RETROSPECT: August 22nd – 31st

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 22nd – 31st include: An unfortunate childhood loss, letters from Screwtape on gluttony and love, and the radio broadcast of the last chapter of what’s now book one of Mere Christianity.

A Life ObservedAs mentioned during a previous column last month, Lewis lost his wife to cancer. The second most significant loss for him was during his childhood, when his mother, Florence Augusta Hamilton Lewis, died on the 23rd in 1908. This was also due to cancer. Although Lewis had prayed for his mother to live, he reports not actually being a Christian at the time; he only saw God as someone to look toward when you wanted something. Various biographies have dealt with this period of Lewis’s life; however, A Life Observed by Dr. Devin Brown provides a good deal of clarification and insight into how Lewis’s faith was shaped (you can hear an interview I did with Dr. Brown last year at my new podcast site). On this same date (23rd) Lewis’s father was born in 1863; but as you might imagine, his 45th birthday was a very sad day in his life.

Screwtape tackles the topic of gluttony in the seventeenth letter that appeared on the 22nd in 1941 in The Guardian. However, instead of focusing on the typical “excess” angle most associated with it, Wormwood learns about “gluttony of Delicacy.” This is described by being told about the patient’s mother and how she refuses food at restaurants because the portion is too big. Then we learn about how it is different with males because they “are best turned into gluttons with the help of their vanity.”

The masterful way our enemy can distort a meaningful truth and make people believe a twisted version of it is cleverly shown in the eighteenth letter from the 29th in 1941. “Being in love” is the reason two individuals would marry. But without a clear picture of what love actually is Screwtape boasts that a person can easily be convinced to justify ending a marriage because of no longer “being in love” with the other individual.

What was to be the fourth and final radio broadcast for Lewis was done live on the evening of the 27th in 1941. When given Lewis called this talk “What Can We Do About It,” however when it was published in Book One of Mere Christianity it was given the title of “We Have Cause to be Uneasy.” Lewis opens with admitting that he isn’t offering any new philosophy and that he was aware some would be irritated by being presented with “religion” because it is like turning back the clock and most believe it can’t be done. He goes on to make three points to respond to those annoyed. Within one of those main points he notes he isn’t looking at the Bible to prove anything, but making observations by examining the world around us and considering the idea of the moral law that is in our heads.

“Equality” is an essay first published on the 27th in 1943 in The Spectator. Heree Lewis states a belief in democracy. However, his reason is not because of the typical perspective. Lewis thought it was a good idea because of the fallen nature of humankind. No one “can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows.” It is best found in Present Concerns.

God In The DockIn “The Trouble with ‘X’” Lewis begins by admitting that there are often people in our lives that make things difficult for us even though we try to be helpful to them. Then he states this is, in a way, something like what God experiences when not only dealing with those same people, but with us as well. This essay was initially in the August, 1948 issue of the Bristol Diocesan Gazette. Today you can find it in God in the Dock.

It was not unusual for Lewis to reply when someone had responded to something he wrote. But what is odd about “On Punishment: A Reply” that was first published this month in 1954 in Res Judicatae is that the original piece by Lewis, “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment” was printed in 1949. His reply was also a reaction to two different articles. Thus the reason for another unusual aspect of this August piece: it was nearly as long as the original article (just over 2,000 words vs. around 3,000 words). Both selections are also found in God in the Dock. Within the piece published this month, Lewis responded to an issue raised about first-order and second-order questions.

Finally, an abridged version of “Forms of Things Unknown” was published in the August, 1966 issue of Fifty-Two: A Journal of Books & Authors. This was just a month before the full version was published in Of Other Worlds (it is also in The Dark Tower). This short story tells of a solo mission to the Moon by someone trying to solve a mystery about previously lost astronauts.

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