A post by a friend on Facebook yesterday reminded me of the wisdom of C. S. Lewis and how I have not delved into one of his books for quite some time. So, to correct such an inexcusable oversight, I decided to share this excerpt from his books, "Selected Literary Essay, De Descriptione Temporum" (#1) and "Letters: C.S. Lewis/Don Giovanni Calabria" (#2). Though both written in 1953, Lewis simply points out a biblical truth spoken of by both Jesus and the apostle John (Matthew 12:43-45 / I John 2:18-19). I hope one might see how it applies to our present day situation. Enjoy.
"Whereas all of history was for our [European] ancestors, divided into two periods, the pre-Christian and Christian, for us it falls into three -- the pre-Christian, Christian and what may reasonably be called the "post-Christian." This surely must make a momentous difference... [for] it appears to me that the second change is even more radical than the first. Christians and Pagans had much more in common than either has with post-Christian. The gap between those who worship different gods is not as wide as that between those who worship and those who do not... That Europe [and I will add America] can come out of Christianity "by the same door as she went in" and find herself back where she was, is not what happens. A post-Christian man is not a Pagan. You might as well think that a married woman recovers her virginity by divorce. The post-Christian is cut off from the Christian past, and therefore cut off doubly from the Pagan past..."
"What you (Don Giovanni) say about the present state of mankind is true; indeed, it is even worse than you say. For [present day people] not only neglect the law of Christ, but even the Law of Nature as known by the Pagans. For now they do not blush at adultery, treachery, perjury, theft, and other crimes which not only Christians, but the pagans and the barbarous, have themselves denounced. They err who say "the world is turning pagan again." I wish that it were! The truth is that we are falling into a much worse state. "Post-Christian man" is not the same as "pre-Christian man." He is as far removed as a virgin from a widow...
Regarding the moral condition of our times (since you bid me prattle on) I think this: Older people, as we both are, are always "praisers of times past." They always think the world is worse than it was in their younger days. Therefore we ought to take care lest we go wrong. But with that proviso, certainly I feel that very grave dangers hang over us. This results from the apostasy of the great part of Europe [and America, I might add] from the Christian faith.
Hence we are in a worse state than the one we were in before we received the Faith. For no one returns from Christianity to the same state they were in before Christianity, but a worse state; the difference between a pagan and an apostate is the difference between an unmarried woman and an adulterous. For faith perfects nature, but faith lost corrupts nature. Therefore many men of our time have lost not only the supernatural light, but also the natural light which pagans possessed.
But God, who is the God of mercies, even now has not altogether cast off the human race. In younger people, although we may see much cruelty and lust, yet at the same time do we not see very many sparks of virtues which perhaps our own generation lacked? How much courage, how much concern for the poor do we see! We must not despair. And (among us) a not inconsiderable number are now returning to the Faith."
I have seen what Lewis (and Jesus) are speaking about. The "pagan," be that person polytheistic or monotheistic, has some semblance of a code of virtues based on that belief in a divine being. It's a pre-Christian similarity to the Christian faith which makes the true pagan open to the teachings of Jesus. In fact, the pagan who is attracted to Christianity is generally drawn to it because he is moved by the hope he sees for redemptive change.
But the disillusioned post-Christian is not in that category. The post-Christian has turned against the Christian faith and frequently becomes hostile to it. This is a group which has as some of it's most avid adherents, those raised in the church (or those who simply tasted of the cultural aspects of Christianity, without ever truly embracing Christ) and found mere Christian moralism lacking or unloving. Such a person often refuses to even entertain the thought that Christianity can bring about positive change. Their nominal associations with the faith, as the old saying goes, gives them "an ax to grind." Some of the most anti-Christian people I've ever met are not unbelieving pagans, but those who "went out from us" (I John 2:19). They were people who were somehow connected to the Church and found it lacking. Yet as John goes on to point out: "They did not really belong to us, for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. Their going out showed that none of them belonged to us" (I John 2:19b).
Unlike the pagan who still has the hope of change, they have turned against any hope in redemptive change, and in losing it, feel the grace of Jesus is ineffective. And when one gives up on redemptive change, they resort to other methods to bring about change -- including the use of power -- which is often aimed at the church to demean or suppress it. (And yes, I am well-aware that earnest Christian people impatient for change, have also fallen prey to the use of power instead of grace). Which brings us to another insight of Lewis: "The descent to hell is easy, and those who begin by worshipping power soon worship evil." May that never be true of us!
Just some food for thought.
In the Service of Jesus, Pastor Jeff