Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Value Of Reading Books We May Not Agree With

In C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters, Screwtape, a high ranking agent of Hell, is coaching his nephew on how to lead an Englishman away from God. Through his instructional letters, we see what Lewis believed about humanity, God, Christianity, contemporary values, and morality.

Lewis & I are miles apart when it comes to doctrine. According to the book, God wants us to focus on the here & now while Satan wants us to think about the future, pacifists are essentially cowards, and progressive/liberal thought is the product of Hell's trickery. Given that the story was written as Germany was continually bombing Great Britain, I can sympathize with his views toward pacifists, who were seen as not doing their part against the Nazis. Yet, I believe responsible people DO plan for the future, and progressive/liberal thought has lead to civil rights being granted to minorities.

While I personally believe his ideas to be misguided, and even offensive, I thought the vehicle he used to communicate his views was well written, cleaver, and entertaining. This lead me to wonder why we like the books we like. Do we have to agree with an author to enjoy their work? I'd answer, not necessarily.

While I disagree with many of his beliefs, I can appreciate his creativity, word usage, and the flow of the story.

“We have done this through the poets and novelists by persuading he humans that a curious, and usually short-lived, experience which they call "being in love" is the only respectable ground for marriage; that marriage can, and ought to, render this excitement permanent; and that a marriage which does not do so is no longer binding. This idea is our parody of an idea that came from the Enemy. ”

Here Lewis is saying, Hell has tricked man into believing love & romance shouldn't expire from a marriage, and if love does leave a marriage, the couple may divorce. In other words, leaving a loveless marriage is a sin. I may personally believe that a healthy marriage should be filled with a sense of love and romance from beginning to end. Yet, I can respect Lewis' use of vocabulary and sentence structure to reflect a seriously reasoned thought. I can even concede the underlining point that a bump in the road isn't necessarily grounds for divorce, without forfeiting the view that some couples do irreconcilably grow apart and sometimes should separate.

I think readers, in general, can appreciate the craftsmanship of a well written carefully reasoned book, without necessarily being swayed by its message. I'd even argue that it's important to read the work of writers with opposing points of view; reading opposing, but intelligently written, viewpoints, can help a reader define and refine their view of the world.

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