Such critics must have a verse in their Bible that reads: “Love thy enemy, unless he hath the temerity to criticize thee, in which case anoint his head with oil of vitriol.” John, to his great credit, responds to his critics, even the scurrilous ones, with calm and patient reasonableness. Indeed, he mentions the more vituperative responses not because his feelings were hurt or to scold the offenders (though they deserve it), but merely “to document the fact that he [Lewis] has achieved such iconic status in some quarters that criticism is viewed as near-sacrilege.” (pp. 10-11). Think what would have happened had John published a cartoon about Lewis in a Danish newspaper!
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I just got my copy of the greatly revised and updated edition of John Beversluis’s C.S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion. I am proud to say that I played a (modest) role in encouraging John to bring out this terrific revision. Actually, it is so extensively rewritten that it is practically a whole new book. In the “Preface to the Second Edition,” John talks about the reception of his first edition (Eerdmans, 1985). By criticizing Lewis, John knew he would provoke the large contingent of loyal Lewisites, but he clearly underestimated their venom and truculence:
I had expected criticism. What I had not expected was the kind of criticism. With a market saturated with adulatory but almost completely uncritical books about Lewis, many were dismayed, and, in some cases, outraged by a critical study in which his arguments were subjected to scrutiny and found wanting and his “case for Christianity” was judged a failure. Unlike my sympathetic readers, who found a few virtues in the book, my unsympathetic ones found nothing but vices. To them, I was not a critic of C.S. Lewis, but a “detractor.” My book was not a critique, but an “assault.” My criticisms of his arguments were “facile,” “shallow,” “based on misunderstandings,” “unfair,” “underhanded,” “intellectually dishonest,” and even “despicable.” I was christened the “bad boy” of Lewis studies and labeled “the consummate Lewis basher.” I was likened to Falstaff, “pretending to triumph over the corpse of Percy, who in life would have made Falstaff run like a rabbit.” My account of Lewis’s crisis of faith after his wife’s death was denounced by one critic as “not only false, but perhaps deliberately and culpably false,” and dismissed by another as “fiction” and even “humbug.” (p. 10).