Monday, June 9, 2008

The Great Divorce

Here is some background info and context for the first book in our LOST Book Club, C.S. Lewis' The Great Divorce. Even if you aren't in Chicago this summer, or just dont feel like discussing the book in a conducive group setting, follow along and enjoy the ride. I'll be posting the group's thoughts and analysis of the book after each time we meet.


The Great Divorce:

A Starter Kit and Informational Guide to CS Lewis’ Masterpiece (Quick overview from our friend’s at Wikipedia) (Very important information on the man who inspired Lewis to become a Christian and to write this book….MacDonald is also a character in the book itself)

C. S. Lewis wrote this book in 1945 in response to an author named Blake who wrote the Marriage of Heaven and Hell.

Lewis' book is a response to Blake’s erroneous philosophical belief that all roads lead to God. Blake (and many like him) believed that the “roads of life” are like radii of a circle. If we keep going down any path we will eventually end up in the middle. This argument eventually renders even the most egregious evil into good. Lewis is obviously arguing against this philosophy.

The intended audience for the book was (and is) anyone who has read Blake's book, but more importantly, anyone who has been influenced by the philosophical concepts endorsed in that book. This was as popular a train of thought in that day as it is now.

The dangers of a widely held erroneous view are potentially devastating to the Church and therefore to the world at-large. Lewis felt he needed to speak to that issue and bring some clarity. He lived in a time when this type of philosophy was growing in acceptance and popularity among the masses. The subjectivity of Blake’s views was a real danger to society at large. If any direction is as good as any other, then who can justifiably say anything is right or wrong in a society. The common good is maintained only by the common morality. Societies that become morally subjective are doomed to failure. Lewis puts it this way, "...some way of embracing both alternatives can always be found; that mere development of adjustment or refinement will somehow turn evil into good without our being called on for a final and total rejection of anything we should like to retain. This belief I take to be a disastrous error."

The contrasting themes within the book are powerful. For example, you see the people from hell as "phantoms" as opposed to those "bright solid people" from heaven. Lewis does a good job here with imagery. The way in which he describes things in Grey Town completely changes as soon as the bus nears and lands on the outskirts of Heaven. The colors are so strong they almost make the people disappear. They realize they are phantoms. The grass is sharp on their feet. The rain would go through them like bullets from a machine gun. They can't even pick flowers. The stems are far too strong for them.

Heaven is described as being immensely large, while hell is minutely small, smaller than a grain of sand. Lewis put it like this, "All Hell is smaller than one pebble of your earthly world: but it is smaller than one atom of this world, the Real World." We see first the physical contrast, but Lewis moves on to far more important ones: moral.

The phantoms have their reasons for coming to heaven which mostly involve getting their rights or stating their position. This is very well contrasted with the solid people attempting to explain the grace of God to them. The phantoms chose unwisely based on selfish motives (i.e. their own roads) yet still expected heaven to accept them anyway. They blame heaven for not accepting them. He shows the folly of Blake's philosophy in doing this. The silliness of such ideas is exposed in the actions and rationalizations and demands of the phantoms. Lewis powerfully contrasts the grace of God with the folly of man.

In each discussion between sets of characters we see examples of some of the most common things that keep men apart from God's love. His main character’s conversation with George Macdonald is great. They discuss the issues of the phantoms and the reality of heaven and hell. The question of choices comes up and Macdonald says this, "Milton was right," said my Teacher. "The choice of every lost soul can be expressed in the words, 'Better to reign in Hell than to serve in Heaven.' ..... There is always something they prefer to joy --- that is, to reality." Choices are important according to Lewis (and Macdonald). Again, this contrasts what Blake says in his book.

The idea that God honors the choices of individuals is central to the theme of this book. There is the quote that reads, "There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Thy will be done.' All that are in Hell chose it."

Lewis' strengths in this book are his use of illustrative fiction to put his point across. He catches the imagination and addresses many different kinds of struggles that we all deal with on a daily basis. The mirror is held up to our own lives through these characters, and the same empty arguments can be heard in our own thoughts from time to time.

Additional Information/Resources: (A comprehensive review of the book from an Atheist’s perspective…very interesting) (C.S. Lewis biography)