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 +By C. S. Lewis. An address to the Society of St. Alban and St. Sergius.
 +No Christian and, indeed, no historian could accept the
 +epigram which defines religion as "what a man does with his
 +solitude". It was one of the Wesleys, I think, who said that
 +the New Testament knows nothing of solitary religion. We
 +are forbidden to neglect the assembling of ourselves together.
 +Christianity is already institutional in the earliest of its docu-
 +ments. The Church is the Bride of Christ. We are members of
 +one another.
 +In our own age the idea that religion belongs to our private
 +life that it is, in fact, an occupation for the individual's hour
 +of leisure is at once paradoxical, dangerous, and natural. It
 +is paradoxical because this exaltation of the individual in the
 +religious field springs up in an age when collectivism is ruth-
 +lessly defeating the individual in every other field. I see this
 +even in a University. When I first went to Oxford the typical
 +undergraduate society consisted of a dozen men, who knew
 +one another intimately, hearing a paper by one of their own
 +number in a small sitting-room and hammering out their
 +problem till one or two in the morning. Before the war the
 +typical undergraduate society had come to be a mixed audience
 +of one or two hundred students assembled in a public hall to
 +hear a lecture from some visiting celebrity. Even on those rare
 +occasions when a modern undergraduate is not attending some
 +such society he is seldom engaged in those solitary walks, or
 +walks with a single companion, which built the minds of the
 +previous generations. He lives in a crowd; caucus has replaced
 +friendship. And this tendency not only exists both within and
 +without the University, but is often approved. There is a crowd
 +of busybodies, self-appointed masters of ceremonies, whose life
 +is devoted to destroying solitude wherever solitude still exists.
 +They call it "taking the young people out of themselves", or
 +"waking them up", or "overcoming their apathy". If an Au-
 +gustine, a Vaughan, a Traherne or a Wordsworth should be
 +born in the modern world, the leaders of a Youth Organization
 +would soon cure him. If a really good home, such as the home of
 +Alcinous and Arete in the Odyssey or the Rostovs in War and
 +Peace or any of Charlotte M. Yonge's families, existed to-day,
 +it would be denounced as bourgeois and every engine of
 +destruction would be levelled against it. And even where the
 +planners fail and someone is left physically by himself, the
 +wireless has seen to it that he will be in a sense not intended
 +by Scipio never less alone than when alone. We live, in fact,
 +in a world starved for solitude, silence, and privacy: and
 +therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.
 +That religion should be relegated to solitude in such an age
 +is, then, paradoxical. But it is also dangerous for two reasons.
 +In the first place, when the modern world says to us aloud,
 +"You may be religious when you are alone," it adds under its
 +breath, "and I will see to it that you never are alone." To make
 +Christianity a private affair while banishing all privacy is to
 +relegate it to the rainbow's end or the Greek Calends. That
 +is one of the enemy's stratagems. In the second place, there is
 +the danger that real Christians who know that Christianity is
 +not a solitary affair may react against that error by simply
 +transporting into our spiritual life that same collectivism which
 +has already conquered our secular life. That is the enemy's
 +other stratagem. Like a good chess player he is always trying
 +to manoeuvre you into a position where you can save your
 +castle only by losing your bishop. In order to avoid the trap we
 +must insist that though the private conception of Christianity
 +is an error it is a profoundly natural one, and is clumsily at-
 +tempting to guard a great truth. Behind it is the obvious feel-
 +ing that our modern collectivism is an outrage upon human
 +nature and that from this, as from all other evils, God will be
 +our shield and buckler.
 +This feeling is just. As personal and private life is lower than
 +participation in the Body of Christ, so the collective life is
 +lower than the personal and private life and has no value save
 +in its service. The secular community, since it exists for our
 +natural good and not for our supernatural, has no higher end
 +than to facilitate and safeguard the family, and friendship, and
 +solitude. To be happy at home, said Johnson, is the end of all
 +human endeavour. As long as we are thinking only of natural
 +values we must say that the sun looks down on nothing half
 +so good as a household laughing together over a meal, or two
 +friends talking over a pint of beer, or a man alone reading a
 +book that interests him; and that all economics, politics, laws,
 +armies, and institutions, save in so far as they prolong and
 +multiply such scenes, are a mere ploughing the sand and sowing
 +the ocean, a meaningless vanity and vexation of spirit. Col-
 +lective activities are, of course, necessary; but this is the end
 +to which they are necessary. Great sacrifices of this private
 +happiness by those who have it may be necessary in order that
 +it may be more widely distributed. All may have to be a little
 +hungry in order that none may starve. But do not let us mis-
 +take necessary evils for good. The mistake is easily made. Fruit
 +has to be tinned if it is to be transported, and has to lose thereby
 +some of its good qualities. But one meets people who have
 +learned actually to prefer the tinned fruit to the fresh. A sick
 +society must think much about politics, as a sick man must
 +think much about his digestion: to ignore the subject may be
 +fatal cowardice for the one as for the other. But if either comes
 +to regard it as the natural food of the mind if either forgets
 +that we think of such things only in order to be able to think
 +of something else then what was undertaken for the sake of
 +health has become itself a new and deadly disease.
 +There is, in fact, a fatal tendency in all human activities for
 +the means to encroach upon the very ends which they were
 +intended to serve. Thus money comes to hinder the exchange
 +of commodities, and rules of art to hamper genius, and exam-
 +inations to prevent young men from becoming learned. It does
 +not, unfortunately, always follow that the encroaching means
 +can be dispensed with. I think it probable that the collectivism
 +of our life is necessary and will increase; and I think that our
 +only safeguard against its deathly properties is in a Christian
 +life; for we were promised that we could handle serpents and
 +drink deadly things and yet live. That is the truth behind the
 +erroneous definition of religion with which we started. Where
 +it went wrong was in opposing to the collective mass mere
 +solitude. The Christian is called, not to individualism but to
 +membership in the mystical body. A consideration of the
 +differences between the secular collective and the mystical body
 +is therefore the first step to understanding how Christianity
 +without being individualistic can yet counteract collectivism.
 +At the outset we are hampered by a difficulty of language.
 +The very word membership is of Christian origin, but it has
 +been taken over by the world and emptied of all meaning. In
 +any book on logic you may see the expression "members of a
 +class". It must be most emphatically stated that the items or
 +particulars included in a homogeneous class are almost the
 +reverse of what St. Paul meant by members. By members
 +(jueXT?) he meant what we should call organs, things essentially
 +different from, and complementary to, one another: things
 +differing not only in structure and function but also in dignity.
 +Thus, in a club, the committee as a whole, and the servants -as
 +a whole, may both properly be regarded as "members"; what
 +we should call the members of the club are merely units. A
 +row of identically dressed and identically trained soldiers set
 +side by side, or a number of citizens listed as voters in a con-
 +stituency, are not members of anything in the Pauline sense.
 +I am afraid that when we describe a man as "a member of the
 +Church" we usually mean nothing Pauline: we mean only
 +that he is a unit that he is one more specimen of the same
 +kind of thing as X and Y and Z. How true membership in a
 +body differs from inclusion in a collective may be seen in the
 +structure of a family. The grandfather, the parents, the grown-
 +up son, the child, the dog, and the cat are true members (in
 +the organic sense) precisely because they are not members or
 +units of a homogeneous class. They are not interchangeable.
 +Each person is almost a species in himself. The mother is not
 +simply a different person from the daughter, she is a different
 +kind of person. The grown-up brother is not simply one unit in
 +the class children, he is a separate estate of the realm. The father
 +and grandfather are almost as different as the cat and the dog.
 +If you subtract any one member you have not simply reduced
 +the family in number, you have inflicted an injury on its struc-
 +ture. Its unity is a unity of unlikes, almost of incommensurables.
 +A dim perception of the richness inherent in this kind of
 +unity is one reason why we enjoy a book like The Wind in the
 +Willows; a trio such as Rat, Mole, and Badger symbolizes the
 +extreme differentiation of persons in harmonious union which
 +we know intuitively to be our true refuge both from solitude
 +and from the collective. The affection between such oddly
 +matched couples as Dick Swiveller and the Marchioness, or
 +Mr. Pickwick and Sam Weller, pleases in the same way. That
 +is why the modern notion that children should call their parents
 +by their Christian names is so perverse. For this is an effort
 +to ignore the difference in kind which makes for real organic
 +unity. They are trying to inoculate the child with the preposter-
 +ous view that one's mother is simply a fellow-citizen like any-
 +one else, to make it ignorant of what all men know and
 +insensible to what all men feel. They are trying to drag the
 +featureless repetitions of the collective into the fuller and more
 +concrete world of the family.
 +A convict has a number instead of a name. That is the col-
 +lective idea carried to its extreme. But a man in his own house
 +may also lose his name, because he is called simply "Father".
 +That is membership in a body. The loss of the name in both
 +cases reminds us that there are two opposite ways of departing
 +from isolation.
 +The society into which the Christian is called at baptism is
 +not a collective but a Body. It is in fact that Body of which the
 +family is an image on the natural level. If anyone came to it
 +with the misconception that membership of the Church was
 +membership in a debased modern sense a massing together
 +of persons as if they were pennies or counters he would be
 +corrected at the threshold by the discovery that the Head of this
 +Body is so unlike the inferior members that they share no
 +predicate with Him save by analogy. We are summoned from
 +the outset to combine as creatures with our Creator, as mortals
 +with immortal, as redeemed sinners with sinless Redeemer. His
 +presence, the interaction between Him and us, must always be
 +the overwhelmingly dominant factor in the life we are to lead
 +within the Body; and any conception of Christian fellowship
 +which does not mean primarily fellowship with Him is out of
 +court. After that it seems almost trivial to trace further down
 +the diversity of operations to the unity of the Spirit. But it is
 +very plainly there. There are priests divided from the laity,
 +catechumens divided from those who are in full fellowship.
 +There is authority of husbands over wives and parents over
 +children. There is, in forms too subtle for official embodiment,
 +a continual interchange of complementary ministrations. We
 +are all constantly teaching and learning, forgiving and being
 +forgiven, representing Christ to man when we intercede, and
 +man to Christ when others intercede for us. The sacrifice of
 +selfish privacy which is daily demanded of us is daily repaid
 +a hundredfold in the true growth of personality which the life
 +of the Body encourages. Those who are members of one another
 +become as diverse as the hand and the ear. That is why the
 +worldlings are so monotonously alike compared with the
 +almost fantastic variety of the saints. Obedience is the road
 +to freedom, humility the road to pleasure, unity the road to
 +And now I must say something that may appear to you a
 +paradox. You have often heard that, though in the world we
 +hold different stations, yet we are all equal in the sight of God.
 +There are of course senses in which this is true. God is no
 +accepter of persons: His love for us is not measured by our
 +social rank or our intellectual talents. But I believe there is a
 +sense in which this maxim is the reverse of the truth. I am
 +going to venture to say that artificial equality is necessary in
 +the life of the State, but that in the Church we strip off this
 +disguise, we recover our real inequalities, and are thereby
 +refreshed and quickened.
 +I believe in political equality. But there are two opposite
 +reasons for being a democrat. You may think all men so good
 +that they deserve a share in the government of the common-
 +wealth, and so wise that the commonwealth needs their advice.
 +That is, in my opinion, the false, romantic doctrine of democ-
 +racy. On the other hand, you may believe fallen men to be so
 +wicked that not one of them can be trusted with any irrespon-
 +sible power over his fellows.
 +That I believe to be the true ground of democracy. I do
 +not believe that God created an egalitarian world. I believe
 +the authority of parent over child, husband over wife, learned
 +over simple, to have been as much a part of the original plan
 +as the authority of man over beast. I believe that if we had not
 +fallen Filmer would be right, and patriarchal monarchy would
 +be the sole lawful government. But since we have learned sin,
 +we have found, as Lord Acton says, that "all power corrupts,
 +and absolute power corrupts absolutely". The only remedy has
 +been to take away the powers and substitute a legal fiction of
 +equality. The authority of Father and Husband has been rightly
 +abolished on the legal plane, not because this authority is in
 +itself bad (on the contrary, it is, I hold, divine in origin) but
 +because Fathers and Husbands are bad. Theocracy has been
 +rightly abolished not because it is bad that learned priests
 +should govern ignorant laymen, but because priests are wicked
 +men like the rest of us. Even the authority of man over beast
 +has had to be interfered with because it is constantly abused.
 +Equality is for me in the same position as clothes. It is a
 +result of the Fall and the remedy for it. Any attempt to retrace
 +the steps by which we have arrived at egalitarianism and to
 +re-introduce the old authorities on the political level is for me
 +as foolish as it would be to take off our clothes. The Nazi
 +and the Nudist make the same mistake. But it is the naked
 +body, still there beneath the clothes of each one of us, which
 +really lives. It is the hierarchical world, still alive and (very
 +properly) hidden behind a facade of equal citizenship, which
 +is our real concern.
 +Do not misunderstand me. I am not in the least belittling
 +the value of this egalitarian fiction which is our only defence
 +against one another's cruelty. I should view with the strongest
 +disapproval any proposal to abolish manhood suffrage, or the
 +Married Women's Property Act. But the function of equality
 +is purely protective. It is medicine, not food. By treating human
 +persons (in judicious defiance of the observed facts) as if they
 +were all the same kind^f thing, we avoid innumerable evils.
 +But it not on this that we were made to live. It is idle to say
 +that men are of equal value. If value is taken in a wordly
 +sense if we mean that all men are equally useful or beautiful
 +or good or entertaining then it is nonsense. If it means that
 +all are of equal value as immortal souls then I think it conceals
 +a dangerous error. The infinite value of each human soul is
 +not a Christian doctrine. God did not die for man because of
 +some value He perceived in him. The value of each human
 +soul considered simply in itself, out of relation to God, is zero.
 +As St. Paul writes, to have died for valuable men would have
 +been not divine but merely heroic; but God died for sinners. He
 +loved us not because we were lovable, but because He is Love.
 +It may be that He loves all equally He certainly loved all to
 +the death and I am not certain what the expression means.
 +If there is equality it is in His love, not in us.
 +Equality is a quantitative term and therefore love often knows
 +nothing of it. Authority exercised with humility and obedience
 +accepted with delight are the very lines along which our spirits
 +live. Even in the life of the affections, much more in the Body
 +of Christ, we step outside that world which says "I am as good
 +as you." It is like turning from a march to a dance. It is like
 +taking off our clothes. We become, as Chesterton said, taller
 +when we bow; we become lowlier when we instruct. It delights
 +me that there should be moments in the services of my own
 +Church when the priest stands and I kneel. As democracy
 +becomes more complete in the outer world and opportunities
 +for reverence are successively removed, the refreshment, the
 +cleansing, and invigorating returns to inequality, which the
 +Church offers us, become more and more necessary.
 +In this way then, the Christian life defends the single person-
 +ality from the collective, not by isolating him but by giving
 +him the status of an organ in the mystical Body. As the book
 +of Revelation says, he is made "a pillar in the temple of God";
 +and it adds, "he shall go no more out." That introduces a new
 +side of our subject. That structural position in the Church
 +which the humblest Christian occupies is eternal and even
 +cosmic. The Church will outlive the universe; in it the individ-
 +ual person will outlive the universe. Everything that is joined to
 +the immortal Head will share His immortality. We hear little of
 +this from the Christian pulpit to-day. What has come of our
 +silence may be judged from the fact that recently addressing
 +the Forces on this subject, I found that one of my audience
 +regarded this doctrine as "theosophical". If we do not believe
 +it let us be honest and relegate the Christian faith to museums.
 +If we do, let us give up the pretence that it makes no difference.
 +For this is the real answer to every excessive claim made by
 +the collective. It is mortal; we shall live for ever. There will
 +come a time when every culture, every institution, every nation,
 +the human race, all biological life, is extinct, and every one
 +of us is still alive. Immortality is promised to us, not to these
 +generalities. It was not for societies or states that Christ died,
 +but for men. In that sense Christianity must seem to secular
 +collectivists to involve an almost frantic assertion of individ-
 +uality. But then it is not the individual as such who will share
 +Christ's victory over death. We shall share the victory by being
 +in the Victor. A rejection, or in Scripture's strong language,
 +a crucifixion of the natural self is the passport to everlasting
 +life. Nothing that has not died will be resurrected. That is
 +just how Christianity cuts across the antithesis between individ-
 +ualism and collectivism. There lies the maddening ambiguity
 +of our faith as it must appear to outsiders. It sets its face relent-
 +lessly against our natural individualism; on the other hand, it
 +gives back to those who abandon individualism an eternal
 +possession of their own personal being, even of their bodies. As
 +mere biological entities, each with its separate will to live and
 +to expand, we are apparently of no account; we are cross-
 +fodder. But as organs in the Body of Christ, as stones and pillars
 +in the temple, we are assured of our eternal self-identity and
 +shall live to remember the galaxies as an old tale.
 +This may be put in another way. Personality is eternal and
 +inviolable. But then, personality is not a datum from which we
 +start. The individualism in which we all begin is only a parody
 +or shadow of it. True personality lies ahead how far ahead,
 +for most of us, I dare not say. And the key to it does not He
 +in ourselves. It will not be attained by development from within
 +outwards. It will come to us when we occupy those places in
 +the structure of the eternal cosmos for which we were designed
 +or invented. As a colour first reveals its true quality when placed
 +by an excellent artist in its pre-elected spot between certain
 +others, as a spice reveals its true flavour when inserted just
 +where and when a good cook wishes among the other ingredi-
 +ents, as the dog becomes really doggy only when he has taken
 +his place in the household of man, so we shall then first be
 +true persons when we have suffered ourselves to be fitted into
 +our places. We are marble waiting to be shaped, metal waiting
 +to be run into a mould. No doubt there are already, even in
 +the unregenerate self, faint hints of what mould each is
 +designed for, or what sort of pillar he will be. But it is, I think,
 +a gross exaggeration to picture the saving of a soul as being,
 +normally, at all like the development from seed to flower. The
 +very words repentance, regeneration, the New Man, suggest
 +something very different. Some tendencies in each natural man
 +may have to be simply rejected. Our Lord speaks of eyes being
 +plucked out and hands lopped off a frankly Procrustean
 +method of adaptation.
 +The reason we recoil from this is that we have in our day
 +started by getting the whole picture upside down. Starting
 +with the doctrine that every individuality is "of infinite value"
 +we then picture God as a kind of employment committee whose
 +business it is to find suitable careers for souls, square holes for
 +square pegs. In fact, however, the value of the individual does
 +not lie in him. He is capable of receiving value. He receives it
 +by union with Christ. There is no question of finding for him
 +a place in the living temple which will do justice to his inherent
 +value and give scope to his natural idiosyncrasy. The place was
 +there first. The man was created for it. He will not be himself
 +till he is there. We shall be true and everlasting and really
 +divine persons only in Heaven, just as we are, even now,
 +coloured bodies only in the light.
 +To say this is to repeat what everyone here admits already
 +that we are saved by grace, that in our flesh dwells no good
 +thing, that we are, through and through, creatures not creators,
 +derived beings, living not of ourselves but from Christ. If I
 +seem to have complicated a simple matter, you will, I hope,
 +forgive me. I have been anxious to bring out two points. I have
 +wanted to try to expel that quite unchristian worship of the
 +human individual simply as such which is so rampant in
 +modern thought side by side with our collectivism; for one
 +error begets the opposite error and, far from neutralizing, they
 +aggravate each other. I mean the pestilent notion (one sees it
 +in literary criticism) that each of us starts with a treasure called
 +"Personality" locked up inside him, and that to expand and
 +express this, to guard it from interference, to be "original", is
 +the main end of life. This is Pelagian, or worse, and it defeats
 +even itself. No man who values originality will ever be original.
 +But try to tell the truth as you see it, try to do any bit of work
 +as well as it can be done for the work's sake, and what men
 +call originality will come unsought. Even on that level, the
 +submission of the individual to the function is already begin-
 +ning to bring true Personality to birth. And secondly, I have
 +wanted to show that Christianity is not, in the long run, con-
 +cerned either with individuals or communities. Neither the
 +individual nor the community as popular thought understands
 +them can inherit eternal life: neither the natural self, nor the
 +collective mass, but a new creature.
talks/membership_by_c._s._lewis.txt · Last modified: 2014/01/14 18:28 by grant