By Dylan Sage-Wilcox
As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints strive to live the high standards of their faith, they look to their leaders for direction in biannual meetings known as General Conference. Thousands of members living in Utah convene together in the Conference Center while millions more tune in on TVs, laptops and phones. Faithful members who listen to these inspiring messages given on a variety of topics from selected General Authorities of the Church say that there is at least one talk that really touches them. Each message is often given through the personal experience of the speaker, however, there are other sources of inspiration that are called upon. Such a valuable resource is Christian apologist and renowned author, C.S. Lewis.
Lewis is one of the most quoted non-Latter-day Saints in General Conference. Marianna Edwards Richardson and Christine Thackeray wrote C.S. Lewis: Latter-day Truths in Narnia where they pointed out some of the reasons as to why Lewis is so often quoted by LDS leaders: “Lewis had a knack of speaking for ‘every man’ and gave us modern parables for Christian living. All can relate to his testimony of Christ and his practical understanding of how to put gospel teachings into practice today.”
The Deseret News complied 23 C.S. Lewis quotes shared in LDS General Conference, they found that Elder Neal A. Maxwell quoted Lewis the most, 19 times, four instances being in General Conference, the others in talks and devotionals he gave. President James E. Faust came next to Elder Maxwell, quoting the author at least seven times.
Lewis was born on November 29, 1898, in Belfast, Ireland. His religious background began as a youth when he was baptized in the Church of Ireland, under the nudging of his mother, Florence Augusta Lewis, whose father was a priest for the church. In 1908 Lewis suffered many losses; the death of his uncle, grandfather, and mother, the latter died of cancer. These life events helped to shape his view on life and even death as he began to immerse himself in Greek and Norse mythology and other literature. He was sent to Malvern to recuperate from respiratory difficulties, it was here at the age of 15 that he abandoned his childhood faith and became an atheist pursing mythology and the occult. The young Lewis viewed Christianity as cumbersome and time-consuming, however it wasn’t until Lewis read George McDonald’s “Phantasies” in 1916, which “baptized his imagination” did Lewis finally have a religious epiphany.
In 1929, as a faculty member at Oxford University, he met fellow colleague and equally-noted author, J. R. R. Tolkien, who persuaded Lewis to be fully converted to Christianity. Lewis recorded in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, “That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”
Since his conversion to theism at the age of 33, Lewis committed himself to the Church of England he became not just a defender of his Anglican faith, but of all Christianity. James Sire wrote “C. S. Lewis was a man with wide interests, a man who wrote with distinction in many fields – literary history, philology, criticism, Christian apologetics, science fiction, myth, poetry, and children’s literature. His readers are thus drawn from many walks of life.” Sire said that Lewis could be serious without being sentimental, he could be a genuine Christian without being trapped by religious piety, he could enjoy without the sole seeking of enjoyment, and he was willing to advise without becoming a professional advisor. Because of his broad perspectives and conversion from atheism to theism, Lewis was uniquely equipped to defend Christianity from naysayers because he was once a naysayer himself. His teachings and essays ranged from the Savior’s atoning sacrifice to the importance of motherhood. Hence the reason why many LDS leaders quote him so generously.
Jannalee Rosner, in her article for LDS Living, gives three insights into Lewis’s popularity among Latter-day Saint authors, leaders, and scholars. First, Lewis helps us with missionary work and Sunday School comments. Second, his ideas are related to Mormon doctrine. And third, he tells great stories and parables.
President Ezra Taft Benson gave a still-oft quoted talk in April General Conference of 1989 entitled, “Beware of Pride”, where he quotes Lewis, who said, “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man.” The first general authority to quote from the renowned British author was Elder Paul H. Dunn of the Seventy in 1977, who gave a talk entitled “We Have Been There All the Time” where he advised members of the church to give special attention to relationships with loved ones, family, and friends. He quoted Lewis’s words: “Take care. It is so easy to break eggs without making omelets.” From that point on, general authorities have been using Lewis’s profound insight to enhance their messages