The Weight of Glory - Selection 4 (Solitary Religion)
For me, it is hard to read C.S. Lewis' non-fictional works without being quickly impressed by how tragically "unread" I am. Whenever Lewis starts dropping names, as he does in this 4th selection from The Weight of Glory, I am reminded that there is a world of great literature out there that I am almost completely ignorant of. I make that observation as somewhat of an aside, though I'm quite sure that much of my literary short-comings (and I am not alone in them) go hand in hand with the observations Lewis here makes. If he complained of the invasive nature of early radios, what would he say of today's TVs, movies, and omnipresent music players (or the internet)? Without all of these distractions, and without cars to keep them constantly on the move, it is no wonder that Lewis' generation read more profusely and thought more deeply. There is, of course, no going back, but there is much to learn and apply as we seek to be the men and women God would have us be, in public and in private...
No Christian and, indeed, no historian could accept the epigram which defines religion as "what a man does with his solitude." It was one of the Wesleys, I think, who said that the New Testament knows nothing of solitary religion. We are forbidden to neglect the assembling of ourselves together. Christianity is already institutional in the earliest of its documents. The Church is the Bride of Christ. We are members of one another.
In our own age the idea that religion belongs to our private life – that it is, in fact, an occupation for the individual's hour of leisure – is at once paradoxical, dangerous, and natural. It is paradoxical because this exaltation of the individual in the religious field springs up in an age when collectivism is ruthlessly defeating the individual in every other field. I see this even in a university. When I first went to Oxford the typical undergraduate society consisted of a dozen men, who knew one another intimately, hearing a paper by one of their own number in a small sitting-room and hammering out their problem till one or two in the morning. Before the war the typical undergraduate society had come to be a mixed audience of one or two hundred students assembled in a public hall to hear a lecture from some visiting celebrity. Even on those rare occasions when a modern undergraduate is not attending some such society he is seldom engaged in those solitary walks, or walks with a single companion, which built the minds of the previous generations. He lives in a crowd; caucus has replaced friendship. And this tendency not only exists within and without the university, but is often approved. There is a crowd of busybodies, self-appointed masters of ceremonies, whose life is devoted to destroying solitude wherever solitude still exist. They call it "taking the young people out of themselves," or "waking them up," or "overcoming their apathy." If an Augustine, a Vaughan, a Traherne, or a Wordsworth should be born in the modern world, the leaders of a youth organization would soon cure him. If a really good home, such as the home of Alcinous and Arete in the Odyssey or the Rostovs in War and Peace or any of Charlotte M. Younge's families, existed today, it would be denounced as bourgeois and every engine of destruction would be levelled against it. And even where the planners fail and someone is left physically by himself, the wireless has seen to it that he will be – in a sense not intended by Scipio – never less alone than when alone. We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and privacy, and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.
That religion should be relegated to solitude in such an age is, then, paradoxical. But it is also dangerous for two reasons. In the first place, when the modern world says to us aloud, "You may be religious when you are alone," it adds under its breath, "and I will see to it that you never are alone." To make Christianity a private affair while banishing all privacy is to relegate it to the rainbow's end or the Greek calends (159).
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