A review of C. S. Lewis’s “God in the Dock” and other essays.

I read this at a time in my own Christian journey when I was holding onto my Christian faith by my fingernails, ready to embrace agnosticism.  Reading this book has been a gentle pull back from the ledge.

This volume is a short collection of essays from 1942 right through to the last thing Lewis wrote before his death, in 1963.  They show why Lewis remains a giant in Christian apologetics, someone on whose shoulders others stand.  His writing, his articulation of complex concepts and their interaction, be that ‘myth,’ literary criticism and Christianity, is crystal clear, and he communicates them with a patient excitement that enlivens the writing.  He has a love for the poetic and the power of the imagination, and this also shines through the writing.  He’s also a great de-bunker, shooting down straw men and misconceptions on themes such as the very nature of faith, faith and science, myth, nature and fact.

I felt, reading him, that the attic was being cleared, or that my hard-drive was being de-spammed and cleared of junk.  Space was being made for the light again.  This is what reading Lewis has always done for me.

But I certainly don’t agree with everything he said, and I don’t slavishly follow his thought.  But that’s healthy, to have one’s own views challenged in a vigorous, clear and intelligent way, even if at the end you are glad to disagree.  The essay that is the most challenging in this collection in this sense is the 1948 essay ‘Priestesses in the Church?’  Incredibly relevant still, it shows just how long this debate has been raging.  Lewis would probably have been dismayed by the progress (or regress depending on your view) made so far in his own Church of England on this issue.  Lewis certainly saw the ordination of women as a violation not only in Church order which he thought would be dismayingly divisive (which it has been), but that it is also a violation of the spiritual order and template, that male leadership is a fundamental expression of God the Father, and that the Church is the bride of Christ, and so on.  Ultimately, Lewis sees it as changing Christianity to the kind of ‘mother worship’ you would find in old pagan religions.  He communicates his distaste at the idea of women as priestesses, and underscores the importance of the masculine, authoritative role.  Now whilst many would find this offensive and silly, I have to say that this is a very clear, logical and well written piece, and I would urge even the most passionate advocate of women bishops to read it and to understand the arguments of the other side.  I believe that the key to this, and other controversies currently tearing at the Church, is a patient, prayerful and understanding listening to the other side, on both sides.

This collection is a fabulous exploration of a range of ideas, such as the importance of miracles.  ‘Miracles’ (1942) and ‘The Grand Miracle’ (1945) look at how miracles are not a violation of the natural order, and the confusion over what the ‘laws of nature’ are.

Lewis also looks at the vastness of space as a challenge to faith e.g. our apparent insignificance thereof, coupled with the notion that scientific progress has ‘out-grown’ the concepts of Christianity.  ‘Dogma and the Universe’ (1948), ‘Religion and Science (1945) and ‘The Laws of Nature’ (1945) speak to these themes.

‘Man or Rabbit?’ (1946) looks at the question of whether you need Christianity to be good, whilst ‘The Trouble with X’ (1948) calls on us to look hard at our own massive defects of character before condemning those of others.

‘What are we to make of Jesus Christ?’ (1950) is a clear and cogent presentation of the ‘liar, lunatic or Lord’ argument (often called ‘the Trilemma’) whilst ‘Must our Image of God Go?’ is a brief riposte to an article by a Bishop refuting the need to see ‘God in Heaven.’

‘God in the Dock’ (1948) reads as very dated, speaking as it does about the ‘proletariat’ and their use of language.  What Lewis would make of our current text speak and social media ‘LOL’ acronyms on the strength of this essay makes for an interesting reflection.  But this essay is an examination of the different uses and levels of language to communicate the faith.  It’s most relevant parallel today, I guess, is communicating the faith to young people.

Finally, “We Have No Right to Happiness” (1963) re-connects moral consequences to actions, and disentangles the ‘right to the pursuit of happiness’ from ‘at any cost.’ Here the particular happiness discussed is that of sexual happiness.

Read this collection wherever you are on the belief spectrum, if you like intelligent thought and argument clearly and excitingly expressed, and have the patience to feel challenged, and consider the challenge.

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