We know C. S. Lewis wrote a lot of correspondence to readers, strangers, children, and women’s study groups. To that last group, a previously unpublished letter offers an example of one of things that could set the author off.
“Dear Ladies,” Lewis wrote, “Who told you that Christians must not go to the theatre, dance, play cards, drink, or smoke?”
Who these ladies were is unknown and they apparently annoyed Lewis with their letter, but he wouldn’t ignore it. He responded to it with a duty few of us share today.
Stephanie Derrick, author of The Fame of C.S. Lewis: A Controversialist’s Reception in Britain and America, explains some of what we do about this letter and our favorite Oxford don’s habits of correspondence.
First, it appears they parroted some tired, theologically unsound notions about Christian behavior—i.e., good Christians don’t drink, smoke, or otherwise enjoy themselves—and if Lewis had intolerance for anything it was the touting of unexamined tenets. This was partly a matter of personality—Lewis once described himself as “by temperament, an extreme anarchist”—but it was also an effect of his training in logic and philosophy. And he was particularly irked by the addition of perfunctory requirements to the Christian faith, once saying, for example, “How little I approve of compulsion in religion may be gauged from a recent letter of mine to the Spectator protesting against the intolerable tyranny of compulsory church parades for the Home Guard.” Lewis hated to see the joy of hope and faith—or of everyday living, for that matter—diminished by dogmas that were shaped more by social convention than sound religion.