I have recently finished reading Milton’s Paradise Lost, and I am currently working my way through CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity. While I do not agree with all of the theology and biblical interpretation in Paradise Lost, I have nonetheless found it edifying, and so I am finding Mere Christianity.
The latter has also proved to be a comfort. It is very easy to feel bitter, depressed, and alone as a conservative in the internet age. The more we talk to distant friends online, the more we realise that they are just that: distant. Not in spirit, of course, for they are friends, but in physical propinquity. Scattered as conservatives are over the earth, their online gatherings remind them of the physical loneliness they feel in day-to-day interactions at work, in public places, and at church. Our natural tendency to focus on the negative deepens this feeling of isolation and the broader feeling of loss, frustration, and despair at the trajectory we perceive in western civilisation.
Hope is the virtue opposed to the vice of despair. Like all virtues, it is not principally a feeling but a choice with concomitant action, practised regularly so that the person becomes more consistent and skilful in its application. We must feed the virtues in the way that we feed our bodies. Loneliness, though real, is, in an absolute sense, a lie to the Christian. Though we may feel alone, we are not alone: God is with us.
To practice truthfulness and hope in the midst of the despair of loneliness we must expose the lie and remind ourselves of the truth. Reading can be a way of achieving this end. In Shadowlands, a play and then a film about CS Lewis, CS Lewis encounters a student who tells him that we read to know we are not alone. Reading Mere Christianity has had that effect on me.
We are individuals; it would be foolish to deny so plain a fact. Nevertheless, we must not make the mistake of thinking that we are so utterly unlike each other as to have nothing in common. If that were so, no one could appeal to objective reality and expect the other to understand and be persuaded by such an appeal. Seeing in CS Lewis thinking that is like my own, whether because I have been influenced by him or because we are both drawing on the same sources and mental processes, has given me a glimpse of that commonality.
This is particularly important for the Christian in his dealings with other men. Our prayer lives and meditation remind us that God understands us and that we should seek to understand God as far as, by His grace, such is possible. When it comes to humans, actually understanding each other, and believing that we do, are in some respects common and in others rare.
We could not carry out basic social functions without understanding: communication between human beings is necessary for a successful life. But a deeper fellowship, companionship, requires a kind of empathy, a kind of flexibility, charity, and commitment that goes beyond the reserve common across different cultures.
It is natural, and wise, that we should not expose our inmost thoughts with gay abandon to others. Danger lies in exposing vulnerabilities, whether to strangers or friends and family. However, if we are to grow as Christians in the unity of the Spirit we must strive to understand each other, including the value we place concepts and experiences that shape our doctrines and practices.
Christianity holds that there is one absolute Truth. That Truth is not relative. In reaching for it, Christians are engaged in a joint endeavour as companions, fellow workers, and family – God’s family. To help each other on this road requires honesty, wisdom, vigour, perseverance, and charity. It is my hope that this place, AATW, characterised by these at times in the past and in general will see such virtues, and the knowledge and experience they aim to provide, continue and grow in the future.