Here in the United States, our presidential election season is nearing its end. This is something people on both sides of the political spectrum are anticipating with joy. It’s been a grim process, grimmer than usual. The nation’s financial woes appear to have ramped up the vitriol. Christian values, especially, are maligned by many candidates and the partisan press that ingenuously professes objectivity. Yes, it will be a relief when it ends.
One of the features of modern elections that continues to grow in importance is polling. Scores of different pollsters—with widely varying results—compete for the public’s attention. Some of it is quite interesting, but the dizzying whirlwind of contradictory results creates confusion about their accuracy.
That, however, doesn’t slow their multiplication. Polling as we know it today is a fairly recent invention. It was 1958, when George Gallup gathered all of his nascent polling operations into a single organization. Gallup founded the American Institute of Public Opinion, the precursor of The Gallup Organization, in 1935. Gallup has maintained its reputation for integrity by refusing to accept any funding from political parties or candidates. Today, the company conducts opinion polls in more than 140 countries around the world.
As I was pondering the surplus of polls, I grew curious as to whether or not C.S. Lewis had ever commented on their like. I’m no expert on British politics, but I imagine they had occasional surveys, projections or prognostications. C.S. Lewis and his works have been the subject of innumerable contemporary polls . . . but did the Oxford don ever discuss such matters?
Desiring to avoid superficial attachments that might prove distracting to his literary goals, Lewis maintained a distance from political issues. It was for this reason he declined the well-deserved honor of becoming a “Commander of the British Empire.”
Lewis’ thoughts about politics reflect those of all who have grown tired of empty promises and venomous threats related to the election of “the opposition.” He would have longed, like many of us, for a reasonable and respectful conversation about charting the best course for his country.
Lewis longed for peace, in the spirit of Paul’s exhortation in his epistle to the young pastor, Timothy: “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” (I Timothy 2:1-2, ESV).
In that spirit he wrote to his brother Warnie in 1940 about the tragedy of living in an epic era, wracked by not one, but two global conflicts.
Lord! How I loathe great issues! ‘Dynamic’ I think is one of the words invented by this age which sums up what it likes and I abominate. Could one start a Stagnation Party—which at General Elections would boast that during its term of office no event of the least importance had taken place? (Maundy Thursday, 21 March 1940).
Lewis’ collected Poems include the following delightful reflection on political campaigning.
Lines During a General Election
Their threats are terrible enough, but we could bear
All that; it is their promises that bring despair.
If beauty, that anomaly, is left us still,
The cause lies in their poverty, not in their will.
If they had power (‘amenities are bunk’), conceive
How their insatiate gadgetry by this would leave
No green, nor growth, nor quietude, no sap at all
In England from The Land’s-End to the Roman Wall.
Think of their roads—broad as the road to Hell—by now
Murdering a million acres that demand the plough,
. . .
And all our coasts one Camp till not the tiniest wave
Stole from the beach unburdened with its festal scum
Of cigarette-ends, orange-peel, and chewing-gum.
Nor would one island’s rape suffice. Their visions are
Global; they mean the desecration of a Star;
Their happiest fancies dwell upon a time when Earth,
Flickering with sky-signs, gibbering with mechanic mirth,
One huge celestial charabanc [tour bus], will stink and roll
Through patient heaven, subtopianized from pole to pole.
As I mentioned above, there are an abundance of polls about Lewis and his writings. It’s fitting to close this post with a related discussion from the introduction to The Quotable C.S. Lewis.
A quick survey of the Encyclopedia Britannica’s great books of the Western world reveals that an average of approximately three authors per century have been included in that august collection. This being so, what authors from this century will be read in the next? Of course, we can no more than guess; only time will tell. If votes are going to be cast, however, the name C. S. Lewis ought at least to be on the ballot.
The influence of his pen can hardly be overestimated. One observer noted that Lewis “is read with enormous affection and loyalty by a wide and diversified audience today. . . . In fact, more of his books are sold today than those of any other Christian writer in history.” Indeed, with over sixty of his books in print, Lewis has for many in this century become the dominant exponent and champion of thoughtful Christianity. Lewis wrote on a wide variety of subjects in many literary forms.
These words were written during the twentieth century. A decade into the new century they ring just as true. Lewis’ contributions to literature and faith are passing the test of time. And I suspect that will remain true at the close of this century, whether polls anticipate it or not.
Those of you with extra time on your hands may wish to participate in Mere Inkling’s nonscientific poll, below.