Friday, June 09, 2006

The Pilgrimage Of The Soul

I just finished reading what may be the weakest book C.S. Lewis ever wrote; ’The Pilgrim’s Regress. I debated about putting up a review here, because frankly it seems too many people today do not read to the necessary extent to understand context. What I mean is, people do not take use of the wealth of information and knowledge waiting to be claimed, but all too often simply accept the word of this leader or that advocate. Many people today have a college education, but never made use of the University, as it was meant to be gained. Even that basic distinction is lost on many folk.

As an example, most people today have never read John Bunyan’s signal masterpiece, The Pilgrim’s Progress, and so would not recognize that Lewis’ work is an adaption of that tale in his own words and written from a different perspective, but in the intention of adding depth to the original work. Thus, I fear that I must seem to speak a strange language, the message lost in dialect, but even so I find the purpose worth the effort, and bid my readers pardon any confusion which may result from peculiar concepts or assumed familiarity.

Despite some disappointment with the story, I still found Lewis’ work worth discussing and recommending, though with some qualifications which I shall note.

To begin, then, I must acquaint the reader with both works in brief. Both Bunyan and Lewis meant to write an apologetic for the Church, which means not to speak of regret for an offense, but to defend Christianity through allegorical exposition. In both stories, a character, representing a universal or 'everyman’ sort of person – Lewis simply calls his protagonist “John” – who must face the religious and moral choices common to our own lives. Both books attempt to commend the Christian road, and do so through selective comparison to other choices a person might make.

Allegory used to be a favored method in such works, as it focused on the moral issues the author desired to portray, without all the trappings of a real life to weigh down the discussion. Absolutes not only exist as a given, but are active in the resolution of the discussion. These days, however, it is far more preferred to create a character with some depth to him, to better connect the reader to the story. And that is the first problem I found with “Regress”; Lewis’ character is wafer-thin in development and worse, as he moves along in the story he never faces any sort of permanent consequence for his actions. When he begins an affair of prolonged fornication with the girl in the woods for example, he simply deserts the resulting children, and flees both his erstwhile lover and his brood. While I recognize that Lewis probably meant the affair to symbolically represent any number of human temporal desires and appetites – like greed, gluttony, sloth, and all the other faults besides lust – and so never meant to suggest a real child (there is no pregnancy mentioned, for example), it still seems to me a poor indication of the man’s character that even when he is represented as having gained some character and changed his very heart, he still shows no remorse for past wickedness, nor does he show any inclination to think of others before himself. From the start, he does what he will, and he leaves his home and his parents in a selfish search to find what he desires most. When he finally returns home much, much later and finds his parents have passed away, his disappointment is not based on his neglect of them, but only because they were not there to hear him speak of his adventures. Perhaps Lewis meant to subtly remind us that when a man becomes Christian, he only begins a new stage in a long development, but the story seems to claim that once converted he is a finished product, in which case the argument has a serious defect.

Having said that, the book does have its virtues, which is why I recommend it, even with that stated reservation. In my experience, people who know Christians but are not Christian themselves, tend to one of three arguments against the Church; they argue that there is no God, or that any faith may be as good as the Christian one, or that there is a God, but the evidence shows He is quite cruel and hateful, so the image of the Loving God is a con game. Lewis addresses all those arguments, and reasonably well, in the book. Also, the now-common tactic of blurring truths through sophistry and pseudo-intellectualism is also handled well. Also, Lewis makes a fascinating case to imply that the traditional Western Anglo-American political framework is structurally the most compatible with Christianity, which would explain why Communist and other totalitarian regimes have always attacked Christians and churches with great hatred.

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