C. S. Lewis and “The Weight of Glory”

C. S. Lewis in 1947, in his rooms at Magdalene College, Oxford.Perhaps you’ve read Mere Christianityor The Screwtape Letters, two of C. S. Lewis’ better known books. But have you ever read any of his essays? I recently came across an online version of one essay that has had a significant impact on me over the years. I just reread this one over the holidays, and I thought I’d share it with you.

In “The Weight of Glory” Lewis takes on Immanuel Kant and the Stoics and the idea that self-denial is the ultimate Christian virtue. Lewis argues that “glory” and human desire are not at odds. Here is one of the many quotable quotes:

“The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire. If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

Can it be that Lewis has more in common with the ethics of the pagan Aristotle than with those of the Lutheran Kant? Go read the rest of “The Weight of Glory,” and see for yourself.


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