This was my Classics Spin book for this round, and I finished it ahead of schedule! (Of course, I’m way behind schedule on all of my other books, but I prefer to dwell on my successes.)
I very nearly loved this book. Lewis’s path—although very different from my own—resonates with me in so many ways. Lewis has so many insightful things to say, and I found myself citing this book frequently in conversations. My spouse was very tolerant of this. He did gradually follow up my, “You know, this reminds me of something C.S. Lewis says in his Surprised by Joy…” with a mumbled “Of course it does.” But he still listened to what I said next.
Most of the things Lewis says that I found near mind-blowing, other people didn’t seem excited about at all when I relayed them, which was a little frustrating. Throughout the book, Lewis paints himself as a man apart from the crowd, someone misunderstood and largely content to be so. I shouldn’t have been surprised that other people didn’t share my excitement when I talked about the ways in which I could relate to a fellow who couldn’t really relate to other people.
I do think I understand better some of the anti-Lewis sentiment I hear sometimes. The first thirteen chapters were, I thought, awesome, aside from a few gratuitous judgmental bits he tosses in there without much elaboration (like that one of his friends was nearly as exasperating to talk to as a woman). These were especially annoying because he goes to such lengths to see things from different perspectives and to avoid judgment in most all of the book. These rare moments of judgment seem out of character, like he’s trying to be chummy with the reader in a way, tossing out little conversational barbs.
Or maybe these are rare moments of the true Lewis that he masks the majority of the time, because it does happen with more areas more pertinent to the book’s subject. At one point, Lewis defines “chronological snobbery” as “the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited.” Later he claims that Paganism is merely a stepping stone to more mature religions, and seems completely oblivious to the fact that this smacks of the very “chronological snobbery” he claims to have sloughed off. The only other proof he offers that Paganism “had been the childhood of religion” is the fact that he embraced it when he was a child, and he later decided it wasn’t doing it for him and moved on to something else. It’s fine if he’s made this personal conclusion so long as he doesn’t make it sound as though it’s an established truth.
I understand how Lewis makes the transition from Atheism to Theism, but I don’t really get how he goes from a belief in God to belief in a very specific, anthropomorphic God who acts directly and consciously in the universe, and I really don’t get how he makes the leap from here to Christianity. (But then, perhaps from “anthropomorphic God” to “anthropomorphic God coming to Earth as a human for the purpose of dying for our sins” it’s more a step than a leap.) This might be just because he doesn’t understand how he became Christian, either (which he admits in Chapter XV). This is totally fine, except that I thought that was kind of what the book was supposed to be about, and I really wanted to know how he got from Atheism to Christianity. Maybe if I want that, I need to read more of his other writings on Christianity.
You know, my overall reaction to this book reminds me of two things C.S. Lewis says in his Surprised by Joy:
“Of course he shares your interests…[b]ut he has approached them all from a different angle. He has read all the right books but has got all the wrong thing out of every one. It is as if he spoke your language but mispronounced it.”
“I was by now a sufficiently experienced reader to distinguish liking from agreement. I did not need to accept what [Lewis] said in order to enjoy it.”
One more thing: I’m re-reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe with my kids right now, and I’m finding a lot of Lewis’s conversion story and opinions about his own childhood beliefs about religion and faith woven through there since reading Surprised by Joy. I worry that some of the magic of both books is suffering as a result.