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C.S. Lewis’ Hypocrisy

August 2, 2018 — 5 Comments

hypocrite

If you think the title of this column indicates what follows will be an attack on C.S. Lewis, you are wrong.

On the contrary, the incident described below actually emphasizes the integrity which guided Lewis’ life.

Hypocrisy afflicts us all. It’s hold is strongest, it seems to me, on those who claim they are completely free of the flaw. To paraphrase Jesus’ words recorded in John’s Gospel, “Let he who is without hypocrisy among you cast the first stone.”

It’s quite possible for our own flaws to be invisible to us. However, one of the requirements of being a moral individual is self-examination. The more honestly we can explore and assess our own actions and nature, the healthier we will be.

Some hypocrisy seems rather innocuous. For example in All My Road Before Me, Lewis describes a day in 1922 spent canoeing with his close friend Arthur, and Veronica FitzGerald Hinckley. Veronica was a recent graduate of Oxford.

In light of Lewis’ eventual life’s work, this diary entry is rather ironic:

[Veronica] made one good remark—that an educational career is a school of hypocrisy in which you spend your life teaching others observances which you have rejected yourself.

While academia does host its share of hypocrites, this vice also flourishes elsewhere. Tragically, of all the myriad contexts for hypocrisy, religious hypocrisy is the most ill-begotten.

Naturally, we would assume that basically “good” people are relatively free of hypocrisy. This is true. However, the key to uprooting these sinful influences begins with recognizing them.

In his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, Lewis acknowledges one of his most shameful acts. That it happened before his conversion to Christianity doesn’t lessen for him the wrongness of what he did.

And what was this great crime? It was on the occasion of his confirmation in the Anglican Church. Confirmation is a religious rite in which young people (particularly those in denominations which practice infant baptism) publicly profess, or confirm, their Christian faith. The problem arose because Lewis’ childhood faith had already been extinguished.

My [strained] relations to my father help to explain (I am not suggesting that they excuse) one of the worst acts of my life.

I allowed myself to be prepared for confirmation, and confirmed, and to make my first Communion, in total disbelief, acting a part, eating and drinking my own condemnation.

As Johnson points out, where courage is not, no other virtue can survive except by accident. Cowardice drove me into hypocrisy and hypocrisy into blasphemy.*

It is true that I did not and could not then know the real nature of the thing I was doing: but I knew very well that I was acting a lie with the greatest possible solemnity.

It seemed to me impossible to tell my father my real views. Not that he would have stormed and thundered like the traditional orthodox parent. On the contrary, he would (at first) have responded with the greatest kindness. “Let’s talk the whole thing over,” he would have said. But it would have been quite impossible to drive into his head my real position.

Lewis is sharing with us a sad episode of his life, to encourage us to confess our own transgressions and find forgiveness. After all, the last thing that God desires is people who just go through the motions—hypocrites who are “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” (1 Timothy 3:4-5)

A Final Warning

In The Screwtape Letters, we find the mature (and Christian) C.S. Lewis describing the sort of religious hypocrisy to which we fallen creatures are prone. Screwtape, the devil, is here advising his understudy on fostering hypocrisy in his “patient.” He has been telling Wormwood that he should nurture a sense of superiority in the person he has been assigned to tempt.

I have been writing hitherto on the assumption that the people in the next pew afford no rational ground for disappointment. Of course if they do—if the patient knows that the woman with the absurd hat is a fanatical bridge-player or the man with squeaky boots a miser and an extortioner—then your task is so much the easier.

All you then have to do is to keep out of his mind the question ‘If I, being what I am, can consider that I am in some sense a Christian, why should the different vices of those people in the next pew prove that their religion is mere hypocrisy and convention?’

You may ask whether it is possible to keep such an obvious thought from occurring even to a human mind. It is, Wormwood, it is! Handle him properly and it simply won’t come into his head.

He has not been anything like long enough with the Enemy [i.e. God] to have any real humility yet. What he says, even on his knees, about his own sinfulness is all parrot talk. At bottom, he still believes he has run up a very favourable credit-balance in the Enemy’s ledger by allowing himself to be converted, and thinks that he is showing great humility and condescension in going to church with these ‘smug,’ commonplace neighbours at all. Keep him in that state of mind as long as you can . . .

Hypocrisy is a powerful foe. But once it is recognized as the damning lie it is, hypocrisy loses its control over us. We are freed to rebuke it, repent of it, and be healed.

—-

* “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged.” (1 Corinthians 11:23-31)

Sinister Initiations

March 25, 2013 — 58 Comments

fumieSomething unbelievable just happened in America. Something offensive, abusive, and utterly intolerant.

At Florida Atlantic University, one of the professors taught a lesson so distasteful that, had it maligned any faith other than Christianity, it would have led to his dismissal. Instead, the student who challenged it was suspended from the course.

The class is entitled “Intercultural Communication,” and the instructor happens to be the county vice-chair of one America’s major political parties.

So, what was the malicious class exercise? The students were instructed to write the name “Jesus” in large letters on a piece of paper which they laid on the floor in front of them. Then, they were directed to stomp—yes, stomp—on the name of the person millions of people throughout the world regard as their Savior.

It’s difficult to comprehend anyone would design such an offensive “lesson,” let alone that they would actually attempt to implement it. And, since lessons are created to teach someone, one wonders precisely what Deandre Poole wanted his students to learn by encouraging their blasphemy . . .

C.S. Lewis would not be surprised by this event. He foresaw precisely where the wholesale rejection of God within academia would lead. There is a passage in his book That Hideous Strength that seems almost prescient. In this scene the protagonist, a sociology professor named Mark Studdock, is being initiated into an elite and secretive inner circle at the Institute where he has come to work. The organization has global plans and great influence. Studdock is a confirmed agnostic, yet he is disturbed by something his mentors describe as a “minor” portion of the initiation process.

Meanwhile, in the Objective Room [where candidates are taught to think properly], something like a crisis had developed between Mark and Professor Frost. As soon as they arrived there Mark saw that the table had been drawn back. On the floor lay a large crucifix, almost life size, a work of art in the Spanish tradition, ghastly and realistic.

“We have half an hour to pursue our exercises,” said Frost looking at his watch. Then he instructed Mark to trample on it and insult it in other ways.

Now whereas Jane had abandoned Christianity in early childhood, along with her belief in fairies and Santa Claus, Mark had never believed in it at all.

At this moment, therefore, it crossed his mind for the very first time that there might conceivably be something in it. Frost who was watching him carefully knew perfectly well that this might be the result of the present experiment. He knew it for the very good reason that [he had briefly experienced, and dismissed, the same thought during his own initiation].

“But, look here,” said Mark.

“What is it?” said Frost. “Pray be quick. We have only a limited time at our disposal.”

“This,” said Mark, pointing with an undefined reluctance to the horrible white figure on the cross. “This is all surely a pure superstition.”

“Well?”

“Well, if so, what is there objective about stamping on the face? Isn’t it just as subjective to spit on a thing like this as to worship it? I mean— damn it all— if it’s only a bit of wood, why do anything about it?”

“That is superficial. If you had been brought up in a non-Christian society, you would not be asked to do this. Of course, it is a superstition; but it is that particular superstition which has pressed upon our society for a great many centuries. It can be experimentally shown that it still forms a dominant system in the subconscious of many individuals whose conscious thought appears to be wholly liberated. An explicit action in the reverse direction is therefore a necessary step towards complete objectivity. It is not a question for a priori discussion. We find it in practice that it cannot be dispensed with.”

The parallels are evident. I can readily imagine Dr. Poole justifying his own exercise in similar language. However, that something like this could happen in a civilized land is sobering indeed.

This incident reminded me of powerful scene in the book and miniseries Shogun. [Appended below.]

Christianity had been embraced by a number of provinces early in Japan’s history, but the rising ruler had vowed to extinguish it. The Shogun required that samurai suspected of being “Kirishitan” prove they were not by stepping on holy images of Christ or Mary. The Christians (all Roman Catholic in the seventeenth century) would not abuse holy images and were arrested on the spot. Fumi-e were images created for the sole purpose of desecrating, and some examples (like the tile shown above) have survived to this day.

If the individual failed to recant their faith in Jesus, they would be tortured and ultimately martyred. As recently as 2008, the Roman Catholic Church beatified a new group of 188 Japanese Christians. They joined 45 saints and 395 previously beatified martyrs. They represent only a small segment of the estimated 35,000 believers who accepted death rather than denying their Lord.

The newly beatified include 183 lay people, four priests and one monk. The laity included thirty samurai warriors, as well as farmers, artisans, civil servants, teachers, painters, writers, former slaves, pregnant women and even children as young as three.

If Dr. Poole was historically-informed, he would recognize that the odious ritual he thrust upon his vulnerable students carried a significant deal of baggage. And that’s not to mention the direct affront it poses to those who believe Jesus’ claim that he “is the way, the truth, and the life.” Ultimately, all people of goodwill—believers and atheists alike—will find his behavior repugnant.

Excerpt from Shogun:

In James Clavell’s book, it is the English protagonist who ironically desires to weed the [Roman Catholic] Christians out of his samurai contingent. (Their loyalties rest in a cause other than his own.)

. . .

“Can’t it wait until tomorrow?”

“No, Sire, so sorry.” Uraga was looking up at him in front of the assembled samurai vassals, the Dutch crew gathering into a nervous knot near the quarterdeck railing. “Please excuse me, but it is most important you find out at once. You are their most enemy. Therefore you must know, for your protection. I only wish to protect you. Not take long, neh?”

“Are they all on deck?”

“Yes, Sire.”

Blackthorne went closer to the railing and called out in Japanese, “Is anyone Christian?” There was no answer. “I order any Christian come forward.” No one moved. So he turned back to Uraga. “Set ten deck guards, then dismiss them.”

“With your permission, Anjin-san.” From under his kimono Uraga brought out a small painted icon that he had brought from Yedo and threw it face upward on the deck. Then, deliberately, he stamped on it. Blackthorne and the crew were greatly disquieted by the desecration. Except Jan Roper. “Please. Make every vassal do same,” Uraga said.

“Why?”

“I know Christians.” Uraga’s eyes were half hidden by the brim of his hat. “Please, Sire. Important every man do same. Now, tonight.”

“All right,” Blackthorne agreed reluctantly.

Uraga turned to the assembled vassals. “At my suggestion our Master requires each of us to do this.”

The samurai were grumbling among themselves and one interrupted, “We’ve already said that we’re not Christians, neh? What does stamping on a barbarian god picture prove? Nothing!”

“Christians are our Master’s enemy. Christians are treacherous—but Christians are Christian. Please excuse me, I know Christians—to my shame I forsook our real gods. So sorry, but I believe this is necessary for our Master’s safety.”

At once a samurai in front declared, “In that case, there’s nothing more to be said.” He came forward and stamped on the picture. “I worship no barbarian religion! Come on, the rest of you, do what’s asked!”

They came forward one by one. Blackthorne watched, despising the ceremony.

Van Nekk said worriedly, “Doesn’t seem right.”

Vinck looked up at the quarterdeck. “Sodding bastards. They’ll all cut our throats with never a thought. You sure you can trust ’em, Pilot?”

“Yes.”

Ginsel said, “No Catholic’d ever do that, eh, Johann? That Uraga-sama’s clever.”

“What’s it matter if those buggers’re Papist or not, they’re all . . . samurai.”

“Yes,” Croocq said.

“Even so, it’s not right to do that,” van Nekk repeated.

The samurai continued to stamp the icon into the deck one by one, and moved into loose groups. It was a tedious affair and Blackthorne was sorry he had agreed to it, for there were more important things to do before dusk. His eyes went to the village and the headlands. Hundreds of the thatch lean-tos of the Musket Regiment camp spotted the foothills. So much to do, he thought, anxious to go ashore, wanting to see the land, glorying in the fief Toranaga had given him which contained Yokohama. Lord God on high, he told himself, I’m lord of one of the greatest harbors in the world.

Abruptly a man bypassed the icon, tore out his sword, and leaped at Blackthorne. A dozen startled samurai jumped courageously in his way, screening the quarterdeck as Blackthorne spun around, a pistol cocked and aimed. Others scattered, shoving, stumbling, milling in the uproar. The samurai skidded to a halt, howling with rage, then changed direction and hacked at Uraga, who somehow managed to avoid the thrust. The man whirled as other samurai lunged at him, fought them off ferociously for a moment, then rushed for the side and threw himself overboard.

Four who could swim dropped their killing swords, put their short stabbing knives in their mouths, and jumped after him, the rest and the Dutchmen crowding the side.

Blackthorne jumped for the gunwale. He could see nothing below; then he caught sight of swirling shadows in the water. A man came up for air and went down again. Soon four heads surfaced. Between them was the corpse, a knife in his throat.

“So sorry, Anjin-san, it was his own knife,” one called up over the roars of the others.

“Uraga-san, tell them to search him, then leave him to the fish.”

The search revealed nothing. When all were back on deck, Blackthorne pointed at the icon with his cocked pistol. “All samurai-once more!” He was obeyed instantly and he made sure that every man passed the test.

Then, because of Uraga, and to praise him, he ordered his crew to do the same.