The World’s Last Night and Other Essays is a small, 113 page book, containing seven essays by C. S. Lewis covering a variety of topics. The seven essays are: “The Efficacy of Prayer,” “On Obstinacy in Belief,” “Lilies that Fester,” “Screwtape Proposes a Toast,” “Good Work and Good Works,” “Religion and Rocketry,” and “The World’s Last Night.” These essays were originally published separately in a variety of publications between 1952 and 1959. I believe the current collected form of the essays was first published in 1959.
Efficacy of Prayer
In this essay, Lewis marvels at both the reality and unprovable-ness of prayer. He experientially knows that prayer works, and yet he is quite aware that there is no empirical way to prove that it works. Further, as the title of the essay makes clear, Lewis questions the purpose of prayer. In part his conclusion is that, “In it God shows Himself to us. That He answers prayer is a corollary – not necessarily the most important one – from that revelation” (8). Lewis ends the essay by contemplating the way in which petitionary prayer works. Good essay!
On Obstinacy in Belief
Lewis begins this essay by pointing out that it is often stated that, science demands evidence for belief, while religion demands belief without evidence. Accordingly, science and religion often conflict with each other in that they value opposite things: science values facts, religion values faith. However, as Lewis makes clear, this is an oversimplification of the situation, for science often leads men to conclusions that have not been implicitly proved, and faith in God is not entirely absent from proof. Throughout the rest of the essay, Lewis explains that the gulf between science and faith is not nearly as wide as many make it seem. Good essay!
Lilies That Fester
Lilies that Fester is probably my favorite essay in this collection. Lewis essentially predicts the movement of political correctness at least 20 years before it became a reality. He laments the day that men would quit thinking for themselves, one where only popular opinion will be regarded as “good thought.” Listen as he describes what this would look like, “Every boy or girl that is born is presented with the choice: ‘Read the poets, whom we, the cultured, approve, and say the sort of things we say about them, or be a prole'” (46). Lewis’ concern is that this sort of “political correctness” would invade the arena of Christianity and wreak havoc. Lewis is squarely on the side of freedom both in the arena of thought and in the arena of life. My other favorite quote from this essay (probably because I lean libertarian politically) is, “All political power is at best a necessary evil: but it is least evil when it claims no more than to be useful or convenient and sets itself strictly limited objectives. Anything transcendental or spiritual, or even anything very strongly ethical, in its pretensions is dangerous and encourages it to meddle with our private lives” (40). Great!
Screwtape Proposes a Toast
This is an essay that acts as a sort of prequel to the Screwtape Letters – a fictional book of letters from one demon to another regarding temptation. The whole of this essay is a fictional speech from Screwtape, a demon, to his other demons regarding methods of temptation. I’ve previously reviewed the Screwtape Letters, and am honestly not that big a fan of the book or the essay. Meh!
Good Work and Good Works
Probably my second favorite essay of this collection. Lewis focuses on the necessity for Christians not simply to do good works (religious works), but also to spend their time doing good work (doing work well). As he says, “When our Lord provided a poor wedding party with an extra glass of wine all round, he was doing good works. But also good work; it was wine really worth drinking” (71). Lewis spends some time explaining how modern culture is filled with less than good work. Accordingly, many of us manufacture or create products that we must first convince consumers they need. Conversely good work can be defined as: creating, or doing something, that we would do even if no monetary compensation were involved. He concludes that, “We shall try, if we get the chance, to earn a living by doing well what would be worth doing even if we had not a living to earn” (78). Great!
Religion and Rocketry
In this essay, Lewis contemplates how the Christian religion would be effected by the discovery of life on other planets. Would the aliens be fallen like mankind? Would they need the death of Christ? Would they be rational creatures like humans? Capable of choice? This is fun essay that shows the vastness of Lewis’ creativity, but – I suggest – probably seemed more relevant when it was written in the 1950’s. Creative and Fun!
The World’s Last Night
In The World’s Last Night, Lewis argues for the centrality of the teaching of the return of Christ in the bible. He observes that in previous generations an exaggerated view of the return of Jesus, by men like Albert Schweitzer, has led to an under-emphasized and embarrassed response from many of Lewis’ contemporaries regarding the teaching. And this, according to Lewis, is a mistake. Jesus teaching on His return is a vital part of His teaching. Christ cannot be understood apart from it. Lewis goes on to suggest how the message of the second coming of Jesus should effect us personally. I love that he comes to unique conclusions about our response to Jesus’ teaching about the second coming. His conclusion is that the expectation of God’s coming judgment (which is part of the second coming) should not lead to crisis-type actions, but should steady us, and help us to make wise decisions in each situation. Good essay!
This is a really fun and thought-provoking book to read. I’m discovering more and more that I really do like the writings of C. S. Lewis. I, however, prefer a lot of his more offbeat writings, rather than his extremely well-known works.