Review and thoughts on C.S. Lewis' "The Great Divorce"
I had the chance to read a very interesting book that highlights the choice of staying a ghost or becoming a spirit. The ghosts dwell in a Grey City and continuously move to new, dank, and lonely neighborhoods further away from each other. Whereas the spirits enjoy everlasting peace while residing in the Bright World where they all commune in a Utopian state of being. As you may have already guessed, The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis, is about the choice of going to heaven or to hell, but with a twist. What if certain people in hell had the chance to take a little vacay in heaven? And they could even stay if they wanted.
Wait; let me back up a couple of steps before I continue my review.
C.S. Lewis was well known for being a Christian apologetic. That is defined as a field of Christian theology which presents logical foundations for the Christian faith and protecting the faith against opposition. With that being said, his work showcased his belief throughout his career. C.S. Lewis is the same author that penned the Narnia Chronicles, which were spiritually inspired for children. The White witch in Narnia was cast as the all-encompassing evil, as Aslan the Lion played the part of God/Jesus, dying for our sins. Reading these books as a child, I had no idea the true role of Aslan, or the witch for that matter, but I cried when the ghouls killed him all the same.
The book The Great Divorce isn’t made for the same audience, but the message is clear: we all have a choice to make that we'll most likely stick to.
The premise of the story has a bus full of people from the Grey City visit the Bright World to witness the entirety of its splendor. Afterward the bulk of the characters in Lewis’s novel are given the option to stay. Seems like this short story should’ve been even shorter, right? I mean, life in the Grey City is a horrible existence where people can’t stand one another and the smallest offense causes rage and sadness that can’t be quelled. Why not trade that in for peace and eternal happiness?
Well, most of the characters' furloughs into paradise everlasting just doesn’t suit them. They prefer the Grey City to the Bright World for a variety of reasons. I don’t want to give away all of the reasons each person decided heaven wasn’t for them, but the unorthodox bishop was my favorite. He rejects the invitation because he couldn’t part with his “little theological society down there.” How ironic is that? He can’t stay in the same place he’d been preaching where everyone should end up because of his like-minded friends he would have to leave behind in hell, interesting.
Now some would read Lewis’ story and think it was pure rubbish, but is it? If we look to history to be our guide, we could find many of examples of people being pigheaded enough to die for their causes. Whether the cause was seen as viable or not would be purely based on personal and/or public opinions of other human beings.
For example, let’s just say that Pope Urban’s II promise of forgiveness of all sins to whosoever took up the cross and joined in the Crusades didn’t work as planned and those who fought and died went to the Grey City. Would they be able to denounce all that they stood for in life to enter the gates of the Bright World? That would mean they would have to admit they were willingly led astray by false prophets while engaging in personal economic and political gain by pillaging the countries through which they traveled.
From my experience, most people couldn’t take that amount of truth about themselves. The lies with all their consequences would seem like a lesser burden, even if they weren’t.
For the most part, my views mirror C.S. Lewis’s views in his story since I’m a Christian, but my curiosity led me to look into how a person that has chosen another road of enlightenment may look at this particular text. Like anything else, I found some unhelpful opinions and some very illuminating ideas.
One of these interesting ideas of how skeptics are seencan be found on pages 33 and 34. One of the spirits says: “We simply found ourselves in contact with a certain current of ideas and plunged into it because it seemed modern and successful.” This is a direct reference to unbelievers. Lewis goes on to assert in his text that skeptics are afraid of Christianity being true, so they reject it without ever seriously considering its candor. That would mean every sincere skeptic has reached their way of thinking because of fear, which seems like a very generalized and unfair assumption to put on a whole group of people.
Okay, it’s no secret that one camp will be wrong and the other will be right. However, I believe it takes faith to be in either camp. The strict religious stance of the definition of faith is: the strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof. But the literal definition of faith is: complete trust or confidence in someone or something. So it could be seen that the religious and skeptics alike have faith in common. That would beg the question, for whichever choice you’ve made are you okay with being wrong?
I, for one am. When I die, hopefully a very long time from now, if there happens to be no heaven or hell, I’m okay with that. And if the opposite happens to be true I’m okay with that too. I have chosen my religious beliefs and path for myself and it has been a rewarding plus in my life. And I honestly hope others find their path, whatever path that is.
Anywho, as I said earlier, this book is a solid read whether you’re a believer or not. It will bring up age-old questions of human thoughts and values and how they differ from person to person. However if Christian beliefs have a way of getting under your skin and ruining your day, take a pass on this.
Wishing everyone a beautiful weekend!
The Great Divorce was first printed as a serial in an Anglican newspaper called The Guardian in 1944 and 1945. C.S. Lewis’ title was Who Goes Home? But the final title was changed at the publisher's insistence. The title refers to William Blake's poem The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.