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On Religion

December 2, 2013

C.S. Lewis: As popular as ever after 50 years

Even though it has been 50 years since his death, the faithful at Headington Parish Church in Oxford, England, are constantly reminded of the loyal, but rather quiet, parishioner who always occupied the same short pew hidden by a sanctuary pillar.

Going to church was never easy for C.S. Lewis, even before he became one of the world's most famous Christian writers, noted the Rev. Angela Tilby, in a recent service in memory of the Oxford don's death on Nov. 22, 1963 -- the same day as the death of British author Aldous Huxley and, of course, President John F. Kennedy.

Lewis considered church organ music far too grand and thought the words of most popular hymns were "a literary disgrace," said Tilby. Illogical sermons irritated him no end and he was highly critical of liberal trends in theology and biblical scholarship. As a former atheist, Lewis believed that far too many people in the modern world were slipping into an "easy," "fashionable" agnosticism.

In particular, Lewis was "aware of the way belief in an afterlife had come to be ridiculed by critics of Christianity as 'pie in the sky when you die' -- an imaginary compensation for those who had a raw deal in this life," she said, in a service broadcast on BBC Radio. "Lewis' response was to argue that hope for a better world could never deliver unless it was grounded in something more than the here and now."

Lewis lived to see his popular fiction -- especially "The Screwtape Letters" and "The Chronicles of Narnia" -- become bestsellers in England, America and around the world. Meanwhile, most of his Oxford University colleagues rolled their eyes at what they considered the merely popular Christian apologetics of his BBC commentaries and books such as "Miracles," "The Problem of Pain" and "Mere Christianity."

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