Friday, 6 July 2012

Charles Williams (probably) did not believe the devil is real

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Of all the Inklings, it was Charles Williams who had the most interest in magic, witchcraft and the like.

Yet while CS Lewis and Tolkien certainly believed in the reality of purposive evil - the devil and demons, fallen angels, an order of beings between God and Men - it seems that Charles Williams did not; but regarded the devil as a psychological 'projection' or an excuse for hatred.

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It is hard to be sure of anything concerning C.W's opinions, and maybe they were too subtle and fluid to be nailed-down, but I am pretty sure (especially from references on the subject in The Descent of the Dove) that C.W did not really believe that the devil and demons were real entities - nor (despite the structure of Descent into Hell) did he believe that human life truly is mixed-up with an unseen spiritual warfare between Good and evil.

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I had always assumed that C.W did indeed have a strong sense of the reality of the devil - but I began to suspect the opposite when pondering his essay What the Cross Means to Me (this is regarded by his biographer AM Hadfield as probably Williams deepest theological work).

In plumbing the ultimate meaning of suffering and misery, I realized that Williams never mentioned that (traditionally, orthodoxly) the Church through most of its history (and in times and places of the greatest Christian devoutness and sanctity) always attributed much - perhaps most - of the evils of the world to Satan and his demonic servants - since the fall of the angels preceded the fall of man (and hell was made and primarily intended for the fallen angels - not necessarily for man).

Williams, by contrast, attributed the evils of the world directly to God.Williams thus finds it hard to excuse God for allowing or inflicting almost infinite suffering as a consequence of the free will granted to imperfect beings.


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Charles Williams disbelief in Satan is most clear from his book length study of Witchcraft (1941) where he has a chapter of what he terms 'The arrival of the devil' - in which he explains the historical focus on purposive evil in terms of psychological imperatives: The Church had, in fact, begun to need an opponent whom it could divinely hate."

It becomes clear throughout that C.W regards the devil as mainly an excuse (something imagined or invented) that allowed people to hate, persecute, and engage in cruelty.

This is, of course, pretty much the modern mainstream 'liberal' and secular belief, but is it surprising for Williams - especially considering his fascination with the occult and his close relationship with Lewis and Tolkien.

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NOTE - this posting comes from e-mail discussions with Dale J Nelson (of Mayville State University) - my thanks to him for sharing his long-term reflections and scholarship on this (and other) matters.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I would suggest that CW suggests quite the opposite in his work Witchcraft (1941, I believe). He argues that after sifting through the evidence one is left with the sense that there is something there, something behind all the various manifestations of evil--which includes, of course, the Church's own response to evil.

It is an enlightening work.