That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis opens with a grumbling wife and goes onto weave in realities of marriage, science, the supernatural, morality, magic, politics, violence and animals, all under the auspices of exploring, through story, what a well-lived life looks like. The answer it settles on is surprisingly warm and domestic.
This was the first of the Space Trilogy (which began with Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra), which grabbed me from the beginning and pulled me right through the pages; it is far more character-driven and less allegorical than the others, while equally thoughtful. It is one of those life books that encompasses so many experiences, states in life and realities that it is grand and revelatory such that every page seems to reveal more to me of own soul. Another book I have read like this was The Once and Future King by T.H. White, which was my book of the year for 2015. I loved it so much I couldn’t decide what to write about it, so I never wrote anything, a tragedy.
Anyway, the themes addressed in That Hideous Strength were manifold, though very pointed and specific, such that I wouldn’t be surprised if many readers did not connect with this book because it does feel located in a very concrete time and place, with very precise philosophical concerns–those of C.S. Lewis–a small university in a quiet, English town and the rising onslaught of scientific materialism. While I find the academic setting relatable and generalizable, not all readers might agree.
Here is a short list of themes worth noting; their breadth is the pleasure of the novel:Continue reading →
A recent piece of mine from the Truth and Charity Forum, “3 Principles for a Pro-Faith Education in the Modern Age,” in which I reflected on the most basic of basics of what I think kids need to learn in order to grow into thoughtful, curious, decent adults.
Where do they learn about reality? Their heritage? God’s love? In Nature, Art and each other, of course.
“As the social environment becomes more polarized, a need develops for education grounded firmly in the truths about life, its goodness and the human person. Catholic schools go a long way to meeting this need, but the foundations of learning are still worth considering as parents, the first educators of children and also for the sake of continual growth and reform in existing schools.”
“The first step is going outside in the natural world, observing plant and animal life as well as geological phenomena, and learning about how it works. This comes innately to small children and adults, I think, and inspires wonder.
Later this serves as a foundation for hard sciences and math and also as an introduction to the wonder of God and creation.”
“Over time, the introduction of culture through poems, songs, prayers and art provides the foundation for all the humanities: literature, philosophy, history, languages etc. I even think that the love of one culture inspires not hatred for others, but curiosity because one has glimpsed the transformative and shaping power of language, beauty and thought.”
“Love of neighbor is much simpler; it is concern for others as equally worthy of love as we are. And it requires appropriate love of self because if we have no concept of our own lovableness before God despite our woundedness, we will be unable to see the lovableness of others despite their woundedness.”
Aquinas’s claim is not just that theology and philosophy must be consistent…but also that failure to understand the universe of finite created beings inevitably issues in a defective knowledge of God. Why so? We understand God as creator in part through a study of the natural order of things and of the human place within that order. Errors about that order and about the human place within that order give rise to errors about God himself and our relationship to him(75).
This is why the problematic philosophy of science today gives so many people wrong ideas about God and his existence. Science is not a belief system, but a method of investigation. Observing natural phenomena needn’t exclude the philosophical claim or possibility that God exists.
We ignore philosophy, pretend that it doesn’t matter, when what that really means is that we unwittingly accept certain philosophical premises. One of the most popular is that the method of natural science–which is to just observe nature–somehow provides metaphysical grounding for all human meaning. By establishing a type of empiricism, it cuts out all possibility of spiritual matters simply by default. But examined closely, there is of course no empirical reason to be a strict empiricist. It is helpful for explaining natural events, but there is no reason to extend empiricism into an epistomology or metaphysics or anything else. Yet this is what we tend to do nowadays.
Thus a philosophically and theologically consistent view of the natural sciences could view nature with just as much accuracy but instead come away with an awe and reverence for the Creator.
Most importantly though, what I want to take from this quotation is the idea that an unquestioned philosophy can become a theology (or lack of theology) that isn’t based on anything.
In what ways do you see our understanding of the natural world affect our understanding of God?