MANN TALK: Citing C.S. Lewis Can Cut Contrarily

by Perry Mann

Cal Thomas, a diabolically smug fundamentalist, who regularly appears on Fox News Channel and writes a syndicated column that appears weekly in the Register-Herald---which I read only as a sort of self-flagellation---has recently subjected Democrats in general and Howard Dean in particular to his sneaky snideness.


In preface to his remarks and opinions with regard to Howard Dean “finding” Jesus, he has to remind readers, with malice aforethought, that Bill Clinton was “fluent in the language of religion, although not always in its personal application.” “Who can forget,” he gleefully asks, “Easter Sunday 1996, when President Clinton emerged from church flashing a Bible… and later returning to the White House, where Monica Lewinsky got down on her knees to perform an act that did not resemble prayer.” There could hardly be a preface that so acutely reflects the personal application of the kind of religion that soils the soul of Cal Thomas.


 Thomas having read an interview of Dean in the Boston Globe regarding his beliefs about Jesus takes issue with this response by Dean: “He was a person who set an extraordinary example that has lasted 2,000 years, which is pretty inspiring when you think about it.” Although Dean’s opinion in essence is one that Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln would find compatible, Thomas demurs. “Not really,” says he. “If that is all Jesus was (or is), then he is just another entry in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, to be read or not, according to one’s inspirational needs.” That is, if Dean doesn’t believe Jesus is God, then Jesus is just another personage to quote.  


 Thomas then turns to C. S. Lewis to support his position that Dean is just a member of that “vast Unitarian wasteland of the Northeast,” a lost soul bound for hell unless he finds the Jesus that Thomas has found. Thomas quotes from Mere Christianity these oft-quoted words of C.S. Lewis, words close to the hearts of all believers: “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. 


He would be a lunatic…or else he would be the Devil of Hell.” That is, Jesus was God or he was a madman.


Lewis’s logic is faulty. He has set an argumentative trap. The either-or trap. There are other options. Jesus could have been sane beyond Lewis’s imagination and conception of moral reality and thus just considered insane by him. Just because most men find the thinking of Einstein incomprehensible does not mean that Einstein was a lunatic. Furthermore, just as there are men and women who are intellectual and musical geniuses, there are men and women who are moral geniuses, to wit: Socrates, Diogenes, Mahatma Gandhi, Emma Goldman, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, Jr. among others. Who that is normal would imitate actually anyone of them?


Cal Thomas uses C. S. Lewis in this instance because Lewis’s view agrees with his, but Thomas would be reluctant to make public or to associate himself with many of Lewis ‘s Christian concepts and beliefs---if he knew them. Thomas notes that Dean married a Jew and that they are bringing their children up in the Jewish faith. “Which,” to quote Thomas, “is strange at best….” He doesn’t mention that Lewis at age 59 married a Jew who was 16 years his junior, a divorcee with two children and a convert to Christianity, a conversion she attributed to Lewis’s influence.


Furthermore, C. S. Lewis questioned if in fact progress was progress and he took the position that man’s conquest of nature was the conquest of man and the end of him. He questioned the ethics of lending money at interest and of investments for interest, pointing out that the Greeks, Old Testament Jews, and Christians of the Middle Ages preached against the lending money at interest. He believed in Temperance; that is, moderation in all pleasures, but not in abstaining from intoxicating drink, a concession anathema to Baptists and other fundamentalists.


Politically and economically Lewis was a socialist. He said that in a Christian society everyone works and those who do not work do not eat. Work must be physical and manuel and would be productive of something good, not the manufacture of silly luxuries followed by sillier advertisements to gull the gullible. The why to work is to earn so that one can give to those in need.  How much must one give?  More than one can spare. Jesus would approve. Would Thomas?


Lewis's views on sex and marriage were conservative. But he had this to say and I hope Thomas is reading: “Finally, though I have had to speak at some length about sex, I want to make it clear as I possibly can that the centre of Christian morality is not here. If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins…. For there are two things inside me, competing with the human self, which I must try to become. They are the Animal self and the Diabolical self. The Diabolical self is the worse of the two. That is why a cold self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course, it is better to be neither.”


What then is the great sin? Pride is it. The more pride one has the farther one is removed from the presence of God. Pride is essentially competitiveness. It is ever driving a person to compete to be better, to be richer, to be more powerful, to dress better, drive a better car, to be better in everything. Pride is a cancer to the soul. Pride does not come from our animal nature but directly from Hell. The devil is the incarnation of pride. So writes C. S. Lewis.


If devil is pride and pride is competitiveness, are not then fundamentalists and capitalists satanic? C. S. Lewis would, based on Mere Christianity, answer yes. And the book indicates that he would see Cal Thomas as a cold-hearted prig. The lesson for Thomas is that he should be careful whom he quotes. And reality is that Dean is infinitely closer to Lewis than Lewis is to Thomas.    


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