C.S. Lewis, author of The Screwtape Letters, The Chronicles of Narnia, and The Space Trilogy, had some sage advice in 1948 as the world was entering the atomic age. Atom bombs had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki three years before and as a result, World War II came to an abrupt halt.
Now, the world was terrified that a devastating new weapon might be utilized by warring nations, thereby initiating something known as mutually assured destruction. There was a lot of hand-wringing as the thought took hold that global nuclear obliteration might ensue at any time.
In 1948 Lewis was a professor at Oxford University and president of the Oxford Socratic Club. In 1954 he left Oxford to accept the newly-created Chair in Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University’s Magdalene College. Lewis died in 1963 at the age of 64.
Take a look at what Lewis wrote 73 years ago. It still rings as true today in our Covid-infected world, as it did then. If you replace the words “atomic age” with “COVID-19 age” you can see how Lewis’s short essay makes a lot of sense for us today.
“On Living in an Atomic Age,”
By C. S. Lewis
“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 chronic pain, 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.
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.
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 death. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.”
Okay, here’s how I read Lewis’s essay. Contrary to what the media, political pundits, Congress, and some self-styled medical “experts” continually tell us, we shouldn’t let COVID, or the ever-present specter of terrorism, or the fear of an uncertain future take up residence in our consciousness.
Instead, we should continue to live our lives and not allow ourselves to be dominated by the ever-present threats that surround us. To do so, allows us to fall prey to the burdens of life that depress us, rather than the joys of life that uplift and encourage us.
What say you?