RETROSPECT: August 1st – 11th

The following is part of a series reflecting on the life of C.S. Lewis. This is accomplished by summarizing various events or happenings during his lifetime for the noted period and may include significant events related to him after his death.

Highlights for August 1-11 include: Lewis’s first time ever on the radio, earning of a second First at Oxford and two more letters from Screwtape.

Lewis and BBCIn one sense not a lot of events occurred in Lewis’s life over the years during the first week and a half in August; but then the most significant from this period is likely among the highest points in his entire life. It was on the 6th in 1941 that he stood before a microphone to kick-off the first of four scheduled talks about “Right and Wrong: A Clue to the Meaning of the Universe.” The place was the offices of BBC Home Services and the local time was 7:45 p.m. Over the next fifteen minutes he would speak on “Common Decency,” but later this first chapter of book one in Mere Christianity would be called “The Law of Human Nature.”

As you may know, Lewis had been asked to be on the radio because J.W. Welch, a person at the BBC, enjoyed the recently released  book, The Problem of Pain. It was felt that Lewis was well suited to explain his faith on the air. The fact that he wasn’t a minister was viewed as an advantaged. In fact, one of the early ideas for the series of talks pitched to Lewis by Welch was “The Christian Faith As I See It – by a Layman.” Lewis ended up picking a different topic, as Justin Phillips notes in C.S. Lewis at the BBC, he wanted to deal with some points from The Problem of Pain, specifically about the mistaken notion that there isn’t an objective right and wrong. Lewis believed he couldn’t begin to speak about the Christian faith until he cleared up various misconceptions he felt his listeners in the 1940’s had.

Thus, Lewis began his radio debut by painting a picture of two people arguing. He underscores that the one person isn’t just saying he doesn’t like the other’s behavior. Rather, in such quarrels there is often an appeal “to some kind of standard of behaviour.” Therefore we all admit there is a “right” and “wrong.” In early times this had been called “the Law of Nature” before the expression “laws of nature” began to be used to refer to various things in Science. He then addresses the claim that views about right and wrong had differed among civilizations. Abolition of Man (from Arend Smilde)He closes his talk by underscoring the point that even when we admit there are standards of behavior we have a difficult time living up to what we believe. One final aspect to note about this talk is that in the later printed version found in Mere Christianity, Lewis makes a reference to The Abolition of Man for interested individuals to go deeper in understanding his point about morals not being different among societies. At the time the original broadcast was given that book was not published.

On the 1st in 1941 the fourteenth letter to Wormwood was published in The Guardian. Here Screwtape is still upset about the patient’s second conversion and observed that he has become humble. Instead of giving up Screwtape advised that he try to make the man proud of his humility, noting “all virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them.” Then on the 8th in 1941 the fifteenth letter explains Screwtape’s view of how humanity deals with anxieties because of living in time verses how God wants people to live in light of eternity. While insightful, a careful reading of this (and even other letters) shows wisdom a little too good for Screwtape, as his understanding would surely get him to resign his post and join his enemy, wouldn’t it?

Lewis learned he had earned a first class degree in Literae Humaniores (“Greats”) from Oxford on the 4th in 1922. This was the second of three degrees he would earn there; all of which were first  class (highest honors). Classics, philosophy and ancient history were the focus of his studies for this degree in 1922. The previous degree he earned was in Classical Honor Moderations (Greek and Latin). The combination of these two degrees placed Lewis in the position to teach Philosophy. It was only after he went on to get a first class degree in English Language and Literature a year later that Lewis positioned himself as a candidate for a post in his eventual specialty of English Language at Oxford at Magdalen College.

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