Monday, April 20, 2020

CS Lewis on "Learning in wartime"

From CS Lewis’ sermon “Learning in wartime.”

To be ignorant and simple now -- not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground -- would be to throw down our weapons, and the betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defense but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered. The cool intellect must work not only against cool intellect on the other side, but against the muddy heathen mysticisms which deny intellect altogether.

Phil’s thought

I have read a lot of nonsense about how educated and intellectual people are to be rejected and despised by “ordinary” Christians. I can’t understand what the alternative is. We should be ignorant and stupid? Not everyone can be educated or intellectual. In the sermon excerpted above Lewis compares a Christian intellectual’s duty to study (a student at Cambridge in his case) to that of a “charwoman,” a cleaning lady. Neither is more holy, but both are required. For a cleaning lady to shirk her duty would be just as bad as for a Christian intellectual to fail to study.

Now due to the COVIS virus I find myself asking the question Lewis’ students asked (in a slightly altered form): How can I study or teach during a pandemic? Lewis’ students felt pressure to go to war. Shouldn’t I give up my intellectual pursuits to help care for the sick?

I have asked this question in another form in recent years: “Should I study and teach when there are 71 million migrants, many war refugees who need my help?” Shouldn’t I dedicate my life to helping to save them physically and spiritually? My trip to the Moria Migrant Detention Centre on the Greek island of Lesvos made this all the more real.

I also faced this question as a teacher and student during the “Bosnian” war, the war in former Yugoslavia. Should we not open our dormitory in Vienna to refugees? I argued, “No,” since we hardly had enough room for the students as it was and our duty was to teach and to learn. When we lived in Novi Sad during the Bosnian war (academic years 1992-94) I was asked to help people escape by taking them in my car out of the country and to house refugees in the apartment I had rented for a classroom. I was asked to help carry sacks of flour and other goods to help refugees. I refused to transport people or house refugees (or “draft dodgers”) because I reasoned that if I was caught then I would be expelled from the country (Serbia, at that time called Former Yugoslavia) with no hope of return. I was on a temporary residence visa. I did help with food distribution some, but I focused on preparing lessons and teaching.

One day a fellow in our church asked me angrily why I wasn’t helping with carrying the heavy sacks. I asked him whether he had read Acts 6. (He was a new Christian.) He said he hadn’t. I said, “Come and talk to me when you have.” Afterwards he came and said, “I see now!”

I am educated and an intellectual. I strive to use my gifts: intellect, education and opportunity to help equip others for ministry. I think ignorance and stupidity (I don’t mean lack of intelligence, I mean being unwilling to learn) are not an answer to atheistic liberalism. As Lewis says we must answer unChristian pretension and nonsense.

Even if there is a pandemic going on now, one day it will end. Even if the Black Death, the Bubonic Plague, which raged across Europe intermittently for four hundred years, eventually ended. Luther and others went on teaching and studying. As my mother would say, “This too shall pass!” However, intense and frightening our temporal situation seems, WWI or WWII or the COVID pandemic: “This too shall pass!” We cannot ignore our duty whether study or nursing, whether pure science or medicine.

As Lewis notes elsewhere in the sermon, we shall all die, sooner or later (though I would add unless the Lord returns first). Whether we die relatively quickly from a bullet or a disease or die at an advanced age from a long, protracted illness, we shall all die.

We must choose to live and die for the glory of God, either sooner or later, but either way we must use those gifts God has given us and follow his calling in our lives. Whether we defend the faithful against the acid attacks of nonbelievers on the Resurrection of Christ or whether we fight an invisible virus, we must do all the the glory of God and the good of humankind.

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