Why did Jesus warn that “getting clean” is not enough?
Last week I highlighted Logan Lane’s story. She went cold turkey to get clean from social media. This week, another story, a young woman, Jane Studdock, the wife of Mark Studdock in C. S. Lewis’ fictional work, That Hideous Strength. Jane’s story completes Logan Lane’s.
That Hideous Strength is the third book in Lewis’ Space Trilogy first published in 1945. Two years earlier, in 1943, Lewis described the backdrop for this book. In a sermon titled The Weight of Glory he said we’re “under a spell which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years.” One of the manifestations of this evil spell is modern technology. That Hideous Strength depicts the horrors of today’s tech bringing about a “post-humanity” future.
And here Lewis makes a fascinating claim. Spells can be good or evil but “only the strongest spell that can be found” can break the evil enchantment of the spell we’re under. With great subtlety Lewis unveils this most wondrous spell in That Hideous Strength, particularly in the two main characters in the book, a married couple, Mark and Jane Studdock.
Mark is an insecure member of the Sociology department at Bracton College. He yearns to get into the faculty inner circle. Jane is a liberal Progressive who’s determined not to have a child. Together, Mark and Jane are a hip, highly-educated couple with a troubled marriage. Their sex life is kaput. More importantly, they don’t know they’re under a spell.
Jane is first to sense it. She’s haunted by dreams. Haunting is central in Lewis’ story as he believed every nation possesses what he called a “haunting,” a “Logres,” which gives it a purposeful inner life. Logres means a nation is always two nations—a nation of poets and a nation of shopkeepers. For example, America’s Logres is the Great Experiment. For Lewis, Britain’s Logres is King Arthur’s story. In both cases, the Logres “haunts” the country.
Jane’s haunting dreams lead her to the little faith community at St. Annes. They tell her they’re “all that is left of Logres,” the Arthurian legend “haunting” Britain’s history. They’ve discovered “the Arthurian story is mostly true history.” It’s “really the struggle between Logres and Britain.” Logres is the poets and prophets who see what’s behind modern technology, what it’s doing to our humanity; Britain is the tech leaders who profit from it.
The little faith community learned of this struggle “after the Director [Ransom] had returned from the Third Heaven… from the other side of the invisible wall.” Lewis believed in an “invisible wall” between us and our non-mechanized ancestors. The old Western world saw what’s behind technology, what “haunts” it. The new Western world considers this hooey. It’s nothing but zeroes and ones and maximizing profit. Tech rules.
Which brings us to Logan Lane. She seems haunted by what social media is doing to our humanity. So she went cold turkey to get clean. She got the first part of the story right. Now here’s the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey put it. It’s found in a haunting story Jesus told about an individual getting clean from a defiling spirit. The spirit roams the earth looking for an unsuspecting soul it can bedevil. Finding none, it returns to “its old haunt,” finding it spotlessly clean but vacant. The spirit rounds up seven more spirits and they all move in, making that person far worse off than if they’d never gotten clean in the first place.
Crazy? No. In the old Western world, on the far side of the invisible wall, everything is spiritual. Social media is more than zeroes and ones. It’s spellbinding. In Lewis’ story, all of the evils of That Hideous Strength—that is, the grip of the devil and his defiling spirits—is revealed to be progressively worse in every age than the previous one. This includes what’s happening with our technologies. They are not benign.
Which has implications for parents concerned about their kids and social media. Like Logan Lane, kids can go cold turkey and get clean. But if you’re native to the old Western world, you’ll know you’ve only gotten them clean from a spell, a defiling spirit. Your kids won’t know what they’ve gotten clean for. This happens to kids raised in families that embrace gospels of sin management (Jesus only “manages” my sin problem by dying on the cross). These kids know what they’re saved from (sin), but not what they’re saved for. No surprise that these kids are often far worse off than if they’d never gotten saved.
But that’s grist for next week’s mill.
As is the rest of Jane Studdock’s story. In Lewis’ tale, Jane begins to “get” her “haunting,” discovering how our technological age is very distanced from how previous ages understood technology. She also discovers the strongest spell that can be found to wake us.
And that too is grist for next week’s mill.
 C. S. Lewis, English Literature in the Sixteenth Century (Oxford University Press, 1973), 61.
As always, great insights Mike!
As the adage goes, “(human) nature abhors a vacuum.” You are absolutely correct that getting clean is not enough. That is why Paul instructs us on what good things we should fill our minds with.
What Lewis embodied throughout his life was a mindfulness that the spiritual world is very much at play along side our physical world (binary or otherwise). It is my observation that many Christians recognize that intellectually but not experientially. Somehow, we need to find ways to heighten our awareness of God’s presence and the fact that we are still at war with Satan who knows he lost the war but is still hard at work in destructive ways.
I am concerned that most of your readers will begin to see technology as evil. It is not. It is the human response to the tool and it’s subsequent application that can lead us astray. I would focus on original identity and purpose so that whatever happens generationally is grounded within a “North Star” architecture allowing us, free souls, to navigate risk and opportunity
Good caution, Ronald. My point is not that technology is evil but that it is not benign. You are correct that our understanding of its nature as well as its application is critical. I find few Christians understand there might be spiritual forces behind the zeroes and ones, an understanding Charles Taylor addresses indirectly in noting how humankind is “porous.” Spiritual forces, good and evil, pass through us often unbeknownst to us. This includes technologies.
We see our porous nature in Peter. One moment he rightly acknowledges Jesus as Messiah – in the next moment he corrects Jesus regarding how the Messiah will die. Jesus commends Peter in the first instance, rebukes Peter in the second: “Get behind me Satan.” We’re incredibly porous.