Learning in Wartime

Posted by on Aug 14, 2010

If you’ve been called to the academic world in any way, you should certainly read C.S. Lewis’ essay Learning in Wartime. It was originally preached in a church in October of 1939. Thus, the backdrop for his writing was the second world war but any Christian must answer the questions Lewis poses and resolves.

He begins with, “…every Christian who comes to a university must at all times face a question compared with which the questions raised by the war are relatively unimportant. He must ask himself how it is right, or even psychologically possible, for creatures who are every moment advancing either to Heaven or to hell to spend any fraction of the little time allowed them in this world on such comparative trivialities as literature or art, mathematics or biology….The war creates no absolutely new situation; it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it.”

I know many Christian graduate students and professors who receive questioning looks (and worse) from their fellow church members because they dedicate so much time to intellectual pursuits. Lewis’ insight can provide the perspective to encourage any scholar to keep going.

[the learned life] “has indirect values which are especially important today. If all the world were Christian, it might not matter if all the world were uneducated. But, as it is, a cultural life will exist outside the Church whether it exists inside or not. To be ignorant and simple now – not to be able to meet the enemies on their own ground – would be to throw down our weapons, and to betray our uneducated brethren who have, under God, no defense but us against the intellectual attacks of the heathen. Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.”

Of course, as only Lewis can do, he also issues an important warning:

“The intellectual life is not the only road to God, nor the safest, but we find it to be a road, and it may be the appointed road for us. Of course, it will be so only so long as we keep the impulse pure and disinterested. That is the great difficulty…Every success in the scholar’s life increases this danger. If it becomes irresistible, he must give up his scholarly work. The time for plucking out the right eye has arrived.”

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