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What C.S. Lewis thought about Mormons

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C.S. Lewis was not LDS. He may, in fact, not have even liked The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.But Mormons love C. S. Lewis.

Authors Marianna Richardson and Christine Thackeray looked at the famous Christian apologist in their book "C.S. Lewis: Latter-day Truths in Narnia." They wrote about the letters Lewis sent to many of his readers.

"(T)here is no record that Lewis had any contact with the Church but he did correspond regularly with a woman who lived in Salt Lake City," the authors write. "Although we do not have the original letter, Lewis's reply to her inquiry was as follows, 'I am afraid I am not going to be much help about all the religious bodies mentioned in your letter of March 2nd. I have always in my books been concerned simply to put forward "mere" Christianity, and am no guide on these (most regrettable) "interdenominational" questions. I do however strongly object to the tyrannic and unscriptural insolence of anything that calls itself a Church and makes teetotalism a condition of membership.'"

Lewis is apparently referring to the LDS Church and its "Word of Wisdom" prohibitions against drinking alcohol.

Richardson and Thackeray do not discuss another possible reference to Mormons in Lewis' works. In his Narnian fantasy book "The Voyage of the Dawn Treader," he writes about the family of a rather unpleasant character named Eustace Scrubb: "They were vegetarians, non-smokers and teetotalers and wore a special kind of underclothes."

Because of this description, some have speculated that Lewis was saying that the Scrubbs were Mormons — although such a conclusion requires ignoring other descriptions of the character and his family. The adopted son of Lewis, Douglas Gresham, has also been quoted as saying the Scrubbs were "simply faddists."

If Lewis' knowledge of Mormons was scanty and negative, members of the church have long since forgiven him.

"Lewis did not have the fullness of the gospel in this life," Richardson and Thackeray write. "Yet, he did understand great truths and had an incredible ability to clearly convey the principles which he knew to be true."

The first to reference Lewis' words in a church publication, according to Richardson and Thackeray, was Elder Neal A. Maxwell. "Interestingly, although Elder Maxwell did quote Lewis more than any other apostle, he was followed closely by (Elders) Jeffrey R. Holland, James E. Faust, and Dallin H. Oaks," the authors write.

Richardson and Thackeray wrote that Lewis has been referenced about 100 times in church-sponsored publications — about one-third of which were during general conference addresses. He has been quoted thousands of times "throughout LDS writing."

"Even Shakespeare pales in comparison to the number of times C.S. Lewis has been quoted by Mormon authors, scholars, and General Authorities to illustrate or emphasize doctrinal truths," the authors write.

President Ezra Taft Benson's well-known talk on pride, for example, drew heavily upon Lewis' work — placing it in an LDS context. President Benson quoted Lewis and, according to Richardson and Thackeray, "Using scriptural examples and modern revelation, he expands on it, bringing specific suggestions to assist us in recognizing and changing this common weakness among the Saints and in our own lives."

  • Richardson and Thackeray cite several quotes from Lewis to show his doctrinal and spiritual affinity with Mormon sensibilities:"Christ says, 'Give me All. I don't want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You.'"
  • "The more often he feels without acting, the less he will be able ever to act, and, in the long run, the less he will be able to feel."
  • "God wants to give us something, but cannot, because our hands are full — there's nowhere for Him to put it."
  • "The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one's 'own,' or 'real' life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one's real life — the life God is sending one day by day."
  • "Indeed, the safest road to Hell is the gradual one — the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts."
  • "A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. ... You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down."

Richardson and Thackeray admit that Lewis differed in his beliefs in many ways from members of the LDS Church. But this hasn't stopped Mormons from enjoying and learning from Lewis in the light of modern revelation. Richardson and Thackeray quote William Clayton Kimball's assessment: "(T)hese differences in doctrine do not diminish his power as an articulate ally in the cause of Christian decency. We sometimes forget that there are pearls of great price not produced in our own oyster beds."

E-mail: mdegroote@desnews.com