Tuesday, May 16, 2006

On impressionable Lewis disciples

In his book, C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion, John Beversluis complains about the reverential attitude of Lewis admirers in writing about him:

“Sections devoted to biography read like hagiography. We seldom encounter a mere fact about Lewis; accounts of his behavior, attitudes, and personal relationships are instead reported in the wide-eyed manner of the impressionable disciple. To describe him as a wonderful friend is a lamentable understatement; we must be assured that no one ever was a better friend. To praise him as brilliant in debate is entirely too lukewarm a compliment; we are told that C. S. Lewis could have matched wits with any man who ever lived. To endorse him as a Christian apologist of the first rank is altogether inadequate; his apocalyptic Vision of Christianity must be likened to that of St. John on the Isle of Patmos. After a while, one longs for patches of sunlight to dispel the reverential haze. One tires of enduring these excesses and of having to plow through equally ecstatic testimonials in book after book.”

I think that although this passage strikes me as hyperbolic, it makes a legitimate point. Those who admire Lewis have sometimes overstated their case, and what this ends up doing is setting up stumbling blocks for people hwo come to Lewis with a more critical eye.

I think Lewis possessed a first-rate mind, but he was far from infallible. What is more, too many people writing about Lewis just quote him and leave it at that. At least in the area of philosophy, one hs to bring a whole host of further considerations to the table when considering the claims he makes. The claim I make on behalf of Lewis's apologetics is this: that after a doctoral-level education in philosophy at a secular institution, I believe that Christianity is credible for approximately the reasons that Lewis said that it was. And I do mean approximately. The arguments in Lewis need further development, almost invariably. If you want to make them credible in the present day, Lewis can do nothing more than point you in the right direction. After that, you're on your own, buddy.

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