Surprised by C.S. Lewis: Why his popularity endures
December 17th, 2010
05:30 PM ET

Surprised by C.S. Lewis: Why his popularity endures

By John Blake, CNN

C.S. Lewis was talking to his lawyer one day when the attorney told him he had to decide where his earnings would go after his death.

Lewis, who had already written “The Chronicles of Narnia” book series, told the lawyer he didn’t need to worry.

“After I’ve been dead five years, no one will read anything I’ve written,” Lewis said.

Lewis was a gifted writer, but he would have been a lousy estate planner. More than 40 years after his death, the former medieval literature professor has become the Elvis Presley of Christian publishing: His legacy is lucrative and still growing, scholars and book editors say.

The third film adaptation of Lewis’ "Narnia" series, “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” was released in theaters worldwide this month. HarperOne publishers also just released “The C.S. Lewis Bible,” a book pairing 600 selections of Lewis’ writings with matching scriptural passages.

Lewis’ books remain strong sellers. His “Mere Christianity” has been on the BookScan Religion Bestseller’s list a record 513 weeks since the list started in 2001. At least 430,000 copies of Lewis’ books have been sold this year alone, HarperOne officials said.

Lewis’ contemporary appeal may strike some as odd at first because he seemed so firmly planted in the past. A scholar at the University of Oxford in England, he wore shabby tweed jackets, smoked a pipe in the pub and was wounded in the trenches of World War I.

But Lewis’ popularity endures because of several reasons: his distinctive writing style, a tragic love affair and a shrewd choice he made early in his career, Lewis scholars say.

Lyle Dorsett, author of “Seeking the Secret Place: The Spiritual Formation of C. S. Lewis,” says Lewis was fearless.

“He didn’t dodge the tough questions,” says Dorsett, who told the story of Lewis’ conversation with his lawyer in “Seeking the Secret Place.” “People find that refreshing.”

Lewis’ shrewd early career move

Lewis is labeled a Christian writer, but he also wrote essays, children’s fiction, literary criticism and science fiction. He even hosted a popular BBC radio show during World War II.

Some scholars say Lewis’ BBC experience, where he had to make points quickly, honed his writing style. Lewis learned how to systematically explain Christianity in clear and catchy language, devoid of religious jargon.

Philip Yancey, an evangelical author, says Lewis developed this gift because he came to Christianity as an outsider. He was an atheist.

“Coming to faith as an atheist, he had an understanding of and sympathy for people who look at faith wistfully but can’t swallow it,” says Yancey, who writes about Lewis in his latest book, “What Good is God.”

Lewis remains popular because his books don’t seem dated, says Mickey Maudlin, HarperOne's project editor for "The C.S. Lewis Bible."

Lewis didn’t write about the doctrinal squabbles dividing Christian groups of his time, Maudlin says.

“He made a strategic decision early in his career to talk about ‘Mere Christianity,’ ’’ Maudlin says. “He never writes about different modes of baptism, different views of communion or anything that separates one church from another.”

The result: Lewis has a big following today among Evangelicals, Roman Catholics, Mormons - even skeptics, Maudlin says.

“C.S. Lewis wasn’t trapped by tribal thinking,” Maudlin says. “He was able to speak to everybody. He felt called by God to be an explainer of the big issues.”

How 'good infection’ converted Lewis

Though Lewis looked like the prototype of the mid-20th century English professor, he was actually an Irishman. He was born as Clive Staples Lewis in 1898 in Belfast. Friends and family called him “Jack.”

Scholars cite two events as the source for Lewis’ early atheism. His mother, Florence, died of cancer when Lewis was 9. And his best friend, Paddy, was killed during World War I. Most of the men in Lewis’ platoon didn’t survive the trenches.

“When he saw the carnage of World War I, he concluded that if God exists, He is a cosmic sadist,” says Dorsett, Lewis’ biographer.

Lewis' conversion to Christianity was gradual. It was prompted by what he later called “good infection” -  being drawn to faith unawares through the friends he made and books he read.

One of those friends was J.R.R. Tolkien, a fellow English professor at Oxford best known today as the author of “The Lord of the Rings.”

According to some accounts, Tolkien, a Christian intellectual, helped convert Lewis. He showed Lewis that many of the mythological books he loved to read were Christian allegories.

Lewis, though, would later add that there was something more subtle that led to his conversion.

He called it “joy.”

“Joy” was Lewis' term for a stab of longing that unexpectedly welled up in him during moments of contemplation, such as listening to opera or reading an ancient Norse tale.

In his book, “The Weight of Glory,” Lewis wrote that the yearning he experienced during those moments convinced him there was another existence beyond this world.

“For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a love we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never visited.”

Lewis’ painful love affair

Lewis could be poetic, but he could also be brutally honest. He demonstrated this in his most searing book, “A Grief Observed.”

In the book, Lewis writes about falling in love - and losing that love. Lewis was a bachelor who lived with his older brother Warnie for much of his life. Then he met Joy Davidman Gresham, a Jewish American writer who was 15 years his junior.

Dorsett says Lewis was both physically and intellectually smitten with Gresham. He says they used to play Scrabble together, using Hebrew, Greek, Latin and German words to fill in the blanks.

“She had a sharp wit and he loved it,” Dorsett says. “She loved to debate and challenge him. They were always having an intellectual tennis match.”

Lewis’ relationship with Gresham would also challenge his faith.

Lewis married Gresham when he was 58. Soon, however, she developed bone cancer. She experienced what seemed to be a miraculous recovery only to fall ill again. Four years after marrying Lewis, she was dead.

Lewis was devastated. He began to question his belief in God:

“Go to Him when your need is desperate, when all other help is vain, and what do you find? A door slammed in your face and a sound of bolting,” he wrote in “A Grief Observed.”

“A Grief Observed” inspired the film, “Shadowlands,” starring Anthony Hopkins and Debra Winger. One of the most moving scenes in the film took place when Lewis’ character embraced Gresham’s grieving son, Douglas, and they both wept unabashedly together.

Douglas Gresham at the premier of the latest 'Narnia' film in London.

Douglas Gresham is now 65 with a bristly white beard and a booming baritone. He still holds tightly to his memories of Lewis.

Gresham says there’s one part of Lewis’ personality that movies and scholars often get wrong. Many people think Lewis was a dour Englishman.

“He was full of fun,” Gresham says. “He was always surrounded by people who liked to laugh and drink pints of beer. You could always tell if Jack was in the house. You would hear roars of laughter.”

He was also humble, Gresham says. Lewis spent hours each day answering letters from his admirers.

“Jack was someone who believed that if someone would write him, then the least he could do was give a reply,” Gresham says. “Sometimes people would just show up at the door, and he would never turn them away.”

What would Lewis think of his fame?

Gresham says commentators also often miss the mark on Lewis' friendship with Tolkien.

Lewis and Tolkien were both members of the Inklings, an informal literary group at Oxford that met to swap stories and ale.

In “Shadowlands,” Joy Gresham is portrayed as a party crasher who alienated a stuffy Tolkien. Some scholars have suggested that Lewis and Tolkien’s friendship suffered because of Lewis’ marriage to Gresham.

“Tolkien was a devout Catholic,” says Dorsett, Lewis’ biographer. "He found her quite abrasive.”

Gresham, though, snorts at the suggestion that his mother damaged Lewis’ friendship with Tolkien.

“It never happened,” he says.

Gresham says that when he went to visit Lewis in the hospital during his last days, he saw Tolkien. Tolkien told him he could live with him if anything happened to Lewis, Gresham says.

“Now you don’t do that for someone you’re not fond of,” Gresham says. “He was Jack’s best friend when he died.”

Lewis died at 64 of kidney failure on November 22, 1963, the same day President Kennedy was assassinated. His death was overshadowed by coverage of Kennedy’s death as well as the death of Aldous Huxley, another famous author who died that day.

Lewis, however, grabs his share of headlines today.

Gresham, a retired physiotherapist, spends much of his time talking about Lewis. He’s a producer for the latest "Narnia" film, answers letters from Lewis' fans and has written a biography called “Lenten Lands: My Childhood with Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis.”

He says he doesn’t get tired of talking about the man some still call “Jack.”

“It gives me great pleasure to introduce him to people who haven’t met him yet,” he says. “I’m an unashamed C.S. Lewis fan.”

And what about Lewis? What would he think of the movie franchise he’s spawned and the Christian icon he’s become?

“I think he’d be embarrassed,” Gresham says quickly. “The thought that he would be idolized by so many people would embarrass him deeply.”

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Anglican • Atheism • Belief • Books • Christianity

soundoff (383 Responses)
  1. finman84

    ya, so your top 10 list is right. I am a Christian, whats your point? I look at it like this- either God is real or not- its a 50/50 shot. If we take the agnostic/atheist viewpoint, when you die you go nowhere if you are right. However, there is only a 50% chance you are right. Not a single athiest/agnostic has ever disproved the existence of God, at least that I have seen. That being said, there is also a 50% chance they are wrong, meaning when you get to heaven and stand before God, you get to explain why you don't believe he exists. I know you will keep telling yourself the flames of hell are not real either, even after you have been there but a fraction of eternity. However, it is your choice to believe or not- that was one of God's greatest gifts, the gift of free will. At least with my 50/50 split, if I am wrong- nothing happens and you are right. However if I am right- paradise in eternity. So I will take my 50/50 split over your 50/50 split every time, as your worst alternative is far worse than mine. You claim scientific theory answers everything, yet you cannot explain faith. I have faith that people in other cities and states will follow laws, help others, do the right thing, yet they are not physically in front of me and I cannot see them. If faith does not exist, how does one account for that? You can't. Ask yourself if you have faith the same will occur, and yet you would not have faith in God because he is also unseen. Oh I almost forgot. You wonder why all of these bad things have happened throughout history- because it is God's will. You claim that any loving God would not inflict such misery upon his people, which is akin to a 3 year old throwing a temper tantrum because his daddy won't give him any more candy. Does the 3 year old question the adult because he won't give him what he wants? Does the adult know what is best? In comparison- humans are the 3 year old wanting candy, and God knows better. He has his reasons for the way things are, and the fact that you don't like it makes you sound again just like the 3 year old who thinks he knows it all, and he does not.

    December 18, 2010 at 8:34 pm |
    • Don

      fin, please do research why Pascal's Utterly Refuted To Death Wager is, in fact, Utterly Refuted To Death.

      December 18, 2010 at 10:38 pm |
    • eyeroll

      Sorry but two possibilities for anything (God exists, God does not exist. The sky is blue. the sky is not blue.) does not make for a 50-50 shot. There are plenty of pairs of numbers that add up to 100!

      December 19, 2010 at 11:50 am |
  2. Ben Aclobra

    "Wow such ignorant, misinformed, misquoted, misconstrued, and biased comments lacking actual knowledge and just downright wrong. The bible was written by MAN, but inspired by GOD...."

    Wow such ignorant, misinformed, misquoted, misconstrued, and biased comments lacking actual knowledge and just downright wrong. The bible was written by MAN, inspired by MAN.

    December 18, 2010 at 8:33 pm |
    • Andrew

      Would you mind proving that, sir?

      December 18, 2010 at 8:57 pm |
  3. Conch

    Coming to Christianity after being an Athiest is like knowing there isn't a Santa as an adult, and then accepting the fact that Santa is real, lives on the North Pole, and goes to every house on the planet giving every child all of their presents without the aid of parents or relatives. There's money in religion. Only recently have the Athiests begun to make money off the Christians.

    December 18, 2010 at 8:25 pm |
    • Andrew

      It's always interesting how so many people love to claim intellectual superiority over the religious, but then they make blatantly ignorant statements such as this one. When will they learn?

      December 18, 2010 at 8:28 pm |
    • Don

      Except it's not a blatantly ignorant statement; it's a blatantly true statement.

      December 18, 2010 at 10:36 pm |
    • Andrew

      @ Don – no, it isn't. It's common knowledge that Santa isn't real, and there's explicit evidence of the origins of the concept, as well as the fact that parents use it for fun and to give their kids a little sense of wonder. Religion is a very different concept, because it's applied to all aspects of life, in most cases there is no trace of any one particular faith's origin, there's no proof of their fabrication, and many of them are commonly used to answer unknown questions about the world and the universe. Religion is far more complex than Santa Claus, and by considering the two synonymous in meaning you're being both insulting and ignorant. You don't have the slightest clue about what it really means to believe in something.

      December 18, 2010 at 11:55 pm |
    • Don

      Except I know precisely what it means to believe in something, and that you're just pouting because you don't like one silly belief being compared to another silly belief. Not. My. Problem. There is absolutely no fundamental difference between santa and god: none whatsoever. To believe otherwise is self-delusion on a grand scale.

      December 19, 2010 at 12:06 am |
    • david believer

      It's ignorant, and typical of the atheist mindthink- all of you appear to have chips on your shoulders due to the audacity of most of the populace believing in Christ/God.

      You guys are pathetic.

      December 19, 2010 at 1:54 am |
    • Don

      That was a typically mindless bleater response, david.

      December 19, 2010 at 10:05 am |
  4. LivewithFlair

    Lewis was the master of allegory, and he taught me, as a young scholar, to interpret my world through that lens. Everything gestured toward the divine. That's the stuff I like to think about and write about. http://www.livewithflair.blogspot.com

    December 18, 2010 at 8:24 pm |
  5. muhrvis

    Whatever one thinks of Lewis, the idea of "Mere Christianity" is pretty funny. After all, if one compares all of the different sects of Christianity, from Unitarianism to evangelical and charismatic Christianity, they really don't have ANY beliefs in common. SO perhaps Lewis was still extolling his own vision of Christianity as the common denominator.

    December 18, 2010 at 8:20 pm |
    • Andrew

      Unitarians stand in stark contrast to the vast majority of other Christians, as the only major sect of Christianity that rejects the divinity of Jesus. Most Christians don't even consider them a real Christian church, so I'd say your example is hardly appropriate.

      December 18, 2010 at 8:27 pm |
  6. atom

    Anyone read "Till We Have Faces"? It was Lewis' last work of fiction, and stands in contrast to Narnia at least.

    December 18, 2010 at 8:08 pm |
    • Septuagenarian

      Yes. I probably read it before I read any of the Narnia books. It is very good.

      December 18, 2010 at 8:24 pm |
    • Nate

      I saw Douglas Gresham speak about 10 years ago and he said that Till We Have Faces is his favorite book by Lewis.

      December 18, 2010 at 10:48 pm |
    • Joanna

      Yes, Till We Have Faces is fascinating. I have read it over and over and over again, and still find something new... An incredible story.

      December 20, 2010 at 12:17 pm |
  7. brad

    Wow such ignorant, misinformed, misquoted, misconstrued, and biased comments lacking actual knowledge and just downright wrong..
    The bible was written by MAN, but inspired by GOD over 1500 years, by 40 different authors, on 3 different continents, and the end coincides with the beginning and all throughout, there are NO CONTRADICTIONS in the bible but there are many many PARADOX's.. a. Jesus died so that we have LIFE b. Bad things happen to good people.. b. Jesus put to death for NO REASON but for OUR SINS, NOT HIS.. NO one in their right mind has EVER said the earh is only a few generations/thousands of years old.. the bible starts about 2 people , their offspring, what happens to them throughout the bible, funnelling down to ONE person, JESUS CHRIST.. then the rest is about each gospel account of what he did..and then pauls letters to various churches to carry on the church handed down by CHRIST himself.. people died and were killed (martyrd) for HIM!!! people will KILL others for what they believe in, but NOT many will DIE FOR A BELIEF (the educated reading this will understand the difference), so Jesus was either a 1. LIar, 2. Lunatic 3 LORD, the answer is 3.. there's a HUGE difference between dying for your faith alone because of what YOU BELIEVE in, and dying while KILLING OTHERS due to what you are TOLD TO BELIEVE IN.. (again, for the educated people) as for the AGE of the earth.. the bible says GOD created adam (which in hebrew means mankind, not just "one" person, so apparently while the bible is about one person, and his offspring, generations and others intertwined leading to the birth of JESUS as told by the prophets of the OLD TESTAMENT, there were OTHER people alive on EARTH.. and Adam and Eve were NOT created as "babies" there were created with AGE (we are NOT sure how old "Adam/Eve were at their "creation) so one can surmize from that , that the EARTH had AGE also.. .. AS for CS LEWIS.. his books are his way of telling the story of the redeming quality of Christ himself.. in a way that many can read and understand and relate to.. there's a HUGE difference in the lines of the characters from his books to the movies.. so if you are basing your judgement on Christianity on the movies, try reading the books and reading about him too.. that'll give you an educated response when you put comments on here.. and besides.. remember this... if there was NO GOD, there'd be NO ATHEISTS or AGNOSTICS.. so GOD BLESS and I sincerely hope those reading this educate themselves, because like G K CHESTERTON said ""It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong." and in closing, its ok to be sincere about your beliefs or lack of beliefs, but you can also be sincerely WRONG.. (but from our perspective, we'll never know, its all about FAITH.. are you willing to be your soul and eternity on ignorance , pride and lack of knowledge about something that is so important?) that's my .02 Now I'm broke

    December 18, 2010 at 8:06 pm |
    • Don

      There are tons of contradictions in the bible.

      December 18, 2010 at 10:35 pm |
    • Rohn

      it seems that you're saying "paradoxes" when "ironies" would be more appropriate.

      December 18, 2010 at 11:16 pm |
  8. Frank

    I have always said when I become all knowing, all seeing and can understand all things then I will admit there is no God, but at this point I will continue to believe.

    December 18, 2010 at 7:58 pm |
    • Joe

      Well said.

      December 19, 2010 at 10:01 am |
    • Maybe

      "I have always said when I become all knowing, all seeing and can understand all things then I will admit there is no God, but at this point I will continue to believe."

      So, until you become all knowing you will believe in invisible unicorns and such? I can sort of understand believing in a First Cause/Prime Mover/Ultimate Energy type of thing (Theism), but to believe in any of the man-made stories about what this being demands, wants, needs or promises, if anything, is simply not my default position.

      December 19, 2010 at 12:21 pm |
    • Don

      Frank, do you need to know everything to say that there are no square circles or married bachelors? Just wondering.

      December 19, 2010 at 1:37 pm |
  9. vtwinr

    If you're not getting alot out of C.S.Lewis, try reading between the lines.

    December 18, 2010 at 7:49 pm |
  10. Rake

    The article doesn't explain why Lewis' sense of "joy" led him to choose Christianity over other faiths, other than he had Tolkien, a Christian friend, encouraging him.

    December 18, 2010 at 7:47 pm |
    • Septuagenarian

      His conversion is quite complex. Read "Surprised by Joy" for Lewis' own take on it. ("Joy" in this case is not his wife, the book being written years before he ever was surprised by her.

      December 18, 2010 at 8:23 pm |
    • chelseykia

      Here is one of my favourite excerpts lifted from Surprised by Joy:

      "You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England."

      December 19, 2010 at 3:25 am |
  11. Jimbo Jimmy the Jack

    One pint too many at Eagle and Child and look where Oxford imagination will take you.

    December 18, 2010 at 7:30 pm |
  12. Ron

    People complain about Christians evangelizing, when atheists love to try to push their beliefs on others just as much. People are people no matter what the faith/creed.

    December 18, 2010 at 7:22 pm |
    • Thecal

      Atheism, as the name indicates, is not a faith/creed, but the absence of such.

      Discouraging someone from a belief that has no foundation is not proselytizing.

      December 18, 2010 at 7:50 pm |
    • greenbird


      "creed: A system of belief, principles, or opinions"

      atheism IS a creed.

      December 18, 2010 at 8:04 pm |
    • muhrvis

      Sorry, Thecal, but atheism (a – theism) IS a belief that there is no God. More correctly, agnosticism is the absence of a belief or creed by one who doesn't know whether there is a "supreme being."

      December 18, 2010 at 8:16 pm |
    • Dave

      "Atheism, as the name indicates, is not a faith/creed, but the absence of such."

      @Thecal: Partly right, partly wrong. Some people truly don't hold a belief either way. However, the vast majority of atheists I have come across are adamant in the belief of a negative. Ie that there is no god. I'd say agnostics are closest to the definition you stated.

      December 18, 2010 at 8:50 pm |
    • Don

      Atheism isn't a creed, and you just don't like not being able to torture atheists into believing, Ron. Sucks to be you.

      December 18, 2010 at 10:34 pm |
    • Wenteast

      Geez, yes. So many atheists are so much more obnoxious than any believers I know when it comes to shoving their beliefs down the throats of others. And, yes, they are beliefs.

      December 18, 2010 at 10:35 pm |
    • Mugs

      Atheism is just as much a belief system as any religion, it is a belief in the non-existence of God.
      An atheist can proselytize just as aggressively as any Christian, Muslim, or any other believer, or they can be confident in their belief system and feel no need to try to convert others. I am personally much more likely to listen to and respect the opinions of the second type of person than the first.

      December 19, 2010 at 5:22 am |
    • Don

      No Mugs, it is the lack of belief in the existence of a god or god. The privative prefix "a-" means "lacking or without".

      December 19, 2010 at 10:00 am |
    • Stephen

      OK, Don, since you've decided that etymology trumps usage for giving a word's meaning (a truly ghastly principle no linguist would support) and have enlightened us all with the alpha privative breakdown, perhaps you'd like to explain for us the -ism part.

      December 19, 2010 at 11:03 am |
    • Don

      Yes, etymology does trump, much to your infantile dismay. You want the whole breakdown? Lacking or without the belief in a god or gods. a + theos + ism. Lacking or without. God/gods. Belief in. Lacking or without the belief in a god or gods.

      Did you really want the intellectual smackdown you just received, Stephen? Perhaps in the future you'll just be silent, rather than inviting someone to show everyone how little you really know.

      December 19, 2010 at 11:57 am |
    • Sue

      @ Stephen - "perhaps you'd like to explain the -ims part." Pure genius. LOVE IT!

      December 19, 2010 at 12:01 pm |
    • Sue

      "ism," that is!

      December 19, 2010 at 12:02 pm |
    • Stephen

      Don, you're just plain incorrect about the scope of the affixes. Look it up in the OED if you don't believe me. It's atheos + ism, not a + theism. There's even a semantic principle concerning the scopal relationship of morphemes to this effect, if you want to go that route with me.

      December 19, 2010 at 12:55 pm |
    • Don

      No, I'm quite correct about it. a + theos + ism. You can cry all you want, but it won't change the fact that it's a + theos + ism. Further, if you even wanted to go about the disbelief route (which you might), there is a passive form of disbelief (not believing vs believing in not).

      You'll lose no matter what. You just hate that it's a lack of belief. Not my problem. Grow up.

      December 19, 2010 at 1:08 pm |
    • Stephen

      I stand corrected: the Oxford English Dictionary is wrong, and Don is correct. Who knew?

      December 19, 2010 at 1:10 pm |
    • Don

      Yes, the OED is wrong. Glad to see you've come to your senses.

      Hint: sarcasm only works when you're correct.

      December 19, 2010 at 1:31 pm |
    • Stephen

      OK. Let me perfectly clear, as nothing annoys a philosopher more than lack of precision in argument. I never denied that the word atheism breaks down into a + theos + ism. The point is that, semantically, you must determine whether this is to be construed as a + (theos + ism), as you assert, or (a + theos) + ism. The former means without belief in God, the latter belief that there is no God. I wasn't sure which it should be, so I consulted the most reputable work of scholarship on the matter: the OED. It indicates that the correct interpretation is (a + theos) + ism. Don, if you have consulted any authority of comparable authority, you may cite your source. Otherwise, everyone is left to believe you have simply construed the semantics to suit your fancy without considered the possibility that your interpretation is incorrect.

      December 19, 2010 at 7:26 pm |
    • Stephen

      *considering. I apologize for the typo.

      December 19, 2010 at 7:29 pm |
    • Don

      Completely false, Stephen. The OED is simply wrong on this, no matter how you stomp your feet and hold your breath.

      December 19, 2010 at 7:44 pm |
    • Stephen

      Surely you don't expect us to just take your word for it. So far, that is all you have given us. Show us your research. Cite your sources. Otherwise, you're no better than the fundamentalist Christians who expect us to believe the Bible, whatever it says, just because it says it. Leave ipse dixit authority to the dogmatists, please; otherwise, you're just as irrational as they are.

      December 20, 2010 at 12:30 am |
    • Don

      Surely you don't expect me to believe the OED, which has it completely wrong. It is a + theos + ism. Because there is theos + ism, and the widest possible sense is what we're looking for. If you wish to narrowly define atheism solely as saying there is no god: you're wrong. Period. End of story. It is being without the belief that there is a god. Theism and atheism are jointly exhaustive and mutually exclusive, and relate to having or not having a specific belief: that there is a god. Anyone who believes otherwise hasn't learned what the words really mean.

      December 20, 2010 at 6:44 pm |
  13. Pete

    The Narnia books are one of my favorite series. My mom and I read them together when I was a child. I read them to my kids when they were small. Now my kids are teenagers and we just got back from Voyage of the Dawn Treader. VERY GOOD, but left out the full story (what movie doesn't?). I think these books are being wonderfully adapted to movies and I think its great that C.S. Lewis' superb stories are still relevant. I agree that they are timeless. Why can't everyone just let a good story be a good story?

    December 18, 2010 at 7:21 pm |
  14. painful reality

    Patrick, have mercy on the poor guy. Look at how clever he thought he was. Give him his clothes back. Besides, you've just ruined all that tedious copy/paste work he did. He probably wore out his right mouse button.

    I was an over-intelligent, alcoholic, drug-addicted champion under-achiever when I accidentally picked up "Men without Chests" and was permanently ruined for being one of the dregs of society. Why, I didn't even know I had scales on my eyes. Dang.

    December 18, 2010 at 7:15 pm |
    • Quaid

      That's hilarious.

      December 18, 2010 at 7:46 pm |
  15. Patrick

    Top Ten Signs You're Going Off Topic:

    10 – You bring up controversial topics distantly related to the topic

    9 – You make generalized statements

    8 – You vent your frustration about someone or something

    7 – You further expand your frustrations

    6 – More generalized statements

    5 – Your tone is that of one itching for an argument

    4 – You are completely satisfied with the things you've said, and nothing will dissuade you from them

    3 – You believe that no one can nullify your claims

    2 – You deride that which you cannot understand, or that which doesn't offer an easy way out.

    1 – You've completely missed the point of the topic.

    December 18, 2010 at 5:59 pm |
    • mjbell8

      Brilliant 🙂

      December 18, 2010 at 7:44 pm |
    • ned

      Winner winner! Chicken dinner!

      December 18, 2010 at 7:52 pm |
    • greenbird

      well said!

      December 18, 2010 at 8:01 pm |
    • Dave

      heh 🙂

      December 18, 2010 at 8:42 pm |
    • Wenteast

      Cha-ching! Well said, oh smiter of trolls.

      December 18, 2010 at 10:45 pm |
    • Justin

      Nice bro.

      December 19, 2010 at 12:16 am |
    • Greg

      Nicely done, Patrick!

      December 19, 2010 at 5:21 am |
    • Not Particularly Thrilled

      Bravo! Well put. Thank you for the "reality check".

      December 19, 2010 at 8:51 am |
    • Wisdom4u2

      I agree!

      What I've noticed is: a lot of people may only read the first sentence or two and then make an assumption on what the rest of the article is about. Duh!

      Your description here also defines a ‘Troll’. Ha-ha!

      December 19, 2010 at 2:11 pm |
    • Hilarious

      Patrick....you da man!

      December 19, 2010 at 5:56 pm |
  16. Reality

    "Why I Am Not a Christian (2000) by Keith Parsons

    In this explanation of why he is not a Christian, Keith Parsons discusses the role that Christianity has played in perpetuating suffering throughout human history, the bizarre doctrine of inflicting eternal punishment on persons for having the wrong beliefs, the composition, inconsistencies, and absurdities of the New Testament Gospels, William Lane Craig's flawed case for the resurrection of Jesus, the role of legendary development and hallucinations in early Christianity, and C.S. Lewis' weak justifications for the Christian prohibition on premarital se-x.

    December 18, 2010 at 4:44 pm |
    • Paddy

      why would you write this?

      December 18, 2010 at 7:56 pm |
    • Andrew

      Sounds like a terribly ignorant book, written by an atheist with minimal understanding of Christian theology or religious thinking in general. It's hard to write a compelling book when you're drowning in your own self-righteousness. It's the kind of work that's more or less just written for people who already agree with him to have a pow-wow over.

      December 18, 2010 at 8:12 pm |
    • Jim

      Parsons' book is quite a bit like Bertrand Russell's "Why I am Not a Christian" – weak, based on fall assumptions and complete misunderstanding of the subject matter. As a former agnostic reading Russell and Parsons works I was left wondering, "Is this the best that atheists have?"

      December 18, 2010 at 10:32 pm |
    • ian

      too right – I agree

      December 19, 2010 at 4:11 am |
    • Sid Stewart

      Christianity does not promote pain, they have helped others avoid; preaching on heaven has helped many avoid hell's pain; the compassion of Christianity has only promoted the well-being of others so hospitals were started to aid the sick! orphanages to help the helpless; Salvation Army to aid the homeless; schools to teaches the uniformed; crossing the Atlantic as the Pilgrims to find religious freedom instead of religious oppression; get the point? this world is vastly better off as a result of Christianity; atheism has never done anything to aid the oppression of others; the climatic fruit of atheism is world war

      December 19, 2010 at 8:56 am |
    • DavidINlafayette

      I was born a Christian and its been a struggle ever since. Some of its just a stretch for me but the when I look at the Big Picture,I'm more comfortable and know who I am and what I beleive. You eat an elephant one bite at a time and it might take you a while. I struggle. That's why its called faith, I suppose.

      December 19, 2010 at 11:19 am |
    • Reality

      An update on how the USA taxpayers are eliminating or have eliminated domestic and global terror and aggression. Said taxpayers are a blend of Christians, Jews, Secularists, Atheists, Agnostics, Pagans, Buddhists, Muslims, Mormons and Hindus

      -Operation Iraqi Freedom- The 24/7 Sunni-Shiite centuries-old blood feud currently being carried out in Iraq, US Troops killed in action, 3,481 and 924 died in non-combat, 97,172 – 106,047 Iraqi civilians killed as of 8/10/2010 mostly due the Shiite and Sunni suicide bombers.

      – Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan: US troops 1,116 killed in action, 902 killed in non-combat situations as of 08/10/2010. Over 40,000 Afghan civilians killed due to the dark-age, koranic-driven Taliban acts of horror,

      – Sa-dd-am, his sons and major he-nchmen have been deleted. Sa-dd-am's bravado about WMD was one of his major mistakes. Kuwait was saved.

      – Iran is being been contained. (beside containing the Sunni-Shiite civil war in Baghdad, that is the main reason we are in Iraq. And yes, essential oil continues to flow from the region.)

      – Libya has become almost civil. Recently Libya agreed to pay $1.5 billion to the victims of their terrorist activities. Apparently this new reality from an Islamic country has upset OBL and his “cra-zies” as they have thre-atened Libya. OBL sure is a di-sgrace to the world especially the Moslem world!!! Or is he???

      – North Korea is still u-ncivil but is contained.

      – Northern Ireland is finally at peace.

      – The Jews and Palestinians are being separated by walls. Hopefully the walls will follow the 1948 UN accords. Unfortunately the Annapolis Peace Conference was not successful. And unfortunately the recent events in Gaza has put this situation back to “squ-are one”. And this significant stupidity is driven by the mythical foundations of both religions!!!

      – Bin La-d-en has been cornered under a rock in Western Pakistan since 9/11.

      – Fa-na–tical Islam has basically been contained to the Middle East but a wall between India and Pakistan would be a plus for world peace. Ditto for a wall between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

      – Timothy McVeigh was exe-cuted. Terry Nichols will follow soon.

      – Eric Ru-dolph is spending three life terms in pri-son with no par-ole.

      – Jim Jones, David Koresh, Kaczynski, the "nuns" from Rwanda, and the KKK were all dealt with and either eliminated themselves or are being punished.

      – Islamic Sudan, Dar-fur and So-malia are still terror hot spots.

      – The terror and tor-ture of Muslims in Bosnia, Kosovo and Kuwait were ended by the proper application of the military forces of the USA and her freedom-loving friends. Ra-dovan Karadzic was finally captured on 7/23/08 and is charged with genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of the law of war – charges related to the 1992-1995 civil war that followed Bosnia-Herzegovina's secession from Yugoslavia.

      – And of course the bloody terror brought about by the Ja-panese, Na-zis and Co-mmunists was with great difficulty eliminated by the good guys.

      December 19, 2010 at 11:20 am |
    • Reality

      The Twenty (or so) Worst Things People Have Done to Each Other:

      Rank Death Toll Cause Centuries Religions involved

      1 63 million Second World War 20C (Christians and Communists vs. Christians, Nazi-Pagans and "Shintoists")
      2 40 million Mao Zedong (mostly famine) 20C (Communists/atheists)
      40 million Genghis Khan 13C (Shamanism or Tengriism)
      4 27 million British India (mostly famine) 19C (Anglican)
      5 25 million Fall of the Ming Dynasty 17C (Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Chinese folk religion)
      6 20 million Taiping Rebellion 19C ( Confucianism, Buddhism and Chinese folk religion vs. a form of Christianity)
      20 million Joseph Stalin 20C (Communists/atheists)
      8 19 million Mideast Slave Trade 7C-19C (Islam)
      9 17 million Timur Lenk 14C-15C
      10 16 million Atlantic Slave Trade 15C-19C (Christianity)
      11 15 million First World War 20C (Christians vs. Christians)
      15 million Conquest of the Americas 15C-19C (Christians)
      13 13 million Muslim Conquest of India 11C-18C
      14 10 million An Lushan Revolt 8C
      10 million Xin Dynasty 1C
      16 9 million Russian Civil War 20C (Christians vs Communists/atheists)
      17 8 million Fall of Rome 5C (Pagans vs Pagans)
      8 million Congo Free State 19C-20C (Christians vs Pagans)
      19 7½ million Thirty Years War 17C (Christians vs Christians)
      7½ million Fall of the Yuan Dynasty 14C

      December 19, 2010 at 11:24 am |
    • Cedar rapids

      Dont be silly Sid, the world wars were not caused by atheism.
      And dont forget the persecution the pilgrims were escaping from was from another branch of christianity.

      December 19, 2010 at 2:16 pm |
  17. Craig

    Philosophers as talented and diverse as Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, J.P. Moreland, Dallas Willard, Peter Kreeft, and William Lane Craig (to name just a few) have all paid tribute to C.S. Lewis's brilliance as a writer and thinker. But before you race out and buy any of his books on their recommendations, you should know that "Don" is unimpressed.

    December 18, 2010 at 1:39 pm |
    • Pimento

      This made me laugh out loud. Thank you, Craig!

      December 18, 2010 at 7:56 pm |
    • Don

      Yes, you should. Why listen to the same uninspired choir that just repeats the same lies (the apologists you listed) when you can listen to someone who knows what he's talking about (me).

      But if you don't like that, you can always go run to the lazy nonsense of apologetics and comfort yourself with your security blanket. I wouldn't dream of stopping you from tearing out more of your brain.

      December 18, 2010 at 10:32 pm |
    • Nate

      This also made me laugh. Thanks 🙂

      December 18, 2010 at 10:40 pm |
    • Wenteast

      What absolute arrogance. With apparently no sense of embarassment Don writes that his ideas should be taken more seriously than anyone else's - all on the basis that he himself put them forth!

      Come worhsip at the temple of Don - it will only be you and him there, but at least you can be confident that your fellow believer will never lose his faith.

      December 18, 2010 at 10:43 pm |
    • Don

      Poor little Wenteast. Do you want a pity party because you're not smart enough? Is that your problem? Should we pity you because you're jealous of others who are smarter than you? Awwwww.

      December 19, 2010 at 10:03 am |
    • haarkonen

      sadly don, you may have had some points but by being insufferably obtuse and abrasive you've managed to prove everyone else's.

      December 19, 2010 at 11:14 am |
    • Don

      Except I haven't proven everyone else's point. Please try to be more mature.

      December 19, 2010 at 11:54 am |
    • Jason

      Ah... If only we could all be a smart as "Don". Now I'm going to go back to work developing and analyzing thousands of lines of code. Whoa is me... I wish I was an intellectual like "Don"...

      December 19, 2010 at 2:36 pm |
    • Don

      Yes Jason, it's clear that you do. Glad that you've come to your senses.

      December 19, 2010 at 2:57 pm |
    • Geez

      Don really hasnt proved a point either way... He just spouts the same rhetoric over and over.. It would be nice to hear some explaination or comparision... maybe even some fact to prove his criticizm.

      December 19, 2010 at 3:25 pm |
    • Don

      How sad that you have to keep coming up with new names, little troll.

      December 19, 2010 at 3:37 pm |
  18. Don

    I've never understood the appeal of Lewis. His fiction is boring, and his apologetics leave much to be apologized for.

    December 18, 2010 at 11:57 am |
    • Reality


      Very funny, the line of the week "and his apologetics leave much to be apologized for". Priceless!!

      December 18, 2010 at 4:39 pm |
    • Cindy

      I found his writings uninspired when I was young, liberal, and atheist, myself.

      When you don't recognize that you are judging the world through your own faith and your own assumptions, everyone else just looks stupid. It is impossible to recognize your own blind spots.

      December 18, 2010 at 6:10 pm |
    • greenbird

      @Cindy–are you speaking of atheists or religious people? because I seem to find that mainly true of atheists, actually.

      December 18, 2010 at 7:41 pm |
    • ned

      You're only bored because you're boring.

      December 18, 2010 at 7:50 pm |
    • Rise346

      I don't care much for his writing, but come on a talking lion and a mouse with a sword! The movies are great!

      December 18, 2010 at 8:04 pm |
    • Ben Aclobra

      If you "seem to find that mainly true of atheists, actually", then your blind spot is causing you to judge them through your own faith and your own assumptions. It's a large blind spot too, because you're missing a lot of atheists. When you begin to recognize that there are no differences in behavior between religious people, atheists, agnostics, people of any belief system, you'll know your eyesight is returning.

      December 18, 2010 at 8:31 pm |
    • JiminNM

      For good apologetics, consider Ravi Zacharias (www.rzim.org). Lewis was good at what he did, and his "Mere Christianity" describes his path to the truth, a truth he found because he really searched.

      December 18, 2010 at 8:45 pm |
    • Jim


      And you do the same as well. That sword is double=edged I'm afraid.

      December 18, 2010 at 10:29 pm |
    • Don

      I've read Zacharaias' _Shattered Visage_; his lies and hate-filled smears of atheists makes me glad to be a moral, upstanding atheist, rather than an immoral, lying christian.

      December 18, 2010 at 10:29 pm |
    • Wenteast

      OK, so go away and don't bother posting here. Two weeks ago I just finished "The Subtle Knife." I thought the characters were flat and unattractive, the story ho-hum, and the premise churlish and clumsy (i.e. the whole point is to tear down the belief system of others rather than put something positive forward as an alternative). But if CNN did an article on Pullman, I wouldn't show up and post a negative comment just to be a jerk.

      December 18, 2010 at 10:40 pm |
    • Tony Zito

      Don, I respectfully reply that I have always loved the first two volumes of the "Space Trilogy", (Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra), and went looking for a pine forest at the back of my closet when I first read "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" as a little boy. I am not at all interested in taking up a theological discussion in a comment section. But I do love Lewis's books.

      December 18, 2010 at 11:50 pm |
    • thorrsman

      You actually finished "The Subtle Knife"? Kudos on that. "The Golden Compass" was reasonably well done, but the second novel was deadly dull. It was one of the very few out of literally thousands of books I've read over many, many years that I didn't finish. Of course, that means "The Amber Spyglass" will remain unread as well. Sometimes writers spend so much time beating their hobbyhorse that there is little left for a compelling story.

      December 18, 2010 at 11:52 pm |
    • Sid Stewart

      you really are in jest are you not? If Lewis is anything at all he is not boring;

      December 19, 2010 at 8:49 am |
    • Don

      No, I'm not joking. I found the Narnia series to be painfully dull, for instance. I read each one, hoping it would be better than the previous. But it was not to be.

      December 19, 2010 at 9:58 am |
    • DavidINlafayette

      If you find CSL 'boring' you're either not reading him or you're just completely bored. Odds are you've never read a damn thing he's written.

      December 19, 2010 at 11:15 am |
    • Don

      Except that I've read a lot of what he's written. That you wish to force me to like his boring garbage shows how immature you are.

      December 19, 2010 at 11:53 am |
    • Cedar rapids

      Actually as an atheist too I must say I really liked the lion, witch and wardrobe. I could not finish boy and his horse though, that one I did find amazingly dull but the rest were ok.

      December 19, 2010 at 2:11 pm |
    • LaoWombat

      If Don had written that Lewis's apologetics were indefensible, I would not suggest to him that apologetics does not mean what he thinks it means. But Lewis's apolgetics have converted many at least to a belief in God, whereas no one has has been as successful when they try to prove the contrary. And among apologists, those try to follow in his footsteps are a distant fourth despite the occasional weakness of his apologia.

      December 20, 2010 at 3:37 am |
    • JPopNC

      From what I've seen, there isn't much difference in religious people and atheists because majority of atheists come from religious backgrounds (parents, grandparents), so their moral system is something inherited from them.

      December 20, 2010 at 1:51 pm |
    • Don

      I know exactly what apologetics are, and I know that they are not to be used to convert anyone; they are used solely to bolster someone's faith, period. No one in history has ever EVER been converted by apologetics. It is simply a psychological tool to shore up faith.

      December 20, 2010 at 6:40 pm |
    • Charlie

      It may a matter of taste. I have read almost everything Lewis has written, a lot of more than once. And there are some flaws in his apologetic arguments, as there are in almost all writing that seeks to prove a point. If you are not a believer in God (the God of the Bible), I can certainly understand why you might not like Lewis and why you have found flaws so that you have an excuse not to believe. Even if you are a follower of Jesus, it may be a simple as the reality that not every author speaks to every reader.

      December 28, 2010 at 6:14 pm |
  19. Reality

    As with P, M, M, L and J, Lewis was an excellent master of the myth!!!

    December 18, 2010 at 1:15 am |
    • Augustine

      Ah...another atheist-faith-baiter and master of propaganda!!!

      December 18, 2010 at 9:46 am |
    • Reality

      Actually somewhere between a "Crossanized Christian" and a "Crossanized Agnostic"!!!!

      December 18, 2010 at 11:40 am |
    • sraj

      You assume that you make an intellectual argument on who Christianity belongs to, and with no
      reasoning and only attacking, you proved yourself to be a coward! You seem to have a shallow
      view of yourself. Grow up! Christianity belongs to Christ! I have a reasoned faith in Him!
      Without reasoning, if you want to call me narcist, so be it. I am not a loser. By your attacks
      you have not won over an argument. If atheism is for shallow-minded people like you, please keep it
      to yourself. I will keep my Christ!

      December 18, 2010 at 10:23 pm |
    • jimmynog

      "Reasoned faith"? An oxymoron if I ever heard one.

      December 19, 2010 at 5:25 am |
    • Chris

      Believing in God is a normal, natural way of life. Believing in the Bible is like setting up a blind date that gets postponed every day.

      December 19, 2010 at 2:09 pm |
    • HotAirAce


      I would argue that believing in invisible supernatural beings (such as god, zeus, jc, etc.) is not normal, at least not past the age of 12 or so, but for some reason, unfathomable to me, religion gets a free pass.

      December 20, 2010 at 4:02 am |
    • JPopNC

      and there's such thing as "reasoned atheism"? Reasoned by whom? Face it, atheism is just another religion that works EXTREMELY HARD to justify itself against God and against Christ, with the sole purpose and goal to relieve their guilt of not wanting to believe in God.

      You know, if I didn't believe in God, sure wouldn't waste my time chasing religious blogs to try and discredit Christian believers. Must have a huge guilty concious to continually keep on trying to convince yourself there isn't a God. Sadly for you I must report, but there is a God and He will definitely be interested in proving that to you the second you die. Let me know how that goes!

      December 20, 2010 at 1:48 pm |
    • Don

      How nice, JPop. Let me know when you're done trying to justify your infantile myth to yourself. That way people will know when they can start taking you seriously.

      December 21, 2010 at 9:04 am |
  20. Jack

    C.S. Lewis’s classic series, The Narnia Chronicles, also possess a fantastic secret. Discovered by Lewis scholar, Dr Michael Ward, of Oxford University, this secret is revolutionizing the way people look both at C.S. Lewis and at his beloved Chronicles. Dr Ward has discovered that each of the Narnia Chronicles is based on one of the seven heavens of the medieval cosmos. The Narnia Chronicles' "hidden third layer." In addition to the simple story layer, and the layer of obvious Biblical parallels, Ward demonstrates that each Narnia book "declares the glory of God" by digging deep into Lewis' love of medieval astronomy.

    December 17, 2010 at 8:29 pm |
    • thorrsman

      Well perhaps. Writers, even amateurs, love to have little jokes running through their work, wondering if anyone will tumble to them. On the other hand, many say that Tolkien's Lord of the Rings was very much an allegory about the British experience in WWII, though Tolkien himself denied it. What would "Jack" say, I wonder?

      December 17, 2010 at 10:07 pm |
    • Sid Stewart

      would it be possible to cite a resource for this information? thanks

      December 19, 2010 at 8:47 am |
    • Dorian

      The mind of Man can conceive the enormity of his Folly.
      for in his quest for Immortality, he has mocked his God.
      He has taken on the cloak of corruption, and thereby discarded the Mantle of Grace.

      December 19, 2010 at 10:13 am |
    • jos

      When I try to imagine what Heaven is like, my mind eventually wanders to how satisfying it will be to enjoy eternity with the likes of C.S. Lewis. There was a man who adorned the Gospel with wit, wisdom and genius. Glory be to his Creator!

      December 19, 2010 at 10:18 am |
    • achristian1985

      Lord of the Rings, like Narnia is to personal spiritual experiences, is an obvious (not to all) allegory of spiritual reality as is more literally spoken through the Bible, which also allegorizes spiritual experiences. amessageforthehumanrace.org- if you want the logical substantiation.

      December 19, 2010 at 11:22 am |
    • achristian1985

      Actually a reply to 'Jos': Read your Bible agian and disregard the unscriptural traditions of man. The New Jerusalem descends FROM heaven to the earth, and is what/where we will be in eternity. Heaven is MUCH more a matter of a Person than a place. Don't conceive of it as an extrapolated improvement of what you see with mere physical awareness. Who would want to be in heaven for erternity constantly bumping into unemployed angels- BORING!

      December 19, 2010 at 11:31 am |
    • thomspeaks

      I would not be surprised if he was writing with the medieval view of the cosmos in mind. He did write an insightful book into the medieval framework in the "Discarded Image." Many over look his education and the area of study he loved the most when analyzing his work.

      December 19, 2010 at 3:02 pm |
    • Keith

      1985, apparently you missed the scriptures where Jesus said heaven and earth shall pass away but my words shall not pass away. And in revelation where it says that there is going to be a new heaven and a new earth.

      December 19, 2010 at 3:45 pm |
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About this blog

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.