Dr. Rowan Williams, the soon-to-be-retired archbishop of Canterbury, has a book coming out about C. S. Lewis’s Narnia series. From a review of the book in the U.K. Tablet, I learned something about Lewis — who has for years been one of my favorite writers — that I’m amazed I’d never heard before: The man “never read the newspapers.” A quick Google basically confirms this fact; Lewis biographer Alan Jacobs qualifies it as “almost never read newspapers.” (I should note for younger readers that, back in Lewis’s day, the chief engine of political news and discussion was a daily document called a “newspaper.” To understand its role in public life, think of it as comparable to today’s “Internet” and “cable news.”)
This is genuinely refreshing to hear, at a time when most references to religion in our popular culture are saturated with news-cycle-driven gut-fighting partisan politics of either Left or Right. For years I have been hearing that legendary theologian Karl Barth said one should “read the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other,” and it has turned my stomach every time I heard it: Sorry, Karl, but once you go down that road you end up with people defining the faith in terms of their preference in fast-food restaurants. (Yes, I have supported Chick-fil-A, because the First Amendment is one of the most important issues to me; but no, that doesn’t make me a hypocrite for feeling dismayed at the extent to which this controversy has been overhyped. Being a Christian and being for Chick-fil-A are not the same thing.)
I wonder how C. S. Lewis would have coped with today’s atmosphere of in-your-face cultural identity politics. Perhaps he would, after all, have thought that being a pundit on Fox or MSNBC would be the best way to witness to the Christian faith, because he could reach a lot of people where they were, intellectually and emotionally. He didn’t lack courage . . .
(NB: Barth may never have spoken those frequently quoted words, but they are close enough to other things he actually said. It’s discussed here.)