Excerpts of The Magician’s Twin Book Now Available Online

In celebration of the upcoming 50th anniversary of C.S. Lewis’s death and the installation of a memorial to Lewis in the famous Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abbey, Discovery Institute Press is making available free excerpts from several chapters of the book The Magician’s Twin: C.S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society edited by John G. West. Enjoy!

Introduction to The Magician’s Twin

Narnia. Screwtape. Mere Christianity. With more than 200 million copies of his books reportedly sold, C.S. Lewis is known and beloved by readers around the globe for his children’s stories, his works of theology, and his winsome (and witty) defenses of orthodox Christianity.[i]

One thing Lewis is not particularly well known for is his views on science.

Yet he ultimately wrote nine books, nearly 30 essays, and several poems that explored science and its cultural impact, including The Discarded Image, his last book, which critically examined the nature of scientific revolutions, especially the Darwinian revolution in biology.[ii] Lewis’s personal library, meanwhile, contained more than three dozen books and pamphlets on scientific subjects, many of them dealing with the topic of evolution. Several of these books were marked up with underlining and annotations, including Lewis’s copy of Charles Darwin’s Autobiography.[iii]

Throughout his life, Lewis displayed a healthy skepticism of claims made in the name of science. He expressed this skepticism even before he was a Christian. For example, while still an unbelieving undergraduate in 1922, he recorded in his diary a discussion with friends where they expressed their doubts about Freud.[iv] In 1925, he wrote his father about his gratitude toward philosophy for showing him “that the scientist and the materialist have not the last word.”[v] The next year he published his narrative poem Dymer, which offered a nightmarish vision of a totalitarian state that served “scientific food” and “[c]hose for eugenic reasons who should mate.”[vi]

In 1932, just a few months after becoming a Christian, Lewis wrote to his brother about the efforts of the Rationalist Press Association to publish cheap editions of scientific works they thought debunked religion. Lewis said their efforts reminded him of the remark of another writer “that a priest is a man who disseminates little lies in defence of a great truth, and a scientist is a man who disseminates little truths in defence of a great lie.”[vii]

By the 1940s and 50s, Lewis became more vocal about the looming dangers of what he called “scientocracy,” the effort to hand over the reigns of cultural and political power to an elite group of experts claiming to speak in the name of science.[viii] Lewis regarded this proposal as fundamentally subversive of a free society, and he worried about the creation of a new oligarchy that would “increasingly rely on the advice of scientists till in the end the politicians proper become merely the scientists’ puppets.”[ix]

Lewis took pains to emphasize that he was not “anti-science.”[x] But he unequivocally opposed scientism, the wrong-headed belief that modern science supplies the only reliable method of knowledge about the world, and its corollary that scientists have the right to dictate a society’s morals, religious beliefs, and even government policies merely because of their scientific expertise.

Because Lewis died nearly five decades ago, we might be tempted to think that he inhabited a vastly different world than we do when it comes to the relationship between science and culture. But in key respects, Lewis’s world was very much like our own. Then, as now, certain prominent intellectuals claimed that science provides a view of the universe that refutes the traditional religious view. Then, as now, certain pundits claimed that you were “anti-science” merely for being skeptical of certain claims made in the name of science. And then, as now, some spokespersons for the scientific establishment insisted that public policy should be guided—even dictated—by an elite class of “scientific” experts.

As the essays in this book show, Lewis has important things to tell us about the limits of science, the need for dissent in science, and the dangers of trying to govern in the name of science. Along the way, Lewis offers penetrating insights into many hot-button issues of our time, including evolution, intelligent design, bioengineering, moral relativism, and even the role of government.

Consider this book an invitation to think more deeply about the growing power of science in the public square by drawing on the timeless wisdom of C.S. Lewis. After you have read the book, I encourage you to avail yourself of the additional articles, companion videos, and other resources at the website www.cslewisweb.com, including a new documentary film about Lewis and scientism inspired by this book.

This article is reprinted from the Introduction to The Magician’s Twin: C.S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society (Discovery Institute Press, 2012).


[i] “Wheaton College to Screen C.S. Lewis Documentary,” The Daily Herald, October 20, 2001, accessed June 5, 2012, http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-79384514.html.

[ii] Books by Lewis that have a major focus on science and its relationship to culture include: The Pilgrim’s Regress (1933); Out of the Silent Planet (1938); Perelandra (1943); That Hideous Strength (1945); The Problem of Pain (1940); The Abolition of Man (1944); Miracles: A Preliminary Study (1947); The Magician’s Nephew (1955); The Discarded Image (1964). Essays by Lewis with a major focus on science include: “De Futilitate” (1940s), “Funeral of a Great Myth” (probably 1940s); “Bulverism” (original version published in 1941; expanded version in 1944); “Miracles” (1942); “Dogma and the Universe” (1943); “Horrid Red Things” (1944); “Religion and Science” (1945); “Is Theology Poetry?” (1945); “The Laws of Nature” (1945); “Christian Apologetics” (1945); “Two Lectures” (1945); “Man or Rabbit?” (circa 1946); “Religion without Dogma?” (1946); “A Reply to Professor Haldane” (circa 1946); “Modern Man and His Categories of Thought” (1946); “Vivisection” (1947); “On Living in an Atomic Age” (1948); “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment” (1949); “The Empty Universe” (1952); “The World’s Last Night” (1952); “On Punishment: A Reply to Criticism” (1954); “On Obstinacy in Belief” (1955); “De Descriptione Temporum” (1955); “On Science Fiction” (1955); “Religion and Rocketry” (1958); “Behind the Scenes” (1956); “Is Progress Possible? Willing Slaves of the Welfare State” (1958); “The Seeing Eye” (1963). Poems broaching scientific themes include “The Adam Unparadised,” “Evolutionary Hymn,” “Prelude to Space,” “Science Fiction Cradlesong,” “An Expostulation,” and “On the Atomic Bomb.” Most of Lewis’s essays are reprinted God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, edited by Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970); Christian Reflections, edited by Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967); Present Concerns, edited by Walter Hooper (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986); and Selected Literary Essays (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1955). His poetry can be found in Poems, edited by Walter Hooper (San Diego: 1964) and Narrative Poems, edited by Walter Hooper (London: Fount Paperbacks, 1994).

[iii] These books are presently held at the Wade Center, Wheaton College. For a listing of the surviving books from Lewis’s personal library, consult the description in “C.S. Lewis Library” (Wade Center, 2010), accessed May 18, 2012, http://www.wheaton.edu/wadecenter/Collections-and-Services/Collection%20Listings/~/media/Files/Centers-and-Institutes/Wade-Center/RR-Docs/Non-archive%20Listings/Lewis_Public_shelf.pdf.

[iv] “We talked a little of psychoanalysis, condemning Freud.” Entry for May 26, 1922, in C.S. Lewis, All My Road Before Me: The Diary of C.S. Lewis, 1922-1927, edited by Walter Hooper (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1991), 41.

[v] C.S. Lewis to his Father, Aug. 14, 1925 in C.S. Lewis: Collected Letters, edited by Walter Hooper (London: HarperCollins, 2000), vol. I, 649.

[vi] C.S. Lewis, “Dymer”(1926), Narrative Poems, 7, 20.

[vii] C.S. Lewis to Warren Lewis, April 8, 1932, The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2004), vol., II, 75.

[viii] C.S. Lewis to Dan Tucker, Dec. 8, 1959, in The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, edited by Walter Hooper (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2007), vol. III, 1104.

[ix] C.S. Lewis, “Is Progress Possible? Willing Slaves of the Welfare State,” God in the Dock, 314.

[x] C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York: Macmillan, 1955), 86.

Top Ten Books That Influenced C.S. Lewis

In 1962 The Christian Century magazine published C.S. Lewis’s answer to the question, “What books did most to shape your vocational attitude and your philosophy of life?” Here is C.S. Lewis’s list:

1. Phantastes by George MacDonald.
2.The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton.
3. The Aeneid by Virgil.
4. The Temple by George Herbert.
5. The Prelude by William Wordsworth.
6. The Idea of the Holy by Rudolf Otto.
7. The Consolation of Philosophy by Boethius.
8. Life of Samuel Johnson by James Boswell.
9. Descent into Hell by Charles Williams.
10. Theism and Humanism by Arthur James Balfour.

[From the June 6, 1962 issue of The Christian Century]

C.S. Lewis and Materialism

“You say the materialist universe is ‘ugly,’” wrote C. S. Lewis to a young skeptic in 1950. “…If you are really a product of the materialistic universe, how is it you don’t feel at home there?”

Nearly half-a-century later, Lewis’s question still resonates. Modern society continues to operate largely on the materialistic premises of such thinkers as Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud. Yet few today feel at home in the materialist universe where God does not exist, where ideas do not matter, and where every human behavior is reduced to non-rational causes.

C. S. Lewis spent much of his life debunking the sterility of materialist thinking; and his insights are as relevant now as when they were first offered, because our culture remains dominated by four of materialism’s most deadly legacies.

Rejection of Reason and Truth

Materialism’s first deadly legacy is the rejection of reason and objective truth. Nineteenth-century materialists depicted our thoughts as the irrational products of environment or heredity or brain chemistry. As a consequence, the intellectual classes became convinced that only the reality was material, and thus the only true explanations were reductive. If you wanted to explain a flower, you described its cell structure, not its beauty. If you wanted to explain human beings, you looked not to their greatest achievements, but to the raw materials that made them up. This sort of reductionism permeates contemporary society, from politics and the social sciences to literature and the performing arts.

Lewis’s first sustained attack on reductionism came in his allegory The Pilgrim’s Regress in the early 1930s. In a section of the book titled “Through Darkest Zeitgeistheim” (literally, “through the darkest abode of the Spirit of the Age”), Lewis’s pilgrim is arrested by the flunkies of a giant who symbolizes the materialistic reductionism that was the Spirit of the Age. The pilgrim, named John, is subsequently jailed, leading to a nightmarish sequence. Lewis relates that the eyes of the giant had the property of making whatever they looked on transparent: “Consequently, when John looked around into the dungeon he retreated from his fellow prisoners in terror.… A woman was seated near him, but he did not know it was a woman, because, through the face, he saw the skull and through that the brains and the passages of the nose, and the larynx, and the saliva moving in the glands and the blood in the veins… And when John sat down and drooped his head, not to see the horrors, he saw only the working of his own inwards.…”

John is rescued from the dungeon by a towering woman in blue–Lady Reason, who slays the giant with her sword. She tells John that the giant had deceived him about the real nature of human beings: “He showed you by a trick what our inwards would look like if they were visible… But in the real world our inwards are invisible.“

“But if I cut a man open I should see them in him,” replied John.

“A man cut open,” returned the Lady, “is, so far, not a man: and if you did not sew him up speedily you would be seeing not organs, but death. I am not denying that death is ugly: but the giant made you believe that life is ugly.”

Lewis’s point was that reductionism really does not explain that which is human at all. In fact, in the name of explaining man, reductionism explains him away.

In a 1956 essay titled “Behind the Scenes,” Lewis articulated his own view of the relation between man and his material components. He likened life to a stage play. In one sense, nothing in the play is real; it is all imaginary. The only “realities” are the sets, costumes, and lighting. The play is “appearance” and the sets are “reality.” Yet, as Lewis points out, “in the theatre of course the play, ‘the appearance’, is the thing. All the backstage ‘realities’ exist only for its sake and are valuable only in so far as they promote it.”

The materialist may scoff at this approach, but as Lewis relished in pointing out, the materialist has his own problems: The materialist who debunks everyone else’s ideas as the subrational products of their brain chemistry or environment cannot avoid being debunked himself. If he is honest, says Lewis, the materialist will have to admit that his own ideas are merely the “epiphe-nomenon which accompanies chemical or electrical events in a cortex which is itself the by-product of a blind evolutionary process.” If all thoughts are merely the products of non-rational causes, this includes the materialist’s own thoughts. In other words, there is no reason according to materialism for materialism itself to be regarded as true.

Debunking of Objective Morality

Closely related to materialism’s attack on reason is its debunking of objective morality. Materialists early in our century denied the existence of objective standards binding on all cultures, claiming that environment dictated our moral beliefs. Such relativism was uncritically adopted by much of the social sciences, and it still undergirds much of modern economics, political science, psychology, and sociology.

Lewis attacked moral relativism in his opening chapters of Mere Christianity, where he pointed out that all people–even criminals–appeal to a universal standard when trying to excuse their own behavior. Even those who claim that right and wrong are mere conventions will hotly protest when wronged.

In Abolition of Man, Lewis made this argument in more detail, pointing out that we cannot escape making moral judgments. Every action presupposes a goal toward which the actor acts, and the goal (no matter how clinically it is expressed) represents a judgment of value. We cannot exist without making moral judgments, argued Lewis. The only question is what those judgments will be. Speaking within the western natural law tradition, Lewis proposed that at the foundation of all moral judgments is one set of ethical first principles known intuitively by all human beings. These first principles include obligations to treat other people justly and to keep one’s promises. All other moral judgments and ethical systems are derived from these principles.

Lewis added that the major civilizations agree almost wholly on ethical fundamentals (such as extolling honesty and kindness and reproving treachery and injustice). To be sure, there are “blindnesses in particular cultures–just as there are savages who cannot count up to twenty. But the pretence that we are presented with a mere chaos–that no outline of universally accepted value shows through–is simply false.…”

Denial of Personal Responsibility

If materialism has been hard on reason and morality, it has been equally destructive of personal responsibility. By claiming that human thoughts and actions are dictated by our biology and environment, materialism undermined personal responsibility. The results can be seen in our criminal justice system, our civil justice system, and our welfare system. Ever since sin entered the world, human beings have sought excuses for their behavior, but materialism handed us an inexhaustible supply of excuses. No matter what we do, it can be attributed to a cause other than our own choices: our social environment, subconscious drives, or brain chemistry.

Against this modern ethic that no one is responsible, Lewis strove to make people aware of just how responsible they really are. Lewis countered this mentality not so much by direct disputation, but by trying to place a mirror in front of us that would cause us to recognize the evil in our own souls. This is most apparent in his fictional works, where there are key moments of self-revelation when major characters realize that they are really to blame for the fix they are in.

In the novel That Hideous Strength, Mark Studdock is a young sociologist who has spent his life cravenly currying favor with others in order to promote himself. When he subsequently finds himself in the middle of a totalitarian conspiracy, he first wonders what bad luck put him there. “Why had he such a rotten heredity?” he complained. “Why had his education been so ineffective? Why was the system of society so irrational?” Finally hitting bottom, he suddenly sees with brutal clarity who he really is and how his choices led to the mess he was in.

One cannot read Lewis’s fiction without being convicted of the fact that we are more accountable than we would like to think. Lewis calls us to responsibility by reminding us that every action has a consequence, and that no wrong choice–however small–is insignificant.

Proliferation of Coercive Utopianism

The final legacy of materialism is coercive utopianism. Although the belief that all thought and behavior are predetermined by material causes would seem to deny the power of human beings to reshape their world, materialism in fact inspired a fierce strain of coercive utopianism. Claiming either that they were merely the servants of the forces of materialism–or with Nietzsche, that they could overcome materialism by a sheer act of will–materialist reformers tried to create secular utopias in Russia and Germany. In America, meanwhile, significant parts of the cultural elite began to believe that we could engineer the perfect society through social science and planning.

The coercive utopians in Germany and Russia were both targets of Lewis’s scorn. But fascism and communism were far from the only forms of coercive utopianism about which Lewis was concerned. He also feared the modern welfare state, which he thought would become ever more intrusive as government planners allied themselves with the tools of materialist social science.

According to Lewis, if people act because of environmental and biological necessities, the government no longer need deal with them as free moral agents, and preemption replaces punishment as the preferred method of social control. Instead of punishing you for making the wrong choice, the state simply eliminates your choice.

Lewis painted a grim portrait of this kind of despotism in his novel That Hideous Strength. There the spirit of modern social science becomes incarnate in something called the National Institute of Coordinated Experiments—NICE, for short. Of course, there is nothing nice about NICE; its social scientists are exactly the type of technocrats that Lewis feared. In the name of science and humanity, they claimed the right to remake society without bothering to obtain its consent.

While we are a long way off from the nightmare vision depicted by Lewis in That Hideous Strength, we certainly should be able to understand some of what he is getting at. Public policy decisions in America today are made increasingly by the type of technocrats that Lewis talked about, as legislators have transferred much of their authority to a vast array of independent regulatory agencies staffed by unelected experts.

Lewis did not dispute that technocrats have plenty of knowledge that may be necessary for good public policy. But it is not sufficient. Political problems are preeminently moral problems, according to Lewis, and technocrats are no better equipped than any other citizen to function as moralists.

A New Natural Philosophy

At the end of The Abolition of Man, Lewis called for a new natural philosophy that would understand human beings as they really are. “When it explained,” said Lewis, “it would not explain away. When it spoke of the parts it would remember the whole.”

Lewis was not quite sure what he was asking for, and–being a realist–he certainly was not convinced that the revolution would actually come about. Yet during the next decade it just might. We live during an era of tumultuous change, and nowhere is this fact more evident than in the sciences. Recent developments in biology, physics, and cognitive science are raising serious doubts about the most fundamental assumptions of materialism. In biology, scientists are discovering such irreducible complexity in biological systems that the only reasonable explanation seems to be a non-material designer. In physics, our understanding of matter is becoming increasingly non-material. In cognitive science, efforts to reduce mind to the physical processes of the brain have failed repeatedly.

In other words, for perhaps the first time since the materialist onslaught we have an opportunity to bring about the collapse of materialism and to re-found both science and culture along the lines envisioned by C. S. Lewis more than half-a-century ago.

This essay was originally published in Religion and Liberty, Vol. 6, No. 6.

Richard Baxter and the Origin of “Mere Christianity”

“Mere Christianity” was the term C. S. Lewis employed to describe essential Christianity—those core Christian beliefs held through the ages by Catholics and Protestants alike. What most people don’t realize is that Lewis adapted this term from an author who wrote more than three hundred years ago. The author’s name was Richard Baxter, and his writings on the “essentials” of Christianity provide a useful background to the views articulated by Lewis.

A Protestant clergyman in England, Baxter lived from 1615 to 1691. Though all but forgotten today, Baxter was a popular and prolific author in his own day and for many decades following his death. He wrote more than 160 separate works—nearly 200, by some estimates. One Anglican Bishop said of Baxter that had he lived during the earliest years of Christianity, he would have been “one of the fathers of the church.” The famed Dr. Samuel Johnson, when asked by Boswell which books by Baxter he should read, replied: “Read any of them; they are all good.” In particular, Dr. Johnson thought that Baxter’s Reasons for the Christian Religion “contained the best collection of the evidences of the divinity of the Christian system.” Many years after Baxter’s death, famed English statesman William Wilberforce called Baxter’s writings on the spiritual life “a treasury of Christian wisdom.”

Those wishing more information about Richard Baxter and the relationship of his thought to C. S. Lewis should consult N. H. Keeble, “C.S. Lewis, Richard Baxter, and ‘Mere Christianity,'” in Christianity and Literature (Vol XXX, No. 3, Spring 1981), pp. 27-44.

Following are some selections from Baxter’s works that relate to the idea of “Mere Christianity”:

From Baxter’s Church-History of the Government of Bishops (1680):

I am a CHRISTIAN, a MEER CHRISTIAN, of no other Religion; and the Church that I am of is the Christian Church, and hath been visible where ever the Christian Religion and Church hath been visible: But must you know what Sect or Party I am of? I am against all Sects and dividing Parties: But if any will call Meer Christians by the name of a Party, because they take up with Meer Chrisitanity, Creed, and Scripture, and will not be of any dividing or contentious Sect, I am of that Party which is so against Parties: If the Name CHRISTIAN be not enough, call me a CATHOLICK CHRISTIAN; not as that word signifieth an hereticating majority of Bishops, but as it signifieth one that hath no Religion, but that which by Christ and the Apostles was left to the Catholick Church, or the Body of Jesus Christ on Earth.

From “To the Reader” in Baxter’s A Treatise of Conversion, Addressed to the Ignorant and Ungodly:

I like to hear a man dwell much on the same essentials of Christianity. For we have but one God, one Christ, and one faith to preach; and I will not preach another gospel to please men with variety, as if our Saviour and our gospel were grown stale–For it is the essentials and common truths, as I have often said, that we daily live upon as our bread and drink. And we have incomparably more work before us, to know these better, and use them better, than to know more. The sea will afford us more water after we have taken out a thousands tuns, than an hundred of those wells and pits from whence we never yet brought any.

From the Preface of Baxter’s Now or Never, or the Believer Justified and Directed and the Opposers and Neglecters of the Gospel Convinced:

Whosoever holds all that is necessary to salvation, and is serious and diligent in living according thereunto, shall be saved, whatever error he holds with it. For if he be serious and diligent in the practice of all things necessary to salvation, he hath all that is necessary to salvation, viz. in belief and practice: and it must needs follow, that his errors and either not contradictory to the things necessary which he holds and practices, or that he holds not those errors practically but notionally, as an opinion, or ineffectual cogitation in a dream, which provokes not to action; and in such a case the error keeps no man from salvation.

From the Preface of Baxter’s Now or Never, or the Believer Justified and Directed and the Opposers and Neglecters of the Gospel Convinced:

The Christian faith is the believing an everlasting life of happiness to be offered by God, with the pardon of all sin, as procured by the sufferings and merits of Jesus Christ, to all that are sanctified by the Holy Ghost, persevere in love to God, and to each other, and in a holy and heavenly conversation. This is saving faith and Christianity, if we consent as well as assent. All that was necessary to salvation to be believed, was formerly thought to be contained in the creed, and that was the test or symbol of the Christian faith; and the Christian religion is the same, hath the same rule, test, and symbol in all ages. But since faction and tyranny, pride and covetousness, became the matters of the religion of too many, vice and selfish interest hath commanded them to change the rule of faith by their additions, and to make so much necessary to salvation, as is necessary to their affected universal dominion, and to their carnal ends. And since faction entered, and hath torn the church into many sects (the Greek, Roman, Armenian, Jacobites, Abassine, and many more) it seems meet to the more tyrannical sect to call these several religions, and to say that every man that differs from them in any of their opinions or additions, which they please to call articles of faith, is of another religion.

If the word religion be taken in this sense, and if all that agree in one Christian religion, are said to be of as many religions, as different opinions, in points that some call necessary, then I answer the question thus: He is the true catholic Christian that hath but one, even the Christian religion: and this is the case of the Protestants, who, casting off the additions of popery, adhere to the primitive simplicity and unity: if Papists, or any others, corrupt this religion with human additions and innovations, the great danger of these corruptions is, lest they draw them from the sound belief and serious practice of that ancient Christianity which we are all agreed in: among Papists, or any other sect, where their corruptions do not thus corrupt their faith and practice in the true essentials, it is certain that those corruptions shall not damn them. For he that truly believes all things that are essential to Christianity, and lives accordingly with serious diligence, hath the promise of salvation: and it is certain, that whatever error that man holds, it is either not inconsistent with true Christianity, or not practically, but notionally held, and so not inconsistent as held by him: for how can that be inconsistent which actually doth consist with it?

If a Papist or any other sectarian seriously love God, and his brother, and set his heart upon the life to come, give up himself to the merits and grace of Jesus Christ, and the sanctification of the Holy Spirit, to be fitted for that glory, lives by faith above the world, mortifies the desires of the flesh, and lives wilfully in no known sin, but presses after further degrees of holiness, I doubt not of the salvation of that person; no more than of the life of him that hath taken poison but into his mouth and spit it out again, or let down so little as nature and antidotes do expel: but I will not therefore plead for poison, nor take it, because men may live that thus take it.

From Part II of Baxter’s Now or Never, or the Believer Justified and Directed and the Opposers and Neglecters of the Gospel Convinced:

Live as those that believe that you are to be members of the holy catholic church, and therein to hold the communion of saints. Then you will know that it is not as a member of any sect or party, but as a holy member of this holy church, that you must be saved; and that it is the name of a Christian which is more honourable than the name of any division or subdivision among Christians, whether Greek, or Papists, or Protestant, or Prelates, or Presbyterian, or Independent, or Baptist. It is easy to be of any one of these parties; but to be a Christian, which all pretend to, is not so easy. It is easy to have a burning zeal for any divided party or cause; but the zeal for the Christian religion is not so easy to be kindled or kept alive; but requires as much diligence to maintain it, as dividing zeal requires to quench it. It is easy to love a party as a party: but to keep up catholic charity to all Christians, and to live in that holy love and converse which is requisite to a communion of saints, it is not so easy. Satan and corrupted nature befriend the love and zeal of faction, which is confined to a party on a controverted cause; but they are enemies to the love of saints, to the zeal for holiness, and to the catholic charity which is from the spirit of Christ. You see I call you not to division, nor to side with sects; but to live as members of a holy catholic church, which consists of all that are holy in the world; and to live as those that believe the communion of saints.

From Baxter’s Directions to Weak Christians for their Establishment, Growth, and Perseverance:

Direct. XIII. Subdue your passions, and abhor all uncharitable principles anmd practices, and live in love; maintiaing peace in your families and with your neighbors, but especially in the church of God.

Especially be most tender of the union of true Christians, and of the church’s peace: when you hear the men of several sects representing one another as odious, understand that it is the language of the devil to draw you from love, into hatred and divisions: and when you must speak odiously of men’s sin, speak charitably of their persons, and be as ready to speak of the good that is in them, as of the evil. Believe not that dividing, ungrounded doctrine, which tells you that you cannot sufficiently disown the errors of any party in doctrine, worship, and discipline, without a separation of withdrawing from their communion; which tells you that you are guilty of the ministerial faults of every pastor that you join with, or of the faults of all that worship which you are present at, which would first separate you from every worshipping society and person upon earth, and then lead you to give over the worshipping of God yourselves. You must love Christians as Christians, though they have errors and faults repgunant to the right order and manner of worship: so be it you join not in that worship which is substantially evil, and such as God doth utterly diown; or that you commit no actual sin yourselves, of that you approve not of the errors and faults of the worshippers, and justify not their smallest evil; or that you prefer not defective, faulty worship before that which is more pure and agreeable to the will of God. For while all the worshippers are faulty and imperfect, all their worship will be too: and if your actual sin, when you pray or preach effectively yourselves, doth not signify that you approve your faultiness; much less will your presence prove that you allow of the faultiness of others. The business that you come upon is to join with a Christian congregation in the use of those ordinances which God hath appointed, supposing that the ministers and worshippers will all be sinfully defective, in method, order, words, or circumstances: and to bear with that which God doth bear with, and not to refuse that which is God’s for the adherent faults of men, no more than you will refuse every dish of meat which is unhandsomely cooked, as long as there is no poison in it, and you prefer it not before better.

From Baxter’s The Character of a Sound Confirmed Christian as also of a Weak and Seeming Christian:

LII. A Christian indeed is one who greatly esteems the unity of the church, and is greatly averse to all divisions among believers. As there is in the natural body an abhorring of dismembering or separating any part from the whole; so there is in the mystical body of Christ. The members that have life, cannot but feel the smart of any distempering attempt: for abscission is destruction. The members die that are separated from the body. And if there be but any obstruction or hinderance of communion, they will be painful or useless: he feels in himself the reason of all those strict commans, and earnest exhortations. `Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment.If there be any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies; fulfil ye my joy, that ye be like minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind, let each esteem other better than themselves.Look not every man on his ohn things, but every man also on the things of others.I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you, that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, with all lowliness and meekness, with long-suffering, forbearing one another in love; endeavoring to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, on faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. But unto every one of us is given grace, according to the measure of the gift of Christ.’ He looks at uncharitableness and divisions, with more abhorrence than weak Christians do at drunkenness or whoredom, or such other heinous sins. He fears such dreadful warnings as Acts xx.29,30. `For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also, of your ownselves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them;’ and he cannot slight such a vehement exhortation as Rom. xvi. 17, 18. `Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences, contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned, and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.’ Therefore he is so far from being a divider himself, that when he sees any one making divisions among Christians, he looks on him as on one that is mangling the body of his dearest friend, or as one that is setting fire to his house, and therefore doth all that he can to quench it; as knowing the confusion and calamity to which it tends. He is a christian, and therefore of a truly catholic spirit; that is, he makes not himself a member of a divided party, or a sect; he regards the interest and welfare of the body, the universal church, above the interest or presperity of any party whatsoever; and he will do nothing for a party which is injurious to the whole, or to the Christian cause. The very names of sects and parties are displeasing to him; and he could wish that there were no name but that of Christians among us, save only the necessary names of the criminal, such as that of the Nicolaitans, by which those that are to be avoided by Christians must be known.

Christianity is confined to so narrow a compass in the world, that he is unwilling to contract it yet into a narrower. The greatest party of divided Christians, whether it be the Greeks or Papists, is too small a body for him to take for the catholic (or universal) church. He grieves at the blindness and cruelty of faction, that can make men damn all the rest of the church for the interest of their proper sect; and take all those as non-Christians that are better Christians than themselves The confirmed Christian can distinguish between the strong and weak, the sound and unsound members of the church, without dismembering any, and without unwarrantable separations from any. He will worship God in the purest manner he can, and locally join with those assemblies, where, all things considered, he may most honour God, and receive most edification; and will not sin for communion with any. He will sufficiently distinguish between a holy, orderly assembly, and a corrupt, disordered one; and between an able, faithful pastor, and an ignorant or worldly hireling. He desires that the pastors of the church may make that due separation by the holy discipline of Christ, which may prevent the people’s disorderly separation. But for all this, he will not deny his presence upon just occasion, to any Christian congregation that worships God in truth, though with many modal imperfections, so be it they impose no sin upon him as necessary to his communion with them. Nor will he deny the spiritual communion of faith and love to those that he holds not local communion with: he knows that all our worshp of God is sinfully imperfect, and that it is a dividing principle to hold, that we may join with none that worship God in a faulty manner; for then we must join in the worship of none on earth

While men who are all imperfect and corrupt, are the worshippers, the manner of their worship will be such as they, in some degree, imperfect and corrupt. The solid Christian hath an eye upon all the churches in the world, in the determining of such questions; he considers what worship is offered to God in the churches of the several parties of Christians, the Greeks, Armenians, Abassines, Lutherans, as well as what is done in the country where he lives; and he considers whether God disown and reject the worship of almost all the churches in the world, or not; for he dares no further reject them than God rejects them. Nor will he voluntarily separate from those assemblies where the presence of Christ, in his spirit and acceptance yet remains. His fuller acquaintance with the gracious nature, office, and tenderness of Christ, together with greater love to his brethren, causes him in this to judge more gently than young censorious Christians do. And his humble acquaintance with his own infirmities, makes him the more compassionate to others. If he should think that God would reject all that order not, and word not their prayers aright, he would be afraid of being rejected himself, who is still conscious of greater faultiness in his own prayers, than a mere defect in words and order; even of a great defectiveness in that faith, desire, love, zeal, and reverence which should be manifested in prayer. Though he be more apprehensive than others, of the excellency and necessity of the holiness and spirituality of the soul in worship; yet withal he is more judicious and charitable than the peevish and passionate infant Christians, who think that God doth judge as they do, and sees no grace where they see none; and takes all to be superstitious of fanatical, that differ from their opinions or manner of worship; or that he is as ready to call every error in the method or the words of prayer, idolatry or will-worship, as those are that speak not what they know, but what they have heard some teachers, whom they reverence, say before them. `He that dwelleth in love, dwells in God, and God in him:’ and he that dwells with God, is likelier to be best acquainted with his mind, concerning his children and his worship, than he that dwells in wrath, pride, and partiality.

LIII. 1. A Christian indeed is not only zealous for the unity and concord of believers, but he seeks it on the right terms, and in the way that is fittest to attain it. Unity, peace and concord, are like piety and honesty, things so unquestionably good, that there are scarcely any men of reason and common sobriety, that ever were heard to oppose them directly and for themselves: therefore all that are enemies to them, are yet pretenders to them and oppose them 1. In their causes only. 2. Or covertly and under some other name…

The judicious, faithful Christian knows, that there are three degrees or sorts of Christian communion, which have their several terms. 1. The universal church communion which all Christians, as such, must hold among themselves…

[T]he terms of [this] catholic communion, he knows, are such as these: 1. They must be such as were the terms of church communion in the days of the apostles. 2. They must be such as are plainly and certainly expressed in the holy scriptures. 3. And such as the universal church has in some ages since been actually agreed in. 4. And those points are likeliest to be such, which all the differing parties of Christians are agreed in as necessary to communion to this day (so we call not those Christians that deny the essentials of Christianity.) 5. Every man in the former ages of the church was admitted to this catholic church communion, who in the baptismal vow or covenant gave up himself to God, the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, as his Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier, his Owner, Governor and Father, renouncing the flesh, the world and the devil.

How Hollywood Reinvented C. S. Lewis in the Film “Shadowlands”

It is understandable why the 1993 film Shadowlands won rave reviews when it was originally released. The acting is splendid, the script is literate, and the production design is first-rate. All things considered, the film is a wonderful piece of cinema and well worth seeing. For those of us who never had the rare privilege of meeting C. S. Lewis in person, Shadowlands brings Lewis and his world to life in a new way.

Nevertheless, despite its beauty and its pathos, Shadowlands is not without major failings in the realm of accuracy. Unfortunately, many people seem to take at face value the film’s opening claim that “this is a true story.” The reviewer for Christianity Today, for instance, wrote that although “the filmmakers have taken some liberties with facts…and simplified some of Lewis’s complex musings… the film is generally true to Lewis’s life.”

As a matter of fact, it isn’t. The names of the principal characters are the same, but much of the plot has been contrived to fit the point of view of scriptwriter William Nicholson.

I’m not complaining about the numerous small inaccuracies. I expected those. After all, it doesn’t really matter that Joy had two sons instead of one (though it might matter if you were the son who was left out). Nor does it really matter that the marriage between Joy and Jack went on a lot longer than the film indicates (more than three years in reality). Such errors are minor and certainly fall within the domain of legitimate dramatic license.

What is more difficult to accept are the two huge errors on which the whole plot seems to hinge.

The first of these errors is the depiction of Lewis’s life before he met Joy. The film portrays Lewis as leading a cloistered existence in which he avoided women, children, and—above all—commitments to any relationship or situation that offered him the potential for risk or pain. This depiction of Lewis is a convenient way to set up him up for the film’s subsequent love story. But the portrayal invents a C. S. Lewis who never existed.

Contrary to the storyline of the film, Lewis had lived a life that was anything but cloistered or free from pain or commitment. During World War I, the supposedly cloistered Lewis served in the trenches in France, where he was wounded in action. After the war, the supposedly sexless Lewis apparently became infatuated with Mrs. Moore, a widow old enough to be his mother. When the affair ended and Lewis became a Christian, Lewis the uncommitted somehow felt obliged to support Mrs. Moore for the rest of her life, and she lived with Lewis and his brother until she had to be moved to a rest home (where he visited her every day). Meanwhile, the Lewis who did not associate with children had three children come and stay with him during World War II (they had been sent out of London because of the air raids (just like Peter, Edmund, Susan, and Lucy in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe). Similarly, the Lewis who supposedly avoided women also developed a close friendship with English poetess Ruth Pitter; he even told a friend that were he the kind of man to get married, he would marry her! And the Lewis who walked through life without painful experiences had to deal with his rejection by Oxford’s academic community, which never saw fit to select this brilliant scholar for a professorship (Cambridge finally did in the 1950s).

The second huge error of the film is its suggestion that Lewis’s faith in God was undermined by Joy’s death. While the film shows grief-torn Lewis saying (quite tentatively) to his stepson that he still believes in heaven, there is little indication in the film that Lewis still believes in a loving God. Indeed, in an outburst before his friends, Lewis is shown railing at the brutality of a God who acts as cosmic vivisectionist. Although this scene is invented (Lewis’s grief was intensely private), the speech against God that William Nicholson puts in Lewis’s mouth is actually inspired from a passage in Lewis’s A Grief Observed. The problem is that Nicholson is slipshod in the thoughts he chooses to lift from Lewis: He appropriates Lewis’s struggles from A Grief Observed but doesn’t bother to give any sense of the reaffirmation of faith found in the rest of that book—or in the many other letters, interviews, and articles by Lewis during the rest of his life. It seems that Mr. Nicholson wasn’t interested in portraying an orthodox Christian who experienced intense grief and yet maintained both his faith and his intellect.

Here is where the pernicious aspect of Shadowlands becomes evident. Lewis’s writings—including his intimate confessions in A Grief Observed—were largely efforts to vindicate God’s often unfathomable ways to man. Lewis sought to remove the obstacles that separate us from a living relationship with the One who truly loves us. “Shadowlands” does precisely the opposite by setting up Lewis’s faith as a straw man and then proceeding to knock it down.

The film repeatedly shows Lewis delivering a simplistic speech about how God uses painful experiences to make us listen to Him. The facile confidence with which Lewis delivers the speech is gradually contrasted with personal hell he goes through during Joy’s sickness and eventual death. By the end of the film, Lewis has presumably recognized that his simplistic theological dogmas won’t wash. He doesn’t find God in suffering; he finds a silent void. Thus is the most cogent defender of Christian orthodoxy of the twentieth century transformed into a modern champion of anguished doubt.

I tend to think that most people who view Shadowlands will overlook the underlying contempt the film displays for Lewis’s faith because Lewis is portrayed so sympathetically. And make no mistake: Despite the biographical inaccuracies mentioned above, Lewis is portrayed sympathetically. This film is not anti-Lewis. But perhaps that is because the villain in this story is not Lewis, but God.

The great irony of Shadowlands is that it even as it draws people closer to Lewis, it may drive them further away from the One in whom Lewis found the meaning of life. What a tragedy it would be if those who see the film come away thinking that Lewis’s earlier faith was somehow refuted by reality. Mind you, I am not claiming that this will be the result of Shadowlands. One can only speculate about the effect of the film on individual viewers, and this sort of speculation is rather dubious anyway. I can only suggest that given the film’s script that some viewers may conclude that Lewis’s defense of Christianity could not stand the scrutiny of real life.

There is another possibility, of course: The film may inspire those who see it to read Lewis’s writings for themselves and discover the reality of the faith to which he pointed. I hope that this second possibility will turn out to be the reality.