After eliminating atheism last chapter, we’re left with a few diverging options. Obviously Lewis would like us to select orthodox Christianity, but Mere Christianity is nothing if not systematic: Lewis’ apologetic mission was to eliminate for the reader all possible alternative philosophies. Chapter 7 begins by identifying one such candidate:
Very well then, atheism is far too simple. And I will tell you another view that is also too simple. It is the view I call Christianity-and-water, the view that simply says there is a good god in Heaven and everything is all right — leaving out all the difficult and terrible doctrine, about sin and hell and the devil, and the redemption. Both these are boys’ philosophies (40).
A modern reader might recognize Christianity-and-water by a different name: Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton’s Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. In Jean Twenge’s study of the zoomer generation, iGen she identifies this position as embracing “a belief in God but also includ[ing] more uniquely modern ideas, such as the importance of happiness, feeling good about yourself, and the idea that ‘God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem’” (iGen, 138). Also included in Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is an idea of “moral individualism,” or the idea that we are “all different, and that’s good” (ibid. 138). Twenge’s own research demonstrates that “iGen faith often involves a careful balance of individualistic modern realities with traditional religious doctrines — particularly around issues of sexuality, gender identity, and sexual orientation” (ibid. 138). This particular impulse explains what exactly has happened to mainline protestantism over the last 20 years or so: their churches have been shrinking, and so in an effort to attract the youth, they’ve embraced Lewis’ Christianity-and-water. Twenge agrees: in an earlier passage she discusses a gay iGenner who was turned off by his Southern Baptist church’s preaching that “you can’y even think about [being attracted to men] because you’re going to go to Hell,” and so now he’s looking for a “more permanent church” which would accept him (ibid. 125–26).
Lewis denounces this impulse to water down Christianity though, and for a good reason: without sin and hell and the devil, without extra Ecclesiam nulla salus, (though C.S. Lewis may beg to differ there) and without the forgiveness of sins and the promise to avoid them in the future, Christianity becomes a hollow shell which demands nothing of its adherents and does nothing for their soul. Christ presents two options: submit to Him fully, or submit to the world fully. Trying to go halfway will inevitably lead you to those places that you have intellectualized away.
The boys’ philosophies — atheism and modernist Christianity — are far too simple, says Lewis. “It is no good looking for a simple religion. After all, real things are not simple” (40). There are many critics of Christianity who adopt a posture of expecting the faith to be simple because “consciously or unconsciously,” they “want to destroy Christianity” (41). Such people “put up a version of Christianity suitable for a child of six and make that the object of their attack” (41). When a Christian tries to explain doctrine as it is held by adults they “complain that you are making their heads turn round and it is all too complicated and that if there really were a God they are sure He would have made a ‘religion’ simple, because simplicity is beautiful, etc.” (41). Lewis cautions us to be “on [our] guard against these people, for they will change their ground every minute and only waste your time” (41).
It is unfortunate that the sort that Lewis pointed out were wasting everyone’s time 80 years ago became the dominant advocates against the Church in the era of the “New Atheism.” The “four horsemen” — Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, and Hitchens, were well known for this sort of non sequitur based argument. Dawkins posited that raising your children to be Christians was “child abuse,” because when they realize that the “sky fairy” doesn’t exist, they will be “hurt and angry.” Harris argued that “The president of the United States has claimed, on more than one occasion, to be in dialogue with God. If he said that he was talking to God through his hairdryer, this would precipitate a national emergency. I fail to see how the addition of a hairdryer makes the claim more ridiculous or offensive.” Hitchens, perhaps the biggest charlatan of the lot, said “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him will believeth in anything.” That these men are (or at the very least were, for a time) taken as authorities on the subject when the full substance of their arguments tended towards mere mockery is an indictment of our education system in and of itself. It’s no surprise to me at all that Dawkins warned us about reading too many fairy stories — reading the Chronicles of Narnia or Lord of the Rings might introduce you to someone who actually knows what he’s talking about!
No, says Lewis, reality is usually odd. It is “not neat, it is not obvious, not what you expect” (41). Reality is almost always “something you would not have guessed,” and Christianity is a “religion you could not have guessed” (41).
The Gospels seem perfectly coherent to us now, but that’s because we live in a society that has been building off of them for 2000 years. Our still standing assumption that Christ always tells the truth makes us forget just how radical and subversive He was. Here was a carpenter’s son who claimed to be God, (John 8:58) who urged a people who were forbidden from mixing meat and milk to eat His flesh and drink His blood, (John 6:53) who commanded us to love our enemies, (Matt. 5:44) and to rejoice and be glad for our persecution (Matt. 5:12). And to cap it all off, He was the Christ, the Son of the Living God, (Matt. 16:16) the successor of David destined to re-establish the Kingdom of Israel, and yet instead of conquering He was abandoned by all of His followers (except Saint John) to an undignified death on a cross. The Christian message is not one you would have expected, and yet it is True. I think there’s something to Lewis’s observation here.
Indeed, the “problem is not simple and the answer is not going to be simple either” (42). The problem for Lewis is:
A universe that contains much that is obviously bad and apparently meaningless, but containing creatures like ourselves who know it is bad and meaningless. There are only two views that face all the facts. One is the Christian view that this is a good world that has gone wrong, but still retains the memory of what it ought to have been. The other is a view called Dualism. Dualism means the belief that there are two equal and independent powers at the back of everything, one of them good and the other bad, and that this universe is the battlefield in which they fight out an endless war.
There are two major places where you can find the Dualistic perspective in our culture, one of which I’m far more familiar with than the other. The first is the great East Asian religions, and the second is the psychology of Jung and his followers. It also appears in some ancient Christian heresies like Manicheanism, but they aren’t as influential nowadays as the other two.
An excellent case study in Dualism comes to us from a disciple of C.G. Jung, once removed. George Lucas based Star Wars off of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, and so Jungian dualism appears everywhere in the spiritual conflict that plays out in the Star Wars stories. Consider this poem from the Revenge of the Sith novelization:
The dark is generous.
Its first gift is concealment: our true faces lie in the dark beneath our skins, our true hearts remain shadowed deeper still. But the greatest concealment lies not in protecting our secret truths, but in hiding from the truths of others.
The dark protects us from what we dare not know.
Its second gift is comforting illusion: the ease of gentle dreams in night’s embrace, the beauty that imagination brings to what would repel in the day’s harsh light. But the greatest of its comforts is the illusion that dark is temporary: that every night brings a new day. Because it’s the day that is temporary.
Day is the illusion.
Its third gift is the light itself: as days are defined by the nights that divide them, as stars are defined by the infinite black through which they wheel, the dark embraces the light, and brings it forth from the center of its own self.
With each victory of the light, it is the dark that wins.The dark is generous, and it is patient.
It is the dark that seeds cruelty into justice, that drips contempt into compassion, that poisons love with grains of doubt.
The dark can be patient, because the slightest drop of rain will cause those seeds to sprout.
The rain will come, and the seeds will sprout, for the dark is the soil in which they grow, and it is the clouds above them, and it waits behind the star that gives them light.
The dark’s patience is infinite.
Eventually, even stars burn out.
The dark is generous, and it is patient, and it always wins.
It always wins because it is everywhere.
It is in the wood that burns in your hearth, and in the kettle on the fire; it is under your chair and under your table and under the sheets on your bed. Walk in the midday sun, and the dark is with you, attached to the soles of your feet.
The brightest light casts the darkest shadow.
The dark is generous and it is patient and it always wins — but in the heart of its strength lies its weakness: one lone candle is enough to hold it back.
Love is more than a candle.
Love can ignite the stars.”
(Stover, Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, 9; 147; 339; 453)
The dark always wins, but the dark’s victory always produces the light. The struggle between light and dark, good and evil, Jedi and Sith, must continue in perpetuity, and a balance of the two produces the good. This is very convenient for Star Wars, (a neverending conflict means infinite sequels) but also a necessary consequence of evil and good being evenly matched. Lewis calls this philosophy “the manliest and most sensible creed on the market” next to Christianity, but there is “a catch in it” (42):
The two powers, or spirits, or gods [or sides of the force] — the good one and the bad one — are supposed to be quite independent. They both existed from all eternity. Neither of them made the other, neither of them has any more right than the other to call itself God. Each presumably thinks it is good and thinks the other bad. One of them likes hatred and cruelty, the other likes love and mercy, and each backs its own view. Now what do we mean when we call one of them the Good Power and the other the Bad Power? Either we are merely saying that we happen to prefer the one to the other — like preferring beer to cider — or else we are saying that, whatever the two powers think about it, and whichever we humans, at the moment, happen to like, one of them is actually wrong, actually mistaken in regarding itself as good. (42–43)
Star Wars is a good case study again here. Lucas has set up this Dualistic universe, but as soon as his imagination starts inhabiting it and decides that the light side of the force is “good,” it becomes an Abrahamic story: the chosen one, the First Adam (Anakin) who walks with God (the Light Side of the Force), is tempted by a serpent (Palpatine) and causes sin and death (the Dark Side of the Force) to enter the world. The Second Adam (Luke) redeems the First Adam, descends into Hell (the Death Star) and casts the serpent into the pit. “The moment you say that [there is a good],” says Lewis, you are “putting into the universe a third thing in addition to the two powers: some law or standard or rule of good which one of the powers conforms to and the other fails to conform to” (43). If we go back to Lewis’ moral argument, this means that there is a mind that created the moral standard, which means that there is something like the Abrahamic God behind the two powers.
Additionally, if Dualism is true, the bad power “must be a being who likes badness for its own sake” (44). But we “have no experience of anyone who likes badness because it is bad” (44). Badness is merely “the pursuit of some good in the wrong way,” so “while you can be good for the sake of goodness, you cannot be bad for the sake of badness” (44).
We will discuss the devil more later on, but even demons don’t like badness for its own sake: Satan rebelled because he sought to be like God, and demons tempt humans because they hate them. In my own experience, most people sin for the exact reason Lewis identifies here: there is some other good that they seek, but they are going about it the wrong way. Fornication seeks the good of the marital union without the sacramental bond; gluttony seeks the good of the pleasure that comes from food without the nutritional benefit; lying always seeks to achieve some end in a dishonest way, and so on.
To be bad, the dark power must “exist and have intelligence and will” (45). But all these things are “in themselves good,” so the dark power must be getting them from the Good Power: “even to be bad he must borrow or steal from his opponent” (45). “And do you now begin to see why Christianity has always said that the devil is a fallen angel?” (45).
The devil only has whatever power the Lord permits him to: he is otherwise impotent. This is a fact that the devil hates and is what gave C.S. Lewis the courage to lampoon him in the Screwtape Letters. St. Anselm’s reflections on this idea will prove helpful to us:
Teacher: But why wonder that, just as God is said to lead into temptation when he does not free from temptation, we admit that he gives a bad will by not impeding it when he could, since the capacity of willing anything depends on him alone?
Student: So put, it does not seem impossible.
T: Therefore, if there is no giving without a receiving, then just as we are accustomed to call giving both what is willingly conceded and what is permitted by not disapproving, so it is not incongruous that to receive should mean both one taking what is offered and presuming what is illicit.
S: What you say to me seems neither improper nor unusual.
T: So what do we say contrary to truth when we say that the devil wills what he ought not, this is received by him because God permits it, and that he has not received it because God did not agree with it?
S: There seems nothing in conflict with the truth there.
T: So when the devil turned his will to what he should not, both his will and this turning were something real, and yet he could not have this reality except from God, since he could not will nor move his will if it had not been permitted by God, who causes all substantial and accidental natures to be, both universal and individual.
(Anslem, The Major Works, 222)
Christianity says to the Dualist that God could override the devil’s will whenever He wants, but chooses not to for some other purpose of His own. While the Dualist says that the devil is Christ’s counterpart and they are basically evenly matched, Christianity says that the devil is actually St. Michael’s counterpart: Christ is above them both, and the good angel has the bad one thoroughly waxed. In Revelation we see that “war broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels battled against the dragon. The dragon and its angels fought back, but they did not prevail and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. The huge dragon, the ancient serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, who deceived the whole world, was thrown down to earth, and its angels were thrown down with it” (Rev. 12:7–9).
And so, “Christianity agrees with Dualism that the world is at war” (45). However, as shown by Revelation, it’s not a particularly even fight. The good angels outnumber the bad ones 2 to 1, and the bad angels’ power is thoroughly circumscribed by the will of God. The Dualist believes that the war is like the one contemporary to Lewis: it is a “war between independent powers” where either one stands a real chance of winning (45). The Christian conception is more like a “civil war, a rebellion,” and we are living “in a part of the universe occupied by the rebel” (45).
If you look around it definitely seems as if we live in occupied territory. This world has its share of POWs who are enslaved to vice, large scale constant war crimes, and a propaganda machine that would make Goebbels blush (walk past a Victoria’s Secret some time if you don’t believe me). The modern world is the Devil’s Mitteleuropa, and that would be enough to lose hope, were it not that “Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage” (46). Going to holy Mass is like “listening in to the secret wireless from our friends: that is why the enemy is so anxious to prevent us from going” (46).
I hope this blog has proven to be more Samizdat and less Pravda at the very least 😛. The enemy does want us to avoid going to Church, and will use any means at his disposal to do so: whether that’s a pandemic, heresy, (Sedevacantism, for example, teaches that your local Priest’s holy orders are invalid, so why bother going) our “conceit and laziness and intellectual snobbery,” (46) convincing us to reject the Church’s teachings, (as we saw with the story in Twenge’s book) or simply finding a way to make us reject the commandment to keep Sunday holy. As Lewis said though, we are at war. Skipping Church isn’t an option,* nor is taking up the prayer beads that St. Padre Pio called our weapon. For “our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens,” and the only way to lose is to refuse to take up arms (Eph. 6:12).
Pandemic notwithstanding obviously
I recently made a directory for this series to help you navigate it and post my sources in full. I hope it’s useful to readers both in the present and in the far future when it might be harder to find all this stuff. Thanks for sticking through all 3000 words, and I’ll see you next time with the Shocking Alternative.