Tuesday, April 17, 2012

From "The Four Loves" by C.S. Lewis. Part II

An excerpt from C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves: “Likings and Loves for the Sub-human” part II

“If you take nature as a teacher she will teach you exactly the lessons you had already decided to learn; this is only another way of saying that nature does not teach.  The tendency to take her as a teacher is obviously very easily grafted on to the experience we call “love of nature.” But it is only a graft.  While we are actually subjected to them, the “moods” and “spirits” of nature point no morals.  Overwhelming gaiety, insupportable grandeur, sombre desolation are flung at you. Make what you can of them, if you must make at all. The only imperative that nature utters is, “Look. Listen. Attend.”
The fact that this imperative is so often misinterpreted and sets people making theologies and pantheologies and antitheologies—all of them which can be debunked—does not really touch the central experience itself.  What nature-lovers—whether they are Wordsworthians or people with  “dark gods in their blood” –get from nature is an iconography, a language of images.  I do not mean simply visual images; it is the “moods” or “spirits” themselves—the powerful expositions of terror, gloom, jocundity, cruelty, lust, innocence, purity—that are the images.  In them each man can clothe his own belief.  We must learn our theology or philosophy elsewhere (not surprisingly, we often learn them from theologians and philosophers).
But when I speak of “clothing” our belief in such images I do not mean anything like using nature for similes or metaphors in the manner of the poets.  Indeed I might have said “filling” or “incarnating” rather than clothing.  Many people—I am one myself—would never, but for what nature does to us, have had any content to put into the words we must use in confessing our faith.  Nature never taught me that there exists a God of glory and of infinite majesty. I had to learn that in other ways.  But nature gave the word “glory” a meaning for me.  I still do not know where else I could have found one. I do not see how the “fear” of God could have ever meant to me anything but the lowest prudential efforts to be safe, if I had never seen certain ominous ravines and unapproachable crags.  And if nature had never awakened certain longings in me, huge areas of what I can now mean by the “love” of God would never, so far as I can see, have existed.
Of course the  fact that a Christian can so use nature is not even the beginning of a proof that Christianity is true.  Those suffering from Dark Gods can equally use her (I suppose) for their creed.  That is precisely the point.   Nature does not teach.  A true philosophy may sometimes validate an experience of nature; and experience of nature cannot validate a philosophy.  Nature will not verify any theological or metaphysical proposition (or not in the manner we are now considering); she will help to show what it means.
And not, on the Christian premises, by accident.  The created glory may be expected to give us hints of the uncreated; for the one is derived from the other and in some fashion reflects it.
In some fashion.  But not perhaps in so direct and simple a fashion as we at first might suppose.  For of course all the facts stressed by nature-lovers of the other school are facts too; there are worms in the belly as well as primroses in the wood.  Try to reconcile them, or to show that they don’t really need reconciliation, and you are turning from direct experience of nature—our present subject—to metaphysics or theodicy or something of that sort.  That may be a sensible thing to do; but I think it should be kept distinct from the love of nature.  While we are on that level, while we are sill claiming to speak of what nature has directly “said” to us, we must stick to it.  We have seen an image of glory.  We must not try to find a direct path through it and beyond it to an increasing knowledge of God. The path peters out almost at once. Terrors and mysteries, the whole depth of God’s counsels and the whole tangle of the history of the universe, choke it.  We can’t get through; not that way.  We must make a detour—Leave the hills and woods and go back to our studies, to church, to our Bibles, to our knees.  Otherwise the love of nature is beginning to turn into a nature religion.  And then, even if it does not lead us to the Dark Gods, it will lead us to a great deal of nonsense.” (p 223-224)

C.S. Lewis "The Four Loves" in The Beloved Works of C.S. Lewis (New York, Inspirational Press, 1960)

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