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Friday, February 04, 2005

The Great Divorce

The idea of "either or" seems to have fallen into some measure of disfavour among some of us today (perhaps an increasing number). One easily recalls the numerous strong negative reactions to Bush's statement in the aftermath of 9/11 that one is either for the US or against it. In our 'postmodern' world of--excuse the crude description here--relativism, tolerance of differences, and equality of truths, many would like to believe that all roads lead to Heaven (if there is such a place at all). Anyone who would claim otherwise must be a narrow-minded, dogmatic, unprogressive, and intolerant zealot of some partisan, exclusivist ideology. That, in turn, can be all too easily made to seem uncomfortably allied with "fundamentalists" and terrorists.

One of the most open-minded, intellectually-rigorous, passionate, humble, sensitive, and insightful writers I know, however, came to be convinced that reality is otherwise. He went on to become one of the leading Christian apologists (apology in the sense of a reasoned defense) of the 20th century. The author of works such as Mere Christianity, The Four Loves, God in the Dock, The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, and a space trilogy among scores of other essays and also some poems, C.S. Lewis exhibits time and again his keen insight into the meaning of life, love, ethics and other fundamental human issues, and always with most apposite and memorable words. A comment of Orwell's writings I once read on the blurb of a collection of his essays (and which I now paraphrase horribly-) applies very well to Lewis': they tend to affect you like a splash of water, rousing and refreshing.

I quote from the Preface to The Great Divorce (1945) which I read in summer 04 and re-read in the winter of the same year on a long flight home from Christmas in the Bay Area:
It is still "either or." If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell. I believe, to be sure, that any man who reaches Heaven will find that what he abandoned (even in plucking out his right eye) was precisely nothing: that the kernel of what he was seeking even in hiss most depraved wishes will be there, beyond expectation, waiting for him in 'the High Countries.' In that sense it will be true for those who have completed the journey (and for no others) to say that good is everything and Heaven is everywhere. But we, at this end of the road [still on earth, some of us with the ultimate choice still before us-] must not try to anticipate that retrospective vision. If we do, we are likely to embrace the false and disastrous converse and fancy that everything is good and everywhere is Heaven.

But what, you ask, of earth? Earth, I think, will not be found by anyone in the end a very distinct place. I think earth, if chosen instead of Heaven, will turn out to have been, all along, only a region in Hell: and earth, if put second to Heaven, to have been from the beginning a part of Heaven itself."
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16

And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, "If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it." Mark 8:34-35


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