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Michael Coren on the Christian story of C.S. Lewis
C.S. Lewis was considered one of the finest academic minds of his generation. He reversed the equation offered by the secular world, that it is the thoughtless who become Christians.

As Prince Caspian rides onto the big screen this May there is a genuine danger that his creator, C.S. Lewis, might be left behind in a trail of over-priced popcorn. The movie is the second in Disney's adaptation of the Narnia series, the first being the 2005 version of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. There were seven Narnia books, but it's not entirely clear how many films there will be. Profit will dictate product, which is actually something Lewis would have rather despised. Not that he embraced any fashionable objection to capitalism, more that he embraced a timeless regard for writing the piercing truth whatever the cost or reward.

Born in 1898 in Belfast, the author of Mere Christianity, The Screwtape Letters, Surprised by Joy and so many others, Jack Lewis – he was never comfortable with Clive Staples – was and remains the most accomplished and successful communicator of the Christian message in modern literary history. But his humility equalled his brilliance. He was, he always said, just an ordinary teacher. Not quite.

In fact this lecturer at both Oxford and Cambridge University was considered one of the finest academic minds of his generation. But it is Lewis the Christian who changed the world. His genius was the ability to convey highly complicated and complex ideas in a straightforward and understandable manner. Like some grand knight of common sense he charged through the ranks of cluttered thinking, double-talk and atheism, seldom taking any prisoners.

"There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils" he wrote. "One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors, and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight."

Of the increasingly common and painfully banal statement that Jesus might have been a great moral teacher but was not the son of God, Lewis pointed out that this contradicted Christ's own claims. "A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to."

Lewis became a Christian in 1929, "perhaps the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England." It was as though he had tried to avoid the inevitable, considering every argument against Christianity, forcing himself to take on all of the objections his fertile mind could produce. Each one he overcame. By the time his intellect was won over his emotional being simply fell into place.

From this point on everything he wrote was informed and enlivened by his Christianity. But Lewis was too subtle and too clever to knock people over the head with his faith. He knew that talking was far more effective than shouting. In 1950 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe was published. The Christian metaphors and imagery are obvious to most adults but not so to children. It is this implicit sowing of seeds of faith that makes Lewis so effective and so hated by atheists. When the first Narnia movie appeared one prominent Canadian critic wrote that, "young viewers should be warned that this is a Christian story."

Mere Christianity appeared in 1952. The title reflected the author's attempt to remove Christianity away from those obsessed with qualifying and editing it. A startling logician, he reversed the equation offered by the secular world, that it is the thoughtless who become Christians, the thoughtful who reject it. "There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of Heaven ridiculous by saying they do not want to spend eternity playing harps. The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them. All the Scriptural imagery (harps, crowns, gold, etc.) is, of course, a mere symbolical attempt to express the inexpressible. People who take these symbols literally might as well think that when Christ told us to be like doves, He meant that we were to lay eggs."

In the 1950s Lewis met and fell in love with Joy Davidman, an American convert from Judaism. The marriage was extraordinarily happy but tragically brief. Joy died of cancer in 1960, but only after her life was prolonged by what Lewis was convinced was a miracle. After Joy's death Lewis wrote a short book entitled A Grief Observed, an agonizingly honest exploration of a brokenness he had never assumed possible. "Grief still feels like fear," he said. "Up till this time I always had too little time. Now there is nothing but time. Almost pure time, empty successiveness."

He died in 1963 on the same day as president Kennedy and as a consequence his death received relatively little coverage.

Since Kennedy's assassination conspiracy fanatics the world over have pointlessly sought bizarre alternatives to an obvious truth. Oddly enough, since Jack Lewis's death atheists the world over have also pointlessly sought bizarre alternatives to an equally obvious truth – but one that matters just a little more than a lone gunmen and a grassy knoll. All that the new wave of old God-haters have to say was anticipated and countered by Jack Lewis more than half a century ago. Young and old alike should be warned, this is a Christian story.

Michael Coren is a broadcaster and author of The Man who Created Narnia. His website is:

Originally published in the National Post, April 28, 2008




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