Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Weight of Glory and Other Treatises by C.S. Lewis (Book Review #85 of 2015)

Weight of Glory
This book is another of the most-cited books that I had not yet read; it contains some of Lewis' most famous essays/speeches/sermons. This edition was the 1980 that sought to harmonize both the U.K and U.S. editions of Transpositions/The Weight of Glory that contained different collections.

The foreword was written by the editor/compiler, Walter Hooper, an American who was invited to England by Lewis and spent Lewis' last three months of life at his home (meeting his family and comrades, "The Inklings"). Hooper resigned his position at the University of Kentucky (of which I am alum) to be Lewis' "literary assistant and personal secretary" in the last days of his life. Speaking to him on what was likely his deathbed creates the best anecdote from the personal recollection. Hooper confesses his frustration with God for not smiting one of his atheist neighbors who seems to take personal pleasure from Lewis' suffering. Hooper wants to pray that this is "monstrously unfair," to which Lewis asks "And what do you think our Lord would say to that?" "What?" "What is that to YOU!" (Hooper references John 21:22). Hooper remarks about Lewis' troubles that "having done all in his power to solve them, he left the matter to God and got on with his work and pleasures." Lewis announced his official retirement and died in November, 1963.

Lewis is such a sharp wit; his philosophy is Christian but he rarely explicitly quotes the Bible.

Here are the essays and the few notes I made. (All of these are available by searching the internet.)
"The Weight of Glory"
Probably the most famous quote:
"It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."

What stuck out to me is the reminder that "we are always dealing with immortals...Next to the sacraments your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses." That is a reminder of human dignity--we are made in the image of God--and a good admonition of how we should not hate our neighbors.

"Learning in War-Time"
This sermon was introduced to me by a math professor, and I really should read it at least annually. It's on the best treatises on a proper theology of work that has ever been written-- you really should read it annually, too. It is unfortunately forgotten or unknown by many in the theology of work/work as worship movement, however.

"Why I am Not a Pacifist"
Lewis does look at Scripture explicitly in this essay and uses it to argue against pacifism. The Bible tells us that sometimes it is necessary to take a life. Context matters, however. Nazis looking to ban your civilization, religion, and bent on extermination of races from the planet are a worthy enough cause to fight against. But I suspect Lewis would be more of a pacifist today when war has been something waged perpetually by the U.S. and U.K. since 9/11 against seemingly far less threatening foes. The essay is unconvincing to me in my current context.


"Is Theology Poetry?"
This is a good sermon/speech in apologetics. Lewis is answering humanist criticisms of theology as being nothing more than a figment of man's creative imagination-- appealing to the same sense of imagination as poetry or mythology. "Theology is not very good poetry," says Lewis. A believed idea is more appealing than myth. It's poetry because one believes in the story, not vice-versa. 

"The Pagan stories are all about someone dying and rising, either every year, or else nobody knows where and nobody knows when. The Christian story is about a historical personage, whose execution can be dated pretty accurately, under a named roman magistrate, and with whom the society that he founded is in a continuous relation down to the present day. It is not the difference between falsehood and truth. It is the difference between a real event on the one hand and dim dreams or premonitions of that same event on the other."

"The Inner Ring"
"If you subtract any one member, you have not simply reduced the family in number; you have inflicted an injury on its structure."

"On Forgiveness"
 "I find that when I think I am asking God to forgive me I am often in reality (unless I watch myself very carefully) asking Him to do something quite different. I am asking him not to forgive me but to excuse me. But there is all the difference in the world between forgiving and excusing. Forgiveness says, 'Yes, you have done this thing, but I accept your apology; I will never hold it against you and everything between us two will be exactly as it was before.' If one was not really to blame then there is nothing to forgive. In that sense forgiveness and excusing are almost opposites."

"A Slip of the Tongue"

Some of the sermon/essays contain explanations of his faith, a very reasonable faith. He does a very logical take-down of cosmology; cosmology requires faith that everything we have observed in one part of the universe is universally observed at all points. I would like to read The Abolition of Man and other books where he deals with these issues.

I give it 4 stars out of 5. These should be read more frequently.

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