Monday, May 01, 2006

The Question of God

From chapter 8 of The Question of God: C S Lewis and Sigmund Freud debate God, love, sex and the meaning of life, by Armand Nicholl, published by Free Press 2002.

The Inklings happened to be all male. But Lewis had many female friends that he admired and with whom he kept in close contact. After his conversion, newly convinced that ‘there are no ordinary people,’ Lewis carried on regular correspondence with scores of people, most of them women. ‘It isn’t chiefly men I am kept in touch with by my huge mail: it is women,’ Lewis writes to a friend. ‘The female, happy or unhappy, agreeing or disagreeing is by nature a much more epistolary animal than the male.’ Lewis corresponded regularly with the British author Dorothy Sayers, the poet Ruth Pitter, novelist Rose Macaulay and the Anglo-Saxon scholar Dorothy Whitlock.

Lewis approached his letter writing with considerable diligence and faithfulness. He answered every letter sent him, from those by important leaders to those by a child or a widow he did not know. He answered them daily, before undertaking his hectic work schedule. ‘The mail, you know, is the great hurdle at the beginning of each day’s course for me,’ Lewis writes to this same friend. ‘I have sometimes had to write letters hard from 8.3 to 11 o’clock, before I could start my own work. Mostly to correspondents I have never seen. I expect most of my replies to them are useless: but every now and then people think one has helped them and so one dare not stop answering letters.’

Lewis’s conversion dramatically altered his assessment of others. He changed form an introvert who, like Freud, was highly critical and distrustful of others, to a person who reached out and appeared to value every human being. Every decision a person makes, Lewis asserts, will take him toward or away from a relationship with the Person who made him, the one relationship for which that individual was created. ‘All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations.’

Freud, sadly, saw his neighbour as someone inclined ‘to humiliate him, to cause him pain.’ His neighbour was someone who needed to earn his trust and his love. He said, when almost sixty years old, that all of his life he had been looking for friends who would not exploit him or betray him. Before his conversion Lewis shared this cautious, defensive approach to people. Afterward, he saw every individual as living forever: ‘You have never talked to a mere mortal.’ He adds, that ‘Nations, cultures, arts, civilization – these are mortal.’ Our relationships with others must be characterised by ‘a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner’ and with ‘no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption.’ Lewis’s concept of love clearly enriched his life and helped make him a profoundly different person – a ‘new creation.’
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