Saturday, 12 August 2017

That Hideous Strength Revisited and Revised

I am currently halfway through listening to the excellent audiobook version of CS Lewis's That Hideous Strength ('THS'), read by Stephen Pacey (who played Del Tarrant in the excellent 1970s BBC Sci-Fi series Blake's 7).

From a perspective and through a lens derived from CS Lewis's best friend Owen Barfield; I can imagine a revised version of THS, in line with my understanding of our situation some seventy years on from the publication of THS in 1945...

One major difference would be that Lewis has his heroes (the St Anne's fellowship) essentially passive in their obedience to orders coming from the 'angelic' helpers. Nowadays, we would not receive these orders. We would have-to work things out for ourselves, as best we could. Or, more exactly, we would need to develop the spiritual perspective and abilities which would enable this working-out. We would need to develop what Barfield termed Final Participation.

Final Participation is something which can only come from the choice and will or each of us, as individuals. It cannot be conferred upon us - indeed the essence of it is that we are free and agent. Final Participation is precisely a personal, experiential effort-full thing. We need to look-within to seek god-in-us, to find our divine self - and to become aware of this. 

Here and now - we aren't going to be able to wait or hope for leadership; probably we will be literally on-our-own: alone... at least in many practical respects. This because our current situation is not a recapitulation of monasticism or the like; the destruction, subversion and inversion of groups is at the heart of the evil of our modern condition.

A modern THS would perhaps be about the good characters, the heroes of St Anne's, individually and dispersed. About moral choices made alone and in the context of an overwhelmingly large and powerful Establishment of Evil that is not recent (like The NICE in THS), but has been in place and in control for at least two generations.

The angels ('eldils') would not be perceptible in the necessary state of consciousness of Final Participation; they would not visit, we could not see them - and neither would we hear them speak in words; not even words formed in our minds. Instead, angels would communicate directly by joining their thinking with ours.

However, we - in our thinking - would always be free and agent - in control. Hence we could block contact with the angels, if we chose. And we could not (merely) open our minds to them. Rather, we would actively be thinking is such a way that we could share in their thoughts, and they in ours.

How could help come? In defeating a vast and powerful evil Establishment, clearly help is essential. THS had the Original Participation magic of Merlin, and direct and miraculous aid from the eldils/ angels. What might we have, now?

Well, it would be imperceptible to direct observation. It would be behind the scenes - by synchronicity. Natural phenomena (rain, wind, sun, tides, earth movements...) would - 'coincidentlally' - favour Good and be hostile to evil.

Enemies would be repenting (as the situation clarifies) and changing sides, ceasing to do their evil duties, turning to sabotage the evil plans.

There would be events of exceeding improbability - actually miracles, but always explicable in terms of chance. Perfect-Storms of 'luck' - both good and ill 'luck' - good fortune for the Good and adverse chance for the evil. Cumulatively piling-on, and on.

(These being proximal consequences of distal and subtle angelic interventions; behind-the-scenes changes of arrangements; altering small upstream occurrences to generate large downstream effects...)

How about our own personal strength, motivation, will - and love? How could these be sustained when we are on-our-own? I assume there will be positive-feedback reinforcements of such things. As the situation develops, evil becomes clearer, becomes un-masked. Because evil is a trial of our strength and a mode of spiritual development; it may be like exercising in a gym - immediate effort being rewarded, some time after, by greater strength.

The key and core is motivation; the guiding principle is honesty; and the goal is love (towards which we are pointed by the discernment of the heart; which knows truth, beauty and virtue - and their opposites).

We must be self-sufficient in terms of motivations; but this is only possible through the gift of repentance from Christ. Trial and error will get us where we need to be; but only when error is acknowledged and repented.

The war is between those who acknowledge and experience the spiritual world, the immaterial world, the world of God; and those who don't. Between those who know we are all children of God and destined to become free; and those who believe themselves and everyone else to be evolved automata subject to rigid determinism alleviated only by randomness. Between those who take ultimate responsibility and look to god-within; and those who hope for external intervention for rescue.

The happy ending of a new THS would be very happy indeed! A world of free, agent, people affiliated in loving families and with close friends; a world therefore open-ended, of creativity. Not a utopia; but an active, developing, expanding, deeply-rewarding world of perpetual interest, challenges, increasing awareness and understanding - making, doing and thinking.


John Fitzgerald said...

That's a very insightful and imaginative post Bruce. Regarding religious institutions and their recent corruption - in the Catholoc Chuurch there are a number of Traditionalist orders who only say the Latin Mass which have experinced greater levels of growth (in terms of vocations, conversions, etc) than the 'establishment' church. I'm sure other religions and denominations have their equivalent.
I wonder what you think about this sort of thing. It's something that I welcome by and large but there's part of me that worries there might be something parodic about it and that such 'revivalism' might represent a return to a phase of Original Participation which, as you say, doesn't perhaps map on to where we are now and today's spiritual realities.

Bruce Charlton said...

@John - Thank you.

I am supportive, in an abstract way, of SSPX and the like - but as you guess, I don't think they are the key to the future - certainly not for me personally. Their growth among Westerners is (so far) from already-Catholics (already-Christians) leaving the liberalising mainstream church.

The growth of all growing Christian denominations is the same: some 'serious' Christian churches such as conservative evangelicals, Mormons have been able to grow in the West; but from already-Christians - and increasingly this growth is from non-Western immigrants.

The only true growth in th edeveloped world seems to be among the Chinese; who are very rapidly converting to a low church, home church, decentralised, highly-devout and miraculous Protestantism. According to Rodney Stark (whose numbers are usually valid) there are now more active Christians in China than in Europe/ UK.

But the Chinese have a different destiny than the West, and than Albion.

In Albion we may or may not be church members/ attenders - but we will not be guided by the churches, the churches will not rescue us nor will they point the way.

Ultimately (and probably for 200 years), Christianity is now post-institutional. That does not mean church is obsolete, but it is secondary: now and forward - we judge the churches, they don't judge us; ultimate morality/ Goodness is in the individual, not the institution.

Thus I am associated with and support a conservative evangelical Anglican church (and I am Mormon in theology); you a conservative Roman Catholic church (and William has no affiliation, as I understand) - but all of us regard ultimate responsibility as something within ourselves, and that we must strive to - in our Christian lives - to be strong autonomous agents, 'fuelled' mainly and vitally from God-within.

That's how I see it, anyway.

John Fitzgerald said...

Yes, I agree. Great answer, thanks.

William Wildblood said...

That's correct, I have no outer affiliation but I like to think I have an inner affiliation (as do we all, of course) and I try to stay faithful to that, bearing in mind that it can't really be pinned down or neatly defined. I know that could be an excuse for all sorts of heresies, and there are risks of pride and self-deception but I think these are risks we have to take (whilst always being alert for them) if we are really to progress in the way intended and as you have laid out so well, Bruce.