Author Stephen King surprised quite a few fans during a recent PBS interview when he expressed his belief in the universe’s intelligent design. In nature and the cosmos, like theist C.S. Lewis before him, he views a creation so complex and wondrous that he thinks it makes more sense to believe in a divine power than to dismiss faith.
During the interview, King said,
I choose to believe it, yeah. I think that . . . there’s no downside to that, and the downside—if you say, well, OK, I don’t believe in God, there’s no evidence of God—then you’re missing the stars in the sky, and you’re missing the sunrises and sunsets, and you’re missing the fact that bees pollinate all these crops and keep us alive and the way that everything seems to work together at the same time.
In an essay, “Christianity and Culture,” C.S. Lewis alludes to the “Theist” phase of his own life. He points out how limiting a faith that recognizes God only abstractly, in his handiwork, can be.
There is an easy transition from Theism to Pantheism; but there is also a blessed transition in the other direction. For some souls I believe, for my own I remember, Wordsworthian contemplation can be the first and lowest form of recognition that there is something outside ourselves which demands reverence.
To return to Pantheistic errors about the nature of this something would, for a Christian, be very bad. But once again, for “the man coming up from below” the Wordsworthian experience is an advance. Even if he goes no further he has escaped the worst arrogance of materialism: if he goes on he will be converted.
King is, of course, far from what one would properly call a “person of faith.”** Still, it may be that he is presently moving in a positive direction. The following words reveal his yearning for hope, criticism of institutional religion, and his as yet unanswered questions about why God allows suffering in our world.
It’s certainly a subject that’s interested me, and I think it interests me more the older that I get. And I think we’d all like to believe that after we shuffle off this mortal coil, that there’s going to be something on the other side because for most of us, I know for me, life is so rich, so colorful and sensual and full of good things, things to read, things to eat, things to watch, places to go, new experiences, that I don’t want to think that you just go to darkness. . . .
But as far as God and church and religion and . . . that sort of thing, I kind of always felt that organized religion was just basically a theological insurance scam where they’re saying if you spend time with us, guess what, you’re going to live forever, you’re going to go to some other plain where you’re going to be so happy, you’ll just be happy all the time, which is also kind of a scary idea to me. . . .
Everything is sort of built in a way that to me suggests intelligent design. But at the same time there’s a lot of things in life where you say to yourself, well, if this is God’s plan, it’s very peculiar. And you have to wonder about that guy’s personality, the big guy’s personality. . . . What I’m saying now is I choose to believe in God, but I have serious doubts.
For many intelligent people, like C.S. Lewis and Stephen King, coming to faith cannot be severed from their reason. They desire to make sense of the world. Some, sadly, determine that human beings perish forever with their final breath. With that worldview, using King’s words, “you just go to darkness.”
Fortunately many others—brilliant and simple people alike, for God shows no partiality—possess true wisdom and heed the words of Jesus, that he is the way, the truth and the life. Both of these writers experienced an ineffective exposure to the church when they were young. Unfortunately, it served as more of an inoculation than a foundation.
Eventually C.S. Lewis followed that path from theism to Christianity. It’s not impossible that Stephen King may, as well.
* A full transcript of the PBS interview is available here.
** In the interview, King “commends” the entertainment value of enthusiastic, emotionally-charged preaching, while disparaging his own mainline upbringing.
I went to a Methodist church for years as a kid, and Methodist youth fellowship on Thursday nights, and it was all pretty – you know, think of a bottle of soda with the cap off for 24 hours. There weren’t very many bubbles left in that stuff by then. It was pretty – it was Yankee religion, Terry, and there’s really not much in the world that’s any more boring than that. They tell you that you’re going to go to hell, and you’re half-asleep.
17 thoughts on “Stephen King Echoes C.S. Lewis”
I’m more of a Dean Koontz fan than a King fan, but I’ve always thought that King was working through some questions in the back of his mind. Great post. Thanks!
Good insight. Some of his “religious” stuff is so far off target it’s humorous… but some of his portrayals of evil leave you speechless.
That last King quote about being told you are going to hell while being half asleep is an hilarious indictment of a lot of youth ministry of the past (I’m a recovering youth pastor).
Ah, youth ministry. Few things are more challenging, and more important.
Pretty cool Rob. When I read King’s writing/biography book, I had that sense that he “wasn’t far from the kingdom,” so to speak. Who knows where his journey goes–or any of us. He has a superb imagination.
As I commented above, he has some keen insights into evil. His portrayal of the Devil in the miniseries “The Stand” is stunning. He is warm and charismatic one moment, and angry and terrifying the next. He woos people to follow him and then crushes them like insects when they’re of no further use to him. I think he nailed Lucifer’s nature.
I’ll have to read a couple of those Stephen King books this summer.
Maybe King is more of a “person of faith” than the PBS interview suggests.
Could be. I wouldn’t expect them to be sympathetic to portraying him as a spiritual pilgrim. But an interview is an interview, and aside from deleting the comment entirely, they were pretty much stuck with it. It is “news,” though, so I assume they liked that aspect of it.
I’m sure you’re right about that — to get a writer like King, who’s notoriously so private, to be candid about his beliefs is definitely “newsy” to a lot of people. Good post.
What a contrast between King and Lewis’ speech patterns/vocabulary/ phrasing/structure/way of speaking on the same topic. Old and new standard English?
King is a close observer of man and human nature (his books tend to follow a formula sometimes – but hey, he’s made a fortune). Seems he does look at the rest of the world, too. The sheer complexity and interrelationships of nature/life, the microscopic world, outer space – fractals. Fractals! Harder and harder to deny the obvious.
Great commentary of the interview.
Yes, “the obvious” to those who open their eyes to see.
It took the scientific/math community a long time to recognize fractals…and those amazing micron microscopes – such beauty and wonder.
Who’d have thunk it, coming from Stephen King? Just one more proof of general revelation!
Yes, pretty impressive… but only “logical!”
I don’t know the man but I have read a vast majority of King’s works. If they’re anything like the author in person then, at the very least, he may not know for certain there’s a God but he’s certain there’s a devil. I can only presume that sooner or later he’s going to jump, if for no other reason than his sanity, to a worldview where there’s more than just a devil.
That’s a good insight. Hopefully though it won’t just be to theism in the abstract or–heaven forbid–dualism. It would be something of eternal consequence (for King himself) if he opened the door to the one who is knocking.