Nov 13, 2008

Seasons' Greetings and Have an Objective Christmas

I was going to post this long excerpt a while back. Today's news offers a fitting moment.

Yes, Virginia, you have been exposed to a long and time-tested experiment in objectivity:

[...] Now whereas Jane had abandoned Christianity in early childhood, along with her belief in fairies and Santa Claus, Mark had never believed in it at all. At this moment, therefore, it crossed his mind for the very first time that there might conceivably be something in it. Frost who was watching him carefully knew perfectly well that this might be the result of the present experiment. He knew it for the very good reason that his own training by the Macrobes had, at one point, suggested the same odd idea to himself. But he had no choice. Whether he wished it or not this sort of thing was part of the initiation.

"But, look here,' said Mark.

"What is it?' said Frost. "Pray be quick. We have only a limited time at our disposal."

"This," said Mark, pointing with an undefined reluctance to the horrible white figure on the cross. "This is all surely a pure superstition."


"Well, if so, what is there objective about stamping on the face? Isn't is just as subjective to spit on a thing like this as to worship it? I mean--damn it all--if it's only a bit of wood, why do anything about it?"

"That is superficial. If you had been brought up in a non-Christian society, you would not be asked to do this. Of course, it is a superstition; but it is that particular superstition which has pressed upon our society for a great many centuries. It can be experimentally shown that is still forms a dominant system in the subconscious of many individuals whose conscious thought appears to be wholly liberated. An explicit action in the reverse direction is therefore a necessary step towards complete objectivity. It is not a question for a priori discussion. We find it in practice that it cannot be dispensed with."

Mark himself was surprised at the emotions he was undergoing. He did not regard the image with anything at all like a religious feeling. Most emphatically it did not belong to that idea of the Straight or Normal or Wholesome which had, for the last few days, been his support against what he now knew of the innermost circle at Belbury. The horrible vigour of its realism was, indeed, in its own way as remote from that Idea as anything else in the room. That was one source of his reluctance. To insult even a carved image of such agony seemed an abominable act. But it was not the only source. With the introduction of this Christian symbol the whole situation had somehow altered. The thing was becoming incalculable. His simple antithesis of the Normal and the Diseased had obviously failed to take something into account. Why was the Crucifix there? Why were more than half of the poison-pictures religious? He had the sense of new parties to the conflict--potential allies and enemies which he had not suspected before. "If I take a step in any direction," he thought, "I may step over a precipice." A donkey like determination to plant hoofs and stay still at all costs arose n his mind.

"Pray make haste," said Frost.

The quick urgency of the voice, and the fact that he had so often obeyed it before, almost conquered him. He was on the verge of obeying, and getting the whole silly business over, when the defenselessness of the figure deterred him. the feeling was a very illogical one. Not because its hands were nailed and helpless, but because they were only made of wood and therefore even more helpless, because the thing, for all its realism, was inanimate and could not in any way hit back, he paused. The unretaliating face of a doll--one of Myrtle's dolls--which he had pulled to pieces in boyhood had affected him in the same way and the memory, even now, was tender to the touch.

"What are you waiting for, Mr. Studdock?" said Frost.

Mark was well aware of the rising danger. Obviously, if he disobeyed, his last chance of getting out of Belbury alive might be gone. Even of getting out of this room. The smothering sensation once again attacked him. He was himself, he felt, as helpless as the wooden Christ. As he thought this, he found himself looking at the crucifix in a new way--neither as a piece of wood nor a monument of superstition but as a bit of history. Christianity was nonsense, but one did not doubt that the man had lived and had been executed thus by the Belbury of those days. And that, as he suddenly saw, explained why this image,though not itself an image of the Straight or Normal, was yet in opposition to the crooked Belbury. It was a picture of what happened when the Straight met the Crooked, a picture of what the Crooked did to the Straight--what it would do to him if he remained straight. It was, in a more emphatic sense than he had yet understood, a cross.

"Do you intend to go on with the training or not?" said Frost. His eye was on the time. [...]

"Do you not hear what I am saying?" he asked Mark again.

Mark made no reply. He was thinking, and thinking hard because he knew, that if he stopped even for a moment, mere terror of death would take the decision out of his hands. Christianity was a fable. It would be ridiculous to die for a religion one did not believe. This Man himself, on that very cross, had discovered it to be a fable, and had died complaining that the God in whom he trusted had forsaken him--had, in fact, found the universe a cheat. But this raised a question that Mark had never thought of before. Was that the moment at which to turn against the Man? If the universe was a cheat, was that a good reason for joining its side? Supposing the Straight was utterly powerless, always and everywhere certain to be mocked, tortured, and finally killed by the Crooked, what then? Why not go down with the ship? He began to be frightened by the very fact that his fears seemed to have momentarily vanished. They had been a safeguard...they had prevented him, all his life, from making mad decisions like that which he was now making as he turned to Frost and said,

"It's all bloody nonsense, and I'm damned if I do any such thing."

When he said this he had no idea what might happen next.

-excerpt from That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis


Paul said...

Sheez. I guess we shouldn't be surprised, Nietzsche told us all about this stuff over a century ago.

Joan of Argghh! said...

What? You mean, we can read history and learn... stuff and ... stuff?

Poor Britain experienced it directly after WWII. We're a long generation behind, but catching up fast.

The D.I.L. said...

That's why I loves me some Lewis. Recommended accompaniment: Mars Hill Audio's anthology of audio essays on Lewis. . Alan Jacobs's essay on "Lewis at 100' in particular came to mind.

folly said...

I haven't read Lewis in too many years. I'm just re-reading Orwell (the timing is right), and Hemingway was earlier this year. I guess Lewis next.

He was such an inspiration to me when I was growing up. He was more than just a Christian writer, although his Christian based writings have garnered the most attention, especially in recent years.

I'd already heard about the ads, and although I don't agree with the sentiment, they have the right to say what they wish. What I want to know is if a Christian group wanted to purchase ads that said, "Santa Claus may be watching, but you should be more worried about God," would there be an outcry from the ACLU?