Thursday, July 16, 2015

True or False: The C.S. Lewis Quote

      
       Lorenzo Snow said "As man is, God once was. As God is, man may become."1 That sums up what we Mormons call “eternal progression.” We believe man has the potential to become like God, and that somehow all His faithful children can ascend to a similar glory. When we teach this doctrine, we often use the words of C.S. Lewis to back it up. Based on a couple comments the author made, we deduce that Lewis believed in apotheosis: man’s ascension to divine status. Lewis was a devout Christian, after all, and having him on our side is a big confidence boost. But did Lewis really believe in apotheosis the same way we do? Are his words used correctly or are they taken out of context? Looks like it’s time to play… 

Today's Question: 
Did C. S. Lewis teach, as Latter-day Saints do, that faithful mortals could eventually become gods?





What do you think? 







TRUE
OR

      FALSE?

Answer...



      FALSE!
       C.S. Lewis's book The Weight of Glory contains a paragraph that is usually quoted in LDS meetings like this:


       "It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship… There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit.”

       I remember when I first heard this quote in church. I thought, "Wow. The guy who wrote Narnia agrees with Mormon doctrine. The Church is true!" And can you blame me? The way this is quoted it sure sounds like C. S. Lewis is preaching the deification of man. But the quote is almost always edited from the original. When you fill in the ellipses, the full meaning of the quote is revealed - a meaning different than the one we attribute to it. Here's the original, with the omitted words in bold:

       “It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations - these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit - immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.2 

       As you can see, Lewis says man can either become just like God or he can become just like Satan. But we don't believe every man can become just as nightmarish as Satan is. We believe in three degrees of glory, with varying degrees of eternal "splendor" and "horror," and only sons of perdition can become the kinds of devils Lewis describes. But if you leave that part of the quote in, you have to concede that Lewis isn't saying we can literally become gods. He's just using vivid language to contrast heavenly beings with hellish ones. (You could argue that telestial souls could indeed appear nightmarish, especially when compared to the glory of celestial souls, but even then we would still be talking about human souls, God's children - exalted vs. unexalted - nothing more.) But then if you concede that point, you can no longer use the quote to teach about eternal progression. So everyone is more comfortable editing the quote, and what's left looks like it would fit perfectly alongside Lorenzo Snow's famous couplet.

       You'll also notice, even in the edited quote, Lewis is talking about gods with a little g. This concept is found originally in Psalms 82:6, which says, "I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High." Christ also referenced this scripture in John 10:34. Christians like Lewis see this scripture in a more metaphorical light than Latter-day Saints do. Lewis (and others like him) believed men are gods only insofar as they are children of the most High. We are the children of God, and according to the Christian tradition we will always be in that station. So in a sense, we are gods, but only in a sense.

       There's another quote, this one from Mere Christianity, that Mormons use to promote the idea of apotheosis. But this one is also usually edited, and when you see the quote in its entirety it becomes abundantly clear that Lewis does not believe in the deification of man. Here's the quote in its entirety:

       "The command Be ye Perfect is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He said (in the Bible) that we were 'gods' and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him—for we can prevent Him, if we choose—He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a God or goddess, dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness."3

       It's a powerful quote (as Lewis's quotes are wont to be), but notice the caveat: "He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a God or goddess...though, of course, on a smaller scale." Clearly, Lewis didn't fully understand man's potential to become like God, and that was not the idea he was trying to promote. What he said was powerful and vivid, but it was not meant to be taken quite so far as we would like. Lewis talked about man becoming god-like, not literal gods. He believed we could become perfected beings, but that we would always be only a small reflection of what God is.

       This is not to say that the idea of eternal progression is wrong or that the edited quotes do not teach true doctrine. Nor does it mean that Lewis's ideas never align with our beliefs. But we shouldn't put words in C.S. Lewis's mouth that he didn't intend to say. After all, if you omit a few words here and there you can make any quote sound quite different from what was originally intended. So the moment you try to use these quotes to imply that Lewis believed in the deification of man, you are being dishonest. Lewis may agree with the doctrine now, but there is nothing in these quotes, or any of his writings that I know of, to indicate that he believed it in mortality.

        C.S. Lewis was a great writer. He believed strongly in the immortality of man and his words can help us visualize our great potential. Although he didn't fully realize the great potential we all have as children of God, he was definitely on the right track. God will make us glorious, and we can all become exactly as he is. Somebody will have to let Lewis know about it when the time comes. But you know what? I don't think he'll be too surprised. 

Notes:
1. "Becoming Like God." Gospel Essays. Accessed July 17, 2015. 
2. Lewis, C. S., and C. S. Lewis. The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses. New York, New York: Macmillan, 1949.
 3. Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity: A Revised and Amplified Edition, with a New Introduction, of the Three Books, Broadcast Talks, Christian Behaviour, and Beyond Personality. San Francisco, California: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001.
Picture Credits:
1. Josh N, Flickr.com
2. "Statue of C. S. Lewis looking into a wardrobe. Entitled The Searcher by Ross Wilson." Genvessel, commons.wikimedia.org

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