Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Great Divorce: Heaven That Dances Within

Yona told me to read The Great Divorce. Well, that would be putting it lightly. Yona told me to read The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis yesterday, at once, immediately! It was imperative that I read the book. And he was right to do so because the book is brilliant. So thank you, Yona.

Lewis begins with a preface stating his objective, namely to respond to Blake's idea that there is a marriage of heaven and hell. Lewis explains:
    We are not living in a world where all roads are radii of a circle and where all, if followed long enough, will therefore draw gradually nearer and finally meet at the centre: rather in a world where every road, after a few miles, forks into two, and each of those into two again, and at each fork you must make a decision. Even on the biological level life is not like a pool but like a tree. It does not move towards unity but away from it and the creatures grow further apart as they increase in perfection. Good, as it ripens, becomes continually more different not only from evil but from other good.

    I do not think that all who choose wrong roads perish; but their rescue consists in being put back on the right road. A wrong sum can be put right: but only by going back till you find the error and working it afresh from that point, never by simply going on. Evil can be undone, but it cannot "develop" into good. Time does not heal it. The spell must be unwound, bit by bit, "with backward mutters of dissevering power"- or else not. It is still "either-or."

    -pages v-vi
While I do not entirely agree with him- I'm much more the Rav girl who believes that we must bring heaven down to earth, and transform the earth so that it can achieve its heavenly potential- I can definitely see where he is coming from. In this book Lewis proposes a vision of Heaven, not as he truly believes it is, but as a sort of moral or fable through which to reach our senses. And he succeeds in that, for he renders it beautifully. The way he chooses to depict the souls journeying from Hell in their quest to Heaven are as Ghosts who need to be firmed-up and achieve their solid state. It is only through letting go of whatever it is chaining them to Hell that they can become solid and stable as opposed to ephemeral and venture to Heaven. (As a sidepoint, it's interesting he chooses to depict it this way. One would think that one must forgo the earthly body and become 'spiritual,' or ghostly.)

There were two parts that really struck me. The first referred to a belief of mine, namely, that God cannot truly be upset with people who make honest mistakes.
    "Are you serious, Dick?"


    "This is worse than I expected. Do you really think people are penalised for their honest opinions? Even assuming, for the sake of argument, that those opinions were mistaken."

    "Do you really think there are no sins of intellect?"

    "There are indeed, Dick. There is hide-bound prejudice, and intellectual dishonesty, and timidity, and stagnation. But honest opinions fearlessly followed- they are not sins."

    "I know we used to talk that way. I did it too until the end of my life when I became what you call narrow. It all turns on what are honest opinions."

    "Mine certainly were. They were not only honest but heroic. I asserted them fearlessly. When the doctrine of the Resurrection ceased to commend itself to the critical faculties which God had given me, I openly rejected it. I preached my famous sermon. I defied the whole chapter. I took every risk."

    "What risk? What was at all likely to come of it except what actually came- popularity, sales for your books, invitations, and finally a bishopric?"

    "Dick, this is unworthy of you. What are you suggesting?"

    "Friend, I am not suggesting at all. You see, I know now. Let us be frank. Our opinions were not honestly come by. We simply found ourselves in contact with a certain current of ideas and plunged into it because it seemed modern and successful. At College, you know, we just started automatically writing the kind of essays that got good marks and saying the kind of things that won applause. When, in our own lives, did we honestly face, in solitude, the one question on which all turned: whether after all the Supernatural might not in fact occur? When did we put up one moment's real resistance to the loss of our faith?"

    "If this is meant to be a sketch of the genesis of liberal theology in general, I reply that it is a mere libel. Do you suggest that men like..."

    "I have nothing to do with any generality. Nor with any man but me and you. Oh, as you love your own soul, remember. You know that you and I were playing with loaded dice. We didn't want the other to be true. We were afraid of crude salvationism, afraid of a breach with the spirit of the age, afraid of ridicule, afraid (above all) of real spiritual fears and hopes."

    "I'm far from denying that young men may make mistakes. They may well be influenced by current fashions of thought. But it's not a question of how the opinions are formed. The point is that they were my honest opinions, sincerely expressed."

    "Of course. Having allowed oneself to drift, unresisting, unpraying, accepting every half-conscious solicitation from our desires, we reached a point where we no longer believed the Faith. Just in the same way, a jealous man, drifting and unresisting, reaches a point at which he believes lies about his best friend: a drunkard reaches a point at which (for the moment) he actually believes that another glass will do him no harm. The beliefs are sincere in the sense that they do occur as psychological events in the man's mind. If that's what you mean by sincerity they are sincere, and so were ours. But errors which are sincere in that sense are not innocent."


    "Will you come with me to the mountains? It will hurt at first, until your feet are hardened. Reality is harsh to the feet of shadows. But will you come?"

    "Well, that is a plan. I am perfectly ready to consider it. Of course I should require some assurances...I should want a guarantee that you are taking me to a place where I shall find a wider sphere of usefulness- and scope for the talents that God has given me- and an atmosphere of free inquiry- in short, all that one means by civilisation and-er- the spiritual life."

    "No," said the other. "I can promise you none of these things. No sphere of usefulness: you are not needed there at all. No scope for your talents: only forgiveness for having perverted them. No atmosphere of inquiry, for I will bring you to the land not of questions but of answers, and you shall see the face of God."

    "Ah, but we must all interpret those beautiful words in our own way! For me there is no such thing as a final answer. The free wind of inquiry must always continue to blow through the mind, must it not? 'Prove all things' travel hopefully is better than to arrive."

    "If that were true, and known to be true, how could anyone travel hopefully? There would be nothing to hope for."

    "But you must feel yourself that there is something stifling about the idea of finality? Stagnation, my dear boy, what is more soul-destroying than stagnation?"

    "You think that, because hitherto you have experienced truth only with the abstract intellect. I will bring you where you can taste it like honey and be embraced by it as by a bridegroom. Your thirst shall be quenched."

    "Well, really, you know, I am not aware of a thirst for some ready-made truth which puts an end to intellectual activity in the way you seem to be describing. Will it leave me the free play of Mind, Dick? I must insist on that, you know."

    "Free, as a man is free to drink while he is drinking. He is not free still to be dry." The Ghost seemed to think for a moment. "I can make nothing of that idea," it said.

    "Listen!" said the White Spirit. "Once you were a child. Once you knew what inquiry was for. There was a time when you asked questions because you wanted answers, and were glad when you had found them. Become that child again: even now."

    -pages 32-38
Lewis points out that while mistakes may be honest, they are not all innocent. I found that to be a sharp distinction. I also liked his point that when a man is drinking pure water, he is not free to remain dry simultaneously. There comes a point of choice. But perhaps best of all is the last point, to become a child once more. A friend of mine noticed that I at one time believed that to be confused was a noble pursuit. A man who felt that he had clarity was a man who could not be trusted, I decided. To admit confusion was to be truly noble. Thus, it became my desire to be a confused and clouded individual. Just as the White Spirit implores his friend, so too did my friend implore me, look for answers and for clarity; don't remain mired within a morass of confusion and claim that is true nobility! I listened to him; that's why this struck such a strong chord.

The second part that fascinated me and resonated with me had to do with love and what it means.
    "You mean," said the Tragedian, "you mean- you did not love me truly in the old days?"

    "Only in a poor sort of way," she answered. "I have asked you to forgive me. There was a little real love in it. But what we called love down there was mostly the craving to be loved. In the main I loved you for my own sake: because I needed you."

    "And now!" said the Tragedian with a hackneyed gesture of despair. "Now, you need me no more?"

    "But of course not!" said the Lady; and her smile made me wonder how both the phantoms could refrain from crying out with joy.

    "What needs could I have," she said, "now that I have all? I am full now, not empty. I am in Love Himself, not lonely. Strong, not weak. You shall be the same. Come and see. We shall have no need for one another now: we can begin to love truly."

    But the Tragedian was still striking attitudes. "She needs me no more- no more. No more," he said in a choking voice to no one in particular. "Would to God," he continued, "but he was now pronouncing it Gud- "Would to Gud I had seen her lying dead at my feet before I heard those words. Lying dead at my feet. Lying dead at my feet."


    I do not know that I ever saw anything more terrible than the struggle of that Dwarf Ghost against joy. For he had almost been overcome. Somewhere, incalculable ages ago, there must have been gleams of humour and reason in him. For one moment, while she looked at him in her love and mirth, he saw the absurdity of the Tragedian. For one moment he did not at all misunderstand her laughter: he too must once have known that no people find each other more absurd than lovers. But the light that reached him, reached him against his will. This was not the meeting he had pictured; he would not accept it. Once more he clutched at his death-line, and at once the Tragedian spoke.

    -pages 116-118
The narrator of the tale talks over what he sees here with his Teacher. He is disturbed by it at first.
    "I hardly know, Sir. What some people say on earth is that the final loss of one soul gives the lie to all the joy of those who are saved."

    "Ye see it does not."

    "I feel in a way that it ought to."

    "That sounds very merciful: but see what lurks behind it."


    "The demand of the loveless and the self-imprisoned that they should be allowed to blackmail the universe: that till they consent to be happy (on their own terms) no one else shall taste joy: that theirs should be the final power; that Hell should be able to veto Heaven."

    "I don't know what I want, Sir."

    "Son, son, it must be one way or the other. Either the day must come when joy prevails and all the makers of misery are no longer able to infect it: or else for ever and ever the makers of misery can destroy in others the happiness they reject for themselves. I know it has a grand sound to say ye'll accept no salvation which leaves even one creature in the dark outside. But watch that sophistry or ye'll make a Dog in a Manger the tyrant of the universe."

    "But dare one say- it is horrible to say- that Pity must ever die?"

    "Ye must distinguish. The action of Pity will live for ever: but the passion of Pity will not. The passion of pity, the pity we merely suffer, the ache that draws men to concede what should not be conceded and to flatter when they should speak truth, the pity that has cheated many a woman out of her virginity and many a statesman out of his honesty- that will die. It was used as a weapon by bad men against good ones: their weapon will be broken."

    "It's a weapon on the other side. It leaps quicker than light from the highest place to the lowest to bring healing and joy, whatever the cost to itself. It changes darkness into light and evil into good. But it will not, at the cunning tears of Hell, impose on good the tyranny of evil. Every disease that submits to a cure shall be cured: but we will not call blue yellow to please those who insist on still having jaundice, nor make a midden of the world's garden for the sake of some who cannot abide the smell of roses."

    -pages 123-125
I cannot agree with all of this. I find it too simplistic. Firstly, a person must feel another's pain; there is a reason we say kol yisrael arevim zeh ba'zeh. If you cannot feel another's pain, I cannot call that goodness. I think there are times when one person's pain negates another's happiness and that is as it should be. But I do see the flaw in submitting to everyone's desire for whatever it is that will make them 'happy' as you do indeed have a Dog in the Manger ruling the universe. But I don't think most people are so unreasonable as to want the world to be a midden since they cannot abide roses. I think people have stronger claims than that, ones which are not so easily swept away. So while I respect and appreciate Lewis' point of view, he has not won me over here.

But the part that did touch me was the Lady who stated that "what we called love down there was mostly the craving to be loved. In the main I loved you for my own sake: because I needed you." It is when she has no needs that she can truly love, for that love is entirely unselfish. I wonder whether that is something we must try to aspire to- an unselfish love? It seems in line with R' Dessler who states that to love is to give. One must give without desire to receive. That is very hard, I think. We are more used to seeing love as selfish; "if I can't have you, I will have no one!" the doomed lover cries as he commits suicide in various novels and plays. It is difficult to love to the extent that one does what is best for the other person rather than what one personally desires. There is a very strong desire to wish that others would care for one, "the craving to be loved" as the Lady put it, and due to it we can do things we should not, things that do not put the other person first. But what use would life be if we did not strive for the impossible dream? One day, perhaps, we shall love purely.


Anonymous said...

i cant wait till you get married and learn to apply all of the escoteric concepts of marriage and kedusha to practice

Chana said...

Anon 1:13,

Oh, but do you think I will be able to? For instance, look at Lewis' point here about loving unselfishly- I know that is something I want to be able to but God has to help me so I can.

Anonymous1:45 said...

It's fascinating to me how critical of yourself you are. Usually people are far more apt to see the flaws of others than their own. You're so much better than I am and yet so much more self critical; it's frustratingly amusing to see. And quite funny. Not in a laughing at you sort of way, but in a baffeling, I don't get it, sort of way. Let me get this straight. It's not enough that you do the right things. It's not enough that you love the person and want the best for the person. Rather, you must be certain that was it the case that you were only a spiritual being and had no physical form or attachment or affect from this person, that you would still love them. You're so much better than me it's not even funny; and it makes me happy, since good jews like you help balance things out with those who are lacking, like me. The way I see it ( and I have a ways to go before I'm where you're at) is as follows. In sefer Yonah, (and this I learned from Rabbi Haramati) What does Hashem say when the city of ninveh does teshuvah? 'Vayir'eh Hashem Et Ma'aseihem'-'and God saw their actions'. It does not say and god saw their sackcloth (self criticism) or and god saw their thoughts. Actions are what is important to god. However, even if you want to perfect the thoghts along with your actions, to this, Shlomo Hamelech states in Mishlei 'Gol El Hashem Ma'aseicha, Viykonu Machshevotecha'- 'Turn towards God your actions and your thoughts/thinking process will be corrected. Rabbi Haramati puts it this way. Before you do anything ask yourself is this hayashar vehatov be'einei Hashem- is this the right thing in gods eyes. The point is that you are doing the right actions and you desire to do it in the perfect intention/what God wants; thus, surely you're thoughts/thought process/intentions will be corrected a per the proverb. Also, I hope that your self criticism is stemming from piety and not low self esteem (see Rabbi Twerski-self esteem). The only reason I say this, is because how somebody so perfect in their actions and qualities, can be so critical of herself, is beyond me. And to finish off how I see things I will quote my favorite book in Tanach, Kohelet, (quotes are respectively,9:9-10, 3:11-13, and 12:12-13). 'Enjoy life with the wife you love through all the fleeting days of your life that he has granted you beneath the sun, all of your futile (futile-speaking of this physical world) existence; for what is your compensation in life and in your toil which you exert beneath the sun. Whatever you are able to do with your might, do it. For there is neither doing, nor reckoning, nor knowledge in the grave'. 2. He has made everything beautiful in it's time. He has also put an enigma/lacking/block in their minds so that man cannot comprehend what God has done from beginning to end ( a person can pusue knowledge whilst understanding that there is an inherent limit to what the human brain can know-without nevuah). Thus I percieved that there is nothing better for them then to rejoice and do good in his life. Indeed every man that who eats and drinks and finds satisfaction in all his labor - this is a gift of God'. 3. 'Beyond these, my son, beware: the making of many books is without limit (again, the limits of the human mind cannot be solved with books only with Gods help-'gol el Hasem Ma'aseicha viykonu machshevotecha), and much study is weariness of the flesh. The sum of the matter, when all has been considered, fear God and keep his commandments, for that is man's whole duty. For God will judge every deed-even everything hdden-whether good or bad.

Chana said...


Are you the first Anonymous as well? In any case, to address your points in your 2:53 AM post, God forbid that you assume that I am "better than you are" or some such thing. It is entirely false. We are each our own separate people walking our own separate paths; we strive to come close to God, to approach Him and to cling to Him in any way we can. The difficulty lies in knowing what is the best way to do this. I believe that all who search for God have the door opened to them, as I am sure it has been opened to you. As for me, I try to look for ways to improve as do we all. The idea is that: "Your life is God's gift to you; the way you live it is your gift to Him." So I try to make my gift beautiful if I can, and I become sad if I am not doing things right. Worst of all is if I am caught at a seeming crossroads where I don't know how to progress; I'm trapped, as it were, stuck, and I need God to help me to be better.

Anonymous1:45 said...

Just saw your comment as I was getting ready to sleep. No, I'm not the first anonymous. Thank you for the beautiful quote. I know this, that we're each our own person and God expects each to be the best he/she can be, not the best the other can be. Nevertheless, ther is a quote from the talmud (I'm paraphrasing) that jealosy or competition among Torah scholars, over their level of torah knowledge, is a good thing, since it will lead to greater learning. I believe that so too is competition regarding good deeds. My reasoning is as follows 1. I, like you, want to do good and make Hashem happy. 2. competition helps increase productivity, refines a product, and increases ones drive to succeed. Therefore, given 1 and 2 if I see a person doing good then I should compete so that I will do even better. Not to one up them, but because competing in such a way will cause me to do more good and make Hashem happy. Thus when I say that you are so much better than me. I am not saying this to put myself down or to make a comparison regarding how God sees things. I am saying this, in order to motivate myself to be better. I don't know how God sees things, but in your qualities and motivations and probably actions to some extent, are better than mine. I say this not to compare different individuals, but rather I say this in the way the gemarah does. With the intention to compete in order to push myself, with the ultimate intention of being a better person. Lastly, don't become too sad if you do something wrong or are unsure about something. I guess that was what I was really trying to say in my first comment above. Don't be sad, be motivated and confident, and don't fear when you're at a crossroads or are unsure how to progress. Be confident that God will help you and pray to God and give tzedkah and God will. be at peace since your goal is to do right by God and your trying your best. Since your motivation is good, therefore you have to do what you think is right. What more is there to be concerned about? After all, you can only do your best. All you need to do is do your part, and God will do his part. Speaking from experience, Calev Be Yephuna jumped in, and only when the water was neck high did the sea part (obviously, not that specific experience lol). Do your best to figure it out then make your choices and it might be scary at first, but even if you're not too confident in your decision making process, I can attest as an objective observer, that there is nothing lacking thereof. God will help you. And if it doesn't go the way you thought (and I can definitely attest here, from experience). Then So what? get back up; dust yourself off; live and learn and improve the next time. Anyway, thanks for your wonderful blogs, and thanks again for the beautiful quotes, and for giving mesomething to compete against to make myself better lol.

Izgad said...

I see this book as an interesting parallel to the Midrash of Hashem offering the Torah to the nations of the world and them turning it down. Here it is who wants Gan Eden. Well what is in Gan Eden? In Gan Eden you have to do xyz. And then you have this whole line of people rejecting it in turn and choosing Gehinim, because it has the great virtue of being hefker.
My favorite part of Great Divorce is when you have the monsters drag themselves to heaven just to spit at it and that these are the closest ones to being saved. They are the ones who truly understand the stakes.

dont blame me said...

just remember that much of CS Lewis' writings are about Christian theology. True, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein recommends people read the Screwtape letters, but this post probably is like the previous one about bible criticism - not for everybody.

jonroush said...

"I cannot agree with all of this. I find it too simplistic. Firstly, a person must feel another's pain; there is a reason we say kol yisrael arevim zeh ba'zeh. If you cannot feel another's pain, I cannot call that goodness. I think there are times when one person's pain negates another's happiness and that is as it should be."

While I agree with your last statement in this quote;
I believe that Lewis took it to the lowest common denominator deliberately. I've always read it as a deliberate exaggeration to drive home his point. Being a fiction book I wouldn't take what he has to say simply at face value anyway, so I don't mind the overstating in this case.

great post, btw. really great dissection.

Shadesof said...

" To admit confusion was to be truly noble. Thus, it became my desire to be a confused and clouded individual. Just as the White Spirit implores his friend, so too did my friend implore me, look for answers and for clarity; don't remain mired within a morass of confusion and claim that is true nobility! I listened to him; that's why this struck such a strong chord. "

I think most people do not desire to reamin in a state of perpetual confusion, as per you hava aminah :)

Indeed there is a saying in Chazal/Rishonim(source ?) that "there is no joy like the resolution of doubt".

However, those who *appear* to like confusion might actually see issues as more complex; if they see an easy answer which is not comprehensive they might therefore reject it.

ON THE OTHER HAND(in the spirit of my comment so far), there is a chazal about 150 ways to purify a sheretz(see Sanhedrin 17a). Such conclusions come from sophistry, rationalization and "krumkeit".

However, if someone says, I don't understand why a Sheretz is not not pure because of XYZ, that may not be inherent nobility, and you may not want such a person to teach classes in halachos of sheratzim. However, at least theoretically, it is possible to say that in terms of intellectually honesty, the person without the ultimate clarity has at least the benefits of intellectual honesty.

(Above was a genearal point about "confusion". In terms of ikkarei emunah specifically as it relates to a religious value, that is a different subject, and I could see the argument that a theoreteical person with stronger emunah peshutah is better than a theoretical person with more intellectual honesty but with somewhat weaker emunah, not that emunah pesuhtah needs to contradict intellectual honesty).

Shadesof said...

Read the following post in full, quoted in part and linked below, from Rabbi Max Weiman, which encapsulates part of what I was trying to say("Always try to articulate what is bothering you."). In general, I thought the style of his response was a very good one.

"Regarding your feeling of being uncomfortable with something. You never have to accept something that makes you uncomfortable in the way you mean it[see original question about Avroham not looking at Sarah untill before Mitzrayim]. Always try to articulate what is bothering you. That’s part of Machkim es Rabo, one of the 48 Things from the 6th Chapter, 6th Mishna of Pirkey Avot. You may have an obligation to say, “I’m not clear on what this means.” “I find this hard to understand.” And you should badger teachers and Rabbis until someone can explain it to you in a way that sits right with you. However, many great sages had questions that made them “uncomfortable” for years. We don’t always get an answer, but we go to the grave trying."

RT said...

Chana said:" It seems in line with R' Dessler who states that to love is to give. One must give without desire to receive. That is very hard, I think."

It's hard, but not impossible. Strive to see receiving in giving. You know at least two people who practice this well.

Rian said...

I came across the blog by chance when trying to find the opening line for CS Lewis' novel The Great Divorce.

Given the responses below, I wanted to pose a question without starting a firestorm.

Why is it unreasonable for Christ to Yeshua? What is it about Him that leads us to believe He is not the one that Yahweh promised?