Tuesday 29 September 1998

'I was made for another world'

Randy Boswell
The Ottawa Citizen

C.S. Lewis

In 1941, Irish-born writer C.S. Lewis was asked by the BBC's religious broadcasting department to speak about Christianity in a series of live programs. Mr. Lewis had embraced the faith after a period of avowed atheism, and his eloquent, earthy approach to the touchy subject was deemed ideal for radio.

Mr. Lewis -- who would later extend his fame by writing The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and the rest of the Narnia children's series -- accepted the offer and in rehearsals experienced the distinctly modern thrill of hearing his own recorded voice for the first time.

But the broadcasting neophyte's talks throughout the summer and autumn of 1941 caused a huge stir and spawned a three-volume work titled Mere Christianity. It is frequently listed among the classics of Christian literature, and commonly cited as a source of inspiration by people who have converted to or deepened their faith in Christianity.

In the most famous passages of Mere Christianity, Mr. Lewis challenged his listeners (and later his readers) not to waffle on the matter of whether Jesus Christ was God or simply a great human being and teacher of morality.

"I'm trying here to prevent you from saying the really silly thing that people often say about Him: 'I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept his claim to be God.' That's the one thing you mustn't say," Mr. Lewis warned. "A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said wouldn't be a great moral teacher. He'd either be a lunatic -- on a level with the man who says he's a poached egg -- or the devil of Hell. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman; or something worse."

Mr. Lewis had much to say about the ultimate shallowness of material wealth compared with spiritual salvation.

"We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking, there would be nothing to be proud about."

Experiencing true faith, Mr. Lewis insisted, meant people must "take off a lot of silly, ugly, fancy-dress in which we have all got ourselves up and are strutting about like the little idiots we are."

And in one of his most moving calls for people to cast off any worldly cares that may prevent them from embracing Christianity, he observed: "Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists ... If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing."

Finally, in one of his most famous analogies, Mr. Lewis concluded that a popular debate in society -- whether one's "good works" on Earth or one's faith in God is most important in securing salvation -- was short-sighted.

"Christians have often disputed as to whether what leads the Christian home is good actions, or faith in Christ," Mr. Lewis noted in one of his addresses. That, he argued, "is like asking which blade in a pair of scissors is most necessary."

Mr. Lewis died in 1963 after writing more than 40 books. The 1993 film Shadowlands, starring Anthony Hopkins, explores the writer's relationship with U.S. author Joy Gresham.

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Copyright 1998 The Ottawa Citizen