The First of Three Spells

If you look up at the night sky and imagine you’re peering into space, you’re under a spell.

Last week I told you about my friend Bill. His struggle is not that he doesn’t believe in Christianity; it’s that it doesn’t seem real anymore. I asked him to watch The Matrix. He did. He sent me an email with a picture, Morpheus offering the red pill and the blue pill (if you’re unfamiliar with what each pill depicts, click this link).

The point of The Matrix is that we have to get out of The Matrix to recognize the spell we’re under. The film’s two writers identify the spell as the Enlightenment. C. S. Lewis would have agreed. That’s why I recommend Bill now read Lewis’ Out of the Silent Planet. Same point as The Matrix. We have to get out of the system to recognize the system we’re in. Bill doesn’t know he’s under the Enlightenment spell of scienticism.

So why not simply write a book spelling this out? Lewis addressed that in a sermon he gave three years after Planet was published, The Weight of Glory. He warned that the things we long for will betray us if we only see to them, not through them to deep reality. They become “dumb idols,” he said. Idols blind, putting us under a spell. Only a greater spell—spellbinding fiction, fantasy literature, film, poetry, painting—can break an existing spell.

That’s why Lewis wrote fiction. In his sermon, he said it was “to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years… all devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth.” That was 80 years ago. Now this evil enchantment has been upon us for nearly 180 years. What is it?

It isn’t evolution. It’s the underlying Darwinian philosophy of evolution, manifested three different ways, which is why Lewis wrote three books.[1] Out of the Silent Planet addresses the first manifestation, Perelandra (1943) the second, That Hideous Strength (1945) the third.

The first manifestation is the “materialist” view of Darwinism—the infamous “struggle for existence,” Darwin’s phrase derived from Herbert Spencer’s “survival of the fittest” first coined in 1864. It was fictionalized in H. G. Wells’ interplanetary conflict, The War of the Worlds (1897). This cast a spell on many readers (still does today), depicting humanity as the good guys surviving an invasion by the bad guys—Martian aliens. Survival of the fittest.

Lewis liked The War of the Worlds but saw it as a distorted copy of what’s Real. There is indeed an interplanetary conflict, but the good of man is not found on this earth. Lewis flipped the script in Out of the Silent Planet. The Malacandrans (i.e., Martians) are good, humans are fallen, which is why the Earth is silent.

[Example: Ransom assumes the Malacandrans’ three species operate by survival of the fittest. They find this strange, as they collaborate for the good of all.]

Lewis further recognized how Wells was one of the first to reframe “the heavens” as merely “space,” as in there’s nothing out there but stars and planets. No God. No angels. Wells dramatized this in Tales of Space and Time, a fantasy and science fiction collection of three short stories and two novellas written between 1897 and 1898. If you look up at the night sky and imagine you’re peering into space, you’re under H. G. Wells’ spell.

Once again, Lewis saw this as a distorted copy of what’s Real—“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” He is present in the entirety of reality. There is no such thing as “space.” In Out of the Silent Planet, Ransom begins to see this as he rockets to Mars.

Lewis also saw how Wells distorted time. In The Time Machine (1895), Wells dramatizes it as linear. We can’t really go back in time, only forward. Before the Enlightenment and Darwin, time was imagined differently, as a moving picture of eternity (which has no time), depicted as a sphere. Imagine a clock. The hands return to where they started. Or as T. S. Eliot put it, “the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” God continually calls humankind to return to where the real story begins.

Now at this point you’re likely asking So what? Here’s what. The materialist view of Darwinism gave rise to social Darwinism (laissez-faire individualism), capitalist Darwinism (private equity is one example—survival of the fittest), genocide, fascism, and democide (a term describing the almost 170 million people murdered by governments between 1900 and 1987, far more than the 34 million killed in conventional wars during the same period).[2] The materialist view of Darwinism is murderous. Lewis said it is the abolition of man.

Which is why I asked Bill to read Out of the Silent Planet. It might break the spell he’s under, the materialist view that gave rise to scienticism—not science. Science is about suppositions, or uncertain beliefs. This “presupposes that the actual or real fact is not the whole of reality. It implies that there are other spheres, or other provinces of the same sphere, all connected in a wider universe.”[3] That’s what’s Real. But Bill would have to get out of our planet to recognize all this, to see through the world in which we dwell.

I hope reading Out of the Silent Planet does that.

Next week we’ll discover how Lewis’ second book in the trilogy, Perelandra, flips the script on the second manifestation of Darwinian philosophy.

 

[1] Sanford Schwarz, C. S. Lewis on the Final Frontier: Science and the Supernatural in the Space Trilogy (Oxford University Press, 2009).

[2] Bruce Falconer, “Murder by the State,” Atlantic Monthly, November 2003.

[3] F. H. Bradley, Essays on Truth and Reality (Oxford University Press, 1914).

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4 Comments

  1. Brilliant…thanks for tying these things together, Mike. These stories of fiction are deeply profound and reveal reality from the outside in–thanks for this!

  2. You gave Bill brilliant advice. I loved Lewis’ space trilogy when I first read it in college. It was a skillful and delightful way to open my imagination. It gives new meaning to the word “spellbinding.”

    I often sit in our hot tub at night at our home where there is very little light “pollution.” As my eyes adjust to the darkness, more and more stars appear in our own galaxy, a galaxy that is one of billions that we know in our limited ability to explore our universe via Hubble and other space probes. It really helps me to contextualize my finiteness and the infinite dimensions of my personal creator. A sense of wonder and awe are impossible to not experience during these observations especially when you consider the unmeasurable dimensions of our universe. It helps me relinquish any notion that I might be in control which is essentially the thrust of the enlightenment’s deadening impact on our imaginations and souls.

    These times are moments of “examen” (introduced by Ignatius Loyola long ago) for me. They are special times where my awareness of the presence of the Holy are especially acute as I review the day and where I saw God at work. I also use this time to anticipate how God will interact in my plans for tomorrow. These are times that I am encouraged to relinquish my desire to control “my” world and rest in His sovereign and loving will. They are times that remind me of the reality of the spiritual world that is every bit as real as the physical world in which I can touch, feel, measure, and quantify. It is moments like this that help me discern those things that are eternal and not merely temporal.

    I thank God for minds like Lewis, McDonald, Tolkien, and others that assist me in looking beyond what is in front of my own nose. You are being used by God to open our eyes to these skilled writers and thinkers. Thanks.

  3. Thanks for this Mike…very challenging for me…
    Question; Paul talks about “do not conform any longer to the patterns of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…THEN you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is…(purpose seems to be gaining an ability to see “through” the world patterns (spell?) and better discern God’s will…
    James talks about” Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless this:…keep oneself from being polluted by the world”
    Can you give me your perspective on if (and how) you see these words of advice playing into your blog post…
    Also I am wondering if you will cover what happens when you do escape from the spell (the pollution, the patterns)
    Thanks so much for your blogs!

  4. Vernon:

    Good questions. The Apostle Paul reminded his protege Titus how, “To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted” (Titus 1:15). We keep ourselves pure (i.e. unpolluted) by keeping a clear, or good, conscience. This, then, gives us the ability to see “through” the things of life (as you correctly note) to deep, mystical realities behind them… not just “to” the things of life (a blindness common to those under a spell, Christians included).

    You ask about breaking this spell. Lewis felt fiction is best. We’ll burrow deeper into this in next week’s blog (yes, a shameless promotion for my blog).

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