22 May 2017
The Great War
In many ways, our modern lives revolve around being entertained. When we wait or feel bored, we reach for our phones. When we spend time with others, it must be doing something that keeps our attention like a movie or show, and we still reach for our phones. There is this overarching sense to not think for ourselves, while letting the entertainment do the thinking for us.
So many of us, after a long day at work, want to just turn off our brains at home. Thinking is the last thing on the agenda, and while I think this desire to turn off and relax is not unwarranted (and sometimes greatly needed), I beg to differ and even argue that we need to think more, not less. If anything, we need to think more for ourselves, and develop a deeper understanding of our own beliefs in healthy debates. This book reminded me of that. Even while hanging out with friends at the pub or at home, good talks about life, thinking, creativity, issues, and world views will cause us to look deep within and discover what we truly believe.
We don't have to agree with our friends about everything. The friendship between C.S. Lewis and Owen Barfield is a prime example of "second friends", Lewis's own description meaning close friends who debate about all the deep, philosophical, theological matters. These two highly intellectual writers who share the love of the English language, words, story, and meaning went through "The Great War", a period of 8 years before Lewis's conversion to Christianity in 1931. Through letters and conversations, these two friends debated all things philosophical and theological, but they still encouraged one another in their pursuits of writing and discovering, because they thoroughly enjoyed each other's company.
In fact, Lewis refers to Barfield as his "unofficial teacher".
When we are friends with others who have different views, we stretch and learn from them. New insights and new relationships. Our world needs these sorts of friendships. When you see deep divides in beliefs, you will find that there are deep friendships there. With Lewis and Barfield, there were deep divides at the time of "The Great War" since Lewis was not yet a Christian, and Barfield was. It is interesting to see how Lewis shifts from some of his views when he does become a Christian, but some of his core views keep him the more traditionalist, while Barfield is interested in new thoughts and systems as culture changes.
In repeating this Coleridgean assertion of a necessary tension between opposites, Barfield shows himself in one sense more modern than Lewis, in another sense less so. If virtue as integrity be an existentialist conception, art as revelation smacks of those ancient and medieval authors who, as Barfield has pointed out, believed their ideas to have been inspired (breathed into them) from above. Lewis, though ethically and theologically more conservative, always viewed artistic creation in a post-romantic way as the product of "imagination", that is, of the individual psyche. Barfield has striven to restore the older meaning of inspiration, but has also tried to build a bridge between older and newer views of creativity by postulating an 'evolution of consciousness' through which modern man has become personally responsible for his ideas and images, whereas his ancestor had them "breathed into" him from the natural and spiritual environment. (pg. 97)
Just as a fun aside, I got this book at The Kilns (C.S. Lewis's home outside Oxford).