I have an acquaintance who has been marveling over the fact that she knows people who just can’t seem to get into C. S. Lewis’s classic Mere Christianity. That wouldn’t be so astonishing in itself. But these people complain that this masterpiece of winsomeness and clarity is wordy and confusing! What can be going on here?
I can empathize with this lady’s mystification at her friends’ inability to follow Lewis, but I have run into the phenomenon myself too many times to be surprised by it any more. Because some of the people whom I’ve encountered with this disability have been my students, I have had an opportunity to study the syndrome up close in some detail. It is not due to any lack of clarity or failure to be engaging on Lewis’s part. The real culprit for many postmodern readers is their inability to follow a linear argument–any linear argument. Often in reading Lewis, in other words, the ability to “get” the paragraph you are in depends on your having gotten the one that preceded it. Many people today have such short attention spans that they can only deal with soundbytes and get frustrated by anyone who expects them to put two and two together to arrive at four, however plainly he maps out the path for them. Or, worse, they have actually been taught to be suspicious of discursive Reason as something that has nothing to do with reality and which can only lead them astray.
Lewis’s linearity is a virtue, not a fault, and I stoutly maintain that we should not respond to the abysmal failure of our educational system to teach critical thinking (or even foster the conditions that make it possible) by dumbing down the Faith (or its most winsome representative). That would be to falsify and misrepresent it, and therefore to lose the very reason why we should be caring whether people can follow it in the first place. For some (if they have the patience for it, or an ornery professor who won’t let them out of it), Lewis can be a bridge out of the soundbyte solipsism they naturally inhabit into the larger world of rationality. For some; not all. That even Lewis cannot reach many is the greatest indictment of our so-called education system I can think of. Remember that Mere Christianity was written for uneducated British laymen of the 1940’s. They got it because they had not had their ability to think destroyed like “educated” modern Americans have.
It’s all in Lewis! It’s all in Lewis! What DO they teach them in those schools?
Check out Dr. Williams’ books at http://lanternhollow.wordpress.com/store/! Stars Through the Clouds: The Collected Poetry of Donald T. Williams (Lynchburg: Lantern Hollow Press, 2011), Reflections on Plato’s Cave: Essays in Evangelical Philosophy (Lantern Hollow, 2012), and Inklings of Reality: Essays toward a Christian Philosophy of Letters, 2nd ed. (Lantern Hollow, 2012). Each is $15.00 + shipping. And be on the lookout for his next book: Deeper Magic: The Theology behind the Writings of C. S. Lewis (Square Halo Books, due out Sept. 1, 2016).