The topic of the Desiring God National Conference today through Sunday is “The Romantic Rationalist: God, Life and Imagination in the Work of C.S. Lewis.” You can view the schedule and watch any and all of the conference for free online.
Joe Rigney, one of the speakers, has put together a book of collected essays on his topic, Live Like a Narnian: Christian Discipleship in Lewis’s Chronicles. In the introduction, he explains that good stories play a part in shaping a person’s true perception of reality by developing a proper taste in the reader for the good, the true, and the beautiful:
But it’s not enough to simply feel something in response to the objective reality of the world. You must also feel rightly and proportionately to the way the world is….
Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought [The Abolition of Man, p. 26].
These three realities form the foundation of true education. They also shape the aim of education….
The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likeable, disgusting, and hateful [p. 26-27].
Following Plato, Lewis believed that we ought to initiate the young into these right responses, even before they are able to rationally understand or explain what they are feeling. The goal of such inculcation of right responses is that, when a child raised in this way grows up and encounters Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, he will welcome them with open arms, because he has been prepared for, and indeed, resembles them already.
Which brings us, finally, to the function of the Narnian stories in Lewis’s vision of education. The Narnian stories display through imaginative fiction and fairy tale the way that the world really is. Here is courage and bravery in its shining glory. Here is honesty and truth-telling in its simplicity and profundity. Here is treachery in all its ugliness. Here is the face of Evil. Here also is the face of Good. A child (or adult) who lives in such stories will have developed the patterns of thought and affection that will be well-prepared to embrace the True, the Good, and the Beautiful (that is, to embrace Jesus Christ) when he finally encounters them (Him!). Like John the Baptist, Lewis and his cast of Narnians will have prepared the way.
The conference looks to be very interesting, with topics including C.S. Lewis and scientism, imagination and theology, evil and suffering, discipleship, and even his friendship with J.R.R. Tolkien.
[Update: Watch the lecture given by Rigney at the conference.]