C.S. Lewis on Postmodernism - page 2

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From the Spring 2002 issue of Knowing & Doing:  

C.S. Lewis on Postmodernism?

by Arthur W. Lindsley, Ph.D.
Senior Fellow, C.S. Lewis Institute

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  2. Your perspective does affect what you see. He would argue that what you see depends a lot on where you stand and the kind of person you are. In an essay titled “Meditation on a Toolshed,” he shares the experience of entering a tool shed and observing a shaft of sunlight coming through a hole in the roof. He could see the gradually widening beam of light with specks of dust floating downward. He calls that initial view “looking at” the beam. However, there is another perspective that involves “looking along” the beam. In order to do that, you would need to go to the crack and look outside, seeing the trees, clouds, and sun 90-oddmillion miles away. “Looking at” or analyzing has become a preferred means of knowing which can be valid as far as it goes, but there is much more to life. In fact, sometimes it is impossible to do both at the same time. For instance, you cannot both be fully engaged in a romantic relationship and analyze it at the same time. The analysis involves a distancing from the intimate engagement. In any case, your perspective determines what you see, and one perspective does not necessarily exhaust the different ways of viewing something.
  3. Our perspective affects the way we view history. In The Discarded Image, Lewis discusses the medieval world-view. In his conclusion, he maintains that it is splendid and coherent. The only problem is that it is not true. Historical models may help us to get at what reality is, but they don’t exhaustively describe it. Lewis says:

No model is a catalogue of ultimate realities, and none is mere fantasy. …each reflects the prevalent psychology of an age almost as much as it reflects the state of that age’s knowledge. It is not impossible that our own model will die a violent death…a good cross-examiner can do wonders. He will not elicit falsehoods from an honest witness. But in relation to the total truth in the witness’s mind, the structure of examination is like a stencil. It determines how much of the total truth will appear and what pattern it will suggest.

  In his Cambridge inaugural address, Lewis argued that the Renaissance didn’t happen, or if it did happen, it didn’t happen in England. Other categories were more helpful in getting at the historical shifts that happened. (This may be true with respect to the term postmodernism as well.) Lewis said:

All lines of demarcation between what we call periods should be subject to constant revision…. Unlike dates, periods are not facts.… Change is never complete and change never ceases. Nothing is ever quite new....All divisions will falsify material to some extent; the best one can do is to choose those which will falsify it least.

  So, the investigation of history is profoundly affected by the perspective of the historian, as has been rightly pointed out by historians of African-American studies and feminism.
  4. My ideas of God and reality sometimes need to be smashed so that I can gain a better view of reality. Often, Your God is Too Small, as J.B. Phillips maintained in his book by that title. Lewis says, “My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great Iconoclast” (idol-smasher).
  In fact, Lewis maintains that “all reality is Iconoclastic.” We sometimes need to smash our limiting concepts of things so we can think outside our previous box. What I need is not my idea of my wife, but my wife. What I need is not my idea of my boys, but my boys. We need to stretch or smash inadequate or outmoded concepts continually.
   5. Culture can blind us to some aspects of who we are. Lewis maintained that we need old books to help correct this blindness. Often, we are guilty of “chronological snobbery,” rejecting something because it is old—ancient, medieval, “Victorian,” or “Modern.” We need to ask, Was it ever refuted? If so, by whom? Where, and how decisively? Lewis recommends that we read three old books for every new book, or if that is too much, one old one for every new one. We need to let the “breezes of the centuries” blow through our minds, cleansing us of the culturally induced distortions in our perspective.

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