Still, in the embrace of Hell and all its fallen angels, I did my best. I borrowed books from the First Baptist Church’s library, books displayed across from apocalyptic movies produced in the ‘70s, when rock ‘n' roll and anything other than America were villains. All the books contained the same subject matter: church doctrine, vague prophecies made into pop culture, hate, and above all, credulity. Even as an undergraduate I’d buy the books that I would overhear others talking about, which lead to too much Donald Miller as well as mega-church-published three-hundred-page tracts. And Paul, lots of Paul and Calvinism. Now, It’s nearly 2014, and I can barely remember anything from a single page of those books, even a single salient sentence that could have held salvation. (One of the preachers at the postmodern church I attended in college mocked my book stacks once, saying that the evangelical books were a waste of a brain. He was one of the four people who gave me Blue Like Jazz. Apparently, at the ripe age of twenty-six, he had it all figured out.) I don’t believe it’s my own fault, either. Years after I’ve read them, I still recall Millay's poems as well as Gandalf’s spells. Unless you’re steeped and hidden in a culture that looks forward to the end of the world, or champions one book above all books, you tend to forget about brimstone, dragons, and prophecies. You can never forget the bigotry, though. It gets in your bones.
Through all of that—between any and all of the Grahams, Hal Lindsay’s fiction and fictional non-fiction, the catholic Chesterton I'll always cherish, and the Barthian Bonhoeffer—there was CS Lewis. As of now, I think I love his brain but hate all but one of his books, which people tout to the point where they’re more important than the Holy Bible, but that’s only because his books are more beautiful and relatable. As theologically unsound as this reads, the people in my youth taught me that the Bible is indebted to Paul and the writings attributed to him, and Christianity can never repay CS Lewis for what he’s given the religion: he gave Jesus Christ a human face. And, as Menken said:
"Theologians are well aware, deep down in their hearts, that faith alone is not sufficient to make even half-wits believe in their mumbo-jumbo; they sense a need to sweeten the dose with such testimony as would convince any judge or jury." (Treatsie on the Gods, 264)
The Great Divorce, like all books, isn’t for everyone, but it most certainly is for people who believe that characters from reality TV speak for them and their religious faith. Coincidentally, that’s what baffles me about this current near-the-end-of-2013 nonsense: when we’re at the apex of humanity, people choose to rally behind a millionaire television character and his struggle to keep a job. Past that, it’s how unwilling people are to change themselves. They seem to want to keep their world as fictional as possible, to the point where love becomes hate; to the point where rather than delivering messages, they’d rather be hangmen. “We love you but we can’t accept you.” We won’t accept you! That loving misanthropy raised me, but CS Lewis saved me. But Mr. Lewis won’t help my cousin, though, who, a few years ago, came out to the people that he loved the most: his family. I can’t find him to follow up and see if he’s still breathing, mostly because he seems to spend his time living his life and hiding from his family. Numerous of my dearest friends no longer have family because their mothers and fathers refuse to live in what’s real. At the heart of all this, that’s what The Great Divorce taught me: being real, and the extreme pain that it causes upon yourself. If you’re not real, you might as well be a living ghost, never feeling or experiencing the thrilling disappointment and exhilarating bliss of breathing and sharing air with strangers and the challenges they offer.
When you are willing to experience reality, living life becomes painful and beautiful. The most salient sensation I can think of would be coming to terms with hate, and facing that part of yourself that you despise, and falling in love with it. Love, according to Lewis, is a sacred word, and the only way to find yourself in love is by realizing that you live in an imaginary house, and what protection does an imaginary house offer, anyway? (The Best of CS Lewis, Pg. 123) This peculiar enterprise of hate has been built up to be more than just a house, though: It’s an entire world, as well as an entire livelihood for some people, most pundits, and a few TV characters. To inhabit a world where what looks real is also reality is to pursue and fall in love with one thing: Truth. Truth, though, after Kierkegaard and postmodern Christians, is as relative as one tangerine to another. Brass is mistaken for gold more easily than clay is, (Pg. 173) but it falls fiercely and violently. It’s easy to not feel pain living with shiny false truths, pretending a man can’t passionately believe the anus of another man is a beautiful rose, or that gay children can spread their sexuality to other kids like chicken pox. But you will learn a new truth, and when it happens, your heels will be cut on real grass as you learn (Pg. 136) that anything of substance hurts when we’re not real with ourselves, and we’ve done nothing but mature deeper into hopelessness, and grow old into ghosts.
Allusions and assumptions, that’s what the living ghosts on earth believe in, even as the real world rains beautiful and refreshing drops of reflecting liquid, they’re like machinegun bullets that puncture flimsy beliefs and ghostly frames. (Pg. 146) Living ghosts, those who hope other people think for them and allow other people to speak for them, suffer worse than they’ll ever know by denying themselves what’s real—the lives and loves of others. Denying themselves Truth just a bit longer, even as the tiniest interaction is too much for them to handle, like lifting a leaf that seems to be tethered to the planet’s core. (Pg. 126) That’s what CS Lewis taught me: to love Truth, or at least to pursue it. He didn’t mean to, but he illustrated the perfect religion: the religion of humanity, no matter the sexuality. Television characters and people who rally behind them prove that it’s something else: the last refuge for savagery in a dying year.
Treatise on the Gods
The Best of CS Lewis