C.S. Lewis Does Not Check
In which I rant about the non-PC ideas in C.S. Lewis’s THAT HIDEOUS STRENGTH
A Note for the Curious
Happy Monday, ya’ll. Welcome to Tim’s Rants. I call them Tim’s Rants lovingly because they originate as Instagram Stories. Many of you have asked me to archive these long story posts so that you can reread and share them. So, I’ve created a tab here on my newsletter to make it easy for you to find these ruminations. I’ve kept them as close to the originals as possible with a tad bit of editing. I will also be archiving them under the “B” in my highlights on Instagram in the near future. There are quite a lot of these rants, so bear with me as I get them transcribed and published. Ok, on with the rant.
Years ago, I attended Bob Jones University. I did so after being expelled from Liberty University. I know, I know. Out of the frying pan, right?
I went to study the arts and humanities at BJU—which, by the way, is second to none when it comes to the arts. A little-known fact.
I did accrue many “demerits” during my year there. Not because I was a bad seed, but because when I sang a Christmas song (in conservatory standard) in front of the student body, I slid into the notes of “Silver Bells.”
Though I had to get the song and performance “checked,” beforehand by faculty, I still got the demerits for “direct disobedience.” Not joking.
My friends and I made t-shirts later that year. The front read, “I Don’t Check.” And the t-shirts had a picture of the discipline list on it and our names highlighted. Yes, immature, I know. But, really funny.
C.S. Lewis Would Wear My T-Shirt
If C.S. Lewis were alive today. He would wear my, “I Don’t Check” t-shirt with pride. Why? Well, if you’ve ever read That Hideous Strength, you’ll understand.
I’m currently reading it again as we travel on The Beauty Chaser Road Trip Book Tour, via Audible. I highly recommend this series, produced by Blackstone Media. It’s superb. And my three daughters love it.
Me and my dear friend, Edie Wadsworth, have been listening to the series at the same time, which you should do with your friends too.
“But, Tim,” you say. “Why doesn’t Lewis check?”
“Ah yes,” I reply, “but are you sure you want me to continue?”
Well, before I tell you. Let me give you a fun pro-tip for reading That Hideous Strength. Read these books first:
“The Inner Ring,” an essay found in the collection, The Weight of Glory
The Screwtape Letters (I’ve always recommended this Lewis book to people who’ve never read him, and want to start somewhere.)
Lewis, himself, says that That Hideous Streangth is an imaginative expression of the argument found in The Abolition of Man, which was a lecture series (three lectures in total) he gave at the University of Durham in February of 1943.
Lewis doesn’t check because his novel prophetically critiques a society that falls under the control of the wealthy and powerful. The powerful seek to control society—people—through propaganda disseminated through news outlets.
The powerful know they have the learned or elite in society because these types of people always want to be in “the know.” So they believe everything written in high-brow outlets and publications.
The more sophisticated the better.
It’s the blue-collar person who naturally distrusts the media and the powerful who are the real threat to their governing power. The blue-collar people are trampled by the powerful; marginalised as unintelligent and recalictrant.
The Nietzshean powerful abolish real criminal punishment in favor of rehabilitation. Why? So they can label, indoctrinate, and put people on meds and control them for their own purposes. The key characteristics of the powermongers is the annihilation of beauty.
The key characteristics of the powermongers is the annihilation of beauty.
Annihilating Beauty is a Marker of the Diabolical
In one scene in That Hideous Strength, two representatives of the diabolical organization called N.I.C.E. (National Institute of Co-ordinated Experiements ironic, eh?) visit a charming British village for the express purpose of determining what needs destroyed and what needs “rehabilitated” in the image of their sick ideals.
The charming pub? Gone. Replaced. The beautiful wood? Mowed down, and developed.
At one point, the organisation staged riots and controled the news narrative so as to promote their own agenda at the expense of the townspeople. Sound familiar?
As a brief aside, I’m not making a statement about our own political mess. I’m famously apolitical. I’m simply observing how Lewis uses his novel to describe how powerbrokers operate. But interestingly, both of our major parties have done and are doing these things. To believe otherwise, is to close our eyes to the reality before us. Corruption exploits at every level these days.
Lewis possessed the uncanny ability to pinpoint the truth of our times. This kind of sinister governance happened in his own time, with both World Wars, at a level neverbefore seen.
I wish we could, as Lewis did, call a spade a spade. I often marvel at those in the “Christian world” of leaders who say, “Well our times are not any different than ancient times. The world’s not ending. There’s always been evil.”
Lewis would say, that’s nonsense.
Though evil has and will always show itself and take different forms, our technological world is unparalleled in its scope and speed. There’s never been a time in which powerful people could literally annihilate whole people groups. This is the hideous cloud we’ve lived under for decades.
Countering Evil With Beauty and Charm
Lewis loves to juxtapose hideous evil with the profound simplicity of beauty.
One example of this is the lovable bear that walks the manor house of the good “Director” in That Hideous Strength. Lewis uses humour and charm to remind us that to be human is to seek virtue and wonder.
But insidious evil does not always corrupt in the open. Especially within the church. It slides in dressed up as self-help or even spiritual formation. It uses ideas like relevance, excellence, and efficiency to keep wonder out of sanctuaries of worship.
One of my favourite characteristics of Ransom, who’s called “The Fisher King” in That Hideous Strength (he’s a saviour figure from the previous two cosmic trilogy novels), is that he always appeals to a higher, grander, more beautiful power. He isn’t looking to take political sides. He’s readying for a counter-offensive against the powerbrokers, yes, but more directly, the evil powers behind them.
The supposedly anachronistic rhetoric of the good versus evil has quietly left the mouths of Christians. Not sophisticated enough, I suppose.
But we should revive it. This lens is the appropriate lens of our time.
Doing so, I believe, would invigorate our appetites for worship and beauty. We are, as J.I. Packer liked to say, soulish creatures meant to run on soulish food.
Running in the Wake of Holiness
This post first appeared in my Instagram Stories as one of my “Tim Rants.” I’ve received some funny Direct Messages about my little Bob Jones University story. I’m happy about that. But do you know why I was able to go from being expelled from Liberty University to Bob Jones University?
Because in between I found God.
He humbled an angry and arrogant young man of 21, and gave me a new lens. Sure, Bob Jones University was legalistic and weird in their rules. But I discovered that they got beauty right. Isn’t that interesting?
My university gauntlet worked to obliterate my remaining church baggage and it opened my eyes to a footpath of mere Christianity, as Lewis like to put it.
That footpath continues to teach me the values of chasing beauty. Not as something purely aesthetic, but as something as a philosophical affront to a world bent in on itself, hungering for power.
When we remove beauty from our daily lens and our places of worship, that hideous strength threatens to consume us. But when we chase beauty we, in fact, chase God himself and run in the wake of his holiness.
Here’s to living as an afront to the hungering dark this week!
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