The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses

weight of gloryThe Weight of Glory and Other Addresses by C.S. Lewis, 5/5

I half-expected C.S. Lewis’ intellectual style to be unsuited to the short-speech format, but was only slightly surprised to find that he is as brilliant a writer of sermons as a writer of books.  Of the nine essays in this collection, I found “The Weight of Glory” to be the most challenging and “Is Theology Poetry?” the most encouraging, both addressing, to some extent, struggles I am currently experiencing.

My deepening distaste for humanity in general and aversion to interaction with humanity in particular made some parts of “The Weight of Glory” difficult to read and almost impossible to believe (though I have fewer reasons to doubt Lewis’ assertions than to trust them).

It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour.  The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken.  It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you say [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 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 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, civilisations – 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 splendours (18).”

Luckily, Lewis can comfort as well as he convicts and I found the following excerpt (greatly weakened by the lack of supporting context) to be a welcome antidote to the noxious mélange of malaise and meaninglessness to which I have been lately putting up an admittedly feeble resistance:

If, on the other hand, I swallow the scientific cosmology as a whole, then not only can I not fit in Christianity, but I cannot even fit in science.  If minds are wholly dependent on brains, and brains on biochemistry, and biochemistry (in the long run) on the meaningless flux of the atoms, I cannot understand how the thought of those minds should have any more significance than the sound of the wind in the trees.  And this is to me the final test.  This is how I distinguish dreaming and waking.  When I am awake I can, in some degree, account for and study my dream.  The dragon that pursued me last night can be fitted into my waking world.  I know that there are such things as dreams; I know that I had eaten an indigestible dinner; I know that a man of my reading might be expected to dream of dragons.  But while in the nightmare I could not have fitted in my waking experience.  The waking world is judged more real because it can thus contain the dreaming world; the dreaming world is judged less real because it cannot contain the waking one.  For the same reason I am certain that in passing from the scientific points of view to the theological, I have passed from dream to waking.  Christian theology can fit in science, art, morality, and the sub-Christian religions.  The scientific point of view cannot fit in any of these things, not even science itself.  I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else (91).”

[Why I read it: it was given me as a birthday present and I am always eager to read anything nonfiction by C.S. Lewis.]

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