Wisdom Wednesday: Live despite Death

Recently a friend was kind enough to bring this article to my attention. It’s from C.S. Lewis, written in 1948 to address the growing fears of his contemporaries, who were shaken by the spectre of Hiroshima and unnerved by the growing tensions between the United States and the Russians. At any moment the world could go up in a radioactive puff: what were we then to do? The below passage consists of excerpts from Lewis’ full article. I found this exact arrangement online, and have since read the essay in full. It’s worth finding!


In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. ‘How are we to live in an atomic age?’ I am tempted to reply: ‘Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat at night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented… It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds…

What the atomic bomb has really done is to remind us forcibly of the sort of world we are living in and which, during the prosperous period before, we were beginning to forget. And this reminder is, so far as it goes, a good thing. We have been waked from a pretty dream, and now we can begin to talk about realities…

It is our business to live by our own law not by fears: to follow, in private or in public life, the law of love and temperance even when they seem to be suicidal, and not the law of competition and grab, even when they seem to be necessary to our own survival. For it is part of our spiritual law never to put survival first: not even the survival of our species. We must resolutely train ourselves to feel that the survival of Man on this Earth, much more of our own nation or culture or class, is not worth having unless it can be had by honorable and merciful means.

Nothing is more likely to destroy a species or a nation than a determination to survive at all costs. Those who care for something else more than civilization are the only people by whom civilization is at all likely to be preserved. Those who want Heaven most have served Earth best. Those who love man less than God do most for man….

Let the bomb find you doing well.

About smellincoffee

Citizen, librarian, reader with a boundless wonder for the world and a curiosity about all the beings inside it.
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5 Responses to Wisdom Wednesday: Live despite Death

  1. Cyberkitten says:

    I think he missed the point. Obviously people throughout the ages have been subject to random sudden death from a whole host of reasons. But since 1945 we have been in the position of being able, by accident or design, to kill all life on the planet at the push of a button. It’s quite a step change from previous ages.

    • The full article makes his point plainer. It isn’t a political question — i.e, what international structures do we set up to stop us from blowing the world to some radioactive kingdom come — but an existential one. How shall we live in the presence of a definitely-looming but not predictable mortal threat like atomic war or a pandemic? While we can do certain things to mitigate risk, past a point we have to rest in the knowledge we’ve done what we can do, and not let anxiety destroy our ability to enjoy what is abstractly threatened but yet still remains. (Life, conversation, a walk, etc.)

      • Cyberkitten says:

        I don’t think that nukes or bugs changes the existing equation overly much. We’re all going to die sooner or later. It’s just a matter of when & how – so….. you just live you’re life. You can mitigate some of the risk. But you can’t avoid the end point for ever….. Not sure what he’s getting at with his comments about species survival though. Surely if humanity goes extinct then….. all the arguments become kind of mute don’t they?

      • Mute AND moot both! 😉

  2. Sharon Barrow Wilfong says:

    Such a great reminder! Yay for Lewis! This life is temporal. Eternity is never ending. How will we spend our eternity? Here’s some more great reminders:

    35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written,

    “For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

    37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    Death, where is your sting? Grave where is your victory?

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