Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Great Divorce

I saw the misunderstanding again, so I thought I would put this out.  If you read CS Lewis's introduction to The Great Divorce, he explains the title. Yet you have to read the intro to see that, and have picked up the book somewhere to even see the intro, so lots of people misapprehend what the book is about.  Evangelical Christians in particular have said to me that God intends marriage to unite the man and the woman as one flesh, so no divorce is great, not ever, so Lewis is just wrong about whatever this is. (And they heard he supports magic and the occult as well, so that just proves it.)

I am making fun of them, but I also understand them.  I am a child of divorce, back in 1959 when it was rare and stigmatised, and reacted badly to the title the first time I saw it. I didn't want to read it, even though I suspected it wasn't actually about marital divorce and some other separation was being described.  I was worried there was something that might be written, even in passing, that would anger or upset me. But I was so moved by everything that Lewis was writing that I eventually had to read that as well.  I had actually heard the basic plot in college, from a girl who was a member of some cultish Christianity that involved "twigs" and "branches." (Vicky Something.  I hope she is well.  I now stop and pray that she is well, and that the full truth and joy came to her. Prayer over, God reminded me that she may have exceeded me in all ways and my praying for her is welcome, but perhaps a bit condescending.  Noted.) Vicky had described it as "Hell as this giant city, where everyone keeps moving away from each other.  Buses are leaving for heaven every day, but no one will ride them." Noted a bad description.

William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell insists that we've gotten it all wrong.  What we call Hell is actually a place of great physical energy.  He was writing in response to those who were too abstract, too spiritual in their understanding of - well, "God" would be pushing it in Blake's case, but something like that - and he has a point. He wanted to join the material and the spiritual in our understanding of reality. Which is an orthodox Christian sentiment.  However, he gets all sorts of things muddled about the "spiritual," and "material," and "energy."  one of those Diagnosis: C+, Prescription: F sorts of understandings. He inevitably wanders into fields where "what we call evil," and "what we call good" supposedly become intelligible foundations for discussion.  He ultimately cannot bear the idea that good might be Good, and evil be Evil.

I am unfair and oversimplifying, I admit.  I think it still holds.

Lewis's fiction is indeed about a Hell, or Purgatory, which is a dingy and deteriorating city where people can indeed take buses to Heaven (driven by a barely-disguised Jesus), but cannot even wait in line without getting into ridiculous fights. They are delivered to the fringes of heaven and allowed to walk around.  Residents of heaven come over to them and try to talk them into coming in, just a little bit further, please. These residents are usually people known to the bus-passenger in their earthly life, and the passenger wants to argue and re-litigate events from Earth. Nearly all refuse to enter Heaven, for reasons that are simply extensions of their previous reasons for not choosing Christ. Even given a final, extra chance, they cannot relent and simply admit they were wrong, enter in and be happy.

In Lewis's view, there is no ultimate marriage between what we call good and what we call evil.  Ultimately, no matter how many extra chances are given, there is a divorce. Good and evil cannot share the same house. In the final section the George MacDonald character explains that the light in the gray city is not a sunrise, but a sunset.  Night is coming.

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, in the end, "Thy will be done." All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. To those who knock it is opened.”


Texan99 said...

People really can be incredibly literal. It's surprisingly difficult to use a concept like "divorce" to mean anything but a legal dissolution of a traditional human marriage and be understood at all.

I feel I spend so much time muttering "it's a PLAY ON WORDS."

Someone was telling me the other day that if Republicans could just be flexible and nice (i.e. capitulate) we could fiddle with Obamacare to improve it without changing anything substantial that would help "ALL Americans." I mentioned the problem with changing from driving on the right side of the road to driving on the left, by a gradual transition. Her answer: but you really can drive on the left side, it just takes practice. Sigh.

Tom Bridgeland said...

...they cannot relent and simply admit they were wrong, enter in and be happy...

Very much apropos to a spat my wife and I had just yesterday. I thought she was saying 'X' but quite possibly she wasn't. Mutually choosing to misunderstand the other...

Nabila Widianti said...
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