The Third Manifestation

If you enjoy people-watching, you’ll likely see the third manifestation of a spell we’re under.

I’ve been telling you about my friend Bill. He’s under one (or more) of three manifestations of a spell described by C. S. Lewis, each a distorted copy of Darwin’s evolutionary model. The first is depicted in Out of the Silent Planet, the second in Perelandra, the third in That Hideous Strength, a book written in the tradition of Gothic novels to depict the horrors of a totalitarian order toward which Lewis felt we are heading, a “post-humanity” future.[1]

The Matrix tells this story as well. It features goth (note Neo and Trinity’s garb), romance (Neo and Trinity), and technology (A.I.) which seeks to rule the world by creating a metaverse. A metaverse is a fully realized digital world that feels more real than the one in which we live. In The Matrix, humans are subsumed inside this metaverse while A.I. harvests their bodies’ heat and electrical activity as an energy source.

In That Hideous Strength. Ransom recognizes that the N.I.C.E. (National Institute of Controlled Experiments) seeks complete control, but “will call it the next step in evolution. And henceforward, all the creatures that you and I call human are mere candidates for admission to the new species or else its slaves—perhaps its food.”

Over-the-top? In July, Mark Zuckerberg declared that Facebook will transform itself in the next five years from a social-media company into a “Metaverse company.” It’s spending billions creating it. The aim is total immersion in Facebook for the entirety of your life. It can happen, given Facebook’s control of your personal information. As Yael Eisenstat, a former CIA officer turned Facebook consultant, put it: “Facebook knows you better than the CIA ever will. Facebook knows more about you than you know about yourself.”

Over-the-top? In a recently leaked recording, Facebook’s chief technology officer, Mike Schroepfer, described a new device the company is building that will scan our brains and read our minds without us having to speak or type a word. I find that creepy.

Half the human population probably doesn’t. That’s how many are on Facebook. But I’m not singling out the company. The recent Facebook outage sent users scurrying to other platforms. Facebook might disappear one day, but other platforms will take its place due to what’s driving today’s technologies: a technopoly.

A technopoly is when technology monopolizes our thinking. Example: Your internet provider offers faster downloads. If we instantly think Yes, we’re subsumed in a technopoly. We don’t think, What kind of people do we become with more and faster information? In a technopoly, we only see what a technology promises to do—not what it is being undone.[2]

Lewis would suggest our humanity is being undone. He warned of this in a sermon given in 1943, The Weight of Glory. Lewis noted how if we don’t see through things to what’s behind them, the things we see become an idol. Idols blind us. Lewis felt our technological society was becoming an idol. Few see through it to what it’s doing to us—and undoing.

Examples of undoing abound. The internet “shallows” neural pathways, shallowing our thinking. It fosters isolation, social fragmentation, depression, suicide, poisoned politics, expressive individualism, narcissism, addiction to porn. We’re literally killing ourselves.

But Lewis saw through technology to two threats few see today: Idolatry and the decline of sex. Both are played out in That Hideous Strength, in the relations between the two main protagonists, Mark and Jane Studdock. They’re unhappily married, partly due to Jane’s determination not to have a child, her resistance to conjugal “invasion” by Mark.

I won’t divulge all that happens, but as Jane is drawn into the community of believers living at St. Anne’s, she is astonished to discover that the “spiritual” cannot be disassociated from “sex and sense.” Her resistance to her husband is actually resistance to God, our Creator, our husband (Isa.54:5). My, my. Lewis is depicting the marital gospel.

This becomes plain in the final chapter of That Hideous Strength. Again, I won’t divulge the details, but rest assured Mark and Jane enjoy the restoration of eros, nuptial union.

And what about the second threat Lewis imagined—idolatry? In the Bible, idolatry is evidenced in bowing your head, which is an act of worship, serving another. The Second Commandment warns us to not bow down before anyone or anything other than God.

Now we all have to bow our head from time to time—to tie shoes or find a lost golf ball. Idolatry is when everyone’s head is bowed before the same thing—but nobody notices. I recently witnessed this in two people-watching incidents. The first was at the airport. Kathy and I were waiting to board our flight. I looked around at the hundreds of travellers.

Every head was bowed, every eye on their mobile device. Every. Single. Person.

To worship is to behold, which means to be held. Most imagine they’re holding their phone, when in fact they’re being held in its grip. Heads bowed, they’re blind. My second people-watching incident reinforced this. I was on the Elliptical machine at the Y. I saw an old friend, but he never saw me. In fact, his entire workout, his head was bowed before his phone. Now perhaps he was attending to an urgent matter, but I’ve known him for a long time. In his phone he lives, and moves, and has his being (c.f. Acts 17:28). Idolatry.

Over-the-top? Think again. Throughout the Old Testament, panic is depicted as what we feel when our false gods are exposed and the confidence we have in them disappears. Some 74 percent of people report feeling panic when they can’t find their mobile phone. Idolatry.

Which brings us full circle back to my friend Bill. I recommend the space trilogy because Lewis is not suggesting we revert to medieval romance but return to the powers of enchantment cast aside by the practitioners of modern technology.[3] It starts with the reenchantment of the body and sexuality, extending to the entire natural world.

One day I hope to recommend a local church where Bill could taste and see the reenchantment of the body and sexuality, extending to the entire natural world. My lament is that few presently touch on these matters with the erotic enchantment Lewis imagines in That Hideous Strength. But I’m hopeful—for Bill as well as the church.

[1] C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (Oxford University Press, 1944), 75.

[2] Neil Postman, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (Random House, 1993).

[3] Sanford Schwarz, C. S. Lewis on the Final Frontier: Science and the Supernatural in the Space Trilogy (Oxford University Press, 2009), 18.

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