Wednesday, June 04, 2014

On Not Being CS Lewis

I think I’m over this now.  Spufford’s speech came at a bad time for me (or at the perfect time, if heightened discomfort was the best preliminary to AVI learning something).

I had not known that Lewis’s accent was off-putting to British ears now.  I knew that it was something of an advantage during his lifetime: here was an Oxford don who sounded like “a bloke in a pub,” as Spufford put it.  He looks and sounds a red-faced butcher, was the description at the time. The years turn, and he now comes off as a toff, even in print. “He sounds bossy,” Spufford says with some emphasis. He spends the rest of the hour explaining how this style doesn’t work anymore, and developing a non-confrontative narrative is a better way to go.

His only real “let’s leave off with this Lewisian style of apologetics” data is the accent, plus the echoes of it that appear in print. The rest is all stuff that I recognised the truth of immediately – because I had first learned it from Lewis. It’s all very fashionable to be “about story” in the church just now, but I Was Story (When Story Wasn’t Cool) because of Lewis.

To be fair to Spufford, I was always confrontative, lecturing style as well (which was never cool), and justified it largely from Lewis, who could also engage in that mode of apologetics.  In my case it predates my exposure to Lewis, and is contaminated by a lot of personal combativeness that has little to do with defending the faith.  But that had been the long goal, to Be Like Jack and turn the contentious nature to good, attacking misunderstanding and deception, not for my own good but the good of all.

To be told that this goal was never worth pursing and even damaging – that it was responsible for much of the unpopularity of the faith now – went down rather hard.  Especially, in the context of recent articles handed to me about “argument culture,” and a rant from a young person I am fond of about my critical nature.

Let’s separate out the two things as best we can. That much of my criticism may have been secretly personal, designed to benefit myself instead of the church, I grant. So be it.  I wish I had done better.  But the other piece, that we should not be engaging in this style at all in this era, I completely reject.  Spufford is following fashion.  His is a counter-fashion, perhaps, to a previous few generations of evangelicals who were very confrontative, didactic, and lecturing. Personal, political, or social issues often seemed to drive them more than

People who have left the church, or have no interest in considering the claims of Christ point to those folks with blame. Westboro Baptist comes up in this regard frequently, and ridiculous church signs. How can you belong to a group that includes such people? is the implication. Doesn’t this in itself prove that what you believe cannot be taken seriously?

Generally speaking, these are not the things that chase people out of church.  These are the excuses people drag in later as they are already deciding to leave their wives, hang out with cooler people, or find moralities that are less expensive but more affirming.

We should strive to be all things to all men, of course, as Paul teaches. Or to live in peace with others, so far as it is in our power, as he mentions later. We should not be stumbling blocks, providing excuses for others to stay away.

But Jesus's disciples did not come up and say "We aren't getting a lot of response from the Pharisees, especially the 25-34 y/o urban Pharisee demographic.  We've got to change our style to reach that group."  Jesus was brutally hard on many of his hearers.  Even his words of comfort to some are rather obviously pointed at powerful others, who are being condemned.  There is no Gospel of Niceness in Jesus.

Does this provide excuse for evil and selfish men to condemn others?  Sure.  Apparently, that is considered the lesser problem.

More to come.


james said...

I had the impression that the "burned over districts" were ones that had had "revival" crusades so often that there was nobody left who would respond to the appeal, either because the emotional appeal left them cold or because they'd been caught up in it a time or two and were disillusioned. (Jesus taught about shallow soil; it seems that some preachers toss out shallow seed.)
That didn't mean people wouldn't respond to other approaches: some apparently did. But the emotional appeal approach was tapped out.

Maybe some of the specific "Pictures" (Pilgrim's Regress) Lewis used are a little played out. OK. Same answers, different pictures; coming up.

Some time back Grim posted a retelling of the gospel written for war-loving pagans circa 900 plus or minus a couple centuries. It took some serious liberties to try to make the story appealing to men who didn't like any weakness. I don't know what the result was, but I'd bet it didn't change their attitudes much. Sensing linked to this: . The fashionable sins may change, but there's going to be an irreducible amount of resistance that no outside argument or explanation or image is going to address.

Donna B. said...

Now, as an agnostic (who is often tempted to lean toward atheism), I find all this downright funny.

CS Lewis is one of the reasons I stay agnostic. He's also the one I point my more... well, I don't know what word I want to use here -- militaristic or evangelical or squishy -- religious relatives toward.

Perhaps the reason I like reading him is that it's so obvious he understood humans. Whether he understood Christianity... I'm certainly not qualified to say.

Korora said...

And the Westboro card is an association fallacy (A believes X and takes it to degree Y, therefore everyone who believes X takes it to degree Y).

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Korora - Christians are sometimes guilty of the same fallacy. Thank you for naming it properly - I wasn't thinking anywhere near that precisely.

I wasn't thinking precisely at all for this post, maybe. I think I shall surround the topic with related items rather than attack it directly.

Texan99 said...

No doubt being too argumentative is a failing, but there are those of us out there who respond better to open argument than to that self-consciously unargumentative persona that Spufford projects--all that hands-in-the-pockets mincing and swaying and "Em," as if he didn't want anyone to think he was uncool enough to make clear moral pronouncements.

Considering his era and background, it's kind of amazing that C.S. Lewis could speak to someone like me at all. He had some ideas about the subordination of women, for instance, that are never going to fly with me. Nevertheless, it does me good to consider the humility he proposes, and in most respects he totally has my number even across the distance between his culture and mine.

Did you get the sense that a lot of that aw-shucks extended buildup was an excuse for Spufford to read out loud the confessional passage he secretly hoped everyone would prefer to the average Lewis screed? It was rather nice in a minor way, but I've already nearly forgotten it, whereas Lewis's works have a way of sticking. Honestly, isn't Spufford really just a bit annoyed that his books still can't outsell those of his antiquated rival, even though his circle all agree that Lewis isn't quite the thing?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

T99 - I become increasingly aware how few people like open argument. That aw-shucks manner of preaching is very popular with some people (including some folks I like very much.) They are usually reacting against a very didactic style of evangelicalism, I gather.

It is hard for me to listen to because it takes so long to get to the point. Such peregrination strikes me as evasive, trying to maintain plausible deniability if someone gets offended.

But I have to admit, bluntness isn't all that popular in my circles these days. Or mine isn't, at any rate.

Texan99 said...

Our rector is a very mild, inoffensive kind of guy. He's fine, and has a warm heart and an orthodox faith (this being the rural Texas version of the Episcopal church). He would never argue or dispute with anyone. Now and then, though, we get a visiting rector to preach during vacations or whatever. There is one I particularly enjoy: not a fire-and-brimstone argumentative fellow, but deeply mystical and quite uncompromising about our duties, which is somewhat unusual in an Episcopalian church.

There's usually a lot of emphasis on tolerance and generosity, but not much about the duty to do anything really scary or difficult, or to sacrifice anything really important. Fortunately, the liturgy is strongly based in scripture, so you can't help hearing some tough messages directly from the Old and New Testaments, where they weren't into mincing words.

Well, didacticism can be very off-putting if it's smug or condescending, but I like a good, respectful argument with someone who doesn't ascribe to the philosophy that nothing is really right or wrong. C.S. Lewis could be sharp-tongued, but I read his arguments, fictional and otherwise, with great enjoyment.

Francis S said...

Hello. I really didn't mean to suggest that there was anything wrong with the value that you (and for that matter, I) set on Lewis. I've tried to clarify what I meant, here -


Texan99 said...

Wow, there's nothing like giving into a little spate of querulousness in print about someone I think I'll never meet, and who will never read what I say, and then having him be polite about reading it, to remind me to be more tactful and constructive.

The linked piece makes a good point--Lewis knew it, too--about the difficulty of announcing Christ's cure to people who don't start with a conviction that anything's ill. On the other hand, I've found that most people come to a point in their lives sooner or later when they can't avoid the knowledge that something's badly wrong. They experience a remorse that tortures them, or they stumble across human wickedness they can't face, or they simply can't bear any longer the idea that their lives are a meaningless materialism. Then the Gospel stops sounding like an annoying Church Lady and starts sounding like Good News.

That's my experience today, as it seems to have been in Lewis's day; he was an atheist in youth and was surrounded by either outright atheists or people's whose religion was entirely rote. Even in Christ's time, some of His countrymen knew they'd fallen short and always would fall short of the Law, while others were complacently certain that they'd be fine as long as they jumped through all the right daily hoops. We're not the only time and place dominated by a cheerful materialism, at least among the physically and socially comfortable.