Tuesday, 14 December 2010


Nothing liturgical I'm afraid, I've run out of ideas quite frankly (and inclination to try and think of any - maybe this is redolent of the liturgical darkness before the Dawn, and by extension ''ideas'', as we await the coming of the Light to illumine the cold lands of Men - I don't know, though it is always good to ponder, before writing anything, upon whether the composition itself will make the world any less evil, and avail to render some good, somewhere), though I find it interesting. In 1978 Humphrey Carpenter wrote a book about the Inklings, which is quite interesting for Tolkienists, or those interested in C.S Lewis, Charles Williams, Owen Barfield etc (the only living Inkling, now 86, is Tolkien's youngest son Christopher) as persons; in which he pieced together what he thought to be a ''typical'' meeting of the Inklings (it was purely an informal group, and consisted mostly of ale, smoke, literature and debate - had they bothered to keep minutes I think the whole thing would have been a waste of time, and quite boring), based on the writings, style etc of the members. In this conjectural debate (during the Second World War) C.S Lewis said something quite astonishing about the subject of Sympathy, in relation to being aware of the sufferings of people around the world. Now, pick a random Catholic blog and you are likely to be met upon entry by an Anti-Abortion timer, saying that every second you spend on the blog somebody, somewhere, procures an abortion. This is a subject beyond my ability to discuss articulately, or in a way which is at once faithful to Tradition, but also mindful of the agony and doubt of those who seek them. Nevertheless I think this quote is quite apposite vis a vis knowing everything, and the reasonable limits of one's sympathy. It came up briefly in conversation with a friend yestereve, though I cannot recall the context:

''I entirely accept the general principle. We must realise, as Williams would say, that we live in each other. But in purely practical terms, were we meant to know so much about the sufferings of the rest of the world? It seems to me that modern communications are so fast - with the wireless and newspapers and so on [or these days, of course, the Internet] - that there's a burden imposed on our sympathy for which that sympathy just wasn't designed.''

''Give an example,'' says Tolkien.

''That's easy. Now, supposing the poor Joneses family in your own street are having terrible troubles - sickness and so on - well then, obviously it's your duty to sympathise with them. But what about the morning paper and the evening news broadcasts on the wireless, in which you hear all about the Chinese and the Russians and the Finns and the Poles and the Turks? Are you expected to sympathise with them in the same way? I really don't think it's possible, and I don't think it's your duty to try''

''You certainly can't do them any good by being miserable about them,'' says Warnie.

''Ah, but while that's perfectly true it's not the point. In the case of the Jones family next door, you'd think pretty poorly of the man who felt nothing in the way of sympathy for them because that feeling 'wouldn't do them any good.'''

''Are you saying,'' asks Harvard, ''that when we read the newspapers we shouldn't try to sympathise with the sufferings of people we don't know?''

''Jack is probably saying,'' remarks Warnie, ''that we shouldn't read the newspapers at all. You know he never bothers to look at anything other than the crossword.''

''Perfectly true,'' answers his brother. ''And I have two very good reasons for it. First of all I deplore journalism - I can't abide the journalist's air of being a specialist in everything, and of taking in all points of view and always being on the side of the angels. And I hate the triviality of journalism, you know, the sort of fluttering mentality that fills up the page with one little bit about how an actress has been divorced in California, and another little bit about how a train was derailed in France, and another little bit about the birth of quadruplets in New Zealand.''

Well there you are. I agree with Lewis. While we may rightly deplore moral evils, does it really do to be constantly reminded of suffering? By the way this conversation is conjectural, made up (from sources - I recognise a lot of the stuff Tolkien says from his works) by Carpenter. Does anybody find this reminiscent of Lewis' works? Is it to be found, say, in his apologetics?


  1. Thank God a Christian blogger is talking about sympathy rather than bitching or swiping at other Christians. Makes a nice change, keep it up!

  2. Patricius, your very thoughtful post reminded me of a passage from CS Lewis's Screwtape Letters.

    In the sixth letter, Screwtape is advising Wormwood thus:

    As regards his more general attitude to the war, you must not rely too much on
    those feelings of hatred which the humans are so fond of discussing in
    Christian, or anti-Christian, periodicals. In his anguish, the patient can, of
    course, be encouraged to revenge himself by some vindictive feelings directed
    towards the German leaders, and that is good so far as it goes. But it is
    usually a sort of melodramatic or mythical hatred directed against imaginary
    scapegoats. He has never met these people in real life—they are lay figures
    modelled on what he gets from newspapers. The results of such fanciful hatred
    are often most disappointing, and of all humans the English are in this respect
    the most deplorable milksops. They are creatures of that miserable sort who
    loudly proclaim that torture is too good for their enemies and then give tea and
    cigarettes to the first wounded German pilot who turns up at the back door.
    Do what you will, there is going to be some benevolence, as well as some malice,
    in your patient's soul. The great thing is to direct the malice to his immediate
    neighbours whom he meets every day and to thrust his benevolence out to the
    remote circumference, to people he does not know. The malice thus becomes wholly
    real and the benevolence largely imaginary. There is no good at all in inflaming
    his hatred of Germans if, at the same time, a pernicious habit of charity is
    growing up between him and his mother, his employer, and the man he meets in the
    train. Think of your man as a series of concentric circles, his will being the
    innermost, his intellect coming next, and finally his fantasy. You can hardly
    hope, at once, to exclude from all the circles everything that smells of the
    Enemy: but you must keep on shoving all the virtues outward till they are
    finally located in the circle of fantasy, and all the desirable qualities inward
    into the Will. It is only in so far as they reach the will and are there
    embodied in habits that the virtues are really fatal to us.