Thoughts on the Prisoner of Narnia

Since writing the essay C.S. Lewis is morally
incoherent
I have finished rereading the entire Narnia series. I
could go on at length about how the writing deteriorates as Lewis’s
imaginative impulse is more and more smothered by the clanking and
wheezing of his allegory machine, but Adam Gopnik makes the point
better than I could in Prisoner
of Narnia
.

Gopnik is particularly spot-on when he describes Lewis’s enthusiasts:

Praise a good writer too single-mindedly for too obviously ideological
reasons for too long, and pretty soon you have him all to
yourself. The same thing has happened to G. K. Chesterton: the
enthusiasts are so busy chortling and snickering as their man throws
another right hook at the rationalist that they don’t notice that the
rationalist isn’t actually down on the canvas; he and his friends
have long since left the building.

I could be the rationalist in this analogy. I admire the
Screwtape Letters as a marvellous piece of writing,
probably the most effective single Christian apologetic of the 20th
century, but as an argument it completely fails to affect me; Lewis
treats as deep mysteries issues that I think are obvious, and glides
over or ignores entirely the questions I find most interesting.

I’ve met a number of Christians who are convinced his arguments
should affect me, though, and seem genuinely puzzled when
they don’t. The brutal truth is that Lewis was a primitive thinker, a
fabulist who substituted spiritual/emotional passion for philosophical
analysis and never clearly understood that he wasn’t achieving the
latter.

Here again, Gopnik is both sympathetic and mercilessly exact:

His works are a record of a restless, intelligent man, pacing a cell
of his own invention and staring through the barred windows at the
stars beyond. That the door was open all the time, and that he held
the key in his pocket, was something he discovered only at the end.

Gopnik never unpacks this analogy, but its elements are plain. The
cage was Lewis’s Christian religiosity; the key was the pagan
enthusiasm and wonder of his childhood; and the end was that last
portion of his life during which he wrote Til We Have
Faces
, a re-paganized mythological examination of all the
questions that most obsessed him. No part of his journey ever took
place at the level of philosophy; it was all fable, all spirit-quest,
all psychodrama occasionally dressed up in the language of intellectual
argument but never really at home there.

Gopnik drops the ball only once:

A bright and sensitive British boy turned by public-school sadism into
a warped, morbid, stammering sexual pervert. It sounds like the usual
story. What was special about Lewis was that, throughout it all, he
kept an inner life.

Gopnik’s description of “the usual story” is more awfully truthful
than most Americans can know; I actually went to a British day school
in the 1960s (it happened to be located outside Rome, but that’s a
detail) and the decaying end of the same tradition that had warped
Lewis fifty years before was still quite unpleasant enough. But
Gopnik is wrong in thinking Lewis was exceptional for maintaining an
inner life; most public-school boys did, even if only as a form of
escape. No; what was exceptional about Lewis came later, when he
converted to Christianity in 1931 for reasons that were desperately
wrong from any Christian point of view.

Here again, Gopnik is clear-eyed:

This was a new turn in the history of religious conversion. Where for
millennia the cutting edge of faith had been the difference between
pagan myth and Christian revelation, Lewis was drawn in by the
likeness of the Christian revelation to pagan myth. Even
Victorian conversions came, in the classic Augustinian manner, out of
an overwhelming sense of sin. Cardinal Manning agonized over eating
too much cake, and was eventually drawn to the Church of Rome to keep
himself from doing it again. Lewis didn’t embrace Christianity because
he had eaten too much cake; he embraced it because he thought that it
would keep the cake coming, that the Anglican Church was God’s own
bakery.

The mythological arc of Lewis’s work, the arc that ends with
Til We Have Faces, makes it clear that this account is
correct. And from a pagan point of view (certainly a neopagan one
like mine) cozying up to a god because that will keep the cake coming
is eminently reasonable. The pagan bargain between god and human is
an exchange of value, adoration given for power returned. But within
an Augustinian Christian point of view this is horribly backwards:
conversion is supposed to be all about submission to the will of God
and what I have elsewhere described as installing a sin/guilt/thoughtcrime
monitor
in one’s own head. There is no evidence that Lewis
ever did this; he doesn’t seem, for example, to have suffered the
pangs of conscience one might have expected from a Christian
enthusiast over committing adultery.

Thus, for all his enthusiasm, Lewis was a poor Christian, and an
uneven (and ultimately unsuccessful) evangelist. J.R.R. Tolkien, who had
been reponsible for Lewis’s conversion, understood this and was much
bothered by it. When Gopnik reports that the Archbishop of Canterbury
was offended by Lewis’s “vulgar, bullying” religiosity there is no reason
at all for us to doubt that, either.

As regards the quality of Lewis’s writing, it was his Christianity
that damaged him, not his pagan instincts. As Gopnik writes:

Lewis is always trying to stuff the marvellous back into the
allegorical—his conscience as a writer lets him see
that the marvellous should be there for its own marvellous sake, just
as imaginative myth, but his Christian duty insists that the
marvellous must (to use his own giveaway language) be reinfected with
belief. He is always trying to inoculate metaphor with allegory, or,
at least, drug it, so that it walks around hollow-eyed, saying just
what it’s supposed to say.

This describes with laser-beam precision what’s wrong with the
Narnia books. It’s already a serious problem in The Lion, the
Witch, and the Wardrobe
and it gets worse as the series
progresses. By The Last Battle all that’s left of
whatever narrative coherence Narnia originally possessed is a series
of gorgeous imagistic set pieces. Lewis tries so obsessively to pump
these full of allegorical meaning that, paradoxically, they lose all
meaning. The clanking of the allegory machine is just too
audible.

Even children pick up on this; I did, though when I first read the
books I didn’t understand what I was feeling. As Gopnik puts it:

The emotional power of the book, as every sensitive child has known,
diminishes as the religious part intensifies. The most explicitly
religious part of his myth is the most strenuously, and the least
successfully, allegorized.

I could dispute some of the pronouncements with which Gopnik
finishes his essay; not being a neopagan himself, he crams pagan
mysticism into an implicitly dualist framework, and thus understands it
less well than he thinks he does. But when he writes

Fairy stories are not rich because they are true, and they lose none
of their light because someone lit the candle.

he is dead on target. Tolkien understood this; Lewis never did. That’s
why, at fifty years’ remove, it is Lewis who stands in Tolkien’s shadow
as a fantasist and not the other way around.

27 thoughts on “Thoughts on the Prisoner of Narnia

  1. I think the short essay you link to has some interesting points to make. However, I do think the writer is unneccessarily hostile to Lewis and hence too quick to retail slurs (e.g. the totally unjustified racism one) from the likes of Phillip Pullman and what (I believe) is little more than speculation on the part of A. N. Wilson. And then there’s this silly nonsense about “Anglicanism”, when the real Lewis, as we know, had little time for denominational rivalry. All this unfair criticism may be good bloodsport for militant atheists but only serves to weaken the argument.

    (Incidentally, there is an interesting piece comparing Lewis and Pullman in the current edition of the Spectator, and the writer (justly in my view, although I don’t share her religious beliefs) scores some palpable hits on Pullman, although she nevertheless believes he has the better imagination.)

    I think the New Yorker piece gets better as it goes on. I’d agree with Gopnik that “The Horse and his Boy” is one of the more satisfying books and I think Gopnik is right as to why that is.

    One point he misses is that _The Lord of the Rings_ is not really myth. It’s the legendary material for Tolkien’s invented world (albeit there are mythical overtones). The Silmarillion is the myths. I don’t know about Gopnik but I don’t find the Silmarillion very readable, and that might be worth thinking about.

    This seems fairly weak:

    “Where for millennia the cutting edge of faith had been the difference between pagan myth and Christian revelation, Lewis was drawn in by the likeness of the Christian revelation to pagan myth.”

    Millennia? There are only two of them. Besides, the boundary is somewhat blurred – Christianity was, for example, deeply influenced by Neoplatonism (as a scholar of medieval literature like Lewis would know) – and once past late antiquity there was no “difference” to apply a “cutting edge” to, since the earlier beliefs had either died or been subsumed.

    The whole idea that “myth” was a “draw” for Lewis – the hinge that the piece swings on – seems questionable. Undoubtedly, it had great appeal to him. But, as Gopnik himself says, you don’t need a religious belief to satisfy the wish to encounter myth; you just have to read it. It seems much more to the point that a man like Lewis who was steeped in literature couldn’t but be highly aware of similarities between motifs in “vegetative cults”, etc., and in Christian belief. That is one heck of a stumbling block. The first reaction is likely to be to come up with a functional explanation for all occurrences of the motif – to do much as Frazer had done in _The Golden Bough_.

    Tolkien was effectively offering him a get out by encouraging him to see pagan myth as “pre-figuring” the “historical” events in the gospels.

    It’s all a very long time ago in some ways. These men were born in the 19th century and England was a very different place then. It’s been argued by historians that it was WWII that finished the C of E. Many churches were bombed; young clergymen called up; parish organizations broken by the disuption of the times. After the war, the state took over many of the charitable functions that the church had fulfilled before, and the church, it’s social role lost, withered. But Christianity had a massive institutional presence throughout most of Lewis’s life. This historical picture is also missing in the _New Yorker_ piece.

  2. I have to disagree with you on several counts here, Michael. For starters, Lewis had plenty of time for denomenational rivalry; he put his friendship with Tolkien under severe strain by indulging in anti-Catholic invective in his writing.

    The whole business with Pullman is, I agree, just a distraction — Pullman’s critique is so obviously just left-wing political correctness run amok that we can dismiss it as noise. But that myth was a draw for Lewis seems indisputable — his whole oeuvre is saturated with that kind of fascination, he writes like a man who plugged into that wellspring in childhood and never lost it.

    I’m sure Lewis understood about Neoplatonism and vegetative cults. But your “first reaction” would be the response of a scientist or philosopher, an analytical thinker — someone like me. This is precisely what Lewis was not. He was a damaged schoolboy who hungered for the maternal love he had lost; Gopnik’s phrase “bleeding don” seems appropriate. He didn’t want to understand the universe, he needed to reconnect with it and reimagine it as a nurturing place.

  3. (I see this from the viewpoint of a Tolkienist, not a Lewisist: be warned. I haven’t read the biographies, for instance.)

    It seems clear to me that Lewis’s attitude toward myths in his non-Christian period was mixed: on the one hand, he loved them and found them deeply inspirational (as throughout his life); on the other, they were fictions, and all his intellectual training told him that there was no truth except strictly factual Gradgrind truth. Consequently he got muddled enough to call mythology “breathing a lie through silver.”

    Tolkien’s versified reply to that gave him a perfect out: a solar/vegetation/dying god myth that was also a historical fact! Irresistible to the two halves of Lewis’s personality. The fact that he had to swallow the Christian religion in order to get there — well, those were the breaks.

  4. “Irresistible” sounds about right. Can we really believe that Lewis, the beloved writer, was stupid enough to be convinced by this? Or was he deluding himself so that he could keep the joy?

    Converted to faith as the means of joy, however, Lewis never stops to ask very hard why this faith rather than some other. His favorite argument for the truth of Christianity is that either Jesus had to be crazy to say the things he did or what he said must be true, and since he doesn’t sound like someone who is crazy, he must be right. (He liked this argument so much that he repeats it in allegorical form in the Narnia books; either Lucy is lying about Narnia, or mad, or she must have seen what she claimed to see.)

  5. If Lewis was drawn to Christianity by the likeness of the Christian revelation to pagan myth, why he didn’t became a catholic? Pagan influences are more prevalent in catholicism, I think.

  6. I can’t recall the anti-Catholic invective, Eric, but I guess you’re thinking of some particular reference/s that he does make. However that may be, he certainly had a notion that the common ground was of importance – hence “Mere” Christianity, and that’s a theme he returns to in a number of places. He did also write that the Nonconformist protestantism that he knew in Ireland as a boy was too narrow; there’s also an offhand comment to that effect in _An Experiment in Criticism_ of all places. I only raised the matter to suggest that Lewis was subtler and less rigid, unthoughtful – “Blimpish”? – than Gopnik suggests.

    Incidentally, the main (unnamed) target in _An Experiment_ is, it seems to me, F. R. Leavis, and while I think Leavis is an important writer, I also think Lewis is right to point to a certain narrowness in him. I think it would be fair to say that there is more “puritanism” (in a broad non-religious sense) about Leavis than there is about Lewis (in some ways, at any rate). I’d certainly agree that Lewis seems “damaged” but I also think that Gopnik sells him short, and feel impelled in a sense to defend the man.

    There’s much in Gopnik’s piece that I would agree with, but much also seems highly speculative. For example, the point about the lion being at the top of the food chain seemed an interesting one at first. But then I recalled the book by Lewis’s friend Charles Williams:

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1573831085/103-9079182-7613453?v=glance&n=283155

    Lewis was a magpie, of course, and why invoke a supposedly “Mithraic” cast of mind to explain the high-status lion when the obvious source for the lion is Williams’s book? And Gopnik is pushing it when he suggests that Jadis, by contrast, is of low status: she’s a ruler from a long line of rulers and only too well aware of the fact, of course.

    Returning to the “damaged schoolboy” point, the “conversion” experience sounds to me like an emotional event (although, my view being what it is, I would say that). I was particularly struck by the extreme “physical” tension he experienced – as if his body had turned into a suit of armour, I think he says. But I also suppose that many of the beliefs opf all sorts that we have have more to do with emotion than anything; and, from (an admittedly reductive) point of view are “just” muscle tension.

    OT, I’ve never read the Middle English poem _Pearl_ and was interested, but not surprised, to find that is one of the sources for Narnia. It’s one of the many interesting asides in Melvyn’s Bragg’s new MP3 podcast for his program on BBC Radio 4.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/history/inourtime/inourtime.shtml

  7. >If Lewis was drawn to Christianity by the likeness of the Christian revelation to pagan myth, why he didn’t became a catholic?

    That’s a good question and one many students of Lewis have asked. I’ve never heard a really compelling answer. Gopnik’s seems to be that Lewis adopted Anglicanism because it was the religion of his country and his ancestors, out of some need to be rooted in the local. I think this is plausible but not final.

    >His favorite argument for the truth of Christianity is that either Jesus had to be crazy to say the things he did or what he said must be true, and since he doesn’t sound like someone who is crazy, he must be right.

    True. And if I needed more evidence for my characterization of Lewis as a primitive thinker, this would be exhibit A. It’s a remarkably stupid argument; all you need to do to falsify it is to point out the existence and behavior of paranoid schizophrenics.

  8. Some scattered responses:

    I recall that in reading Lewis’s theological discussions he routinely emphasized common ground among Christians, often arguing towards the rough consensus and seldom from first principles. I don’t think he was fond of protracted syllogisms in search of proof, and instead sought his community’s common sense for a theological guide. He was not, at heart, anything like a logician. I don’t meant to caricature, but even his apologetics were frequently utterly simple in their logic and depended for their strength on arguments that eventually turn on something like “in your heart you know this is right”.

    And so I think that once Lewis committed himself to Christianity, he exhibited an abhorrence for factions and disputation. His answer to them was to seek and place himself in the local Christian theological center. In the place and time in which he lived, that happened to be the Church of England, somewhere in the middle ground between “high church” and “low church”.

    As to Aslan being a lion: I believe there is at least one Christian tradition that likens Christ to four different living creatures of the book of revelations. They are a man, a lion, an ox and an eagle. Each of these has some kind of relation to Christ’s character (roughly humanity, royal nature — e.g. lion of the tribe of Judah, sacrificial nature, and connection to the holy spirit, respectively). Each animal can then be connected to one of the gospels, based on where its putative emphasis lies. (I am not sure but I think these animals may go back before Christianity to older Jewish mystical traditions, by the way.)

    I believe the gospel of John is the one typically related to the lion. I have always wondered if Lewis intended a special relation of his Narnia stories to the gospel of John, indicated by his choosing a Lion for Aslan.

  9. I wonder if Gropnik read the Narnia books or just regurgitated others ideas. Very little content specific to the books.

    Looks like he forgot Sam went over the sea along with Frodo too. Or maybe he just saw the movie.

  10. ESR probably uses bogofilter, which knows that ‘hacker’ isn’t a spam word.

  11. I recall that in reading Lewis’s theological discussions he routinely emphasized common ground among Christians, often arguing towards the rough consensus and seldom from first principles. I don’t think he was fond of protracted syllogisms in search of proof, and instead sought his community’s common sense for a theological guide.

    I agree, but I don’t sense that this was due to any lack of ability to construct such ‘protracted syllogisms’, but rather from a thorough understanding of the weaknesses inherent in such an approach. Every computer coder gets his nose rubbed in this continually — the human intellect is quite limited in it’s ability to consistently forge an extended chain of logic without error or contradiction. Resolving the continual jarring differences between his ideal conceptions and brute reality is the essence of the process known as debugging.

    The historian Richard Pipes puts the issue more generally in his Introduction to The Russian Revolution:

    Post-1789 revolutions have raised the most fundmental ethical questions: whether it is proper to destroy institutions built over centuries by trial and error, for the sake of ideal systems; whether one has the right to sacrifice the well-being and even the lives of of one’s own generation for the sake of generations yet unborn; whether man can be refashioned into a perfectly virtuous being.

    This is the core of the ‘conservative’ argument. It is an essentially pragmatic one, and one that I suspect Professor Lewis would have appreciated. For better or worse, Christianity has constituted the spiritual and intellectual core of Western civilization for most of the past two millenia. Liberalism (in the original classical sense of the term), captialism, free scientific inquiry and development — all of these originated in a culture whose basic mores and idioms were strongly informed by the Christian tradition. It is not something that it would be wise to cast away lightly in favor of whatever ‘ideal system’ happens to be fashionable at the moment.

  12. > > His favorite argument for the truth of Christianity is that either Jesus had to be crazy to say the things he did or what he said must be true, and since he doesn’t sound like someone who is crazy, he must be right.

    > True. And if I needed more evidence for my characterization of Lewis as a primitive thinker, this would be exhibit A. It’s a remarkably stupid argument; all you need to do to falsify it is to point out the existence and behavior of paranoid schizophrenics.

    I wouldn’t know about paranoid schizophrenics: I’m not a doctor. But I’d have thought one problem with this argument is that we *don’t* actually know what Christ “said”. All we have is some (conflicting) accounts whose dates of composition are disputed (to say the least). I’m actually inclined to think that Lewis was fond of this argument because it is a “traditional” one that goes back to one of the church fathers (I forget which one). Elsewhere, ever the highly informed scholar of English, he notes that the medievals were “very credulous of books” – something is believed because someone (Aristotle, Seneca … whoever) has written it somewhere. But here, I suspect, he is doing the same.

    In general, Lewis seems keen to present “arguments” for God’s “existence” as well as for Christianity. This, I think, is odd – and again something of a throwback – because most philosophers accept that Kant demolished those arguments. (Interestingly, Kant felt that there was something irreligious in such arguments and wrote that by doing that he had “made way for the claims of faith”.) Post-Kant, Kierkegaard retreats into the realm of personal experience – and, I suppose, William James (_The Varieties of Religious Experience_) does something similar. Lewis, by contrast, carries on as if nothing has changed – although he must have known it has.

    I can’t agree that his mind was “primitive”. He seems to have trouble with maths but sailed through everything else. Let’s not forget Oxford awarded him a triple first (including a first in philosophy). He apparently had a reading (at least) knowledge of some ten languages; and has been described as perhaps the best-read man of his generation. Golly, I wish I could say as much.

    Even Gopnik doesn’t dispute his intelligence:

    “His works are a record of a restless, intelligent man, pacing a cell of his own invention and staring through the barred windows at the stars beyond.”

    If Lewis ended up with a worldview that many of us nowadays would see as unsustainable then I think, if we are right, that is less a reflection on his intelligence than a comment on the sheer power of the irrational. Emotion holds the trump cards – certainly for a man who lost his mother so early, etc., etc. (even one as intelligent as he). But similar considerations probably apply to us all. I think that’s a sobering thought.

  13. Neal: Say what? Sam did not go over Sea with Frodo. In both book and movie, he rode home to the Shire. We hear in the Appendices that he went over Sea by himself, much later.

  14. “Neal: Say what? Sam did not go over Sea with Frodo.”

    Thhpt. I think my use of English is fine, though “Followed” would have been clearer for some dimensions of meaning.

    That the author made a mistake is not my point. My point is that the Gropnik puts down CS Lewis to engender group think reaction against the books. Is the author offering up serious critical analysis of the books, or attacking the author for his Christianity since it seems so in vogue these days. I don’t see a lot of analysis of the books, mostly random attacks on the author. The analysis that is there seems like something that one could pick up by reading a few reviews, rather than actually analyzing the books themselves:

    The English don’t like C.S. Lewis because he is a polemicist.
    Idiot religious people like him, using him to show smart people can be christians too (though no one is trying to pull him down, including the author)
    He had a wierd sex life. Because he wanted to spank some women, he is a stammering sexual pervert.
    His books sucked, and while they are called classics, its really some collosal mistake.

    . . .

    Meanwhile, I find myself in the odd position that I do agree the books are not great, but I just can’t stand the approach of this author. It smacks of that wink and nod kind of crap that leads to people feeling superior. I wonder how many people read this review (please exclude people who went through the trouble to reread the entire series! amazing), and came away with that feeling of superiority for being on the “right” team, when they haven’t gone through half the effort to understand what the real issues are.

  15. The whole business with Pullman is, I agree, just a distraction — Pullman’s critique is so obviously just left-wing political correctness run amok that we can dismiss it as noise.

    Pullman mentions racism in an offhand way, but he focuses on the charge that Lewis sends Susan to Hell. Now, after re-reading the part in question, I can safely call this a mistake on Pullman’s part. Lewis says nothing to suggest that Susan died with the others. In my view, he says plainly that she did not (unless she died elsewhere that day from some different cause). On the other hand, he does seem hostile to adulthood and sexuality at times.

    What John Cowan says fits what I recall from a biography of Tolkien. However:

    I’d have thought one problem with this argument is that we *don’t* actually know what Christ “said”. All we have is some (conflicting) accounts whose dates of composition are disputed (to say the least).
    Bingo.

  16. New Name for the lefties who call us Neo-Cons and chickenhawks!

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  17. To add to Michael’s point…

    > either Jesus had to be crazy to say the things he did or what he said must be true

    This is a false dichotomy. If what Jesus said was not true, he *may* have been crazy, but the only thing we would *know* is that he was WRONG.

    I believe it is entirely possible to be wrong without sounding crazy, just as it is possible to be right and sound crazy all the same. So whether Jesus sounds crazy doesn’t prove anything.

    I am of the personal opinion that Jesus had many important things to say, but that he did such an extremely bad job of saying them, only the stupid and gullible people would listen. Once he was gone, those stupid and gullible people went out and did a terrible job of repeating his message, missing the point entirely and bringing in all manner of irrelevant crap from other sources.

    You can actually see this in action by reading the Greek scriptures; if we accept that the synoptic gospels are generally pretty accurate, even though they may not always agree entirely, we can find many places in Paul’s writings (which comprise over half the new testament) where he contradicts, ignores, or supplements the gospels because they do not suit his purposes at the moment.

    In the end, it’s not necessarily Jesus that was crazy so much as his apostles and disciples. Since they’re solely responsible for our knowledge of Jesus, that knowledge is unreliable at best, and it would naturally make Jesus sound a bit crazy even if he wasn’t.

  18. Of course, the Gospels we have did not yet exist when Paul wrote the few letters that everyone agrees he wrote. It seems possible, if unproven, that Paul created the religion by tying his vision to a Jewish movement or movements that started much earlier.

  19. The key question isn’t whether Paul was honoring the gospels, but whether he was accurately interpreting what Jesus said. If we accept that the gospels are reasonably accurate accounts of what Jesus said, then Paul’s contradiction of those gospels is a contradiction of what Jesus said. If we *don’t* accept that the gospels are accurate, then we have to ask the somewhat more nebulous question of whether Paul was accurately interpreting what Jesus said, and then it just becomes a lot of guesswork.

    My fundamental thesis is that christianity as we know it isn’t really based on what Jesus taught, but on Paul’s letters and John’s vision of the apocalypse, which I generally find is NEWS to most christians. What surprises me is how many times they don’t think it *matters*… evidently, as long as someone said it within a hundred years or so of Jesus, that’s good enough.

  20. Caliban:
    > (quoting McCabe) either Jesus had to be crazy to say the things he did or what he said must be true

    This is a false dichotomy. If what Jesus said was not true, he *may* have been crazy, but the only thing we would *know* is that he was WRONG.

    I believe it is entirely possible to be wrong without sounding crazy, just as it is possible to be right and sound crazy all the same. So whether Jesus sounds crazy doesn’t prove anything.

    SO, JESUS COULD HAVE BEEN RIGHT? So, he is either crazy and wrong OR crazy and right? I mean, after all, He did go around telling everyone He was God…that would make him crazy…so all that remains is whether or not He was right.

    And, out of mere curiosity (as opposed to Mere Christianity), where do the gospel accounts contradict themselves (please include scriptural references)?

    More Caliban:
    My fundamental thesis is that christianity as we know it isn’t really based on what Jesus taught, but on Paul’s letters and John’s vision of the apocalypse, which I generally find is NEWS to most christians.

    Christianity IS based on Jesus’ teachings, found in the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John) which were not written by Paul. Certainly Paul’s letters have been influential in the history of the Church. John’s vision (primarily the book of Revelation) is exactly that, a vision. The meaning of this vision is unknown to say the least (debated by Christians and non-Christians alike), and is not the foundation of many churches. I realize this must be NEWS to most atheists.

  21. “His favorite argument for the truth of Christianity is that either Jesus had to be crazy to say the things he did or what he said must be true, and since he doesn’t sound like someone who is crazy, he must be right.

    True. And if I needed more evidence for my characterization of Lewis as a primitive thinker, this would be exhibit A. It’s a remarkably stupid argument; all you need to do to falsify it is to point out the existence and behavior of paranoid schizophrenics. ”

    That isn’t Lewis’ argument. First you don’t note who his argument is against. It against those who want to dismiss Christ’s claim of godhood AND YET still claim he was a great moral teacher. Lewis says that doesn’t make sense because you are trying to follow the great moral teaching of someone who was either lying about being God, deranged into thinking he was God, or actually was God. Only in the third case does following his teachings make much sense.

    Against those who want to follow the teaching’s of Jesus, that is a perfectly good argument. It isn’t impregnable, perhaps the crazy person had some interesting insights anyway. But it isn’t a laughable parody of an argument unless you push it out of its context.

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