Monday, February 6, 2012

C.S. Lewis: Near the Journey’s Near: XI (on Higher Criticism)

On September 12, 1963, Francis Anderson of the United States writes to Lewis regarding The Lord of the Rings and Narnia. Anderson wrote in part:

“But the nagging question is – What is the connection between the two series? And, more disturbing, who borrowed from who? With all the books on my shelves telling me how the Old Testament was written, I am ready to exculpate you both from plagiarism with some theory about common source. Is Tolkien also a lover of George MacDonald? Did Lewis make use of parts of the Red Book left over when Tolkien had finished with it?

Lewis responds on September 23, 1963:

“I don’t think Tolkien influenced me, and I am certain I didn’t influence him. That is, I didn’t influence “what” he wrote. My continual encouragement, carried to the point of nagging, influenced him v. much to write at all with that gravity and at that length. In other words I acted as a midwife and not as a father.

“The relevance of your problem to “Higher Criticism” is extremely important. Reviewers of his books and mine, both friendly and hostile, constantly put forth imaginary histories of their composition. I do not think that any one of these has ever borne the slightest resemblance to the real history (e.g. they think his deadly Ring is a symbol of the atom-bomb. Actually his myth was developed long before the atom bomb had been heard of).

“You see the moral. These critics, in dealing with us, have every advantage which modern scholars lack in dealing with Scripture. They are dealing with authors who have the same mother tongue, the same education, and inhabit the same social & political world as their own, and inherit the same literary traditions. In spite of this, when they tell us how the books were written they are all wildly wrong! After that, what chance can there be that any modern scholar can determine how Isaiah or the Fourth Gospel – and I’d add Piers Plowman – came into existence?...I suspect that a few centuries hence the whole art of Higher Criticism will seem as strange an aberration of the human mind as Astrology.”

I have chosen excerpts from this letter because:

Lewis shares about his relationship with Tolkien.

It provides an illustration of the shifting sand of “higher criticism”. That is, if Lewis’s and Tolkien’s contemporaries could be so wrong about them (both their admirers and detractors) what is the likelihood that “scholars” living twenty centuries and more after the fact can reasonably be correct in attributing non-existent source documents to Biblical authors, or in attributing multiple authors to single Biblical books which purport to have one author? And, I might add, what is the likelihood that these “scholars” know more about these subjects than scholars who lived much closer to the time the Biblical books were written? With respect to the NT, do we really think that the historical accuracy and scholarship of the Church Fathers is of a lower order across the board than 19th, 20th, and 21st century “scholars” who purport to demonstrate that the Biblical books are suspect? Oh, and by the way, consider that “higher critics” have an a priori assumption against the supernatural, while the Church Fathers were willing to die for their faith. The higher critics in the comfort of academic and ecclesiastical rose gardens promulgate a fantasy that gives men an excuse not to die for a belief but to live as they wish; the Church Fathers affirm a faith delivered from the Apostles and Apostolic Fathers sealed with the blood of martyrs. If there were two airplanes on the tarmac, one piloted by higher critics and the other by the Church Fathers, and your life and the lives of your loved ones depended on one of the two irreconcilable destinations charted by the pilots – which plane would you choose?

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