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Charles Williams

Charles Williams demonstrated that either affirmation or negation is a legitimate path to personal fulfilment.

As is now widely known, C. S. Lewis (The Chronicles of Narnia) was a member of a writer’s circle known as the Inklings. J. R. R. Tolkien also belonged to this remarkably talented group. A lesser-known member of the circle was the poet, novelist, and literary critic Charles Williams who, like Lewis, wrote a number of books about his deeply held religious beliefs.

The occult also fascinated Williams. He went on creatively to merge religion with the occult in a series of unusual novels that he referred to as “metaphysical thrillers.” (T. S. Eliot used the word “supernatural” when writing about them.) They read like speculative fiction yet manage to include elements such as the Holy Grail, tarot cards, King Solomon’s Stone, Platonic archetypes, doppelgangers, and a succubus all surrounded by insights into the eternal struggle between good and evil and the effects (both good and bad) of possessing great power. Williams is rare in assuming that great power can sanctify. When was the last time you saw a film or read a book where that was the case?

Williams was a thinking Christian yet his ideas have much broader utility than one might expect. One of his most important concepts deals with two of the basic ways of approaching life. Williams called these The Way of Affirmation and The Way of Negation. Instead of seeing the two ways as diametrically opposed, Williams demonstrated that they are in fact closely related. For Williams, affirmation means seeing and accepting (actually experiencing) the good things in life as signs or hints of greater joys to come in the afterlife. One enjoys the good things now while expecting even better things in the future. Negation means deliberately forgoing (renunciation) the good things in life in the belief that since they are only lesser signs and hints it is better to wait for the greater joy in the next life (heaven).

Hence, marriage and virginity, while superficially opposed, are, when taking a longer view, both evidence of a belief in the same thing. Both paths recognize, and demonstrate respect for, the value of sex. The hermit believes the happiness of life on earth – while pleasant – does not do the heavenly bliss and splendour justice. Rather than living in the world, he sets mainstream life aside and withdraws to await the unfolding of the greater glory in the hereafter. Both the hermit and the lover of life recognize, and show respect for, God’s creation.

Williams is arguing from the perspective of finding fulfilment in life. He is saying that whichever path we choose, the way of affirmation or the way of negation, our belief that we will be rewarded in some way for our choice means either path leads to fulfilment.