C.S. Lewis scholars speak on good and evil

by Celia Shortt


Colin Duriez, left, and Dr. Ralph C. Wood, middle, discuss C.S. Lewis’ views on good and evil in the world as expressed through some of his works, including “The Screwtape Letters,” “The Great Divorce,” and “Mere Christianity.” Peter Wallace, deacon at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Roscoe Road, right, moderates the discussion. 

The Newnan Carnegie Library Foundation on April 13 held its final installment of the Edgar B. Hollis Distinguished Speaker Series, “The Vision of C.S. Lewis,” as two C.S. Lewis scholars, Colin Duriez and Dr. Ralph C. Wood, participated in a panel discussion about Lewis’ views on good and evil and how they play out in today’s world.

“I’m looking forward to exploring C.S. Lewis’ important themes – good and evil in the world and the vision he had behind it,” said Duriez.

“I really think highly of this library,” he added. “I like what they’re doing.”

I’m looking forward to “exchanging vital ideas with the audience,” said Wood.

Duriez and Wood’s panel discussion revolved around three of Lewis’ works, “The Screwtape Letters,” “The Great Divorce” and “Mere Christianity,” and was moderated by Peter Wallace, deacon at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church on Roscoe Road.

“Evil is always parasitic,” said Wood about Lewis’ view of evil as shown through “The Screwtape Letters.” “It has no life of its own, must live off the life of its host. Evil is the subtle perversion of the good.”

“Remember, Satan’s opposite is not Jesus,” he added. “It is Michael, the warrior angel.”

To both Duriez and Wood, Wallace asked the question, “How can a good, all-powerful God tolerate the existence of evil? Should we blame God for allowing badness to enter the world God made?”

In his response Wood suggested God allowing evil is the lesser of the two evils.

“God refuses to be a bully,” responded Wood. “God could stamp out evil instantly, but He would be a monster, a tyrant. He will not remove human freedom to commit evil, and He will not simply jump into His creation’s way like that. God will not work without His people, and so God allows, permits horrors of the worst kind because it would be a greater evil to get rid of human will.”

Duriez expanded on Wood’s response and showed the relationship between creatures with free will, humans included, and their creator.

“If God had not created the universe, there would not be any bad at all,” he said. “But would we like not having a universe at all, and secondly, would we like having a universe with no human beings in it whatsoever, because as soon as there’s human beings, any creatures with free will, there is the possibility of freely turning against the person who made us and loves us?”

In 1961, Lewis wrote a new preface for “The Screwtape Letters,” a preface in which he talked about evil and what it looks like in the world. This preface was part of the discussion at the Newnan Carnegie Library, and through it both Wood and Duriez gave some insights of evil to the audience.

In the preface, Lewis said the greatest evil in the world was not done in “sordid ‘dens of crime’” painted by the words of Charles Dickens, or even concentration camps or labor camps. All those things were the result of the evil done in “clean, carpeted, warmed, and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice.”

Wood said this evil is corporate evil, which occurs to hurt the people at the bottom and benefit the ones at the top.

“The real evils of our world are committed by people like you and me – white collar crimes,” he said.

Duriez agreed with Wood and praised Lewis’ skill in writing “The Screwtape Letters” and showing the ruthless corporation in “Screwtape Makes a Toast,” a follow-up to the book.

The next part of the discussion dealt with Lewis’ novel, “The Great Divorce,” which is a “classic allegorical tale about a bus ride from Hell to Heaven.”

According to Wallace, Lewis’ revolutionary idea in that work is that Hell’s gates are locked from the inside.

Duriez’s and Wood’s discussion about “The Great Divorce” revolved around Lewis’ belief of evil being a perversion of the good and can therefore be transformed into anything, especially things which seem good.

“That which we pretend to know, but do not know, that is why education is so important,” said Wood. “(We make) gods out of ourselves and things that are not our gods.”

Duriez focused on the loss of meaning in the world shown through the book and what it ultimately means.

“A world losing meaning is a vivid example of evil,” he said. “In losing God in our lives, we are losing part of ourselves because we are made in His image.”

Despite the heaviness and presence of evil in today’s world discussed by Duriez and Wood in the first part of the panel discussion, the second part focused on the good news of Lewis’ faith as expressed in his book “Mere Christianity.”

Lewis wrote “Mere Christianity” from his talks in 1943 on BBC Radio, addressing the central issues of Christianity.

“It’s very central to Lewis, the way he saw people as being in God’s image,” said Duriez of Lewis’ view of Christianity expressed in his work. “In a way, he saw people as being meant to be kings and queens, princes, and princesses … It was in that sense, he was saying there are no ordinary people. I think that’s the heart of his vision, the way he saw human beings.”

“The Christian faith is a struggle,” said Wood. Paul calls it a race, one we have to endure to the end and those who endure to the end will be saved.

“Look at all the other religions in the world,” he added. “Any religion made by humans is based by paying the gods. What do I need to do to pay the debt? With Christianity, it’s the opposite.”

With all the evil in the world, especially what was described in the “The Screwtape Letters” and “The Great Divorce,” Lewis was still able to find Christ’s answer to the world gone wrong as well as how to live in it. “God allowed His creation to abuse the freedoms He gave us,” said Duriez. “But after, He would not leave us alone.”

Our purpose is to worship God and enjoy Him forever, he added. It’s only by surrendering the knowledge you have to greater knowledge that you will grow.

C.S. Lewis scholars have list of credentials

• Colin Duriez lives in the Lake District in northwest England and writes books, edits and lectures. Duriez studied at the University of Istanbul, the University of Ulster (where he was a founding member of the Irish Christian Study Centre) and under Francis Schaeffer at L’Abri in Huemoz, Switzerland. He has held a variety of teaching and editorial posts spanning nearly thirty years and in 1994, won the Clyde S. Kilby Award for his research on the Inklings. Duriez has written numerous articles and books including “The C. S. Lewis Encyclopedia,” “Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings: A Guide to Middle Earth,” “The Inklings Handbook,” “ J.R.R. Tolkien: The Making of a Legend,” and “C.S. Lewis: A Biography of Friendship. He has spoken at a variety of conferences on Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and the Inklings in the US, Canada, Spain, Italy, Poland, Finland and the UK and appeared as commentator on extended version film DVDs of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings, Disney’s The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, PBS’s The Question of God/Freud vs. Lewis, and will appear later this year in PBS’s new documentary on The Inklings. His latest book is the new edition of CS Lewis, From A to Z.

• Dr. Ralph C. Wood has served as University Professor of Theology and Literature at Baylor since 1998. He previously served for 26 years on the faculty of Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where he became the John Allen Easley Professor of Religion in 1990. Wood holds B.A. and M.A. degrees from Texas A&M, as well as M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Chicago. His many accolades include recipient of a National Endowment for Humanities College Teaching Fellowship, serving on Notre Dame’s American Literature and Religion Project, winner of the Lionel Basney Essay Award, the Reinhardt Award for distinguished teaching at Wake Forest University, and RJ Reynolds Research Leaves to the Isituto Lorenzo de’Medici, Florence, Italy and King’s College, University of London. He serves on the Board of Directors, Flannery O’Connor-Andalusia Foundation, the Humanitas Forum on Christianity and Culture, is Editor-at-Large of The Christian Century, and editorial board member for both the Flannery O’Connor Review and Seven: An Anglo-American Literary Review. Among his latest books are The Gospel According to Tolkien, Flannery O’Connor and the Christ-Haunted South, and Literature and Theology.

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