Under a Spell

Michael Metzger

A friend of mine recently told me he no longer believes in Christianity. “It’s not real.” I get it. But made a rather bold statement, something C. S. Lewis said in 1941.

I have friends who, when we see each other, pick up where we left off. Bill (not his real name) is one of those. Naval Academy grad, great guy, we first met in the late 1980s when he attended our church. Bill’s since moved, but we get together when we can.

Which we did two weeks ago. We caught up on family, work, grandkids. After two hours, just before it was time to leave, Bill asked for five more minutes. One more update. Sure, I said. That turned into an hour as Bill told me he’s come to believe Christianity is not real.[1]

That’s been a long time coming. First was the silence (“God has never spoken to me”). Then years of enduring meaningless sermons. But most recently Bill took up an interest in science. His church wouldn’t consider this, so Bill said Enough. He sees science as real. Seven billion people can believe whatever they want to believe but “Christianity is not real.”

He wanted to know what I thought about this. Pulling out my trusty apologetics training, I asked Bill questions, hoping to show he doesn’t actually live this way. Bill listened but it dawned on me I was trying to reason Bill out of a position he’d never reasoned his way into. I recalled what C. S. Lewis said in a sermon in 1941 and made a rather bold statement.

I told Bill: You’re under a spell.

I’ve never told anyone that before.

Nor is the thought original. In his 1941 sermon, The Weight of Glory. Lewis said we’re all under a spell “which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years.” We’re blind, no longer seeing through the natural world but only to it. This affects even Christians, as I wrote last week. We only see to gender, not through it to our truest, deepest selves. We are all feminine in relation to God.

Lewis called this spell scientism. It’s the idolatry of science (just as individualism is idolizing me as an individual). Christianity birthed science, the knowledge of what’s real. Some Enlightenment thinkers nurtured it, giving us the Scientific Revolution. But 300 years in, science jettisoned religion. Scientism resulted, the assumption that only the natural sciences are real. Faith, religion, Christianity—not real. Bill’s under the spell of scientism.

As is his faith community. Most think the debate is creation vs. evolution. Lewis didn’t. He wasn’t opposed to the biological theory of evolution, considering it a “genuine scientific hypothesis.” Lewis saw through it to the framework established in Darwin’s Origin of the Species (1859). It transferred the focal point of creation from God to the progressive development of Man.[2] The heavens and the earth, long imagined as enchanted and mysterious, became dis-enchanted and mechanical. Lewis felt that “only the strongest spell that can be found can wake us” from this spell of dis-enchantment.

And where did Lewis feel the strongest spell can be found? In fairy tales. Fantasy literature. This was the work and hope of The Inklings (of which Lewis was a part), “to reenchant the world.”[3] Lewis’ initial foray into this was in 1938, with the publication of Out of the Silent Planet. Three years later (1941), he divulged what he was up to in The Weight of Glory. Although Lewis began with no grand plan, Out of the Silent Planet was followed by Perelandra (1943), then That Hideous Strength (1945). These three books became The Space Trilogy.

They’re the first books I read after coming to Christ. But my conversion began with a fictional film, A Clockwork Orange. I was in college, majoring in behavioral psychology. The film sees through behaviorism to its naturalist framework, scienticism. It broke the spell I was under. We’re more than molecules. I have a soul. Christianity might be real.

A few months later I trusted Christ. A few months later I began reading The Space Trilogy. I found it spellbinding, which is how you break a spell (and how I’m trying to break the spell Bill is under).

So I texted Bill: Please watch The Matrix. He texted back: Roger. WILCO.

The Matrix (just the first film—the follow-ups are awful) is about seeing through the Enlightenment to the dis-enchanted spell that we’re under (note how Morpheus asks Neo: What’s Real?). It’s The Space Trilogy. I hope it begins to break the spell Bill is under.

If it does, and Bill wants to read something spellbinding, I’ll next recommend The Space Trilogy. I recommend it for all of us, for we are all under a spell. In fact, Lewis recognized how scientism has laid on us three spells. Out of the Silent Planet depicts one, Perelandra the second, That Hideous Strength the third.

But that’s grist for next week’s mill.


[1] Bill (again, not his real name) gave me permission to recount our conversation in this column.

[2] Sanford Schwarz, C. S. Lewis on the Final Frontier: Science and the Supernatural in the Space Trilogy (Oxford University Press, 2009), 6.

[3] Philip Zaleski & Carol Zaleski, The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings (Farrar Straus and Giroux, 2015), 5.


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