The following transcript is from an Apologetics 315 interview with Louis Markos. Original audio here. Transcript index here. If you enjoy transcripts, please consider supporting, which makes this possible.
BA: Hello, this is Brian Auten of Apologetics315. Today’s interview is with Lou Markos, Professor in English, and Scholar in Residence at Houston Baptist University. Dr. Markos teaches courses in British romantic poetry, literary theory, and the classics; as well in Victorian poetry and prose, seventeenth century prose, C. S. Lewis, mythology, epic, and film. His books include, On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis, Apologetics in the Twenty-first Century; From Achilles to Christ, Why Christians Should Read the Pagan Classics; A to Z with C. S. Lewis; and many more. The purpose of our interview today is to delve into the world of literary apologetics, explore some of the fine examples of literary apologists, and look at the lessons we can learn from the likes of C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. Well, thanks for joining me for this interview Dr. Markos.
LM: It’s great to be here Brian.
BA: Well first off, would you mind telling our listeners just a bit more about yourself and your work?
LM: Well, my name is Lou Markos. I’m a Professor in English and a Scholar in Residence at Houston Baptist University in Houston Texas. And I’ve been teaching here twenty-one years. The time has gone by fast. And my specialties are nineteenth century British and romantic and Victorian poetry, I also do film, literary theory, and for the interview today, I teach classes in C. S. Lewis, and also in J. R. R. Tolkien. Also, I teach in our honors college, and my job is to take each new honors class through the Greco-Roman curriculum. So, I get to teach them all the ancient Greek and ancient Roman classics. And so one of the things I love about teaching Lewis and Tolkien, is I also get to teach all the things that Lewis and Tolkien loved. So, I really feel in kinship with them.
BA: Well, I’m looking forward to our interview today, because I’ve been speaking with a lot of people from HBU lately, and there’s a lot going on there with literary apologetics – sort of a buzz word in the apologetics community as of late, but I think it’s something that’s been happening for a long time. But, maybe some of us are just realizing that, hey, you know, it would be helpful to have more C. S. Lewis’s around in their own way to make an impact through literature. Can you talk just about how you see literary apologetics, if you want to call it that?
LM: Oh yeah, very exciting. Sometimes they call it literary apologetics, sometimes they call it cultural apologetics. Obviously taking in all the arts, but basically, what we’re trying to do, we now have Nancy Pearcey teaching in our Masters of Apologetics. And she’s a real disciple of Francis Schaeffer. And one of the things that she learned, and I learned myself from Francis Schaeffer, is that ever since the Enlightenment, we’ve made this artificial split so that on the ground floor, we have the sciences, and somehow, sciences deal with facts, and figures, and truth. And then everything that’s in the upper story, including both religion and the arts, is beautiful and it’s sweet, but it has nothing to do with truth, or propositions, or logic, it’s just emotions or feelings. Or the simplest way to put it Brian, is on the ground floor of science are facts; when we move to the arts and religion, we move into values, and values change from one person to another. Now, I’ve written a book called, Apologetics for the Twenty-first Century, and I do believe that logical, rational apologetics is very important, but we also need to broaden our worldview, broaden our apologetical worldview arguments to take in the arts. I’m giving a speech about this tomorrow at Houston Baptist University, about the necessity of the arts for a Christian worldview. And, Brian, often times, the war, the struggle between Christianity and secular Humanism, is fought out not just in logic and philosophy departments, it’s fought out in images, it’s fought out in our poetry, our movies, our arts. And too often Christians, particularly Evangelicals like myself, too often, we ignore that side, we’re even a little bit nervous about it. “Well, if that’s fiction, it’s not true.” But, actually, I think a lot of times we are even more impacted by images, and poetry, and movies than we are by logic, so what HBU’s trying to do in our MA in Apologetics, and I should mention, it’s going to soon be going online, so people that don’t live in Houston will be able to get this Masters in Apologetics, it will include not only, obviously logic and philosophy, that will be part of it, but it will include classes on understanding literature, understanding the arts, reading and understanding what the message is, what the presuppositions and the worldview is that underlies it. So, we are trying to show what the church has forgotten perhaps, that Christianity is a complete world picture that has something to say about every discipline, about every area of the world, that has to appeal not only to our mind, but our heart, and our imagination.
BA: Well, that’s a great answer. And one of the things that comes to my mind when you’re speaking there is sort of the shift from maybe the focus on the purely analytic to realizing that we’re more organic in the way we respond, and think, and live. And, to just narrow say our apologetics to the analytic, it cuts us off from so much. Why from a Christian worldview would we write? And how should we write?
LM: That’s a good point. You see, all Christians we know that God gives us certain gifts. They’re listed in the New Testament in several different places, right? We all know about teaching and preaching, we all know about tongues and prophecy. Of course, the church always debates those. But, we forget that God gifts us in different ways. And if you’ve been given a gift of writing, if God has given you, particularly the Holy Spirit, has given you the ability to take ideas and express them in words, and perhaps also in images if you’re a poet, then we need to use those gifts. Again, I’ll be giving a speech tomorrow, we’re having a writing conference, and one thing I’m going to be telling the people in the audience is, look if you had this gift, you need to use it. Even if you don’t make money. Now that’d be wonderful if you could sell your books, you know we have to be practical. But the fact is, that we are stewards of the gifts we have been given. And if we have the ability to articulate things and put them in a written form that brings them alive, you know, we’re serving God in that as much as we do as when we give a sermon or when we work for a charitable organization. God gifts us in many ways. And one of the reasons C. S. Lewis has been so influential, is he allowed God to inspire all areas of himself. So, he used his reason, but he also used his imagination; for instance, with the Chronicles of Narnia.
BA: I want to ask you a question that has sort of been on my mind because my mother is an artist, and from the perspective of art, one of the things that we’ve wrestled with is what makes art Christian? You know, this idea of hey, is that a Christian picture you’ve done, or is that a non-Christian picture you’ve done? Can you sort of unpack some of the thinking behind how….
LM: The way to begin this, is what I call, “an esthetics of incarnation.” Remember that the absolutely unique teaching of Christianity is the incarnation. We believe that Jesus was not half man and half God, but He was fully man and fully God. A hundred percent human, a hundred percent divine. The incarnation is the idea that God could come into our world, become a man and yet still be God. Alright, I would argue that at its core, the arts, both writing, but let’s look at the visual arts now, the arts are incarnational at their best. They’re taking a universal abstract idea, and incarnating it, or embodying it in a specific physical image. Now, we can of course have an incarnation of something bad, but it doesn’t mean that a Christian work of art has to be specifically about a scene or event out of the bible. If we’re trying to incarnate goodness, truth, beauty; if we’re trying to incarnate light…we have a great artist at HB called Michael Collins, and much of his poetry is incarnating light. If we can get that creative life giving art, and somehow capture it in our canvass, I do think that we are actually praising God. Again, I mean, it’s hard because most people think it can’t be a Christian artwork unless there is a specific Christian theme, or a character like John the Baptist or whatever, but no, if you are endeavoring to bring that uncreated light into our world, I believe you’re doing a profoundly Christian thing.
BA: Yeah, well, and then crossing back over to literature, one of the things that comes to mind is this idea of, well when we’re writing, in order to be serving God with it, or reaching people with it, do we have to have some sort of Christian plot, or theme, or is it just simply imbued with a Christian worldview, and it influences people that way? What makes writing great, or what do we need to have in our minds as writers or artists or poets when we’re seeking to honor God, or serve God, or do something that impacts apologetically through the arts?
LM: I guess a good way to look about this is to contrast C. S. Lewis with J. R. R. Tolkien, The Chronicles of Narnia, with The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings as I do in my book. The Chronicles of Narnia, I think most people, especially when they read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, pretty quickly see the parallel to the death and resurrection of Christ. So, often times, we might have a book that works on two levels. But Tolkien, you’ve got something a little subtler there. First of all, Tolkien’s book is taking place before Abraham, Middle-earth, actually is the Earth, and it’s taking place even before God revealed himself to Abraham. And yet, in The Lord of the Rings, we have an epic that is undergirded by a Judeo-Christian understanding of virtue and vice. And so, in his exploration of what faith, hope, and love mean, even when he explores things like courage, and self-control, and wisdom, and justice, Tolkien is working under a Christian understanding of the virtues. Maybe it’s even clearler when he talks about the nature of evil or the nature of vice. From a Christian point of view, especially from an Augustinian Christian point of view, evil is not a positive thing, it’s a negation. Evil is not its own entity, it is a parasite upon goodness. And the way Tolkien depicts evil is very Judeo-Christian, because Sauron, and Saruman, and Gollum, they are not pure evil, they are things that were once good, but they have become perverse, they have become corrupt, and they’ve turned away. You see that even better perhaps in the Dark Riders, or the Black Riders, who were once kings of men, and now have become shadows or ghouls of themselves. So, even if you don’t have a specific reference to Christ like Aslan, being the Christ of Narnia, you can write a piece of work that embodies the Christian understanding of things like virtue and vice, good and evil, black and white, that can be imbued into your work.
BA: Yeah, that’s great, and that’s a great distinction. Your most recent book, On the Shoulders of Hobbits: On the Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis, talk a little bit about your goal there, and what you unpack.
LM: What I want to do first of all is talk about the importance of story. In both the introduction, and particularly in the conclusion, I am defending story as an actual avenue to truth. You know Brian, this takes us back to the beginning of the interview when we talked about this enlightenment split between the downstairs and the upstairs, this idea that the only place where we find truth is in the sciences, with facts and figures. And, whenever we move to the arts or religion, we’re dealing with fun ideas, and pretty things, and preferences, and stuff like that, but not truth. Well, that’s not true. Often times, stories are a vehicle for great and enduring truths. They might not even necessarily be a Christian work, it could be Iliad or The Odyssey or The Aeneid, or some of the Greek tragedies. And both Tolkien and Lewis in a sense doing cultural apologetics before we called it that, both Tolkien and Lewis realized that story, and also myth, is often a way that truth comes into our world and is conveyed, and is carried, from generation to generation. So, I wanted to dive into these great stories, the seven chronicles of Narnia from Lewis, and The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit from Tokien, and sort of draw from them lessons. Not to turn them into simple morals, but to show how these stories help us to wrestle with the nature of virtue and the nature of vice, how it helps us to wrestle with what it means to be living life on the road. To be in a sense, travelers on a journey that has a beginning, and that will end in death; and what can we learn, but what can we also experience by reading these stories and digging into them, and wrestling with them? That was probably the core that drove me to write this book.
BA: Well, very interesting. I’m curious about the impact of another movie being made, of The Hobbit, this time, because I imagine that some people maybe have read The Hobbit when they were younger, maybe more so than The Lord of the Rings, I’m not sure. But, so many people are now familiar with The Lord of the Rings because of the movies, I wonder what sort of overall message in The Hobbit or motifs or themes within that story might have some sort of practical, or evangelistic, or apologetic value for the Christian as that movie’s released.
LM: It’s obviously less clear in The Hobbit because The Hobbit is more of a children’s story than Lord of the Rings is. And yet, The Hobbit itself is also undergirded by this understanding of virtue and vice, this understanding that ultimately, we are all pilgrims on the road. And obviously, you have lots of different titles for your book before you come up with the final one, but one of the other ideas was On the Road with Bilbo and Frodo or On the Road with Bilbo and Aslan, you know, you go through different things, but the idea is that we journey along with Bilbo. And Bilbo, like in a sense, Saint Paul, is called to leave his comfort zone behind, right? You know, Saint Paul was a Pharisee, that the law defined every aspect of his life, everything was clear, cut and dried. And then here comes Jesus striking him down blind on the road to Damascus, and asking him literally to go on the road, to leave that, to move toward some greater destiny. And Biblo, he’s a hobbit, hobbits are very very old fashioned, they don’t like to move at all. And yet here, Bilbo, and of course later, Frodo, is asked to go on this amazing journey that will draw them out of themselves, that will bring them into a greater world, a world of good and evil, a world where we have to make choices, and where our choices have consequences. And, I think it’s important for Christians, both young and old, to be able to journey vicariously with these heroes, and understand what it means. Again, that we can’t build fences around ourselves, that the world is a dangerous place, but these choices we make shape who we are. And, of course we have our wonderful guide, we have Gandalf in both movies. We have a guide that will help us wisdom as we go along the road, along the way. And, again, one person might say, ”Well, there’s nothing specifically Christian about that, right? Because there’s no verses from the bible mentioned.” And yet, it is ultimately Christian because it’s about who we are, what our nature is, what we are called to do, that life is a journey, that sounds like a cliché, but it’s a very true one. I mean, in a sense we’re all like the children of Israel, going through the wilderness, seeking after the promised land. I think we’ve kind of forgotten that dimension of what it means to be human, perhaps in the modern world. And, these books can bring us back to that.
BA: Now, you talked about the difference between how Tolkien would have a broader theme, but maybe C. S. Lewis would be more direct. Can you talk about Lewis’s impact and the difference in his style?
LM: Sure, to explain it in the terms that Lewis would, Lewis didn’t like it when people called his book, “a Christian allegory,” because technically, it’s not an allegory. Remember, Lewis was an English professor as I am. We always want to use language precisely when you’re an English professor. And an allegory means, one thing simply stands for another, and that’s it. Pilgrim’s Progress is probably the most famous Christian allegory, where every event in that book represents some struggle in the Christian life. And in an allegory, you know, like the Giant Despair, he’s not important in and of himself, he just represents something. Well, that’s not what Lewis is doing. Lewis explained it this way, Aslan is not an allegory for Christ, Aslan is the Christ of Narnia. Lewis asked himself, what would it be like if the second person of the trinity, God the Son were to be incarnated in a magical world of talking animals and living trees, what might he be like? A sort of alternate reality. Now, in the first book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, it’s pretty obvious. He is the Christ of Narnia, he dies and resurrects, and destroys the power of the White Witch, who is Satan. But a lot of people who read that book say, okay, what is Lewis gonna do for the next six books? Is he going to keep telling the gospel story over and over again? Well, that’s not what he does. What he does is explore other dimensions of the Christian faith, and what it means to live (it). Probably the best example, especially since the movie Dawn Treader just came out recently, like a couple years ago. There’s that great scene where Eustace, you know, this spoiled rotten kid, you know this kid with no imagination, is turned into a dragon, right? And there’s a scene, and it’s unfortunately not done that well in the movie, but in the book it’s very clear that the boy dragon meets Aslan, and Aslan tells him, “I want you to undress so I can bathe you in this pool over here.” And he doesn’t know, and says, “Oh well, I’m a dragon, I guess I’m kinda like a worm, you know, I can shed my skin.” And so what Eustace does, he starts scratching away till he scratches off his dragon skin. And he thinks, “Oh boy, I’m a boy again!” Until he looks at himself and realizes he’s still a dragon. There’s another layer of dragonous scales underneath it. So, he scratches and scratches, and another one comes off, and another one comes off, but he realizes that he cannot un-dragon himself. And finally, Aslan, the Christ figure says, “Will you let me undress you?” And the boy is scared because Aslan’s claws are large, but he says, ”Please do it.” And he cuts in deep, and it hurts at first, but then he truly rips off his skin, and restores him to being a real boy again, and then he grabs him, and throws him into the pool like a baptism. So, what we have here is a way to explain that we cannot take away our original sin, we cannot remove the sinful dragonish nature from ourselves, no matter how hard we try. We need to surrender and let Christ kill the old man and make us reborn and then baptize us, right? So, he finds other ways to explain Christian truths in a way that even children can understand. So, it’s a lot clearer like that in Lewis, whereas Tolkien is doing something a little bit different. He is not doing such specific parallels, but he is still embodying a Christian understanding of reality, a Christian worldview.
BA: Yeah, I was hoping maybe you could talk a bit about Tolkien’s world. Because, in my mind it seems that it’s almost as if he was trying to create the most epic possible fantasy, and it’s so complex, and there’s so many layers, and characters. So, what’s the world that Tolkien has created in its grander scope?
LM: A good way to begin this, Brian is to compare The Lord of the Rings with the book that Tolkien not only loved, but a book he helped recover, and that is Beowulf. What’s unique about Beowulf, and not every single critic agrees with this, but I would say the majority agree, that Beowulf was written by a Christian monk, a believing Christian, but it was written in a pre-Christian mode. So, there’s nothing specifically Christian about Beowulf, because it’s set before the Christian revelation was brought to the northern countries. But, the whole book is again undergirded, underwritten, by a Christian understanding of reality. Well, that’s what Tolkien tried to do in his work as well. Again, you’re kinda have to read his letters to get this, but Middle-earth is actually the Earth, it’s not like some other planet. It is the Earth, but it’s the Earth thousands and thousands and thousands of years ago, before God revealed Himself to Abraham. So, in other words, it’s not only pre-Christian, it’s actually pre-Jewish. And yet, in this world, we were saying before, we understand the power of faith, hope, and love. We understand that there is a higher purpose working through this. One of the things that Tolkien very clearly worked into Lord of the Rings, because he talked about it in his letters, he also talks about it in an excellent essay he wrote, called On Fairy Stories. It’s kind of almost a short book, it’s a book-like essay. And in On Fairy Stories, he says that at the core of all the greatest fairy stories is what he called, he invented this word, the eucatastrophe. Well, we all know what the work catastrophe means. Eu is the Greek word that means good, like eugenics, and eucatastrophe means the good catastrophe. Now, what did he mean by this? Well, he meant something similar to what Catholic theologians mean by felix culpa, or blessed guilt. From a Christian point of view, the worst thing that ever happened was the fall of man, right? We forsook God, we were disobedient, we fell, and we were thrown out of the garden. Nothing worse than that. And yet, that was ultimately a good catastrophe because the fall led to the incarnation, to Christ coming into the world, and greater outpouring of love was caused by that. Well, the day that Jesus was crucified, certainly one of the worst days in human history, and yet, what do Christians call it? Good Friday. Well, it’s not good in and of itself, but it’s good because it leads to Easter. Well, in the same way, and Tolkien makes this clear, he bases his whole Lord of the Rings around an incredible eucatastrophe. And that is that final moment, it’s amazing, every time you read it, every time you see the movie, you’re just blown away by this, when Frodo is standing there at the Cracks of Doom, after all of this journey, and suddenly he says, “I will not cast it away, I will keep it.” And puts it onto his finger. But then, Gollum jumps on top of him, bits off the ring, grabs the ring himself, and then falls into the Cracks of Doom, and again, what was the very pit of disaster ends up being grace. Now, what’s important, what makes this even more Christian, is not only this triumph out of despair, like Good Friday to Easter, why is Gollum there? The only reason Gollum is there to play his role, even though it’s a wicked one from his point of view, but it’s a good one in terms of the whole story, is because of the unbelievable love, and pity, and mercy, the Christian agape, that is shown to Gollum – first by Bilbo in The Hobbit, because if you remember, The Hobbit, Bilbo had a chance to kill Gollum, and he had every right to do so, but out of pity and mercy, out of understanding the horror of Gollum’s life, he spares him. Later on, when Frodo has many reasons to kill the horrendous Gollum, he doesn’t do so. Again, he extends Christian mercy, and then finally, almost at the end, Sam is about to kill him. And you know, Sam has no love lost for the horrible Gollum, and yet, because Sam bore the ring for a short period, he too for a moment participates in Frodo’s mercy, and chose mercy. If any of the people along the way had killed Gollum, as he deserved, he would not have been there to serve the eucatastrophe. So Brian, you know, we talk about providential history as well, you know, God is not mentioned, and yet, He is there. I’m talking a bit long here, but maybe the best way to explain it is the book of Esther. You probably know that the book of Esther almost didn’t make its way into the Old Testament. And the reason is, ‘cause the book of Esther is the only book of the bible where God’s name is never mentioned, at all. And yet, the amazing thing about the book of Esther is, even though God is never mentioned directly, God is clearly in control of everything. And Esther has to realize that perhaps she was put here for such a time as this. Well, in a way, Bilbo, and then Frodo, are there for such a time as this, and God is in control, even if He’s not mentioned. Kind of interesting.
BA: Yeah, it’s really good. I’m reminded of something in The Silmarillion, can I ask you a question about it?
LM: Yeah, please.
BA: Because I want to ask you about the beginning of The Silmarillion where Tolkien basically tells a creation narrative, uses the illustration of the music. Can you talk maybe about how some of the things that we see in the beginning of The Silmarillion can really shed light on how Tolkien sees the work of good and evil?
LM: Great question Brian. First of all, interestingly, if you want to get the clearest picture of Tolkien’s Christian worldview, you will actually find in The Silmarillion, even more powerfully, than you will in The Lord of the Rings. And The Silmarillion does indeed begin with a creation story. Now, the bible says that God spoke the world into being. Tolkien takes that, and just adds to it a little bit, so that the world, instead of just being spoken into being, is actually sung into being. And if your listeners are familiar with C. S. Lewis’s, The Magician’s Nephew, you will see that he learned from his good friend, and Narnia is also sung into being, and it comes out of Aslan’s head. Now let’s go back to Tolkien. This wonderful, wonderful image of The Silmarillion, that God, Eru, or Iluvatar, eru means the one, and Iluvatar means the divine father, so he is god. Eru, Iluvatar sings the world into being, it is an act of creation, it is an act of creativity, of shaping. And he creates the angels, which Tolkien calls the Valar, and then they sing together with him, just like it talks about in the book of Job when the sons of the morning sang together. It’s a beautiful, beautiful image. And as they sing together though, one of the, as it were, archangels, Melchor, decides he no longer wants to participate under the authority of Eru, of God, and so like Satan, Lucifer, who was once the angel of light, he decides to go his own way. He will create his own contrary song rather than participate in the music of Iluvatar. So, he becomes disobedient and he begins to sing a corrupted song. This is reminding us that evil is not a positive thing. Melchor is a created being, and he doesn’t even create the song. All he can do is pervert and corrupt the song. And he corrupts the song, but, here is that felix culpa aspect. Iluvatar, God, even when the song has been corrupted by Melchor, is able to take the darkness, and in the fullness of time, make it into greater light, make the song even more deep and more full. Now, unfortunately, there will now be pain, and there will now be suffering. But the ultimate story will actual be deeper and richer, aligned by George Herbert, thus shall the fall further the flight in me. So, he tries to break it, but he only makes it greater. You know that on Good Friday, Satan and all of his minions were dancing up and down thinking that they had won. But actually in winning, he only made his own destruction perfected, in killing Christ, leading to the greater power of the resurrection. So, this is wonderful, and then Melchor becomes corrupt, eventually, he becomes Morgoth. Morgoth then corrupts the other angels, both the higher ones, we might call them archangels, and the lower ones are called Maia, and one of the Maia, one of the lower angels that Morgoth corrupts is Sauron. And Sauron actually appears in The Silmarillion as well as Lord of the Rings, actually he’s also in The Hobbit, but he’s called the Necromancer there, that actually Sauron is, and I’m sure the movie will draw that out. He corrupts him, also he corrupts someone who ends up becoming the first of the great spiders Ungoliant who is sort of the great great grandmother of Shelob. So, all of the evil characters are participating in this corruption. And yet, once again, Iluvatar’s song is able to rise above them all and bring good even out of the corruption, kind of like if you had the most perfect conductor of all time, right? A great conductor would be able to play the symphony, and have a really bad violinist in there, but somehow adjust so that the bad notes of the bad violin would actually increase the beauty of the whole. God is a great conductor.
BA: Well, that’s such a powerful narrative in this film really, and I tried to read The Silmarillion, and I couldn’t finish it, it was too grand, it was too huge, and I was overwhelmed. But, I’ve gone back and read that first part a number of times just because it gives you so much insight and it’s beautiful as well. And, one of the things I wanted to ask you about, Dr. Markos, is it’s one thing to look at and admire maybe the work of these great writers, and then a step beyond that, is to maybe learn how they did what they did, what they tried to accomplish. But, I think many of our listeners are thinking, well, we want to put pen to paper, we want to see this sort of creativity and imagination, and we want to have that sort of impact from Christian writers today. So, how do you see that happening, or what’s the path to that?
LM: First of all, and again, this is this cultural apologetics where we began this interview. We have got to break down that split in our mind. We have got to stop thinking that poetry is just pretty stuff and entertainment. We’ve got to come back and understand that poetry, the arts, stories, myths, these are vehicles of truth. They are as great vehicles of truth as science, or technology, or engineering. This is what I tell my students Brian, you know, how do you define truth? At least one way that you should define truth is that it is somehow eternal or long lasting. Well, let’s look at it this way, The Iliad and The Odyssey are just as true today as they were in 2,700 B.C. Science on the other hand radically changes its mind, well it used to be every fifty years, now its almost every five, ten, fifteen, twenty years. What do you mean by truth? If one of the elements of truth is not that it is lasting, and for all time, then I’m not even sure what truth is. So, we need to get back a vigorous faith in the ability of story and of beauty itself to convey truth. We often speak of the three eternals: the good, the true, and the beautiful. And we’ve cut these off from one another. The beautiful at its highest comes closest to the truth, and truth comes closest to beauty. And Brian, we live in a world of increasing ugliness. I call it the “cult of the ugly.” People embracing ugliness. I mean, now I grew up in the 70’s, and we wore you know, that silly polyester, that now we look back and realize how stupid we looked, right? But guess what, when we dressed like that, we really thought we looked beautiful. We weren’t trying to look goofy. We thought we looked beautiful, we thought we looked like John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever or whatever. We thought we looked good. But the difference is, that over the last twenty years, I see more and more young people who actually want to be ugly. They are actually rejecting notions of beauty, and balance, and form. Now, that doesn’t mean, that does not mean that we all need to become painters like Thomas Kincaid, and make things that are a little bit sappy beautiful. I’m not saying that. But, we need to affirm beauty, and form, and balance. You see, I guess the best way to put this is nowadays in classical music, we often have this called “atonal” music, music that is you know, purposely doesn’t sound good. Now, if you go back to some of the greats, people like Tchaikovsky, he would use some atonal music. He would use some chords that were dissonant. But, the dissonant chords would actually strengthen the overall beauty of the piece. The same way with art, you could have a distortion in your art, but that distortion can actually enhance the beauty. Just like in my parents’ generation, women would actually put on a fake mole, you know about that? And they called it a beauty mark. A mole is an imperfection, but somehow, the mole was there to actually increase the overall beauty. So, we shouldn’t feel like we have to write goody two shoes stuff. I mean, you know, pain, and suffering, and all that stuff, corruption, is going to come into our work, but what is our overall vision? Is our overall vision one of the good, the true, and the beautiful…faith, hope, and love? Or is it one of existential despair, and nihilism, and relativism that leads us back down. You know, it used to be that the arts tried to lift up society to a higher calling. Too often today, the arts merely mimic what’s going on in the world and follow it down into the pit. You know, Martin Luther King said that the church used to be a thermostat. Now, what is a thermostat? A thermostat means if it’s 60 in the room, I set the thermostat to 75, and it brings the room up to 75. That’s what the church used to be, it set the moral temperature and made society come up. But now, King said, we are no longer a thermostat, we are thermometer. We merely record what the temperature is in the room. And so, we need to get back a vigorous calling of the arts as being restorative, as being redemptive, as calling us to a higher level.
BA: Very good. Now advice that maybe you’d want to give to this next generation of Christian apologists, keeping in mind that maybe they’re not called to be the next C. S. Lewis, but they still want to realize that there’s power in story, in the way that they communicate and things like that. Do you have any advice along those lines?
LM: Obviously, the place to begin always is to keep a journal or a diary, and start noticing the world, right? Not just your regular diary, I did this, I did this, but have a book with you. And when you see something beautiful in the world, something that other people have missed, right? Something that’s half hidden from the eye, jot that down. Start training yourself to see the little things, the things that people miss. Start looking, start listening to people, not to be a spy, but start listening for snatches of dialogue that you can write down. We always joke about how kids say the darnedest things, but listen, sometimes amazing bits of wisdom come out of a fifth grade Sunday school, or something like that. Listen for snatches of wisdom, start opening your eyes to these things. And start writing down stories, right? You know, they might not be perfect, but you need to start to wrestle with these things, start painting, start putting images down. Even if you don’t finish the canvass, start. You know Jesus says, “We have eyes, but we do not see; we have ears, but we do not hear. We need to start training our eyes to see the wonder around us. My kids are now 18 and 16, but when they were young, the one thing I taught them over and over again, is this: the world is full of magic, you just have to have eyes to see it, and ears to hear it. And I would take them outside, and we would look for magic. And I would pick up a acorn and I would say, look at this hard, dry, dead-looking acorn. And yet inside this acorn is not only an entire oak tree, but an entire oak forest. What greater magic is there than that? The wonder. But, we don’t see it. It becomes too familiar, and we miss the magic around us. And of course, don’t be afraid of the word magic. The greatest magic in the world is the incarnation, that God to be man and still continue to be God. This is the greatest magic that there is. Train your eyes to see it. And once you can see it, help other people to see it. That’s part of what it means to be an artist, a poet, a musician. You have somehow been able to peer into this beauty, then again this beauty might rest together with pain as it often does, right? Tokien says this, and I think it’s in the appendix to Lord of the Rings, in sorrow we must go, but not in despair. So, I’m not saying, get rid of the sorrow, but try to find a greater message in the sorrow. So, you are seeing, and then you’re helping other people to see. And it starts by, again, opening your own eyes. Jotting down bits and pieces of wonder, and slowly assembling your stories from that.
BA: Well, more great advice, and I have one more question before we begin to wrap up here, Dr. Markos. And, you know, it’s not very often where you get someone who’s an expert like you are on C. S. Lewis. I mean, if the teaching company wants to put together a course on C. S. Lewis, they come to you. So, here’s my question for you, what do you think for you has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned from C. S. Lewis as an apologist?
LM: It’s great. First of all, something I said earlier, let’s develop it now. Lewis was able to perfectly balance reason and imagination. I guess today Brian, we might say, he was able to balance the left brain and the right brain. He was able to bring those things together. He had the ability to write rational, logical apologetics like, Mere Christianity, Miracles, and The Problem of Pain, but then, he was able to take those apologetical ideas and again, incarnate them, or embody them in his fiction. First in his space trilogy, and then in The Chronicles of Narnia, and then in his beautiful last novel, Till We Have Faces. He was able to do both, and so many people can’t do both. We’re sort of split down the side, we’re either the frozen chosen, or the wild charismatic, and there seems to be nothing in between. Lewis is able to draw together these things. Also, what I’ve learned, and I hope other people will learn, at Lewis’s funeral, one of his friends said, Lewis was the most thoroughly converted man I ever met. Now, what he did not mean by that was that Lewis was a goody two shoes, or “a Puritan.” Lewis could drink and smoke, and Lewis was not the way we think of a Puritan in the negative sense. What he meant by that was that every aspect of Lewis’s life was vitalized and transformed by the message that God came to earth, lived amongst us, died, and resurrected, and defeated death, Satan and sin. Every part of his world was revolutionized by that. And one of the ways that I try to follow in Lewis’s footsteps, is I’ve written books on apologetics, like a book I wrote called Apologetics for the Twenty-first Century, but I’ve also written books on literature. I wrote a book called The Eye of the Beholder: How to See the World as a Romantic Poet another one called Pressing Forward: Alfred, Lord Tennyson and The Victorian Age, and what I try to do in my fiction, I’m sorry, my non-fiction, literary criticism books, is what Lewis does in his works like that. The Allegory of Love, the preface to Paradise Lost, The Discarded Image. Lewis wrote a lot of academic works where they weren’t specifically Christian, they could be read by a wider, secular academic audience. But, everything Lewis says in his work is once again undergirded by its Judeo-Christian worldview. And so, I’ve tried to sort of imitate that in my own writing, that some of the books I write are for a general audience, and they may be as clearly Christian as On the Shoulders of Hobbits, but they are again, taking for granted, that Christian worldview. So, Lewis is a way to break us out of being a Sunday Christian, but most people think that the way to break out of being a Sunday Christian is that you’re out witnessing on the street every day. Well, that’s not bad, if that’s your calling, but for Lewis what it meant is that everything he did came out of his Christian worldview. It influenced everything, there was no part of his life or world that was not under the lordship of Christ, maybe that’s the way to put it. And we need to have that vision. We live split lives, we are Christians on Sunday, we are Christians with our family, but when we go to our job, we think that this job is “objective, secular, and has nothing to do with my faith.” And so we live two different lives. We haven’t integrated the parts of ourselves, and that’s what it means that Lewis was the most fully converted man he ever knew. Everything was integrated together. There was nothing untouched by Christianity.
BA: Wow, more great insights there. Dr. Markos, as we wrap up, would you mind pointing our listeners to your resources online, and where they can find out more about HBU’s apologetics program?
LM: Great. My web page is www.loumarkos.com, it’s a Greek name with a K, and if you go on my web page, you can download all sorts of stuff. I’ve got my essays, I’ve got a lot of YouTube links if you want to see me lecturing, everything there is free. I do have a link to Amazon, my Amazon author page. If you go to Amazon and type in Louis Markos you’ll see all of my books. Also, if you go to my web page right now, I am running my first blog. It is called “A to Z with C. S. Lewis.” And every week, I’m putting up a 600 word essay on some aspect of C. S. Lewis, and we’re following the alphabet. So, we’ve already done A is for Aslan, B was beauty, C was courage, Desire, Easter, Faith, I think we’re up to F or G right now, and we’ll go throughout this academic year. Now, for HBU, our website is hbu.edu, and if you go from there to look at our academic programs, and you can move along to see our honors college where I teach, you can also move through there to find our apologetics program. And at this point Brian, it is only a Masters in Apologetics. I don’t know at some time if we’ll offer a bachelors as well. Also, I should mention that we offer a Bachelors in Fine Arts, in Visual Arts, and we offer an MFA, a Masters in Fine Arts. And the reason I mention that is, it is Houston Baptist University, and Brian, you probably know that traditionally, Baptists are not very big on the visual arts. And I am a Baptist myself, we’re really big on words, but we’re also a little suspicious of images. Well, I am so excited that my university is putting the visual arts at the forefront. And so, we have a really really good visual arts program with excellent professors. There are so many exciting things going on, we have philosophy majors, and we offer a Masters in Philosophy now. And again, we’re trying to integrate it, we have this vision called The 10 Pillars. And one of our pillars, and this is the closest to my heart is called, bring Athens and Jerusalem together. Now, what does that mean? Athens represents our Greco-Roman heritage. Jerusalem represents our Judeo-Christian heritage. And what we’re trying to do at HBU is bring those together. A lot of our students are homeschooled. A lot of our students come from classical Christian academies. I wrote a book called, From Achilles to Christ, Why Christians Should Read the Pagan Classics. And what excites me is, at the very moment that our supposedly great schools, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, all of those, Stanford; at the very moment that they are rejecting the great works, we call “the canon,” the great works of the West, in favor or politically correct crazy stuff, at the same moment, a lot of Christian schools, Christian home schoolers, and classical Christian academies are rediscovering the classics. Yes, the pagan classics. I spent a whole year teaching pre-Christian literature to my students because Jesus is not only the savior of the Jews, he’s the savior of the world. He not only fulfilled the Old Testament law and prophets, Christ fulfilled what Lewis called, the good dreams of the pagans. And so, at HBU, we’re not afraid of pre-Christian literature. And the reason we’re not afraid, is because we have a measure to measure everything, and that is Christ and the bible. And so another one of our pillars is build on the classics. And so I’m so excited that we are offering a real liberal arts education. Too many schools these days are vocational schools in disguise. I actually have nothing against vocational schools, I wish we had more of them in America, but a vocational school is different than a liberal arts school. A liberal arts school believes that knowledge in and of itself is a good thing. That we study to know what is good, true, and beautiful, and that makes us better people, better citizens. And I also believe, better Christians, in the long run. So, there are exciting things happening at HBU, and please, go to our web site and check out what’s happening.
BA: Well, I love what I’m hearing from HBU these days, and I’m going to point our listeners your way at today’s blog post. But, Dr. Markos, thanks so much for taking the time to join me for this interview, it’s been fascinating.
LM: Thanks, great to be here.
Wednesday, July 03, 2013
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