Lewis on Religion & Secular vs. Sacred

January 1st, 2008

But even in this present life, there is danger in the very concept of religion. It carries the suggestion that this is one more department life, an extra department added to the economic, the social, the intellectual, the recreational, and all the rest. But that whose claims are infinite can have no standing as a department. Either it is an illusion or else our whole life falls under it. We have no non-religious activities; only religious and irreligious.[...]But none of them [religious observances] is necessarily of more spiritual value than the activities we call secular. And they are infinitely dangerous when this is not understood. This department of life, labeled “sacred,” can become an end in itself; an idol that hides both God and my neighbours. (“When the means are autonomous they are deadly.”) It may even come about that a man’s most genuinely Christan actions fall entirely outside that part of this life which he call religious.

I read in a religious paper, “Nothing is more important than to teach children to use the sign of the cross.” Nothing? Not compassion, nor veracity, no justice? Voila l’ennemi. [Behold the enemy.]

– C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm Chiefly on Prayer

[Note: The last should not be taken to mean that Lewis advocates "social gospel" over or to the exclusion of the gospel of salvation through faith. Reading Mere Christianity alone should prove that. Also, he goes on to say that he has been talking about religion as a pattern of behavior, not in terms of its content of beliefs. He also makes passing reference to "the little--the very little--that liberal theology has still left of the 'faith once given'".]

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