Adam Gopnik on C. S. Lewis

It seemed like an odd kind of conversion…

For any of you contemplating going to see the Narnia movie:

I was just reading Adam Gopnik’s bit on C. S. Lewis in a recent New Yorker and wanted to share. He had just discussed the fact that C. S. Lewis converted to being a fervent Anglican mid-life when he writes:

It seemed like an odd conversion to other peple then, and it still does. It is perfectly possible, after all, to have a rich romantic and imaginative view of existence–to believe that the world is not exhausted by our physical descriptions of it, that the stories we make up about the world are an important part of the life of that world– without becoming an Anglican. In fact, it seems much easier to believe in the power of the Romantic numinous if you do not take a controversial incident in Jewish religious history as the pivot point of all existence, and a still more controversial one in British royal history as the pivot point of your daily practice… Lewis insists that the Anglican creed isn’t one spiritual path among others but the single cosmic truth that extends from the farthest reach of the universe to the house next door. He is never troubled by the funny coincidence that this one staggering cosmic truth also happens to be the established religion of his own tribe, supported by every institution of the state, and reinforced by the university he works in, the “God-fearing and God-sustaining University of Oxford,” as Gladstone called it.

One thought on “Adam Gopnik on C. S. Lewis”

  1. I haven’t read all of Gopnik’s piece yet but as a serious reader of much of Lewis’ Christian apologia I don’t really think it’s fair. There is a difference between personal practice and its foundation on the richness of a particular tradition–and I can personally attest to the richness of Anglican tradition–and saying that he believed it was the One True Faith. His best work on Christianity, Mere Christianity is probably the best argument ever written for ecumenicalism. The “mere” in the title refers to Lewis’ stripping off of the doctrinal minutiae that the various Christian sects fetishize at the expense of the core set of beliefs about the birth, divinity, redemptive death and ressurection of Christ. Lewis’ point is that Christianity is best defined narrowly around those beliefs–and that the more complexity you add around those core beliefs the less the believer focuses on the “deep magic” of the central drama of Christianity.

    This focus on the basics is exactly the same habit of mind that made Lewis such a powerful allegorist– why he could make such a deep connection between Aslan and Christ and do no violence to either story in the process. Had he felt compelled to discourse on the fineries of transubstantiation or whatever, the Narnia books would read like proselytizing crap. Like, say, the Left Behind series.

    To sum up, it seems to me Gopnik is accusing Lewis of “totalizing” Anglicanism–projecting its rightness in every detail to every person. Lewis strenously avoids doing this in Mere Christianity and elsewhere. But what Gopnik describes is frankly the soul of personal faith–who would follow a spiritual path that did not feel both “cosmic” and “personal”? I’m willing to admit that can be an arrogant position–but that is the mystery of faith and for those of us willing to accept it, it’s hardly strange.

Comments are closed.