Tuesday, July 30, 2013
I am currently reading the book "An Outline Of History" by H.G. Wells. I have been asked why I am reading a history of the world that was last updated in the 70's. My answer is that I'm not just reading it for historical fact-gleaning, but I'm reading it to better absorb and interact with the ideas of the brilliantly creative, and brave thinker H.G. Wells.
My brother recently finished The Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis, and reminded me that Lewis addressed and even caricatured many of Wells' ideas in these books, and I subsequently found the following article online about their contrasting views. This blog entry is purely a review and reaction to this article.
This was a very helpful article that brought to light things written by both Wells and Lewis that I didn't know before. I found some of Wells' ideas to be exhilarating and poetic, while other selections from his works sounded short-sighted and possibly draconian. Lewis, on the other hand, is always poetic, and very deeply persuaded of the primacy of the Christian worldview, which taints his every comment. The voice of Lewis is a breath of fresh air, if a little forceful at times though rousing; while Wells, it seems, expands one's vision and understanding of history, though his writing (non-fiction in particular) grows stale in spots and may be a little too zealous at times in his trust of science and political solutions.
There is no doubt that the author of the article is a Lewis-fan, and (this is an assumption, though I'm fairly confident in it) first and foremost a Christian committed to propagating the Christian worldview; and he has probably searched long and hard for Wells' incriminating statements. But he has indeed found some indictable passages nonetheless, though I have no doubt some have been wrenched out of context as they apparently contradict the spirit of most of Wells' writing. Unfortunately I could have predicted the outcome of the author's research into Well's ideas based on his theological bias alone, so that's not comforting; but that doesn't mean I can't learn from some of his findings.
The article revealed to me anew how much of Lewis' space trilogy deals with Wells' ideas. It appears that Wells was, at times, overcommitted to his understanding and persuasions about the future of humanity, and proposed some radical and perhaps racist measures to establish world peace and, more expressly, a World State. In his works I see a real concern for people and humanity, not, in my opinion, just in abstract as the article contends. He definitely believed our future was in our hands, and it was up to us to care for our kind in the absence of a manifest God. Maybe he became desperate and, like I said, overcommitted to his ideas and became a bit fanatical. Not sure the extent of his fanaticism was as bad as the article claims based on other things I read, including the Wikipedia article on Wells.
On the other hand, I really, really liked a lot of what Lewis is quoted as writing. He truly was brilliant, and I believe he was a good man, even if I disagree with him on some of his conclusions. He never disappoints, and I always carry something away with me when I have read a work of his.
Now, it seems to me that humanists were harshly criticized in the article for trusting in their man-made solutions, but it failed to mention, though it demonstrated, that theists don't offer any long-term solutions, only bow out the conversation with the copout "only God can make it all right in the end." Fine. But what are Christians doing in the meantime to bring God's will on earth? Are they not stewards responsible to help prepare the earth for his kingdom? And yet, they abdicate their role as caring people to make long-term plans because they are afraid of being labeled as proud know-it-all's by their fellow Christians? Granted, any human-conceived solution will ultimately be finite and short-sighted...but what kind of person uses that as an excuse to close their eyes to the evil around them, or JUST respond to the evil around and not plan for the reduction of long-term evil because such plans are humanistic and an abstraction of one's neighbor instead of the flesh-and-blood neighbor himself? And we should all be careful about our accusation of 'abstraction'--yes, 'humanity' is an abstraction, but so is the future, so is love, so is...the word abstraction!
What I really admire was that Wells was willing to get his hands dirty trying to care for his fellow human beings who were suffering in the world. Se non e vero, e ben trovato: it may not be true, but it is well-conceived. Is it fair to judge his ideas as "evil" because they're imperfect? While Christians stand and wait another few millennia for Christ to return? Now who's proud? Who's fanatical? Who's showing the most love?
My conclusion: I think Wells' humanism and Lewis' theism provided a nice balance, and one without the other would grow more proud and dangerously ineffective.