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The C.S. Lewis you never knew
C.S. Lewis has become a virtual Christian saint, but his life wasn't as tidy as his public image.
December 1st, 2013
06:00 AM ET

The C.S. Lewis you never knew

By John Blake, CNN

(CNN) - He looked like a “red-faced pork butcher in shabby tweeds,” lived secretly with a woman for years and was so turned on by S&M that he once asked people at a party whether he could spank them.

We’re talking, of course, about C.S. Lewis, the Christian icon and author of classics such as “Mere Christianity” and “The Chronicles of Narnia.”

It’s tempting to remember Lewis only as the self-assured defender of Christianity who never met an argument he couldn't demolish. His death 50 years ago, on November 22, 1963, was overshadowed by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He has since become a patron saint of American evangelicals.

But the actual man whom friends called “Jack” had a “horrible” personal life, thought he had failed as a defender of Christianity and spent so much time in pubs that his publishers initially struggled selling him to a religious audience, scholars say.

“American publishers worried about offending their more puritanical readers because it seemed impossible to get a dust jacket picture of Jack without a pint or a cigarette,” says Michael Tomko, a literature professor at Villanova University in Pennsylvania.

There are three other parts of Lewis’ life that clash with his image as well:

1. His religious books made him poor

No modern Christian author sells like Lewis. The cumulative sales of his Christian books for adults - not including the Christian allegory and children's fantasy "The Chronicles of Narnia" - now approach 10 million copies, according to HarperOne publishers. “Mere Christianity” sold more than 150,000 copies over the past year alone. Perhaps the only publishing parallel to Lewis' works would be “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, a mythology written by Lewis’ close friend and fellow Christian J.R.R. Tolkien.

But Lewis never got rich from his Christian classics, says Michael Maudlin, executive editor at HarperOne.

“His books left him poor,” Maudlin said. “He had all of this money coming in, but he didn’t take those royalties.”

Lewis vowed to donate all the money he made from his books on Christianity, Maudlin says. He got big tax bills for his Christian books but struggled to pay them because he had given the money away.

Lewis refused to renounce his vow even though his money worries persisted throughout his life, Maudlin says.

“He is a man whose number one anxiety in life was poverty,” Maudlin said. “Because his dad overspent, money was always a worry. He didn’t fix things in his home because he and his brother worried about poverty.”

Lewis’ financial worries stalked him until the end, says Alister McGrath, author of the acclaimed new book “C.S. Lewis: A Life.”

Lewis’ health began to fail near the end of his life, so he wanted to hire a private secretary to help tend to his affairs. His income, though, was so spotty that he told his potential secretary that he didn’t know whether he could pay him, McGrath writes.

Lewis was more worried about losing his teaching salary from the University of Cambridge than his book royalties, says McGrath, a professor at King's College London.

“Lewis was convinced that his books would cease to be popular and thus generate little in the way of income,” McGrath said.

2. He felt like a failure as a Christian communicator

"Brilliant" is one of the most common words used to describe Lewis. He seemed to have read everything, and he could easily write in several genres: children’s fantasy, science fiction, Christian apologetics and autobiography.

“He had an almost photographic memory,” Maudlin said. “He could recite the passage and page of a line from a book on medieval poetry.”

Lewis was not so adept in the ordinary world. He never learned to drive or type because he was too clumsy. And he was a shabby dresser who lived in a house that was falling apart.

He even began to doubt his ability to defend Christianity.

Lewis' breakthrough came as a Christian apologist, one who publicly defends and explains Christianity by invoking logic. He delivered a series of talks on Christianity for BBC radio during World War II that made him famous (you can hear some of those talks on YouTube). His fame crossed the Atlantic in 1947 when he made the cover of Time magazine.

But just as his fame peaked in the 1940s, Lewis began to doubt his persuasive powers, McGrath says.

Debating Christianity in public became “draining” for Lewis, McGrath says. At a 1945 lecture on Christian apologetics, according to McGrath, Lewis said, “Nothing is more dangerous to one’s own faith than the work of an apologist. No doctrine of that faith seems to me so spectral, so unreal as one that I have just successfully defended in a public debate.”

Lewis then lost a highly publicized debate to Elizabeth Anscombe, a young Catholic philosopher who pointed out inconsistencies in his reasoning. They clashed over passages in his book “Miracles,” which he later revised. Lewis’ confidence was shaken further when he realized that his argumentative powers had little effect on some of his closest friends and relatives, who remained hostile to Christianity, McGrath says.

Lewis thought that he had “failed as an apologist towards those who were closest to him,” McGrath writes. “How could Lewis maintain a profile as a public apologist with any integrity in the light of such private failures?”

When the BBC asked Lewis to participate in a discussion on the evidence of religious faith, he declined: “Like the old fangless snake in 'The Jungle Book,' I’ve largely lost my dialectical power.”

Some contend that even Lewis’ faith failed him.

He lost love not long after finding it late in his life: Joy Davidman was an American writer who befriended Lewis by letter and eventually became his wife. She died of cancer at 45 with Lewis at her bedside. Their love affair was depicted in the 1993 film “Shadowlands.”

Lewis had written about God and suffering in a book entitled “The Problem of Pain.” But when he wrote about losing his wife in “A Grief Observed,” he was a different man, says Ivan Strenski, a religious studies professor at the University of California, Riverside.

“The cocky self-confidence is totally destroyed,” Strenski said. “The confident, modern interpreter of Christianity is gone. He’s really a shattered Christian.”

3. He had a "horrible" personal life

When the University of St. Andrews in Scotland awarded Lewis an honorary degree in 1945, Lewis gloomily joked that he preferred getting a “case of Scotch whiskey.”

Lewis needed some escape at the time. His personal life was a wreck. The man who seemed like the embodiment of self-control and virtue in his books had a personal life complicated by dysfunction and deceit.

Lewis’ personal struggles began early. His beloved mother, Flora, died when he was 9; he never really got along with his father, Albert; and he was sent away to a miserable boarding school where a schoolmaster was literally declared insane.

“It was horrible," Maudlin said of Lewis’ personal life.

Then Lewis experienced another horror – trench warfare in World War I - but he rarely talked about the experience.  Nor did he talk much about the promise he made during the war to his fellow soldier and friend Paddy Moore.

Lewis assured Moore that he would take care of his mother if Paddy didn’t survive the war. Moore was killed, and Lewis fulfilled his vow after returning home. Lewis moved in with Paddy’s mother, Janie Moore, and helped raise her daughter, Maureen.

Lewis’ relationship with Janie Moore is still mystery. Some scholars say they became lovers; others say she was more like his mother. Lewis, though, hid the relationship from his father and his colleagues at Oxford University.

“There was an attraction between the two of them from the very beginning,” said Warren Rochelle, an English professor at the University of Mary Washington in Virginia.

“When he first met her, she was 45, almost the exact age when Lewis’ mother died, and it’s clear from correspondence that they found each other attractive and engaging,” Rochelle said.

Lewis had another complicated relationship at home with his brother Warren, or “Warnie," an alcoholic who moved in with Lewis and Janie Moore. Warnie couldn’t stand her.

As Janie Moore grew older, she lapsed into dementia. The demands of caring for an alcoholic brother and a disabled woman proved so difficult for Lewis that he was hospitalized for exhaustion at one point. Yet Lewis took care of Janie Moore and her daughter even as she presumably stopped being his lover, scholars say.

“She gave him stability, a family and a mother figure,” Rochelle said. “She gave him a lover for a while, but no one can prove it.”

Lewis’ sexual proclivities also clash with the images of the reserved Englishman who touted the virtues of abstinence before marriage in “Mere Christianity.”

Lewis displayed an interest in sadomasochism during his youth. He read the writings of the Marquis de Sade; once became drunk at a party and begged people to allow him to whip them; and signed three letters to friend Arthur Greeves with the closing “lover of the whip,” according to McGrath’s biography.

Lewis befriended Greeves during childhood, and the two remained close throughout his life. Greeves was gay, but that didn’t seem to bother Lewis.

“Lewis was aware of Greeves’ homosexuality and made it clear that this would not be a problem within their friendship,” McGrath said. “He also made it clear that he didn’t share Greeves’ orientation.”

Despite Lewis' personal hardships, those who've studied him say his kindness was as impressive as his intellect.

Lewis didn’t try to hide from a public that sought his counsel after he became famous. He made no attempt to conceal his phone number. He rose at daybreak to answer letters from people seeking spiritual advice.

He even made personal visits.  A priest once wrote Lewis that he didn’t know whether he believed in a loving God anymore. Lewis met the man and spent an afternoon talking to him about his problem, wrote A.N. Wilson, author of, “C.S. Lewis: A Biography.”

“The priest, who had expected the author of 'The Problem of Pain' to look pale and ethereal, was astonished by the red-faced pork butcher in shabby tweeds whom he actually encountered,” Wilson wrote.

Lewis is still surprising people 50 years later. His ability to reach people long after his death is astonishing, some say.

“It’s odd that someone has been so popular for so long,” Maudlin said. “Lewis’ books are still in front of the bookstore. We grew up with him, so we lose touch with how unusual that is.”

The Christian icon whose image we see in bookstores may first seem distant. He spoke and dressed like a prim Englishman from another time. But his life was messy, contradictory and tarnished by thwarted dreams.

Perhaps Lewis still speaks to us because we when we look closer at his life, he’s really not that unusual.

We see ourselves.

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Books • Christianity • United Kingdom

soundoff (1,513 Responses)
  1. Observer

    "It's hard to reason someone out of a position they didn't reason themselves into."
    –Phil Plait

    December 1, 2013 at 10:40 am |
  2. olepi

    You only believe something when you don't know. Do you believe it is raining outside? Or do you *know* whether it is raining? Poke your head outside, and you can believe anything you want, but it won't change the facts. Do you believe that grass is green? Why "believe" something in the first place?

    December 1, 2013 at 10:39 am |
  3. mjbrin

    http://www.sonic.net/mary/DejaLew-dir/rants/miracles.html
    the difference between his 1947 Miracles and 1960 rewrite

    December 1, 2013 at 10:25 am |
  4. Greg Thompson

    "Perhaps Lewis still speaks to us because we when we look closer at his life, he’s really not that unusual."
    God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary things.
    He uses the foolish things of the world to confound the wise.

    December 1, 2013 at 10:24 am |
    • sybaris

      Love it

      When you can't explain something you say your god moves in mysterious ways or that you can't know the mind of your god.
      In the next breath you'll ascribe all sorts of motives, character traits and achievements to it

      Religion and the worship of god(s) is a perverted filthy disease of the mind

      December 1, 2013 at 10:28 am |
      • Chris

        It's easy Premise 1. There is the God of the Bible -> Mystery is inherent in this premise. It must be.
        Permise 2. There is no God -> there is no mystery that will not be uncovered.

        You may disagree but you can't blame someone for taking the 1st premise.

        December 1, 2013 at 10:39 am |
      • Bill the Cat

        Worship of self is the real perverted disease, sybaris

        December 1, 2013 at 10:39 am |
      • Will

        …because religion at its worst is as condescending and judgmental as you. Thankfully, C.S. Lewis was neither.

        December 1, 2013 at 10:43 am |
        • bud in NC

          Au contraire Will. Lewis was absolutely condescending and judgemental. He accused anyone who disagreed wth him of having the sin of pride. He was pridefull and arrogant towards any opinion contrary to his.

          December 1, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
      • Gregg

        Friend; do not be lead by the Devil as you are; submit to the God who sacrificed his life for you......

        December 1, 2013 at 11:02 am |
        • George

          He's still around, right? And knew he'd be back? So how exactly did he "sacrifice" his life?

          December 1, 2013 at 11:15 am |
  5. Mike

    He is NOT the patron saint of evangelicals. Come on CNN, just because movies were made from his books and the popular culture wants to build him up does not make him a favorite for Christians. Christians look towards Christ and realize that we are all sinners.

    December 1, 2013 at 10:14 am |
    • dMac1131

      Excellent response Mike!

      December 1, 2013 at 10:30 am |
  6. David Smith

    This said nothing. The article literally said NOTHING......mostly speculations...which really isn't good reporting. Let's dig in your closet Mr. Blake and look at your private life.

    December 1, 2013 at 9:58 am |
    • Cpt. Obvious

      I wouldn't comment on an article that said nothing. It seemed to have lots of those little black squiggly lines that when you put them together turn into symbols we call "words." It seemed like there was something, even if it wasn't the best quality. I wonder if you could count the number of facts given in the article and thereby demonstrate to yourself that it wasn't all just speculation? Nah, not worth the trouble when we can just rashly generalize instead.

      December 1, 2013 at 10:03 am |
    • Charm Quark

      DS
      mostly speculation, same as the bible?

      December 1, 2013 at 10:08 am |
      • Mike

        I'll give you examples of where the bible is not "speculation". Who reported the uncovering of the stone after Jesus was raised from the dead? That would be Mary. Back then a women's word wasn't even worthy in the court of law. So if they were trying to persuade people then why wouldn't they rewrite this account with men? Because when they wrote down the events they did so in a truthful and accurate way. Name another book where they are trying to convince someone that their path is the right path and continually point out their faults. They would try to build themselves up, not show all their faults. Go read some things by R.C. Sproul if you really want to learn. Unfortunately most men are not drawn to the truth of the bible but rather live in their sins... that's the easier way out

        December 1, 2013 at 10:23 am |
        • igaftr

          Considering that most of what Jesus allegedly said was paraphrased from the Buddha, why don't you study the Buddha, since his words seem to be the source of Jesus' words. (over 400 years prior)

          December 1, 2013 at 10:27 am |
        • sybaris

          and yet there are different versions in the gospels and it was all written decades after the alleged events by unknown authors.

          Funny how christians will dismiss repeatable evidence of things that don't jive with their religion but lap up the gospels with all their errors and contradictions.

          Willful ignorance is not a virtue

          December 1, 2013 at 10:33 am |
        • Charm Quark

          Mike
          There is more plagiarism in the bible and speech writing for the main man than Ronal Reagan had.

          December 1, 2013 at 10:35 am |
        • Charm Quark

          Mike
          You see I made a mistake in one sentence, Ronald, can you imagine how many were made in that book of junk that has hundreds of different versions. Kind of begs the question which version is not BS.

          December 1, 2013 at 10:44 am |
        • Jeff

          Always consider the source. Consider who wrote this article, their focus and goal. Consider the readers. Finally, in consideration of all these things, consider Lewis and defending the defender. Bottom line, we are all sinners and have fallen short of the glory of God and, though made in his image, we struggle because we are all fallible, imperfect, dying beings in a fallen world. Your argument is perfectly fine but is falling on mostly, either deaf ears or ones tuned to a different drum. The best argument does not win people to Christ. The Holy Spirit leads all unto truth; without which, geniuses are blind. Conviction causes repentance, not perfection. Perfection is becoming Christ-like – disavowing the self and selfish pursuits for this life is but a blink. Relationship with Christ, God the Father, the Holy Spirit, all the heavenly saints and sinners that have come to Christ, these are eternal, important matters, beyond which this world is but a vapor. We are not home here; yet, our confidence in the eternal can lend itself to us, at times, and it is arguable that this is what Lewis drew on for strength, even amidst the travails of this one life. Buddha died and did not rise and did not argue that he was God in the flesh. Jesus claimed that to know him was to know the Father. He was, is, and always will be THE ONE.

          December 1, 2013 at 10:44 am |
        • Charm Quark

          Jeff
          And the messiah was coming back right soon. Jeff you have the delusion ingrained more than the usual nutter. Not that that is a bad thing in some circles.

          December 1, 2013 at 10:53 am |
        • George

          Jeff – "The best argument does not win people to Christ. The Holy Spirit leads all unto truth; without which, geniuses are blind."

          Funny, then, how many people the Holy Spirit chooses to ignore.

          December 1, 2013 at 11:18 am |
  7. Cpt. Obvious

    Lewis had only poor arguments though they were expressed eloquently. I am not surprised that he was a bit more human than he has been portrayed so far. Humans are flawed and have a tough time with the severity of life.

    December 1, 2013 at 9:33 am |
    • cross eyed mary

      L

      December 1, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
      • cross eyed mary

        Ol!

        December 1, 2013 at 3:19 pm |
  8. Anna

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZeedE8vH1FQ&w=640&h=360]

    December 1, 2013 at 9:28 am |
  9. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    There aren't enough people like C. S. Lewis was. There's no one to push against. Modern Christians only seem to retreat into their claim that God will reveal all, even so that you will know God as a fact, if you will only believe first.

    December 1, 2013 at 9:27 am |
    • Chris

      Ever heard of William Craig Lane, Peter Kreef, John Polkinghorn, Francis Collins etc. Clearly not.

      December 1, 2013 at 9:31 am |
      • Tom, Tom, the Other One

        I know Francis Colins, have met him on several occasions. John Polkinghorn is interesting because of his history. You didn't mention Alister McGrath, someone I've been reading recently. William Lane Craig views Chistianity as a sort of sport, I believe. Even he must know that his arguments aren't to be taken seriously except as exercises in bygone ontology and epistemology. Alvin Plantinga is similar. Do you have anyone fresh, compelling and sincere?

        December 1, 2013 at 9:41 am |
        • adventuresinelfland

          What a silly and flippant assessment.

          December 1, 2013 at 9:52 am |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          Fantastically spot-on assessment, TTtOO

          December 1, 2013 at 9:57 am |
        • Chris

          "William Lane Craig views Chistianity as a sort of sport, I believe. Even he must know that his arguments aren't to be taken seriously..." except by all those, like Hitchens, who he has destroyed in debates (please don't even try to say he didn't).

          this is the best line for you "An atheist can't find God just like a thief can't find a policeman".

          December 1, 2013 at 10:31 am |
        • Chris

          Oh and none of those men "retreated into their claim that God will reveal all, even so that you will know God as a fact, if you will only believe first." (whatever that means) as per your original post..

          December 1, 2013 at 10:35 am |
        • Tom, Tom, the Other One

          What it means, Chris, is that all those men have failed to reveal God as a fact. You cannot do it either (yes that is a challenge).

          December 1, 2013 at 10:40 am |
        • Chris

          And they are different then C.S. Lewis....how? You don't make sense.

          December 1, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
        • Tom, Tom, the Other One

          He did fail as well. As people of the Standard God always have done.

          December 1, 2013 at 12:19 pm |
        • Chris

          I give up.

          December 1, 2013 at 12:48 pm |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          Chris, could you please restate your main "point" in one simple sentence. I would like to evaluate it as best I am able.

          Thank you.

          December 1, 2013 at 12:52 pm |
        • Chris

          Tom said...Modern Christians are not like C.S. Lewis because.."Modern Christians only seem to retreat into their claim that God will reveal all, even so that you will know God as a fact, if you will only believe first."

          When asked what that meant he said: "those men (modern christians) have failed to reveal God as a fact."

          Then I asked: "How is that different from C.S.Lewis?"

          Answer? : "He did fail as well. As people of the Standard God always have done."

          Nonsensical argument that goes no where. "Modern Christians" are relevant today.

          December 1, 2013 at 2:01 pm |
      • Tom, Tom, the Other One

        You came up with a few exceptions to what I referred to as modern Christians, Chris. I gave them some thought. I don't disagree that they are exceptional. I would be pleased if any one of them showed up here.

        Are you a Christian by some chance, Chris? Are you prepared to step up to the plate and say that there is something more to Christianity than what believers insist can only be found through faith – which is actually only unfounded belief?

        December 1, 2013 at 2:09 pm |
  10. mjbrin

    To everyone feeling the necessity to defend Lewis, please start with Wikipedia and read what Lewis' friends and family said about him. He was obviously a complex man and went through many, many life changes. He led a fascinating life. This author has a right to his opinion and I don't see any damnation of the character of Lewis here. Just some musings as to the man's life choices.

    December 1, 2013 at 9:24 am |
  11. Colin

    There are some pretty fundamental objections to Christianity that I find vvery hard to get around. I was brought up a Christian, but the more I asked and honestly probed my own faith, the more difficult it came to believe. This got to the point where I was lying to myself or burying my head in the sand to keep my faith. I soon realized I didn't TRULY believe, I just desperately WANTED to believe.

    1. At its most fundamental level, Christianity requires a belief that an all-knowing, all-powerful, immortal being created the entire Universe and its billions of galaxies 13,700,000,000 years ago (the age of the current iteration of the Universe) sat back and waited 10,000,000,000 years for the Earth to form, then waited another 3,700,000,000 years for h.o.mo sapiens to gradually evolve from ho.mo erectus, then, at some point gave them eternal life and, about 150,000 years later, sent its son to Earth to talk about sheep and goats in the Middle East.

    While here, this divine visitor exhibits no knowledge of ANYTHING outside of the Iron Age Middle East, including disease and germs, basic health, the other continents, 99% of the human race, and the aforementioned galaxies.

    Either that, or it all started 6,000 years ago with one man, one woman and a talking snake. Either way “oh come on” just doesn’t quite capture it.

    2. This ‘all loving’ god spends his time running the Universe and observing the approximately 7 billion human beings on planet Earth 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He even reads their minds (or “hears their prayers”, if you see any difference) using some kind of magic telepathic powers. He also keeps his telepathic eye on them when they are not praying, so as to know if they think bad thoughts (such as lusting after their hot neighbor) so he knows whether to reward or punish them after they die.

    3. Having withheld any evidence of his existence, this god will then punish those who doubt him with an eternity burning in hell. I don’t have to kill, I don’t have to steal, I don’t even have to litter. All I have to do is harbor an honest, reasonable and rational disbelief in the Christian god and he will inflict a grotesque, eternal punishment on me a billion times worse than the death penalty – and he loves me.

    4. The above beliefs are based on nothing more than a collection of Bronze Age and Greco-Roman Middle Eastern mythology, much of it discredited, that was cobbled together into a book called the “Bible” by people we know virtually nothing about, before the Dark Ages.

    5. The stories of Christianity are not even original. They are borrowed directly from earlier mythology from the Middle East. Genesis and Exodus, for example, are clearly based on earlier Babylonian myths such as The Epic of Gilgamesh, and the Jesus story itself is straight from the stories about Apollonius of Tyana, Horus and Dionysus (including virgin birth, the three wise men, the star in the East, birth at the Winter solstice, a baptism by another prophet, turning water into wine, crucifixion and rising from the dead).

    6. The Bible is also literally infested with contradictions, outdated morality, and open support for the most barbarous acts of cruelty. All of this is due to when and where it was written, the morality of the times and the motives of its authors and compilers. While this may be exculpatory from a literary point of view, it also screams out the fact that it is a pure product of man, bereft of any divine inspiration.

    7. A rejection of the supernatural elements of Christianity does not require a rejection of its morality. Most atheists and secular humanists share a large amount of the morality taught today by mainstream Christianity. To the extent we reject Christian morality, it is where it is outdated or mean spirited – such as in the way it seeks to curtail freedoms or oppose the rights of $exual minorities. In most other respects, our basic moral outlook is indistinguishable from that of the liberal Christian – we just don’t need the mother of all carrots and sticks hanging over our head in order to act in a manner that we consider moral.

    Falsely linking morality to a belief in the supernatural is a time-tested “three card trick” religion uses to stop its adherents from asking the hard questions. So is telling them it is “wrong to doubt.” This is probably why there is not one passage in the Bible in support of intelligence and healthy skepticism, but literally hundreds in support of blind acceptance and blatant gullibility.

    8. We have no idea of who wrote the four Gospels, how credible or trustworthy they were, what ulterior motives they had (other than to promote their religion) or what they based their views on. We know that the traditional story of it being Matthew, Mark, Luke and John is almost certainly wrong. For example, the Gospel of Matthew includes a scene in which Jesus meets Matthew, recounted entirely in the third person!! Nevertheless, we are called upon to accept the most extraordinary claims by these unknown people, who wrote between 35 to 65 years after Christ died and do not even claim to have been witnesses. It is like taking the word of an unknown Branch Davidian about what happened to David Koresh at Waco – who wrote 35 years after the fact and wasn’t there.

    9. When backed into a corner, Christianity admits it requires a “leap of faith” to believe it. However, once one accepts that pure faith is a legitimate reason to believe in something (which it most certainly is not, any more than “faith” that pixies exists is) one has to accept all other gods based on exactly the same reasoning. One cannot be a Christian based on the “leap of faith” – and then turn around and say those who believe in, for example, the Hindu gods, based on the same leap, got it wrong. In a dark room without features, any groping guess by a blind man at the direction of the door is as valid as the other 359 degrees.

    Geography and birthplace dictates what god(s) one believes in. Every culture that has ever existed has had its own gods and they all seem to favor that particular culture, its hopes, dreams, and prejudices. Do you think they all exist? If not, why only yours?

    Given the complete absence of evidence for the existence of God, Christian “faith” is not belief in a god. It is a mere hope for a god, a wish for a god, no more substantial than the hope for a good future and no more universal than the language you speak or the baseball team you support.

    December 1, 2013 at 9:17 am |
    • Chris

      . "A rejection of the supernatural elements of Christianity does not require a rejection of its morality." – It requires a rejection of the basis for morality and requires that morality become subjective.

      December 1, 2013 at 9:24 am |
      • Colin

        Well, all morality is subjective. Morality is just a value judgement as to the appropriateness of a given human action against the backdrop of facts in which that action takes place.

        December 1, 2013 at 9:28 am |
        • Chris

          So if a group of people say that stealing is good...it becomes good?

          December 1, 2013 at 9:32 am |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          In a certain situation, stealing could be considered "good," by a majority of the people in a population. In fact, the majority of the population does consider stealing to be good when the question is phrased in a certain way.

          How many beings does it take to call wholesale slaughter "good?" Just one: God. When god decides that a planet or a nation should be destroyed, he just murders them all. THAT is subjective morality.

          December 1, 2013 at 9:36 am |
        • Colin

          Chris, against a backdrop of a given set of facts, yes. A starving man stealing meat from an overstocked butcher to feed his starving children, for e.g., or a person stealing a gun to stop its owner from shooting up a school.

          December 1, 2013 at 9:40 am |
        • Chris

          You are not saying that it is good...you are saying that the action accomplishes a good end (an end that is objective)...it is not a debate between objective and subjective morality but between ends and means.

          December 1, 2013 at 10:33 am |
      • G to the T

        Even supposedly "objective" morality is subjective in nature. Is killing a moral act or an immoral act? If you are soldier and the subject is threatening your country, most would say this is moral. If you are a teacher and the subject is one of your students, most would say this is immoral.

        All "subjective" really means in this instance is that morality is context sensitive.

        December 1, 2013 at 9:29 am |
      • rational63

        Would you stone to death a person for working on the sabbath? No? Congratulations! Your morality is subjective!!!!!!!

        December 1, 2013 at 12:34 pm |
    • shipwreck73

      EXACTLY! Just what I was saying only I use a lot more F bombs.

      December 1, 2013 at 9:31 am |
    • mike

      Colin,

      Brilliant! You nailed everything. Bravo!

      December 1, 2013 at 9:43 am |
    • Maferwin

      Bravo.

      December 1, 2013 at 9:56 am |
    • A Reader

      Belief in God does not require a belief in fundamentalist Christianity (or any other organized religion) or the literal interpretation of the Bible (or any other book). This is the favorite strawman of atheists, as revealed once again in the long post above. Belief in a Creator requires only pure reason, and belief in a loving Creator requires only humanity.

      December 1, 2013 at 10:07 am |
      • igaftr

        Belief in a creator requires no reason. There is no logic or reason that can lead to the conclusion that there are any gods. That is belief, with no evidence to support it. There is no reason that can bring you to ANY conclusion at this time.

        December 1, 2013 at 10:12 am |
      • Colin

        A Reader, Every flaw I pointed out above comes from from mainstream, not fundamentalist nor strictly literalist Christianity.

        You said "Belief in a Creator requires only pure reason, and belief in a loving Creator requires only humanity."

        Please provide that "pure reason" and please explain the second half of your statement about humanity.

        December 1, 2013 at 10:12 am |
    • blinky

      colin, thanks for your thoughts. let me attempt to address them. i am not a pastor. i do recommend reading "reason for god" which addresses many of these.
      1. if god is infinite, as christians claim, time has little meaning to him. what is 1 day or 1 billion years to a being that transcends time? this is not an inconsistency. i'm not aware of any evidence whether or not jesus spoke of things outside of the middle east during his 33 years on earth, but why would it be captured in a book for middle east audiences?
      2. god does not punish for sin or reward for non-sin, our salvation depends on the state of our faith. but it's not clear to me why you define "all loving and just" as "the absence of punishment." and, if god is infinite and powerful enough to create a universe, why are you surprised that he can read your mind and track 7 billion people at once? you seem to be arguing against a grandfatherly santa clause figure, rather than a true god.
      3. you are arguing against one vision of hell. even if that vision is true (which i don't think it is), it's not clear to me why it is unfair. what moral code are you holding god to? and does "unfair" equate to "untrue?" if you don't like the concept of hell, does that impact its existence? i don't like mosquitoes, but that doesn't change their existence.
      4. are you discrediting all old texts because they are old? was truth invented with the industrial revolution? why WOULD you know about these fishermen from 2000 years ago? there was no facebook back then.
      5. are you discrediting the truth of beliefs because many cultures describe the same things? this argument seems backwards to me. "there was no flood because hundreds of early cultures describe a similar flood" ??
      6. i'm not sure your point here, nor do i follow that because you don't like the writing, it is not from god. perhaps you can elaborate. your arguments seem very logically inconsistent. "the bible has cruelty = no god created the universe." i don't see the logic there.
      7. you are crazier than i thought if you believe god is some flying spaghetti monster, and yet you believe you should obey the arbitrary, whimsical, and non-sensical laws he has established. if "santa clause" told me i had to walk around with asparagus in my ears on thursdays or else all the reindeer in the world would go blind, something tells me i wouldn't. to address another point, the bible does condone doubt. it says that the apostles worshipped jesus despite that fact that some had doubts.
      8. again, i think you are misrepresenting your beliefs. would you read a book about WWII that was written today by someone who was not present at WWII, but interviewed the soldiers that fought there? of course you would. that describes EVERY WWII book, especially the award-winning ones. and that was 70 years ago. i don't believe you really think we can no longer trust any book written about events before 1990, or any book written by a historian that was not present at the original event. and if the authors wrote it to promote some social agenda, what social agenda is that, and why did they make it so ineffective? if it was to preserve those in power, why does the bible undercut authority in several passages? if it was to undercut those in power, why does it promote authority in other passages? why kind of political propaganda is so nuanced and literary, and written by hundreds of people across centuries, and endures across millenia? that would be one hell of a conspiracy.
      9. why have you made your example about blindness, darkness, and featureless? in so doing, you have made a circular argument: in the absence of truth, you cannot find truth. that seems like a straw man. are you aware that your geography and birthplace has led to your atheism? does that discredit it?
      thanks again for your thoughts. i encourage you to continue thinking about these things. and try to remain as impartial as you can. instead of thinking "how can i try to convince myself there is no god, because i really don't want one" think about "what makes the most sense for how the universe got here, i got here, and why i'm here." there are no easy answers.

      December 1, 2013 at 10:39 am |
    • Mike

      Colin you know what I find amazing. Jesus was killed by the Jews... however the Jews do not deny the miracles he performed.Healing the sick, healing the blind, rasing the dead... get passed all the billion of years and look at a simple truth. If the Jews killed and denounced Jesus then don't you think they would do the same with the miracles he performed? They didn't which tells me that he was more then just a simple man. And there are many writings outside of the bible during that time, secular writings, which called to his miracles. If you look for every way you can "disprove" the bible you will find it. However if you truely look for what is right in the bible then maybe you will start to see some truth.

      December 1, 2013 at 10:44 am |
      • igaftr

        There is no reason to believe any of what you say.

        DId all of Hogwarts see Harry Potter play quidiche....it says there were many who saw it, so we should just take it as true, since so many saw it happen?

        you have nothing but stories in a book. It is your choice to believe, since there is no logic that could bring you to your conclusions.

        December 1, 2013 at 11:00 am |
    • bud in NC

      Colin= I was going write a comment but you said everything I might say and a hundred times better.

      December 1, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
  12. sitting duck

    not that unusual? If you are a Right Winger maybe. Lewis seems to b a flaming hypocrite. He "evangelizes" the unfaithful while he has no reall truck with morality. I can identify with his hardship and admire his support of brother and friend but the in-your-face pious religious crap, not so much. It reminds me of Limbaugh's hard line stand about drug abusers.

    December 1, 2013 at 9:13 am |
    • Chris

      Really...flaming hypocrite? For one thing, he always said he was a sinner. No shock that Christians are sinners. This article is full of speculation..."no proof" seems to be the most popular statement. So lets go with Hitchens and say that grand claims need grand proofs....go ahead....we are waiting.

      December 1, 2013 at 9:22 am |
      • shipwreck73

        Settle down skippy!

        December 1, 2013 at 9:32 am |
        • Chris

          Says the guy who used the words "flaming hypocrite"!!

          December 1, 2013 at 12:06 pm |
    • Kevin H

      I have always found hypocrite and hypocrisy to be some of the most overused words in modern times. And using them in judgment of others has always seemed a foolish practice to me and only used by people who revel in cruelty. Mankind and history would have been better off if the words had never been created. Everyone is many people...plays many roles in life. Has public persona and private persona. Has innermost thoughts and what they say out loud. There should be no such word as hypocrite to shame people since the inconsistency that exists in everyone has already been summed up one word...human.

      December 1, 2013 at 9:44 am |
  13. peick

    Wait a second. This article makes it sound like Lewis was engaging in weird s3xual practices while preaching. In his own autobiography, you will see that he was actually–wait for it–an atheist during his young life. The author hasn't been very careful about his chronology.

    Now, if he was actually doing these things while preaching to others, he had a problem. But it's still not clear to me this is the case from the article. The only item in the article which sounds like it was post-conversion (age 45) was the relationship with the woman which may or may not have been intimate. We have no way of knowing this and are relying on present-day norms to interpret behavior from decades ago. What is the information source we are relying on here?

    Not to clear him for no other reason than bias, this article is clearly sensationalistic and probably intended to stir up comments on the forum. If that's news, then congratulations, Mr. Blake.

    December 1, 2013 at 9:12 am |
    • G to the T

      Yes but I think part of the reason he converted (the Liar, Lord or Lunatic argument) is flawed to begin with.

      December 1, 2013 at 9:31 am |
  14. X

    CS Lewis authored transcendent pieces of fiction and nonfiction. What imperfections he had as a man pale in comparison to your many imperfections as a writer. Never have I commented on a piece on this website – but this article has caused me to go back and read your other pieces. There is no news here, no important contribution, I submit my high school essays as a much more important contribution to our culture than any article you have ever written. I will not abandon CNN because of your writing. There is too much importance that your organization has contributed to our culture. There are too many people that do create meaningful content. What Lewis contributed to both Christian culture and nonsecular culture is similar to St. Augustine, Shakespeare, and Goethe – each of these men had personal imperfections. Their imperfections informed their work. There are deeper points here. As I said, transcendent points. CS Lewis contributed to academics, literature, history, and culture. He helped us understand allegory. He helped a generation of people be comforted as their country was bombed. He has given me countless moments of joy reading with my children. So, he had failings and insecurities. Time for you to deep dive into his works for some self improvement.

    December 1, 2013 at 9:10 am |
    • sitting duck

      "No real news here" you say X. Welcome to CNN.

      December 1, 2013 at 9:16 am |
      • shipwreck73

        What? Did you expect bold face lies like on Faux News?

        December 1, 2013 at 9:33 am |
    • X

      I meant to write secular were I wrote nonsecular. While critiquing writing, one must vet errors.

      December 1, 2013 at 1:28 pm |
  15. Eric

    Well, big surprise right? Nobody is perfect, we are all sinners in the eyes of God. If what Mr. Blake reports is true, then we have sinner, like C.S. Lewis, who overcame so many of life's adversities and his own flaws to become one of the most influential authors of our time. His belief in the God of the Bible was his inspiration, his salvation and his hope. His faith saved him from life and from himself. Only in God can we find a firm rock on which to stand, just like C.S. Lewis' life and works show.

    December 1, 2013 at 9:05 am |
    • shipwreck73

      Sin is a violation of a "gods" law Eric and since there is no god there is NO SIN.

      December 1, 2013 at 9:11 am |
  16. Kenny

    Just as believers can't prove the existence of God, the unbelievers can't prove the non-existence either. This is why I accept each person's faith in whatever religion they follow (or don't)...they could be right, not me. You either choose to believe or not...you won't know anyway until you close your eyes for the last time. As for the bible thumpers out there, it, and the koran, etc. may have all been inspired by some primitive LSD experiments...if you like it fine, I am not one to criticize. But so far as I know, no one, not even the Great One himself, has come back and told us what is there.

    December 1, 2013 at 8:54 am |
    • Colin

      Kenny, you said, "Just as believers can't prove the existence of God, the unbelievers can't prove the non-existence either." That is a well known false equivalence.

      To ask for evidence of non existence is absurd. There is no evidence God does not exist. What "evidence" could there be? Think about it. What possible evidence of non-existence can there be? By definition, there is no evidence of a negative. What evidence is there that Santa Claus does not exist? What evidence is there that the Hindu god Shiva does not exist?

      That is the fundamental difference between there being no proof of a fact and there being "no evidence of a non-fact." The latter is meaningless.

      December 1, 2013 at 8:58 am |
  17. Nick Smith

    It was said, "Christians aren't perfect, just forgiven."

    December 1, 2013 at 8:50 am |
    • shipwreck73

      HA!

      December 1, 2013 at 9:33 am |
  18. These Pretzels Are Making Me Thirsty

    Is John Blake aware that Lewis didn't convert to Christianity until age 33? It's also interesting that atheists think Christians are full of BS, yet still expect them to live to a higher standard without struggle. Get over yourselves...

    December 1, 2013 at 8:48 am |
    • shipwreck73

      Standards? Get over yourself! This Atheist just wants the MAJORITY of you "believers" to not blast people for what they do in private. You all are really good at the "I'm a good christian and would never do...." schtick!

      December 1, 2013 at 9:14 am |
      • Chris

        A good Christian says "all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God." Romans 3:23

        December 1, 2013 at 9:27 am |
        • shipwreck73

          Not too many "good" christians out there. Oh and here is a contradiction to your bible verse.

          1JOHN 5:18 We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not.

          December 1, 2013 at 9:36 am |
      • dMac1131

        Hey "Truth Prevails", if you're going to argue with someone try to understand the difference between an sarcasm and contradiction. Maybe this is why you don't understand what the bible says about Christ and what he did on earth. And by the way, Christ's miracles were described by secular historians as well, so once you can explain how Christ did what He did on earth you may be get close to understanding what our faith is all about.

        December 1, 2013 at 10:37 am |
        • bud in NC

          Stop making up stuff. Give us the names and sources of the secular writers so we can all look it up. We're waiting.

          December 1, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
    • Charm Quark

      Pretz..
      Get over yourself. As a Deist, I and probably atheists, think that Christians have been deceived into buying into a myth, not full of BS; it is the myth that holds you to a higher standard, did you not read the book or get the memo.

      December 1, 2013 at 9:16 am |
      • Mark

        You mean that myth about Jesus who walked on earth and espoused love. How horrible.

        December 1, 2013 at 9:22 am |
        • Charm Quark

          Mark
          Yes sir, that itinerant preacher that supposedly raised the dead, walked on water, cured the sick and did all sorts of supernatural stuff that no one has replicated in 2000 years, that myth. Believe what you want but try not to support the scam artists that hustle the myth of any of our man made gods.

          December 1, 2013 at 9:37 am |
        • Cpt. Obvious

          You mean the guy who talked about hell more than heaven and implied that all people are gods?

          December 1, 2013 at 9:38 am |
        • Mark

          Good point Quark nobody has done it. One Son of God. He loves you BTW, and Obvious your ignorance of Jesus teachings is very Obvious.

          December 1, 2013 at 9:55 am |
        • truthprevails1

          Mark: You just admitted jesus is a myth and then contradict yourself...how very typical of the christian mind!

          December 1, 2013 at 9:57 am |
        • Charm Quark

          Mark
          If I am going to be loved up by a myth, I would prefer Wonder Woman, thanks anyway.

          December 1, 2013 at 10:06 am |
        • Mark

          Sorry Truth read the post again and it will come to you, Nobody has replicated Christ miracles...One son of God. Figures Quark you would look to self satisfy.

          December 1, 2013 at 12:31 pm |
    • mjbrin

      reading more about Lewis now, fascinating how he rewrote the third chapter of his book Miracles after G.E.M. Anscombe debated him on it...... fascinating

      December 1, 2013 at 9:50 am |
  19. Reader

    Some of this is Lewis pre-conversion. God's love transforms us to be more loving to others than we were before. And some of it is rumor only. And some of it is normal failings. The guy was human. What I see in Lewis is a man who was willing to open his mind to God, who actually could have been rich but he gave his money away, who cared for an alcoholic brother and a woman to whom he wasn't related, an Oxford don who cared enough about children to write books for them, a learned man who stood up for some unpopular opinions and who let himself be the target of rumor and dissent. Who had terrible tragedy in his wartime service, losing his mother, being poorly treated in his youth and losing his wife to cancer, but he overcame it and lived a life of generosity and productivity. And who was human like the rest of us with some failings. But I still admire him.

    December 1, 2013 at 8:46 am |
    • ?

      Reader you admire him most, especially when he was whipping someone, Christians just love that suffering for jesus nonsense.

      December 1, 2013 at 8:56 am |
      • Mark

        Not a relative comment.

        December 1, 2013 at 9:07 am |
        • PevanB

          Agreed

          December 2, 2013 at 9:17 am |
    • Jesus' Beloved

      The normal Christian life is a life of Victory – not as the world defines victory, I should point out.

      Heaven is filled with absolute trust and confidence in God.
      The world is filled with mistrust and unbelief in God.

      We reflect the world we're most aware of.
      Stay Blessed.

      December 1, 2013 at 9:17 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.