CS Lewis: fiction and faith

With their emphasis on good and evil, the Narnia books were regarded as having drawn on Christian, a

Clive Staples “Jack” Lewis, born in Belfast in 1898, atheistic in youth, and a lifelong writer about faith from his conversion at 33, was easily the most popular advocate for Christianity in 20th-century Britain.

After gaining a triple First in Greek and Latin literature, Greats and English at Oxford, he taught at Magdalen College, as well as at Magdalene College, Cambridge, up until he died on 22 November 1963 (the same day as John F Kennedy was assassinated).

Lewis remains famous today for his children’s fiction The Chronicles of Narnia. With its emphasis on good and evil, the series of seven books (including The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian) is regarded as having drawn on Christian, as well as Greek and Roman, mythology. Set in a fantasy world of magic and talking animals, the series is credited, along with his close friend J R R Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books, with inspiring J K Rowling’s Harry Potter novels.

Lewis’s first Narnia book was published in 1950, but he was already nationally known for his wartime wireless broadcasts, in which he reminded a nation in darkness of what he saw as the light of God’s existence and expounded his interpretations of the Christian faith. He began his 15-minute slots on BBC Radio in 1941 as a relative unknown, but went on to become, in the next four years, “the most widely celebrated Christian apologist on both sides of the Atlantic”, according to Justin Phillips of Christianity Today.

His insights, delivered in his deep, grave voice, were published in three separate parts as The Case for Christianity (1943), Christian Behaviour (1943) and Beyond Personality (1945). Later, they were brought together as Mere Christianity, a title that captured the central notion behind Lewis’s work, one that continues to challenge his atheistic critics today: that a knowledge of the difference between right and wrong is indeed inherent in every person, but that such a moral compass is given to mankind by God only.

Lewis reached another audience through the 1985 television film Shadowlands, written by William Nicholson and later turned into a stage play and film for cinema. Its story is based on the relationship between the Christian don and his wife, the author Joy Gresham.

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 06 April 2009 issue of the New Statesman, God special issue

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The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times