As I’ve mentioned, That Hideous Strength dealt with a number of things, and there is one of them I’d like to explore more in depth, as it is a topic that interests me a lot and is relevant to the general enjoyment of literature and other of my favorite works such as Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Arthurian tales such as The Once and Future King by T.H. White and the more recent Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, which I hope to begin soon.
Through the character of Arthur Dimble, a professor of ancient languages and mythology, C.S. Lewis speculates on the role and place of magic in ancient times as contrasted with its place today. Here is an abbreviated version of the discussion on the subject between Dimble and his wife:
“Everything is getting more itself and more different from everything else all the time….[For a man like Merlin] there were still possibilities for a man of that age which there aren’t for a man of ours. The Earth itself was more like an animal in those days. And mental processes were much more like physical actions. And there were–well, Neutrals [spirits] knocking about…A conscious being is either obeying God or disobeying Him. But there might be things neutral in relation us [humans]….There used to be things on this Earth pursuing their own business, so to speak.”
“I think there was room for them then, but the universe has come more to a point.”
“In Merlin’s time…though you could still use that sort of life in the universe innocently, you couldn’t do it safely. The things weren’t bad in themselves, but they were already bad for us….Like polygamy. It wasn’t wrong for Abraham, but one can’t help feeling that even he lost something by it.”
“Merlin…is the last vestige of an old order in which matter and spirit were, from our modern point of view, confused. For him every operation on Nature is a kind of personal contact, like coaxing a child or stroking one’s horse. After him came the modern man to whom Nature is something dead–a machine to be worked, and taken to bits if it won’t work the way he pleases.”
(from That Hideous Strength, p. 284-285)
Lewis, who like Dimble, was an expert in languages and in English literature especially would have encountered this issue theologically and in explaining the value of the myths from various cultures that engrossed him so much.
His answer regarding the status of pre-Christian or early post-Christian magic is that the world was a bit different back then, when distinctions about power and agency were perhaps less clear. It was a time, he says, when angels or other spirits may not have had a position towards humans and when the spiritual, even animal, realities of nature could be tapped into innocently, though he adds not safely. Continue reading →
I’d like to share the video of the master’s thesis presentation of a friend of mine, Nic Don Stanton-Roark at Anderson University School of Theology. He addresses “Politics and Eucharist,” explaining why the Church’s celebration of the eucharist is a political act beyond secular understandings of politics as statecraft. It establishes a distinct community with different organizing principles than the state.
Further, following Nic’s work has contributed more than anything else toward shifting my understanding of race relations in America. That and reading Ruby K. Payne’s A Framework for Understanding Poverty. Gradually, I came to see how deeply entrenched racial tension is as it is lived out over the generations. It’s not that all white people consciously hate all black people. It is true, however, that being white meant our parents and grandparents benefited in certain ways whereas being black meant that that person’s parents and grandparents were harmed in certain ways. Our status and means are handed down to us from our parents. My grandparents who went to college on the GI Bill and received a home loan handed more to my own parents than the black family could who was quietly denied home loans because of their race during the Jim Crow period. These are hard things to realize, but they are true and there is a reason the ghettos formed in inner cities.
Racism is not at all inconsequential or a relic of history, and it’s something that Christians ought to care about because we believe that all human beings are made in the Image of God and be treated as beloved children of God.
Nic’s thesis discusses the political implications of the crucifixion of Jesus as both a state execution and a mob lynching. It’s an interesting juxtaposition to say the least, and I think it’s one of the best reasons I’ve heard articulated for why Christians ought to be inherently suspicious of the state, and also why racial solidarity is a key issue for Christians. (Not to say that the state never does anything good; we are rightly grateful for roads, basic civil order, enforceable contracts, etc. We must admit though that governments can and do abuse their power and do so quite frequently.)