Our last column on providing new homes for neglected books got me thinking about the notion of “recycling” in its broader contexts.
And, even though C.S. Lewis died before the modern concept of environmentalism reached its full bloom, I wondered if he had written anything on related concerns. As prolific as Lewis was, if one is diligent there is a good chance they can find something with a (sometimes admittedly tenuous) correlation to nearly any subject.
Before proceeding, I have to provide the source of the amazing illustration on this page. It is a graphic example of the creative recycling of literature. This teacup comes from the artistic vision of a Swedish artist, Cecilia Levy. You can view other examples of her artistry at her website here, and if you wish to reproduce them elsewhere, be sure to request permission (just as I did).
Returning to the concept of environmentalism, I wish to avoid political implications here. In general terms, however, I think it is fair to say the Scriptures teach that humanity is a “steward” of creation, which belongs not to us, but to its Maker. As stewards, we have been entrusted to be responsible in our management (use) of nature’s abundance. Wanton destruction should be called what it is—sin.
Now, this general principle manifests itself in a wide spectrum of responses, and attitudes are always subject to change. I vividly recall the very first Earth Day celebrated in the United States. I’m sure that being a high school student in a huge southern California school reinforced the indelible nature of the memory.
My wife and I have been diligent recyclers for many years . . . and that extends far beyond newspapers and aluminum cans. We have used countless items until their usefulness has ended. (Long past when they should have been replaced, in the opinion of our children.) I attribute much of our thriftiness to growing up in low income families where luxuries were few. But it arises not from that background alone. We also have a sense of responsibility to others, and dispatching items that are still usable to landfills just seems wrong.
I imagine Lewis possessed somewhat similar sentiments. He didn’t manifest much of a flair for extravagance. I don’t think he devoted that much thought to material possessions. I once read (but can’t find the source) that his brother and roommate Warnie was a bit frustrated by Lewis’ lack of concern for maintaining articles that were still in decent condition. Major Lewis, being a military man, focused on utilitarian considerations. The specific items of concern in the incident were some dishes or “crockery” that Warnie deemed to still be fit for service.
Both men were seasoned veterans of rationing, of course. Their skills at stretching things to go as far as possible were conditioned by years of deprivation. Americans are typically shocked to learn that rationing persisted in Europe after the end of the war. In an era characterized by excess and waste it’s difficult for us to put ourselves in their mindset.
Ironically, my hunt for a Lewisian passage on ecological concerns had nothing to do with rationing. It was rewarded when I looked at his essay “Willing Slaves of the Welfare State.” (The work is included in the delightful collection, God in the Dock.)
In this essay, Lewis is describing scientific advances as morally neutral. It is the application we choose to put our knowledge to, that determines its rightness. One of his illustrations alludes to care of the world in which we live.
The first is the advance, and increasing application, of science. As a means to the ends I care for, this is neutral. We shall grow able to cure, and to produce, more diseases—bacterial war, not bombs, might ring down the curtain—to alleviate, and to inflict, more pains, to husband, or to waste, the resources of the planet more extensively. We can become either more beneficent or more mischievous. My guess is we shall do both; mending one thing and marring another, removing old miseries and producing new ones, safeguarding ourselves here and endangering ourselves there.
Brilliant. And utterly true.
I also want to pass on an interesting observation made several years ago in another blog. The author references Lewis’ mention of the related concept of “plentitude.” You can read Tim Hagen’s full post here.
Since I’ve been reading a lot of C.S. Lewis lately, I figured I could use (and abuse?) a couple quotes from him in suggesting a philosophy of responsible waste management. The Discarded Image is a piece that brings to light our modern misconceptions about the “Dark Ages.” A testimony of medieval literature, for example, is how systematized their view of the universe was. This organization grew out of classical authors such as Apuleius of Numidia, from whom Lewis draws two principles: the Triad (the idea that two entities – such as soul and body – can only meet each other through a third medium – in this case, the spirit) and Plentitude. Lewis summarizes Plentitude in stating: “The universe must be fully exploited. Nothing must go to waste.” In other words, if something had the capacity to be useful, the medieval mind found a use for it.
The concept of plentitude as described here reminds me of the way people living in harsh environments cannot afford to waste anything. Eskimos, for example, are said to use every part of the seals they harvest . . . meat, blubber, bone, sinew. None of it is cast aside.
Let’s end these thoughts with another example of artistic creativity. This image shows how pages of a recycled copy of the Chronicles of Narnia can be recycled into jewelry. It comes from this commercial website which offers “one of a kind” items for sale. I don’t know whether this particular piece remains available, but I bet they would be willing to make you one of your very own if you’re interested. Then the cash from your wallet can be recycled into theirs. In exchange you’ll own a unique treasure that may become a wonderful conversation starter for many years to come.