By Mike Haynes
Old isn’t necessarily bad.
I’m not talking about age; I’m talking about ideas.
One of several reasons for the validity of the Christian faith that C.S. Lewis put forth in his classic book, “Mere Christianity,” is that all people, regardless of their spiritual beliefs or where they live on Earth, have certain moral truths in common. All cultures generally believe murder is wrong, for example, and that selfishness is, well, selfish.
Lewis argued that the reason humans tend to agree on many moral principles is that those values are hard-wired into us by the creator of all life, the Judeo-Christian God. Most of them show up in other world religions but are at their purest in the teachings of Christ.
Paul McCusker’s 2014 book, “C.S. Lewis & Mere Christianity,” details how Lewis’s 1952
In his early 30s, Lewis himself had overcome his intellectual objections to believing in Christ. As Art Lindsley of the C.S. Lewis Institute pointed out in 2003, Lewis decided that “this ancient religion” could be relevant in modern times.
And when it came to religion, literature or any subject, Lewis warned of the dangers of “chronological snobbery.”
He defined that term as “the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate of our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that count discredited.”
Lewis, who lived from 1898 to 1963, wrote that the wisdom of his own time was just as subject to error as was the wisdom of any other era. Any cultural assumptions, new or old, had to be questioned. He thought any new ideas must be filtered through the lens of those that had come earlier.
Before the digital age, Lewis referred to knowledge and wisdom in terms of books. He wrote, “It’s a good rule after reading a new book never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to three new ones.”
The idea was that we should “keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can only be done by reading old books” – by reflecting on time-tested ideas. Lindsley quoted G.K. Chesterton: “Real development is not leaving things behind, as on a road, but drawing life from them, as from a root.”
Lewis famously wrote, “If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man. …
“And I think if you look at the present state of the world, it is pretty plain that humanity has been making some big mistakes. We are on the wrong road. And if that is so, we must go back. Going back is the quickest way on.”
Lewis wrote that in the wake of World War II’s destruction, but many would agree that it applies equally today in several areas of life. In spiritual matters, the number of “nones” – those who profess no religion – is increasing. In politics, many young people are embracing socialism with no real understanding of its historical context, which shows failure after failure.
Since the 1950s, each generation of youth has pretty much rejected the previous generation’s music and popular culture, which may not be as serious as other concerns but encourages an attitude that “We know best because we’re cool.”
Of course, as Lindsley reminds us, some aspects of the past show us how not to do things. Exactly 67 years ago today – March 15, 1953 – in Chattanooga, Tennessee, Billy Graham conducted his first racially integrated revival. It was a sign that sometimes, new is better.
But I’m afraid our fast-moving culture is too fixated on the next shiny, bright object and is a little bit snobbish about the experience of those who have come before. As usual, Lewis put it better with an analogy:
“If you join at eleven o’clock a conversation which began at eight, you will often not see the real bearing of what is said.”
I think he and I would agree that the conversation starts with a man who lived in Galilee 2,000 years ago.