Saturday, August 10, 2013

C.S.Lewis' chess pieces fall

The natural step would have been to inquire a little more closely whether the Christians were, after all, wrong.  But did not take it.  I thought I could explain their superiority with that hypothesis. Absurdly (yet many Absolute Idealists have shared this absurdity) I thought that "the Christian myth" conveyed to unphilosophic minds as much of the truth, that is of Absolute Idealism, as they were capable of grasping, and that even that much put them above the irreligious.  Those who could not rise to the notion of the Absolute would come nearer to the truth by belief in "a God" than by disbelief.  Those who could not understand how, as Reasoners, we participated in a timeless and therefore deathless world, would get a symbolic shadow of the truth by believing in a life after death.  The implication--that something which I and most other undergraduates could master without extraordinary pains would have been too hard for Plato, Dante, Hooker, and Pascal--did not yet strike me as absurd.  I hope this is because I never looked it squarely in the face.  (p. 215)
Realism had been abandoned;  the New Look was somewhat damaged;  and chronological snobbery was seriously shaken.  All over the board my pieces were in the most disadvantageous positions.  Soon I could no longer cherish even the illusion that the initiative lay with me.  My Adversary began to make His final moves.  (p. 217)
     Up till now my thoughts had been centrifugal;  now the centripetal movement had begun.  Considerations arising from quite different parts of my experience were beginning to come together with a click.  This new dovetailing of my desire-life with my philosophy foreshadowed the day, now fast approaching, when I should be forced to take my "philosophy" more seriously than I ever intended.  I did not foresee this.  I was like a man who has lost "merely a pawn" and never dreams that this (in that state of the game) means mate in a few moves.
     The fourth Move was more alarming.  I was now teaching philosophy (I suspect very badly) as well as English.  And my watered Hegelianism wouldn't serve for tutorial purposes.  A tutor must make things clear.  Now the Absolute cannot be made clear.  Do you mean Nobody-knows-what, or do you mean a superhuman mind and therefore (we may as well admit) a Person?  After all, did Hegel and Bradley and all the rest of them ever do more than add mystifications to the simple, workable, theistic idealism of Berkeley?  I thought not.
     Then I read Chesterton's Everlasting Man and for the first time saw the whole Christian outline of history set out in a form that seemed to me to make sense.  Somehow I contrived not to be too badly shaken.  You will remember that I already thought  Chesterton the most sensible man alive "apart from his Christianity."  Now, I veritably believe, I thought--I didn't of course say;  words would have revealed the nonsense--that Christianity itself was very sensible "apart from its Christianity."  But I hardly remember, for I had not long finished The Everlasting Man when something far more alarming happened to me.  Early in 1926 the hardest boiled of all the atheists I ever knew sat in my room on the other side of the fire and remarked that the evidence for the historicity of the gospels was really surprisingly good.  "Rum thing," he went on.  "All that stuff of Frazer's about the Dying God.  Rum thing.  It almost looks as if it had really happened once."  To understand the shattering impact of it, you would need to know the man (who has certainly never since shown any interest in Christianity).  If he, the cynic of cynics, the toughest of the toughs, were not--as I would still have put it--"safe", where could I turn?  Was there then no escape? (pp. 222-223)

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