Prophetic Dinosaurs

Michael Metzger

We don’t typically imagine dinosaurs as being prophetic, but one of the last dinosaurs to roam the earth, C. S. Lewis, predicted our world in 2020.

In his inaugural lecture at Cambridge in 1954, Lewis introduced himself as a dinosaur. He told his students to pay attention, “as there are not many dinosaurs left.” That’s good advice for us as well, as Lewis described the world we see today.

Our situation today is the result of what Lewis proposed was the largest shift ever in society. It occurred in the 1800s. Lewis enumerated four main areas in which the shift can be observed: politics, the arts, religion, and technology. In all four, Lewis was a prophetic dinosaur.

In political life, Lewis said the shift is from government seeking the quiet ongoing of life to government devoted to “the organization of mass excitement.” Lewis felt this requires leaders who display charisma, “magnetism,” and “personality” rather than seek justice and diligence.

Welcome to Politics 2020.

In the arts, the shift was from depicting transcendent and meaningful things to the arts meaning whatever they mean to me. Lewis likened to a situation where seven literary scholars discussing a short poem by T. S. Eliot showed not the slightest agreement as to its meaning.

Welcome to The Arts 2020.

In religion, Lewis meant that “new Western” men and women, with notable exceptions, are so completely cut off from the Christian past that it’s a misnomer to call them pagans. Rather, they’re post-Christians, which is an entirely different beast. Lewis felt that few Christians recognize this pagan/post-Christian distinction.

In the radio adaptation of his lecture, Lewis attributed our lack of recognition to the Great Divide that occurred between 1816 and his day. This gap causes Christians to miss seeing what’s happening. Welcome to Religious Nones 2020. Welcome to American Christianity 2020.

But Lewis felt the greatest shift was in technology. Rather than having dominion over nature and our technologies, we are now dominated by “the machine” (i.e. technology). Lewis was concerned that “new Western” women and men, no longer rooted in old ideas and beliefs, would be so completely cut off from the Christian past that they’d no longer recognize what today’s technologies are doing to them.

Or undoing. Welcome to Social Media 2020 (watch the The Social Dilemma).

I’m concerned that Christians today are so completely cut off from the Christian past that they no longer even understand the purpose of technology, much less what today’s technologies are undoing. Lewis predicted some of this in That Hideous Strength and The Abolition of Man. Sadly, few Christians have read these books. So they don’t see what’s happening. Neil Postman more recently raised the same issues in Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. Again, few Christians have read Postman. So they don’t see what they don’t see.

Jesus lamented that some of the most religious people of his day did not have eyes to see. I fear this is the case today for much of American Christianity. One example. Hardly any Christians have read the book that Lewis felt was his best: Till We Have Faces. I read it recently and it gave me pause regarding social media, especially Facebook.

We’ll talk about this next week.


The Morning Mike Check

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  1. Mike, overall, I still can’t understand how you or Lewis continue to “long for the good old days.” If we actually did better or worse, then or now, wiser persons would be the most important factor, not Jesus Himself. “We don’t see what we don’t see?” That comment betrays elitism – only the elite see? Really? And you’re not claiming your own gnostic enlightenment?

    That seven literary scholars in Lewis’s day didn’t agree betrays you & Lewis only seeing the bad side of Christian leadership in its era. If “the church” still held any shadow of sway in Lewis’s day it rightly tolerated dissent, and if the era had few equals to Eliot who could interpret Eliot to others, maybe it says something about how profound Eliot was – and as it is his era that advanced him, this is actually a good thing to say about his era’s leadership.

    You said: In political life, Lewis said the shift is from government seeking the quiet ongoing of life to government devoted to “the organization of mass excitement.” Lewis felt this requires leaders who display charisma, “magnetism,” and “personality” rather than seek justice and diligence.

    And earlier in the Great Divide you said: This became the basis for a new Christian tradition – evangelicalism. Evangelical clergy were not educated in old European traditions. They were “practical,” selected for their fervor rather than their learning. They focused on personal conversion rather than social reform.

    I’m not a professional historian or sociologist or anything, but I think that I detect that modern freedoms of technology and communication enhance our abilities to see our leaders’ flaws. You and Lewis are mistaken, I think, to believe that leadership was any better on the other side of The Great Divide. I think you doubt the capacity of modern men to discern. You could be right – there is after all a prince of this world blinding the many. But was it surely better prior to 18xx? That you would insist that you know befuddles me.

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