We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us: we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.
— private letter to Reverend Peter Bide on April 29th, 1959
Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger, than when a human, no longer desiring, but intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.
—The Screwtape Letters, Letter VIII
It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.
—The Screwtape Letters, Letter XII
But it was Earth he was seeing—even, perhaps, England, though the picture shook a little and his eyes were quickly getting tired, and he could not be certain that he was not imagining it. It was all there in that little disk—London, Athens, Jerusalem, Shakespeare. There everyone had lived and everything had happened; and there, presumably, his pack was still lying in the porch of an empty house near Sterk.
—Out of the Silent Planet
"Peace," said the Witch. "I see what you are. You are a little, peddling Magician who works by rules and books. There is no real Magic in your blood and heart. Your kind was made an end of in my world a thousand years ago."
—The Magician's Nephew
"... There may be two views about humans (meaning no offense to the present company). But there's no two views about things that look like humans and aren't. ... But in general, take my advice, when you meet anything that's going to be human and isn't yet, or used to be human once and isn't now, or ought to be human and isn't, you keep your eyes on it and feel for your hatchet."
—The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe
What we call Man's power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument.
—The Abolition of Man
A man is sometimes entitled to hurt (or even, in my opinion, to kill) his fellow, but only where the necessity is urgent and the good to be obtained is obvious ... . To turn this into a general charter for afflicting humanity "because affliction is good for them" ... is not indeed to break the Divine scheme but to volunteer for the post of Satan within that scheme. If you do his work, you must be prepared for his wages.
—The Problem of Pain
The moral experience and the numinous experience are so far from being the same that they may exist for quite long periods without establishing a mutual contact. In many forms of Paganism the worship of the gods and the ethical discussions of the philosophers have very little to do with each other. The third stage in religious development arises when men identify them—when the Numinous Power of which they feel awe is made the guardian of the morality to which they feel obligation. Once again, this may seem to you very "natural." What can be more natural than for a savage haunted at once by awe and by guilt to think that the power which awes him is also the authority which condemns his guilt? And it is, indeed, natural to humanity. But it is not in the least obvious. The actual behaviour of that universe which the Numinous haunts bears no resemblance to the behaviour which morality demands of us. The one seems wasteful, ruthless, and unjust; the other enjoins upon us the opposite qualities. Nor can the identification of the two be explained as a wish fulfilment, for it fulfils no one's wishes. We desire nothing less than to see that Law whose naked authority is already unsupportable armed with the incalculable claims of the Numinous. Of all the jumps that humanity takes in its religious history this is certainly the most surprising. It is not unnatural that many sections of the human race refused it; non-moral religion, and non-religious morality, existed and still exist. Perhaps only a single people, as a people, took the new step with perfect decision—I mean the Jews: but great individuals in all times and places have taken it also, and only those who take it are safe from the obscenities and barbarities of unmoralised worship or the cold, sad self-righteousness of sheer moralism. Judged by its fruits, this step is a step towards increased health. And though logic does not compel us to take it, it is very hard to resist—even on Paganism and Pantheism morality is always breaking in, and even Stoicism finds itself willy-nilly bowing the knee to God. Once more, it may be madness—a madness congenital to man and oddly fortunate in its results—or it may be revelation. And if revelation, then it is most really and truly in Abraham that all peoples shall be blessed, for it was the Jews who fully and unambiguously identified the awful Presence haunting black mountain-tops and thunderclouds with "the righteous Lord" who "loveth righteousness."
—The Problem of Pain
For "the highest does not stand without the lowest". Does not stand, does not stay; rises, rather, and expands, and finally loses itself in endless space.
—Reflections on the Psalms
A husband and wife chatting over a fire, a couple of friends having a game of darts in a pub, a man reading a book in his own room or digging in his own garden—that is what the State is there for. And unless they are helping to increase and prolong and protect such moments, all the laws, parliaments, armies, courts, police, economics, etc., are simply a waste of time. In the same way the Church exists for nothing else but to draw men into Christ, to make them little Christs. If they are not doing that, all the cathedrals, clergy, missions, sermons, even the Bible itself, are simply a waste of time. God became Man for no other purpose. It is even doubtful, you know, whether the whole universe was created for any other purpose.
The Christian doctrine of suffering explains, I believe, a very curious fact about the world we live in. The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment, He has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.
—The Problem of Pain
I am a democrat because I believe in the Fall of Man.
I think most people are democrats for the opposite reason. A great deal of democratic enthusiasm descends from the ideas of people like Rousseau, who believed in democracy because they thought mankind so wise and good that every one deserved a share in the government.
The danger of defending democracy on those grounds is that they're not true. ... I find that they're not true without looking further than myself. I don't deserve a share in governing a hen-roost. Much less a nation. ...
The real reason for democracy is just the reverse. Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows. Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.
—"Equality," in Present Concerns
Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books. All contemporary writers share to some extent the contemporary outlook—even those, like myself, who seem most opposed to it. Nothing strikes me more when I read the controversies of past ages than the fact that both sides were usually assuming without question a good deal which we should now absolutely deny. They thought that they were as completely opposed as two sides could be, but in fact they were all the time secretly united—united with each other and against earlier and later ages—by a great mass of common assumptions. We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century—the blindness about which posterity will ask, "But how could they have thought that?"—lies where we have never suspected it, and concerns something about which there is untroubled agreement between Hitler and President Roosevelt or between Mr. H. G. Wells and Karl Barth. None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as the books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.
—Introduction to Athanasius' On The Incarnation
The Churches were denied and militant; the States were torn and harassed. By natural processes the States proceeded to eject the trouble from their blood. The breath of a new repugnancy was drawn first by Elizabeth and Catharine. But even before that the contending Religions had been driven to a reluctant compromise in the Confession of Augsburg in 1530, and had concluded on cujus regio ejus religio. It was unsatisfactory, for both sides believe that the Holy Spirit had spoken to them, if not finally, at least with a definite finality, since finality was in the nature of His utterances. Nor (obviously) could He make peace with what was opposed to Him. It might almost be said that Elizabeth and Catharine both felt that, at a pinch, He could.
—The Descent of the Dove
When the means are autonomous, they are deadly; when words
escape from verse they hurry to rape souls;
when sensation slips from intellect, expect the tyrant;
the brood of carriers levels the good they carry.
We have taught our images to be free; are we glad?
are we glad to have brought convenient heresy to Logres?
—"Bors to Elayne: on the King's Coins," Taliessin Through Logres
Flesh knows what spirit knows,
But spirit knows it knows.
—"Taliessin in the Rose Garden," The Region of the Summer Stars
America is a nation with the soul of a church.
—What I Saw in America
Angels can fly because they can take themselves lightly.
Satan fell through force of gravity.
For children are innocent and love justice, while most of us are wicked and naturally prefer mercy.
—"On Household Gods and Goblins"
Men do not differ much about what things they will call evils; they differ enormously about what evils they will call excusable.
—Illustrated London News, October23, 1909
The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.
—What's Wrong with the World
It is idle to talk always of the alternative of reason and faith. Reason is itself a matter of faith. It is an act of faith to assert that our thoughts have any relation to reality at all.
About the whole cosmos, there is a tense and secret festivity—like preparations for Guy Fawkes day. Eternity is the eve of something.
The poor have sometimes objected to being governed badly; the rich have always objected to being governed at all.
—The Man Who Was Thursday
"You are the new recruit? All right, you are engaged."
"I really have no experience..."
"No one has any experience of the battle of Armageddon."
"But I'm really unfit..."
"You are willing, that is enough."
"Now, really, I know of no occupation for which mere willingness is the final test."
"I do. Martyrs. I am sending you to your death. Good day."
—The Man Who Was Thursday
You will understand the sea, and I shall be still a riddle; you shall know what the stars are, and not know what I am. Since the beginning of the world all men have hunted me like a wolf—kings and sages, and poets and lawgivers, all the churches, and all the philosophies. But I have never been caught yet, and the skies will fall in the time I turn to bay. I have given them a good run for their money, and I will now.
—The Man Who Was Thursday
I believe what really happens in history is this: the old man is always wrong; and the young people are always wrong about what is wrong with him. The practical form it takes is this: that, while the old man may stand by some stupid custom, the young man always attacks it with some theory that turns out to be equally stupid.
—Illustrated London News, June 3, 1922
[I]t is only the reasonable dogma that lives long enough to be called antiquated
The old religious authorities, at least, defined a heresy before they condemned it, and read a book before they burned it.
—Illustrated London News, May 13, 1911
Saying that life on earth came from another planet is like saying that a ghost in a graveyard must have come from some other graveyard. It doesn't explain anything.
—Illustrated London News, May 3, 1924
When you break the big laws, you do not get liberty; you do not even get anarchy. You get the small laws.
—Daily News, July 29, 1905
We are far too seldom reminded that just as church-going is not religion, so reading and writing are not knowledge, and voting is not self-government.
The human race, to which so many of my readers belong, has been playing at children's games from the beginning, and will probably do it till the end, which is a nuisance for the few people who grow up. And one of the games to which it is most attached is called, "Keep to-morrow dark," and which is also named [...] "Cheat the Prophet." The players listen very carefully and respectfully to all that the clever men have to say about what is to happen in the next generation. The players then wait until all the clever men are dead, and bury them nicely. They then go and do something else. That is all. For a race of simple tastes, however, it is great fun.
—The Napoleon of Notting Hill
All the towering materialism which dominates the modern mind rests ultimately upon one assumption; a false assumption. It is supposed that if a thing goes on repeating itself it is probably dead; a piece of clockwork. [...] Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.
The essence of all pantheism, evolutionism, and modern cosmic religion is really in this proposition: that Nature is our mother. Unfortunately, if you regard Nature as a mother, you discover that she is a step-mother. The main point of Christianity was this: that Nature is not our mother: Nature is our sister. We can be proud of her beauty, since we have the same father; but she has no authority over us; we have to admire, but not to imitate. This gives to the typically Christian pleasure in this earth a strange touch of lightness that is almost frivolity. Nature was a solemn mother to the worshippers of Isis and Cybele. Nature was a solemn mother to Wordsworth or to Emerson. But Nature is not solemn to Francis of Assisi or to George Herbert. To St. Francis, Nature is a sister, and even a younger sister: a little, dancing sister, to be laughed at as well as loved.
Superstition of the lighter sort toys with the idea that some trifle, some small gesture such as throwing the salt, may touch the hidden spring that works the mysterious machinery of the world. And there is after all something in the idea of such an Open Sesame. But with the appeal to lower spirits comes the horrible notion that the gesture must not only be very small but very low; that it must be a monkey trick of an utterly ugly and unworthy sort. Sooner or later a man deliberately sets himself to do the most disgusting thing he can think of. It is felt that the extreme of evil will extort a sort of attention or answer from the evil powers under the surface of the world. This is the meaning of most of the cannibalism in the world. For most cannibalism is not a primitive or even a bestial habit. It is artificial and even artistic, a sort of art for art's sake. Men do not do it because they do not think it horrible; but, on the contrary, because they do think it horrible. They wish, in the most literal sense, to sup on horrors.
—The Everlasting Man
With the red hair of one she-urchin in the gutter I will set fire to all modern civilisation. Because a girl should have long hair, she should have clean hair; because she should have clean hair, she should not have an unclean home; because she should not have an unclean home, she should have a free and leisured mother; because she should have a free mother, she should not have an usurious landlord; because there should not be an usurious landlord, there should be a redistribution of property; because there should be a redistribution of property, there shall be a revolution.... Her mother may bid her bind her hair, for that is a natural authority; but the Emperor of the Planet shall not bid her to cut it off. She is the human and sacred image; all around her the social fabric shall sway and split and fall; the pillars of society shall be shaken, and the roofs of ages come rushing down; and not one hair of her head shall be harmed.
—What's Wrong With the World
It is said that Paganism is a religion of joy and Christianity of sorrow; it would be just as easy to prove that Paganism is pure sorrow and Christianity pure joy. Such conflicts mean nothing and lead nowhere. Everything human must have in it both joy and sorrow; the only matter of interest is the manner in which the two things are balanced or divided. And the really interesting thing is this, that the pagan was (in the main) happier and happier as he approached the earth, but sadder and sadder as he approached the heavens. The gaiety of the best Paganism, as in the playfulness of Catullus or Theocritus, is, indeed, an eternal gaiety never to be forgotten by a grateful humanity. But it is all a gaiety about the facts of life, not about its origin. To the pagan the small things are as sweet as the small brooks breaking out of the mountain; but the broad things are as bitter as the sea. When the pagan looks at the very core of the cosmos he is struck cold. Behind the gods, who are merely despotic, sit the fates, who are deadly. Nay, the fates are worse than deadly; they are dead. And when rationalists say that the ancient world was more enlightened than the Christian, from their point of view they are right. For when they say "enlightened" they mean darkened with incurable despair. It is profoundly true that the ancient world was more modern than the Christian. The common bond is in the fact that ancients and moderns have both been miserable about existence, about everything, while mediaevals were happy about that at least. I freely grant that the pagans, like the moderns, were only miserable about everything—they were quite jolly about everything else. I concede that the Christians of the Middle Ages were only at peace about everything—they were at war about everything else. But if the question turn on the primary pivot of the cosmos, then there was more cosmic contentment in the narrow and bloody streets of Florence than in the theatre of Athens or the open garden of Epicurus. Giotto lived in a gloomier town than Euripides, but he lived in a gayer universe.
In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, "I don't see the use of this; let us clear it away." To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: "If you don't see the use of it, I certainly won't let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it."
This paradox rests on the most elementary common sense. The gate or fence did not grow there. It was not set up by somnambulists who built it in their sleep. It is highly improbable that it was put there by escaped lunatics who were for some reason loose in the street. Some person had some reason for thinking it would be a good thing for somebody. And until we know what the reason was, we really cannot judge whether the reason was reasonable. It is extremely probable that we have overlooked some whole aspect of the question, if something set up by human beings like ourselves seems to be entirely meaningless and mysterious. There are reformers who get over this difficulty by assuming that all their fathers were fools; but if that be so, we can only say that folly appears to be a hereditary disease. But the truth is that nobody has any business to destroy a social institution until he has really seen it as an historical institution. If he knows how it arose, and what purposes it was supposed to serve, he may really be able to say that they were bad purposes, that they have since become bad purposes, or that they are purposes which are no longer served. But if he simply stares at the thing as a senseless monstrosity that has somehow sprung up in his path, it is he and not the traditionalist who is suffering from an illusion.
On the importance of limits:
We might fancy some children playing on the flat grassy top of some tall island in the sea. So long as there was a wall round the cliff's edge they could fling themselves into every frantic game and make the place the noisiest of nurseries. But the walls were knocked down, leaving the naked peril of the precipice. They did not fall over; but when their friends returned to them they were all huddled in terror in the centre of the island; and their song had ceased.
The real trouble with this world of ours is not that it is an unreasonable world, nor even that it is a reasonable one. The commonest kind of trouble is that it is nearly reasonable, but not quite. Life is not an illogicality; yet it is a trap for logicians. It looks just a little more mathematical and regular than it is; its exactitude is obvious, but its inexactitude is hidden; its wildness lies in wait.
God does not play dice with the universe; He plays an ineffable game of His own devising, which might be compared, from the perspective of any of the other players (i.e. everybody), to being involved in an obscure and complex version of poker in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who won't tell you the rules, and who smiles all the time.
—Good Omens, with Terry Pratchett
Fairy Tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.
—epigraph to Coraline, mistakenly attributed to Chesterton, who did say things like it.
(On the occasion of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, January 2015)
I believe that repressing ideas spreads ideas.
I believe that people and books and newspapers are containers
for ideas, but that burning the people will be as unsuccessful
as firebombing the newspaper archives.
It is already too late.
It is always too late.
The ideas are out, hiding behind people's eyes, waiting in their thoughts.
They can be whispered.
They can be written on walls in the dead of night.
They can be drawn.
I believe that in the battle between guns and ideas, ideas will eventually win.
Because the ideas are invisible.
And they linger, and sometimes, they are even true.
Eppur si muove.
And yet it moves.
Zeetha: hmf. She sounds like an idiot.
Gil: Well, yes. But she was never a malicious one.
Zeetha: Is that important?
Gil: Heavens, yes! If I let everyone I thought was an idiot die, there wouldn't be many people left.
William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!
Sir Thomas More: God made angels to show him splendor, as he made animals for innocence and plants for their simplicity. But Man he made to serve him wittily in the tangle of his mind.
"Do not be deceived by the way men of bad faith misuse words and names. ... It used to be only the English who excelled in the deception of words. Then the French went even beyond them, and now the whole world is adept at it.
"Things are set up as contraries that are not even in the same category. Listen to me: the opposite of radical is superficial; the opposite of liberal is stingy; the opposite of conservative is destructive. Thus I will describe myself as a radical conservative liberal; but certain of the tainted red fish will swear that there can be no such fish as that. Beware of those who use words to mean their opposites. At the same time have pity on them, for usually this trick is their only stock in trade. But do not pity them overly: it is your own death and your soul's death that they work by their deception. ....
Our loyalty on earth is to a Kingdom that is not on earth. ... The Empire is in abeyance, we live all our lives in exile. But let us at least be faithful in our exile. Man on earth has two tasks to attempt: to reconstruct himself as nearly as he can to the image of God, and to reconstruct the world as nearly as he can to the image of the Kingdom."
"Beware of those who manufacture final answers as they go along, of those who will catch you on the catch-phrases and let you perish in their traps. All the final answers were given in the beginning. They stand shining, above and beyond us, but they are always there to be seen. They may be too bright for us, they may be too clear for us. Well then, we must clarify our own eyes. Our task is to grow out until we reach them.
"We ourselves become the bridges out over the interval that is the world and time. It is a daring thing to fling ourselves out over that void that is black and scarlet below and green and gold above and beyond. And we must be rooted deeply. A bridge does not abandon its first shore when it grows out in spans towards the further one." ...
"In this growing out there are no really new things or new situations. There are only things growing out right, or things growing out deformed and shriveled. There is nothing new about railways or foundries or lathes or steel furnaces. They also are green-growing things. There is nothing new about organizations of men or of money. All these growing things are good, if they grow toward the final answers that were given in the beginning. But in their medium growth they must not be rigid. It is not a girder-steel bridge we make; it is a living liana-vine bridge that we grow and fling out in exaltations of arches. Only the the final things are beyond change, being beyond time: but rigidity is too small a word for them. All grows well for a while, you see, and then—
"—the devils stroll the earth again and infect with the red sickness. They must, at all cost to themselves, destroy the growing tendrils before such can touch the other side. For, whenever one least growing creeper touches across the interval, that means the extinction of one devil. It is a thing to be tested. Notice it that whenever there is this special shrilling, when there is the wild flinging out of catchwords to catch you in, when there are the weird exceptions and inclusions, when there are the specious arguments and the murderous defamations, when all the volubility of the voltairians and the cuteness of the queers has been assembled to confound you, then one green growth has almost reached across to the other side, one devil is in danger of extinction. Oh, they will defend agains that!"
"Listen now to a series of sayings that always come hard to brave people. Our task is to extirpate by prevention. Our own great movement will grow with its own impetus wherever it is not blighted. We will break up persons of blight and centers of blight. But often, and this will be the hard part for all of you to understand, we will warn and advise before we kill. And quite often we will not kill at all. Try to understand this."
Never cowardly or cruel. Never give up, never give in.
—"The Day of the Doctor"
It means I've come a long way to get here, Alex. A very long way. ... Through crimson stars and silent stars and tumbling nebulas like oceans set on fire. Through empires of glass and civilizations of pure thought. And a whole terrible wonderful universe of impossibilities. You see these eyes? They're old eyes.
I've been around the block a few times. More than a few. They've knocked down the blocks I've been around and rebuilt them as bigger blocks. Super blocks! I've been around them as well.
Come on, look at me! No plan, no backup, no weapons worth a damn, oh, and something else I don't have: anything to lose! So, if you're sitting up there in your silly little space ships with all your silly little guns, and you've got any plans on taking the Pandorica tonight, just remember who's standing in your way! Remember every black day I ever stopped you, and then, and then, do the smart thing! ... Let somebody else try first.
—"The Pandorica Opens"
The road to wisdom?—Well, it's plain
and simple to express:
and err again
Naive you are
if you believe
life favours those
who aren't naive.
A bit beyond perception's reach
I sometimes believe I see
that Life is two locked boxes, each
containing the other's key.
Tell the king; the fair wrought house has fallen
No shelter has Apollo, nor sacred laurel leaves
The fountains are now silent; the voice is stilled.
It is finished.
—the last oracle of Delphi to a representative of the Emperor Theodosius