The Four Loves: Affection

The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis

Blog readers: Chi Alpha @ Stanford is engaging in our annual summer reading project. As we read through three books by C. S. Lewis, I’ll post my thoughts here (which will largely consist of excerpts I found insightful). They are all tagged summer-reading-project-2018. The schedule is online.

YouTube has something amazing in relation to this week’s reading: the man himself delivering the radio address upon which the chapter is based. Check out The Four Loves (‘Storge’ or ‘Affection’) (or you can read the transcript). You should at least listen to a few minutes if you’ve never heard the voice of Lewis before.

In this chapter, Lewis discusses the type of love described by the Greek word storge (στοργή). In English we would talk about affection or fondness. Interestingly (at least to me), this Greek word appears only in the negative in the New Testament. In both Romans 1:31 and 2 Timothy 3:3 the word astorgos (ἄστοργος) is rendered by various translations as “heartless” or “unloving” or “without natural affection.” When your English translation of the New Testament contains the word affection it is probably representing splangxnon (σπλαγχηνον) instead. This doesn’t affect what Lewis says in the slightest. I just find it interesting.

On to what Lewis actually said.

The first thing that stood out to me was a pithy phrase: “They seal up the very fountain for which they are thirsty.” (page 769)

Lewis is speaking about people whose craving for affection is so intense that they push away the people around them. It’s something I’ve seen before, but the imagery Lewis uses is so evocative that it made me realize afresh how tragic it is. More than that, it made me pause and reflect on whether there are any areas of my life in which I am pursuing something so ineptly that I make success less likely with every attempt I make.

The next bit that stood out to me came near the end of the chapter. Lewis makes a point about our tendency to treat affection gone bad as a psychological problem.

I do not think we shall see things more clearly by classifying all these malefical states of Affection as pathological. No doubt there are really pathological conditions which make the temptation to these states abnormally hard or even impossible to resist for particular people. Send those people to the doctors by all means. But I believe that everyone who is honest with himself will admit that he has felt these temptations. Their occurrence is not a disease; or if it is, the name of that disease is Being a Fallen Man. In ordinary people the yielding to them—and who does not sometimes yield?—is not disease, but sin. Spiritual direction will here help us more than medical treatment. Medicine labours to restore “natural” structure or “normal” function. But greed, egoism, self-deception and self-pity are not unnatural or abnormal in the same sense as astigmatism or a floating kidney. For who, in Heaven’s name, would describe as natural or normal the man from whom these failings were wholly absent? “Natural,” if you like, in a quite different sense; archnatural, unfallen. We have seen only one such Man. And He was not at all like the psychologist’s picture of the integrated, balanced, adjusted, happily married, employed, popular citizen. You can’t really be very well “adjusted” to your world if it says you “have a devil” and ends by nailing you up naked to a stake of wood. (page 778)

As others have said, we live in a therapeutic age. We are conditioned to assume negative thoughts and emotions are psychological problems, but that’s not always true. I remember a quote from Carl Elliott that hit me like a thunderbolt when I was in grad school.

On Prozac, Sisyphus might well push the boulder back up the mountain with more enthusiasm and more creativity. I do not want to deny the benefits of psychoactive medication. I just want to point out that Sisyphus is not a patient with a mental health problem. To see him as a patient with a mental health problem is to ignore certain larger aspects of his predicament connected to boulders, mountains, and eternity. (UPDATE: I forget where I first saw this quote — I thought it was from The Atlantic in an article called  “The Pursuit of Happiness”, but it was published too late for that to be the case)

Sometimes negative thoughts and feelings are natural (one might even say healthy) responses to our situation, sometimes they are mistaken but not especially harmful, sometimes they are sinful, and sometimes they are the result of psychological problems. Be open to the full range of possibilities.  

Before winding this down, I’d like to highlight one more of Lewis’s insights. Early in the chapter as bit of an aside, Lewis says

The rivalry between all natural loves and the love of God is something a Christian dare not forget. God is the great Rival, the ultimate object of human jealousy; that beauty, terrible as the Gorgon’s, which may at any moment steal from me—or it seems like stealing to me—my wife’s or husband’s or daughter’s heart. The bitterness of some unbelief, though disguised even from those who feel it as anti-clericalism or hatred of superstition, is really due to this. (page 767–768, emphasis added)

Some of your friends who are angry about religion are angry because they are jealous. Your friend is bent — perhaps without even realizing it — because someone’s love for God has created distance between them and your friend.  If you’re ever talking about God with someone and you can hear anger in their voice, bear this insight in mind. It might help explain what’s going on.

I’m loving the Lewis readings so far. Next week: the love between friends. 

P.S. If, perchance, you are behind on your readings then just skip ahead. Start keeping up now — you can always go back and read the parts you missed later.

The Four Loves: Introduction and Chapter One

The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis

Blog readers: Chi Alpha @ Stanford is engaging in our annual summer reading project. As we read through three books by C. S. Lewis, I’ll post my thoughts here (which will largely consist of excerpts I found insightful). They are all tagged summer-reading-project-2018. The schedule is online.

We live in an area that often overvalues the love of nature and undervalues the love of country. At the end of “Likings and Loves for the Sub-human” (the first chapter of The Four Loves) Lewis makes some astute observations about each.

Concerning nature, he makes the claim that nature doesn’t teach us anything on its own.

If you take nature as a teacher she will teach you exactly the lessons you had already decided to learn; this is only another way of saying that nature does not teach.… Overwhelming gaiety, insupportable grandeur, sombre desolation are flung at you. Make what you can of them, if you must make at all. The only imperative that nature utters is, “Look. Listen. Attend.” (page 755 in The C.S. Lewis Signature Classics)

While I think his main point is sound, he words things too strongly here. If I adopted this perspective as he phrased it, I wouldn’t be able to make sense of such passages as Romans 1:20 and Psalm 19.

  • Romans 1:20, “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”
  • Psalm 19:1–2, “The heavens declare the glory of God;    the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech;    night after night they reveal knowledge.”

These and other Scriptures clearly teach that there are things God expects us to learn from nature. But there are not many of these things. Lewis is right that nature gives confusing messages — we can construct clever natural arguments for cruelty as well as for mercy.

Rather than looking to nature to provide our entire system of morality and meaning, Lewis says it is enough to allow nature to give us a framework for thinking:

Nature never taught me that there exists a God of glory and of infinite majesty. I had to learn that in other ways. But nature gave the word glory a meaning for me. I still do not know where else I could have found one. I do not see how the “fear” of God could have ever meant to me anything but the lowest prudential efforts to be safe, if I had never seen certain ominous ravines and unapproachable crags. And if nature had never awakened certain longings in me, huge areas of what I can now mean by the “love” of God would never, so far as I can see, have existed. (pages 755–756)

Good stuff and well worth pondering.

Lewis goes on to make some great observations about patriotism. Patriotism is a virtue for Christians as Douglas Wilson points out in his 2016 essay American Jesus:

Patriotism, rightly developed, is a duty that falls under the fifth commandment. I am to honor my father and mother, and this extends beyond them in such a way as to include my people, my tribe. Ordinary and ordered patriotism is not just okay; it is a duty, one that needs to be cultivated.

I highly commend that essay to you. Wilson is on point and adds all the caveats you might be worried about.

One of Lewis’s insights about patriotic love is that it allows us to love and respect people from other nations:

Of course patriotism of this kind is not in the least aggressive. It asks only to be let alone. It becomes militant only to protect what it loves. In any mind which has a pennyworth of imagination it produces a good attitude towards foreigners. How can I love my home without coming to realise that other men, no less rightly, love theirs? Once you have realised that the Frenchmen like cafe complet just as we like bacon and eggs—why, good luck to them and let them have it. The last thing we want is to make everywhere else just like our own home. It would not be home unless it were different.

And he has particularly strong words to say about those who try to replace the love of country with a commitment to higher ideals:

If people will spend neither sweat nor blood for “their country” they must be made to feel that they are spending them for justice, or civilisation, or humanity. This is a step down, not up.… If our country’s cause is the cause of God, wars must be wars of annihilation. A false transcendence is given to things which are very much of this world. (page 761)

Much of what Lewis says in this section reminds me of the way G.K. Chesterton talked about patriotism in Orthodoxy chapter 5, “The Flag of This World.” Chesterton’s point is that patriots see the flaws of their nation and grieve them. Because they love their nation they want to fix it.

Let us suppose we are confronted with a desperate thing—say Pimlico [Glen’s note: Pimlico is part of London]. If we think what is really best for Pimlico we shall find the thread of thought leads to the throne or the mystic and the arbitrary. It is not enough for a man to disapprove of Pimlico: in that case he will merely cut his throat or move to Chelsea. Nor, certainly, is it enough for a man to approve of Pimlico: for then it will remain Pimlico, which would be awful. The only way out of it seems to be for somebody to love Pimlico: to love it with a transcendental tie and without any earthly reason. If there arose a man who loved Pimlico, then Pimlico would rise into ivory towers and golden pinnacles; Pimlico would attire herself as a woman does when she is loved. For decoration is not given to hide horrible things: but to decorate things already adorable. A mother does not give her child a blue bow because he is so ugly without it. A lover does not give a girl a necklace to hide her neck. If men loved Pimlico as mothers love children, arbitrarily, because it is THEIRS, Pimlico in a year or two might be fairer than Florence. Some readers will say that this is a mere fantasy. I answer that this is the actual history of mankind. This, as a fact, is how cities did grow great. Go back to the darkest roots of civilization and you will find them knotted round some sacred stone or encircling some sacred well. People first paid honour to a spot and afterwards gained glory for it. Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.

So to summarize:

  • Nature is worthy of love but not worthy of worship. Our cultural celebration of environmentalism far to often runs beyond the concerns of ecology and veers into religious territory.
  • Nations are worthy of love but not worthy of worship, and we ought to cultivate a healthy and measured patriotism in ourselves whatever our homeland may be.

See you next week!