Old time religion in The Atlantic

atlantic monthlyAs part of The Atlanticfocuses on faith and religion. The feature has been going on for 13 issues with various archival experts in honor of the magazine’s 150th anniversary. The full texts of some articles are available here.

The five luminaries featured in this edition are Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., Reinhold Niebuhr, C.S. Lewis, V.S. Naipaul and David Brooks. You’ll also note in the old cover I found for this post’s art that Bertrand Russell used to be a contributor. I found his absence from this selection interesting, in a certain way. If the viewpoint of Holmes was included, then why not Russell’s?

I hope these articles are not behind The Atlantic‘s firewall (disclosure: I work for the company that owns The Atlantic), but either way, the edition is worth picking up — not only for these reprinted articles, but also for the great story by Mark Bowden on the hunting of Islamic terrorists in the South Pacific.

The Lewis piece is particularly interesting because of its frank discussion of matters of faith. How often do you see this type of thing in mainstream publications these days? Of course, no one of Lewis’ ability exists today either. Here is a snippet (the full text is unfortunately not available):

The question then arises, “What sort of evidence would prove the efficacy of prayer?” The thing we pray for may happen, but how can you ever know it was not going to happen anyway?

… “God,” said Pascal, “instituted prayer in order to lend to His creatures the dignity of causality.” But not only prayer; whenever we act at all He lends us that dignity. It is not really stranger, nor less strange, that my prayers should affect the course of events than that my other actions should do so.

… For He seems to do nothing of Himself which He can possibly delegate to His creatures. He commands us to do slowly and blunderingly what He could do perfectly and in the twinkling of an eye. He allows us to neglect what He would have us do, or to fail. Perhaps we do not fully realize the problem, so to call it, of enabling finite free wills to coexist with Omnipotence … This is how (no light matter) God makes something — indeed, makes gods — out of nothing.

The other articles have equally compelling discussions of religion. Holmes suggests that people who hold to harsh religious beliefs are apt to go insane. Niebuhr argues that humans will never outgrow the need for religion. Naipaul makes observations while walking through Tehran. And Brooks describes being a recovering secularist.

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  • evagrius

    All “firewall”. Thanks for the notice.

  • Dan

    I greatly admire C.S. Lewis but I take issue with the claim that “no one of Lewis’s ability exists today.” A strong case can be made that Joseph Ratzinger is C.S. Lewis’s equal in many important respects and, in some respects, superior to Lewis. C.S. Lewis undoubtedly had superior literary talents (I’ve read Ratzinger only in translation). Ratzinger however is at least C.S. Lewis’s equal when it comes to subtlety of thought, reasoning ability, and clarity of argumentation. Ratzinger’s “Introduction to Christianity” is, in my judgment, more profound than anything that C.S. Lewis ever wrote.

  • evagrius

    But Ratzinger hasn’t written children’s novels.

  • http://www.spudlets.com Marc V

    The CS Lewis snippet the Atlantic squeezed out is like giving a dog an old bone with just a wee bit of meat on it. It was tasty for a minute, but there’s a hunger for the full serving.

    I’m almost tempted to find a reprint of it on the Web, but since it’s copyrighted then it would not be legal. Wonder how much a Jan. ’59 edition of the Atlantic goes for?

  • bob

    When I was in highschool 30 years ago, I was advised by virtually every Episcopalian clergyman I knew to read almost any author rather than Lewis. Plato, De Chardin, Whitehead(!), you name it. Anything but that! On the other hand I never find an Orthodox priest who doesn’t enthusiastically recommend him.

  • Intellectual Pariah

    Marc V.:

    Check out your library, or the closest university library. You’ll likely found bound volumes or at least microfilm going back well beyond the fifties.


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