BOOKS: "Surprised by Joy" by C.S. Lewis

This book is billed as the story of how Lewis’s journey from atheism to christianity, is it not? i finished about 90% of it without the author even broaching the subject of his conversion.

I learned about what his parents were like and their religious affiliations, his childhood fascination with Wagner’s operas, his biases against England and the English as a young Protestant Irishman, the landscape around Belfast and the peculiar customs of English boarding schools in the early 20th century. I suppose some of that has some marginal interest, but it’s not what motivated me to pick up the book.

Has anyone had the same experience, or did I approach the book with distorted expectations?

I think perhaps you did. All of the topics you mentioned were influential in his conversion. They formed the basis for all his original beliefs and prejudices and expections regarding Christianity and theism in general. They are elemental in understanding Lewis and his faith search. The details might not be scintillating…but Lewis saw them as crucial.

It is an autobiography.

If you are looking for heavier Christian Apologetics works, I’d suggest “Mere Christianity” and “Miracles”.

a spiritual one, yes.

If you are looking for heavier Christian Apologetics works, I’d suggest “Mere Christianity” and “Miracles”.

it’s not that I’m looking for a different sort of Lewis book – I was just wondering if anyone else thought it strange he didn’t get to the heart of the matter until the very end of the book (actually I all but finished the book then put it aside for awhile; unfortunately i didn’t have a chance to resume reading it before it was due back at the library. Perhaps when I do finish the last chapter or so it will be so marvellous that it will redeem the ponderous “prelude” that was nearly the entire book).

I have read “Mere Christianity”, ages ago.

Reading “Surprised by Joy” is, to me, rather like reading “Story of a Soul.” There’s lots of references in SoaS that seems unnecessary and even childish. And yet, within Therese’s simple telling of her life are jewels of wisdom and insights into her “Little Way” that we only pick up on because we know who she became and what she means to the life of the Church. Much the same is true of Lewis. All the minor details of his history only matter when we consider who he became and what he contributed (and still contributes) to the Christian faith. At least, that’s how I see it.

My advice, read his entire body of work :smiley:

I would if there weren’t so much Chesterton to read!

Now that’s a real project to start, isn’t it? :nerd: I’ve only scratched the surface of GKC.

I first started reading Lewis when I was attending an Assemblies of God Bible college. He was quite popular in the AoG–funny considering he was a dyed-in-the-wool Anglican. :wink: I have to say his writings helped lead me out of the AoG and back into the Episcopal Church, and from there I later became a Catholic.

Anyway, I read everything by Lewis (except his strictly scholarly works in his field of study), bought every book I could get my hands on, devoured every word like it was pure Gospel never knowing that GKC had proceeded him and that he had based much of his own thought on GKC without giving him any of the credit. That sort of took the wind out of my Lewis sails when I realized that.

Still, Lewis is good, but only to a certain point, isn’t he? His rejection of Catholicism limits his understanding and colors his writing in ways that Catholics ought to be aware of, don’t you think?

He is good and in some ways probably more accessible to younger people. His fiction is more compelling, probably, than GKC’s. But I’m at a stage in my life where I’ve all but given up fiction and prefer pure ideas.

Also, I wasn’t aware of this when I first read a lot of Lewis in my late teens but as you say, his views on some theological points are pretty individualistic and may be incompatible with a Catholic point of view. Still on the whole he’s done little harm and done a whole lot of good with his apologetic work (as in your case, for example!). And I’ll always have fond memories of Narnia.

I find GKC’s fiction a bit hard to warm to, as well. I still haven’t been able to get through “The Napoleon of Nottinghill”, for example. And I seem to be at the opposite stage in my life in my reading. I read so much “pure idea” (as you so nicely put it) books in my youth that I enjoy fiction much more, except for the writings of the Saints and the devotional works of people like Ronald Knox.

Also, I wasn’t aware of this when I first read a lot of Lewis in my late teens but as you say, his views on some theological points are pretty individualistic and may be incompatible with a Catholic point of view. Still on the whole he’s done little harm and done a whole lot of good with his apologetic work (as in your case, for example!). And I’ll always have fond memories of Narnia.

No doubt about it, Lewis’ writings have done and continue to do a great work for God. I love the Narnia stories, too. And as you say, I should appreciate Lewis’ contributions more than most, and believe me I do. Still, he needs to be read with the understanding that he only got so far and could go no further because of his own personal prejudices learned as a child. I recommend Joseph Pearce’s biography for that side of his story.

I’ve often wondered if Lewis would have made the leap to Rome if he were alive today and could see the turning away from traditional Christian values that Anglicanism has taken in his own country and the world, which he so staunchly upheld in his life time. His autobiography, “Surprised by Joy” might have had a very different theme and outcome.

Anything’s possible. Or he might have just left mainstream anglicanism and joined a more conservative splinter group.

I know he was unhappy about the potential for female priests, which was not a done deal during his lifetime (if I’m not mistaken).

That’s certainly a real possibility. I believe it would have made him immensely sad, though. He clung to his idea of “mere Christianity” with such fervor, I think, because he couldn’t believe his own denomination could devolve so far from its own teachings and traditions.

I know he was unhappy about the potential for female priests, which was not a done deal during his lifetime (if I’m not mistaken).

It may have been a mercy he didn’t see that happen in his life time, I don’t know. I know he opposed the idea, but more on grounds of tradition and his ideas about the place of male and female within the framework of creation than any scriptural/theological apologetics. At least, that’s my own take on his position.

Well … if he wanted to endorse tradition whole-heartedly then nothing short of union with Rome would do (as you originally speculated). After all that’s the earliest of Anglican traditions. But many Anglicans don’t see it that way, apparently.

Many Anglicans simply cannot bear the thought of reunion with Rome, for one reason or another. For Lewis it was the Church’s claim to infallibility, papal infallibility in particular. That puzzles me, though. How did he think Christianity got as far as it did without splitting over doctrine without it? I think he simply didn’t want to investigate the issue when he could happily embrace Christ as an Anglican, believing he had all he needed to live in a state of grace. I suppose a good many Anglicans think along the same lines.

I’m going to check out the Pearse book. Based on the comments on Amazon, it seems to have rubbed a few Anglicans the wrong way.

Yes. I heard him speak at a G. K. Chesterton conference. His books and talks often do that. He told about a talk he gave at a secular college about the meaning behind Lord of the Rings. He said when they realized he was giving a talk about Tolkien’s writings as a Catholic the whole campus sci-fi club walked out on him–all ten of them, something he took in good humor. People don’t often like to hear the truth, as Lewis himself knew. Especially when it comes to a hero of theirs who they want to see in only one possible light, yes?

I have a secular friend who was unpleasantly surprised to discover that I have a framed picture of the Pope in my apartment. Just seeing his reaction made my day and convinced me immediately of the rightness of displaying this picture because I know he thinks of himself as a tolerant, “enlightened” person. I’m sure a framed photo of the Dalai Lama would barely evoke any reaction at all.

So I imagine that’s probably a similar feeling to how Mr. Pearse felt when they walked out on him.

Ironically enough, this friend of mine is German, as is the Pope.

That incident puts me in mind of an interesting part of Lewis’ “That Hideous Strength” in which a man is led to trample on a crucifix in order to join the “inner circle” of men relying on demonic powers to get them what they want. The man being tempted has no religion so he asks why he needs to do such a thing when it supposedly means nothing. Interesting question, isn’t it? The same could be asked of your non-believing friend. Why the strong reaction if it means nothing?

It is the symbols of Catholicism that most bother people because it is the only faith that claims the fullness of truth subsists within it. And something in the hearts of those brought up in the West cannot fail but be shocked by those symbols even if they claim Christ without the Church, because the Holy Spirit is prompting them, whether they know it or not. It’s why some people who claim to be strict rationalists hate the Church with irrational fury. Lewis was enough of a traditional Christian to understand that.

It troubles me to let this old thread stand with so little expression of regard and praise for this wonderful book and its author, one of the greatest 20th century evangelists.
OK, Lewis is not a Catholic convert, and this is “only” his description of his loss and then regaining of his Anglican faith. But it is a powerful testament to the many Catholic friends and authors who encouraged and guided him in his recovery, and as well a celebration of the Joy to which Jesus alluded in his words “These things I have spoken to you, that my Joy may remain in you, and that your Joy may be full.” Jn 15:11
At page 16 Lewis begins a description of three powerful childhood episodes, and then states at page 17 “The reader who finds these three episodes of no interest need read this book no fruther, for in a sense the central story of my life is about nothing else…the quality common to the three experiences is that of an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction. I call it Joy which…must be sharply distinquished both from happiness and pleasure.” Lewis is speaking of Divine Joy, and
virtually throughout the 238 pages he refers to episode after episode when he and others sense Jesus’ call to the Divine Joy of Love, Hope, Faith, Peace, Beauty, and Truth.
In his earlier book, the allegory The Pilgrim’s Regress, Lewis said he was describing not a directly autobiographical process, but rather a description of the natural road to Christianity, feeling, hearing, and eventually following God’s call to the Righteousness, Peace, and Joy of His Eternal Kingdom. These are both wonderful books, admittedly written from a British perspective of the past century. I strongly recommend both, and caution readers against, as Lewis warns on p207 of Surprised, “chronological snobbery.”

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