Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Idealism cannot be lived

While on the road, I read C.S. Lewis' "Surprised by Joy" for the first time.  I read bits of it to my travel companions but it seemed they found it tedious.  In the end, they were surprised I finished it in one day and wondered if I never did any light reading.  I don't know.  This is light reading to me.  Give me a Harlequin Romance and I won't get past the first chapter.  

Lewis tell the story of his slow conversion in this book.  Many details of his childhood and schooling are shared which really can help us understand many things in his other writings. We won't rehash this here.  What surprised me about "Surprised by Joy" was that is wasn't a book about how he became joyful when he became a Christian, but how the shafts of joy in his life, which he experienced here and there all along, even when life was very miserable, were a sign of God, shafts from the sun which helped him, led him, drew him, fished him (he talks of God as the great Angler) to faith in God.

So therefore we see that Joy was there all along.  And Joy really stands for God.  It became harder and harder for him to be an atheist.  When he decided to let the sun in, the snowman began to melt bit by bit.

     Really, a young Atheist cannot guard his faith too carefully.  Dangers lie in wait for him on every side.  You must not do, you must not even try to do, the will of the Father unless you are prepared to "know of the doctrine."  All my acts, desires, and thoughts were to be brought into harmony with universal Spirit.  For the first time I examined myself with a seriously practical purpose.  And there I found what appalled me;  a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds.  My name was legion.
     Of course I could do nothing--I could not last out one hour without continual conscious recourse to what I called Spirit.  But the fine, philosophical distinction between this and what ordinary people call "prayer to God" breaks down as soon as you start doing it in earnest.  Idealism can be talked, and even felt;  it cannot be lived.  It became patently absurd to go on thinking of "Spirit" as either ignorant of, or passive to, my approaches.  Even if my own philosophy were true, how could the initiative lie on my side.  My own analogy, as I now first perceived, suggested the opposite:  if Shakespeare and Hamlet could ever meet, it must be Shakespeare's doing.  Hamlet could initiate nothing.  Perhaps, even now, my Absolute Spirit still differed in some way from the God of religion.  The real issue was not, or not yet, there.  The real terror was that if you seriously believed in even such a "God" or "Spirit as I admitted, a wholly new situation developed.  As the dry bones shook and came together in that dreadful valley of Ezekiel's, so now a philosophical theorem, cerebrally entertained, began to stir and heave and throw off its gravecloths, and stood upright and became a living presence.  I was to be allowed to play philosophy no longer.  It might, as I say, still  be true that my "Spirit" differed in some way from "the God of popular religion."  My Adversary waived the point.  It sank into utter unimportance.  He would not argue about it.  He only said, "I am the Lord";  "I am that I am"; "I am."
     People who are naturally religious find difficulty in understanding the horror of such a revelation.  Amiable agnostics will talk cheerfully about "man's search for God."  To me, as I then was, they might as well have talked about the mouse's search for the cat.  The best image of my predicament is the meeting of Mime and Wotan...  Remember, I had always wanted, above all things, not to be "interfered with."  I had wanted (mad wish) "to call my soul my own."  I had been far more anxious to avoid suffering than to achieve delight.  I had always aimed at limited liabilities.  The supernatural itself had been to me, first, an illicit dream, and then, as by a drunkard's reaction, nauseous.  Even my recent attempt to live my philosophy had secretly (I now knew)  been hedged round by all sorts of reservations.  I had pretty well known that my ideal of virtue would never be allowed to lead me into anything intolerably painful;  I would be "reasonable."  But now what had been an ideal became a command;  and what might not be expected of one?  Doubtless, by definition, God was Reason itself.  But would He also be "reasonable" in that other, more comfortable sense?  Not the slightest assurance on that score was offered me.  Total surrender, the absolute leap in the dark, were demanded.  The reality with which no treaty can be made was upon me.  The demand was not even "All or nothing."  I think that stage had been passed, on the bus stop when I unbuckled my armor and the snowman stared to melt.  Now, the demand was simply "All."  

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