PUBLICATIONS
Books
The Independent Review
(Quarterly Journal)
Policy Reports
The Lighthouse
(Email Newsletter)
Commentary Articles
News Releases
Audio and Visual Programs
The Independent
(Quarterly Newsletter)
Research Articles
Working Papers
Course Adoption Program




Subscribe



Commentary
Facebook Facebook Facebook Facebook

Contribute
Your participation will advance liberty. Join us as an Independent Institute member.



Contact Us
The Independent Institute
100 Swan Way
Oakland, CA 94621-1428

510-632-1366 Phone
510-568-6040 Fax
Send us email


Interested in working with us?  Click here for more information.

Research Article

C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud
A Comparison of Their Thoughts and Viewpoints on Life, Pain and Death


     
 Print 

The worldviews of Sigmund Freud and C. S. Lewis, both prevalent in our culture today, present diametrically opposed interpretations of who we are (our identity), where we come from (our biological and cultural heritage), and our destiny.

First, let us lay the groundwork for our discussion by asking three questions. Who is Sigmund Freud? Who is C. S. Lewis? And, what is a worldview?

Few men have influenced the moral fabric of our civilization more than Sigmund Freud and C. S. Lewis. Freud was the Viennese physician who developed psychoanalysis. Many historians rank his findings with those of Planck and Einstein. His theories proffer new understanding of how our minds work. His ideas per-vade several disciplines including medicine, literature, sociology, anthropology, history, and law. How we interpret human behavior in law and literary criticism is strongly influenced by his theories. His concepts so permeate our language that we use terms like repression, complex, projection, narcissism, Freudian slip, and sibling rivalry without realizing their origin.

Because of the unmistakable impact of his thought on our culture, scholars refer to this century as the "century of Freud." Why is that? In light of what we now know, Freud is continuously criticized, discredited, and vilified; yet his picture keeps cropping up on the covers of our magazines and front-page articles in newspapers like the New York Times. Recent historical research has intensified the interest in the controversies surrounding Freud and his work. As part of an intellectual legacy, Freud vehemently advocated a secular, materialistic, atheistic philosophy of life.

Though C.S. Lewis won international recognition long before his death in 1963, his scholarly and popular books continue to sell millions of copies a year and his influence continues to grow. During World War II, Lewis' broadcast talks made his voice second only to Churchill as the most recognized on the BBC. In the years following, Lewis' photo appeared on the cover of Time and other leading magazines.

Today, the sheer quantity of personal, biographical and literary books on Lewis; the vast number of C.S. Lewis societies in colleges and universities; the C.S. Lewis periodicals and journals; as well as the relatively recent play and movie on his life all attest to the ever-growing interest in this man and his work. As a young faculty member at Oxford, Lewis changed from a secular, atheistic worldview to a spiritual one; a worldview that Freud regularly attacked, but which Lewis embraced and defined and described in many of his writings after his conversion. Both Lewis and Freud possessed extraordinary literary gifts. Freud won the Goethe prize for literature in 1930. Lewis, who taught at Oxford and held the chair of English literature at Cambridge University, produced some of the world's great literary criticism and scores of widely-read scholarly and fictional books.

Conflicting Worldviews

Now, on to the question of defining "worldview." In 1933, in a lecture called "The Question of a Weltanschauung," Freud defined a worldview as "an intellectual construction which solves all the problems of our existence uniformly on the basis of one overriding hypothesis."

All of us, whether we realize it or not, have a worldview; we have a philosophy of life our attempt to make sense out of our existence. It contains our answers to the fundamental questions concerning the meaning of our lives, questions that we struggle with at some level all of our lives, and that we often think about only when we wake up at three o'clock in the morning. The rest of the time when we are alone we have the radio or the television on anything to avoid being alone with ourselves. Pascal maintained the sole reason for our unhappiness is that we are unable to sit alone in our room. He claimed we do not like to confront the reality of our lives; the human condition is so basically unhappy that we do everything to keep distracted from thinking about it.

The broad interest and enduring influence of the works of Freud and Lewis result less from their unique literary style than from the universal appeal of the questions they addressed; questions that remain extraordinarily relevant to our personal lives and to our contemporary social and moral crises.

From diametrically opposed views, they talked about issues such as, "Is there meaning and purpose to existence?" Freud would say, "Absolutely not! We cannot even, from our scientific point of view, address the question of whether or not there is meaning to life." But he would declare that if you observe human behavior, you would notice the main purpose of life seems to be to find happiness to find pleasure. Thus Freud devised the "pleasure principle" as one of the main features of our existence.

Lewis, on the other hand, said meaning and purpose are found in understanding why we are here in terms of the Creator who made us. Our primary purpose is to establish a relationship with that Creator.

Freud and Lewis also discussed the sources of morality and conscience. Everyday we get up and make a series of decisions that carry us through the day. Those decisions are usually based on what we consider to be right: what we value, or our moral code. We decide to study hard and not use other people's ideas, because somehow that is part of our moral code. Now, Freud said our moral code comes from human experience, like our traffic laws. We make the codes up because they are expedient for us. In some cultures you drive on the left, in others you drive on the right.

But Lewis would disagree with that. He said that while there are differences in cultures, there is a basic moral law that transcends culture and time. This law is not invented, like traffic laws, but is discovered, like mathematical truth. So Freud and Lewis had an entirely different understanding of the source of moral truth.

Lewis and Freud also talked about the existence of an intelligence beyond the universe; Freud said "No," Lewis said "Yes." Their viewpoints led them to discuss the problem of miracles in an age of science. Freud claimed miracles contradict everything we have learned through empirical observation; they do not really occur. However, Lewis would ask, "How do we know they don't occur? If there is any evidence, the philosophy that you bring to that evidence determines how you interpret it." So, according to Lewis, we need to understand whether our philosophy excludes miracles and colors our interpretation of the evidence.

Freud and Lewis both spoke at length about human sexuality. Freud considered all love a kind of sublimated sexuality even love between friends. Lewis said that anybody who thinks that friendship is based on sexuality has never really had a friend.

They also discussed the problem of pain and suffering. Freud was enormously bothered by this problem, and Lewis wrote some wonderful books that help explain the problem of suffering that we all experience. The Problem of Pain [Macmillan, 1944] is a very cerebral discussion of the issue. When Lewis' wife died, he wrote A Grief Observed [Reprint, Harper, 1994], which I highly recommend. People in my field say it is the finest work on the process of grief.

And, of course, they both discuss what Freud called "The painful riddle of death." But I'll come to that later.

Each of the questions I've addressed are primarily philosophical in nature. It's significant to note that Freud's philosophical works have had a much greater influence on the secularization of our culture than his scientific works. I will discuss two of these themes.

The God Question

First, the existence of an intelligence beyond the universe what modern scientists refer to as the "God question." Norman Ramsey, a professor of particle physics at Harvard, won the 1989 Nobel Prize in physics. He told me recently that even in his field, scientists have become interested in the question of whether or not there is intelligence beyond the universe. He said this is a rather recent area of interest for them and that it has been provoked primarily by the acceptance of the Big Bang theory. I replied that I didn't quite understand the relationship. He said, "Well, when the universe had no beginning it was simply always there one didn't have to be concerned about what came before. But once one accepts the idea that the universe had a specific starting point, one has to think about what occurred before. So physicists now are thinking about questions only theologians and philosophers thought about in the past."

As we look at the world around us, we make one of two basic assumptions: either we view the universe as an accident and our existence on this planet a matter of chance, or we assume some intelligence beyond the universe who not only gives the universe design and order, but also gives life meaning and purpose. How we live our lives, how we end our lives, what we perceive, how we interpret what we perceive, are all formed and influenced consciously or unconsciously by one of these two basic assumptions.

With this in mind, Freud divided all people into "believers" and "unbelievers." Unbelievers include all those who consider themselves cynics, skeptics, scoffers, agnostics, or atheists. Believers include the rest, whose belief ranges from merely an intellectual assent that someone or something is out there to those like Lewis, Augustine, Tolstoy, and Pascal who have had a life-transforming experience after which their faith becomes the primary motivating and organizing principle of their lives.

Freud came down clearly and strongly against the notion that there is "Anyone" out there. He described his worldview as secular and called it "scientific," and he claimed that no source of knowledge of the universe exists other than "carefully scrutinized observation what we call research." Therefore no knowledge, he said, can be derived from revelation or from intuition. He stated that the notion of the universe created by a being "resembling a man but magnified in every respect, an idealized superman, reflects the gross ignorance of primitive peoples." He stated that no intelligent person could accept the absurdities of the religious worldview.

Freud described the concept of God as merely a projection of the childish wish for the protection of an all-powerful father. He added that "religion is an attempt to master the sensory world in which we are situated by means of the wishful world which we have developed within us as a result of biological and psychological abnormality."

He concluded that the religious view is "so pathetically absurd and . . . infantile that it is humiliating and embarrassing to think that the majority of people will never rise above it." Except for the brief time as a college student under the influence of a brilliant philosopher named Franz Brentano, a devout believer, when Freud wavered in his atheism, he stated that he remained an unbeliever all of his life. A year before he died, Freud wrote to Charles Sanger, "Neither in my private life nor in my writing have I ever made a secret of being an out-and-out unbeliever."

When we carefully assess the record, however, we find that Freud may not have been quite as adamant in his atheism as he proclaimed. Certainly he did refer to himself often as, "an infidel Jew," and he rejected outright the religious view of the universe, especially the Judeo-Christian view. He certainly attacked this view with all his intellectual might and from every possible perspective. Yet, for some reason he remained preoccupied with these issues; he just could not leave them alone. He spent the last thirty years of his life writing about them.

In an autobiographical study he said that these philosophical and religious issues interested him throughout his life from early youth. A great deal of evidence exists that Freud's worldview proved less than comfortable for him. Faith was by no means a closed issue for him, and he was extremely ambivalent about God's existence.

Anna Freud, Sigmund's daughter who died a few years ago, explained to me that the only way to know her father: “Don’t read his biographies;” she instructed, “read his letters.” Throughout Freud’s letters are statements such as, “If someday we meet above,” “[my] one, quite secret prayer,” and statements about God’s grace.

During the last thirty years of Freud’s life, he carried out a continuous exchange of hundreds of letters with a Swiss theologian, Oskar Phister. It’s interesting to note that his longest correspondence was with this theologian. He admired Phister and wrote, “You are a true servant of God . . . [who] feels the need to do spiritual good to everyone he meets. You did good this way even to me.” He later said that Phister was, “In the fortunate position of being able to lead men to God.”

Are these just manners of speaking? If it were anyone but Freud, who claimed even a slip of the tongue had meaning, we might be able to say this.

The Question of Pain and Suffering

I have studied Freud’s writings and his letters for many years and I've concluded that the main obstacle Freud had with the idea of some intelligence out there was his inability to reconcile an all-loving, all-powerful God with the suffering that all of us experience to some degree.

In a 1928 letter to Phister, Freud wrote, “And finally, let me be impolite for once. How the devil do you reconcile all that we experience and come to expect in this world with your assumption of a moral world order?” And then in a 1933 lecture he said:

It seems not to be the case that there's a power in the universe that watches over the well-being of individuals with parental care and brings all their affairs to a happy ending. On the contrary, the destinies of mankind can be brought into harmony neither with a hypothesis of a universal benevolence nor with a partial contradictory one of a universal justice. Earthquakes, tidal waves, complications make no distinctions between the virtuous and pious and the scoundrel or unbeliever. Even where what is in question is not inanimate nature, but where an individual's fate depends on his relationships with other people, it is by no means the rule that virtue is rewarded and evil finds its punishment. Often enough the violent cunning or ruthless man seizes the envied good things of the world and the pious man goes away empty. Obscure, unfeeling, unloving powers determine our fate. The systems of rewards and punishments which religion describes to the government of the universe seems not to exist.

I wonder how many of us have sometimes felt that way.

Freud seemed to be unaware, of course, that in the Biblical worldview the government of the universe is temporarily in enemy hands. Before Anna Freud died, I asked her about her father’s difficulty with the problem of suffering, and she expressed great curiosity about it. At one point she said to me, “How do you explain the suffering in the world? Is there someone up there that says, ‘You get cancer. You get tuberculosis,’ and kind of dishes out adversity?” I said I didn't know quite how to answer that question, but I knew that she respected Oscar Phister.

I said that people like Phister would describe the presence of an evil power in the universe that might account for some of the suffering. Anna seemed unusually interested in this notion and came back to it several times in our discussion.

We must remember that Freud suffered considerably in his life, emotionally as a Jew growing up in an intensely Catholic-biased Vienna, and physically with an intractable cancer of the palate that he struggled with for sixteen years of his life. Surgical procedures were not very well developed then and caused him a great deal of physical pain. So we need to keep that in mind when trying to understand how he felt.

C. S. Lewis, throughout the first half of his life, also described himself, like Freud, as an “out-and-out unbeliever.” If Freud wavered in his unbelief as a college student, Lewis flaunted his atheism as a student at Oxford. He strongly expressed cynicism and hostility toward people that he called “believers” and shared Freud's pessimism toward life generally.

When thirty-three years old, by then a popular member of the Oxford faculty, Lewis experienced a profound and radical change in his life and in his thinking. He rejected the materialistic and atheistic worldview and embraced a strong faith in God and eventually in Jesus Christ. This conversion from one worldview to the other began an outpouring of scholarly and popular works that have influenced millions of people.

How do people change their worldviews from one to another that is dramatically different? With C.S. Lewis, this transformation happened over a long period of time. Nevertheless, his conversion was no less dramatic than Paul, Augustine, Tolstoy, Pascal, or many others.

These are some of the influences that stirred Lewis to change his worldview: First, Lewis gradually became aware that most of the great writers he had been reading for years were believers. This began to make him think. Then re-reading Euripides and Samuel Alexander’s Space, Time, and Deity, Lewis was forced to think about a deep yearning in himself; he recognized that it was a kind of yearning he experienced periodically but did not quite understand. He called it “joy” and he wrote a great deal about it. He realized that this joy was not an end in itself, but a reminder of something or someone else. Eventually, he came to believe that this someone is the Creator.

Second, Lewis was shocked during a conversation with some of his Oxford faculty colleagues to hear one of them, an avowed atheist, state that the evidence for the historical authenticity of the gospels was very good. The evidence was sound and the gospel stories actually appeared to be true. Lewis said one cannot understand the impact that had on him coming from this particular faculty member.

Third, he read G.K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man and finally arrived at a belief in God. He writes about it very briefly this way in Surprised by Joy.

You must picture me alone in that room at Magdalene, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.

At this point Lewis was a theist, not a Christian. He struggled for many long months to understand the Gospel story and the doctrines of redemption and resurrection. He read the Gospel of John in Greek.

Then, in the fall of 1931, he had dinner with two faculty members, J.R.R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings. and Hugo Dyson, a professor of English literature. After dinner, the three of them talked about the great question concerning the truth of the Gospels and asked the question that one of Lewis’s pupils referred to as, “And is it true, this most amazing tale of all?” They talked and walked for hours along a path called Addison’s Walk. The clock in Magdalene Tower struck three in the morning before they parted. This talk had a profound effect on Lewis. Nine days later, Lewis took a trip by motorcycle with his brother. He wrote, “When we set out I did not believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, and when we reached the zoo, I did.” Later, Lewis wrote: “My long night talk with Dyson and Tolkien had a good deal to do with it.”

Lewis' conversion revolutionized his life. He became a prolific author, selling millions of copies of books and influencing many people in universities, especially in this country and in Europe. Because he himself embraced atheism the first half of his life, he knew the arguments well. For example, Lewis agreed with Freud that we do indeed possess a deep-seated wish for God. But he disagreed with Freud’s notion that God therefore is nothing but a product of wish fulfillment. What we wish for, Lewis pointed out, has nothing to do with whether or not God exists. According to Freud’s theory, the wish that God not exist would be as strong as the wish that He does exist. Lewis therefore said that all of this tells us something about our feelings, but very little about whether or not God exists. So Lewis tended to answer most of the arguments raised by Freud.

The Question of Mortality

Let us move to our second theme, the question of mortality, which Freud referred to as “the painful riddle of death.” Socrates said the true philosopher is always pursing death and dying. And indeed most of the great writers write about it continually.

A fundamental fact of our existence, one that we learn very early in life, is that we're on this earth for a very short time. We are the only creatures on earth that can foresee our own death. At the same time, we have a deep yearning for permanence and a pervasive, deep-seated fear of being separated from those we love of being abandoned. The fear of abandonment is the first fear we experience as a young child -- a baby screams when its mother walks out of the room. Research at the Massachusetts General Hospital has shown that, in terminally ill patients, this is what they fear most -- the fear of being left alone, of being abandoned. It’s a fear we harbor all of our life. Yet we cannot escape the harsh reality that every breath we breathe, every heartbeat, every hour of every day brings us nearer to the time when we will leave those we love.

Now, how do you process that information? How do you come to terms with this? Psychiatrists say this issue is so important that you can't really live your life until you do come to terms with it. But how do you process it without being filled with anxiety or filled with fear? That is what Freud called “the painful riddle of death.”

Freud and the Riddle of Death

Freud often wrote about death. I’ll mention only a few comments he wrote and how he frequently confronted his own death.

In 1932, in a work called Totem and Taboo, Freud made the interesting observation that death does not exist in our unconscious mind: “Our unconscious then does not believe in its own death. It behaves as if it were immortal. We cannot imagine our own death and when we attempt to do so we can perceive that we are in fact still spectators, hence, no one believes in his own death.” Freud avoided giving any philosophical interpretation of his rather provocative observation that in the deepest recesses of our mind, “everyone of us is convinced of our own immortality.”

In The Future of an Illusion, Freud spoke often of the painful riddle of death. He closed one essay with the curious suggestion that if you want to endure life you must prepare yourself for death. He seemed to realize what people in my field have been talking about for years and that is: we cannot really begin to live this life until we have somehow resolved the problem of our own death. And when left unresolved, one spends excessive energy denying it or becoming obsessed with it.

Freud left no doubt as to how he handled the problem. He became utterly obsessed with death. His colleague Ernst Jones, his official biographer, wrote:

As far back as we know anything about Freud's life, he seems to have been prepossessed with thoughts about death. More so than any great man I can think of. Even in the early years of our acquaintance he had the disconcerting habit of parting with the words, ‘Good-bye. You may never see me again.’ And then there were the repeated attacks of what he called ‘the dread of death.’ He hated growing old. Even as early as his forties and with each passing year, thoughts of death became increasingly tyrants. He once said he thought of it every day of his life, which is really unusual.

Freud dreamed about death continually, and from early in his life he was obsessed about prospective death rates. Freud's physician described his preoccupation with death as superstitious and obsessive. Freud was certain he was going to die at 41, then at 51, then at 61, then at 62, then at 70. He would check into a hotel and be given the room number 63. He would leave that room and for months be absolutely convinced that he was going to die at age 63. When Freud lost a loved one through death, he felt utterly hopeless. In a letter to Jones, he wrote, “I was about your age when my father died and it revolutionized my soul. Can you remember a time so full of death as this?”

When 64, Freud lost a young and beautiful daughter, and he wondered when his time would come. He wished it would be soon. He said, “I do not know what there is to say in such a paralyzing event which can stir no afterthoughts when one is not a believer.” In another letter he wrote, “As a confirmed unbeliever, I have no one to accuse and realize there’s no place I can lodge a complaint.” Three years later Freud’s favorite grandson died of tuberculosis. To a friend he wrote, “I find this hard to bear. I don’t think I've ever experienced such grief. Perhaps my own sickness contributes to this shock. I work out of sheer necessity. Fundamentally everything has lost its meaning to me.” And in another letter he stated, “To me, this child has taken the place of all my children and all my grandchildren and since then I don’t care for any of my grandchildren. I can find no joy in life.”

Freud died at the age of 83 after a sixteen-year battle with cancer. His favorite book was Goethe's Faust, the story of Faust making a pact with the devil. Just before Freud died, he walked to a library shelf and took down a book by Bolzac entitled The Fatal Skin, in which the main character also makes a pact with the devil. The book ends when the hero cannot master his fear of death and dies in a state of panic. How strange, as his last book. After reading the book, Freud reminded his physician of a promise he had made to help ease his passing when the time came. His doctor injected two centigrams of morphine that caused him to fall asleep, then after 12 hours he injected two more centigrams. Freud died at 3 a.m. on September 12, 1939.

C.S. Lewis and Death

C. S. Lewis also wrote about mortality. In The Problem of Pain, Lewis described how as an atheist the problem of human suffering, especially the capacity of man to foresee his death while keenly desiring permanence, made it difficult for him to believe in an all-loving, all-powerful God. After his conversion, he understood death as the result of the fall, a transgression of God's laws, and that death was not part of the original plan. (Perhaps that is the reason we have no symbol for death in our unconscious, and have such difficulty accepting our mortality.)

Lewis made frequent reference to the basic principle that death illustrates. When 31 years old, before his conversion, Lewis wrote a letter that stated, “I think almost more every year in autumn I get the sense, just as the mere nature and voluptuous life of the world is dying, of something else coming awake. I wonder if it's significant? Does the death of a natural man always mean the birth of a spiritual; does one thing never sleep, except to let something awake?”

Then a couple of years later in another letter he wrote, “Can one believe that there was just nothing in that persistent motif of blood, death, and resurrection which runs like a black and scarlet cord through all the great myths?” He was beginning to notice as he studied all the ancient literature that even in the pagan cultures there were these strange stories of a god someday coming to earth and dying and rising again. He wondered what it meant. And when you look at nature, indeed you see things even in vegetative life where a seed drops to the ground and dies and then comes to life in the form of a plant or great tree. Could this be pointing to what he eventually called “the grand miracle,” the resurrection? He said, “Surely the history of the human mind hangs together better if you suppose that all this was the first shadowy approach of something whose reality came with Christ even if we cannot at present fully understand that something.”

Personal Tragedy

In his personal life, C. S. Lewis was confronted with death as a young child. At nine years of age he lost within a few months a paternal grandfather, an uncle, and his beautiful mother. In an autobiography, Surprised by Joy, he recalls being confined to his room, ill with a headache and a toothache. He was distressed that his mother failed to come and see him. He didn’t understand the reason:

That was because she was ill, too; and what was odd was that there were several doctors in her room, and voices and comings and goings all over the house and doors shutting and opening. It seemed to last for hours. And then my father, in tears, came into my room and began to try to convey to my terrified mind things it had never conceived before.

He was told that his mother was dying of cancer. He recalled that his “whole existence changed into something alien and menacing, as the house became full of strange smells and midnight noises and sinister whispered conversations.”

“My father never fully recovered from this loss,” he noted. Perhaps Lewis didn’t either in the sense that he was sent away to boarding school because his father was too full of grief to take care of him. At a very early age, he lost both mother and father.

When 18 years old and a student at Oxford, Lewis joined the army. He suffered wounds during action in France and, in a lecture given at Oxford many years later, he made the interesting observation that war does not make death more frequent “100 percent of us die and the percentage cannot be increased.” He stated that war puts several deaths earlier and that one of the few positive aspects of war is that it makes us aware of our mortality. When he was 23 years old he wrote a letter to his father on the death of an old teacher who was a friend to both of them. He stated:

I have seen death fairly often [in the war] and never yet been able to find it anything but extraordinary and rather incredible. A real person is so very real and so obviously living and different from what is left. And one cannot believe that something has turned into nothing, that one could suddenly turn into nothing.

This reminds me of my medical students just beginning to practice medicine; very often they will call me to tell me their experiences on the ward. One of the things the students often mention is how different a person is before and after death, how different the body is from a living person. They sense there is something that disappears that is not there after death and that we are so much more than our bodies. Lewis seemed to realize that at a very young age.

Death Does Matter

In A Grief Observed, Lewis wrote about the death of his wife who was to him everything worthwhile. As I mentioned, many psychiatrists consider this book a classic in terms of understanding grief. Lewis makes you feel the anger, resentment, loneliness, and fear. His anger becomes palpable when he wonders if God is “the cosmic sadist; the spiteful imbecile.” He wrote, “It is hard to have patience with people who say there is no death or that death doesn’t matter. There is death,” he continued, “and whatever is matters. We might as well say birth doesn’t matter.”

Lewis never lost his sense of humor. When he was 59 years old, a lady wrote to him and said how terrible it was that she had just lost a friend. Lewis wrote back, “There is nothing discreditable in dying. I’ve known the most respectable people to do it.” In another letter a couple of years later he wrote, “What a state we’ve gotten into when we can’t say, ‘I’ll be happy when God calls me,’ without being afraid one will be thought morbid. After all, Saint Paul said just the same. Why should we not look forward to the arrival?”

Lewis concluded that we can do only three things about death: desire it, fear it, or ignore it. He claimed the third alternative, which is the one the modern world calls healthy, is surely the most uneasy and precarious of all.

Lewis suffered a heart attack on June 15, 1963, and lapsed into a coma. He recovered, however, and lived the next few months quietly and happily. His latest biographer notes that before his conversion, Lewis was extraordinarily anxious about death and dying, but after his conversion he seemed to have a wonderful calmness about it, and even an anticipation. Records of his last days attest to a calmness and inner peace.

During this time, he wrote to a lifelong friend stating, “Though I am by no means unhappy, I can’t help feeling it rather a pity that I did revive in July.” He went on, “I mean, having been glided so painlessly up to the gate, it seems hard to have it shut in one’s face and know that the whole process must someday be gone through again. Poor Lazarus.” And to another friend he asked, “One ought to honor Lazarus rather than Stephen as a proto-martyr. To be brought back and have all one’s dying to do again was rather hard.” And then he said, “When you die, look me up. It’s all rather fun, solemn fun, isn’t it?”

Two weeks before his death, Lewis had lunch with a faculty colleague. He said Lewis was aware the end was near and that never was a man better prepared. On November 22, 1963, Lewis’s brother brought Lewis his 4 p.m. tea. He noted that Lewis was drowsy, but calm and cheerful. At 5:30, he was dead.

We have considered the contrasting worldviews of two prolific minds. One view claims that the universe is an accident and our existence a matter of chance. The other sees the universe a result of design and our existence a part of that design. One view sees death as a painful riddle that causes great anxiety and despair and bitterness. The other views death as the final step in the design for one’s life, a step that one can experience with a degree of calmness and even anticipation because of what Lewis called “that grand miracle,” the resurrection.


This article is reprinted with permission of the author and is adapted from a speech made by Dr. Nicholi at Southern Methodist University on September 23, 1997.
Armand M. Nicholi II, M.D., is Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, a member of the Board of Advisors for the Center on Culture and Civil Society at the Independent Institute, and author of the book, The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud Debate God, Love, Sex and the Meaning of Life, which was the basis for the 4-part PBS series in 2004, The Question of God: Sigmund Freud and C.S. Lewis.






Home | About Us | Blogs | Issues | Newsroom | Multimedia | Events | Publications | Centers | Students | Store | Donate

Product Catalog | RSS | Jobs | Course Adoption | Links | Privacy Policy | Site Map
Facebook Facebook Facebook Facebook
Copyright 2014 The Independent Institute