About C. S. Lewis

A reader writes:

I am a regular reader of your blog and see that one of your readers has recently posted a piece entitled “CS Lewis and Big Tent Christianity”. He ends his post with the following words:

My point is that Lewis participated in a space of feast and drink in which he and his friends gathered to hear each other, debate each other and…in the end….love each other.
It was a big tent approach.

Of course, one cannot argue that Lewis and his friends were giants. I grew up reading both Lewis and Tolkien and Lewis’s “Mere Christianity” made a huge impact on me as a young and, of course, impressionable teenager. Here was a writer who could write clearly and appeal to commonsense and reason as a basis for the Christian faith.
The problem with Lewis is that he worked hard to maintain and promote a closed religious space from which women were carefully excluded. Worse still, Lewis then made the inexcusable mistake of presenting this closed space as “Christianity” and proceeded to write vociferously about this “Christianity”. As a result, he did enormous damage, damage that was all the more pernicious because it was couched in such a rational and persuasive style and because it reached such a large audience.
A case in point is his “The great divorce”. A marvellous tale, but Lewis can only present us with a Dickens-like caricature of women: the “angel of the home” who endured much at the hands of an unpleasant husband, the “siren” who smears her dead lips with lipstick in an attempt to flirt and seduce male spirits. Sensible remarks and serious spiritual utterances are placed entirely on the lips of men.
In his prose writing, Lewis confidently tells us that women priests are a laughable suggestion, and that Christian women are bound to obey their husbands (including, one assumes, unpleasant husbands). He acknowledges the mysticism of Evelyn Underhill, but in the most patronising and condescending manner.
Lewis, in fact, made it clear that female spirituality is not to be taken very seriously and that theology is best left in the hands of men. Yes, he and his male friends did indeed laugh and drink together and they were perfectly happy to debate with each other, but theirs was a narrow space, and certainly not a big tent.

Like you, I have great respect for C. S. Lewis. But I share your disappointment about his attitude towards women. A lot of the worst things any of us say and do flow from inherited ideas that haven’t yet run up against contrary experience – and sadly, sometimes those inherited ideas lead us to shut out or deny contrary experience. I suspect that after his relationship with Joy Davidman, he may have retracted and corrected much about women that he wrote or implied earlier in life. At least I hope so! Thanks for bringing this up.