C.S. Lewis

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C.S. Lewis on Symbolism

“Symbolism exists precisely for the purpose of conveying to the imagination what the intellect is not ready for.”

– Walter Hooper, ed., The Collected Letters of CS Lewis, Vol. II (San Francisco, 2004), 565

My good friend Rick N. sent this quote my way via the @CSLewisDaily twitter feed. This quote is new to me and I think it is wonderful for how well it captures the essence of what symbolism can do. It reminds me a lot of this post where I shared a story about how I answered my 4-year old’s question with a sign instead of the literal answer which unfortunately would have been incomprehensible to her.

I also love how this quote includes imagination in the equation. Sometimes we may only consider symbolism and the potential meanings while forgetting the role imagination plays in helping us explore the possibilities. I feel as if I have discovered a hidden door in a familiar room and I am thrilled to see what awaits on the other side.

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“The prison of himself”

Did you know that C.S. Lewis once weighed in on the subject of masturbation? In a personal letter to someone named Keith Masson he illuminates the core problem with such a practice with his insightful candor. He approaches the topic in such a way that boils it down to some core principles. With the way things are in the world today, this wisdom could be useful so feel free to share.

“For me the real evil of masturbation would be that it takes an appetite which, in lawful use, leads the individual out of himself to complete (and correct) his own personality in that of another (and finally in children and even grandchildren) and turns it back: sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides. And this harem, once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman. For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no real woman can rival. Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover: no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity. In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself… And it is not only the faculty of love which is thus sterilized, forced back on itself, but also the faculty of imagination.

The true exercise of imagination, in my view, is (a) To help us to understand other people (b) To respond to, and, some of us, to produce, art. But it has also a bad use: to provide for us, in shadowy form, a substitute for virtues, successes, distinctions etc. which ought to be sought outside in the real world—e.g. picturing all I’d do if I were rich instead of earning and saving. Masturbation involves this abuse of imagination in erotic matters (which I think bad in itself) and thereby encourages a similar abuse of it in all spheres. After all, almost the main work of life is to come out of our selves, out of the little, dark prison we are all born in. Masturbation is to be avoided as all things are to be avoided which retard this process. The danger is that of coming to love the prison.” – Letter C. S. Lewis sent in 1956 to Keith Masson

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Resisting temptation – C.S. Lewis

“No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of [an] army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness — they have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means — the only complete realist.” – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Came across the quote from a guest post by Kurt Francom of LeadingLDS on This Week in Mormons: http://thisweekinmormons.com/2014/02/sin-make-stronger/

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