C.S. Lewis on theocracy

C.S. Lewis on theocracy May 15, 2004

The following is from an essay, “A Reply to Professor Haldane,” which was published after C.S. Lewis’ death and can be found, most recently, in the collection On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature.

Lewis’ comments were brought to my attention by bellatrys in comments to this post, and I’m cutting and pasting the quote from this Theologyweb page.

The Professor Haldane to whom Lewis is replying had written a Marxist critique of Lewis’ science fiction trilogy. Lewis’ response rejects what he sees as a kind of “theocratic” impulse in Haldane’s Marxism. It is this theocratic aspect, and not Haldane’s Marxism per se that incurs Lewis’ anger.

In light of Michael Sheridan’s theocratic foolishness (see previous post), this seems especially apt:

I am a democrat because I believe that no man or group of men is good enough to be trusted with uncontrolled power over others. And the higher the pretensions of such power, the more dangerous I think it both to rulers and to the subjects. Hence Theocracy is the worst of all governments. If we must have a tyrant a robber barron is far better than an inquisitor. The baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity at some point may be sated; and since he dimly knows he is doing wrong he may possibly repent. But the inquisitor who mistakes his own cruelty and lust of power and fear for the voice of Heaven will torment us infinitely more because he torments us with the approval of his own conscience and his better impulses appear to him as temptations.

And since Theocracy is the worst, the nearer any government approaches to Theocracy the worse it will be. A metaphysic held by the rulers with the force of a religion, is a bad sign. It forbids them, like the inquisitor, to admit any grain of truth or good in their opponents, it abrogates the ordinary rules of morality, and it gives a seemingly high, super-personal sanction to all the very ordinary human passions by which, like other men, the rulers will frequently be actuated. In a word, it forbids wholesome doubt. A political programme can never in reality be more than probably right. We never know all the facts about the present and we can only guess the future. To attach to a party programme — whose highest claim is to reasonable prudence — the sort of assent which we should reserve for demonstrable theorems, is a kind of intoxication.

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7 responses to “C.S. Lewis on theocracy”

  1. This is a different view of C. J. Lewis from that projected some months ago on “The Buck Stops Here”. Perhaps this is attributable to the differences between theocracy and religious belief. C.J. Lewis’ comments here seems to strongly support the concept of separation of church and state.

  2. Isn’t this more about Lewis’ anti-Papist views (as an Ulster protestant) than about his support or otherwise for separation of protestant church and state?

  3. I think you can take Lewis at his word. He doesn’t think highly of any kind of fanaticism, Catholic, or Calvinist. There’s a passage in
    “That Hideous Strength” where a fictitious high churchman from Cromwell’s time refers to Cromwell’s men as “sons of bitches” and you get the distinct impression that Lewis was voicing his own views there.

  4. Fred et al – there’s also an essay in another book I can’t find just now, in which CSL talks about how he hopes when we meet aliens they will be stronger than we are, because if they’re weaker we’ll exploit them, but otherwise if they’re like us we’ll get our butts kicked in Karma for imperialism etc, and if they’re Unfallen we’ll be transformed by them. Either way it will be good for humans. I *think* it’s called Religion & Rocketry.
    I’ve been sounding ye olde alarum on the apocalyptic morons trying to ru[i]n the world, on my site w/re the Passion for some weeks now. And today, this just in from atrios:
    It’s definitely ‘fear fire foes!’ time.

  5. Was this “professor Haldane” J.B. Haldane of ‘population genetics’ fame?
    In any case, it is pretty funny how many of America’s most extreme theocratic sympathizers use C.S. Lewis flawed apologetics as an evangelizing tool. If he was alive, he probably would be nothing like the evangelical Christians in the US.

  6. Haldane’s original essay is here: http://www.solcon.nl/arendsmilde/cslewis/reflections/e-haldane.htm Pretty mild stuff, frankly. What an attack on Marxist theocracy has to do with the thrust of Haldane’s critique is unclear.
    Lewis’ sentiments I share, but the question has to be asked: does he object to theorcracy, or just theocracy he disapproves of? Clearly he justifiably disapproves of communist totalitarianism. The current theocrats running our government also disapproved of Big Government and the “corruption of power”, until they got their hands on power, at which point they discarded any pretense of wanting restraints on their authoritarian impulses. The number of conservative Christians who have objected to this blatant hypocrisy you can count on the fingers of one hand.

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