In his introduction to a collection of essays presented to Charles Williams, albeit after his unexpected death, C. S. Lewis writes about the pessimistic side of Williams:
He also said that when young people came to us with their troubles and discontents, the worst thing we could do was to tell them that they were not so unhappy as they thought. Our reply ought rather to begin, “But of course….” For young people usually are unhappy, and the plain truth is often the greatest relief we can give them. The world is painful in any case: but it is quite unbearable if everyone gives us the idea that we are meant to be liking it. Half the trouble is over when that monstrous demand is withdrawn. What is unforgivable if judged as a hotel may be very tolerable as a reformatory” (Essays Presented to Charles Williams, xii-xiii).
I should add that Lewis goes on to say
But that was only one side of him. This scepticism and pessimism were the expression of his feelings. High above them, overarching them like a sky, were the things he believed, and they were wholly optimistic. They did not negate the feelings; they mocked them (xiii).
But I am interested in particular in the first quotation and I invite your discussion. On the one hand, it seems to me wrong to think that we are not meant to enjoy life. I even try to teach my children to like foods that they currently don’t, precisely because I want to increase their enjoyment of their mother’s (and others’) cooking and so enrich their lives. We don’t want our children moping around, nor do we want to mope around ourselves, and so we try to learn to enjoy the chores and tasks we have to do.
But on the other hand, I also see what Lewis (and behind him Williams) means. Consider marriage. If we give the impression that marriage is simply something to enjoy, then we are not preparing people well for marriage. Marriage is often a joy and a pleasure and a delight, but it is also often work. If you focus on your happiness, you’re going to be disappointed. But if you understand that in every marriage there is going to be a certain amount of drudgery, of chores you’d rather not do, of times when you’re called upon to serve when you’d rather not, of times of unhappiness — and recognizing that might go a long way toward helping couples deal with those times. In this connection, I refer you to Lewis’s own excellent essay “The Sermon and the Lunch,” which should be required reading for couples and for their pastors.
But on the third hand … do we really want to say that this world is a reformatory and tolerable as such? That makes it sound as if one day, we’ll be released, when in fact isn’t it the case that our calling is not to wait around and hope to escape to heaven (when the work on us is done) but rather to heavenize the world, to imprint the pattern of heaven on the world, to pray and work so that God’s name is hallowed, His kingdom comes, and His will is done on earth as it is in heaven? And if that’s the goal, then “reformatory” isn’t really the right view of the world, is it?
Now … discuss amongst yourselves.
Here’s how Charles Spurgeon describes the “religious grumbler” who listens carefully to sermons and loves to find things to complain about:
One tribe of these Ishmaelites is made up of high-flying ignoramuses who are very mighty about the doctrine of a sermon — here they are as decisive as sledgehammers and as certain as death. He who knows nothing is confident in everything; hence they are bullheaded beyond measure. Every clock, and even the sundial, must be set according to their watches. The slightest difference from their opinion proves a man to be rotten at heart.
Venture to argue with them, and their little pots boil over in quick style; ask them for reason, and you might as well go to a sand pit for sugar. They have bottled up the sea of truth, and carry it in their waistcoat pockets; they have measured heaven’s line of grace and have tied a knot in a string at the exact length of electing love; and as for the things which angels long to know, they have seen them all as boys see sights in a peep-show at our fair. Having sold their modesty and become wiser than their teachers, they ride a very high horse and jump over all five-barred gates of Bible texts which teach doctrines contrary to their notions.
When this mischief happens to good men, it is a great pity for such sweet pots of ointment to be spoiled by flies, yet one learns to bear with them just as I do with old Violet, for he is a rare horse, though he does set his ears back and throw out his legs at times. But there is a bragging lot about, who are all sting and no honey, all whip and no hay, all grunt and no bacon. These do nothing but rail from morning to night at all who cannot see through their spectacles.
If they would but mix up a handful of good living with all their bushels of bounce, it would be more bear able; but no, they don’t care for such legality. Men so sound as they are can’t be expected to be good at anything else; they are the heavenly watchdogs to guard the house of the Lord from those thieves and robbers who don’t preach sound doctrine, and if they do worry the sheep, or steal a rabbit or two by the sly, who would have the heart to blame them? The Lord’s dear people, as they call themselves, have enough to do to keep their doctrine sound; and if their manners are cracked, who can wonder! No man can see to everything at once.
These are the moles that want catching in many of our pastures, not for their own sakes, for there is not a sweet mouthful in them, but for the sake of the meadows which they spoil. I would not find half a fault with their doctrine if it were not for their spirit, but vinegar is sweet next to it, and crabs are figs in comparison. It must be very high doctrine that is too high for me, but I must have high experience and high practice with it, or it turns my stomach. — Charles Spurgeon, John Ploughman’s Talk, 21-22.
Another reason to read Patrick O’Brian: Wonderful passages like this, in which Stephen Maturin, the naturalist and ship’s doctor, is talking to a colleague from Boston about American politics and the American language. The conversation takes place during the War of 1812, though the first part of it looks forward to another conflict within America itself. But it’s the comment about grits, though, that made me laugh out loud and I now repeat it every time I make grits for breakfast.
Stephen said, “Your republic, now, Mr Evans: do you look upon it as one and indivisible, or rather as a voluntary association of sovereign states?”
“Well, sir, for my part I come from Boston, and I am a Federalist: that is to say I look upon the Union as the sovereign power. I may not like Mr Madison, nor Mr Madison’s war — indeed, I deplore it: I deplore this connection with the French, with their Emperor Napoleon, to say nothing of the alienation of our English friends — but I see him as the President of the whole nation, and I concede his right to declare it, however mistakenly, in my name; though I may add that by no means all of my Federalist friends in New England agree with me, particularly those whose trade is being ruined. Most of the other officers aboard, however, are Republicans, and they cry up the sovereign rights of the individual states. Nearly all of them come from the South.”
“From the South? Do they, indeed? Now that may account for a difference I have noticed in their manner of speech, a certain langour — what I might almost term a lisping deliberation in delivery, not unmelodious, but sometimes difficult for the unaccustomed ear. Whereas all that you say, sir, is instantly comprehensible.”
“Why, sure,” said Evans, in his harsh nasal metallic bray, “the right American English is spoke in Boston, and even as far as Watertown. You will find no corruption there, I believe, no colonial expressions, other than those that arise naturally from our intercourse with the Indians. Boston, sir, is a well of English, pure and undefiled.”
“I am fully persuaded of it,” said Stephen. “Yet at breakfast this morning Mr Adams, who was also riz in Boston, stated that hominy grits cut no ice with him. I have been puzzling over his words ever since. I am acquainted with the grits, a grateful pap that might with advantage be exhibited in cases of duodenal debility, and I at once perceived that the expression was figurative. But in what does the figure consist? Is it desirable that ice should be cut? And if so, why? And what is the force of with?”
After barely a moment’s pause, Mr Evans said, “Ah, there now, you have an Indian expression. It is a variant upon the Iroquois katno aiss’ vismi — I am unmoved, unimpressed. Yes, sir” — Patrick O’Brian, The Fortune of War, 138-139.
I probably shouldn’t have to say this, but because there are readers online who wonder if this is indeed the correct etymology, I will: Stephen is playing with Evans here, pointing out a perfect example of the sort of phrase Evans claims is never found in Boston, and Evans is trying to save face by coming up (“after barely a moment’s pause”) with a fake etymology.
Many men live one step behind life’s events. They try to to learn to work after they get a job. They seek a class for husbands after they are struggling in their marriage. They read about fatherhood after their children rebel. A good education prepares a young man for his future situations before they come.
Education and going to school are not necessarily the same thing. You may attend the best college, graduate with highest honors, and still remain uneducated. Even if you have a degree, you are uneducated if you are not ready for the coming events in your life. The American educational system expects each student to spend about sixteen years becoming “educated” to get a successful job. Earning money and job security are often the goals. When students get their college degrees they are told, and often think, they are educated. They may be fit for a job; however, if they remain unfit for the majority of life’s situations they remain uneducated. Life is much more than having a job. — Bob Schultz, Boyhood and Beyond, 66.