God in the Dock:
Essays on Theology and Ethics

C. S. Lewis
edited by Walter Hooper

C. S. Lewis

These pages:
quick index to selections
Part I, 1-9 (this page)
Part I, 10-23
Part II
Parts III and IV


Walter Hooper


the Inklings


index pages:

quick index to quoted selections from God in the Dock
Part I   1:   Evil and God
  2:   Miracles
  3:   Dogma and the Universe
  4:   Answers to Questions on Christianity
  5:   Myth Became Fact
  6:   ‘Horrid Red Things’
  7:   Religion and Science
  9:   The Grand Miracle
10:   Christian Apologetics
11:   Work and Prayer
13:   On the Transmission of Christianity
15:   The Founding of the Oxford Socratic Club
16:   Religion Without Dogma?
17:   Some Thoughts
18:   ‘The Trouble With “X”...’
23:   Must Our Image of God Go?
Part II   1:   Dangers of National Repentance
  2:   Two Ways With the Self
  3:   Meditation on the Third Commandment
  4:   On the Reading of Old Books
  6:   Meditation in a Tool Shed
  8:   The Decline of Religion
11:   Priestesses in the Church?
12:   God in the Dock
14:   Revival or Decay?
16:   Cross-Examination
Part III  1:   ‘Bulverism’ or, The Foundation of 20th Century Thought
  2:   First and Second Things
  4:   The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment
  7:   Delinquents in the Snow
  8:   Is Progress Possible? Willing Slaves of the Welfare State
  9:   We Have No ‘Right to Happiness’
Part IV
  4:   Mr. C. S. Lewis on Christianity
  7:   The Church’s Liturgy, Invocation, and Invocation of Saints
  8:   The Holy Name
11:   Pittenger-Lewis and Version Vernacular

Part I

Part I: 1

Evil and God

The Spectator, vol. CLXVI (7 February 1941)

Copyright © 1970 by The Trustees of the Estate of C. S. Lewis

There is no sense in talking of ‘becoming better’ if better means simply ’what we are becoming’ — it is like congratulating yourself on reaching your destination and defining destination as ‘the place you have reached’. Mellontolatry, or the worship of the future, is a fuddled religion.

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Part I: 2


St. Jude’s Gazette, No. 73 (October 1942)

Copyright © 1970 by The Trustees of the Estate of C. S. Lewis

The belief in such a supernatural reality itself can neither be proved nor disproved by experience. The arguments for its existence are metaphysical, and to me conclusive. They turn on the fact that even to think and act in the natural world we have to assume something beyond it and even assume that we partly belong to that something. In order to think we must claim for our own reasoning a validity which is not credible if our own thought is merely a function of our brain, and our brains a by-product of irrational physical processes. In order to act, above the level of mere impulse, we must claim a suitable validity for our judgments of good and evil. In both cases we get the same disquieting result. The concept of nature itself is one we have reached only tacitly by claiming a sort of super-natural status for ourselves.

God creates the vine and teaches it to draw up water by its roots and, with the aid of the sun, to turn that water into a juice which will ferment and take on certain qualities. Thus every year, from Noah’s time till ours, God turns water into wine. That, men fail to see. Either like the Pagans they refer the process to some finite spirit, Bacchus or Dionysus: or else, like the moderns, they attribute real and ultimate causality to the chemical and other material phenomena which are all that our senses can discover in it. But when Christ at Cana makes water into wine, the mask is off. The miracle has only half its effect if it only convinces us that Christ is God: it will have its full effect if whenever we see a vineyard or drink a glass of wine we remember that here works He who sat at the wedding party in Cana. Every year God makes a little corn into much corn: the seed is sown and there is an increase, and men, according to the fashion of their age, say ‘It is Ceres, it is Adonis, it is the Corn-King,’ or else ‘It is the laws of Nature.’ The close-up, the translation, of this annual wonder is the feeding of the five thousand. Bread is not made there of nothing. Bread is not made there of stones, as the Devil once suggested to Our Lord in vain. A little bread is made into much bread. The Son will do nothing but what He sees the Father do. There is, so to speak, a family style. The miracles of healing fall into the same pattern. This is sometimes obscured for us by the somewhat magical view we tend to take of ordinary medicine. The doctors themselves do not take this view. The magic is not in the medicine but in the patient’s body.

If the ‘natural’ means that which can be fitted into a class, that which obeys a norm, that which can be paralleled, that which can be explained by reference to other events, then Nature herself as a whole is not natural. If a miracle means that which must simply be accepted, the unanswerable actuality which gives no account of itself but simply is, then the universe is one great miracle. To direct us to that great miracle is one main object of the earthly acts of Christ: that are, as He himself said, Signs.

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Part I: 3

Dogma and the Universe

The Guardian, March 19 and March 26, 1943

Copyright © 1970 by The Trustees of the Estate of C. S. Lewis

Ptolemy knew just as well as Eddington that the earth was infinitesimal in comparison with the whole content of space. There is no question here of knowledge having grown until the frame of archaic thought is no longer able to contain it. The real question is why the spatial insignificance of the earth, after being known for centuries, should suddenly in the last century have become an argument against Christianity.
Being what we are, rational but also animate, amphibians who start from the world of sense and proceed through myth and metaphor to the world of spirit, I do not see how we could have come to know the greatness of God without that hint furnished by the greatness of the material universe. Once again, what sort of universe do we demand? If it were small enough to be cosy, it would not be big enough to be sublime. If it is large enough for us to stretch our spiritual limbs in, it must be large enough to baffle us. Cramped or terrified, we must, in any conceivable world, be one or the other.

We are in no position to draw up maps of God’s psychology, and prescribe limits to His interests. We would not do so even for a man whom we knew to be greater than ourselves. The doctrines that God is love and that He delights in men, are positive doctrines, not limiting doctrines. He is not less than this. What more He may be, we do not know; we know only that He must be more than we can conceive. It is to be expected that His creation should be, in the main, untelligible to us.

Christians themselves have been much to blame for the misunderstanding on these matters. They have a bad habit of talking as if revelation existed to gratify curiosity by illuminating all creation so that it becomes self-explanatory and all questions are answered. But revelation appears to me to be purely practical, to be addressed to the particular animal, Fallen Man, for the relief of his urgent necessities — not to the spirit of inquiry in man for the gratification of his liberal curiosity.

A great Christian statesman, considering the morality of a measure which will affect millions of lives, and which involves economic, geographical and political considerations of the utmost complexity, is in a different position from a boy first learning that one must not cheat or tell lies, or hurt innocent people. But only in so far as that first knowledge of the great moral platitudes survives unimpaired in the statesman will his deliberation be moral at all. If that goes, then there has been no progress, but only mere change.

When the author of Genesis says that God made man in His own image, he may have pictured a vaguely corporeal God making man as a child makes a figure out of plasticine. A modern Christian philosopher may think of a process lasting from the first creation of matter to the final appearance on the planet of an organism fit to receive spiritual as well as biological life. But both mean essentially the same thing. Both are denying the same thing — the doctrine that matter by some blind power inherent in itself has produced spirituality.

Does this mean that Christians on different levels of general education conceal radically different beliefs under an identical form of words? Certainly not. For what they agree on is the substance, and what they differ about is the shadow.

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Part I: 4

Answers to Questions on Christianity

Electric and Musical Industries Christian Fellowship, Hayes, Middlesex; pamphlet, 1944

Copyright © 1970 by The Trustees of the Estate of C. S. Lewis

You are told to love your neighbor as yourself. How do you love yourself? When I look into my own mind, I find that I do not love myself by thinking myself a dear old chap or having affectionate feelings. I do not think that I love myself because I am particularly good, but just because I am myself and quite apart from my character. I might detest something which I have done. Nevertheless, I do not cease to love myself. In other words, that definite distinction that Christians make between hating sin and loving the sinner is one that you have been making in your own case since you were born.

I can’t say for certain which bits came into Christianity from earlier religions. An enormous amount did. I should find it hard to believe Christianity if that were not so. I couldn’t believe that nine-hundred and ninety-nine religions were completely false and the remaining one true. In reality, Christianity is primarily the fulfilment of the Jewish religion, but also the fulfilment of what was vaguely hinted at in all the religions at their best. What was vaguely seen in them all comes into focus in Christianity — just as God Himself comes into focus by becoming a Man.

I am only a layman and a recent Christian, and I do not know much about these things, but in all the things which I have written and thought I have always stuck to traditional, dogmatic positions. The result is that letters of agreement reach me from what are ordinarily regarded as the most different kinds of Christians; for instance, I get letters from Jesuits, monks, nuns, and also from Quakers and Welsh Dissenters, and so on. So it seems to me that the ‘extremist’ elements in every Church are nearest one another and the liberal and ‘broad-minded’ people in each Body could never be united at all. The world of dogmatic Christianithy is a place in which thousands of people of quite different types keep on saying the same thing, and the world of ‘broad-mindedness’ and watered-down ‘religion’ is a world where a small number of people (all of the same type) say totally different things and change their minds every few minutes. We shall never get re-union from them.

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Part I: 5

Myth Became Fact

World Dominion, vol. XXII (September-October 1944)

Copyright © 1970 by The Trustees of the Estate of C. S. Lewis

What flows into you from the myth is not truth but reality (truth is always about something, but reality is that about which truth is), and, therefore, every myth becomes the father of innumerable truths on the abstract level. Myth is the mountain whence all the different streams arise which become truths down here in the valley; in hac valle abstractionis. Or, if you prefer, myth is the isthmus which connects the peninsular world of thought with that vast continent we really belong to. It is not, like truth, abstract; nor is it, like direct experience, bound to the particular.

Now as myth transcends thought, Incarnation transcends myth. The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact. The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth, comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to the earth of history. It happens — at a particular date, in a particular place, followed by definable historical consequences.

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Part I: 6

‘Horrid Red Things’

Church of England Newspaper, vol. LI (6 October 1944)

Copyright © 1970 by The Trustees of the Estate of C. S. Lewis

All language, except about objects of sense, is metaphorical through and through. To call God a ‘Force’ (that is, something like a wind or a dynamo) is as metaphorical as to call Him a Father or a King. On such matters, we can make our language more polysyllabic and duller: we cannot make it more literal. [...]

Where, then do we draw the line between explaining and ‘explaining away’? I do not think there is much difficulty. All that concerns the un-incarnate activities of God — His operation on that plane of being where sense cannot enter — must be taken along with imagery which we know to be, in the literal sense, untrue. But there can be no defence for applying the same treatment to the miracles of the Incarnate God. They are recorded as events on this earth which affected human senses. They are the sort of thing we can describe literally.

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Part I: 7

Religion and Science

The Coventry Evening Telegraph (3 January 1945)

Copyright © 1970 by The Trustees of the Estate of C. S. Lewis

‘The enormous size of the universe and the insignificance of the earth were known for centuries, and no one ever dreamed that they had any bearing on the religious question. Then, less than a hundred years ago, they are suddenly trotted out as an argument against Christianity. And the people who trot them out carefully hush up the fact that they were known long ago. Don’t you think that all you atheists are strangely unsuspicious people?’

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Part I: 9

The Grand Miracle

The Guardian (27 April 1945)

Copyright © 1970 by The Trustees of the Estate of C. S. Lewis

One is very often asked at present whether we could not have a Christianity stripped, or, as people who ask it say, ‘freed’ from its miraculous elements, a Christianity with the miraculous elements suppressed. [...] But you cannot possibly do that with Christianity, because the Christian story is precisely the story of one grand miracle, the Christian assertion being that what is beyond all space and time, what is uncreated, eternal, came into nature, into human nature, descended into His own universe, and rose again, bringing nature up with Him. It is precisely one grand miracle. If you take that away there is nothing specifically Christian left. There may be many admirable human things which Christianity shares with all other systems in the world, but there would be nothing specifically Christian. Conversely, once you have accepted that, then you will see that all other well-established Christian miracles — because, of course, there are ill-established Christian miracles; there are Christian legends just as much as there are heathen legends, or modern journalistic legends — you will see that all the well-established Christian miracles are part of it, that they all either prepare for, or exhibit, or result from the Incarnation.

The story of the Incarnation is the story of a descent and resurrection. When I say ‘resurrection’ here, I am not referring simply to the first few hours, or the first few weeks of the Resurrection. I am talking of this whole, huge pattern of descent, down, down, and then up again. What we ordinarily call the Resurrection being just, so to speak, the point at which it turns. [...]

Now, as soon as you have thought of this, this pattern of the huge dive down to the bottom, into the depths of the universe and coming up again into the light, everyone will see at once how that is imitated and echoed by the principles of the natural world; the descent of the seed into the soil, and its rising again in the plants. There are also all sorts of things in our own spiritual life where a thing has to be killed, and broken, in order that it may then become bright, and strong and splendid. The analogy is obvious. In that sense the doctrine fits in very well, so well in fact that immediately there comes the suspicion, Is it not fitting in a great deal too well? In other words, does not the Christian story show this pattern of descent and re-ascent because that is part of all the nature religions of the world?

How if the corn king is not mentioned in that Book, because He is here of whom the corn king was an image? How if the representation is absent because here, at last, the thing represented is present? [...] The principle is there in nature because it was first there in God Himself. Thus one is getting in behind the nature religions, and behind nature to Someone Who is not explained by, but explains, not, indeed, the nature religions directly, but that whole characteristic behaviour of nature on which nature religions were based.
We, with our modern democratic and arithmetical presuppositions would so have liked and expected all men to start equal in their search for God. One has the picture of great centripetal roads coming from all directions, with well-disposed people, all meaning the same thing, and getting closer and closer together. How shockingly opposite to that is the Christian story! One people picked out of the whole earth; that people purged and proved again and again. Some are lost in the desert before they reach Palestine; some stay in Babylon; some becoming indifferent. The whole thing narrows and narrows, until at last it comes down to a little point, small as the point of a spear — a Jewish girl at her prayers. That is what the whole of human nature has narrowed down to before the Incarnation takes place. Very unlike what we expected, but, of course, not in the least unlike what seems, in general, as shown by nature, to be God’s way of working. [...] The people who are selected are, in a sense, unfairly selected for a supreme honour; but it is also a supreme burden. The People of Israel come to realize that it is their woes which are saving the world. Even in human society, though, one sees how this inequality furnishes an opportunity for every kind of tyranny and servility. Yet, on the other hand, one also sees that it furnishes an opportunity for some of the very best things we can think of — humility, and kindness, and the immense pleasures of admiration.
In the Incarnation we get, of course, this idea of vicariousness of one person profiting by the earning of another person. In its highest form that is the very centre of Christianity. And we also find this same vicariousness to be a characteristic, or, as the musician would put it, a leit-motif of nature. It is a law of the natural universe that no being can exist on its own resources. Everyone, everything, is hopelessly indebted to everyone and everything else. [...] So that I find in that third way also, that what is implied by the Incarnation just fits in exactly with what I have seen in nature, and (this is the most important point) each time it gives it a new twist. If I accept this supposed missing chapter, the Incarnation, I find it begins to illuminate the whole of the rest of the manuscript. It lights up nature’s pattern of death and rebirth; and, secondly, her selectiveness; and, thirdly, her vicariousness.
The nature religions simply affirm my natural desires. The anti-natural religions simply contradict them.

Christianity does not simply affirm or simply deny the horror of death; it tells me something quite new about it. Again, it does not, like Nietzsche, simply confirm my desire to be stronger, or cleverer than other people. On the other hand, it does not allow me to say, ‘Oh, Lord, won’t there be a day when everyone will be as good as everyone else?’ In the same way, about vicariousness. It will not, in any way, allow me to be an exploiter, to act as a parasite on other people; yet it will not allow me any dream of living on my own. It will teach me to accept with glad humility the enormous sacrifice that others make for me, as well as to make sacrifices for others.

That is why I think this Grand Miracle is the missing chapter in this novel, the chapter on which the whole plot turns; that is why I believe that God really has dived down into the bottom of creation, and has come up bringing the whole redeemed nature on His shoulder.

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Quotes from writings in God in the Dock continue here.

Background graphic copyright © 2003 by Hal Keen