Thursday, October 20, 2011

Christianity and Literature

I am reading a collection of essays by CS Lewis called Christian Reflections. Here's something interesting, from an essay called Christianity and Literature. Though I think the contrast between the unbeliever and the Christian approach is overdrawn, since many unbelievers use the so-defined "Christian approach" and many Christians fall into the "unbeliever" approach, I think it has something to say about the distinction between two kinds of subjectivity.
"A Christian and an unbelieving poet may both be equally original in the sense that they neglect the example of their poetic forebears and draw on resources peculiar to themselves, but with this difference. The unbeliever may take his own temperament and experience, just as they happen to stand, and consider them worth communicating simply because they are facts or, worse still, because they are his. To the Christian his own temperament and experience, as mere fact, and as merely his, are of no value or importance whatsoever: he will deal with them, if at all, only because they are the medium through which, or the position from which, something universally profitable appeared to him. We can imagine two men seated in different parts of a church or theatre. Both, when they come out, may tell us their experiences, and both may use the first person. But the one is interested in his seat only because it was his -- "I was most uncomfortable" he will say. "You would hardly believe what a draught comes in from the door in that corner. And the people! I had to speak pretty sharply to the woman in front of me.' The other will tell us what could be seen from his seat, choosing to describe this because this is what he knows, and because every seat must give the best view of something. 'Do you know' he will begin, 'the moulding on those pillars goes on round at the back. It looks, too, as if the design on the back were the older of the two.' Here we have the expressionist and the Christian attitudes towards the self of temperament. Thus St Augustine and Rousseau both write Confessions; but to the one his own temperament is a kind of absolute (au moins je suis autre), to the other it is a 'narrow house too narrow for Thee to enter --- oh make it wide. It is in ruins -- oh rebuild it.' "
I said that I thought the contrast could be pressed too far, but I don't think his purpose is to divide unbelievers and Christians and their work into two camps. Rather, I think he is looking out at the general field of literature as it became post-Christan, and commenting on a trend which can most definitely be contrasted with the earlier literary corpus.


  1. Thank you for posting this; makes me think about how I'm looking at what I can see from where I'm sitting - and how I'm describing it to others.

  2. Yes, it made me think along those lines, too!


I would love to hear your thoughts on this!