Lewis thus ardently defends the Tao not so much because it told him how to live, still less because it entitled him to tell other people how to live, but because it told him how to view death. The Tao confirms that it is far more important to die on the right side than to live on the wrong side. The worst that can happen to us is not death, but dishonor. Lewis had understood that death could be honorable long before he gained experience of the trenches. His front line service only clarified for him that there were four ways of viewing war.
Ward then lets Lewis speak for himself in articulating what those four ways were, so this is now Lewis himself:
The Unenchanted man sees (quite correctly) the waste and cruelty and sees nothing else. The Enchanted man is in the Rupert Brooke or Philip Sidney state of mind—he’s thinking of glory and battle-poetry and forlorn hopes and last stands and chivalry. Then comes the Disenchanted Age—say Siegffried Sassoon. But there is also a fourth stage, though very few people in modern England dare to talk about it…. One is not in the least deceived: we remember the trenches too well. We know how much of the reality the romantic view left out. But we also know that heroism is a real thing, that all the plumes and flags and trumpets of the tradition were not there for nothing. They were an attempt to honor what is truly honorable: what was first perceived to be honorable precisely everyone knew how horrible war is.
Of course, the idea of honorable defeat is not constrained to the space of open, hot war. One can lose honorably in any number of venues. And one can win dishonorably in just as many arenas.
Perhaps this is a way of getting at the series of thoughts I have been turning over in my mind this year:
The first task of any baptized person is to live as a Christian, taking up the Yoke of Christ daily. We can choose not to do that, of course. But for a baptized person to shrink back from the calling of Christian discipleship is to put one’s soul at hazard, to place oneself squarely in the group that the author of Hebrews is addressing in Hebrews 10. The Yoke of Christ can be terrifying in a manner of speaking, of course; but the terror of shirking that yoke after it has been presented is far more so.
The second task of any baptized person is, in the likely event that their discipleship places them at odds with the world, to continue in their following of Jesus no matter the consequences. It is better to die with Christ than to turn away from him.
The third task of any baptized person, should they be fortunate enough to live under circumstances where they can both follow Jesus and live a quiet, undisturbed life, is to seek to glorify God and love their neighbor by fulfilling whatever vocations God has given them, in obedience to Christ’s call and as an act of offering ourselves up to him for his use.
So, to put a point on it: Seeking to reimagine and reshape one’s home place and one’s society toward more explicitly Christian ends is good and right. Yet Christianity knows nothing of foregone obedience (read: disobedience) that is ostensibly done for some higher good: It won’t do to say to God that, yes, we violated several of the commandments, but, hey, at the end of it all we got prayer back in schools. The presence of opposition or danger does not cause God’s law to be suspended. It is, rather, assumed that most of us will be called to follow God’s law precisely in the face of such opposition and danger.
There is a way of living that is actually worse than dying.
Jake Meador is the editor-in-chief of Mere Orthodoxy. He is a 2010 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he studied English and History. He lives in Lincoln, NE with his wife Joie, their daughter Davy Joy, and sons Wendell, Austin, and Ambrose. Jake's writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Commonweal, Christianity Today, Fare Forward, the University Bookman, Books & Culture, First Things, National Review, Front Porch Republic, and The Run of Play and he has written or contributed to several books, including "In Search of the Common Good," "What Are Christians For?" (both with InterVarsity Press), "A Protestant Christendom?" (with Davenant Press), and "Telling the Stories Right" (with the Front Porch Republic Press).