Fishing in Mere Christianity for a vaguely remembered quotation, I came upon and was struck by this remark:

In the old days, when there was less education and discussion, perhaps it was possible to get on with a very few simple ideas about God. But it is not so now. Everyone reads, everyone hears things discussed. Consequently, if you do not listen to Theology, that will not mean that you have no ideas about God. It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones–bad, muddled, out-of-date ideas. For a great many of the ideas about God which are trotted out as novelties today, are simply the ones which real Theologians tried centuries ago and rejected.

It seemed that either Lewis was living in a fantasy or a golden age where “everyone reads,” for my immediate reaction was that in ours, no one “reads” in the sense that he means it—and what they “hear discussed” is what is found in the popular media, which generally means ignorance, hostile or not, twaddle, and perhaps worse, sectarian distortion in the cloak of good religion.

But I had misread him, for everyone “reads” in our day too.  His point is that the reading and “hearing things discussed” rarely includes “Theology,” and by this he means the historic teachings of the Christian Church, seriously and authoritative treated, as Lewis did in his wartime broadcasts and Bishop Sheen did with what was probably unprecedented success in the fifties and sixties, so that relatively free rein is given to proliferation of bad ideas about God.

One could number among these the idea that charity demands embracing sin in a spirit of inclusiveness, and that the God of the Bible is an egalitarian, for in both instances that would have to be the case if he were Good, right?  One of the best examples is the presentation of “lost books” of the Bible to an ignorant public, in which the purveyors advertise writings known in the church for centuries and by general acclamation rejected as at least non-canonical or at most heretical, as discoveries that were somehow missed or not available when the New Testament canon was coming into existence, and that they belong in the Bible because of their evangelical subject matter.  The fact is that these books—the Gospel of Thomas, for example–are myriad, have been known since they were written, and rejected by every generation since as unworthy of the canon. They are not even in the gray areas of antilegomena or deuterocanonicity. They just don’t belong, and if one is familiar with the canonical books, it is usually easy to see why.

It is still true that everyone reads and everyone hears things discussed, but Theology as Lewis spoke of it in the mid-forties is probably just as rare in our day.  Of course, this wouldn’t be so if more people read Touchstone and Mere Comments. . . .