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Alexandre Dumas’s “The Three Musketeers”

BLOG #36, SERIES #8

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #69

ALEXANDRE DUMAS’S THE THREE MUSKETEERS

September 6, 2017

Illustration from Rand McNally, 1923

It is September, and that means summer’s over, and it’s back to work for older folk, and back to school for the young. What a perfect time to toss into the mix one of the greatest swashbuckling novels of all time: Alexandre Dumas’s The Three Musketeers. I’ve read it several times, each time on the edge of my seat. Each time, I’m drained when I get to the end.

Bantam Classic – 1984

As I re-read it this time, I couldn’t help but think about how historically inaccurate much of our romantic fiction is, especially historical romances penned during the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I speak principally of the myth of happily ever after romances of the nobility and aristocracy. In truth, marriage was almost always dynastic and arranged; love was something you found outside of marriage. Look no further than the Princess Diana tragedy for a case in point. Even today, in many Latin countries, the same scenarios continue to play out.

In this respect at least Dumas is historically accurate: you’ll have to dig deep to find examples of marital bliss and compatibility in the pages of this novel. Not just among the royal and semi-royal but also in the lives of those who served them.

Also, note the ruinous effects of gambling. Fans of Downton Abbey will note that it has continued to be a problem even into the twentieth century.

So fertile was Dumas publishing history and life that it almost defies short biography sketches. But Bantam produced a pretty good one for its unabridged edition:

ALEXANDRE DUMAS

(Pere) lived a life as romantic as that depicted in his famous novels. He was born on July 24, 1802, at Villers-Cotterêts, France, the son of Napoleon’s famous mulatto general, Dumas. His early education was scanty, but his beautiful handwriting secured him a position in Paris in 1822 with the duc d’Orléans, where he read voraciously and began to write. His first play, Henri Ill et sa cour (1829), scored a resounding success for its author and for the romantic movement. Numerous dramatic successes followed (including the melodrama Kean, later adapted by Jean-Paul Sartre), and so did numerous mistresses and adventures. He took part in the revolution of 1830, fathered two illegitimate children by two different mistresses, and then married still another mistress. (The first of these two children, Alexandre Dumas [fils], became a famous author also.) His lavish spending and flamboyant habits led to the construction of his fabulous Château de Monte-Cristo, and in 1851 he fled to Belgium to escape creditors. He died on December 5, 1870, bankrupt but still cheerful, saying of death, “I shall tell her a story, and she will be kind to me.”Dumas’s overall literary output reached over 277 volumes, but his brilliant historical novels made him the most universally read of all French novelists. With collaborators, mainly Auguste Maquet, Dumas wrote such works as The Three Musketeers [1843-44]; its sequels, Twenty Years After (1945) and the great mystery The Man in the Iron Mask (1848-50); and The Count of Monte Cristo [1844]. L’action and l’amour were the two essential things in his life and in his fiction. He declared he “elevated history to the dignity of the novel” by means of love affairs, intrigues, imprisonments, hairbreadth escapes, and duels. His work ignored historical accuracy, psychology, and analysis, but its thrilling adventure and exuberant inventiveness continues to delight readers, and Dumas remains one of the prodigies of nineteenth-century French literature.

Bantam Pathfinder Edition

As for the book itself, it’s about as accurate as most nineteenth century historical novels. The characterizations of Louis XIII and Richelieu are well done. Anne of Austria led an extremely sad and loveless life as queen. Buckingham is fairly well done. In real life, he was self-centered, narcissistic, caring not who he hurt as long as he had his way; he was slain by an assassin, just as in the book.

Following is Bantam’s summation of the book:

Perhaps the greatest “cloak and sword” story ever written, The Three Musketeers, first published in 1844, is a tale for all time. Pitting the heroic young d’Artagnan and his noble compatriots Athos, Porthos, and Aramis against the master of intrigue, Cardinal Richelieu, and the quintessential wicked woman, Lady de Winter, Alexandre Dumas has created an enchanted France of swordplay, schemes, and assignations. The era and the characters are based on historical fact, but the glittering romance and fast-paced action spring from a great writer’s incomparable imagination. From the perilous retrieval of the queen’s gift to her lover in time to foil Richelieu’s plot, to the melodramatic revelation of Lady de Winter’s true identity, The Three Musketeers is the unchallenged archetype for literary romance and a perennial delight for generations of readers.Bantam editors are correct: If you can find a wickeder and more malevolent female protagonist in all literature, you’re a wider reader than I.

But prepare yourself: Once you have a few early chapters under your belt, find a quiet room and settle in for one of the most unputdownable reads of your lifetime. And you’ll see for yourself why the four musketeers have become immortals all over the world.

By all means, purchase only an unabridged edition.

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Democracy Lost in Turkey

BLOG #35, SERIES #8

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

DEMOCRACY LOST IN TURKEY

A SOLEMN WARNING TO AMERICA

August 30, 2017

Istanbul – The Hagia Sophia

One of our all-time-favorite cities is Istanbul, founded by the Roman emperor Constantine 1700 years ago. During our most recent cruise to Turkey, our Istanbul guide was an effervescent Turkish woman who did her best to sell the country she so loved to all those tourists who followed and listened to her as we visited historic sights in the ancient city; a city that stood as the world’s queen city for over a thousand years—and, not incidentally, the only great city that straddles two continents (Europe and Asia).

But, ominously—in the middle of her extolling the virtues of her country and the liberties its women enjoy—, a shadow came over her face, and she said, “But friends, I can’t help but worry about my country and its millions of women. The person who leads our country is determined to curtail our freedoms . . . but I’m hopeful that somehow we as a people can collectively hold on to the liberty we have enjoyed since Kemal Ataturk founded the Turkish republic in 1923.”

Unfortunately, all her worst forebodings have come true. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has moved swiftly in the last year, to turn Turkey’s once vibrant democracy into a brutal Islamic dictatorship. And, inexorably, in the process the disenfranchising of Turkish women.

In the Sunday July 23, 2017 Denver Post, columnist Chuck Plunkett’s “A Warning From and For a Troubled Land” jumped out at me. Plunkett referenced a recent visit to Denver by exiled journalist Abdulhamit Billici, former editor-in-chief of Turkey’s pre-eminent newspaper, Zaman, which has now been snuffed out by Erdogan. The exiled editor spoke at some length with members of the Post’s editorial board. Here is the gist of what the Denver editors found out:

“Erdogan has jailed journalists, judges, intellectuals and security forces, fired tens of thousands more, shuttered two hundred news organizations, and generally made a mess of things in a country that only a few years ago served as a model free-market democracy for the region.Last March as Billici and fellow journalists were hard at work in the newsroom one Friday afternoon, “storm troopers toting serious weapons surrounded the building. When crowds gathered to protest, police hit them with water cannons and tear gas.” Police then entered the building and replaced the editorial leadership with government-controlled mouthpieces. Fearing for his life, and unsure whether his passport was still valid, Billici escaped, alone, and got across the border in the middle of night.

In Billici’s own words: “A president elected by a populist surge, deftly plays to nationalist desire for a return to the glory days of Turkish dominance—of the Ottoman Empire—finds himself enmeshed in a shady scandal after members of his inner circle are accused of taking bribes to overlook illegal actions by a foreign country.

A president who works a narrative that too many of the country’s judges, academics, journalists and human rights advocates are part of a corrupt urban elite. Indeed, part of the opposition—and therefore dangerous to the country’s future. A president who seeks to amend the constitution to consolidate power—against the will of half the people in his country—and who succeeds in doing so.”

A month after all this, a narrow margin of voters [voter fraud is suspected but cannot be proved] agreed to shift executive power from the parliament to the presidency, and to grant presidents three five-year terms, which would keep Erdogan in power until 2029.

Soberly, Billici continued, “Now the death penalty is back. Critics are tortured in jails. A state of emergency means arrests can occur for the most dubious of charges, and no one believes the courts are independent of Erdogan.”

Then Billici concludes with, “In hardly any time at all, a functioning democracy responsible to the people has been dismantled and replaced by a strong man tyrant whose power depends on dividing the nation into loyalists and enemies.

What happened in Turkey is an extreme result of what happens when populist movements and the opportunistic politicians who enthrall them lose sight of what’s important to maintain in their tear-it-all-down zeal. Concepts like democracy and free speech, respect for the institutions that provide checks and balances and the rule of law are too easy to shed while in the throes of raw emotion and anger.”

The Post editorial team then added its own coda: “You don’t really think it could happen. And then you meet someone who just lived it first-hand.”

* * * * *

As I read Billici’s heartbreaking summation of the fall of one of the world’s great democracies, I was reminded of what members of a conclave of prelates from around the world concluded after considerable discussion: A few years ago they concluded that they were seriously worried about America. As America continues to lose reading households (where books, magazines, and newspapers are accessed in order to know how and who to vote for), and basing voting decisions on 30-second attack ads put out by anonymous sources—they seriously doubted that America’s democracy can long survive.

Forewarned is forearmed. But fewer and fewer Americans bother to read anymore, so our current freedoms are anything but a given.

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Boys Who Will Never Grow Up — Part III

BLOG #34, SERIES #8

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

BOYS WHO WILL NEVER GROW UP

OUR EPIDEMIC OF PETER PAN-ISM

PART III – CONCLUSION

August 23, 2017

Picking up from my August 9 blog, I shall continue.

Our faithful blog readers will remember that, during the last seven years, I’ve returned several times to the plight of our boys.

Significantly, if they fail to fall in love with reading by the third grade, they are most likely to be bored by school and bail out of education, often before they even graduate from high school. As a result of such failure to persevere and achieve, statistically they set themselves up for the following: they are very likely to compensate for their minimum wage jobs by all kinds of substance abuse (alcohol, smoking, drugs, electronic gaming, pornography, indiscriminate sex, and other forms of escapism). Because all this induces feelings of low self-worth, they are more likely to commit suicide than their industrious peers.

Now let’s discuss the inner effects of wasting the nonrenewable time we may be given in life. More to the point, does it really matter much what you put in your minds?

Let’s turn first to Dr. Henry James (l1811-1882) renowned American philosopher and writer. In his famed Principles of Psychology:

The hell to be endured hereafter, which theology tells, is no worse than the hell we make for ourselves in this world by habitually fashioning our characters in the wrong way. Could the young but realize how soon they will become mere walking bundles of habits, they would give more heed to their conduct while in the plastic state. We are spinning our own fates, good or evil, and never to be undone. Every smallest stroke of virtue or of vice leaves its never so little scar. The drunken Rip Van Winkle, in Jefferson’s play, excuses himself for every fresh dereliction by saying, ‘I won’t count this time!’ Well, he may not count it, and a kind Heaven may not count it; but it is being counted none the less. Down among his nerve-cells and fibers the molecules are counting it, registering it and storing it up to be used against him when the next temptation comes. Nothing we ever do is, in strict scientific literalness, wiped out” (referenced in my book, Remote Controlled, Review and Herald, 1993).In the same book (the result of 30 years of television-related research), I also referenced Roland Hegsted’s powerful little book, Mind Manipulators:

“One of the most fascinating discoveries of scientists charting the human mind has been the discovery of neuron circuits related to memory in our temporal lobes…. Recently I spent several hours talking with Dr. Wilder Penfield, former director of the world-famous Montreal Neurological Institute [later, Penfield was Professor of Neurophysiology at McGill University]. It was studies by Dr. Penfield that revealed this file of memories reaching back to earliest childhood. By using a probe that delivered an electronic shock to the brain tissue, Dr. Penfield triggered vivid recall of long-forgotten events. It was, he said, ‘as though a strip of cinema film had been set in motion within the brain.’“Dr. Penfield told me of operating on a young woman suffering from epilepsy. When he stimulated a point on the surface of her cortex she heard an orchestra playing. In surprise she asked whether music was being piped into the operating room. When Dr. Penfield turned off the electric probe the music stopped. Every time the current was turned on, and he moved the needle to the same spot, the orchestra started up again, and the woman listened to it, at its original tempo, from verse to chorus, just as she had heard it years before. She even re-experienced the thrill of emotion she had felt while sitting in the theater. The whole performance had been indelibly inscribed on microscopic cells of her mind.

“The significant fact we should note here is that events of which we have no conscious recall are nevertheless printed—as if on a cinema film—within our mind. Every television program, every radio drama, every billboard message, every advertisement, every book and magazine read, every person scrutinized, every suspicion harbored, every word spoken—it’s all there. And those unconscious memories—the sum total of all that we have put into our mind—make up the kind of person we are today and will be tomorrow” (also referenced in Remote Controlled).

So much for blithe assumptions that what we put into our minds, singly, has no long-term impact. Which leads us to C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity (August’s Dr. Joe’s Book of the Month selection): Note that Dr. James notes that each “small” thing we expose our mind to, leaves its scar. C. S. Lewis, on the other hand, labels it a “mark”:

“…Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow-creatures, and with itself. . . . [There is the] mark which the action leaves on that tiny central self which no one sees in this life but which each of us will have to endure—or enjoy—forever.” Now let’s get back to last week’s subject:

It is indeed one of the wonders of God’s universe how this vast living library of videotape translates into day-to-day behavior. As babies we were, except for inherited tendencies, virtually unprogrammed. However, as the years pass, we become more and more the prisoners of our library. We find it increasingly difficult to deviate from what we are and have been in the past. As long as we live, breathe, and retain control, the opportunity to change will exist—but it is dependent on what new videos are being cataloged and wired into our mainframe each day, or, as C. S. Lewis would put it, on the marks that continue to be made on our souls.Since we are unaware of what other people, even family members, are opening their minds to, we may be shocked by actions they take that are so at variance with what we had perceived to be their values.

In conclusion, the next time you or one of your children pose the question: “How can one little R-rated movie hurt me?” Just think back to Henry James, Wilder Penfield, and C. S. Lewis, and the significant statements they made. C. S. Lewis warned us that each mark is significant because marks tend to cluster and become habits, habits cluster and become character, and character determines our eternal destiny.

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Boys Who Will Never Grow Up – Part II

BLOG #33, SERIES #8

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

BOYS WHO WILL NEVER GROW UP

OUR EPIDEMIC OF PETER PAN-ISM

PART II

August 16, 2017

Now let me turn to a recent Pittsburgh Post Gazette editorial titled “The Video Game Trap.” Here is what their editors concluded:

A group of economists released a paper recently suggesting young men are working fewer hours because they are spending so much time playing video games. Video games might also help explain a study last month from Johns Hopkins University researchers who said today’s 19-year-old is as sedentary as a 60-year-old.Inactive lifestyles, obesity and the opioid epidemic have combined to end a streak of life expectancy increases. In 2015, the number dropped for the first time in two decades—from 78.9 to 78.8.

The economists found that American men 21 to 30 were working 203 fewer hours a year than the same age group did in 2000. Part of that difference is because gaming and social isolation prevent some men from even entering the workforce.

Inactive lifestyles and poor diets are directly linked to increasing obesity rates, which correlate with the decline in life expectancy.

Choosing social isolation or gaming over a fulfilling job or friendship deprives a person of support systems that could help when dealing with an addiction. And decreased productivity and unemployment prevent the economy from reaching peak efficiency, thereby hurting others who are fully engaged in the workforce. Americans need to get back to moving their bodies.” (The Denver Post, July 23, 2017).

Keep in mind that girls are also at risk for wasting their young lives in downhill slides into substance abuse and inner deterioration. Because girls are wired differently, at colleges across the nation, there are 50% more coeds attending than males today—which leaves coeds with fewer and fewer educated males to choose from as they search for husbands.

If we look around us and take a clear-eyed analysis of what we see, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that a very large portion of parents are flunking parenthood by abdicating the traditional roles of motherhood and fatherhood. Instead, they are like adolescents themselves. They do virtually nothing to instill work ethics in their children, they encourage even their teen and adult children to lay around the house all day, play video games most of the night, and sleep until noon or later of the next day. The parents reason, Why make them work when they don’t have to? Sooner or later they’ll have to work—they can deal with it then.

The obvious result is that we thereby accelerate the decline of our families and our nation. Such parental abdication of the God-given responsibility to raise God-fearing, ethical, caring, honest, diligent, industrious children all can be proud of, is literally a national catastrophe in the making.

Such parents fail to take into consideration that throughout time there has been chronicled a natural progression of growth: half of what we learn in life we learn by six. Our work habits are already being formed by our tween years. Our attitudes toward character development, intellectual goal-setting, social interaction, responsibility, preparation for marriage and parenting, career goals and preparation for work careers, respect and appreciation for one’s country and its values, concepts of selfless service for others, avoidance of all forms of substance abuse, solid work ethic, and a deep desire to follow God’s will in all they do and say and are.

None of which are likely to take place if a parent abdicates tough love and a willingness to postpone popularity and appreciation in their children until those children grow up, look back, and then say,

“Thank you, Dad. Thank you, Mom

for seeing me, seeing us, through.”

* * * * *

We shall conclude this series next week.

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Boys Who Will Never Grow Up

BLOG #32, SERIES #8

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

BOYS WHO WILL NEVER GROW UP

OUR EPIDEMIC OF PETER PAN-ISM

August 9, 2017

Lead Illustration for Ben Sasse’s article, “Perpetual Adolescence.”

All around us we see boys mired in adolescence who are increasingly unlikely to ever grow up. In order to keep current as a historian of ideas, I read from a wide variety of books, magazines, and newspapers. But none of them provide the level of wisdom I find in the “Review” section of the Wall Street Journal weekend edition. Several months ago, the lead article was titled “Perpetual Adolescence: And What to Do About it” (May 6-7, 2017). It was taken from Nebraska Senator Ben Sasse’s new book, The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming of Age Crisis—and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance.

Senator Sasse (a former college president), in his book, notes that “What’s new today is the drift toward perpetual adolescence. What’s new today is seeing so much less difference now between 10-year olds and young adults in their late teens and early 20s.

“As many parents can attest, independent adulthood is no longer the norm for their generation. Data from the Pew Research Center shows that we crossed a historic threshold last year: ‘For the first time in more than 130 years, adults ages 18 to 34 years were slightly more likely to be living in their parents’ home than they were to be living with a spouse or partner in their own household.’ Fully one-quarter of Americans between 25 and 29 live with a parent—compared with only 18% just over a decade ago.”

As for reasons, Sasse references the economy, our incredible wealth and the creature comforts we are so used to, parental reluctance to expose their children to real work, and the [in his words] “hostage-taking hold that computers and mobile devices have on adolescent attention.”

Sesse concludes that “Our nation is in the midst of a collective coming-of-age crisis. Too many of our children simply don’t know what an adult is anymore—or how to become one. Perhaps more problematic, older generations have forgotten that we need to teach them. It’s our fault more than it’s theirs.”

Truer words were never spoken. All around us I see confirmation of Sasse’s conclusions. Both nationally and in our Colorado communities, I see businesses closing because they can’t get able-bodied teens and young adults to accept work opportunities. Just two weeks ago, there was a story on evening TV news about the many Louisiana fishermen who are losing an entire fishing season because they can’t get enough people to work on their boats.

This situation so reminds me of Edward Gibbon (1737-1794), and his monumental work, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (published during 1776-1788). In it, Gibbon famously postulated that Rome (one of the greatest nations in all history) began declining at the point when prolonged affluence and power resulted in its citizens paying foreigners, slaves, and down-and-outers to fight their wars for them, when faith in a Higher Power began to erode, when families began to collapse, when hedonistic pleasure replaced the work ethic, etc. By extension, if we wish to apply these reasons for Rome’s decline to America, it would be hard to deny that the generations that fought World War I, were savaged by the pandemic dubbed “The Spanish Flu” (killed, according to Time, 50 million to 100 million people at the end of World War I), and fought World War II, were indeed America’s “Greatest Generations.” And tragically, unless there are major course corrections in the very near future, according to Gibbon’s formulae, America’s greatest days are behind us.

Sobering indeed!

We will continue next week.

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C. S. Lewis’s “Mere Christianity”

BLOG #31, SERIES #8

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

DR. JOE’S BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB #68

C. S. LEWIS’S MERE CHRISTIANITY

August 2, 2017

Macmillan Publishing Company

In order to understand the setting of Mere Christianity, and C. S. Lewis’s motivation to write such a book, it is necessary for me to first write a preamble.

PREAMBLE

THE EVE OF WORLD WAR II

Especially for Europeans, it was one of the darkest periods in modern history. On March 14 of 1938, Hitler’s troops marched into Vienna, and Austria was independent no longer. That was the lead domino. When Europeans did nothing about it, a now emboldened Hitler annexed the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. When England’s Prime Minister Chamberlain weakly objected but put no force behind his words, Hitler realized that no European power was going to stand in the way of his military juggernauts. As for the U.S., no one there wanted to get into another European conflagration. From this point on, the dominoes fell one after another. By November, Hitler stirred up hatred of all Germans of Jewish descent, and began implementing Germany’s monstrous plan to eradicate all people of Jewish descent from the earth.

By early 1939, Hitler shored up his eastern front by signing a pact with Russia, then joined forces with Italy’s Mussolini. Now, the dominoes really began to fall. On September 23, Hitler invaded Poland and split it with Russia. At this, since they had a mutual defense pact with Poland, Britain and France finally declared war against Germany and Italy. Next, Russia attacked Finland. In the Far East, by March of 1940, Japan forced China to accept a puppet regime. By May, Hitler’s irresistible blitzkrieg thundered into the Low Countries—now Denmark, Holland, and Belgium were independent no longer. Norway and Sweden were next. It was now clear that, other than Britain and France, there was no power on earth willing to stop Hitler’s “Thousand Year Reich” from taking over the European continent.

With such speed had Germany’s tanks and planes thundered through Holland and Belgium that over 400,000 British and French troops were bottled up in Dunkirk in France, near the Belgian border. The cream of British and French troops would now be forced to surrender or die. Inexplicably, Hitler temporarily halted the assault, giving Britain nine days to accomplish a miracle: safely evacuate 340,000. Truly a miracle that bought time for Britain—but not for France; on June 14, Germany entered Paris—now Britain was left alone, and it was no longer the world’s strongest power, as it was on the eve of World War I. Its male population had been bled dry during that war—so much so that post-war women had pitifully few marital options after the war. And even worse options after World War II. By 1946, there were only two global superpowers (the U.S. and the Soviet Union) left standing.

Now back to Britain’s precarious situation in 1940. Three days after Germans marched into Paris, Russia rolled over the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. On July 29, Germany launched a massive aerial attack on Britain. It was unrelenting. In only three weeks, over a thousand planes (German and Allied) were shot down. London was in flames. By September 30, two thousand planes had been shot out of the skies. By now, Japan, that now controlled China, joined forces with the AXIS powers. In the U.S., FDR ordered a national draft on October 29, the day after Italy had invaded Greece.

1941 dawned with Germany occupying Rumania. The first bit of good news for Allied forces came on March 13, when Hitler shocked the world by overriding the strong protests of his generals and invading his ally, Russia, thus bringing about the German generals’ worst nightmare: having to fight on two fronts at once.

Russia, unprepared for such treachery, was ill-prepared for the blitzkrieging Germans. Eventually, Russia would suffer through 20,000,000 deaths. But Germany suffered mightily too, losing over 3,000,000 men just in the siege of Moscow. Leningrad would lose half its population during seventeen months of bombardment.

On December 7, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. On the following day, the U.S. declared war on Japan. Once the U.S. entered the war, its military flooded into Britain in order to defend it, and join in with the attacks on the AXIS powers. Four long years of horrendous all-out-war followed.

A PIVOTAL LETTER

But back to C.S. Lewis (distinguished professor of Medieval and Renaissance literature at Oxford – later, Cambridge as well). Early in 1941, he received a letter from James W. Welch, Director of Religious Broadcasting of BBC, asking him if he’d be willing to give four 15-minute lectures on BBC radio, subject: Christianity and the Christian faith. Though Lewis had little interest in radio, he agreed to give five lectures, to be aired on January 11, 18, and February 1, 8, and 15 of 1942.

It was a sober Britain that listened to those broadcasts, interspersed as they were with near constant bombings and aerial dog-fights between Royal Air Force and German fighters. When one never knows from one day to the next whether or not you’ll even be alive the next day, a God who is in control of the universe is about the only life raft left. But what if God is a mere construct—and is only a myth? That would mean that there was no life raft at all! So men, women, and children sat glued to their radio sets to see what Lewis had to say.

Those broadcasts had such an incredibly large listening audience that they (along with two other batches of related lectures) were re-aired again and again during the rest of the war. As untold thousands of American doughboys were shipped in, the numbers of listeners dramatically increased. Churches were full of soldiers making their peace with God. All these broadcasts would later be synthesized into a slim little book titled Mere [meant “essential” back then] Christianity. I submit that it is easily one of the greatest books of the Twentieth Century. For the first time in our modern world, an intellectual Christian dared to step out as attorney defending God’s existence, reality, power, and wisdom to a planet in desperate need of such reassurance. And, as BBC had requested, the lectures were delivered in layman’s language, not in academic gobbledygook.

In my adult lifetime, I have returned again and again to this inspirational treasure chest. Unthinkable that a Christian should fail to read it at least once in his/her lifetime!

Here are a few passages that have meant so much to me:

“You find out more about God from the Moral Law than from the universe in general just as you find out more about a man by listening to his conversation than by looking at a house he has built. Now, from this second bit of evidence we conclude that the Being behind the universe is intensely interested in right conduct—in fair play, unselfishness, courage, good faith, honesty and truthfulness” (p. 37).

“Atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: Just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it is dark. Dark would be without meaning” (p. 46).

“Enemy-occupied territory—that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us all to take part in a great campaign of sabotage. When you go to church you are really listening-in to the secret wireless from our friends: that is why the enemy is so anxious to prevent us from going. He does it by playing on our conceit and laziness and intellectual snobbery” (p. 51).

“…every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature, either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself” (p. 86).

“…There is a mark which each action leaves on that tiny central self which no one sees in this life but which each of us will have to endure—or enjoy forever” (p. 87).

“Christians have often disputed as to whether what leads the Christian home is good actions or faith in Christ…. But it does seem to me like asking which blade in a pair of scissors is most necessary” (p. 129).

“Our life comes to us moment by moment. One moment disappears before the next comes along: and there is room for very little in each. That is what Time is like…. Almost certainly God is not in Time. His life does not consist of moments following one another…. God is not hurried along in the Time-stream of this universe any more than an author is hurried along in the imaginary time of his own novel” (p. 146-7).

* * * * *

C. S. Lewis (1898-1963) was born in Belfast, Ireland. He served in France during World War I, and was wounded at Arras. During his incredibly fruitful lifetime, he was responsible for some of the bestselling and most spiritually significant books of the century.

BOOKS BY C. S. LEWIS

Rehabilitations and Other Essays

A Preface to ‘Paradise Lost’

The Problem of Pain

The Pilgrim’s Regress

The Great Divorce

The Abolition of Man

Miracles

The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses

Mere Christianity

Surprised by Joy

Reflections on the Psalms

The Four Loves

The World’s Last Night and Other Essays

Letters to Malcolm

The Screwtape Letters and Screwtape Proposes a Toast

POETRY

Poems

Narrative Poems

FICTION

Out of the Silent Planet

Perelandra

That Hideous Strength

Till We Have Faces

FOR CHILDREN

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Prince Caspian

The Voyage of the ‘Dawn Treader’

The Silver Chair

The Horse and His Boy

The Magician’s Nephew

The Last Battle

You can easily find good reading copies for it has never gone out of print since 1952.