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Lewis and Chesterton

September 7, 2001

Rumors continue about publisher HarperCollins planning to “de-Christianize” C.S. Lewis’s Narnia tales for a new release of the series. More foolish things have certainly been done; however, I doubt these rumors are true.

The Narnia tales have been remarkably successful, and profitable, and have appealed to readers of all persuasions. Publishers want to make money, and HarperCollins has everything to lose by tampering with a successful literary classic.

They may well have thought about re-marketing beyond the Christian shelves, but that’s a different, and possibly wise, intention.

The Lewis estate claims it would never allow revision, anyway. Too bad, since it would have been great fodder for pundits. But it does let me bring up the subject of C.S. Lewis, who made local news last winter through a misunderstood literary allusion in a church ad.

About three months ago, the library meeting room was reserved for Tuesday, September 18, at 7:00 p.m. for the first meeting of a “Christian Classics” book club. The club will begin by discussing “Mere Chrisitianity” by C.S. Lewis and then schedule more books if there is sufficient interest.

The meeting is open to all. It will be an ecumenical group devoted to discussion of classic literary works about Christianity.

They will not run out of books to read. The best of Lewis alone could keep them busy for a year.

I’ll suggest a future reading for the club: G.K. Chesterton’s “Orthodoxy.” In it, Chesterton defends his empirically derived philosophy that, lo’, turned out to be traditional Christianity.

It is well-written and accessible. Chesterton was a journalist and novelist when this book was published in 1908 — making it as old as our library — and his language is deceptively easy. But he makes many pointed arguments, most of which stand up to the passage of a century.

So much of it is delightful that I find myself readily applying the Christian principle of forgiveness for the occasional arrogance of a man who has made up his mind. Such determination leads to the inevitable “Straw Man” tactic of many Apologies, Christian or otherwise.

Creationists employ this tactic. A foe is invented, or words put in the mouths of would-be enemies, better to complete one’s argument.

Chesterton occasionally does this. He takes the science of his day to task, when his problem is really not with science but with scientism. I was surprised to find Chesterton do a little of what modern creationists do a lot: take the internal questioning of a science as a sign of weakness, when it is, in fact, its strength.

There’s no way around it. The certainty of a scientist pales beside the certainty of the believer.

Chesterton likes a passionate Christianity. But even in his finely drawn arguments, I find for my taste too much of the confrontational metaphor — of the notion of War, of putting on a Christian cloak of armor against the philosophical ennui of the infidels.

This is hard to avoid in a defense of something loved against perceived attacks against it. But the idea of passionate battle seems counter to the Christianity that is patient, kind, long-suffering; that lets it light shine, rather than beams it in your face.

It’s a measure of the power of an idea that so many people can lay claim to it. This book group offers one way to examine and discuss questions that we continually ask anew.

For more information, show up at the meeting, or call Gordon Gross, 530-0789, or Sarah Dreher, 539-4311.


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