Religion: Don v. Devil

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God's Unscrupulousness. With Screwtape's success, Lewis became a celebrity. A man who could talk theology without pulling a long face or being dull was just what a lot of people in war-beleaguered Britain wanted. The BBC put Lewis on the air and for three years his short, plain-spoken broadcasts on what Christians believe made him, for his listeners, almost as synonymous with religion as the Archbishop of Canterbury. The R.A.F. even chose him as a kind of Christian-at-large to visit air bases and discuss theology.

Lewis hated the work. Heavy theological argument with topflight minds is his greatest pleasure, but he is too much of an intellectual snob to enjoy answering not-very-bright questions. He doggedly stuck to this chore as part of his duty to Church and country, but he once wryly blamed his unpleasant war work on the "unscrupulousness of God." Said he: "I certainly never intended being a hot gospeler. If I had only known this when I became a Christian!"

Down the Garden Path. Outside his own Christian circle, Lewis is not particularly popular with his Oxford colleagues. Some resent his large student following. Others criticize his "cheap" performances on the BBC and sneer at him as a "popularizer." There are complaints about his rudeness (he is inclined to bellow "Nonsense !" in the heat of an argument when a conventionally polite 25-word circumlocution would be better form). But their most serious charge is that Lewis' theological pamphleteering is a kind of academic heresy.

On this score, one of Lewis' severest critics insists that his works of scholarship, The Allegory of Love (on Spenser), and A Preface to Paradise Lost, are "miles ahead" of any other literary criticism in England. But Lewis' Christianity, says his critic, has brought him more money than it ever brought Joan of Arc, and a lot more publicity than she enjoyed in her lifetime. In contrast to his tight scholarly writing (says this critic), Lewis' Christian propaganda is cheap sophism: having lured his reader onto the straight highway of logic, Lewis then inveigles him down the garden path of orthodox theology.

Perhaps some of those who would like Scholar Lewis to be quieter about his Christianity would be surprised to learn how quiet about it he really is. So rigidly private does he keep his private life that virtually none of his best friends have been invited even to tea at his twelve-room house in suburban Headington (as a Fellow of Magdalen, he has rooms in the college as well). Lewis sometimes refers vaguely to living with his "old mother," though his friends know that she has been dead since his childhood. One persistent rumor identifies the "mother" as a Mrs. Moore, mother of a friend killed in World War I, whom Lewis invited to keep house for him and who is pictured as an aged, bad-tempered old party. And there are said to be other dependents in the house, in addition to Mrs. Moore.

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