Unwelcoming The Christian Poet

The New Testament clearly proclaims that Christ taught a law of love. The world is to know we are Christians by our love, and yet in Luke 14:26 Christ makes a statement that takes the form of a contradiction of that law. He says to a multitude of would-be followers, “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brothers, and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.”

This apparent contradiction troubles no one, for it is easily recognized as an overstatement used to make an important point. Our love for Christ is to be so great that the legitimate and God-ordained love of a man for his family is to be as hate beside it. Also understood is the idea that only when such love for Christ exists can a proper love for the others exist.

On a very different scale, the Cavalier poet Richard Lovelace recognized a similar concept when he wrote, “I could not love thee dear so much/Loved I not honor more.” In both cases the principle is clear. A meaningful love can thrive only when there is something beyond it giving it life. C. S. Lewis applies this principle to poetry. In “Christianity and Literature” he writes:

It is not hard to argue that all the greatest poems have been made by men who valued something else more than poetry—even if that something else were only cutting down enemies in a cattle-raid or tumbling a girl in a bed.

The contemporary poet, however, finds this a difficult principle to remember. Consequently his art often suffers visions of grandeur and offers itself as a substitute for religion. It is, as Lewis points out, a poor substitute, not even measuring up to venery. It demands of its initiates a continual cycle of desperate ...

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