Saturday, December 02, 2006
A Conversation with a Bishop's Ghost
The following excerpt was taken from my favorite C. S. Lewis novel, The Great Divorce, which features nearly a dozen encounters between ghosts who have been released -- temporarily -- from Hell to visit Heaven and redeemed spirits who try to talk them into staying.
The following conversation takes place between the ghost of a (presumably Anglican) bishop, on a reprieve from Hell, and the redeemed spirit of younger colleague who tries, unsuccessfully, to convince him that there are "sins of the intellect."
I think you will agree that, though Lewis wrote this over fifty years ago, it is very a timely allegory for today.
BISHOP'S GHOST: "Ah, Dick, I shall never forget some of our talks. I expect you've changed your views a bit since then. You became rather narrow-minded towards the end of your life: but no doubt you've broadened out again."
REDEEMED SPIRIT: "How do you mean?"
"Well, it's obvious by now, isn't it, that you weren't quite right. Why, my dear boy, you were coming to believe in a literal Heaven and Hell!"
"But wasn't I right?"
"Oh, in a spiritual sense, to be sure. I still believe in them in that way. I am still, my dear boy, looking for the Kingdom. But nothing superstitious or mythological..."
"Excuse me. Where do you imagine you've been?"
"Ah, I see. You mean that the grey town with its continual hope of morning (we must all live by hope, must we not?), with its field for indefinite progress, is, in a sense, Heaven, if only we have eyes to see it? That is a beautiful idea."
"I didn't mean that at all. Is it possible you don't know where you've been?"
"Now that you mention it, I don't think we ever do give it a name. What do you call it?"
"We call it Hell."
"There is no need to be profane, my dear boy. I may not be very orthodox, in your sense of that word, but I do feel that these matters ought to be discussed simply, and seriously, and reverently."
"Discuss Hell reverently? I meant what I said. You have been in Hell: though if you don't go back you may call it Purgatory."
"Go on, my dear boy, go on. That is so like you. No doubt you'll tell me why, on your view, I was sent there. I'm not angry."
"But don't you know? You went there because you are an apostate."
"Are you serious, Dick?"
"This is worse than I expected. Do you really think people are penalised for their honest opinions? Even assuming, for the sake of argument, that those opinions were mistaken."
"Do you really think there are no sins of intellect?"
"There are indeed, Dick. There is hide-bound prejudice, and intellectual dishonesty, and timidity, and stagnation. But honest opinions fearlessly followed -- they are not sins."
"I know we used to talk that way. I did it too until the end of my life when I became what you call narrow. It all turns on what are honest opinions."
"Mine certainly were. They were not only honest but heroic. I asserted them fearlessly. When the doctrine of the Resurrection ceased to commend itself to the critical faculties which God had given me, I openly rejected it. I preached my famous sermon. I defied the whole chapter. I took every risk."
"What risk? What was at all likely to come of it except what actually came -- popularity, sales for your books, invitations, and finally a bishopric?"
"Dick, this is unworthy of you. What are you suggesting?"
"Friend, I am not suggesting at all. You see, I know now. Let us be frank. Our opinions were not honestly come by. We simply found ourselves in contact with a certain current of ideas and plunged into it because it seemed modern and successful. At College, you know, we just started automatically writing the kind of essays that got good marks and saying the kind of things that won applause. When, in our whole lives, did we honestly face, in solitude, the one question on which all turned: whether after all the Supernatural might not in fact occur? When did we put up one moment's real resistance to the loss of our faith?
"If this is meant to be a sketch of the genesis of liberal theology in general, I reply that it is mere libel. Do you suggest that men like..."
"I have nothing to do with any generality. Nor with any man but me and you. Oh, as you love your own soul, remember. You know that you and I were playing with loaded dice. We didn't want the other to be true. We were afraid of crude salvationism, afraid of a breach with the spirit of the age, afraid of ridicule, afraid (above all) of real spiritual fears and hopes."
"I'm far from denying that young men may make mistakes. They may well be influenced by current fashions of thought. But it's not a question of how the opinions are formed. The point is that they were my honest opinions, sincerely expressed."
"Of course. Having allowed oneself to drift, unresisting, unpraying, accepting every half-conscious solicitation from our desires, we reached a point where we no longer believed the Faith."