The XX Factor

If Only Sarah Palin Paid More Attention to C.S. Lewis

Much has been made of the fact that Sarah Palin routinely cites C.S. Lewis as one of her favorite authors. Joy Behar and Richard Wolffe sniped about Palin reading kids’ books, which is silly; Lewis was a prolific thinker and theologian who wrote far more books for adults than he did for children (and adults should really read the books for children , anyway).

Still, I find it hard to believe that Palin is a very close reader of Lewis. She’s certainly not taking any advice from him on politics. The British writer rejected the union of Christianity and government that Palin finds so appealing. As governor, her primary desire for Alaska was that God’s will be done (particularly when it lined up with hers); Lewis said : “Theocracy is the worst of all governments. If we must have a tyrant, a robber baron is far better than an inquisitor.” Palin believes the United States should base its law on the Bible ; Lewis explicitly rejected the notion that Christianity is the basis of morality. “It is often asserted that the world must return to Christian ethics in order to preserve civilization,” he said, in a pitch-perfect prediction of what current discourse would sound like on the Christian right. “Though I am myself a Christian, and even a dogmatic Christian untinged with Modernist reservations and committed to supernaturalism in its full rigour, I find myself quite unable to take my place beside the upholders of this view.”

Lewis had nothing but contempt for the partisan political fights that Palin picks with such glee. “To attach to a party programme – whose highest real claim is to reasonable prudence – the sort of assent which we should reserve for demonstrable theorems, is a kind of intoxication,” he wrote. “A political program can never in reality be more than probably right.” But there is no room for “probably right,” in Sarah Palin’s politics. There is only her god-given certainty that she can intuit her way to the truth.

Palin’s supposed favorite author disdained the grasping attention-greediness of so many politicians, for which there could be no better exemplar than the Twittering, Facebooking, reality TV-starring, self-styled presidential candidate. Lewis certainly would have hated Palin’s penchant for taking cheap shots at public figures with no regard for the facts (as with her latest swipe at Michelle Obama , which was a deliberate distortion of what Obama actually said ). Lewis believed in thinking seriously about issues of justice and morality, not political point-tallying. 

I wish Palin did read Lewis more closely; if she did, she might follow his example on politics and stay out of it.