Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Book Review: God in the Dock by CS Lewis

I remember seeing this book on a shelf growing up and thinking that CS Lewis must really be into sailing if he even saw God in a dock on a lake or something. The title makes a lot more sense when you realize that the "dock" is courtroom stand and Lewis is talking about how God has moved from judge to defendant. This unintentional mistranslation is one of the themes of the book, and of Lewis's whole career. What's Narnia but a translation of classical and medieval ideas into a mythical land? Or the space trilogy but a mashup of Dante and Milton with pulp sci-fi? As an audiobook, this gets repetitive at times -- I heard several of Lewis's arguments several times over -- but it's interesting to analyze. Lewis sometimes sounds like an old curmudgeon (there's even a "get off my lawn" episode talking about the punishments for some kids who stole stuff from his shed), but in a sense this is the unvarnished Lewis, and unvarnished is still pretty shiny. Lewis's ability to unthinkingly translate Aristotle into the argument of an ordinary personal letter is one of his great gifts. What I want to emulate is not so much about the specific arguments (those are up and down as need be) as about Lewis's openness to bring the past into the present as an active mode of thought through this act of translation, and to challenge modernity with the timeless parts of the thinking of the past. Just because someone's curmudgeonly doesn't mean they're wrong, after all.

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