Thank you, Scott. And thank you to everybody at Desiring God for making this conference, the celebration of CS Lewis, possible. There are not many human subjects I could get more excited about than C.S. Lewis.
The Old Gods Are Dead
The old gods are dead — Jupiter, Jove, Poseidon, Baal, and Ashteroth. They’re gone. They’re dead. They’ve been destroyed. Long ago they’ve been destroyed. And as missionaries have gone out and as the gospel has spread, their last little holdouts have been exterminated and pushed to the edges. And missionaries still run into paganism. They still run into those little residues of that darkness that existed pre-Christ. But there’s another old god that’s not yet dead, and that’s man — us. We’ve set ourselves up as idols all the way back, as far back as it goes. When Cane sacrificed his brother to his own pride, to his envy, we had this moment of idolatry, of human sacrifice to mankind.
We humans are alive and well, both on the faithful side serving Christ, and on the unfaithful side, serving ourselves and building up our own idols. When the first missionaries went out, when the disciples were sent, they were going out combating the old gods. And they did this with miracles, with the good news, with a story. They told a story. They told these peoples a narrative about God who is infinite, who became flesh.
The story is so easy for us to forget, but the story is very, very powerful because of the amazing amount of humility involved. In the ancient world, you go out and you say, “There’s an infinite creator God who spoke, and the world was. He said, ‘Let there be light,’ and his words were light and the world was filled. He crafted man from dust.” You tell this story. You say that man falls. And then you get to Christmas and you start blaspheming. If we made up Christmas, it would be disrespectful and blasphemous.
We say that the Word was made flesh and was attached to a placenta inside the womb of a virgin and was born in a barn and stuck in a food bowl. It’s astounding. It’s hard to fathom. Think about the ancient kings and the ancient heroes with their pride and arrogance. If you’ve read The Iliad, you’ve seen ancient heroes and how they talk about themselves. They talk like the worst of pagan rappers. Just check it out. That’s Achilles. That’s it. Man’s always been like that. We’ve always been like that. We set ourselves up.
And the first preachers of the gospel went out and told a story that just cut off all this paganism, all this idolatry at the socks. It just destroyed it. And they proved it by laying down their lives. They proved it by being as humble as the one they served. They proved it with the stories of their own lives.
The Idolatry of Man’s Pride.
Now we here have to do the same, but we have to do the same against the idols of our own age. Unless you’re a missionary actually up against current Baal worship, you’re not worrying about that kind of paganism. You’re worrying about humanistic, pride-of-man idolatry. And that’s what C.S. Lewis was working on. That’s what he was fighting. CS Lewis is this modern disciple who is attacking the idols of his age and ours. He didn’t go after Baal. He actually linked up guys in lab coats — scientists like the servants of scientism, the worshipers of the God science — to Baal. He just boiled it right down to paganism. And he attacked the idolatry of our own time, which is something that we have to do as well.
And he did it incredibly effectively. It lasts to this day. It has affected writers everywhere, people everywhere, and kids everywhere. And he’s pointed his narrative guns, his storytelling guns at scientism, which is different from science, by the way.
Think about two origin stories. And the reason why this title is Myth Wars, is because Lewis believed that we had the true myth, that Christianity is a myth, but it’s a Myth — the true myth. It’s the myth upon which all other myths have spun off of, imitated, or combated. We have the Myth of Christianity on the one side. It’s the story I just spat out a one sentence version of, saying, in the beginning was the Word.
And on the other hand, we have the story of scientism. It’s about particles, chaos, accidents, death, and despair. It’s this cycle of destruction and devouring that has given us, well, us, right? This is why we’re here. Think about these two different stories. One of the prophets of modernistic scientism was HG Wells. He was right at the beginning. He was one of the ones that Lewis went after really aggressively in his own time.
The Defending Champions of Reality
HG Wells, the poet of meaningless destiny, said the following:
Age by age through gulfs of time at which imagination reels, life has been growing from a mere stirring in the intertidal slime towards freedom, power, and consciousness.
How inspiring. A “mere stirring in the intertidal slime” is the high point right there. Okay, so why is he so proud of this? Why is he so clearly inspired that we rose up from a mere stirring in the intertidal slime towards freedom, power, and consciousness? Well, because survival of the fittest makes man the defending champion of reality. We’re as big as it gets. We’re the winners. That’s it. Ta-dah. Give us the trophy. Here we are. We beat it. We climbed out of that intertidal slime. We climbed out of that and up the beach. And you know what? We grew nostrils. Yes. Boom, right there. Take that, gilled creatures.
My father wrote a song called Science Fiction when I was a kid that tells this story. And of course, the high point of man was when we went with the opposable thumb. And whenever you’re down, just remember you’ve got thumbs. This is it. So we’re champions. We’re the winners. We are the gods, honestly. We’re as close to gods as we can get.
And it’s not surprising that shortly on the heels of this, and even in the middle of what HG Wells was talking about, that eugenics would show up, that we would move on down this binge of the pride of man into the Holocaust and all the other awful things that we ended up doing in service of the champions of reality. Again, HG Wells says:
We are hardly in the earliest dawn of human greatness. The little triumphs of man’s present state and form but the prelude to the things that man has got to do.
Think about Newt Gingrich saying, “We’re going to have a colony on the moon.” Yay. And then actually look at the solar system and realize how tiny that still is. But HG Wells is talking about the triumph of man and this contagious vision about saying, “You’re awesome. We’re awesome. We’re the champions, except for those people over there, we’re cooler than them. And we’re going to have our own little academic elite core. And we’re going to build ourselves up into gods and technology will serve us and other people will serve us. And you know what? We’ll keep them around as long as they do, but then we’re just going to exterminate them and we’re going to build and grow and improve our race because there is no God. There’s just this great big devouring mess, and it’s all about power.”
And that’s it. Those quotes from HG Wells are both from a short history of the world, and it’s full of them. It’s full of him just waxing poetic about the great and noble chaos from which we have arisen by ourselves, owing no one any thanks, owing no one any gratitude. We, by ourselves, made the iPhone. Chimps, stay in your cages. We’ve got the iPhone. It’s depressing. It’s really depressing.
An Awful, Captivating Story
But Dawkins will wax poetic about it and be so moved, and many, many other people have as well. And it’s easy for people like me and us to say, “Man, evolution is just a bad story.” Really? One day hydrogen was running in the hall and it tripped. And then, boom, everything just appears. There it goes. And here you and I are as we fly through space, like, “Hello, I’m a piece of shrapnel. You’re a piece of shrapnel.” And we’re all just flying through this explosion.
Bad story, right? Well, on the one hand, yes, it’s an awful story. It’s a terrible story. But on the other hand, no. Every lie that’s effective has a true hook, has an appeal. This is from an article called “The Funeral of the Great Myth”, which I originally saw in a little book called Christian Reflections compiled by Hooper. Lewis grew up believing in the myth — the big myth, the great myth — he refers to it as. He says:
I have felt, and I still feel, its almost perfect grandeur. Let no one say we are an unimaginative age. Neither the Greeks nor the Norsemen ever invented a better story.
And as a side note, notice he talks about the Greeks and Norsemen. He’s saying they didn’t make up a better story than evolution. Evolution at least competes with the Norse myths. It’s like, “Well, yes it does. It absolutely does.” And the Norse myths were not happy either. We will all fight, we will bleed, and we will be dead. And do you know what? Then we’ll go up to the hall up there and we’ll have a big party, and then we’ll be invaded and devoured and killed along with the gods. Okay, there’s the Norse myth. Great, real optimistic.
The Greeks are always tragic. Everything is tragic. You have big bully gods, all these deities, these bullies. And every time man would achieve anything great, it would go wrong. The worst thing you could do in the ancient world was achieve anything. You should keep your head down. If you rise up taller than anybody else, it’s like, “Well, the gods are going to show up and they’re going to end up fighting over your carcass. You’re going to be toast.”
But Lewis actually pays evolution a compliment. He says, “There’s grandeur here.” Later on, he says, “There’s tragedy here. Man is the tragic hero. Man is God.” Now, he’s not saying, “Oh, yes, it’s a lovely story,” but he’s saying that’s the appeal. The appeal is that grandeur that we are the gods. We are the greatest thing, the greatest beings ever. That’s us. And that obviously plays to our own pride, radically.
The Implications of Our Beginning
Now, think about the downstream consequences of this fork in the story road. You have on the one hand, God — loving, kind, powerful, omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent, creating everything, crafting everything, spinning all the spheres into their orbits, and then creating man in his own image. And then man has fallen. Think about the difference between man, the fallen son, and man, the brute, ascendant animal, the beast. Think of man as the most powerful beast who killed everything else on its way up, or man as the fallen son.
And in those opening pages of the story, everything’s different. Everything changes. If we are the ascendant brutes who got here by our own power, well, I mean, do we have any guilt? Is there guilt? No, absolutely not. If we are the fallen son, everything we see is processed differently. And Lewis really adhered to a worldview he referred to as the medieval worldview, he wrote all about it in a whole book called The Discarded Image. And he says some beautiful things in The Discarded Image, focusing on the humility of the medieval system.
He says, “Walk out on a starry night and look at the sky.” Lewis says, “Look at the sky on a starry night. And don’t look at it like HG Wells as if there’s more chaos, as if this is the chaos from which we have flown and which we will eventually conquer. And we own it. We are the owners of this. We are the masters of everything we see. Or we can be the masters of everything we see. Instead, look at the stars like someone in exile, look at the stars like Scrooge looks in the window of a Christmas dinner.” That’s how Lewis saw the heavens.
That’s how Lewis saw man. That’s how the medievals saw man. We got thrown out. We are down here. A lot of people accuse the medievals of believing in geo-centricity out of pride. They say, “See, man was the center of the universe and everything went around us.” It’s like, well, not to be blunt, but to be blunt, for them it was more like earth is the anus of the solar system. And they would go so far as to use that language. We are the sinners. We are the fallen. We’re all the way down there. Being at the center was not the throne room. It was as low as you could get. And the further out you got, the closer you were getting to heaven. And that’s how Lewis looked at the world. And he didn’t care what was spinning around what, it was a question of are we included or are we cast out? He looked at the moon and saw that it was barren and bleak and saw all those craters, and he knew that at some point, there had been a big showdown.
Our View of Heaven
I mean, look at all that. It’s the war-torn moon from meteorites, rubble, and it was flying through space from smashed what? Reality. It was part of the perfect creation that had been damaged and destroyed. So Lewis looked at the heavens as a fallen son, hoping to regain fellowship, hoping to get reunion. HG Wells looked out and said, “We are the awesome sauce, and we are going to claim everything.”
And as a side note, there’s nothing new under the sun, which is why Google can seriously make an announcement like, “Oh, by the way, for our next project we’re going to conquer death.” Seriously. Now we have omniscience down because we’ve read all your spam. Next, we’re going to conquer death, but don’t be too impatient. They said, “It’ll take us a couple of decades.” Oh, really? Really? They’ve not read a book, clearly. They don’t know what a villain looks like. They don’t know how this works out in the story.
Anytime the scientist stands up and says, “Ha ha, here comes immortality for me,” it doesn’t work out because there is an Author who’s writing the story and you don’t understand what role you just got cast in. “Who wants to be Babel?” and they say, “Oh, oh, me!” It’s bizarre, the blindness that otherwise deeply intelligent people can show.
So here we are again talking about how awesome we are. Walt Disney has himself frozen so he can come back from the dead later. I look forward to that working out. Google’s going to solve death, and HG Wells was talking the same way. And Lewis looked at that idolatry, the modern idolatry of man, which for us even, we could rewind to his time and be like, “Oh, they were so clunky. Look at them and they’re cute little adding machines.” We can look back then and patronize them, but at the time, boy, they felt really ascendant.
And Lewis went after that idol, and he went after that idol with everything he had in his fiction. But still, think about the downstream effects.
The False Gospel of Our Day
Now in his storytelling versus the storytelling of atheistic chaos, think about the downstream consequences of this fork in the road. If you say, “The boom, that’s chapter one.” It’s the boom. Or if you say, “In the beginning was the Word,” opening lines matter, and they matter for the rest of the story. Fork left or fork right. On the one hand, we have the true Myth of the spoken world and fallen man, and on the other hand, we have man, the brute, nearly triumphant. We’re getting there. Just hold on. Pick. And then every single character in the story changes. Every character changes.
Change your opening line, and the role of every human being that you contact, that you touch, that you chat with, has changed. Evil, pain, death, guilt, and this ache we feel from actual evil, pain, death, and guilt changes. We can say whatever we want, it’s still there. It still hangs on us. We’re trying to figure out how to deal with it.
What will save us from that? What improves, man, the race? What saves and improves, man, the individual? Which way does it go? And obviously, you can see how quickly this gets into straight force, power, manipulation, and control versus love, sacrifice, repentance, fellowship, and reunion. Every effective lie always appeals to man — and I think this is absolutely true — with a false gospel release, a faux-gospel release, a release from your guilt, a release from your burdens.
Every single tempter along the road is saying, “Hey, I can take care of that for you. I can get rid of that for you, that guilt, that burden, that sickness you feel. Come on over here. I’ve got something for you. I’ll take care of it.” Every effective lie hooks us there and pulls us in. The good news of Christ’s sacrifice is replaced with the good news of no guilt in the first place. It’s the good news of, “Follow your heart and go to bed with anyone, or anything, that’s willing, or unwilling, if you have a solid end game and an alibi.”
It’s the good news of, “Go ahead and abort that baby, steal that land, expunge that baby, and experiment on its flesh to improve your own complexion and shampoo.” It’s the good news of domination, of grabbing power and being saved. It’s the good news of, “You’re not guilty no matter what you do.” It’s the good news of, “Claw and scratch, and don’t feel bad, it’s survival of the fittest, man. That’s it. They were weak.” That good news is the good news that has powered our era. That’s what we’re up against. We’re not up against Baal. We’re up against that story.
Appealing to All People
Not surprisingly, this false good news can be oddly appealing across all demographics. I’ve always been confused whenever I’ve met an extreme weakling, and I mean this in just a raw descriptive sense. A very tiny, sickly, feeble man stands there and tells me, “Will to power, baby. It’s all about strength. It’s all about power. Might makes right.” And you’re looking at them thinking, “But why you? I mean, you should be the one saying, ‘Hey, let’s talk about this, guys,’ because you’re at the bottom of the pecking order.” But that envy-ridden weakling, well, it appeals to him. He can get away with anything he wants.
The most overt instance of that that I ever encountered was a guy standing in a hallway outside of a philosophy club meeting telling me, “Might makes right. Will to power. It’s all about strength, brute strength. There is no God, yada, yada yada.” And he was standing there eating McDonald’s. So I stepped towards him and just said, “Give me your fries right now.” And he stood there and said, “What?” And I said, “Give me your fries, man.” And he was just up against the wall. And he yelled. You don’t want that. Nobody wants that. There’s always someone bigger. But the lie still appeals to us.
The lie still appeals because it releases us and we forget for a second that it releases other brutes, bigger and meaner and better connected than us, as well. Power possessing potentates, the Wall Street guys, the big money people, obviously this appeals to them because they can do whatever they want. Dictators, it appeals to them. But then it appeals to weaklings in the philosophy club as well. It’s strange. And we have this other story, the story of the all powerful God whose Son became flesh and dwelt among us, and who died for you to give his righteousness to you, to take your guilt from you. This is our story.
You are at the bottom of the totem pole. You’re tiny. We’re all that weakling. All of us are that guy in the hallway quickly eating our fries. “They’re mine.” We’re all Gollums here. And we can talk about how it’s okay if we strangle people in the dark. We can say, “It’s not really bad. I needed to do it.” Or we can receive grace. And that’s the clash of the story. That is the conflict. These are the story wars, the myth wars.
Removing the False Veneer
We are here with a need to strip the shiny lies off of the false narrative. We have to get that false beauty off of it, that sense of power. We have to tear it down. And how do we do that? Well, you do it with stories. You see how Nathan, the prophet, used a story to get to King David and how effective it was. He didn’t walk right into his defenses and his self-rationalizations, he trapped him in a narrative. Lewis himself experienced this hook of story when he was reading George McDonald at 16 years old in a train station. He was reading an old beat up copy of George McDonald and filling an ache.
One of the guys I’ve worked with in publishing for as long as I’ve been writing read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when he was 6 years old on Christmas. And he told me that he’s been trying to find that feeling again ever since. That’s why he was in publishing. Here he is in a big New York publishing house. He’s published all this stuff, and all he is trying to do is find that spark, that joy that he saw there in that book. And that’s books. It came in books. It’s the gospel. It’s Christianity.
These are story wars. They tell a story. We tell our story. This is how the world works. How many people would be able to give an answer if you just walked down a street and said, “Are you an atheist? Do you believe in chaos? Evolution out of chaos?” Pick every single person who says yes and ask them for their factual foundation for that, and ask them, “So explain to me the facts. Give them to me. And also explain to me your epistemological access to those facts.” You were told this in high school or junior high or college. You don’t know this. You have no access to this. You’ve never seen the fossil record. You have no idea what goes into the astronomer’s speculative dates of the stars. You don’t know. You’re just a dude on a sidewalk. But he’s a dude on a sidewalk within a narrative stream.
He’s a dude on a sidewalk where if you say, “Hey, I think evolution’s probably not true. I think there is a God,” he will go, “Ha ha. You moron.” That’s why he believes that. It’s the narrative pressure. It’s the cool shaming. This is the dominant paradigm right now. This is the dominant idolatry right now, and it was in Lewis’s day. Standing up and mocking it and shredding it and beating it up takes courage, but it also takes storytelling ability. Because you can say whatever you want, but you’re not going to effectively replace the narrative unless you tell something that sings. You tell the truth and it better be harmonic, because the world is.
When you open your mouth and say, “You know what? Our story is better,” you can’t then fail to tell it well. This is why we need to strive to be, every one of us, storytellers. I don’t care whether you’re telling stories in books. I’m not talking about written books. I’m talking about your own lives.
When you say, “Hey, I have the gospel and it gives me grace and kindness and enables me to love my neighbor,” and all your neighbors say, “What? No, it doesn’t,” then you have facts coming out of your mouth that might be true, but the story you’re living is a lie. It’s our story versus their story. It’s survival of the fittest, grab power, push other people down, climb to the top, versus serve, give, and love. And you can’t say, “Serve, give, love,” and then grab and climb and scratch. You are all telling stories, and they happen to be real, a lot more real than the stories even Lewis was telling.
Replacing Lies with the Truth
Lewis went after scientism, he went after it directly. We need to tell stories the way he did, and his stories do this very, very effectively. We need to strip off the shiny, false beauty of the lies and idolatrous religion, the faith that we have now as a godless people. We need to strip all that beauty off and leave the actual story standing there naked and nasty for everyone to see, like Duessa, the witch in Spenser’s The Fairy Queen, the little known witch. We used Duessa with our own kids a lot. It’s really useful.
Duessa was beautiful on the outside. She put up this facade with her magic and seduced St. George away from Una, which is the church in the story. But eventually she’s unmasked and all that facade is ripped away and she’s a shriveled up little, bald, nasty, naked woman dripping poison from her breasts. That’s Spencer’s Fairy Queen. They were a little bit more free and easy than Christian fiction today.
But when you tell somebody, “Hey, it’s all chaos, man. You’re not guilty,” you’re also saying, “You’re pointless. You’re shrapnel. You’re useless.” You’re also saying, “There’s no such thing as truth, goodness, or beauty.” You’re also saying, “Which is more beautiful, a sunset or a gang rape?” And you’re like, “Ah, it’s a personal preference thing.” That all comes with that other story. That’s all part of the other story, which they want to dodge around. They don’t want to tell that part.
And it’s the job of our storytellers — and we are all storytellers at some level — to strip that away with the truth, and not to leave a vacuum afterwards, but to actually construct a beautiful narrative in its place. There are, as it turns out, plenty of Christians who personally resist the idolatries of our age, the scientism of our age, the chasing after technology as a savior, government as a savior, or power as a savior.
Every time you see people, if they’re running after government or they’re running after technology or they’re running after money, they’re just looking for some type of power that will save them, some type of power that will help elevate them and release their guilt. We’re here now and people are doing that. When we go to tell our stories, we need to replace it with something that’s more beautiful because we have the truth and it is more beautiful. It’s really unfortunate when you’re right and you lose a debate, when you have the truth and you fail the truth.
The Best Story Always Wins
So the pressure is on, and we have Lewis as a terrific example of how to do this. The best story always wins. It is winning. And the beautiful thing is that the author of the story is going to win no matter whether or not we blow it ourselves. But we have the opportunity to be used as the kind of characters we want to be. So think back to Google volunteering to be at the new Tower of Babel. You don’t want to do that. You want to be volunteering to be Sam Gamgee. You want to be volunteering to be Trumpkin the dwarf. You want to be volunteering to be cast as those faithful characters that we’ve seen Christians use effectively. We must de-mythologize. We must remove the magic from the lies. And this is what Lewis did.
Self-Willed Power and God-Given Authority
Now let’s focus specifically on the Space Trilogy. Everybody knows Lewis and Tolkien were friends, and they were having a pint, which they probably did too often. And Lewis said the quote, “Tollers, there is too little of what we really like in stories. I’m afraid we shall have to write some ourselves.” That was Lewis and Tolkien, over a beer.
And it wasn’t until later that Lewis really began to understand the power of stories he told. He understood the power of stories that had affected him personally. He’d been swept up by Vogner and he’d been affected by McDonald. He knew what it was like to be picked up and carried, and have his imagination reshaped, his loves reshaped, and his desires reshaped by a story, but he hadn’t done it himself.
He wrote Out of the Silent Planet and he built it on this medieval worldview that was anti-arrogance of man. It focused on a real basic divergence in the two different narratives. One was power, manipulation, and coercion; that we should seek that. And the other was authority, which is interesting. Why could Moses part the Red Sea? Everybody would be like, “Well, he didn’t. God did.” Right. Okay, sure. Well, how can I breathe? “I don’t. God does, right? I don’t do it.” How did I make my heart beat right then? And then, and then, and then. It’s like, “I didn’t, God did.” Moses was used.
How did he do that? He was given the authority to do it. God gave it to him. How do we do our things when somebody says, “Oh, good news. We’ve experimented on enough dead babies that now we can regrow your fingertip.” And you say, “Okay, I have no problem with you regrowing my fingertip. But how did we come by that?” And they say, “We stole it. It was by violence, force, and coercion. We killed people.”
There was an ethical dilemma around whether or not we could use the knowledge gained by the Nazis and their awful experiments. They did horrific things to people — evil, awful things. And they kept very careful notes. So can we use the notes and move on? And there’s this discussion around it. But what you see there is people trying to grab and steal. Think about The Magician’s Nephew and C.S Lewis when they come to a garden and there’s a door, and you can just walk in and God will give it to you. And the witch is climbing the wall.
And then the main character is asked, “Is this for yourself? Are you grabbing this fruit for yourself or are you taking it for somebody else? Is this service? Because if it’s for somebody else, you can just take it.” But the witch is climbing and grasping. This is one of Lewis’s themes. It’s power through theft, manipulation, and coercion versus power through gift and authority that’s given.
The Authority We Wield
Think for a second. You might say, “Okay, well I’m not Moses,” but you are a child of God’s. You are an heir to the kingdom, to the world. Your older brother paid for your sins. He’s the firstborn from the dead, who sits at the right hand of God. This is his world and he will sit there until all his enemies are a footstool. That comes with a little bit of authority. If you have a personal relationship with the Creator of the universe, there’s some authority that comes with that. You can speak to evil and not fear at all. You shouldn’t.
But Lewis talked about authority. He’s talked about obedience and authority versus manipulation and coercion. And so, in Out of the Silent Planet you see these scientists making their little machine to go through space and try to get to Mars. And then you have angels. And you get there and you have this fight. He’s trying to communicate the medieval world picture that we are fallen, we are the silent planet, and we are the ones who’ve been cast out of the garden, and there’s a reunion waiting for us.
And nobody got it. You can read it and you’re like, “Yeah, that’s a fun little space story,” but it’s easy to miss it. There were 60 reviewers who reviewed it and a couple of them thought that he had gotten the idea somewhere else. Everybody just assumed he’d made it all up. Nobody realized he was trying to communicate his faith. One of them even realized where it came from and said, “But he obviously doesn’t really have the courage of his convictions, he doesn’t really think it.” And that was the moment when he realized how powerful stories could be.
He thought, “I can get away with anything.” So he decided to write the same story over again, trying to communicate the same view of the world one more time. So he wrote Perelandra, the next book. It’s really the same book as the first one. It just got juiced up completely. And you have, again, power from authority and you have manipulation, theft, and abuse of nature where people just dominate and grab and intrude.
It doesn’t matter whether or not you’re there as a steward or as a shepherd, you’re just getting it. You’re there as a thief. In Perelandra, he tried to communicate the fact with his un-man there, that the true brute-force scientism always devolves into the old devil worship. If you serve power, eventually, if you do this for long enough, you’re going to run into the fact that there are other powers out there and they’re going to be more than willing to take you as a servant. The road chasing power always leads, in his words, to “sheer devil worship”. That’s where it ends up. It can start as materialism, but it can never stay there. It always ends up chasing that.
The Difference Between Can and Should
Now after Perelandra, he went into That Hideous Strength, and this is one of my favorite books of his. And it’s the most relevant, honestly, to what we deal with now because it’s scientists chasing knowledge, learning things, and slicing animals into little tiny pieces to figure out what makes them alive. There is all this cruelty, all this force. And then there is authority.
There are men and women, a small band of people who are given authority, and all the manipulation in the world can’t overcome it. It just breaks over it like it’s a rock. This is the rock that hits the foot of the statue that knocks the statue over. This is faith. And that’s what That Hideous Strength centers on. Ransom, this character who went off to Perelandra, flew there because he was carried. He was commanded to go. He was brought. He didn’t abuse it. And actually, it’s kind of funny, I could quote Jurassic Park right here. There’s a great line in Jurassic Park when they’re bringing the dinosaurs back and Jeff Goldblum’s character says, “They’re only concerned with whether or not they can do it; they’re not worried about whether or not they ought to do it.”
That’s his insight, and it’s a great insight, and it’s where we are right now. So I can talk to athletes who tell me, “Yeah, I’ve got to go down to Panama to get these stem cell injections for my shoulder injury because they’re illegal in the US.” Or I’ve heard people say, “I’ve got to go down to South America to get lots of very, very sketchy, awful, dark, Nazi-like treatments.” And that’s where we are.
Lewis tells his story, the story of scientists and professors and academics who are pursuing knowledge as power. And it doesn’t take them long before they’re sacrificing a person in front of a head, which they’ve managed to keep alive with tubes plugged into it. The skull is open and there’s this head of this man who’s been decapitated, and they’ve kept this thing alive with tubes and everything. And now they’re on their faces naked, prostrating themselves to it because it’s been possessed by another being.
And this is the power that they’re trying to open themselves up to. And you think, “Wait, Lewis, aren’t you cheating? You’re cheating. You just took these scientists and said, ‘And then they started worshiping demons.’” Yes, absolutely. He strips off all the prettiness, all the power, all the up side, and just shows you hell. This is hell. And he does it in The Great Divorce. He does it in That Hideous Strength. He does it in Perelandra. He does it in all of his storytelling, everywhere.
Everywhere he goes, he’s talking about obedience, submission, and the authority that comes from service and faith. And he talks about theft, stealing, grabbing, and grasping power. I could go on and I could get very, very academic and just focus on the prose and themes and myths he’s trying to bring into The Space Trilogy or to his other books. But the fact is, I’m a lot more interested in how it affects us.
The Significance of Stories
What does it mean for you when you leave here, when you walk out of the room? What does it mean for me? And this isn’t because I want to be selfish, but because I want to learn. I want to actually imitate him successfully and move on down the road.
What does it mean for us to try to be storytellers, and even more important than that, to be stories? Be good stories with your own lives. Look at the kind of thing that God tells you, tells us, that he likes. He says the first shall be last. The last shall be first. He says, “Greater love hath no man than this” (John 15:13). Think about all the little things you’ve heard, all the things you’ve been taught. Now think of that as literary criticism of lives lived.
Look at King David. One of the things I find glorious in David’s fall story, is after David falls with Bathsheba and murders his own men, not just the one man but the other men with him, to cover his tracks, God says to him, “Look at everything I gave you. Look at everything I gave you. Look at your story. You conquered this and you conquered that. Look at all these things I gave you.”
And he doesn’t say, “Why couldn’t you be content with that?” He says, “And I would’ve given you more if you would have asked.” And the shocking thing there is that David had stopped asking and he grabbed, he took, he went to force, and he stole. Remember that and move on. We have to move on in our lives. Look at the lies and try to live your own lives in a way that is a successful counter example and a rebuttal and a compelling narrative that undercuts the lies that are being said. And realize this, we really want to be friends with everybody. I have friends who would say, “Oh yeah, I believe in evolution and I’m still Christian,” and I don’t doubt their faith.
It’s easy to have fellowship. I’m sure there’s people here like that. It’s not a problem for me. I have no doubt of your regeneration or something like that. But bear in mind that the opening lines change the story. They change the characters. God who gave us Adam through millions of years of destruction and mutation and genetic weirdness and death before we ever had an Adam, is a very different thing than God crafting his own image and breathing life into him. Those first pages change everything. So live stories.
If you’re parents, if you have kids, realize that you are the storytellers of their existence. You’re the one who pulls the book off the shelf and says, “Read this.” You want to be that person because otherwise, there’s going to be somebody else saying, “No, no, no. Read this one. Read this beautiful little piece of survival of the fittest. How about some Twilight, anyone?”
Be storytellers with your lives, with your words and curate stories that feed the souls of those around you. And know that there’s no vacuum. We are narrative creatures. We feed on narratives. And right now, most of our culture is feeding on a narrative lie and taking it for granted. Use your life and your words to undercut it for those people around you, and not to leave it as a vacuum, but to replace it with something more beautiful. This is easy to say, but it’s all summed up by just simply living like Christ. But the beautiful thing is that by his grace, we can.