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Wednesday, May 13, 2020
Current Affairs ... Spirituality ...

The 92nd St Y just put out a podcast with Adam Gopnik reading and discussing a quote from CS Lewis, regarding life after WW2. People in Europe and the US were coming to realize that they could be hit by a nuclear bomb with little warning; in a flash it would incinerate them and the world around them. Lewis, as the Christian writer and thinker that he was, tried to address the spiritual crisis that this created. His advice is a bit fatalistic; he accepts that nuclear weapons are part of the modern world, he doesn’t talk about changing that. However, Lewis has some advice about getting on with life despite the dark shadows. Mr. Gopnik found this advice relevant to us today, with our COVID 19 pandemic.

Here in paraphrase is Lewis’ advice:

Let us not exaggerate the novelty of our situation. Believe me, you and all that you love were already sentenced to death before the atom bomb was made. The first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together.

If we are all going to be destroyed by a bomb, let that bomb come when we are doing sensible and human things. Praying, working, teaching, reading, playing music, bathing our children, playing tennis with a friend or chatting with them over a game of darts. Never huddle together like frightened sheep, thinking only about bombs. A bomb can break our bodies, a microbe can do that too. But they need not dominate our minds.

So, CS Lewis tells us that the prospect of instant death once nuclear powers go to war is not really all that unique, not all that new. The possibility of unexpected death was always a part of human life (ironically, the current pandemic is causing us to experience what so much of humankind constantly lived with before the age of modern medicine – they didn’t have hypersonic thermonuclear warheads to deal with, but they did have the Black Plague).

We should do what we can to ready ourselves for the threat and perhaps lessen the danger. But we cannot eliminate it (not in a short period of time, anyway). At some point, we either get on with life or we don’t. Lewis reminds us that a lot is at stake in this decision. I.e., all of the things that make human life special – friendship, family relations, spiritual expression, artistic expression, community participation, etc.

Today, the coronavirus pandemic takes up an inordinate amount of most everyone’s attention. And that is because we want to stay alive! We want to keep on partaking of those things that Lewis fondly speaks of. But this takes over our inner selves; I certainly have felt this, a heavy weight upon the soul, a lingering depression of spirit. Lewis tells us not to let it do that. Life has certainly changed because of the virus, we can’t do a lot of things that we used to be able to do. But we can still find ways to pray, work, teach, read, play music, raise our children . . . ok, maybe no tennis or darts with a friend for now, but we can still find ways to stay close to them (such as via Zoom and other modern communication tools). We can still make our lives as worthwhile as possible, despite all the changes, despite the bad news.

I liked what Lewis said because it sounded rather like Churchill. It has something of a “finest hour” tone to it. But no, the coronavirus pandemic is not like WW2. The nature of the battle and the nature of the enemy is quite different. WW2 was a deadly struggle of ideas, whereas COVID 19 is a raw force of nature challenging our species. Churchill struggled to convince his people to keep on believing in the ideas and ideals that the Nazi’s sought to vanquish. The coronavirus doesn’t care about our ideas, it doesn’t know how to care about anything. It knows nothing, it has no knowing at all.

In a way, we humans aren’t all that different from coronavirus. SARS-COV2 is a host of bio-agents functioning in ways that tend to preserve and maximize their existence (and those of their progeny). Much as we do. It’s just that in the struggle between humankind and coronavirus, humans become aware of their existence, aware of the threat to that existence, and emotional feelings are aroused (who knows how or from where) because of these awarenesses. This is what Lewis is addressing. Don’t let a feelingless natural threat rob you of your own feeling. Lewis is saying that it IS good that we feel, especially when what we feel is in the context of a relationship with others. And yes, that includes God or “the transcendent” (however you wish to think about that). Nuclear bombs will only be dropped when humans put aside such feelings, when they turn into something like coronaviruses.

I wish that we had a leader today who could rouse our spirits in a Churchillian fashion. At best, our governors give out good useful information, and our President . . . well, he certainly does NOT rally whatever it is within us that represents the meaning and purpose of our lives. There is nothing on the airwaves or digital pulses right now that touch upon what was once referred to as “nobel”. For the most part, the best we have is what thoughtful people said in past times of human struggle.

The coronavirus pandemic is pushing us to the wall . . . it is asking us, just what is it about us and our fellow humans that make it better that we flourish, and that the coronavirus does not? Agree with him or not, C S Lewis was ready to respond to that question. I’m not sure how many today could respond, or are even aware of the question. But at least Adam Gopnik seems to have tripped over it!

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:06 pm      

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