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C.S. Lewis’ brilliant wisdom on living in dangerous times

C.S. Lewis

RIEGER Bertrand | Hemis | AFP

Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 03/31/22

Frightening and powerful evil is nothing new in our world -- it’s always been here. But so have the peace and power of God.
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Reading the news these days can bring a mounting sense of doom. As one viral meme put it, “I really enjoyed the five minutes between the worldwide pandemic and World War III.”

We thought things couldn’t get worse than the pandemic lockdowns two years ago, but the specter of war in a nuclear age just might top that. I don’t know about you, but I find it hard not to let my imagination run wild with stark images of nuclear disaster and apocalyptic scenarios. 

So I was very relieved when I recently stumbled across an essay by C.S. Lewis called “On Living in an Atomic Age.” In it, the great Christian writer and professor explains why we shouldn’t panic, even over the scary “chance of painful and premature death.” Here’s an excerpt:

“In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. ‘How are we to live in an atomic age?’ I am tempted to reply: ‘Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.’

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.”

That was just the bracing wisdom and breath of fresh air I needed to hear. Like Lewis says, it’s silly to give in to fear or panic. 

Frightening and powerful evil is nothing new in our world. It’s always been here, but so have the peace and courage of God. Right now, I’m trying to hold on tight to His peace.

Living well and happily, in a “sensible and human” way, is the first order of business. The news may be dire, but here in our homes, we can create oases of peace

So let’s do something to make today a little happier: Meet a friend for drinks, take the children to the playground, FaceTime with Grandma, tell someone we love them. Let’s banish scary thoughts with good, wholesome work and time spent with those we love. 

That’s how we ought to live in any age.

Catholic LifestyleCS LewisMental Health
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