The Words of C.S. Lewis as used by 

the Leadership of the LDS Church

by Mary Jane Woodger


Mary Jane Woodger is an assistant professor of church history and doctrine at BYU. She has published widely on many church topics. Her most recent article includes, "The Restoration of the Doctrine of Angels as Found in the Book of Mormon," in The Book of Mormon: The Foundation of Our Faith, edited by Joseph F. McConkie. This article was originally presented at the "LDS Perspective of C.S. Lewis" symposium sponsored by the BYU Religious Studies Center.

[Clicking on footnotes will allow you to follow each citing and view her appendices on another page as you read Ms. Woodger's article on this page.]


Along with many Christians, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints1 paraphrase, quote, and revere British Christian author Clive Staples Lewis. Deseret Book, whose clientele is mostly LDS, sold over 2,000 volumes by C. S. Lewis in 1997 alone.2 On any given Sunday, the words of this non-Mormon are heard over the pulpits of LDS congregations.
The reverence in which Lewis is held by Mormons parallels his reputation nationally. Church members often quote Lewis, perhaps following the example of Church leaders who also use his words. This article explores the frequent reference of LDS leaders to the works of C. S. Lewis. This study is not exhaustive; however, it does portray the predominant view of LDS leadership with regard to C. S. Lewis. The research centers on cited references found in official LDS General Conferences addresses and books authored by LDS General Authorities.

Remarks are classified into four areas: the frequency with which LDS leaders quote C. S. Lewis, Church leaders who have quoted C. S. Lewis (with emphasis on Neal A. Maxwell), Lewis' works quoted by LDS authority, and the way in which Church authorities quote Lewis to illustrate gospel principles.

The Frequency with which LDS leaders quote C. S. Lewis

After the publication of The Screwtape Letters in 1942, it took a few decades for C. S. Lewis to become a permanent fixture on the landscape of Christianity in Great Britain. He gained recognition more quickly in the United States and was firmly accepted in both literary and religious circles by the 1950s. His popularity among the masses came in the 1970s and 1980s. The leadership of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints followed the same trend in using Lewism.

In fact, there were no references made by General Authorities to the works of Lewis until the year of his death in 1963 when Richard L. Evans made a reference to him in a book.3 In my search for Lewis quotes in mainstream Mormondom the next printed references to Lewis were both made in 1969. Respected scholar Richard Lloyd Anderson at Brigham Young University used the following Lewis quote in a book review: "While I respect the learning of the great Biblical critics, I am not yet persuaded that their judgment is equally to be respected [with that of official Church doctrine]."4 This same phrase could be used by LDS leaders today in reference to Lewis himself. In this same year Sterling W. Sill also used a Lewis quote.

As Church leaders who were contemporaries of Lewis passed away, positive references to him surfaced in Church settings with ever-increasing rapidity. Four years after Anderson’s statement and Elder Sill’s reference, a BYU publication included an article on Lewis entitled: "The Christian Commitment: C. S. Lewis and the Defense of Doctrine."5 This article suggests Lewis eloquently defended many principles found in LDS doctrines. It wasn’t until five years after this publication, that Lewis was quoted in general conference.

In the October general conference of 1977, Paul H. Dunn, of the First Council of the Seventy, quoted the following from Lewis: "Take care. It is so easy to break eggs without making omelets."6 In using this quote Elder Dunn cited Richard Evans Quote Book as the source. This same quote became a favorite of another Seventy, Neal A. Maxwell.7

As Elder Maxwell entered Church leadership, in 1974, it quickly became evident he was a devoted Lewis reader. Over time, Maxwell used many references to Lewis in his speaking and writing. Church members may have noticed as time progressed, Lewis became one of the non-Mormon authors most often quoted in General Conference. In fact, on the cover of a recent publication by Nathan Jensen he declares C. S. Lewis is "quoted more often by General Authorities than any other non-LDS writer."8 Jerry Johnson, a writer for the Deseret News concurs, Lewis has "been quoted from the Tabernacle podium almost twenty times in twenty years-more than Thomas Jefferson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Winston Churchill, or Pearl S. Buck." Johnson then argued Lewis had been cited "more than any other non-LDS author."9 In his article Johnson mentions using a computer database to find how many times each of these authors had been quoted in the last twenty years. In my own search of a database, I found different results. Truly, Lewis is quoted more often than Jefferson (8), Churchill (15) or Buck (2); however, Emerson (24) had more references cited in general conferences from 1950-1997. One other person is also quoted more than the Christian apologist. Due to the respect and patriotic feelings surrounding the sixteen President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln has been quoted 128 times at the Tabernacle pulpit, 54 of those references took place between 1961-1980 compared to Lewis, on eighteen occasions.10 From the first time Lewis is quoted in 1977 to 1997 there were approximately 1347 conference addresses. Looking at the ratio of conference talks with reference to Lewis, we find he was only quoted in .013 percent of all addresses from the Tabernacle. One reason Church members may feel he has been quoted more by General Authorities than is substantiated may be because of their own familiarity. As Johnson tells us Lewis is "impressively quotable,"11 and when a Lewis citation was used, Church members may have been more familiar with it than those of Emerson or Lincoln. In addition to being quoted from the tabernacle pulpit, we do find Lewis’ words in other LDS literature including ninety-five references found in books authored by General Authorities, five passages in non-conference Ensign articles, and twelve Lewis excerpts in BYU speeches and seven articles about Lewis by LDS authors found in LDS related journals.12 With 130 Lewis passages cited in works by LDS General Authorities, it is safe to say that C. S. Lewis is one of the non-LDS authors most quoted by Church officials.13

In the 1970s Church leaders began to quote Lewis more often in their addresses; this reached a high point between 1981 and 1985. In the 1960s, when Lewis’ popularity was soaring in the United States, he was only quoted seven times by the leadership of the Church.

During the first five years of the 1970s, Lewis was quoted about twenty-five times by general authorities, and this increased until the first part of the 1980s. This increased usage reflects an increase in Elder Maxwell’s publications. In the first five years of the 1990s the use of Lewis’ lines leveled off again when Elder Maxwell’s writing decreased due to illness. From 1996 to 1998 there have been seven general authorities use Lewis’ words. Along with looking at when Lewis was quoted, this article will explore who among LDS leadership is quoting him.

Neal A. Maxwell has quoted C. S. Lewis over and far above any other General Authority. His evident appreciation of Lewis’ thought has increased with each year of his apostleship. Maxwell is well versed in a variety of Lewis’ works and quotes Lewis extensively, as will be shown. As a prolific author, Maxwell often includes Lewis inspiration in his books. In his first publication, For the Power Is In Them, in 1970, Maxwell quoted Lewis five times. In his next publication, The Smallest Part, he more than doubled the Lewis selections. Maxwell’s inclusions of Lewis’ words show his obvious respect for Lewis’ brand of Christianity. For instance, on seven occasions he applies the word wise to Lewis’ comments.14 Two times he refers to Lewis as his friend, also mentioning he sees Lewis as an able and articulate soul who became a rare writer with a penetrating ability at analogies.15

One might ask why Elder Maxwell is so drawn to the words of C. S. Lewis. As we look at the background of this apostle, we can see many reasons he may have been drawn to the atheist-turned-Christian. For example, when Elder Maxwell entered the military during World War II "his writing ability was employed in . . . composing letters to families whose sons had been killed"16 In drafting those letters he may have needed to find sympathy couched in non LDS vernacular and found an ability to express gospel truths through other’s words. Later in life as a university official the academic community had a great effect on him. Of those experiences he will acknowledge "In a way, the university helped me see that the gospel’s ideas were not only the answer, but they could stand up under scrutiny."17 As we study the life of Lewis, we also see a man who found during a university experience that Christianity could not only stand up under scrutiny, but also under academic investigation. Then, as Neal A. Maxwell was called to be a General Authority, he had a mentor who taught him a principle he has applied in using the words of C. S. Lewis. Elder Maxwell disclosed, "From President Lee, I derived this great sense that the Church need not be afraid of truth, that we could draw upon men and women for whatever they had that was useful or true or praiseworthy, and that we needn’t fear or hold back."18 We can clearly see Elder Maxwell has followed President Lee’s example and has subsequently drawn upon the words of Lewis and used them without fear or holding back.

A friend of Elder Maxwell, Elizabeth Haglund shares this observation: "He reads widely, virtually devouring material from newspapers to works of history, biography, and philosophy. It is key to his writing. He reads, he absorbs ideas, and then he organizes the ideas to contribute to the kingdom."19 One can see from these examples why Elder Maxwell would draw from "one of the great stylists of the English language in this century."20 To paraphrase Haglund as we look at the Lewis passages Elder Maxwell has used, he has organized them and then contributed those ideas in his own way to the kingdom.

The next in line to Elder Maxwell in Lewis usage is Jeffrey R. Holland. With Elder Holland’s extensive background in English literature, it is easy to see why he would be drawn to Lewis. As one looks at the other LDS leaders who have quoted Lewis, it is hard to see a common thread in their backgrounds that might draw them to the Christian apologist. For instance, three are attorneys, four are educators, and one holds a degree in business. One could determine one mutual aspect these leaders share. It has been said that Lewis is a great writer because he was a great reader.21 We could suggest all of the leaders on the list of LDS leaders using Lewis are well read and see wisdom in the pedagogy of Lewis. His pedagogy is the key to how these leaders used his words in their own addresses or writings.

For instance, Marvin J. Ashton declares: "C. S. Lewis had an intriguing way of evaluating . . dilemma."22 President James E. Faust of the First Presidency admires Lewis’ "keen insights."23 Apostle Dallin H. Oaks refers to him as the "insightful Christian" and "the perceptive author," and praises his "brilliant insights."24 The greatest compliment is imitation, and Oaks uses the "same technique in [his] discussion" as Lewis.25 Elder Oaks informs us "there is something biblical in C. S. Lewis’ technique of using the wiles of Satan as a setting for teaching the truths of God." He calls this technique "biblical," reiterating that Lewis can present doctrine "more memorably than would have been possible in conventional sermons."26 Other LDS authors give Lewis credit for "entranc[ing] us" and "having unusual insight."27 Truly, Lewis’ words have become memorable for LDS as General Authorities have incorporated Lewis’ wisdom into their own addresses..
Only one president of the Church, Ezra Taft Benson, officially quoted Lewis in a General Conference. Nathan Jenson calls the parallels between Lewis’s chapter entitled "The Great Sin" found in Mere Christianity and one of President Benson’s most powerful, most quoted, most remembered talks on pride, uncanny.28 I would go one step further and suggest that much of President Benson’s talk was couched in Lewis’ examples. However, President Benson referenced Lewis only once as follows: "Pride is essentially competitive. . . . Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. . . . It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition has gone, pride has gone. That is why I said that Pride is essentially competitive in a way that other vices are not."29 Evan Stephenson compares the rest of President Benson’s 1989 talk on pride with Lewis’ ideas on pride:30

Benson: "The central feature of pride is enmity--enmity toward God and enmity toward our fellowmen."
Lewis
: "But Pride always means enmity--it is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God."

Benson
: "Pride is essentially competitive in nature."
Lewis
: "Now what I want to get clear is that Pride is essentially competitive--is competitive by its very nature . . ."

Benson
: "Pride is a sin that can readily be seen in others but is rarely admitted in ourselves."
Lewis: There is "no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it ourselves, the more we dislike it in others."

Benson
: The proud person’s "reward is being a cut above the rest."
Lewis
: "It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest."

Benson: "Pride is the universal sin, the great vice."
Lewis
: " . . . the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride."31

From the examples above it is evident the words of Lewis influenced President Benson in the way he approached the subject of pride in this address.
This brings us to another important point. General authorities may use C. S. Lewis more than they officially cite him. Perhaps in the same way Shakespeare’s words are often used without being cited, Lewis may have been read enough by Church leaders that some of his phrases may have become part of the speech patterns of the General Authorities. As William E. Berrett tells us "The word of the Lord can be only in the language of the prophet when the ideas received are clothed in the prophet’s own words."32 Lewis’ words about pride may have become so familiar to President Benson that those symbols became part of the language of this great prophet. The subject of pride, a consistent Book of Mormon theme, became forum for other LDS leaders to use the ideas of Lewis also. Lewis often spoke of this subject. The following Lewis passages are used by Elder Maxwell and others: "You must be asking which door is the true one . . . Is my reluctance to knock at this door due to my pride . . . or my personal dislike of this particular door-keeper?"33

Along with defining pride, Lewis also defined its antithesis: humility. LDS officials have used Lewis’ images to show humility as the possible antidote to pride. These selections show how Church leaders use Lewis’ ideas to describe humility.

I am inclined to think a Christian would be wise to avoid, where he decently can, any meeting with people who are bullies, lascivious, cruel, dishonest, spiteful, and so forth. Not because we are ‘too good’ for them. In a sense because we are not good enough. We are not good enough to cope with all the temptations, nor clever enough to cope with all the problems, which an evening spent in such society produces.34

This memorable citation, used in two LDS publications, also speaks of humility: "There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’"35 Clearly, Lewis influenced President Benson and other Church leaders on the subjects of pride and humility.

One of Jeffrey R. Holland’s talks may have also been influenced by Lewis. There are similarities between Holland’s: "Souls Symbols and Sacraments"36 address and Lewis’ comparison of sex to a sacrament in several passages found in The Four Loves.37 However, Holland does not cite The Four Loves in his address, nor directly quotes from Lewis. Further recognition for Lewis includes the fact that in two books where LDS doctrine is defined, authors use Lewis’ words to represent Mormon statutes.38

Though it is valuable to know who quoted Lewis, it is even more vital to look at the specific Lewis passages General Authorities have found relevant to the message of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.

The most popular Lewis volume used by those at Church headquarters is Mere Christianity, quoted twenty-four times. A Mind Awake comes in second, with fifteen references. The Screwtape Letters, Lewis’ most popular volume, is quoted ten times. Regrettably, some Church officials quote Lewis but neglect to provide references. This happened twenty-eight times. These non-referenced quotes prove another important element. I do not believe it was the intention of General Authorities to forego proper citation; rather, it is an indication of a general level of acceptance of Lewis’s metaphors.

Church Authorities quote Lewis to illustrate Gospel principles.

Discovering how Church leaders used C. S. Lewis‘ ideas in their writing and addresses is the most important topic in this article. General Authorities often interspersed Lewis thought in their conference addresses or within the passages of their books to give examples of LDS doctrine. Church authorities seem to relish their finding of a congruent thinker in Lewis. Eloise Bell, a BYU professor, identifies Lewis’ greatest contribution as "help(ing) us live better the truths we already espouse."39 Church leaders may have discovered what Truman Madsen, another BYU professor, tells us he felt about the "atheist-become-Anglican." When Madsen studied Lewis for the first time, he declared: "Today we [LDS] are no longer alone."40 For some LDS, to find a Christian scholar who proposes some of the same principles they hold to is to find a real treasure. However, one thing is very clear in deciphering the way General Authorities used Lewis to support gospel principles. In the 130 citations found where LDS leaders cited C. S. Lewis, his words were never used as the source of, or as a confirmation for, doctrine. In addition, Lewis was never singled out as a person equal in authority to Church officials, as a replacement for living prophets, or as a source of priesthood. Nor did leaders of the Church ever bear testimony on the basis of the wisdom of C. S. Lewis. In General Authority addresses doctrine and testimony came from the revelations of the Restoration even though Lewis’s words were interspersed throughout the texts. Church leaders did not use C. S. Lewis as a standard of measure. Nor do the words of General Authorities lose the purity of the gospel by mingling scripture with Lewis philosophy.41 In studying the way in which Church leaders use C. S. Lewis, we could paraphrase Joseph Fielding McConkie: "General Authorities do obtain doctrinal insights from C. S. Lewis. They do not turn to the world or C. S. Lewis to obtain the gospel or as the source of their testimony; but, having received the gospel through the channels the Lord has ordained, they use Lewis or whatever resources they have to illustrate principles."42

In this same vein Elder Maxwell clearly distinguishes between the words of Church officials and this Christian writer. He declares: Lewis "maximiz[ed] the light [he] received as [he] used [his] talent and courage to write so effectively of the stark beauty of the truths [he] found . . . . .While I do not get my theology from such men, I openly acknowledge the catalytic impact of their writings."43 Elder Maxwell along with other General Authorities often intersperse Lewis quotes in their conference addresses or within the passages of their books to illustrate, as an example, a model, a metaphor, a symbol, a representation, an allegory, or portrayal of some LDS doctrine. They derive the doctrine through the revelations, but like all good teachers they use various sources, including Lewis to illustrate. They particularly use Lewis’ metaphors to portray theology dealing with the principles of life and its trials, some characteristics of deity, sin, repentance, and prayer. The following descriptions are representative of many Lewis selections used by Church authorities to portray these subjects.

The Purpose of Life

Imbedded in LDS theology is the belief of a premortal existence and a post mortal future. This doctrine is so key to LDS theology that when Church members find a non-Mormon illustrating some of the same ideas they latch on to them. Lewis’ descriptions included those of both a premortal and postmortal life and at the same time describe mortality as an important determinant for a future life.

Pre-Existence

Elder Maxwell repeats this Lewis narration and then links it to the LDS belief of a previous existence: "Our Father in Heaven refreshes us on the journey through life with some pleasant inns, but he will not encourage us to mistake them for home."44 Lewis often suggests mortals are familiar with a different home and heaven. This quote, also used by Neal A. Maxwell, rings especially resonant with LDS doctrine: "We have a lifelong nostalgia, a longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off."45

Mortality

Through Lewis’ metaphors Church leaders were also able to explore the mortal experience in LDS terms. Maxwell uses a Lewis assertion in Meek and Lowly when he says, there are "patches of God-light in the woods of our [mortal] experience," suggesting that this life can be a God-directed experience.46 To support this point, Holland repeated one of Lewis’ oft-quoted analogies which compares this life to a play:

We believe we are in Act II, but we know almost nothing of how Act I went or how Act III will be. We are not even sure we know who the major and who the minor characters are. The Author knows . . .We are led to expect that the Author will have something to say to each of us on the part that each of us has played. Playing it well, then, is what matters most. To be able to say at the final curtain "I have suffered the will of the Father in all things" is our only avenue to an ovation in the end.47

For LDS in part, "playing it well" in mortality means having a successful home and family, which brings us to one of the most often quoted Lewism in LDS literature:

I think I can understand that feeling about a house-wife’s work . . . . It is surely the most important work in the world. What do ships, railways, mines, cars, government, etc. exist for except that people may be fed, warmed, and safe in their own homes?. . . . We wage war in order to have peace, we work in order to have leisure, we produce food in order to eat it. So your job is the one for which all others exist.48

This statement has been used by Church leaders, including two General Relief Society Presidents, demonstrates that home and family are at the heart of human existence. One of Lewis’ greatest talents as seen in the previous quote is to relate the mundane tasks of mortality to gospel principles. Maxwell is very fond of the following pithy Lewis appreceptions: "The cross comes before the crown and tomorrow is a Monday morning";49 "Individuals fall into the ironical trap of running about anxiously with fire extinguishers in times of flood";50 "Sinful urges mean that an individual may go on scratching even when there is no longer an itch";51 and finally, "It doesn’t matter whether you grip the arms of the dentist’s chair or let your hands lie in your lap. The drill drills on."52 These quotes engage our imagination and make gospel principles relative. As Boyd K. Packer tells us when "any intangible ideal can be transposed into something tangible and teachable. . . there is a formula we can use."53 It is in using this formula that C. S. Lewis is a master and his ability to engage mental imagery to teach gospel concepts is repeated by many Church leaders on a variety of subjects including that of trials.

Trials

If you were to ask a LDS child about the purpose of this human existence, he or she would probably answer with something close to the following: "We are here to gain a body and be tested." With this basic doctrine instilled in the minds of LDS from childhood, they readily cling to other voices that represent part of life’s purpose as a test.

Probably the most popular Lewis quote on this subject was originally attributed to George S. McDonald. It has been used so often by three Apostles and one Seventy it may be as familiar to LDS as some passages of their standard works:

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently, He starts knocking in the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is he up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of--throwing out a wing here, putting an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace.54

These well-used Lewis metaphors, and others like them about the purpose of trials in mortality, provide us with insights. Another Lewis text used by Maxwell also demonstrates the value of trials: "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world."55 Lewis uses the metaphor of trials as the very heart of Christianity. Robert L. Millet, Dean of Religious Education at BYU, rendered this Lewis acumen: "[Trials are] precisely what Christianity is about. This world is a great sculptor’s shop."56 Along this same vein, Rex D. Pinegar, who serves in the First Quorum of Seventy, quoted this Lewism: "The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own,’ or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life--the life God is sending one day by day."57

Lewis viewed trials as the essence of strengthening Christian beliefs. The following example was quoted by two apostles:

You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to [tie] a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn’t you then first discover how much you really trusted it?58

Lewis portrays that such trials not only test our beliefs, they also determine our place in eternity. This concept, is also embraced by LDS, as shown in the following passage quoted by Holland: "Your [view of] . . . eternal life . . . will not be [very] serious if nothing much is at stake. . . . A man . . . has to be knocked silly before he comes to his senses."59 This Lewis theme--the importance of trials in mortality--was also referenced by Elders Maxwell and Holland in this Lewis sequence:

So I am, you see, one of God’s patients, not yet cured. . . . But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before the operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless.60

Enduring such pain as explored above reflects the Mormon philosophy informally called "The Fifth Principle of the Gospel."61 LDS are taught by their prophets to endure to the end. Lewis suggests that, as a by-product of such endurance, the recipient can be vastly improved. Ashton repeats this wisdom: "I have seen great beauty of spirit in some who were great sufferers. I have seen men, for the most part, grow better, not worse, with advancing years, and I have seen the last illness produce treasures of fortitude and meekness from most unpromising subjects."62 For Lewis and Church leaders, the mark of a great Saint is one who can endure well the trials of mortality. This oft-quoted conversation of Screwtape and his protégé, repeated by Holland, solidifies the argument:

The work of devils and of darkness is never more certain to be defeated than when men and women, not finding it easy or pleasant, but still determined to do the Father’s will, look out upon their lives from which it may seem every trace of God has vanished, and asking why they have been so forsaken, still bow their heads and obey.63

Though Lewis suggests that Saints can obey though they feel forsaken, he poignantly communicates that such an achievement is not easy. He consistently acknowledges how very hard it is for even a righteous person to endure to the end. Elder Holland quotes these empathetic words of Lewis on the same subject "Why is [God] so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent in time of trouble?"64 However, we must not assume Lewis was a pessimist. He did not view mortality as a harsh, miserable existence. Lewis’ lines quoted below stretch our minds and make us think of mortality in the grand way he did. Elder Maxwell uses this metaphor often but never suggests Lewis is somehow defining Mormon doctrine:

Life has never been normal. . . . Humanity . . . wanted knowledge and beauty now, and would not wait for the suitable moment that never comes. . . . The insects have chosen a different line: they have sought first the material welfare and security of the hive, and presumably have their reward. Men are different. They propound mathematical theorems in beleaguered cities, conduct metaphysical arguments in condemned cells, make jokes on scaffolds, discuss the latest new poem while advancing to the walls of Quebec, and comb their hair at Thermopylae. This is not panache: it is our nature.65

Life’s profound significance, as described above, is sometimes hard to grasp. Lewis suggests there are moments when we realize there is more to this mortal existence. A Lewis illustration quoted by Maxwell notes this idea: "We cannot mingle with the splendors we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumor that it will not always be so."66 The idea that what we experience in mortality "will not always be so" is a concept LDS embrace. Many other Lewis passages used by Church officials portray the purpose of trials and the ultimate purpose of mortality.

Post-Mortal Existence

This next popular Lewis passage will illustrate an important point. General Authorities sometimes use Lewis quotes to make a point, when it wasn’t Lewis’s original emphasis. The Lewis passage found below in bold face type is found in four LDS sources. Notice how Neal A. Maxwell interweaves this passage in A Wonderful Flood of Light:

Actually we were ‘nurtured’ near God’s side and then came here for a ‘wise and glorious purpose’. This all points toward the time when the faithful shall ‘regain [God’s] presence’ in resplendent reunion. No wonder Joseph Smith could speak of the ‘gospel of reconciliation.’. . . During this stressful sojourn on this earth we should make no mistake about who we and others really are. Amid our budding possibilities, in the words of C. S. Lewis we are "In a society of possible Gods and Goddesses,. . . [in which] there are no ordinary people. [We] have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations--these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit." 67

As seen above Elder Maxwell beautifully fit Lewis into his discussion of eternal progression. However, Lewis saw the "budding possibilities" of human progression differently than LDS theology. As Stephenson defines, "Lewis believes humans can fulfill their personal potential, but this potential is not remotely connected to God’s. Creator and creature are ‘different instruments’ entirely."68

Bruce C. Hafen also uses a Lewis quote to explain the LDS concept of eternal progression. It is interesting that this particular Lewis passage is found in three articles, including two entries found in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, a volume used to define LDS terminology:

LDS are monphysite in their christology; that is, they believe Christ has only one nature which is simultaneously both human and divine. This is possible because the human and the divine are not mutually exclusive categories in LDS thought, as in the duophysite christology of much orthodoxy. As Lorenzo Snow said, "As man now is, God once was: A God now is, man may be." . . . Most Christians would agree with the first half of this couplet as applied to the person of Christ but LDS apply it also to the Father. The second half of the couplet is more orthodox in the denominational sense than either. . . Mormons insists that the two categories are one: Humans are of the lineage of the gods. LDS would agree entirely with C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity: He said (In the Bible) that we are "gods" and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him--for we can prevent Him, if we choose--He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a God or goddess, dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine.69

As Elder Hafen has stated most LDS would agree with this Lewis quote. However, Lewis would not agree with the doctrine Elder Hafen maintained in Lorenzo Snow’s couplet. To suggest a man could become a God is foreign to Anglican theology. Stephenson concurs: "Godliness to Lewis means to possess power, love, wisdom, beauty, etc., and to dwell in heaven, not that we ourselves will ever attain such attributes as omniscience, omnipotence, or omnipresence."70

Another entry by BYU Professor Stephen A. Robinson entitled: "Doctrine: LDS Doctrine Compared With Other Christian Doctrines" uses this same Lewis quote in the same way:

Mormons insist that the two categories are one: Humans are of the lineage of the gods. LDS would agree entirely with C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity. The command Be Ye Perfect is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He said (In the Bible) that we are "gods" and He is going to make good His words. If we let Him--for we can prevent Him, if we choose--He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a God or goddess, dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine."71

Elder Alexander Morrison also uses this passage in the Ensign introducing it as follows: "C. S. Lewis, who had such unusual insight into ‘things as they really are’ (Jacob 4:13), had this to say about what we can do once we get the perspective of immortality clearly in our minds."72

Reading these examples may infer to LDS that C. S. Lewis a staunch member of the Church of England agreed with LDS principles of eternal progression. He did not. For example, the LDS doctrine of celestialization of the body would be foreign to Lewis who once compared a God in physical form to a human becoming like a crab or slug.73

In the same way we can appreciate Mozart’s music and not agree with his lifestyle, these examples show Lewis’ power of exposition can be used by General Authorities even when Lewis’ religious philosophy does not concur with the LDS doctrine of God. As Stephenson articulates: "In C. S. Lewis, LDS do not find a unique figure who mirrors their own theology; they find impressive common ground between themselves and their fellow Christians."74

God’s Attributes, Personality and Characteristics

Some common ground we find Lewis traversing is his portrayal of some of God’s personality characteristics. Though Lewis held to the Nicene Creed his description of God as a Father who loves his children rings familiar to LDS theology. LDS children learn a Primary song entitled "I am A Child of God," which teaches God is a loving Heavenly Father. Notice how closely this Lewis portrayal used in For the Power is in Them resembles the concept taught in this Primary song: "God is not simply a ‘life force,’ nor is God a kindly ‘grandfather,’ but rather a loving Father."75 Church leaders describe our Father in Heaven as all-loving, and many statements by Lewis also speak clearly of God’s love for His children. Two Lewis quotes found in LDS print exhibit the love of this great being: "To ask that God’s love should be content with us as we are is to ask that God should cease to be God. . . . Because He already loves us, He must labor to make us lovable";76 and "This Helper who will, in the long run, be satisfied with nothing less than absolute perfection, will also be delighted by the first feeble, stumbling effort you make tomorrow to do the simplest duty."77

While LDS see a familiar Heavenly Father through Lewis’ eyes, they also find a Jesus that adheres to some tenets of the Restored Gospel. Though Lewis viewed the Godhead through a Trinitarian lens, his philosophical scope included a Jesus who is divine and scoffs at theologians who say otherwise. The following phrase occurs in three LDS works:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: [that is,] ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic--on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg--or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the son of God: or else a madman or something worse.7

The following Lewis quote also sneers at what some think of Jesus Christ: "The sweetly-attractive human Jesus is a product of nineteenth-century skepticism, produced by people who were ceasing to believe in His divinity but wanted to keep as much Christianity as they could."79

As leaders of the Church repeat such Lewis wisdom, they find in Lewis a friend who understands the great role of the Redeemer of the world. They also find an alliance with C. S. Lewis in his understanding of the Redeemer’s Atonement which pays for our sins.

Sin

Some of Lewis’ illustrations of sin and the subsequent repentance of the sinner are admired by Church authorities. For instance, the efforts of many LDS to "love the sinner and hate the sin" are encouraged by Lewis in the following passage, later repeated by Maxwell:

For a long time I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life--namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself. There had never been the slightest difficulty about it. In fact the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man.80

Different aspects of the subject of sin as described by Lewis are often discussed by Church authorities. President Faust and Elder Oaks have both used this portion of Lewis’ Screwtape wisdom to define the cumulative effect of sin on a Saint: "It does not matter how small the sins are, provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. . . . Indeed, the safest road to Hell is the gradual one."81

Lewis talked particularly about the effect of the sin of immorality. In a world that sometimes accuses Mormons of being prudes, Lewis adheres to their philosophy with his succinct understanding of the present attitudes towards sexual promiscuity. Elder Maxwell used the following excerpt to discuss immorality:

When I was a youngster, all the progressive people were saying, "Why all this prudery? Let us treat sex just as we treat all our other impulses?" . . . Now suppose you came to a country where you could fill a theater by simply bringing in a covered plate onto a stage and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let every one see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food?82

Ashton joins Maxwell in repeating another Lewis selection which further explains the current craze with sex:

We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at sea.83

As often as Lewis speaks of the human tendency to give into sin, he also believes in the ability of humans to repent. Repentance, one of the first principles of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, is described by Lewis in sure words: "The change must go deeper than the surface. I must be ploughed up and re-sown."84 Robert L. Backman used this Lewis example of repentance on two occasions:

Christ says, "Give me All. I don’t want so much of your time and so much of your money and so much of your work: I want You. . . . Hand over the whole natural self, all the desires which you think innocent as well as the ones you think wicked--the whole outfit. I will give you a new self instead. In fact, I will give you Myself: my own will shall become yours."85

Excerpts like this one, which show Lewis’ ability to describe the processes of repentance and forgiveness through the Atonement, are often repeated over the Church’s pulpits.

Prayer

Lewis also has profound insights on the subject of prayer, and his inspiration on this topic is not overlooked by Church authorities. They often quote Lewis’ explanation that prayers may not be answered in the way we want. For instance, in three of his books, Maxwell cites this Lewis acumen, which offers the possibility that God may be less helpful with those he loves more:

If our prayers are sometimes granted beyond all hope and probability, [we] had better not draw hasty conclusions to our own advantage. If we were stronger, we might be less tenderly treated. If we were braver, we might be sent, with far less help, to defend far more desperate posts in the great battle.86

Lewis testifies here that God does answer prayers, even if the answers do not always come in the way we would want. A common line in most LDS testimonies is that God hears and answers prayers. Lewis tells how vital it is to have a prayer answered; even if the answer isn’t what we hoped for, the Lord’s acknowledgment is vital. Elder Maxwell further argues with Lewis’s ideas: "We can bear to be refused, but not to be ignored. In other words, our faith can survive many refusals if they are refusals, and not mere disregards."87 At the same time, Lewis did not determine that God was the hindrance to receiving answers to prayer. Maxwell uses one Lewis passage which suggests there may be two reasons why the Lord seems unavailable: "I’ve heard a man offer a prayer for a sick person which really amounted to a diagnosis followed by advise as to how God should treat the patient."88

In addition, Lewis always made it clear that communication between God and man must be initiated by man: "He is there if you wish for Him, like a book on a shelf. He will not pursue you."89 Elder Maxwell quotes Lewis, to show us God is always available. He poses Lewis’ poignant question, "If He takes our sins into account, why not our petitions?"90

Conclusion

In summary I would like to share a relevant story and then make some conclusions:

"As Bruce R. McConkie waited for [a] flight to be announced, he buried himself in a book by a renowned New Testament scholar. He was delighted to discover material by a sectarian scholar that constituted a marvelous defense of Mormonism. As he boarded the flight he met Marion G. Romney, then a member of the First Presidency. He said, "President Romney, I have got to read this to you. This is good," and proceeded to share his newfound treasure. When he was finished, President Romney said, "Bruce, I have to tell you a story. A few years ago I found something that I thought was remarkable written by one of the world’s great scholars. I read it to J. Rueben Clark, and he said, ‘Look when you read things like that, and you find that the world doesn’t agree with us, so what? And when you read something like that and you find they are right on the mark and they agree with us, so what?'"91

In summary we must ask, "So what if Church leaders quote C. S. Lewis and his words seem to support LDS doctrine?" The purpose of this paper has been to answer that very question. There is adequate evidence that Lewis at some point became a very effective pedagogical voice used by some General Authorities and his portrayals have been firmly supported by LDS Church leaders in general conference addresses and books. When the First Presidency, Members of the Quorum of the Twelve, and Seventies quote C. S. Lewis’ writing, many members of the Church take notice and feel that his ideas are inspired.92 In addition, members have been encouraged in Church publications by fellow LDS to read this author’s works.93 This trend is related to the general esteem in which Lewis is held internationally and also supports a general pattern of Church leaders appropriating certain types of famous people for pedagogical purposes. C. S. Lewis is respected, revered and quoted by Church leaders and members alike. However, this reverence afforded C. S. Lewis should not be similar to that shown LDS leaders. Some might say that this reverence, along with his baptism and endowment done through temple work for the dead, has given him a place as a member of the Church. However, one must remember he was alive during a time when gospel had been restored to the earth and author William Clayton Kimball tells us Lewis was sent at least one Book of Mormon and had some knowledge of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The few "probable references" to this sect were less than sympathetic.94 His words are not honored by General Authorities as if they are scriptures in the Church’s standard works. Therefore, general authorities do not portray Lewis as someone who has obtained prophetic stature, and his words are not cited in prophetic fashion. The use of his words by Church leaders do not give the Church credibility. They don’t need Lewis’ word to be propped up. Nor would I claim, as one author suggests, that C. S. Lewis knew the Lord more than LDS know.95

On the other hand, we have established that General Authorities who used Lewis, cite him because of his ability to illustrate doctrines they already obtained from the fountain head of revelation. They appreciate and delight in the words of C. S. Lewis because of his ability to reach out and portray gospel concepts to common people. They capture his imaginative declarations in practical ways for the cause of the Restoration. This examination of Lewis’ statements quoted by LDS authorities illustrates the kinship felt by many Church leaders and LDS for this reformed atheist as they use his appreceptions to further illustrate the truths of the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Harvest Magazine: An Online Magazine For the LDS Community
PO Box 11786, Salt Lake City, UT 84147
February 2000
Copyright © 2000 Mary Jane Woodger

(This article was originally found on http://www.harvestmagazine.com/Feb2000/lewis1.htm 

before it was discontinued.)  

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Last Updated: Monday, September 03, 2001