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The Penalty of Faith

September 4, 2013 by  
Filed under Evangelization, Faith, Paul McCusker

Life, As I Find It

Inasmuch as my life is still consumed with projects related to C.S. Lewis, I’ve been thinking about a little-known aspect of his life: the penalty he paid for being an outspoken Christian.

In the 1940’s, while Lewis became a best-selling author, lecturer and broadcaster, his co-workers at Oxford University were not pleased. For them, Lewis had broken an unwritten code by talking publicly about his faith. Not because they were specifically anti-Christian – though many were – but because it was considered unseemly. J. R. R. Tolkien once told Lewis scholar Walter Hooper that Oxford dons could be forgiven for just about anything except writing outside of their subjects or “writing popular works of theology.”

As early as 1933, when Lewis wrote The Pilgrim’s Regress, his fellow academics belittled him for daring to write openly about something as personal as his faith (or maybe they were annoyed because his book satirically attacked their philosophical views). Their consternation increased seven years later with the release of The Problem of Pain, in which Lewis tackled the subject of suffering from a layman’s point of view. Next came The Screwtape Letters, his very wry and insightful look at temptation from a demon’s point of view, which lambasted many of their cherished ideas. Then the BBC enlisted him to voice a series of talks about Christianity, which later became the book Mere Christianity. It was overtly evangelistic which, for his colleagues, was even worse than the others. It was one thing to write dispassionately, it was another thing to try to persuade people to one’s faith.

The Penalty of FaithIn 1947, Time magazine did a cover story on Lewis – the reporter calling him a “heretic” among academics for daring to believe in God. That reporter got it right. Some professors accused Lewis of having a religious mania.

Lewis had been teaching at Oxford since 1925. As late as 1951, he was outvoted for Oxford’s prestigious Poetry Chair by 194 votes to 173. Lewis’ older brother Warnie noted in his diary how surprised he was by the “virulence of anti-Christian feeling” toward Lewis at Oxford. Warnie was informed that one elector had voted against Lewis simply because he’d written The Screwtape Letters.

On one occasion, after being warned that his Christian writings would destroy his academic career, Lewis quoted General William Booth of the Salvation Army, who had famously proclaimed: “If I could win one soul for God by playing the tambourine with my toes, I’d do it.”

According to a colleague, that was precisely what some people thought Lewis was doing.

Yet Lewis persevered even while being passed over again and again for advancement at Oxford. He was not given a full professorship until he left that university for Cambridge in 1954, almost 30 years after his career began.

Like C.S. Lewis, we live in an age when great pressure is put upon us for daring to proclaim our faith publicly. Every day our families, our friends, our adversaries, even total strangers, will vilify us for standing up for the Truth. We will be derided for putting that Truth ahead of relationships. We may be held back professionally for refusing to keep our mouths shut, for not compromising or capitulating. We will be treated as Neanderthals for believing the impossible – that God became Man, died for us and then conquered death so that we could have new lives in Him. We will be declared moronic for speaking the unspeakable – that Jesus calls us away from our cultural narcissism and expects us to sacrifice ourselves, our passions, our plans, our all, to follow Him.

Until now, it hardly seemed possible that we might actually have to do it.

Are we ready?

Are we willing?

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About Paul McCusker

Paul McCusker is an author. He converted from Evangelical Protestantism to Catholicism in 2007. He still works for an Evangelical organization. Paul has over 40 published works, including novels, plays, scripts, and lyrics.

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  • RobinJeanne

    I’ve noticed lately that when I speak of loving God, my Catholic brothers and
    sisters are fine with that but when I speak of knowing God by attending classes
    or reading books by saints, spirituality, our faith, they get very defensive. If
    I bring up serving God, how we are short of volunteer teacher, EMHC, lectors and
    so on, they say not everyone is called to serve in the parish like that and so
    not to sound judgmental in giving them the third degree by asking a lot of
    questions like how’s their prayer life and if they serve the Lord else
    where(some I know do neither) I let it go. I guess that makes me a coward in not
    standing up for the faith or it’s I just don’t have the words yet to be able to
    speak it without possibly make false assumptions about the person. I’m sure in
    time the Lord will help me figure it out. When it comes to faith and morals at
    our parish I kind of got the reputation for know more than the average (which I
    don’t feel I know that much where people say “go ask Robin”) Most of the time
    I’m ok with it but some times I feel that a lot of responsibility to live up to
    so I keep studying so a not to lead anyone astray. sometimes i know it irritates
    people because I tell them things they don’t want to hear because that would
    mean they would have to change and so people don’t want to talk to me much…..
    oh well, I’ll get over it.

    • fourthofeleven

      Keep going Robin! Do NOT give up! Whatever you do, do it with love and don’t ever sound sanctimonious – you DON’T, but people snatch at that one quickly! I’ll say a prayer for you, you are certainly doing good work and unwittingly, almost even against your desire but in line with your conscience, you are doing God’s work. So keep going, Pilgrim! God bless

      • RobinJeanne

        Thanks fourthofeleven, I will perservere and with a joyful heart.

    • Bradley Keebler

      I hope you have read the writings of St. Teresa of Avila who was very candid about the persecutions she endured because of her willingness to be Faithful in word and deed and because she spoke openly about her relationship with Christ and spoke about her mystical experiences. She was very misunderstood at times and treated poorly (jealousy?) but she persevered and God always blessed her more and more with so many Graces!!

      • RobinJeanne

        Sadly I have not taken the time to read her works, though I learned some of her writings, through Thomas dubay’s , Seaking Spiritual Dicrection, gave me my introduction to her, I admired her. After that the movie series.Had to watch it about a 1/2 a dozen times because I had to read the subtitles, But there is something about her that draws me to her, a strong connection. I think it was her steadfastness to the Truth and her perserverance.
        Thanks Bradley for the reminder.

    • Catherine, Obl. Candidate S.B.

      Hello. I was feeling for you. Sometimes I think those time and talent surveys are under utilized. Perhaps making several teams & assigning everyone to a team. Have each team have certain months they serve and let them decide amoungst themselves which people on the team are best to serve in what roles at what times. Then have a backup plan to fill-in as needed. It might take some burden off your shoulders & spread the weight around. Also, have a go to sight glossary for usually Q&A’s that people should check first before asking you. Hope this helps. It is difficult to be outspoken, but the church has been praying for outspoken people to speak out, so take courage!

      • RobinJeanne

        What a great idea, to do a time and talent survey, I will ask my priest about it. Thank you, Catherine.

  • Mary Anne

    I love CS Lewis- one of my all-time favorite authors.

  • Excellent!

  • marygannon

    Love this Paul. I guess it comes down to getting comfortable ““ playing the tambourine with our toes, We just have to do it.!
    Read more:

  • A very enjoyable post. I didn’t know C.S. Lewis suffered for promoting Christ. Those Oxford dons were really an uppity lot. That seems to be true of most academics these days. I’ve heard that many Protestants criticize Lewis, too. It seems he is too Catholic for them even though he wasn’t Catholic. I thought the Screwtape Letters was a masterpiece every Christian should read. Now more than ever we need C.S. Lewises in academia and the public square as well as our parishes.

  • Jeanette

    Yes, we are persecuted for our beliefs in many different ways but who was more persecuted than Jesus when He was on this earth? Our persecutions are usually just a trifle compared to His…we just have to meditate every day on His Passion and Death on the Cross and this can give us much strength to persevere no matter what happens to us…even if everything is taken from us. Great post Paul!

  • mcrognale

    Brilliant Sir, just brilliant! “Every day our families, our friends, our adversaries, even total strangers, will vilify us for standing up for the Truth. We will be derided for putting that Truth ahead of relationships.” This is the part of the article that applies to me. I am retired now so I am no longer subject to workplace problems. When I was working I simply let my example speak for me. I never boasted of the Lord but if asked I gladly declared my faith in Him and my love for the church. Fortunately there was only one person who seemed to be offended, but I ignored him and kept on. Thanks for the article.

  • Gordon Shenkle

    Stolen into a Facebook posting….

    General William Booth of the Salvation Army, once proclaimed: “If I could win one soul for God by playing the tambourine with my toes, I’d do it.”

    C. S. Lewis defended himself against his detractors with the same words. In the shadows of these giants this humble servant will just proclaim… “Me too!”

  • Victor de Dios

    The persecuted live through history and their persecutors dissolve into obscurity.

  • James Patton

    I find it interesting how C.S. Lewis is being presented among Catholics, especially since a good chunk of his works are in fact anti-Catholic.

    • Paul McCusker

      It’s true, James. I did a post about that awhile ago. What Lewis brings
      to the Catholic realm – and what Catholics respond to – is a level of
      “common cause” Christian thought that is articulate and insightful. I
      suppose many Catholics simply look past the anti-Catholic aspects of his writing, as they often have to do with Protestant work that resonates with their faith. Though it’s funny that many Protestants find Lewis to be “too Catholic” for their taste. Like a true Anglican, Lewis was in the theological middle between Catholic and Protestant.

  • Ed Constantine

    I’m especially grateful for this posting at this time. I’ve been wrestling with a decision about how open to be about my faith in how I publicly describe my work. (I’m in the process of starting a company that will invest in the work of other entrepreneurs. I’ve consecrated the business to Jesus through Mary.) This posting has helped galvanize my resolve to be open and willing to pay the penalty. Thanks!!

  • It is an interesting description of Lewis’ faculty difficulties. His late move over to Cambridge always seemed unusual before now.

    Faculty politics is like that over here in the USA, too. That being the case, you could add another perspective to the C.S. Lewis discussion — that the current president of the US behaves always exactly like one of these petty faculty, not in a faculty meeting, but in the oval office. That same tetchiness Lewis experienced is expressed in our current POTUS, every day. That is how I view him: a tiresome, vindictive faculty member, loose in the White House. 😀

    But in the final analysis, C.S. Lewis has prevailed. All those Oxford goombahs that were so jealous — who remembers their names now?

  • gabe502000

    AS a Baptist lad in the early 70’s, I ran headlong into the Joy Of The Lord by innocently attending a Catholic youth meeting on a Friday eve…Ended up receiving my own Upper Room experience in my own bedroom, at three o’clock one morning, shortly afterward! Gabe

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