The title "Learning in War-time" seems to have two meanings. First, it refers to Lewis' belief that some men are called to continue scholarly pursuits during times of war. Second, it references the many things that war "teaches" man. Or rather the truths that war reminds man of such as the evil of humanity, the constant turmoil that surrounds us, the morality of man, the nature of man, and the importance of the present.
While the initial pursuit in this speech is to determine the validity of pursuing “normal life” during war-time, Lewis makes a very strong argument to support a Christian’s involvement in, but not total obsession with, society and culture. Lewis contends that it is human nature to seek both knowledge and security at the same time. Man pursues knowledge even in the most difficult times because if he were to wait for the times of tranquility he would never be able to pursue knowledge. This is because there can be no peace on earth until Christ returns. I agree that the times in man’s history that we consider peaceful or normal were filled with underlying struggles and trials.
Lewis’ first most prevelant argument is that scholarly learning is a valid calling for some people even during wartime. He says that war cannot and does not consume the whole of human thought. It is a duty that is “worth dying for, but not worth living for.” Lewis says that if a man was to live for his country then he would be giving his being, which is rightfully God’s, to Caesar.
Lewis goes on to say how the war is really not an abnormal situation. Thus, man should not act abnormally during it. He warns about three dangers of wars that can lead men to put aside their pursuit of knowledge. Men can be swept up in the excitement of war and suddenly think that they must fight a new enemy before they can return to the pursuit of knowledge. Lewis counters this thought by reminding his readers that the war “has not really raised up a new enemy but only aggravated an old one… [and] favorable conditions never come.” Also a war can lead to frustration over not being able to finish the work begun. Lewis counters this danger by reminding his readers that the future should be left in God’s hands “for God will certainly retain it whether we leave it to Him or not.” In other words, what can be done at this moment should be done and the future should be left to itself. The final danger that Lewis argues against is the fear, mostly of death and the truth of humanity’s evil, that war brings. Lewis says that “100 per cent of us die, and the percentage cannot be increased.” War does not change the frequency or the pain of death. It does however remind us of the reality of death which is often thought of as a good thing. War also reminds us that we live in a cruel and evil world. We fear war because we must come face to face with the truth. I believe that during times that have seemed “normal” we have merely been able to turn our back on this truth.
Lewis also examines a much more important relationship between Christianity and society or culture. I once had a discussion with a friend about why Christians didn’t all just become missionaries if we were supposed to live with Heaven as our primary focus. I agreed that it sometimes seems trivial to take part in society when we could be furthering God’s kingdom through missionary work, but who is to say that being a part of society is not God’s purpose for us in His kingdom? Lewis asks the same question as my friend and his answer is much more articulate than mine. God’s claim on us is “infinite and inexorable”. If we live humbly as an offering to God then we are bringing God into our entire lives. Lewis describes Christianity as “a new organization which exploits, to its own supernatural ends, these natural materials [our lives in society].”
Furthermore Lewis points out that God has a different calling for everyone. As 1 Corinthians 12 says we are all given specific gifts and each gift is necessary for the entire body to function properly. (Lewis references this passage) Lewis also says that pursuing knowledge can “advance the vision of God [for] ourselves or indirectly” help others to do so. This reminded me of a quote that reads “I am here for a reason, but that reason may have nothing to do with me.” Lewis does warn his readers to “delight not in the exercise of [your] talents but in the fact that they are [yours].”
Lewis goes on to explain why Christians should participate in the things of this world such as pursuing knowledge. First, he says that these activities will occur with or without the church. Thus, it is better that the church be familiar with the views and activities of the world so that it can counter them. Second, it is important to know about our past so that we can compare the present to it. If we are aware of the past we will begin to see patterns of “temporary fashion” and thus will be better able to detect the lies that are presented to us.