Father Richard Barrett answers readers' questions
My local vicar has urged the youth group in the parish to read CS Lewis as a guide to the Faith. I am fairly sure he was an Anglican so is it appropriate of the chaplain to propose Lewis as a safe guide for young and impressionable Christian minds?
CATHOLIC MINDS are neither young nor impressionable, as the Church to which they belong thinks in terms of centuries. Despite Wilde's remark that the truth is rarely pure and never simple, we might say this was an impure truth he was thinking of revelations.
Of course few people today distinguish truth from honesty in these matters, the first refers to hard reality while the second refers to one soft inner and often rather opinionated mindset.
Virginia Woolf could never cope with the fact that Lewis felt truth was a prelude to honesty and not vice-versa. We call it humility before God's grandeur, as Hopkins would have it.
Take the fact that as of this month a monstrous black hole has appeared in the centre of one Galaxy. Now I wonder which Galaxy that is? Some of the correspondents that write in to me seem to think that we are still the centre of the known universe. Our query is do we have a right to exist above and beyond all the laws of this savage physical, metaphysical and ethical universe (please note the 3 levels of law here)?
So it's apologies to all those readers who regularly plug their kids into the TV and tell them God looks like the baby-faced Sunflower in Teletubbies. Christian children, who can be very RC, do not need to be cradled from such facts, nor are they a tabula rasa on which any Tom, Dick or Harry may write the kind of graffiti that used to be found in these isles under Roman occupation.
Indeed here I salute the one theologian 1,480 miles from London who does read the graffiti on cenotaphs but that's because even the graffiti in La Cilia Eterna is cleverer than the rubbish that sometimes warbles across this
work-station! Nothing humane, however, is alien to us and indeed science fiction has been described, like poetry, as religion by any other name. So the reader is perhaps being a trifle overscrupulous.
The Christian mind it is true is not a completely open mind it is characterised by a certain battery of judgments and we are asked to reexamine them every so often. The truth is if we had to examine all our judgments every morning before breakfast we would never pick up a fork!
Thinkers, such as Lewis, assist in this process. As another product of Christian culture once said, namely Waugh in Brideshead Revisited,: "Sooner or later God pulls the plug and we are called home."
John Henry Newman, who defended a doctorate from a distinguished university, called for a laity not ignorant nor rash but who were up to taking the "point" in the world. So all can earn the church equivalent of a Purple Heart in the fire-fights which must characterise the cut and thrust of interaction with one's culture.
So is the Catholic mind a paragon of virtue? Hardly we would say, but most us have a microscope on the past and a telescope on the future, unlike those who strip Christianity of its supernatural content and give us cold charity instead. So OUT prayer is not "thank you Lord for tnaking me perfect" but rather "from all my errors 0 L.ord set me free".
We have learnt the lessons of history so, one hopes, we are not condemned to repeat them. There is an undiscovered country out there for young minds and it is to be found not on page 3 of a tabloid but in the books of CS Lewis. We are not dealing with the soft wax of a tabula rasa that is wide open to any fool that comes along with a stylus, but with a nose for hard facts, ie is there or is there not a black hole on our doorstep?
To help us cope with the rather alarming answer to this query, we have the sci-fi works of Lewis. Science-fiction is inspiring and in fact if I had read Lipsey with as much enthusiasm as The Adventures of Perry Rhodan I might have become a lawyer rather than a priest.
The reader would prefer that the parish youth group above read Chesterton. Fine, I for one would campaign for the canonisation of journalists anyday, but Lewis might be just as helpful.
Truth be told Lewis is much better material for PYGs than most of the pious tracts that are dished out by well-meaning but unimagi native ideologues. He was strong enough to let one very big cat (a bloody lion of Judah as it happened) out of the bag when he wrote, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
His other apologetical works such as Miracles, Till Men Have Faces, The Abolition of Man, The Screwtape Letters etc have nourished the minds of many evangelicals in the US.
Yet it is his sci-fi trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet or Malacandra, Voyage to Venus
or Perelandru, and
That Hideous Strength that will rep ay investment. These works of Grade 6 sci-fi intro duce us to other scenarios in the universe and tease out the cosmic implications of themes such as original sin in Voyage to Venus or angelic forms in Out of the Silent Planet.
It has been said, not by me of course, that three works will make it as the future of futuristic theology. Or is it just cosmology? As one lean and hungry Jesuit, who was an astronomer, explained to me way up in the dome of an observatory (under an Arapahoe sky), "the future is beyond physics it's physics Jim but not as we know ii".
The Jesuit was something of a genius something we learned too late to save him from a Jodie Foster. One can imagine that people out there will be familiar with the fantasy series featuring The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and The Last Battle. Who among us, however, can forget The Voyage of the Dawn Treader? More importantly, who can prepare a new dawn for us?
According to the Americans one day there will be a form of propulsion that will help some people to Mars in two weeks resolving the problem we averted to ages ago re human bone decline in space-time.
Meanwhile those young minds who do wish to do some serious thinking can try CS Lewis without any danger of error.
All in all Lewis is a good ride and we hope that just as 2010 has seen the celluloid light of day, maybe one of the Lewis sci-fi works will also attain a similar status.
2010 is the most interesting interpretation of a creative genius at work and if it can be done for Clarke it can also be done for Lewis.