draw the line between explaining and ‘explaining away’? I do not think there is much difficulty. All that concerns the un-incarnate activities of God—His operation on that plane of being where sense cannot enter—must he taken along with imagery which we know to be, in the literal sense, untrue. But there can be no defence for applying the same treatment to the miracles of the Incarnate God. They are recorded as events on this earth which affected human senses. They are the sort of thing we can describe literally. If Christ turned water into wine, and we had been present, we could have seen, smelled, and tasted. The story that He did so is not of the same order as His ‘sitting at the right hand of the Father’, it is either fact, or legend, or lie. You must take it or leave it.

C.S. Lewis, “Horrid Red Things,” God in the Dock (Eerdmans: 1970) 71.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

What we believe, think and imagine

[W]e must try to teach something about the difference between thinking and imagining. It is, of course, a historical error to suppose that all, or even most, early Christians believed in the sky-palace in the same sense in which we believe in the solar system. Anthropomorphism was condemned by the Church as soon as the question was explicitly before her. But some early Christians may have done this; and probably thousands never thought of their faith without anthropomorphic imagery. That is why we must distinguish the core of belief from the attendant imagining.
    When I think of London I always see a picture of Euston Station. But I do not believe that London is Euston Station. That is a simple case, because there the thinker knows the imagery to be false. Now let us take a more complex one.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         I once heard a lady tell her daughter that if you ate too many aspirin tablets you would die. ‘But why?’ asked the child. ‘If you squash them you don’t find any horrid red things inside them.’ Obviously, when this child thought of poison she not only had an attendant image of ‘horrid red things’, but she actually believed that poison was red. And this is an error. But how far does it invalidate her thinking about poison? She learned that an overdose of aspirin would kill you; her belief was true. She knew, within limits, which of the substances in her mother’s house were poisonous. If I, staying in the house, had raised a glass of what looked like water to my lips, and the child had said, ‘Don’t drink that. Mummie says it’s poisonous,’ I should have been foolish to disregard the warning on the ground that ‘This child has an archaic and mythological idea of poison as horrid red things.’
    There is thus a distinction not only between thought and imagination in general, but even between thought and those images which the thinker (falsely) believes to be true. When the child learned later that poison is not always red, she would not have felt that anything essential in her beliefs about poison had been altered. She would still know, as she had always known, that poison is what kills you if you swallow it. That is the essence of poison. The erroneous beliefs about colour drop away without affecting it.
    In the same way an early peasant Christian might have thought that Christ’s sitting at the right hand of the Father really implied two chairs of state, in a certain spatial relation, inside a sky-palace. But if the same man afterwards received a philosophical education and discovered that God has no body, parts, or passions, and therefore neither a right hand nor a palace, he would not have felt that the essentials of his belief had been altered. What had mattered to him, even in the days of his simplicity, had not been supposed details about celestial furniture. It had been the assurance that the once crucified Master was now the supreme Agent of the unimaginable Power on whom the whole universe depends. And he would recognise that in this he had never been deceived.

C.S. Lewis, “Horrid Red Things,” God in the Dock (Eerdmans: 1970) 69-70.