Wednesday, 5 September 2012
Under the Shadow of the Hideous Strength by Dale Nelson
(Note - at my request penfriend and regular commenter Dale J Nelson has allowed me to make available this excellent mini-book which he wrote some years ago. I recommend printing it out for ease of reading.)
Bright Lights Under the Shadow of the Hideous Strength:
The St. Anne’s Household -- and Our Own Households
By Dale Nelson
Associate Professor of Liberal Arts
Mayville State University
330 Third St. NE
Mayville, ND 58257
© 2003 Dale Nelson
"Dale Nelson prepared this paper for a conservative Lutheran spiritual retreat some years ago, so a few incidental references assume that background. The paper has not be revised for appearance here, but is copyright (c) 2012 by Dale Nelson."
Among Lewis’s fiction for adults, Till We Have Faces is often ranked above Lewis’s three science fiction novels, and of the books of the trilogy, the earlier books are often considered more artistically successful than the third. Lewis told a correspondent that “That Hideous Strength has been unanimously damned by all reviewers” (Letters p. 381). However, some readers find it exceptionally compelling, and for those interested in Lewis, the book has the attraction of including more of his interests than any other, including allusions to friends who were alive when it was written, in whose presence portions of it may have been read aloud by Lewis himself – J. R. R. Tolkien (the reference to “Numinor,” pp. 201, 265), Charles Williams (author of Taliessin Through Logres, mentioned on p. 194), and Owen Barfield (p. 261). Along the way, this paper will suggest a number of follow-up readings, in Lewis’s own writings and in other writers, for That Hideous Strength abounds with references, allusions, and ideas. Herewith, an exploration of some of these that can be incorporated, in various ways, into the households of interested persons.
At the outset -- this paper is offered with the assumption that people who have read That Hideous Strength recently will need no sustained effort of persuasion in order to be convinced that its depiction of a bureaucratic, technological, social-engineerist enterprise undertaken in a modern democratic state is, for all the satire of some specific details, plausible, and indeed remarkably prescient for a book published in the late 1940s. Perhaps many readers will agree with the present author that That Hideous Strength affords a more accurate reading of the signs of the times than the better-known “dystopias” of Huxley and Orwell. Lewis perceived with exceptional acuity the convergence of government, applied science, education, culture, and man-made law in a campaign to throw off the Natural Law – which he calls the Tao in The Abolition of Man – a campaign the outcome of which is to be the establishment of a totalitarian Babylon. In our own time and country, innumerable efforts, ranging from those of major government institutions and wealthy private organizations, such as various foundations and the National Education Association, the ACLU, homosexual activist groups, etc., to “grass roots” activism, are, de facto, united in a campaign that twists or openly opposes the transcendent, universal moral code – Lewis’s Tao -- as an antiquated and arbitrary human construction (perhaps with some admitted, but obsolete, evolutionary significance).
For all the profound differences between various traditional cultures, Lewis could suggest that there has only ever been one great civilization (Abolition of Man, Touchstone paperback ed., p. 92), and that its greatness inheres in its recognition of the Tao. Appendix A of the present paper offers, somewhat with tongue in cheek, a document contrasting beliefs characteristic of traditional cultures with those of “modernity.” (Interested persons are invited to consider the extent to which these contrasts apply to St. Anne’s vs. the NICE.) Recognition of the Tao, and any effort to keep it no matter how rigorous, cannot secure eternal life for sinful man; but it is a witness to him of his fallen state and, so, of his need for salvation (and it is also a curb on vice). “When the apostles preached, they could assume even in their Pagan hearers a real consciousness of deserving the Divine anger” (Lewis, The Problem of Pain, Chap. 4). Accordingly, to non-Christian cultures of traditional belief, the Gospel maybe offered as something relevant to their concerns (e.g. Acts 17:28), though it may seem to deal with those concerns in a foolish or scandalous way (1 Cor. 1:23). Modernity, however, is opposed to the Tao as well as to the Gospel. Widely separated cultures differ very significantly from one another, but they have real common ground in their recognition of the Tao and of such perennial things as differing roles for men and women, the existence of a state of bliss and a state of misery beyond this life, etc. A most interesting but little-publicized finding of anthropology is the lore of one High God in the background where ordinary life is preoccupied with little gods and dead ancestors. (See Don Richardson’s book Eternity in Their Hearts.) But from the point of view of modernity, however, all this is irrelevant or worse. Modernity explains things by what is less meaningful, less conscious (so, for it, love is basically a matter of biology), while traditional thought has explained the lesser by the greater (the phenomenal by the immaterial, the temporal by the eternal); modernity is reductive, while traditional thought could be called typological. We are urged by modernity, in the words of a specimen modern entertainer, to “Imagine there’s no heaven … No hell below us,” so that we can strive to fulfill the dream of a materialistic utopia (John Lennon’s anthem “Imagine”). It is on the basis of similar sentiments that the NICE makes its exoteric appeal to people such as Mark Studdock. His education was neither Christian or pagan, nor scientific in the true sense nor classical, but Modern (p. 185.) He is insensitive to most “signals of transcendence” (see Peter Berger’s A Rumor of Angels, particularly Chapter 3, “Theological Possibilities” Staring with Man”). Hence Mark is readily receptive, and not only for the sake of advancing his career, to its outward program. Eventually he learns more about the esoteric side of the NICE and continues to be attracted.
In That Hideous Strength Lewis depicts a small community founded upon the Tao, within which is a still smaller, specifically Christian household. When Jane Studdock enters this community, she is not a Christian, but she retains a sense of the Tao (and some vivid memories) sufficient to prompt her to reject the National Institute for Coordinated Experiments. The household gathered under Ransom is not conceived satirically, and its humanity and normality enhance the satirical exposure of the corrupt university and the depraved NICE. Before Jane’s arrival, the St. Anne’s group already includes another non-Christian, the skeptical but decent MacPhee (who is excluded from some activities restricted to Christians). St. Anne’s is a place of literal refuge for Jane, and a place where she begins the Christian life in repentance and faith. This paper will identify some things that are characteristic of St. Anne’s and that we, too, can affirm, adopt, and adapt as we live under the shadow of the Hideous Strength, that is, as people who affirm the objective moral standard, and as Christians who have been delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of God’s Son (Colossians 1:13) -- even though we live in the world, and “the whole world lieth in the evil one” (1 John 5:19 RV).
We may warm up with something that we encounter on every page. Readers of Lewis’s “fairy tale for grown-ups” know that the names of its persons and places are meaningful. Names such as Wither and Frost suggest the blighted souls of the agents of the NICE. Conversely, persons who recognize the Tao have names that suggest wholesomeness, courage, or specifically Christian faith. Camilla is a virgin warrior woman from mythology, for example. Ivy is a plant that can thrive even in ruins. Grace Ironwood’s name hardly requires explication. And so on. The most notable example is Ransom, who, as readers of Perelandra know (pp. 147-8), bears a name of the Redeemer God.
People in traditional cultures are serious about the naming of children. Readers of the Old Testament will be familiar with this idea. Recently the author of the present paper read a book about Annie Peterson Miner, a woman born into the Miluk and Hanis subcultures of the central Oregon coast. Lionel Youst writes that Indian infants had only nicknames till they were five years old. The name they were eventually given was kept secret from almost everyone. In adult life they might use a “white” name, which was accepted for legal purposes, e.g. marriage certificates. Also, names of dead family members were used (pp. 54, 142). This last traditional practice could result in a situation, in some places, where a high percentage of people had the same name, so, in Wales, for example, there might be Hugh-the-Farm to distinguish one man from some other Hugh (likely enough with the same Jones, Evans, or Morgan last name!). The topic of names could be an interesting one for a Bible study; one may just instance Jesus’ renaming of Simon as Peter (Matt. 16:18).
It’s the belief of the present author that the giving of names should be a topic addressed by pastors; that this not a matter that should be thought of primarily as an adiaphoron. Certainly Scripture gives little support to the idea that the choosing of names for children is a “thing indifferent.” Before parents have settled on names for their unborn child, they ought to consider whether the name suits someone who will be baptized into Christ’s kingdom, someone who will, in this world, most assuredly face persecution if he or she is faithful (John 16:33, Acts 14:22, etc.), or if they are contemplating names that they like just because they think those names are fashionable (for a brief time) and will be considered cute or cool by others. (See Appendix B.)
On her first visit to St. Anne’s, Jane happens to see a book open to a passage beginning “The beauty of the female is the root of joy to the female as well as to the male” (pp. 62-3).* Later, Miss Ironwood invites Jane to read, telling her that “’There’s a pretty large library’” (p. 163). We may infer that one occupation of some members, at least, of the St. Anne’s group is reading – reading old books. Lewis’s preface to a popular translation of St. Athanasius’s On the Incarnation, a paper which has also been published in a collection of his essays (God in the Dock) as “On the Reading of Old Books,” urges such reading because we will encounter truths our own time is unaware of or neglects – truths we especially need. This reading will sometimes encounter erroneous ideas, but these are not as likely to deceive us as those of our own time – those being the errors which nearly everyone takes for granted as truths, which we will be better able to detect when we have stepped outside our own milieu by reading classic works. Lewis’s point is in line with Martin Chemnitz’s classic comment, in the first volume of his Examination of the Council of Trent (pp. 208-9):
This also is certain, that no one should rely on his own wisdom in the interpretation of the Scripture, not even in the clear passages, for it is clearly written in 2 Peter 1:20: “The Scripture is not a matter of private interpretation.” And whoever twists the Holy Scripture so that it is understood according to his preconceived opinions does this to his own destruction (2 Peter 3:16). The best reader of the Scripture, according to Hilary, is one who does not bring the understanding of what is said to the Scripture but who carries it away from the Scripture. We also gratefully and reverently use the labors of the fathers who by their commentaries have profitably clarified many passages of the Scripture. And we confess that we are greatly confirmed by the testimonies of the ancient church in the true and sound understanding of the Scripture. Nor do we approve of it if someone invents for himself a meaning which conflicts with all antiquity, and for which there are clearly no testimonies of the church.
In context, Lewis, like Chemnitz, was recommending old theological books. But the principle may be extended to other reading as well. And note: this time in which we live, of concentrated war against the Tao on all fronts, from the most popular entertainments to the most abstruse scholarship, is also the time in which the best ancient literature is more readily accessible than ever before. Aside from the availability of classic texts in public libraries or as free downloads, anyone with a few dollars may order new or used copies of innumerable literary or theological masterpieces through online sources such as Amazon or abebooks.com. Readers of this paper who haven’t seen the large, annotated catalog from Eighth Day Books of Wichita, Kansas, should request one. (Admittedly, this outfit could use some recommendations from Lutheran readers.) Finally, interlibrary loan services have improved remarkably in the past two decades. Anyone who, like Jane, wants to read George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin and The Princess and Curdie, Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, and the sonnets of Shakespeare, may have these books in his hands quickly. (Lewis’s writings, notably his letters, offer profuse additional suggestions for things to read, by the way. I’ll mention two of his favorites: Spenser, who wrote The Faerie Queene and an “Epithalamion” that probably influenced the nuptial conclusion of That Hideous Strength, and Dante, whose Divine Comedy is obliquely quoted on p. 213 [“souls who have lost the intellectual good”] and p. 353 [“So full of sleep are they at the time when they leave the right way”]; I recommend approaching this work with both Dorothy L. Sayers’ Penguin Classics translation, for its incomparable annotations, and a more readable translation, such as Allen Mandelbaum’s, for the text of the Comedy itself. Lewis wrote much about Spenser; in addition to the posthumous Spenser’s Images of Life, see his Allegory of Love and Essays on Medieval and Renaissance Literature, which also contains material on Dante.)
Perhaps some readers are nervous – shouldn’t we be thinking in terms of reading the Bible? Of course. But we may read Dickens, too. Messed-up kids used to make their way to a remote little Orthodox monastery (or “skete”) in the hinterlands of northern California. It was the practice of the late Seraphim Rose to provide, certainly, Christian instruction and participation in liturgy for these youths, many of them victims of the Hideous Strength in one way or another. But it is interesting that he led them to classic literature, too. He showed them old Dickens movies. He took them to Renaissance plays at the Shakespearean Festival in Ashland, Oregon. He had them listen to Bach and Sibelius. Of course they had profound spiritual needs. But they had emotional and imaginative needs, also. The 97th chapter of Damascene Christensen’s biography of Rose, Not of This World, really should be read by anyone, parent, teacher, or pastor, who works with young people. “The world’s best culture, properly received, refines and develops the soul; today’s popular culture cripples and deforms the soul. … the contemporary upbringing in schools emphasizes crudity, coldness, and inability to judge what is better and what is worse – total relativity, which only confuses a person and helps fit him into the world of apostasy,” Rose said (qtd. in Christensen, pp. 900, 903). Rose’s brother-monk, Father Herman, has said, in an interview, “Our society is actually breeding people who are robots, who are insensitive to life, to earth, to the way a human soul reacts to questions of the heart, questions of conscience, questions of thirst for Truth” (Epiphany Journal, Fall 1990, p. 70). Enjoying good literature and music can help to counteract this roboticizing.
Did everyone note, in reading That Hideous Strength, how Mark as well as Jane turned to classic literary works as part of his own turning towards the Tao? After Mark fled the NICE, he eventually stumbled upon a “little country hotel” in which he found volumes of The Strand magazine and picked up a serial story he’d dropped when he turned ten years old (p. 359). Most of his adult reading, he realizes, has been garbage. Now, though, he is evidently finding a wholesome enjoyment in something normal and human; what a relief after the pollutions of the NICE! It’s interesting, then, to set alongside something like this, the compassionate encouragement that Seraphim Rose and his associate gave to youths needing to connect with wholesome fare. (See Appendix C for suggestions on starting a community reading group, which can be a way of promoting the reading of worthy literature.)
One can read – some things, at least – whilst seated in a crowded city bus, and some people may be able to read attentively while a TV talk show is rattling away nearby. Most people will read better in quiet surroundings. At St. Anne’s, Jane notices “that silence which is not quite like any other in the world – the silence upstairs, in a big house, on a winter afternoon” (p. 165). Perhaps that would be too much of a good thing! Silence may be sinister, as a forlorn Mark found when he wandered corridors of the NICE. But readers, and people at prayer, will appreciate quietness. With the coarsening of manners that is obvious everywhere has come the loss of silence before worship services, in many churches. Instead: “Let all mortal flesh keep silence … / Ponder nothing earthly-minded,” in the words of a very fine ancient hymn.
Lewis wrote, in his essay “Membership” (in The Weight of Glory):
Even on those rare occasions when a modern undergraduate is not attending [some group activity – or, CSL might have added today, playing games with his computer in his dorm room] he is seldom engaged in those solitary walks, or walks with a single companion, which built the minds of the previous generations. He lives in a crowd … And this tendency not only exists both within and without the university, but is often approved. There is a crowd of busybodies … whose life is devoted to destroying solitude wherever solitude exists. … If an Augustine, a Vaughan, a Traherne, or a Wordsworth should be born in the modern world, the leaders of a youth organization would soon cure him. If a really good home, such as the home of Alcinous and Arete in the Odyssey or the Rostovs in War and Peace or any of Charlotte M. Yonge’s families [e.g. in The Daisy Chain], existed today, it would be denounced as bourgeois and every engine of destruction would be leveled against it. [Many families who have turned to homeschooling will resonate to this remark.] … We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and privacy, and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.
In a setting in which quietness is appreciated, the word may be more valued. At St. Anne’s, while there is much to be done, there is time for good talk; it might be quasi-pastoral and private, as when Jane and Ransom “Fisher-King” discuss her marriage, or it might be genial and amusing, as in kitchen-talk times; or it might be devoted to problem-solving. Always it is courteous, though not always formal.
Rudeness and disrespect are forms of iconoclasm, an assault upon God’s image in our fellow human beings. When Christian culture is severely undermined, such as in Russia during the Soviet regime, and as is happening today in many parts of this country, courtesy that is basic to making a joyful common life, disappears. … In Romans 12:10, the Apostle Paul outlines the basics of traditional Christian culture: “Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love,” he admonishes, “in honor preferring one another.” (“Christian Courtesy: Grace-Filled Manners,” in Doxa: A Quarterly Review Serving the Orthodox Church Summer 2003)
Everyone gets his turn to speak in the household Lewis describes, because everyone has something worthwhile to say. They don’t seem to go in for “multi-tasking” at St. Anne’s. Perhaps Lewis’s evident enjoyment in creating the conversations at St. Anne’s reflects his great pleasure in the twice-weekly gatherings of the informal Oxford-based group, the Inklings, which included Lewis, his friend J. R. R. Tolkien, and others. Lewis’s brother, Warren, has left accounts of some of their sessions in his diaries, published some twenty years ago as Brothers and Friends. (As a non-pastor, I wonder if Lutheran “winkels” are something like the Inklings.)
A passage on language that many Christians, and especially those of us who teach, write, or preach, could think about with profit, was written by H. P. Liddon, with reference to the great Anglican patristic scholar, E. B. Pusey. (See Appendix D.)
Work and Leisure
St. Anne’s is a household. There are no children there yet, but there will be: Camilla Denniston is pregnant, and Jane, on her first visit, notices, in addition to gardens, a greenhouse, a pigsty, and a stable, a seesaw (p. 61). The St. Anne’s folk raise some of their own food. This will have helped them to feel the place was their home. Lewis wrote to a friend:
Tolkien once remarked to me that the feeling about home must have been quite different in the days when the family had fed on the produce of the same few miles of country for six generations, and that perhaps this was why they saw nymphs in the fountains and dryads in the wood – they were not mistaken for there was in a sense a real (not metaphorical) connection between them and the countryside. What had been earth and air & later corn [=wheat], and later still bread, really was in them. We of course who live on a standardised international diet (you may have had Canadian flour, English meat, Scotch oatmeal, African oranges, & Australian wine to day) are really artificial beings and have no connection (save in sentiment) with any place on earth. We are synthetic men, uprooted. The strength of the hills is not ours. My pen has run away with me on this subject. (to Arthur Greeves, 22 June 1930; in They Stand Together, pp. 363-4)
Lewis would, I believe, have been very impressed and pleased by much written in the past 25 years by the Christian, American essayist, poet and novelist Wendell Berry. It is certainly true that Berry’s imagination has been stirred by Lewis – specifically, by the novel at hand. Epigraphs drawn from That Hideous Strength appear twice in Berry’s The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture. That could be a good book of Berry’s for the curious to start with. It seems likely that Berry, as well as Lewis (That Hideous Strength, p. 19), would appreciate the “Distributism” advocated by G. K. Chesterton. But if a Christian household is to retain its distinctives and to grow, each person’s responsibilities need to be clear. Here, Lutherans may recall the Haustafel, the Table of Duties in the Small Catechism.
We usually don’t see the St. Anne’s company at leisure, but it probably conformed to the advice that Lewis wrote for his god-daughter, Sarah:
Remember that there are only three kinds of things anyone need ever do. (1) Things we ought to do (2) Things we’ve got to do (3) Things we like doing. I say this because some people seem to spend so much of their time doing things for none of the three reasons, things like reading books they don’t like because other people read them. Things you ought to do are things like doing one’s school work or being nice to people. Things one has got to do are things like dressing and undressing, or household shopping. (Letters to Children, p. 27)
When Mark Studdock begins to repent of his ruined life, while a prisoner of the NICE, he realizes he has, for years, betrayed persons and things he really liked, for the sake of persons and things that have brought him no real joy (pp. 246-7).
Conversely, Arthur and Camilla Denniston enjoy weather, parking in a wood for a picnic eaten in their car (p. 113) – something almost anyone who wishes to do so, may do – but how many do? It seems likely, also, that the St. Anne’s companions would tend to appreciate the “quiddity” of small things that are themselves: as when Jane, spiritually refreshed by her visit, is returning home by train, and delighting in an encounter with a “wizened old man” who has a “shrewd and sunny old mind, sweet as a nut and English as a chalk down” (p. 152). This capacity for enjoyment was one that Lewis consciously cultivated in himself. Somewhere he records that he was inveigled into paying a visit to a friend’s father; to his surprise, he found the man delightful and as English “as an apple in a barn.” He says in his autobiography that he learned something important from a friend named A. K. Hamilton Jenkin:
He continued … my education as a seeing, listening, smelling, receptive creature. …. [He] seemed to be able to enjoy everything; even ugliness. I learned from him that we should attempt a total surrender to whatever atmosphere was offering itself at the moment; in a squalid town to seek out those very places where its squalor rose to grimness and almost grandeur, on a dismal day to find the most dismal and dripping wood, on a windy day to seek the windiest ridge [with] a serious, yet gleeful, determination to rub one’s nose in the very quiddity of each thing, to rejoice in its being (so magnificently) what it was. (Surprised by Joy, Harvest Book HB 102 edition, p. 199)
Admittedly, this is an extreme statement of the principle. His letters to Arthur Greeves, a near-lifelong friend, published some years ago as They Stand Together, contain numerous descriptions of persons and scenes that delighted him. They are very characteristic of the man.
Many readers will remember that the Lewis household took in child-refugees during the Second World War. This is the situation with which The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe begins. And here it may be briefly recorded that hospitality like that evident at St. Anne’s was practiced at Piety Hill in Mecosta, Michigan, the residence of the late conservative master Russell Kirk. “The Last Homely House,” a chapter in Kirk’s The Sword of Imagination: Memoirs of a Half-Century of Literary Conflict, tells of, among others, a burglar and “bum” who became “butler” at Piety Hill.
One could almost say that hospitality and vigilance are the two chief characteristics of the St. Anne’s household as we see it. Vigilance means faithfully keeping watch at one’s post, and that is what the company does until it is time for it to act. Vigilance means alertness against danger from without, but also against one’s own proclivity to sin. It includes alertness to spiritual dangers that may threaten others, e.g. Ransom sharply rebukes Jane when she is in danger of worshiping him (p. 147).
Lewis argues for the necessity of initiation into the Tao and right feeling, in The Abolition of Man, on the basis of the ancient recognition of the inner hierarchy of Reason/head, Magnanimity or Sentiment/chest, and Appetite or Animal Organism/viscera (pp. 35-6). But the characteristic modern worldview is increasingly unwilling to recognize even the most fundamental ontological categories (moderns say such things as: humans are animals; humans or their brains, etc., are machines; machines may possess “artificial intelligence” and become “human,” etc.), which, in turn, is related – perhaps in some cause-effect way – to its refusal of the traditional hierarchy of authority on the human level. The hierarchy of the cosmic order itself is denied: “Imagine there’s no heaven / It’s easy if you try / No hell below us / Above us only sky” (John Lennon’s “Imagine”). Here indeed is one of modernity’s most profound failures of intellect and imagination.
We should not be embarrassed by the spatial language used when we talk about levels of being “above” or “below” the human level. We are drawing on a perennial vocabulary.
The symbolism of religion is based on a picture of the physical world which is common to all men, and not on the highly specialized and mentally elaborated picture presented by modern science, which is by no means common to all men, and in no way invalidates their common experience, but as it grows more abstruse is ever less immediately present to their consciousness. … The religions make use of a symbolical language simply because it is impossible to speak of certain truths, and those by far the most important of all (being “metaphysical” in the real sense of the word) in any other language. (Lord Northbourne, Looking Back on Progress, p. 38)
The traditional ontological scheme, assumed in Psalm 8, is precisely what Ransom is invoking when (on p. 378) he says that man has his place “’between the angels who are our elder brothers and the beasts who are our jesters, servants and playfellows.’” There are levels of being above and below the human. Above us, there is the angelic level – although Christian revelation differs from all other faiths, in that we know God became incarnate; He did not become an angel, but a man (see the opening chapters of the Epistle to the Hebrews). But those august, wise, splendid beings possess a greater capacity than that of earthbound man for praise of the Uncreated (cf. Isaiah 6). Mrs. Dimble says that Ransom/Fisher-King often speaks of “’spiritual ranks’” (p. 168). Perhaps Lewis was thinking – if only for the purposes of a work of fiction – of the ninefold angelic hierarchy associated with the patristic source known as the Pseudo-Dionysius, and medieval tradition. He was delighted by Charles Williams’s fantastic novel The Place of the Lion, which draws on this tradition. And while Luther did not approve of the concept of mystical ascent found in Dionysius (Hoffman, Theology of the Heart, p. 44), he certainly had a robust sense of the reality of angels, as a survey of the selections under “Angels” in What Luther Says will demonstrate.
Man is the crown of the visible creation. (It is by his invisible spirit that he is like to the angels.) Below him there are several levels of visible nature (see Appendix E). Man includes these lesser levels in himself (he is “’More. But not less’” than they [That Hideous Strength, p. 379]). Evolutionism, however, is wrong in its fantasy that the human evolved from, “arose” from, the lower levels of being. Indeed, it might be useful to consider the nonhuman, visible creation as, in a sense, ontologically “derived” from man. In Genesis, we see that God created the world not as a home for Himself, but as the place for man. Man was not an “afterthought” of God, still less is he an evolutionary byproduct. We must speak with caution of the “mind of God”; but one could say that He had the archetype of man in mind when He made the world during the Six Days.
Ransom is the “Fisher-King,” and Jane is almost swept away by his regal presence (p. 143). Lewis comments on monarchy in general in “Equality.” He acknowledges that monarchy as Britons have it today can easily be “debunked.” But the expressions and words of the “debunkers” generally show them to be persons whose “tap-root in Eden has been cut.” Failing to honor the king, they admire movie stars and top jocks.
For Christians, there is and there isn’t a hierarchical relationship between men and women. There is such a thing as a wholesome Christian patriarchy. (See Appendix F, “Masculine and Feminine.”) But also there is equality (Gal. 3:28). In the St. Anne’s household, we see both aspects. Ransom – and his “Masters” – surprise Jane, early on, by their taking her husband into account, where she thinks of herself as autonomous. Yet this is no household in which the men have unlimited leisure while the women do the work of plebeians. In fact, the men and the women take turns at the housework. As discussions relevant to the topic of the sexes, Lewis would have approved of Chapter 7 (“Worshiping with Body: Feasting on Food and Marriage”) and Chapter 10 (“A Good Wife and a Welcoming Hearth”) among others, in Angels in the Architecture by Wilson and Jones (which, by the way, contains an interesting passage, in Chapter 2, about the pagan “gods” and their connection with the masterpieces of Classical sculpture); for a review of this book, see Appendix G.
To return to the levels of being: the animals at St. Anne’s receive their due respect. About the time Lewis wrote this novel, he wrote a powerful essay, which, with the three lectures comprising The Abolition of Man, could be considered a companion text for the novel. The essay was published in God in the Dock as “Vivisection,” on the topic which has lately come to be called “animal rights,” a term which will bring to mind the deplorable Peter Singer. In reacting against Singer’s learned stupidity, one must not fall off the donkey on the other side and fail to recognize man’s responsibility towards animals, or ridicule those who would defend them from cruelty. After reading the Lewis essay, one might read Christopher Killheffer’s “Our Food from God: Factory Farms and the Culture of Death” (Touchstone 15:2, March 2002, pp. 36-41). If one disagrees with Killheffer, he should, at least, know why – as a Christian.
Enjoying the company of animals is one of the ways the St. Anne’s people enjoy life. Throughout his adult life, Lewis likewise responded with amusement and fondness to the beasts – it comes out again and again in his writings. Evidently his friends knew he would enjoy hearing about their own experiences with animals. Lewis wrote in his diary about a talk with his friend Leo Baker:
He had been at Tetsworth yesterday with the Kennedys, to see Vaughan Williams. As if by arrangement, he was at work on his new symphony when they arrived, and was quite ready to talk of music. He is the largest man Baker has ever seen – Chestertonian both in figure and habits. He eats biscuits all the time while composing. … He has a beautiful wife who keeps a pet badger – Baker saw it playing both with the dog and the kittens and it licked his hand. (Letters 24 July 1922, p. 168)
One is charmed to see how the badger is upstaging the composer!
It’s said that Ransom brought back from Venus “some shadow of man’s lost prerogative to ennoble beasts” (p. 307). Readers may want to look into Animals and Man: A State of Blessedness for a compilation of accounts (“legends”) about the harmonious relations between various saints and their animal acquaintances. The author, Joanne Stefanatos, is an Orthodox Christian and a doctor of veterinary medicine who established a refuge in California for needy lions.
A serious interest in natural and man-made beauty is so notable a characteristic of the American counter-cultural conservatives described by journalist Rod Dreher, many of whom seem to be groping for a somewhat St. Anne’s-like way of life, that he included Beauty as one of four characteristic “touchstones” in a notorious essay, “Crunchy Cons,” published in National Review for 30 Sept. 2002. The others were Religion, the Natural World, and Family. To a great extent, these are the things that the St. Anne’s company was fighting for, and that the Hideous Strength would marginalize, and banish from the world.
Lord Northbourne contrasts two views of the significance of Beauty:
Beauty is sometimes “explained” as an important factor in sexual attraction, and therefore in natural selection; but in an overwhelming majority of cases its occurrence can have no relation to any such function. It appears also sometimes to be regarded as a purely “subjective” phenomenon, with the implication that it has no particular importance, or as a mere “accident” or even “luxury”, and in any case as being unrelated to the serious business of life. Any such attempt to minimize the significance of beauty is not only an expression of pure quantitative materialism, but also a denial of some of the most positive and some of the most precious of human experiences. (Looking Back on Progress, p. 28)
Aside from the fact that several of the characters are understood early on to be physically beautiful (Jane, Camilla, Ransom, but none of the NICE officials), and all have a certain beauty when they put on the robes (pp. 361ff.), the novel contains numerous references to beautiful things such as the English countryside, the night sky, etc. The constellation Orion is mentioned twice and the star Sirius once. These references do not appear to be intended as foreshadowings of the descent of the planetary intelligences of the trilogy’s myth (interestingly, there are no references to the planets Mars or Venus being seen). They are instances of Lewis’s reminding the reader of natural beauty (cf. the song Tolkien’s Sam Gamgee sings – “Above all shadows rides the Sun, and Stars forever dwell,” in the Tower of Cirith Ungol). The Church Father Theodoret noted that man stands erect, enabling him to observe the heavens (D. S. Wallace-Hadrill, The Greek Patristic View of Nature, p. 75). Unobtrusively, perhaps without realizing it, Lewis has delicately suggested the dignity of normal man and his capacity for loving the beautiful, by mentioning these once-familiar stellar objects. He also implies that having names for things (cf. Genesis 2:19) helps us attend to them and, so, recognize their beauty. Do our children – do we ourselves – know the names of wildflowers, birds, trees, constellations observable in the place where we live? It is instructive that, in our English translation, Jesus does not speak of “birds” but specifically of sparrows (Matt. 10:31, Luke 12:7), and not of “flowers” but of lilies (Matt. 6:28, Luke 12:27).
The beautiful is found abundantly in nature, from tiny flowers, and little insects like mobile jewels, to large phenomena, e.g. rainbows; but with little exception, the ugly is restricted to the small (e.g. ticks, spiders, scorpions – and even some of these small critters have a certain delightful quality, e.g. toads) or, as in the case of the grotesque angler fish, tucked away in the darkest depths of the sea. Dead animals are ugly – decomposition makes them offensive to the eye and revolting to the nose – but think how unusual it is to find dead animals in natural settings: the scavenger service at work, so that one can take many walks in woods and fields and never see a dead animal. In towns one is more likely to see animal corpses, where fewer of the scavengers are able to live. To return to the night sky: it is a testimony to its beauty that it does not pall; one never wearies of the celestial display, as one would if the stars were dispersed according to an obvious pattern. Rather, one perceives more of the night sky’s beauty as one learns the constellations.
One hesitates to bring up the subject of human beauty. Moderns have at least two problems with the idea of the Beautiful as regards men and women. First, since it is obvious that some are more beautiful than others, moderns are uneasy about an encroachment upon the ideal of equality. Those who are worried about this may be referred to Lewis’s essay, “Equality,” in the collection Present Concerns. Second, moderns are apt to claim that notions of beauty vary greatly from culture to culture (just as ethics supposedly do); “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” as a famous show on the old Twilight Zone TV series had it, in which a beautiful young woman feels she is a freak because she doesn’t look like almost everyone else (they being grotesquely ugly). It seems, though, that really there is what might be called a “Beauty Range,”** a spectrum within which nearly all instances of the beautiful, from culture to culture, will be found to belong. When one reads that a femme fatale in an old Icelandic saga, for example, was nicknamed “Long Legs,” or when one inspects old Greek gems with sculptures of graceful maidens, etc., it becomes increasingly clear that there is not really a great deal of variation, from time to time or from place to place, in concepts of feminine beauty – and standards of masculine beauty probably vary even less. Aberrations (Chinese footbinding, Japanese blackening of teeth, Amazonian lip deformation, Rubensesque ampleness, or our own recent anorexic look, whereby Botticelli’s Venus would be told to lose 20 pounds) are, perhaps, just that.
In modern American society, the insistence that beauty is just a matter of personal and cultural preferences (or obsolete evolutionary programming) probably assists the campaign that would have it that morality is also a cultural matter (and in a multicultural world, why, who’s to insist on his morality over against someone else’s?). Perhaps one could hold that, while there is indeed a Tao, an objective moral canon, still, beauty is in the eye of the beholder; but in addition to the question as to whether the evidence really supports this, there may be a biblical problem with the idea. For example, in Genesis 24, Rebekah is described as “very fair to look upon” (v. 16). Modern Christians may add the unspoken gloss according to the notion of beauty prevalent at the time and in that place, maintaining an agnostic view as to whether she “really” was beautiful. Alternatively, one may consider the possibility that Rebekah was beautiful; that anyone who beheld her either would, or should, perceive that she was beautiful. Genesis 6:1-2 seems to imply that even nonhuman intelligences perceived the (objective) beauty of women. However, if one prefers to let the topic of human beauty alone, there is still a great deal that can be said about beauty.
Encounters with new cultures usually support the idea that human beings try to make beautiful things – things that really are beautiful, not just “beautiful to them”: when Europeans saw the pagodas, etc., for the first time, didn’t these structures, for all their strangeness, appear beautiful to them? To consider, for a moment, not the matter of bodily beauty per se, but the adornment of the body: it should not be too quickly assumed that some practices that seem to contradict this idea of universal awareness of beauty, e.g. bizarre tattooing, really are merely a matter of difference of taste as regards the beautiful. People adorn themselves not only for the sake of beauty, strictly speaking, but from a sense of play, or from a desire to attract attention, etc. The patterns formed by cicatrices on a young Sudanese girl’s body may be the same sort of patterns as, say, Norwegian children like to make with pebbles; so the oddity of the African scarring is not, perhaps, precisely attributable to a difference about beauty. This probably holds for variations in traditional architecture and dress, also, allowing for variations due to climate, fabrics, etc. Granted, mankind’s fallenness is always liable to deform our sense of the beautiful, just as our consciences may become seared (in individuals and in collectives). Always there is the pull of the perverse, the urge to violate the norm.
Discernment and praise of the beautiful (without the necessity of owning it) must be cultivated.
… beauty as such is not a phenomenon and is not observable; what is observable is the material or psychic entity through which beauty is manifested in some degree and in some mode. The endless variety of its modes, in each of which it can achieve a sort of perfection that reflects its universality, bears witness to that very universality, to the fact that beauty is in its essence a principle and not an accident, independently of whether it be manifested in a flower or in a star or in a human soul. (Looking Back on Pogress, p. 96)
At the least, one must strive against the encroachment of that which encourages depraved tastes. Lewis dramatizes, in Mark’s experiences, the attractiveness of the ugly (pp. 268-9). Here are some words about the rap “music” so popular today:
It is spoken
without love of words or things … degraded and filthy … dreary and repetitive with hatred and contempt, too long removed from good to retain even verbal vigour, save in the ears of those to whom only the squalid sounds strong.
Actually, this is J. R. R. Tolkien’s description of the brutal speech of the irredeemable Orcs of Mordor, slaves of Sauron, puppets of his will, vandals defiling the beautiful and noble monuments of Gondor (The Lord of the Rings, one-volume edition, p. 1108).
To combat such stuff at home, a twofold campaign seems called for: the exclusion, as much as is practicable, of deliberate ugliness from our households, and the cultivation of alertness to the beautiful, which need not always imply the purchase of the expensive. Perhaps most people must live in modern towns and cities, about which Lord Northbourne wrote:
If a modern town were in conformity with the real needs and destiny of its inhabitants, they would love it and seek it, instead of getting out into the country or to the seaside at every available opportunity, often at the cost of great and prolonged discomfort and inconvenience. But they cannot help bringing the town out with them; the car, the radio, the newspapers, the cartons; and in doing so they gradually destroy the very thing they are seeking. That thing is in the last analysis, did they but know it, not so much natural beauty as communion with God. It is that, too, that the lover of flowers is really seeking, etc. (Looking Back on Progress, p. 103)
Similarly, John Senior, who founded the Pearson Institute at the University of Kansas – a program oriented according to the Permanent Things – commented:
Take a look at your city, suburb, town, or even factory-in-the-fields still anachronistically called farm. Ask honestly if the place has been improved since its purchase from the Indians or if you have been improved by living there. … You can move back a hundred years by a trip to rural Europe. There are still some villages left where you can see direct, visible proof that the human race can live in harmony with nature on a human scale, decently in “glad poverty,” not in destitution but with a snug, hard-working frugality where villages like necklaces and rings still ornament the hills. You can see with your own eyes that there is no inevitability in the suicide of civilization. If America had been governed by its farmers and craftsmen supplying their real needs and nothing more, as Jefferson hoped, not catering to lust and the agitated sloth which masquerades as lust, without the waterbeds and cyclotrons but obedient to the Christian religion and the rough philosophy of frontier common sense, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles would be as beautiful as Assisi, Chartres and Salamanca and its sons as strong, generous and free as cavaliers. … Go home to the ruined neighborhoods and villages of your childhood and rebuild them. (The Restoration of Christian Culture, pp. 65-66)
Lewis’s St. Anne’s household does amount to a “rebuilding” of home, coming about the only way it generally can, one household at a time. That, at least, most of us can attempt.
Hard choices may also have to be made about the design and adornment of churches and about musical programming. However, perhaps the beauty of many churches would be better enhanced by parishioners who wished to do so resuming traditional gestures such as crossing oneself, bowing at the Name of Jesus, etc. more than by new carpet. Such aesthetic cultivation, of course, is no substitute for all necessary training of the young, and disciplining of ourselves, in the moral virtues. Persons of high aesthetic sensibility, such as the British art historian Anthony Blunt, may be habitually immoral, may even be traitors. (See George Steiner’s “The Cleric of Treason,” The New Yorker 8 Dec. 1980, a piece with some pertinence as regards That Hideous Strength – note Dimble’s remark about trahison des clercs, p. 371.) But relegating matters of beauty to the margins of our lives is no protection against wickedness, either.
As for public schools and universities – it may be that the tremendous effort that would have to be expended in the effort to restore and enhance orientation to the Tao and to the beautiful, should be better directed towards alternatives such as private schools and home schools. The whole deplorable edifice of moral relativism and imperviousness to real beauty and virtue (see Appendix D-1) is entrenched by schools of teacher education and teachers’ unions, the universities’ captivity either by leftist ideology – sometimes hand-in-hand with New Age “spirituality” – or by business school vulgarity, and other influential enemies of wholesome tradition. For the fate of the outstanding Integrated Humanities Program at the University of Kansas – a program that had featured excellent teaching and good student response -- see Robert K. Carlson’s book Truth on Trial: Liberal Education Be Hanged, published in 1995 by Crisis Books. Anyone who has recently read That Hideous Strength is likely to be impressed by this exposé. Read here how “pluralism and diversity” really mean exclusion and uniformity. During the Dark Ages, the monasteries saved civilization in the West. It may be that civilization will be saved in households, churches, alternative schools, private colleges.
We may leave the issue of the education of children with these remarks by Lewis, from his little-known essay “Is Progress Possible? Willing Slaves of the Welfare State” (from an edition of God in the Dock, 1970):
I believe a man is happier, and happy in a richer way, if he has “the freeborn mind.” But I doubt whether he can have this without economic independence, which the new society is abolishing. For economic independence allows an education not controlled by Government; and in adult life it is the man who needs, and asks, nothing of Government who can criticise its acts and snap his fingers at its ideology. Read Montaigne; that’s the voice of a man with his legs under his own table, eating the mutton and turnips raised on his own land. Who will talk like that when the State is everyone’s schoolmaster and employer? Admittedly, when man was untamed, such liberty belonged only to the few. I know. Hence the horrible suspicion that our only choice is between societies with few freemen and societies with none.
…Let us make no mistake…. The Swedish sadness is only a foretaste. To live his life in his own way, to call his house his castle, to enjoy the fruits of his own labour, to educate his children as his conscience directs, to save for their prosperity after his death – these are wishes deeply ingrained in … civilised man. (Italics mine -- DN)
One gropes for a label that will not put some people off, or titillate others.
Jane’s dreams are more than a plot device. They reflect a real interest of Lewis and some of his acquaintances, hinted by Mark’s allusion on p. 130. He and his friend J. R. R. Tolkien both knew J. W. Dunne’s An Experiment with Time; one can read about a conversation Lewis had with a North American reader of Dunne who visited Lewis, in “Encounter in a Two-Bit Pub” by Daniel Morris, in the collection We Remember C. S. Lewis, ed. by David Graham. (For Tolkien’s interest, see Verlyn Flieger’s study, A Question of Time.)
Aside from the specific subject of clairvoyant dreams, “The Paranormal” suggests, e.g., mystical, visionary, or other “psychic” experiences. Readers of Lewis’s autobiography, Surprised by Joy, will recall its account of his youthful experiences of sehnsucht, of intense, “mystical” longing, which came over him from time to time, and his eventual resolution of their significance for him as a convert to Christian faith. After Lewis’s friend Charles Williams, a poet, editor, and novelist, died, Lewis had more than one unsought experience of what he believed to be Williams’s presence (see, e.g., his letter “To a Former Pupil” of 20 May 1945). In turn, the New Testament translator J. B. Phillips claimed that, after Lewis’s death, he appeared to him with some words of good counsel (The Ring of Truth, pp. 116-7). Shortly before Lewis’s death, he married an American woman who was dying of cancer and in crippling pain. It was granted to him to bear her pain for her, for a time (see Nevill Coghill’s “The Approach to English,” in Light on C. S. Lewis ed. by Jocelyn Gibb, p. 63). Lewis’s pupil and friend Alan Griffiths wrote, in the Prologue of his autobiography, The Golden String:
One day during my last term at school I walked out alone in the evening and heard the birds singing in that full chorus of song, which can only be heard at that time of year at dawn or at sunset. I remember now the shock of surprise with which the sound broke on my ears. It seemed to me that I had never heard the birds singing before and I wondered whether they sang like this all the year round and I had never noticed it. As I walked on I came upon some hawthorn trees in full bloom and again I thought that I had never seen such a sight or experienced such sweetness before. If I had been brought suddenly among the trees of the Garden of Paradise and heard a choir of angels singing I could not have been more surprised. I came then to where the sun was setting over the playing fields. A lark rose suddenly from the ground beside the tree where I was standing and poured out its song above my head, and then sank still singing to rest. Everything then grew still as the sunset faded and the veil of dusk began to cover the earth. I remember now the feeling of awe which came over me. I felt inclined to kneel on the ground, as though I had been standing in the presence of an angel; and I hardly dared to look on the face of the sky, because it seemed as though it was but a veil before the face of God. … Up to that time I had lived the life of a normal schoolboy, quite content with the world as I found it. Now I was suddenly made aware of another world of beauty and mystery such as I had never imagined to exist, except in poetry. It was as though I had begun to see and smell and hear for the first time. … The sight of a wild rose growing on a hedge, the scent of lime tree blossoms caught suddenly as I rode down a hill on a bicycle, came to me like visitations from another world.
For Lewis’s thought on mystical experience in general, see Letter XII of Letters to Malcolm – incidentally, “Malcolm” is a literary device; the letters were not written to Malcolm Muggeridge, as some people have thought. (W. H. Auden, in his introduction to the anthology edited by Anne Fremantle, The Protestant Mystics, suggests that mystical experiences may be classed according to four categories: “The Vision of Dame Kind,” which is what Griffiths experienced in the passage quoted above, an experience wherein one feels “an overwhelming conviction that the objects confronting him have a numinous significance and importance, that the existence of everything he is aware of is holy”; “The Vision of Eros,” in which one falls in love with someone, feeling for her “awe and reverence” as for a “sacred being”; “The Vision of Agape,” in which one’s feeling for one’s neighbors correlates to a sense of their “infinite value”; and “The Vision of God, “the direct encounter of a human soul with God.” Auden’s introduction is available in his Forewords and Afterwords. See also “The Beatrician Vision in Dante and Other Poets,” in Dorothy L. Sayers’s The Poetry of Search and the Poetry of Statement.)
It seems that it is not all that unusual for people to have, often without having sought them, experiences that transcend those supposedly legitimized by the materialist world-view. Interestingly, so persistent are such accounts, that they appear to be increasingly admissible for many people who in general are committed to social engineering, biotechnology, the ever-increasing presence of the State in people’s lives, etc. – that is, who on most matters line up on the “Modern” rather than the “Traditional” side (cf. Appendix A). Sometimes, facts about these things that would tend to favor Christianity are suppressed. The reader is encouraged to read the classic account of a Sioux visionary, Black Elk Speaks by John Neihardt – and Michael Steltenkamp’s fascinating revelation of the rest of the story, Black Elk: Holy Man of the Oglala, which tells how the same visionary lived for forty years beyond the conclusion of Neihardt’s book, serving as a Roman Catholic catechist among his people on the reservation, his death being marked by glorious light in the heavens! Readers of this paper who are Lutherans might be surprised to learn that Luther and his family experienced various “paranormal” episodes. For example, Luther’s wife dreamed that two splendid young men came to her, asking her daughter Magdalena’s hand in marriage, the night before Magdalena died; Melanchthon interpreted the dream as a vision of holy angels coming for the fourteen-year-old girl (Hoffman, Theology of the Heart: The Role of Mysticism in the Theology of Martin Luther, p. 56).
For readers of this paper who may be pastors, here is a question: Suppose a member of your congregation, like Jane, had a “paranormal experience.” Would she be comfortable discussing the matter with you? Would it even occur to her to do so? If not, why not? People do have the experiences. The present author’s mother, for example, a lifelong evangelical Christian, as a girl was occupied with something while one of her sisters operated a sewing machine. Accidentally the sister ran the needle into her thumb. My mother cried out from the pain, while her sister assured her that she was all right. On another occasion – and this kind of incident is surely very common – she had a sudden sense that her husband, my father, who was traveling, needed prayer. So we children and she prayed for him. Later we learned that he had – at that very time, of course – been driving in very dense fog and was in danger from semis on the highway.
The woman who formerly chaired the present author’s academic division had a grandmother who was the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter and had second sight; one morning she said: Sophronia’s going to die today; and it turned out that that person died that day. A friend and mentor (a conservative Lutheran pastor) sent this narrative:
My great-grandmother's cousin was always known as a very
intuitive person. Perhaps today people would say that she
had certain psychic abilities. But she did not cultivate
them, or anything like that. She just sensed that certain
things were going to happen, and they did, and so forth.
One day while she was in bed, in her upstairs bedroom, she
saw her grandson John appear to her. He addressed her as
"Grandma," and said that he had just been killed, but that
she should not worry or be too upset because he was going
to heaven to be with Jesus, and everything was going to be
O.K. for him. He comforted her with such words, or with
words to that effect. In her shock she screamed out, which
caused the other members of the household to run up to her
room. She told them what had happened. They surmised that
she had been asleep and dreaming, even though she protested
that this was not the case. About a half an hour later a
state police cruiser rolled into the driveway. (This was in
the days before telephones were very common, so the police
were not able to call.) He gave the family the sad news
that about half an hour earlier John had indeed been
killed, in a motorcycle accident.
This story was told to me by a woman whose late husband was
a first cousin of the man who was killed and who appeared
to their mutual grandmother.
Finally, here is an account written by a correspondent of the author’s, who confided, after the passing of some time devoted to discussing C. S. Lewis, that he had had the following remarkable experiences:
The following testimony is true. It all began in the early months of 1991 when, as a 25 year old ex-student, I was making my way home from work. It was late afternoon, and I was walking through a pleasant outdoor shopping mall in the Sydney CBD, when . . .
It happened in a sudden and unexpected instant. It was as if a blindfold suddenly fell from my eyes, and something akin to ear plugs were dislodged from my ears. Oh, the sublime, crystal clear vision! The rarefied harmony of sound that suddenly arrested my awakened sense! Before my very eyes stood the same shopping mall—only now suddenly transfigured!—or was it translated!? Now I could see a glorious celestial parade, lined this way and that with sublime, unearthly palace-like mansions. The noble folk going about their business were radiant with a glory and beauty unspeakable! They were angels! All things were suffused with an ineffably sweet, soft, and gentle celestial light—as if with a kind of resplendent (“glassy”) ethereal dew. I couldn’t help but stare, very much as a child overcome with rapture, wonder, or curiosity might stare, at the radiant countenances about me, only I could not understand how it was that many betrayed a blank, sleepy inattention and indifference—sadness in some cases—when such intoxicating joy and splendour was all about! In my naïveté I could not fathom how the angelic folk on whom this exquisite, ennobling glory rested (as if like a mantle) were the very folk that were oblivious to it.
In the days and weeks that followed I felt like a sportive little child gamboling in his father’s private paradise. The celestial light suffused everything from the vital creation down to what debris there was in the streets. Sydney was my celestial city-home, as if heaven itself were superimposed upon it. Yet this light did not merely illuminate things in the ordinary sense: it literally informed creation with (seemingly infinite) significance and meaning—as if, in a kind of self-effacing manner, nature was directing her own and man’s attention to a beauty and mystery (meaning) beyond itself. Equally remarkable was the animated life and personality to be found in those things normally deemed dead or insignificant. Indeed, the whole of the creation was in full, exultant voice, as if perpetually “chattering” away about something or other which, despite my concentrated efforts at understanding, was unintelligible to me. I felt like a new-born babe, seeing all and yet understand nothing. In this world, then, I did not see the sun as the scientist sees it—a fiery ball of combustible gasses. No indeed! For me he (the sun) was a jovial, noble, benevolent creature who, like a faithful friend, would gently wake me at his appearing, before vouchsafing me his blithe good morning. So replete with life and activity was this blissful world that one day spanned for perhaps the length of several days in our so-called “real” world.
Some months later, and still enveloped in paradisaical delight, it happened that on a particular evening I was baby-sitting a little child—four year old Jessica, the daughter of dear friends of mine in Sydney. On this particular night my gaze was somehow directed into little Jessica’s endearing, innocent, eyes. Oh! How words, even these twelve years hence, utterly fail to capture what I saw there! For, as I gazed into those limpid, liquid eyes, before I knew what had happened I found myself submerged in their sacred, infinite depths. There I was abandoned to the most indescribably sweet, intoxicating, crystalline love—so pure, and holy, and sacrosanct, that no language could ever hope to communicate it. I knew that there, in the heart of little Jessica’s eyes, I had met with Love Himself. It all happened in an ecstatic, seemingly endless moment; and I have never forgotten it since.
But this glorious world, and its concomitant joy, was beginning to fade—as if something dreadful and inscrutable were slowly eating its way into it. An inconsistency, or split personality of good and evil, began to manifest itself in the very things that at one time seemed wholly good and consistent. I began to feel as if the creation was turning on me, shunning where it once welcomed—conspiring to shut me out of its circle of blissful existence. It would be between 9-12 months from the day the glory first broke in upon me that the shutters would come down on my world again—only this time with a darkness more dreadful than before: denser, and akin to a living death. For the next 9 years I was as one cut off from the land of the living.
Those harrowing years, which (in resignation) I had all but accepted as my fleeting life’s final fate, suddenly and unexpectedly came to a head in the middle of 2001. For 3 days I knew a terror such as I have never known: it was as if death suddenly dragged me into regions of deeper, unprecedented darkness and despair—where there I stared into the face of Horror itself. But our Lord Jesus, Who conquered death for us all, chose to have mercy upon me, wretched sinner that I am, hearing my despairing, tormented cries and taking pity upon the thing that I had become. Then it was as if I was plucked from the throes of death and oblivion; and in a silent, almost inconsequential instant, I suddenly found myself in the light of day—I was alive! It was as if I’d shed, in that moment, a dreamy, shadowy, and long-forgotten 9 year existence. He has allowed me to participate in the light of life—to breathe the open air again—a gift which I cannot in a thousand lifetimes hope to recompense. I currently see things, no longer in a glorious celestial light, but simply in the light of the sun; nevertheless, I will always remember that joyous light which, though veiled from me now, continues (I believe) to illuminate all things even as I write.
And other accounts from the present author’s circle of acquaintances could be added. The present author is not a parapsychological researcher; he was first told about these things quite apart from some attempt to solicit for the paranormal. Evidently paranormal experiences are not as uncommon, or as restricted to oddballs, as is widely believed. But an article (now almost thirty years old) published in The New York Times Magazine, noted that the persons who were least likely to be told about people’s paranormal experiences were their clergy (Greeley and McCready, “Are We a Nation of Mystics?” New York Times Magazine 26 Jan. 1975). It would be sad if that were still true in the congregations of persons reading this paper. People who have had such experiences may need the counsel of faithful pastors (who may not have had such experiences themselves) to help them rightly to interpret their significance.
In That Hideous Strength, the people of St. Anne’s “wrestle” against evil spiritual beings (cf. Eph. 6:12). It would have been interesting to know what Lewis would have made of a recent book, God at War (see Appendix H).
Luther’s understanding of angelic combat was “literal” (like the Bible’s).
[…]if the good angels were not present at the courts of the emperor, the kings, and the princes, the devil would not be slow to act but would start all manner of trouble so that the rulers would clash every hour. But at times our Lord God permits great lords to be at odds, lest the devil light a fire; but the good angels are present to extinguish the fire and to make peace. But when God withdraws His angels because of our sins or for some other reason, things are in a bad way. (Plass, ed. What Luther Says, #67, p. 25)
Hoffman’s Theology of the Heart contains a chapter on the holy angels and on the wicked angels. Luther objected to the Roman idea of angels and saints as mediators between the sinner and Christ, since Christ Himself is the divinely-appointed mediator between God and man (p. 34). But he had a very lively sense of the importance of angels as protectors (p. 35). The holy angels “are acting,” Hoffman says, summarizing Luther, “as sub-leaders in invisible realms and, as such, are indispensable for the management of the visible realm in which we move” (p. 36). Luther had no doubt that evil angels manifest themselves sometimes; his own experience included seeing a mysterious black sow, etc. He understood Eph. 6:12-13 and Col. 2:15 to be “statements about dark forces outside human life” (p. 41).
The Four Loves
As we prepare to leave the St. Anne’s household, we should remember that it is characterized by love. One of Lewis’s last books was The Four Loves, in which, with much wisdom (and with many passages that illuminate That Hideous Strength) he expounded the Greek “Four Loves” along these lines:
Storge is affection, such as parents have for their little children, or pet owners for a beloved dog or cat. This love gives a sense of comfort and security in daily life. In the world of literature, treatments of storge might include books that children love about dogs, such as Jim Kjelgaard’s Big Red, and horses, such as Anna Sewell’s Black Beauty. Philia is true friendship. This love is not the passing companionship of people who hang out together, but a deep loyalty and esteem that can last a lifetime. Philia may contribute much of the interest of life to those who love in this way. Many war movies celebrate the faithfulness of buddies who “go through hell” with and for one another. The Bible tells of the friendship of David and Jonathan. Eros is passionate love of man for woman or woman for man. Despite the coy usage of “erotic” for movies and books that are pornography, eros is something other than the passing lust that wants use of someone’s body for a few moments, but is not really interested in the person herself or himself. Eros passionately aspires to union with the beloved person – emotional as well as physical. This love is depicted in the Bible in the Song of Songs. Non-biblical literary examples are abundant; a good one is Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, which chronicles the growth of plain Jane’s love for Mr. Rochester, and his for her, right up to the triumphant moment when Jane tells us: “Reader, I married him.” When not bridled by conscience and subordinate to Charity, eros becomes imperious in its demands, propelling lovers towards a “union” in death, as in Wagner’s opera about Tristan and Isolde. Agape is Charity or self-giving love. While the other loves have a strong element of need, it’s of the essence of agape to give. Christ’s parable of the Good Samaritan, who crossed ethnic boundaries to assist an injured man who had nothing to give him in return, is an example of agape in action. The Samaritan probably wasn’t even aware that he loved his neighbor; he just saw the man’s need and took care of him, administering “first aid” and paying the man’s inn bill while he recuperated. Dante taught that the other loves need an element of agape so that they do not become destructive and selfish: “Set love in order,” he wrote.
Readers of That Hideous Strength will have no difficulty in relating each of the four loves to persons and situations in the novel. We may pause over the unobtrusive subplot about Ivy Maggs and her husband, who has been imprisoned for petty theft. He is the object, not of pity, but of love and compassion. A recent essay by Michael Knox Beran, “Conservative Compassion Vs. Liberal Pity,” in the Summer 2003 City Journal, discusses the distinction with real insight. It is available online:
Beran’s article readily connects with the agape that embraces Tom Maggs.
The St. Anne’s household inspires readers to reconsider their own households. Perhaps we will too readily assume we can emulate it if we try a little. When we examine ourselves in the light of God’s Law, we see (a little) the disorder and failure of our lives. And yet it is even such sinners as ourselves who, trusting in Christ for the forgiveness they never in this life cease to need, are told: “Ye are the light of the world. A city [a household?] that is set on an hill cannot be hid” (Matt. 5:14); Christians are to “be blameless and harmless, the sons of God … in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:15). Father Herman, mentioned earlier, said, towards the conclusion of his interview, “My view is that the darker the night, the brighter the stars. I feel that now is a time when society has become so dark… that this genuineness shines brighter – and people get it.” Whether they do, at last, “get it” or not is beyond us to bring about, but not only is life adapting the principles of St. Anne’s beneficial for us, it will also benefit our neighbor.
Postscript: A suitable place to mention Lars Walker’s recent novel Wolf Time didn’t appear in this paper; but anyone who enjoyed That Hideous Strength and desires something of similar character should give Walker’s novel a try. The author’s day job is with the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations in Minneapolis. He tells an exciting tale. I can vouch for the keenness of some of his satire of modern American academe. When I read the novel for the first time, I was astonished to find his pathetic college president use the exact expression – “Perception is reality” – that my own university’s president (at that time) had used at a meeting of faculty some months previously.
*(p. 6) I haven’t traced the quotation. If it isn’t by Lewis himself, it might be by the Victorian poet and essayist Coventry Patmore, whom Lewis read with approval. See my paper “Lewis and The Angel in the House.” CSL: The Bulletin of the New York C. S. Lewis Society vol. 33 #3&4: 12-16, and Lewis’s letter to Owen Barfield, dated 10 June 1930.
**(p. 20) In That Hideous Strength, Jane, who is beautiful, admires Camilla Denniston’s beauty, which is “not of [her] own type” (p. 63). It’s obvious that Lewis would hold that no one in his right mind would deny that both women are beautiful. Similarly, the “range” of the Beautiful accommodates a range of bodily movements and dispositions -- the stillness of the reposing figure in Leighton’s painting Flaming June, the simultaneously worshipful and receptive orans posture that ancient Christians used in prayer, the astonishing vigor and gracefulness of Alina Cojocaru as Clara in a recent production of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, and innumerable others, many of them fleeting. (Worth reading is “The Body’s Possibilities” by Alicia Mosier, in First Things Feb. 2002.) Again, no one body can embody the entire range of possible beauties: one cannot simultaneously have the limpid loveliness of pale blue eyes and the warm and magnetic beauty of what poets call “black” eyes. A sky cannot simultaneously possess the heraldic splendor of a cloudless Aegean noontide and the ethereal remoteness of certain sunsets. To move from beauty perceived through the eye to that of the ear: distant birdsong is beautiful; profound chords on the organ may be beautiful. But this variety of beautiful appearances doesn’t mean that beauty is simply in the eye (or ear) of the beholder. Fairy Hardcastle is beautiful neither in form nor movement (though she might become just homely if she repented and changed her way of dressing and her manner); and a sky fouled by yellow smog, and the sound of a pneumatic hammer breaking up concrete, are not beautiful. One recalls Tolstoy’s oft-quoted remark: “I am an aristocrat because I cannot believe in the lofty intellect, the fine taste, or the complete honesty of a man who picks his nose and whose soul communicates with God." Perhaps I seem to labor the obvious; but I’m sure there are moderns who would maintain that one cannot speak of the beautiful as a true category of reality; again, they would maintain that “the beautiful” (carefully placed in quotation marks) is just a cultural construct, or an evolutionary vestige, etc. Some wiseacre modern would be capable of saying, “The sound of the pneumatic hammer busting up concrete could beautiful to the city manager who is overseeing an urban renewal project.” But the racket is not beautiful.
The beautiful is indeed a category of reality, and even one that is prior to creation itself, because it is an attribute of God. The reference of Psalm 27:4 to the “fair beauty of the Lord,” which provided the title for a chapter in Lewis’s Reflections on the Psalms, is not the only reference to God’s beauty that recourse to a concordance will yield.
It’s beyond the author’s expertise to expound the relevance, for the discussion of beauty, of the Fibonacci sequence, the Golden Section, etc., recognized by ancient and medieval thinkers.
Perennial Tradition and Modern Outlook
taboo free inquiry
symbolism, reductionism, skepticism,
polysemous significance nihilism, pragmatism
reverence for personal liberation
creation or evolution produced by chance +
emanation from time + "laws of nature"
Truth different "values systems”
sin, defilement crime, emotional trauma
sacred or profane fashionable or unfashionable
craft, trade career
the Golden Age progress to One World
Logos/Tao/Reason/ Universe explicable, in
Divine Mind irradiates principle, by the "laws of
or undergirds all that is nature"--Unified Field Theory
mind, reason brain, I. Q.
revelation from new questions as our tools
above become more refined and we accumulate more data
plenitude of being based a vast universe that knows and
upon the purpose of the cares nothing for us
Creator or upon Fate
microcosm, macrocosm: We cannot know reality as it
human being and/or this is; we just create"models"
world reflects higher that have predictive value
virtue force (gravity, magnetism, etc.)
afterlife "a better life"
apprenticed to a master courses leading to certification, taught by certified teachers reviewed by certification boards
custom, elders law books,lawyers,paralegals,
"family services," judges
moral laws that have divine sanction personal autonomy
mystery – truths that can be mystery – problems that we can solve by
contemplated, but never fully application of scientific method, e.g. the
comprehended (Job 38:4) matter mystery how to cure various diseases
immensely: the Mystery of the Holy
personal discipline Ritalin
The Four Laws of American Nomenclature
“In those days… every man did that which was right in his own eyes”
Many names below are from the Fargo Forum newspaper, 2003.
1.Parents are more conservative about names for boys than about names for girls
Matthew, Simon, Ethan, Mark, Tyler and so on persist, while bizarre appellations such as Phallyn, Lexus, Brooklyn are inflicted on girls.
It is not unusual for names previously associated with males to become, with or without tinkering, names for females, but less common for previously female names to become male names. “A boy named Sue” was a crazy enough notion for a popular song some years ago, but “A girl named Jordan” would hardly raise an eyebrow.
Parents give girls what had been last names, e.g. Taylor, much more often than they do this to boys.
Girls’ names become very fashionable and then unfashionable more than boys’ names do. Without doubt, the once extremely popular Nicole is on the way out. Ashley and Kimberly are becoming as rare for babies as the once ubiquitous Debbie.
2.The appearance of fanciful spellings is a sign of diminished confidence in popular names.
It was originally felt that Madison was a new name for girls that suggested brightness, cuteness, spunk, etc. (Perhaps some parents considered it a combination of Madeleine and Alison, Alison having been a name with its moment in the sun.) More recent variations, such as Madysen or Madisyn, betray the parents’ loss of confidence that the now common Madison conveys these qualities. Abbigail may be replacing Abigail for similar reasons. Raegan succeeds Regan.
If names were investments, as in a sense they are, the appearance of these variations would be a sure indication that investors should sell their shares now, before the value plummets even further.
One may keep one’s eyes open for some variant of Paige to appear soon, since this name has become so common – perhaps Payge? The letter y, displacing a vowel, is a first resort of parents anxious about encroaching ordinariness.
3.The higher the socioeconomic bracket, the more frequent the use of hardy perennial names.
John and Elizabeth are more likely to have prosperous parents than Bradyn (a boy) or Bryer (a girl).
4.Among Protestants, the frequency of use of biblical names correlates inversely to confidence in society.
During the 1950s, when the gap between what were understood to be biblical standards, on the one hand, and the American mainstream, on the other, was felt to be less wide than now, parents often chose nonbiblical names: Dale, Linda, Doris, Kevin, Laurie, Pamela, etc. (Some names, e.g. David, Deborah, could be found in the Bible but didn’t immediately suggest the Scriptures.) The much greater popularity today of names taken from the Old and New Testaments, including some that had been common once but had fallen out of favor, reflects the parents’ desire to connect their families with something more wholesome than modern society: Rebekah (not Rebecca, Becky), Isaac, Joshua, Josiah, Nathaniel, Rachel, Jedidiah, Luke, etc. Of course, no one wants to be too in-your-face about their convictions, so no one’s taking Habbakuk, Onesiphorus, etc. into their families.
A Community Reading Group
(What’s in view here is a group dedicated to acknowledged literary classics – the kind of book that many people mean to “get around to” reading but never manage to read. A great many of these works bring readers into contact with wholesome moral and aesthetic qualities. They are a good alternative to the reading of currently popular material. See below in this appendix, however, for some thoughts about the formation of an “Inklings” group.)
1.A community reading group may, on the side, prove to be preparatio evangelica, as qualities in the readings, and issues arising from discussion, encourage reflection on the challenge of ethical living, questions of man’s state, the existence of God, and even about specifically Christian doctrine. But the object of the group is enjoyment of good books, not the propagation of the Gospel. It is a group of readers who find that meeting as a group helps them to stick with the reading, provides enjoyment, etc. Group leaders need to be clear about this.
2.Everyone should know at the outset that the group exists for the purpose of reading classic literature – even pre-20th-century literature, so as to head off pressure that might arise to read current books a la the Oprah club. One can generally assume that pre-20th-century, Western literature, while often not fully, truly Christian, retains connection with the Tao – has a fairly high degree of ethical wholesomeness, respect for decency, etc.
3.However, it may be well to be more specific than that, and to commit the group, at the outset, to certain authors as undoubted classics, e.g. Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Scott, Alessandro Manzoni, Dickens, the Brontë sisters, Elizabeth Gaskell, et al. That is, one could draw up a list of 20 or more books or authors and suggest the group stick with these, at least for the next few years.
4.Meet twice a year for about eight weeks at a time. This should suffice for two long novels, or for a choice such as Dante’s Divine Comedy plus a shortish novel.
5.Assure everyone that sessions will run an hour, or 75 minutes, and will begin on time. At the end of the designated session, the leader should indicate what the reading for next week is to be. At this point, anyone wishing to leave would be comfortable doing so, while, if it is desired, informal discussion may continue, social chat, etc.
6.The reading schedule should be distributed to interested persons before the first session, if possible. For the typical classic novel, something like a hundred pages a week may be appropriate. When one reading group read the Divine Comedy, the sessions tackled about seven cantos a week.
7.Ahead of time, suggest that biographical and critical aids not be used, as a rule. (It may be appropriate to use them in an “Inklings” group – see below.) You want to avoid a situation in which one person is always the eager beaver who has dug up some critic’s take on the book and is ready to summarize that. Speculation about the author’s life is to be gently discouraged. Some recourse to historical sources may be useful, though; if the discussion leader has some historical knowledge, he or she may be surprised by the assumptions about history made quite confidently by some group members, e.g. about the status of women before the 20th century, the Inquisition, etc. Quite simplistic views of the past (to its discredit over against approval of our own time) are likely to be expressed by some participants. The reading of old books helps to show that the past is more interesting, and more complex, than such views.
8.The host/hostess (discussion leader) should have a few questions prepared to start the conversation and to energize it if it slumps.
9.The sessions should not be held in a church but in homes or other neutral territory.
An alternative type of reading group may be desired, an “Inklings” group that would be dedicated to the writings of Lewis, Tolkien, and their associates. The current immense popularity of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings can work in favor of such a group. Some adjustment of the above suggestions may be appropriate. In case they would be useful, two items follow – a study guide for The Abolition of Man, and an article about one of the Inklings, Owen Barfield, a long-time friend of C. S. Lewis’s, many of whose writings have interesting things to say, but who departs remarkably from orthodox Christianity in places.
A Study Guide for C. S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man
Page references are to the 1996 Touchstone/Simon & Schuster paperback edition.
In his preface to That Hideous Strength, Lewis says the novel has a serious point that he has tried to make in this brief book, The Abolition of Man. The novel is a work of fantasy or science fiction, while Abolition is a short philosophical work about moral education, but as we shall see the two go together; we will understand either book better by having read and thought about the other. Notes 3, 17, and 25 below provide overviews of each chapter in turn, while the other notes help with specific points.
The context of Lewis’s book is British education in the 1940s, so some of his expressions will need explanation.
1. Title page. The “upper forms of schools” would be what Americans call the upper grades.
2. The epigraph is from the ancient Chinese teacher Confucius (K’ung Fu’tzu). One of Lewis’s chief points will be that moral education, with the same basic content, is found all over the world and at different times. The last thing in the world Lewis is trying to do, is to “impose his values.” The moral code is not the invention or property of any one person or movement or even civilization. It is objective. Because it is found everywhere, Lewis can turn to ancient Chinese authorities such as Confucius and Lao Tzu, or to authorities from many other places and times; they all teach the same basic traditional code of morals. This traditional morality has often been called the Natural Law in Western philosophy.
3. Chapter One. All civilizations have agreed: education ought to nurture in the child a love of the good; admiration of the excellent and beautiful; faithfulness to the truth; and also children should be taught to disapprove of the false, the shoddy, the unworthy. The aim of true education is not only that children learn to spell and calculate and become physically strong. It is, above all, that young people should become courageous, generous, steady, and capable of discrimination in a good sense, that is, able to judge what is more worthy and what is less worthy of the esteem of a mature human being.
However, Lewis discusses the error of modern educators who teach that “values” are nothing but expressions of feeling. These educators perhaps intend only to “debunk” advertisements and bad political appeals, but when they say statements of value are nothing but statements of preference or dislike, they plant damaging seeds in children. Children who absorb their philosophy will disbelieve in the natural law itself.
4. (p. 17) By “elementary text-books” Lewis doesn’t mean books that would be used in what Americans call elementary school, but basic high school level books.
5. (p. 19) pons asinorum: Latin, “bridge of asses,” referring to a basic geometric theorem difficult for beginners.
“The schoolboy who reads…”: Lewis summarizes his concern so far. The young person is led to believe that statements of value, of the quality of something, are “only subjective” and not important.
6. (p. 21) Gaius and Titius should “stick to their last”: i.e. stick to their proper job (from the expression, “Shoemaker, stick to your last” – the last is a model of the human foot, made of wood or metal. Marathon is a plain in southeast Greece, where the Athenians defeated the Persian invaders in 490 BC. Iona is a remote island west of Scotland, where Irish monks kept the Christian faith despite many hazards. Samuel Johnson meant that seeing these famous sites, scenes of the greatest human dedication, should inspire a good person to greater love of his own country and religious faith.
7. (p. 22) Margate is a popular resort for Londoners and other English people.
8. (p. 23) True education is concerned with the imagination and the heart, not just being clever and getting along, and not just learning new skills (information processing skills, problem-solving skills, etc.).
9. (p. 24) Ruksh, Sleipnir, etc.: majestic or lovable animals of literature. The discussion of secundum litteram expressions refers to expressions that are not literally true. Lewis criticizes Orbilius for not explaining to young people when it is appropriate to use expressions that are not literally true and when it is not.
10. (p. 25) Lewis warns that Orbilius’s way of “debunking” statements about animals that are not literally true, is likely to promote neglect or mistreatment of animals. Young people will be less compassionate and fond of animals, Lewis believes, because Orbilius presents them as really nothing but brutes. Incidentally, Lewis was opposed to vivisection, medical experiments on living animals, and wrote a paper attacking the practice. He could not find a publisher for it in England and it was published in Australia instead.
11. (p. 26) Lewis continues to object that modern educators such as Gaius are not even doing their jobs. Just as we don’t want our dentist’s obiter dicta (passing remarks, opinions) when we go to get dental work, we don’t want educators to indoctrinate our children with inferior philosophy when they should be teaching them grammar and rhetoric. Bimetallism refers to the use of two metals, such as silver and gold, with a fixed relative value, as the basis for a stable currency, and the Baconian theory holds that the plays attributed to Shakespeare were written by someone else.
Don’t misunderstand Lewis: he is not saying educators should not teach philosophy. He’s saying (1) they should teach grammar and rhetoric when that’s the job at hand, rather than teaching philosophy at that time or in that place; (2) he opposes the modern skeptical/subjectivist philosophy.
12. (p. 27) A key point: to prevent young people from being misled by propaganda, they need to be led to think clearly and to love what is good, rather than being trained to become know-it-alls who believe in nothing.
13. (pp. 27ff) “Until quite modern times…”: this passage is essential. Lewis proceeds, basically in reverse chronological order, to show that authorities from different times and places all agree that recognition and esteem of the truly good, the really true and the genuinely beautiful is fundamental for happy and human living. The “Tao,” the unanimous moral code, the “doctrine of objective value,” the Natural Law, is not the private property of an individual, group, or civilization, but common to all, and permanent and real.
14. (p. 32) The modern educators, Lewis says, give the young person two worlds with no real connection: the world of plain facts (which they probably would think is things that can be measured, the quantitative) and the world of mere feelings.
15. (pp. 33-4) Lewis says that the old Latin phrase dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, “It is a sweet and appropriate thing to die for one’s country,” is an example of the kind of statement that people with modern educations will “see through.” They will have no love of their country.
16. (pp. 35-6) Lewis refers to a traditional “model” of human nature. The head is the “seat” of Reason or the intellect; the chest is the seat of the heart, where noble sentiments should be cultivated; the belly is the seat of the appetites for food, sex, physical exercise, etc. A well-educated person is not a clever “thinking machine” on the one hand, or a creature pursuing thrills on the other. He or she is knowledgeable, yes, and can have appetitive experiences in their time and place (for example, sexual activity within marriage); but the well-educated person is a whole person. A healthy society can’t manage without such people.
17. Chapter Two. If children don’t believe in the Natural Law, in moral absolutes, in ought and ought not -- then humane society will not survive – unless maybe the educators can find some other basis for ethical behavior. Lewis considers two such bases. (1) They can say that certain kinds of behavior are “useful” to society and others are not, and so, on this factual basis, try to build an ethical system. But this will not work because anyone can ask, “Why ought I be the one who has to deny himself something for the sake of others?” The educators cannot logically say, “You ought to because…,” since they have already ruled out the Natural Law, which is the sole source of such imperative statements as “One ought to be willing to lay down one’s life to defend one’s country,” etc. (2) The educators can say that “instinct” (whatever that is) could be the basis for ethical behavior. This will not work, either, because we have many instincts and they conflict with one another – plus, it is questionable whether there really is an instinct to protect and preserve one’s society.
You can’t base ethical behavior on something other than the moral absolutes, and the moral absolutes cannot be “proven” by appeals to usefulness or instinct/biology. Rather, they must be accepted as self-evident to any rational person – a rational person by definition is someone who recognizes the moral absolutes. The moral absolutes are givens – starting-points for any discussion of what a person or a society should do.
Those who come up with “new moralities” are really just taking something from the Natural Law and giving it special privileges over against other elements of the Natural Law. People who do this are doing something very bad, trying to use one element of the Tao against another. (Example: people sometimes claim it is right for them to steal from the companies that employ them because they themselves need the money and the companies can afford it. Their “moral” claim is, “Those who have much have an obligation to those who have little. The company ought to share its wealth with those who work for it and make its success possible, especially when they are needy.” But this argument, based on the duty of benevolence, disregards another element of the Tao, namely “Thou shalt not steal.”)
Development within the Tao is possible, though.* It certainly is not common. Lewis gives just one example, the development from Confucius’s “Do not do to someone else what you would not want done to you,” to Jesus’ “Show to others the same compassion you would want shown to yourself.
18. (p. 41) According to an email I received from Eric Gossett via a Lewis discussion list: The quotation is from the Iliad 17:646-7, when Ajax asks Zeus to remove the mist that kept full-fledged slaughter from being carried out “in shining daylight destroy us” – citing the Lattimore translation.
19. (p. 43) The modern educators follow a double standard: the values of those they disagree with should be attacked, but not their own.
20. (p. 51) Olaf Stapledon was a famous science fiction writer.
21. (p. 52) cuor gentil: a noble heart. Humani nihil…: nothing human is foreign/strange/not understandable to me. Please do as the footnote asks and review the Appendix. It demonstrates the unanimity of various cultures in asserting the duties of individuals to all people, particularly to members of one’s own family and to small children and the aged (I -IV); it gives examples of statements requiring honesty, moral sexual behavior, and fairness (V-VI); it collects statements requiring compassion, self-discipline, and giving of oneself, even one’s life, for others (VII-VIII). VIIIC shows that wisdom and integrity are valued more than life itself.
22. (p. 53) A rational person accepts the great moral platitudes because he or she believes or has learned that they are self-evidently true. Until one recognizes them as self-evidently true, one cannot be considered a truly rational person.
23. (p. 57) An example of a “Nietzschean” attitude would be the T-shirt slogan, “Winning isn’t the main thing, it’s the only thing” (winning even by being ruthless, breaking rules if one can get away with it, etc.). Opposed to this attitude is the code of sportsmanship, where the Tao is applied specifically to the domain of athletic competition.
24. (p. 60) A theist is someone who believes in one God or many gods. Jews, Christians, Moslems, Hindus, Zoroastrians, etc. are theists.
25. Chapter Three. Lewis gave the traditional picture of a whole human being earlier (pp. 35-36). Traditional educators throughout the ages recognized that the great moral absolutes have authority over the educators themselves as well as over children -- everyone ought to be guided by the Tao. Lewis argued that modern educators who reject the Tao cannot promote the growth of children to become whole persons. In this final chapter, he considers the kind of human being that is likely to be molded, in the future, by the successors of today’s debunking educators -- powerful State technocrats/”scientific planners”/social engineers/Conditioners who have rejected Natural Law. He will also prophesy about the kind of beings the Conditioners themselves will become.
The few humans who are lucky enough to be technocrats will efface the Natural Law from education and will condition humans, by means ranging from propaganda to genetic engineering. In so doing they will change human nature itself. The resulting people (the vast majority) will not be human in the traditional sense; they will be putty in the hands of the Conditioners.
What will guide the Conditioners as they manipulate the human putty? “When all that says ‘it is good’ has been debunked, what says ‘I want’ remains.” They can be guided only by whatever irrational impulse is most powerful at the moment – by whatever pleases them. They too have lost their humanity. As the many are slaves of the Conditioners, the Conditioners are slaves of irrational nature – their appetites and emotions.
[Jim Laney, director of instructional technology at Taipei American School in Taiwan, refers to Technopoly by Neil Postman (1993) as showing that the “conditioners” of today, and American society itself, have “moved to a point where technology (medical, communications, computer, etc.) displaces values and has become the ultimate arbiter of right and wrong. We don’t trust the doctor until technology (CAT scans, etc.) has had its say. … we have become slaves to our technology.]
The hellish situation prophesied in The Abolition of Man (and That Hideous Strength) comes about, Lewis says, because the quest for ever more power has succeeded, while the virtues that would protect us from the misuse of that power have been “explained away” as subjective illusions. The quest for power goes back to the Renaissance, when modern science took off with the same propellant – the quest for sheer power – that also fueled the explosion of Renaissance magic. The “magician’s bargain” does indeed prove to mean the ruin of the soul.
The chapter concludes, however, with speculation about a hopeful possibility. Instead of seeing all of nature, including human nature, as material to be dominated and exploited, what if modern science could be united with the old ideal of wisdom – the ancient quest to “conform the soul to reality” by knowledge of, and obedience to, the great moral absolutes? What if the investigation of nature could include the sensitivity that Lewis mentioned at the beginning – a sensitivity that recognizes that the waterfall is beautiful and that its splendor will make a properly-educated observer feel humble and eager to praise it? Modern science has made tremendous gains in factual knowledge by focusing on the aspects of things that can be measured – that are quantifiable. What if combined with this method was a firm ethical sensitivity, and a wholesomely-nurtured imagination, that would also perceive the qualities of things? That, Lewis concludes, is what we desperately need.
26. (p. 66) wireless: radio.
27. (p. 71) The National Institute of Co-ordinated Experiments, in Lewis’s novel That Hideous Strength, is this type of near-future enterprise.
28. (p. 73) factitious: contrived, artificial.
29. (p. 74) sic volo, sic jubeo: Thus I wish, (so) thus I command.
30. (p. 78) Scientific knowledge has progressed by treating more and more things as just natural objects to be analyzed, dissected, exploited at will. “I remember that my high-school biology text dealt with the human body by listing its constituent elements, measuring their quantities, and giving their monetary worth – at that time a little less than a dollar. That was a bit of the typical fodder of the modern mind, at once sensational and belittling – no accidental product of the age of Dachau and Hiroshima” (Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America, p. 101; my italics.)
Lewis suggests that primordial human beings sensed that nature was alive and meaningful. Ancient myths reflect that awareness in story form. He could have added that religions teach that nature does not really belong to humans, to do as they wish with it. “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof” (Psalm 24:1). “Grandfather, Great Spirit… everything has been made by you” (Oglala Sioux: Black Elk Speaks, p. 5).
I recommend The Silence of Angels by Dale C. Allison, especially the first few chapters, on how the experience of nature (e.g. the starry night sky) disposes the soul to become aware of the holy.
31. (p. 82) inter alia: among other things.
32. (p. 84) Renaissance scientist Francis Bacon wrote of nature as something to be tortured to force it to yield its secrets. Dr. Faustus was a magician, in Renaissance legend.
33. (p. 85) Goethe, Steiner – here Lewis is certainly thinking of conversations with his friend, the late Owen Barfield, who studied these men’s writings. I’d recommend Barfield’s “The Rediscovery of Meaning” in the book of that title, or History, Guilt, and Habit as first items to try. A tougher book, but rewarding, is his Saving the Appearances. Many of his writings point towards the antidote for the poison of reductionism (“only,” “merely,” “nothing but”). Some other works pertinent to this topic include Foolishness to the Greeks by Lesslie Newbigin, Discerning the Mystery by Andrew Louth, and others.
*I think Lewis would see in some, but not all, versions of today’s greater ecological concern a legitimate “development” of the duty to one’s children (and children’s children) and of the love we ought to have for the beautiful (here including the beauty of the fabulously rich and varied world of nature, which we did not create). Indeed, you will find a strong concern for nature in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength! However, he would certainly oppose extremists who say that it is “speciesism” to value human life more than animal and plant life. The Tao always shows that the value of human life is obviously higher than that of animals and plants: “an eye for an eye” in traditional morality refers to the eyes of humans; I am liable to a severe punishment if I maliciously injure or kill another human being, while if I injure a dog I am not punished as severely. However, traditional codes and stories show that I should be punished in an appropriate degree if I maliciously hurt an animal -- for example by being fined, etc.
[Originally published in Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity.]
Legacy of the Second Friend
Owen Barfield: Man and Meaning. Documentary video produced by G. B. Tennyson for OwenArts Productions. Approx. 40 min. VHS, 1996. Available from OwenArts, P. O. Box 260038, Encino, CA 91426. $43.00. (Includes transcript booklet.)
Many people who look into the writings of Owen Barfield, who died in December 1997 at the age of 99, are C. S. Lewis admirers who are curious about this man who was Lewis’s close friend throughout his adult life, from 1919 till Lewis’s death in 1963. Barfield was Lewis’s legal and financial advisor, and became an executor of his estate. Lewis dedicated his first scholarly book, The Allegory of Love (1936) to this “wisest and best of my unofficial teachers,” stating in its preface that he asked no more than to disseminate Barfield’s literary theory and practice, and dedicated the first Narnian chronicle to his friend’s adopted daughter Lucy. In his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, Lewis portrayed Arthur Greeves as the First Friend, who reveals that one is not alone in the world in one’s imaginative outlook, and Barfield as the Second Friend, the one who never fails to challenge one and prod one to new understanding. In the thirteenth and fourteenth of the Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer, Lewis draws on a recent book of Barfield’s to elucidate the “ontological continuity between Creator and creature” versus the “union of wills which, under Grace, is reached by a life of sanctity.”
Several unacknowledged traces of Barfield’s ideas may be found in Lewis’s writings; their Barfieldian quality will be evident to anyone who has read him. In 1930, writing a pseudo-scholarly commentary on J. R. R. Tolkien’s draft poem The Lay of Leithian, Lewis offered a supposed poetic fragment dealing with the same tale as Tolkien’s; but Lewis imports into this fragment an imaginative version of Barfield’s speculation about the primordial relationship of man and nature. Dreams “had bodies then,” and “were not cooped within. / Thought cast a shadow…. / For spirit then / Kneaded a fluid world and dreamed it new each moment.” (See the Appendix to Tolkien’s The Lay of Leithian, edited by Christopher Tolkien, 1985.) Verlyn Flieger’s Splintered Light discusses the Barfieldian traces in Tolkien.
Another sign of Barfield’s thought in Lewis appears in the third lecture of The Abolition of Man (1947), where Lewis suggests that “Dr. Steiner” – meaning Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Anthroposophy, which Barfield embraced as a young man – may have found the way to a redeemed scientific method that does not omit the qualities of the observed object. And when Barfield in a 1992 interview says that dryads, naiads, and such beings really existed, though they may have been “’driven out’” in recent history, this may remind one of Dr. Dimble in Lewis’s That Hideous Strength (1945), who discusses with his wife “’the gods, elves, dwarfs, water-people’” and long-livers of myth and folklore – beings with whom the revived Merlin has had much traffic, traffic that may have been permissible once, but not now (with a hint of Galatians 4:3,9).
More importantly for Lewis, Barfield taught him not to view earlier ages with disdain from the vantage point of our supposedly more knowing and more humane era. He learned from Barfield that our time is “a period” with its own limitations and errors. (It may be hard for some of us to conceive of this insight as something Lewis had to learn, rather than as something he was born knowing, so integral a part of his thought it is!) Where Lewis and Barfield could not agree, as in their “Great War” debate on the imagination (1925-27), their disputations at least provided Lewis with an opponent worthy of his mettle.
Owen Barfield is associated in readers’ minds with Lewis also because he wrote about Lewis in many places. The 1989 compilation by G. B. Tennyson, Owen Barfield on C. S. Lewis, handily places this material between boards. Furthermore, numerous scholars and other inquirers seeking information about Lewis found Barfield a patient and helpful source, as a glance at the acknowledgements in various books and papers will show.
Owen Barfield: Man and Meaning does not pass over the Lewis friendship, but reminds us that there was more to Barfield’s long life. The video and accompanying booklet sketch provide a general chronology, from a North London childhood, service in Belgium during the First World War, the dull years in the law office, and the late burst of activity as writer and lecturer, at an age when many people have retired. The solicitor’s office years are memorialized with wry humor in This Ever Diverse Pair, the pair being the two halves of Barfield himself embodied as the prosaic Burden and the imaginative Burgeon. Lewis called the book a “high and sharp philosophic comedy,” though it is one of Barfield’s least-known works. The years of lecturing at Brandeis, Drew, SUNY-Stony Brook and other North American universities were the occasion of some incisive essays. Still photographs from family albums complement the footage of Barfield being interviewed for the camera. It is no criticism of Barfield or the video’s producers to say that we are given little about his marriage; there is a hint that it may, like Tolkien’s, have had its difficulties.
Barfield’s thought is always characterized by the conviction that the humanities matter very much indeed, for all of us, not only professional academics. Poetic Diction, along with Lewis’s Experiment in Criticism and Tolkien’s “On Fairy-Stories,” will reward anyone needing assurance of the value of literary experience. Poetry, Barfield shows, can provide a “felt change of consciousness” – experiencing a single line of poetry, one may from that moment know more, though what is known is not a matter of “fact.” Poetic Diction (1928), dedicated to Lewis, is Barfield’s most extended treatment of this insight. In Speaker’s Meaning (1967), he expounds the “polarity” in language, with expression – a speaker’s unique meaning – as one pole, the other being communication, lexical meaning. The first is expansive, the second contractive, and metaphor comes into being in the tension between the two poles. Speaker’s Meaning presents a favorite theme of Barfield’s, the evolution of consciousness; Barfield finds evidence of it in the change from the earlier experience of poetic inspiration as something that is visited upon a passive poet from without, as the work of a Muse or other agency, to the experience of poetic inspiration characteristic of the present, as proceeding from within oneself, from one’s own “shaping spirit of imagination.” Poetic Diction and Speaker’s Meaning complement each other by dealing with the nature of literary experience for the reader and for the poet. History in English Words (1926) early showed what U. Milo Kaufmann called Barfield’s unusual combination of idealism and empiricism.
Barfield’s major work on the evolution of consciousness, Saving the Appearances (1957), is the one of all his books that he most hoped would continue to be read. In the video, Barfield says that his lifework has basically been “thinking about thinking,” and this is the book wherein he endeavors to show the conclusion that he has drawn: that the relationship between consciousness and nature itself – a correlative relationship -- has changed from the most ancient times to our own. Declining to affirm this idea as sober truth, Lewis was, at least, fascinated by it as an imaginative conceit, as suggested above.
Modern Western people have tended to perceive themselves and what is habitually called “our environment” as an array of discrete objects set in the midst of space, conceived of as “a mindless, wisdomless, lifeless void,” mankind being very separate individuals whose thinking and feeling occurs “inside” our skulls. However, the reader of Barfield may recall that, in biblical times, the seat of consciousness was felt to be the heart (Genesis 17:17, 1 Kings 3:12, Psalm 45:1, etc.), or the viscera (Genesis 43:30, 1 Kings 3:26, Colossians 3:12), or both (Psalm 26:2); Barfield gives us reason to doubt that these examples, which for us are merely metaphors, were “just metaphors” then. We may be reading anachronistically if we do not read these examples, and the many others like them, “literally.”
Barfield shows that the consciousness of primordial and even medieval man was not nearly so sharply differentiated from nature as is ours. This idea could help to explain the much more extended sense of identity that seems once to have been felt between members of families and, indeed, tribes. Barfield may make it easier to understand the corporate guilt and punishment of Deuteronomy 5:9, or the destruction Achan’s clan (Joshua 7 and 22:20). Reaching farther back in biblical narrative, a now contracted psychic bond between man and the lesser creation may be implicated in the account of Adam’s naming the beasts (Gen. 2:19) or Noah’s management of the animals on the Ark. One memorable item of evidence Barfield offers for the change whereby consciousness became more contracted into the individual, and more focused, is the discovery of perspective in art, which seems to point to a new way of perceiving, a new relationship between human consciousness and its objects.
It will be glimpsed, then, that Barfield’s project was an integrating of imagination and intellect. He is very far indeed from the bloodless games-about-words of some modern philosophy, or from skeptical despair. The young, unconverted C. S. Lewis was humbled when, Lewis having said philosophy was a “subject,” Barfield and a friend disagreed emphatically with him; philosophy, as found in Plato, for example, was a Way. Barfield’s works are strong weapons against the reductive, quantitative agenda of scientism, which can never account adequately for the world as humans can experience it.
Like Samuel Taylor Coleridge, about whom Barfield wrote an important academic volume, What Coleridge Thought (1971), Barfield is a fruitful writer for religious thinkers to read, though he generally did not write specifically about religious doctrine or practice. My hunch is that as more biographical material about him is published (and, perhaps, his letters appear in print), we will learn more about his faith, which he did not readily converse about. Sensing some affinity, I sent Barfield a copy of Alexander Schmemann’s For the Life of the World after one of my readings of Saving the Appearances. In typical generous fashion, Barfield replied with comments on Schmemann’s book that showed his engagement with it, commending the Orthodox theologian’s “painstaking coalescence of the three concepts, participation, symbol and sacrament.” Barfield, raised in an agnostic family, was baptized and became a member of the Church of England only in late middle age. In a very late interview with James Wetmore, Barfield expressed the centrality for his faith of Christ’s death and Resurrection. G. B. Tennyson stated (personal communication) that in retirement Barfield attended Anglican services, but the funeral rites for him were those of the Christian Community, the denomination set up by Rudolf Steiner. Evidently the Church of England generally does not discourage its members from participation in Steinerite activities; in fact, the author of a laudatory 1954 biography of Steiner, called Scientist of the Invisible, was an Anglican clergyman, A. P. Shepherd. Barfield introduced the book.
Barfield retained the Anthroposophic beliefs he had begun to learn while a young man, embracing them from 1923 till his death three-quarters of a century later. Rudolf Steiner’s “occult science” features reincarnation, Christ and Jesus as two separate beings, a “Fall” engineered by “Luciferian” beings to promote man’s ascent to his destiny of spiritual freedom, “post-Atlantean epochs,” and more. The Waldorf schools provide the contact that most people have with Anthroposophical ideas, specifically those regarding human development as creative, spiritual, as well as psychological and physical, beings. Barfield once said that the contrast between his faith and Lewis’s could be summarized by Barfield’s belief that man’s destiny is to become a free spiritual being, to which Lewis replied that he was not born to be free, but to obey and to adore. I don’t know how much of Steiner’s doctrine Barfield accepted; certainly I know of no place in which he ever denied any of it. He wrote forewords to numerous Anthroposophic books, by Steiner and others. Fortunately, there is little specifically Steinerite doctrine in Barfield’s books aside from Romanticism Comes of Age, a novel called Unancestral Voice, and the comments of a character in Worlds Apart (which also features, in the person of Hunter, a character who “is” C. S. Lewis). Barfield insisted that the main lines of his thought about the evolution of consciousness were laid down before he began to read Steiner or joined the Anthroposophic Society. The authorities cited in Barfield’s books are generally thinkers such as Erich Auerbach, Ernst Cassirer, and, certainly, the likes of Plato, Aristotle and Coleridge.
A very worthwhile task that lies before some members of Christ’s Church is the sifting of Barfield’s thought. He may well help us to see that some of the issues that vex us, as, for example, the apparent conflict between the Bible and geology, are at least in part due to misconceptions arising from our habits of thought (not just from erroneous ideas). However, a Christian apologist must show the centrality for all humanity, bound in sin in all ages since Adam, of the Incarnation, Cross, and Redemption. It may be that here Barfield is weak – possibly too diffident, and muddled by Anthroposophy. Since watching this video and reviewing some of Barfield’s books, I have found myself wondering if he may be something of an Origen figure. The Church has never canonized Origen; he has always had to be read with particular alertness and caution, but he has also been immensely stimulating and rewarding.
This well-made video is obviously a labor of love. An “Inklings” discussion group could view it before talking about, say, History, Guilt, and Habit (1979), an outline of his leading ideas, or “Imagination and Inspiration,” “The Meaning of Literal,” and the title essay from The Rediscovery of Meaning (1977). The aged Mr. Barfield’s speech is not always distinct, but the producers have tactfully included a complete transcript in the accompanying booklet.
The Nature of Language
In our day many ingenious theories have been put forth as to the origin of language. But Dr. Pusey believed that the only one which does justice to what it is in itself and to its place in nature as a characteristic of man is the belief that it is an original gift of God; the counterpart of that other and greater gift of His, a self-questioning and immortal soul. Language is the life of the human soul, projected into the world of sound; it exhibits in all their strength and delicacy the processes by which the soul takes account of what passes without and within itself; in it may be studied the minute anatomy of the soul’s life – that inner world in which thought takes shape and conscience speaks, and the eternal issues are raised and developed to their final form. Therefore Dr. Pusey looked upon language with the deepest interest and reverence; he handled it as a sacred thing which could not be examined or guarded or employed too carefully; he thought no trouble too great in order to ascertain and express its exact shades of meaning…
-- H. P. Liddon, 1884
The academic world - and these words are neither lightly nor easily spoken - has become today, in large part, a source of corruption. It is corrupting to hear or read words of men who do not believe in truth. It is yet more corrupting to receive, in place of truth, mere learning and scholarship which, if they are presented as ends in themselves, are no more than parodies of the truth they were meant to serve, no more than a façade behind which there is no substance. It is, tragically, corrupting even to be exposed to the primary virtue still left to the academic world, the integrity of the best of its representatives - if this integrity serves, not the truth, but skeptical scholarship, and so seduces men all the more effectively to the gospel of subjectivism and unbelief this scholarship conceals. It is corrupting, finally, simply to live and work in an atmosphere totally permeated by a false conception of truth, wherein Christian Truth is seen as irrelevant to the central academic concerns, wherein even those who still believe this Truth can only sporadically make their voices heard above the skepticism promoted by the academic system. The evil, of course, lies primarily in the system itself, which is founded upon untruth, and only incidentally in the many professors whom this system permits and encourages to preach it.
-- Eugene, later Fr. Seraphim, Rose, one year after his graduation from UC Berkeley in the 1950s (qtd. in Christensen, Not of This World, p. 111)
On language, see Stephen Talbott’s “Intelligence and Its Artefacts: Habits of the Technological Mind #1” in NetFuture #148 (2003), online:
The Levels of Being
If Darwin had been right,*observation of living things today and of the fossil record should show no sharp breaks between the most complex organic compound and the simplest plant, or between the most complex plant and the simplest animal, or between the "highest" animal and humans. However, what we actually observe is that there are four "levels of being," with no transitions leading from one to the next. Science rightly studies with the greatest possible attention the innumerable varieties of creature, but the traditional scheme retains usefulness as we think about our place in the cosmos.
The first level of being is the most common, the mineral. Minerals exist and have various chemical properties, but they cannot reproduce and they do not reorganize their surroundings to preserve themselves. Something other than a rock can split a rock into two rocks, but the rock doesn't reproduce itself. It is completely passive; it doesn't take any action, but it can be acted upon.
The second level of being is that of plants, which are found everywhere on the earth's surface, from the tropics to the poles. Here the mysterious thing we call life suddenly appears. The plant can reproduce itself. The plant can also reorganize its surroundings to a limited extent. For example, its roots may "degrade" soil into a more usable form. However, the plant is basically passive. That is, it is acted upon by its environment (sunshine, water, soil, other living things), but cannot act constructively upon its environment for its own purposes.
The third level of being is that of animals, which are abundant, but not nearly as much as the plants are. Here we have existence (which the minerals and plants have) + life (which plants have) + something new. That something new is consciousness, very evident at least in many animals. You can knock out a horse, bird, or lizard, but not a plant. The animal's senses tell it about its surroundings, and it responds to what it thereby knows. This sensory awareness combines with the mysterious thing we call "instinct," a certain wisdom that animals are born with. Many animals, then, can be observed reorganizing their environments constructively and purposefully, arranging things in a more complex way that is useful to them. A beaver constructs a dam that better enables it to catch fish. Robins build nests in which to keep their eggs safe. Lionesses teach their cubs to hunt. Because dogs and cats are conscious, they can be trained to control their own behavior. Left to itself, a dog might happily dig up a flowerbed, but if trained, the dog may refrain from following its instinct and digging.
The fourth level of being is that of humans, numerically the smallest of the four realms. Here we find, of course, existence, so you can discuss the chemical composition of the human body--how much potassium, how much calcium, and so on. So far, humans are just like minerals, plants, and animals. Humans also have life, like plants and animals, so you can discuss human reproduction in terms of biology, as you can with plants and animals. And then, like animals, humans have consciousness or awareness of their surroundings. But at the fourth level or human level of being, something profoundly new appears, the spiritual. It is immediately evident by one of its attributes: self-awareness. It is so important today, when we are encouraged by popular science to think of ourselves as just sophisticated animals, to emphasize that no animal has self-awareness. Animals know things by their senses and by instinct, but they do not know that they know. Humans not only reorganize their environments, they reorganize their own awareness for their own purposes. For example, it's a very human thing to decide to avoid a problem such as boredom or depression by getting drunk. No animal has ever freely chosen to go out and get thoroughly swackoed because his mate left him. Again, only humans take stock of themselves and determine to change their consciousnesses by learning how to be nurses, electricians, or teachers. Or consider this: your dog might be nervous if you catch it digging up the flowerbed, but if the dog is not caught, its conscience won't bother it. It doesn't have a conscience because it isn't a self. By contrast, a human who has gotten away with something bad may still sense that he or she is in the wrong, and may even admit it and face the consequences. Humans who have somehow warped or obliterated their consciences and committed evil acts--like the unrepentant Nazi war criminals or monsters such as Jeffrey Dahmer--may rightly be sent to the execution chamber. On the other hand, we rightly keep alive the memory of people who have enhanced our sense of human life. Families pass on stories about departed grandparents; cultures pass on the names and deeds of departed artists, teachers, healers and heroes. This helps a proper self-awareness to develop – something that cannot be left to nature.
We can see, then, that it's legitimate for science to study the mineral properties not only of rocks, but of plants, animals, and human beings. It's appropriate for science to study the biology of the second, third, and fourth levels of being. Psychologists can study the consciousness of animals and humans. But none of these sciences is able fully to account for that final, uniquely human property of self-awareness or spirit. To understand the uniquely human, we must turn to the humanities--art, music, and literature--and to religion.
(This discussion is adapted from E. F. Schumacher’s A Guide for the Perplexed.)
*He wasn’t. See:
M. Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis
M. Behe, Darwin’s Black Box
P. Johnson, Darwin on Trial
R. Milton, Exploding the Myths of Darwinism
J. Wells, Icons of Evolution
Also “C. S. Lewis on Creation and Evolution: The Acworth Latters, 1944-1960,” by G. Ferngren and R. Numbers, in Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 48:1 (March 1996): 28-33. This is photo-reprinted in CSL: The Bulletin of the New York C. S. Lewis Society 27:9&10 (July-Aug. 1996).
Masculine and Feminine
With Reference to Perelandra and That Hideous Strength
· The Contemporary Model assumed by today’s education, media, etc. is based upon economics and manifests itself particularly in discussions about manners and the workplace.
It is assumed that the differences between men and women are due to (1) physiology – hormones, etc., and (2) behavior that is learned in society – with the assumption that this behavior has come about largely because of the intention of males to place females in subservient roles.
It is assumed, next, that the differences between male and female “roles” can and often should be altered by conscious efforts intended to promote equality. The equality envisaged is primarily an equality that would ensure that women could compete with men, no longer subject to structures and assumptions that unfairly limit their achievement, with men for jobs, political positions, recognition in the arts, religious leadership, etc. However, if women were able to compete with men without unfair disadvantages, it is usually held that they would also be able to form coalitions with men more readily, working together towards common goals, including a Better World of the future.
· The Traditional Model is metaphysical, in contrast to the modern model. The traditional model is ubiquitous though not precisely the same from culture to culture. In Western civilization, we recur to the Greek philosopher Aristotle’s categories, while in the East, we find, for example, the doctrine of yang and yin.
What is meant by “metaphysical”? A metaphysical model finds the explanation for persisting social forms in an underlying, perennial order of nature (not in social arrangements that can be modified if we try hard enough).
What is meant by nature here is not simply the visible, phenomenal world, but includes the invisible, noumenal basis that underlies the world we can see and feel. A distinction has been made between natura naturata, the world of nature that we see and feel, and natura naturans, the “naturing nature” that produces it.
The influential Aristotelian model (which will be questioned in a moment) proposes that the sensible world exists as it does because of the work of form upon matter. Neither of these two categories is visible simply in itself. We infer their existence. Matter is in itself shapeless, lacking in order and complexity, “unintelligible.” It is full of potential that will never be actualized without form. It is feminine as contrasted with form. Form works upon matter to give it shape, order, complexity, intelligibility. It is masculine in contrast to matter.
Thus, for Aristotle, the world that we see and feel is the product of two categories.
On the human level, Aristotelianism holds that (1) both men and women exist as each does because of the work of form upon matter, but (2) women manifest matter more than men do, and men manifest form more than women do. According to Aristotelianism, the feminine (including women) is receptive and passive (the patient), the masculine (including men) imparts of itself and is active (the agent). Indeed, some thinkers in the Aristotelian tradition would say that a woman is a less perfectly finished specimen of homo sapiens than a man is. I don’t think this has been universally held by thinkers influenced by Aristotle, however.
The activity of male and female in sexual intercourse and the begetting and conceiving of children is only an obvious manifestation of this underlying principle, not (as the modern model would have it) the origin of such an idea.
In Lewis’s Perelandra, Malacandra (Mars; masculine) and Perelandra (Venus; feminine), are like Tolkien’s Valar, in the “Ainulindalë” portion of The Silmarillion. They do not reproduce. (Tolkien’s lesser “angelic” beings, the Maiar, may reproduce; at any rate the union of the Maia Melian and the Elf-lord Thingol is fertile.) Lewis’s Oyarses are definitely gendered beings, though sexless. The Aristotelian categories of form and matter do not correspond with Lewis’s Malacandra and Perelandra, but the conviction that masculine and feminine transcend the physiological does.
Malacandra’s masculinity is evident in his vigilance, an outward-looking defensive stance, while Perelandra’s femininity is evident in her watchfulness over the growth of her richly-stocked and young world.
· The traditional Aristotelian model has greatly influenced Christian thought, but it is questionable how integral a part of the Christian revelation (as given especially in the Scriptures) this model really is. By far, most of the Aristotelian influence on Christian thinking about the cosmos and about the sexes came after the period in which the canon of the New Testament had been basically settled, i.e. the first few centuries A. D.
Greek-style thinking about creation and about male and female, that is, metaphysical speculation, is not at all prominent in the Old Testament. The Old Testament is very patriarchal, and the Christian church of the New Testament assumes men hold the formal leadership positions. But what is the Hebrew-Christian understanding of male and female?
What follows is much indebted to Leon Podles’ The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity (Dallas: Spence, 1999).
“Patriarchy is not simply an affirmation of masculinity; it is not ‘a system for male dominance or for a system in which male traits are valued over female ones’ [quoting Carol Myers, Discovering Eve: Ancient Israelite Women in Context (Oxford U. P., 1988), p. 27]. Still less is it simply a synonym for exploitation and domination, though that is the current feminist usage. Patriarchy is a system in which fathers care for their families and find their emotional centers in their offspring. In ancient Israel, “the image of father was not primarily one of authority and power, but one of adoptive love, covenant bonding, tenderness, and compassion” [quoting George Montague, Our Father, Our Mother: Mary and the Faces of God (Steubenville: Franciscan U. P., 1990, p. 18]. Patriarchy, we can easily forget, was and is a great achievement in the face of the male tendency to promiscuity and alienation from children and the women who bear them.” (Italics mine)
God the Father is transcendent, that is, He creates a world that is separate from Himself; He is not part of it. Creation itself proceeds as God separates light from darkness, land from water, and creates separate groups of things.* He is holy and that means separate from what is unholy. He separates a people (Israel) to Himself from the nations of the world when He elects Abram and separates him from his family to tutor him and his descendants. The men of Israel are forbidden to be drawn into relationships with women of other nations. Moses leads the people of Israel to separate from the Egyptians and their many gods and goddesses of nature. The priesthood established at this time is always male; male lambs are set apart for the Passover sacrifice, etc. David’s warrior virtues are celebrated: e.g. he leaves the Israelite host, to face the pagan champion in single combat. (For all the differences between Greek and Hebrew culture, though each would recognize in the heroes of the other male virtues of exertion, endurance of suffering, the execution of judgment, etc.)
The New Testament can sound “Platonic” about God – “Blessed be the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, from whom all fatherhood on earth takes its name” (Eph. 3:15).
There is no suggestion of eros in the Christian godhead of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but of paternal and filial love, including the obedience of the Son. Where eros comes in at all is in the relationship between Christ and His Bride, the Church (Ephesians 5, etc.), where Christ is the One Who gives His life for His Bride and makes her holy. The Bride obeys her Husband in gratitude, not fear (Podles, p. 77). The tenderness and compassion of Christ were not a grafting of feminine characteristics onto His masculinity, but “a profound expression of masculinity” (p. 80).
Podles says that Aristotelianism has focused too much on receptivity as the essence of the feminine. Rather, “[I]ntegration and communion are at the heart of femininity, as separation and differentiation are at the heart of masculinity” (p. 84).
Podles says, provocatively, that neither Father, Son, nor Holy Spirit gives us the “feminine aspect” of God. Rather, “[t]he Trinity is the feminine aspect of God. It is the unity that exists in and through the divine persons, not apart from them. The Trinity is not a separate person, and cannot be addressed as She” – but the communion, the relationship, of the three Persons is feminine. “On Trinity Sunday in Russia, Christians are called to forgive their enemies and to be reunited in love with all, for the Trinity is a mystery of love and union, and therefore of the feminine” (p. 86).
*This is contrasted with the pagan world of goddesses, who are immanent in creation, not really separate from it and its processes. Such paganism does not demand holiness, separateness from the world (Podles, p. 62), and is often associated with cultic activity involving licentiousness that submerges the participant in subhuman processes.
[Originally published in Logia: A Journal of Lutheran Theology.]
Angels in the Architecture: A Protestant Vision for Middle Earth by Douglas Jones and Douglas Wilson. Moscow, Idaho: Canon Press, 1998. 215 pp. ISBN 1-885767-40-4. $9.50.
Modernity is not only more fragmented than the vision of medieval Christendom, but misses much of life. American evangelicals, however, the Reformed authors argue, are accustomed to and accommodated to modernity. Wilson and Jones do not promote a social program, but call for meditation on a “medieval Protestantism” to be lived out one household and church at a time.
Beauty, like holiness, is an attribute of God. Christ’s incarnation overthrew the false gods who inspired the great Greek poetry and sculpture; art today, with no gods at all, falls into celebrations of ugliness; the materialist cannot create a Nike of Samothrace, let alone a B Minor Mass. Jesus Christ is “the only fountainhead of true aesthetic wonder.” He gives to His Church the spoils of His victory over the powers. “Over time the church will continue to mature in Christ and teach the meaning of loveliness to an unbelieving world.”
Modern Christians “do not want a God of battles, we want sympathy for our surrenders.” But the patristic Christus Victor theme is important in this book. The authors may or may not have consciously used the theme of Christ spoiling the powers of this world as a tactic for interesting males in the arts, but it is surely an effective move. As they note, the beauty of holiness is something far different from the warmth of niceness. They cherish the heroic poem Beowulf.
Medieval Christians frequently resorted to antitheses. For us, too, theological thinking must draw lines. Also it must become skeptical about novelties. The so-called “Reformation doctrine” of Justification was no novelty in its day. It came out of the Hebraic side of a medieval debate that had Graeco-theologizing on the other side. A splendid patristic quotation from The Epistle to Diognetus is included in a chapter that provides a clear-as-a-bell statement of the blessed exchange effected between Christ and the sinner. The Christian who knows that this salvation was predestined for him should be joyful. Robust laughter in season marks such faith, as do feasting with good wine, and the delights of the marriage bed.
A chapter on Mother Church is an advance over the impoverished thinking of American Protestants, but a Lutheran will notice that Wilson and Jones fail to mention the Sacraments. Lutherans will appreciate the authors’ disdain for the “No creed but the Bible” slogan. They urge use of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds and the Definition of Chalcedon, though not, evidently, the Athanasian Creed. They observe that a church’s selection of a Bible translation is a confessional statement; they hold to the Authorized Version because it presents the Textus Receptus.
The Church speaks authoritatively to the world, daring to claim that its creeds are God’s own truth. In the family, the husband and father is the authority, the “federal head” of his family, as Adam was head of the human race and Christ is the head of the Church in those covenant relationships. The husband votes in the church for the household. At home, he and his good wife impart to their children a robust enjoyment of imaginative literature as well as teaching them the doctrines of God’s Word, for the children should come to have a “passion for beauty.” Souls are wholesomely formed more readily in rural than in urban environments where most things are shaped for the promotion of impersonal money-making. The off-the-grid self-sufficient family is not the authors’ ideal, but rather the idea of the medieval town. The “medieval Protestant” vision of the authors has a place for high technology that is integrated into an intentional, non-statist, hierarchical and human rather than egalitarian and alienated way of life. The authors note that scientific language is inadequate for engaging reality, because it is reductive; we need poetic language too. “We keep and tend our creeds, so that we may compose and sing our hymns.”
The authors believe that Christ is working in His Church to bring a second and better Christendom. Their book is optimistic and refreshing. Quotable phrases are not rare: “Truth is not found primarily through the reflections of trained philosophers and scientists. It is found primarily through faithful mothers diligently spanking bottoms.”
“[Christ] does not offer to take away the sin [of the world]; He takes it away.”
The Holy Spirit, our Confessions teach, “begins to mortify lust and to create new impulses in man” (Apology Art. II, p. 105 Tappert). This book says much that commends itself to the believer’s desire to live an intentionally Christian life.
[Originally published in Logia: A Journal of Lutheran Theology.]
Gregory A. Boyd. God at War: The Bible and Spiritual Conflict. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1997. 414 pages. ISBN 0-8308-1885-5.
“As a son of his times Luther naturally held, and in part continued to hold, views concerning the devil and his activities which went far beyond anything Scripture tells us on the subject. …Luther naturally shared many of the superstitions then current. No doubt he often ascribed to the activity of the powers of darkness what was due to natural causes.” So far Ewald Plass, in a note to the section on “The Devil” in What Luther Says. However, Gregory Boyd’s recent book would return such “superstition” to Christianity. The author argues for a limited or “modified” dualism, in which the devil is the god of this world (citing Jn 12:31, 14:30, and 16:11; 2 Cor 4:4; Eph 2:2). Satan and his demons are implicated not only in the sins of men and women, but in natural disasters and physical illness. Luther thought that the devil was involved in the births of deformed infants, a topic Boyd does not address, but he might approve of the Reformer’s belief.
Boyd rejects what he calls the “classical-philosophical” tradition dominant in Christian thought, that God’s sovereignty means he “somehow wills, or at least ‘allows’ with a definite purpose,” evils including the blinding of a little girl by Nazis, with which horrific episode he begins his book. Christianity has been unduly influenced by Augustine and others, Boyd says, in its understanding of God’s omnipotence and providence as “meticulous control.” Hence, he says, Christians become bogged down in issues of theodicy that are not characteristic of the Bible; instead of trying to reconcile belief in a good and almighty God with the torture of children, Christians should accept that atrocities are to be expected in a cosmos at war, a battle in which Christians should be involved, whether in struggles against evil entrenched in social institutions (mentioned in a few sentences in the book) or (immensely more prominent in the book) in situations of healing, exorcism, etc. Because there is much greater interest in spirituality and the occult in Western nations than formerly in the modern era, and because the testimony of non-Western Christians increasingly draws our attention to the reality of spiritual conflict, Boyd believes that the “time is ripe for a restoration of the New Testament model of the church as the supernaturally empowered body of Christ that carries on the work which the Son began during his incarnate ministry.”
He is at his best when he shows the Biblical evidence for a whole intermediate level of active beings between the one God and mankind. These include the chaos-monsters (Leviathan, Rahab, etc.) of the Old Testament and the devil and his angels. He approves of the “gap” or “restoration” theory, that is, that the original creation was devastated when some of the angels fell, prior to the creation of Adam. Created to be God’s viceroy in a reconstituted universe, Adam in his turn sinned; and “when humans voluntarily rebelled against God’s sovereignty, the whole of creation once again suffered.”
The devil then became the “god of this world.” He and other angels can obstruct answers to prayer and mission (Dan 10:12ff., 1 Thes 2:18), participate in the battles of nation against nation (2 Kgs 3:26-7 ), and are implicated in much, though not necessarily all, sickness: St. Mark speaks of Jesus healing those who were sick or possessed (1:32-4). When God calls Himself a “jealous god,” He is opposing Himself not only to the human propensity to make “idols” of worldly success, etc., but to real, inimical spirits. He made war on the “gods of Egypt” (Exodus 12:12). Also, on God’s side are beings of great might -- created “gods” (Judges 5:20, 2 Sam 5:23-4, 1 Chron 12:22, 2 Kgs 2:11, Joel 3:11, etc.).
The sense of cosmic conflict intensified in the intertestamental period, and is blatant in the Gospels and the Epistles, wherein the world is seen to be infested with demons. The Lord’s Prayer requires the Christian to pray “do not bring us to the time of trial [or hardship; peirasmos, such as is probable in wartime], but deliver us from the evil one.” God would never lead anyone into temptation (Jas 1:13), so the common translation of the clause in the Lord’s Prayer is not helpful. Although the devil and the demons are active, even someone who acts under their inspiration, Boyd is careful to note, is responsible for his own sinful actions. He says this in the context of Matt. 5:37. Boyd points out that, in His exorcisms, Jesus did not employ the stock-in-trade of the professionals – strings of names, etc., and never asked the demonized person to have faith; the faith spoken of in the texts is that of those who would help these casualties of war. “Jesus never once appealed to a mysterious divine will to explain why a person was sick, maimed or deceased, as many Christians today are inclined to do. Rather, in every instance he came against such things as being the byproducts of a creation gone berserk through the evil influence of this Satanic army” (Lk 13:11, 16, etc.). Boyd criticizes the NIV for rendering the Greek mastix in Mark 3:10, 5:29, 34; Luke 7:21) as “suffering,” “disease,” or “sicknesses” – “scourgings” or “whippings,” afflictions due to malign beings, would be more true, he argues.
Minimized in Boyd’s account is the New Testament witness that Christ, in His Church, delivers people from bondage to the devil in their Baptisms, although he acknowledges the reference in 1 Peter 3. A decision theology model is envisaged. The “Lord now chooses to carry out his coup de grace of the enemy by the foolishness of his church, these weak, struggling, imperfect people whose only qualification for warfare is that they have said yes to the Lord’s gracious invitation to be set free.” The “consequence” of Christ’s victory “is that he is seated on his rightful throne, [and] the whole cosmos is liberated from a tyrannical and destructive ruler[;] humanity is delivered ‘from the power of darkness and transferred …into the kingdom of his beloved Son’ (Col. 1:13), and all who accept it are thereby reinstated into the original position and responsibility of stewards of the creation that God had always intended for us.”
At least twice he commits a category error, in which he muddles the quantitative vastness of the universe with the significance of humanity. “When measured against the vastness of the cosmos and the enormity of evil in need of explanation… human freedom seems remarkably small”; “evil is something much greater, much more powerful and much more pervasive than what transpires in our relatively small lives, on our relatively small segment of the cosmos, by means of our relatively small wills.” Human beings may be very small physically compared to a big universe, but to compare the big universe with the human will or freedom is impossible, an error one encounters in the writings of atheists such as H. G. Wells, H. P. Lovecraft, and Carl Sagan, but which one hardly expects in a work of Christian theology. It would be better for Boyd to say that the extent of evil in the cosmos demonstrably, given the biblical evidence, exceeds even the unthinkable vileness attributable to human agency, and for him to leave out the rhetoric about the size of the universe. Boyd is right, of course, to remind his readers that Christ is the cosmic redeemer (Romans 8:22). Likewise, he knows that the heart of every believer is a battlefield.
These features of God at War may be commended: its marshaling of a great quantity of Scriptural evidence pertinent to its thesis, that God’s conflict with the powers of evil is and remains central to biblically faithful Christianity; its readable prose; its poignant reminders of the wickedness of evil in human experience; and, so far as this reviewer can tell, its command of American evangelical and mainstream theological scholarship.