Would changing a mere pronoun change the abortion debate?
With the Supreme Court’s recent decision, abortion is back in the news. As a pro-life Christian, I pray, protest (peacefully), and promote laws to abolish this trade. But after reading C. S. Lewis’ That Hideous Strength, maybe there’s more we can do.
That Hideous Strength is a fictional work about control. The National Institute of Coordinated Experiments (N.I.C.E.) seeks to control society. Mark and Jane Studdock, an unhappily married couple, have control issues. Mark seeks to control how people perceive him and his career. Jane seeks to control her life, mainly her independence.
But the book’s also about conversion. It traces out the contrasting conversion narratives of Mark and Jane. The N.I.C.E. seeks to convert Mark to its side. More interesting is Jane’s conversion, a step-by-step unraveling of her independence. It begins as she experiences clairvoyant dreams, sharing them with older Christians who live at St. Anne’s.
These Christians embody what Lewis saw embodied in J. R. R. Tolkien. Tolkien embodied a faith tradition rooted in ancient foundations (in his case, Roman Catholicism). This unraveled Lewis’ atheism, just as these Christians slowly unravel Jane’s fierce independence.
This process accelerates when Jane meets the Director (Ransom in the Space Trilogy). Lewis narrates, “instantly her world was unmade.” Ransom tells her, “You are offended by the masculine itself. But the masculine none of us can escape. What is above and beyond all things is so masculine that we are all feminine in relation to it.”
This is not gender bending. It’s the marital gospel, where all are feminine in relation to God who is neither male nor female but most often described as masculine. Humanity is all feminine in relation to him. Jane begins to perceive this. Before long, she submits to God.
“What Lewis pictures in Jane’s submission is a model, not just for female Christians, but for all Christians.” And all humanity. Real life is not about being affirmed or authentic about your self-chosen identity. It’s about submission to reality, to God, for we are all feminine.
OK, you say, but what does this have to do with abortion? And the church?
Like Jane, the issue in abortion is control. Does a woman control her body? In the marital gospel, the answer is no. The wife’s body belongs to the husband; the husband’s body to the wife (I Cor.7). Our bodies belong to God. Jane discovers this in Christians who embody the marital gospel. She learns that her great problem is not a lack of submission to Mark, but a lack of submission to anything, anyone, including God. This “unmakes” her.
Which brings us to the church. If Jane is “unmade” by Christians embodying the marital gospel, then how many Christians today embody this gospel? Not explain it. Embody it, where it’s second nature, just rolls off the tongue (the mouth speaks that which fills the heart). I have a hunch about the answer, but here’s how you can find out for yourself. Ask any Christian to describe their church. Most will say, It’s great, or It’s OK. Note—it, it.
But “it” is not a feminine pronoun (can you imagine me calling my wife Kathy an “It?”). Objects are referred to as “it.” People are referred to as “he” or “she.” Those who embody the marital gospel describe their church as, She’s great, or She’s OK. This is how churches with ancient foundations talk. The church is her, or she (as in the old hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord; she is His new creation… to be His holy bride”).
I close with two thoughts.
Some might say I’m making too much of a mere pronoun. Many of these same people admire C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, which gets at the essence of the faith. Couldn’t we say a mere pronoun gets at the essence of the church—she?
Second, I expect some to say, I still don’t see what you (or Lewis) are getting at. Lewis anticipated this. Four years before writing That Hideous Strength, he gave a sermon where he said we have been under a blinding spell for a century. It requires the strongest spell to break it.
I’ll try to break that spell next week.
 Jennifer L. Woodruff Tait, “‘You Will Have No More Dreams; Have Children Instead:’ Or, What‘s a Nice Egalitarian Girl Like You Doing in a Book Like This?” Inklings Forever 6 (2008), 10.