Monday, March 24, 2008

At the Kilns: A Blessing from War

Today in History

Ninety years ago today, on March 24, 1918, Edward “Paddy” Moore, Lewis’s friend and army roommate, is reported missing in action. It is later learned that Paddy had been killed three days prior resisting a German offensive at Pargny, France.

C.S. Lewis fought in one of history’s worst and costliest wars. He lost many comrades-in -arms, he won a medal for bravery and he was wounded by shrapnel from a nearby explosion that killed a soldier next to Lewis. In his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, Lewis describes his impressions from the front lines: “the horrible smashed men still moving like half crushed beetles, the sitting or standing corpses, the landscape of sheer earth without a blade of grass, the boots worn day and night until they seemed to grow to your feet.”

Being a Canadian and a Lover of Peace

As a Canadian, I have cherished our global role as peacekeepers, even though some missions ended disasterously. Growing up during the Cold War and during a time when Canada was primarily engaged in "peace-keeping" I am only now—slowly—awakening to the reality of Canada's current war in Afghanistan. The question of pacifism is floating around in both Christian and non-Christian circles. What about war? To help answer the question, I turn to my mentor, C.S. Lewis.

Lewis on War

Despite loosing a friend and enduring such horrible experiences, Lewis ardently rejected pacifism. During the Second World War, although too old for active duty, Lewis volunteered to serve on home front duties. I recently read two lectures given by Lewis on the subject of war, “Learning in War-time” and “Why I am not a Pacifist.” The latter lecture is a model of Lewis's impeccably logical mind, and offers a powerful and persuasive case against pacifism. I have been mulling over for a few weeks as to how I would blog about this lecture. In the end, I must resort to simply refer you, if you are interested, to read the essay for yourself. What I will blog about is an excerpt from the former lecture, "Learning in War-time."

In "Learning in War-time," Lewis asks what war does to death? He first explains what is does not do: war does not increase deaths, “since 100 percent of us die;” it does not increase our “chances of a painful death.” He states that on the battlefield we have a better chance of a quick, painless death; “what we call a natural death is usually preceded by suffering.” He goes on to say that war does not “decrease our chances of dying at peace with God.” What other circumstance, Lewis argues, would “better persuade a man to prepare for death”?

“Yet war does do something to death. It forces us to remember it. The only reason why the cancer at sixty or the paralysis at seventy-five do not bother us is that we forget them. War makes death real to us, and that would have been regarded as one of its blessings by most of the great Christians of the past. They thought it good for us to be always aware of our mortality. I am inclined to think they were right.”


Anonymous said...

No offense Jeremy, but to me it seems as if you are "idolizing" Lewis so much that his views have now become your own. Let us not forget the purpose of literature; not only to entertain, but to empower with knowledge, and with that knowledge, it is expected that people think for thmselves. I suggest you read Albert Einstein's article entitled "Why Socialism", because from your blog I get the feeling of a neo-christian neo-conservative. C.S. Lewis, while a remarkable writer, was not perfect. Just because he argued agaisnt pacifism does not mean that his argument was right. I'm sure you're familiar with a man by the name of Gandhi? That man worked his whole life towards pacifism, and accomplished a lot more than C.S. Lewis ever did. And that's just one example. What I'm getting at is, open your eyes a bit more, and you might find yourself understanding and learning a lot more.

Now about the bible, I suggest that you talk to a scientist in any field. You'd learn quite a bit about evolution, and population genetics. My life is based on facts and inferences, not creation myths.

Jeremy W. Johnston said...

No offense taken. Thanks for commenting. You give very sound advice: I agree that I need to “think for myself” and keep my eyes open. I also should not idolize Lewis. I think Lewis himself would be offended by such an abuse of his contributions to 20th century literature, thought and scholarship.

However, I do not want to presume that I have nothing to learn from this incredibly intelligent man. The fact that I am “camping out” for a time with one writer is very counterculture. I am attempting to gain “depth” as well as “breadth” of knowledge. I am seeking to listen and learn from the writings of a very gifted and wise thinker.

You and I live in a culture where we are encouraged to have an over inflated view of ourselves. There is an assumption that every individual is an ultimate judge, who is able to decisively and objectively sort out fact from fiction. In reality, most of us are not “thoroughly qualified” to approve or disapprove of various writers, philosophers and thinkers (often much wiser and more intelligent than ourselves). We need to swallow our pride and listen more. Opinions are formed too hasty these days, and often, opinions are formed for emotional, self-interested or fallacious reasons.

That being said, I am persuaded by Lewis’s ARGUMENT on pacifism, not by his celebrity status. You are right that in any debate, there is a temptation to be persuaded by “ad populum.” The fact that someone is a “pacifist” because Ghandi was a pacifist is committing the same fallacy. I do admire C.S. Lewis, but this is not why I am persuaded by his argument. On the contrary, Lewis’s ability to clearly articulate an argument, his logical mind, his vast knowledge of literature, etc. are the reasons why I do admire him.

As for whether I am neo-Christian or neo-conservative, I have no reply other than to say I believe in historic Christianity; that is to say, I believe the Bible to be God’s revelation to humanity and that Jesus Christ is His one and only son, given to redeem humanity and bring glory to God the Creator.

If I may offer some advice in return for your counsel, then let me suggest that your life is founded upon “authority” not fact. My life is built on authority as well. For example, I believe that the earth orbits the sun because I accept the authority of astronomers who have done the math and made the careful observations to prove it. You sound like you believe evolution because experts in science have examined the evidence and made informed and intelligent conclusions. We accept a great deal on “authority” because we have faith in the authority for a number of good reasons. It so happens that I accept the Bible as an authority for a number of good reasons.

The question I ask is this, “What makes something an authority?”