(Adapted from C.S. Lewis: A Very Short Introduction by James Como, Box 2)
These are central to Lewis’s thinking: many of his arguments are based upon them and they were central to his life. Omitted are orthodox Christian ideas (e.g., the incarnation), as well as political ones (e.g., the danger of fetishizing equality: ‘I’m as good as you’):
- Joy (Sehnsucht): is a longing conveyed by some image or memory or event that does not originate in any of those but comes through them. It is from a place beyond the senses and kindles a hope that there is Heaven, that Heaven is our home, and that we will return there. It is painful because nothing in the world can satisfy it, no matter how hard we may try to do so; it is sweetly painful because we can intuit its origin and our destiny.
- Contemplation and Enjoyment (or At/Along), or knowing from the outside and from the inside, where a phenomenon (such as religious belief or being in love) may seem very different. We need both.
- Chronological snobbery: is the uncritical acceptance of our own intellectual climate, as though past beliefs or practices are useless simply because they came before us. A corollary is that our belief in progress is misplaced: we must ask what it is we are ‘progressing’ towards.
- Subjectivism is poisonous: because it leads to an exaltation of the Self, a form of idolatry, especially when applied to morality, as when something is deemed good because it feels good.
- Reason is objectively valid: and, though one’s logic may be flawed in any given case, is a sign of our non-material nature: atoms moving randomly in our brains is not thought. It is the ‘organ of truth’.
- Morality is objective: outside of any personal preference or perception and accessible to Reason. To be subjective respecting this Natural Law (the Tao) is to submit to those who have the power, especially the technological power, to enforce their preferences, leading to ‘the abolition of man’. It merits obedience.
- Imagination: especially when realized as metaphor, symbol, and myth, is the ‘organ of meaning’, antecedent to truth. It helps extend language without distorting or destroying it (‘verbicide’).
- Quiddity: is the ‘thingness’ of a thing, be it food, weather, or a person. We must pay attention to things as they are, name them appropriately, and respond ordinately to them.
- Personhood: is not at all the same as ‘personality’, the expression of which ought not to be one’s goal; rather we should apply the Law of Inattention, allowing us to pay attention to all sorts of signs outside of the Self, especially to other people. What am I feeling? matters less than What is that? After all, ‘feelings come and go, mostly they go’.
- Ultimate Reality: is not the plane of existence we occupy, which is but a ‘shadowland’, a sort of training camp for the realist thing. That solid place sends signs (e.g., Joy) and, because it is so much richer than our shadowland, must clothe those signs in words and objects that already have ordinary meaning to us (like erotic imagery symbolizing religious devotion). That is how sacramentalism works: a higher reality is transposed into a more limited key having ‘notes’ we recognize as ordinary.
About The Author: James T. Como holds a Ph.D. in Language, Literature, and Rhetoric from Columbia University and is now Professor Emeritus of Rhetoric and Public Communication at York College (CUNY). A founding member of the New York C. S. Lewis Society (1969), Dr. Como’s books include Branches to Heaven: The Geniuses of C. S. Lewis, a study of Lewis as a rhetorician, and Remembering C. S. Lewis. These, along with his many articles on Lewis in journals including The Wilson Quarterly and The New Criterion, and on-air commentary for five biographical documentaries, have established Dr. Como as one of the most highly-regarded Lewis scholars in the world. The Ten Key Ideas above are from his outstanding Introduction to C.S. Lewis in the series of books “A Very Short Introduction” published by Oxford University Press.