Eric Liddell is a man for our time. This not because of his Olympic fame nor the glorification of him in the award winning film, Chariots of Fire. It is because we live in a time that our consciences have been seared and our rationalization has destroyed the faith that fuels holy fires. Fires that in the past have burned bright against tyranny, and have been a light for generations in the future.
Prior to being a 1924 Olympian and Christian hero, Eric Liddell was a scrawny little missionary kid (MK) born to James and Mary Liddell. The Liddells were missionaries to China during the early 1900s, and no one could have guessed that their scrawny, pale skinned, immunocompromised, Eric Liddell would become one the greatest British athletes in world history. Eric had his share of physical setbacks as a child, but what he lacked physically was compensated by his will and love for God. On one occasion, his family had found themselves caught in a terrible storm during one of their hikes through China. Perceiving that the group was going slow on his account, he told his mom that they should leave him to die and go on without him. Of course, his family did not abandon him, and he eventually overcame his health issues. After his time as an MK in China, Eric returned to Scotland where he attended a boarding school for his grade school education, then went on to college where his athletic ability flowered into Olympic glory.
Eric had dominated the shorter distances in track, despite his horrible form. He also was an accomplished rugby player, although as his fame spread his career in rugby took a hit because the opposition doubled their coverage on the “fast guy”. But despite his love of rugby, Eric found himself back on the cinder tracks and in the stadiums. He specialized in the 100- and 220-yrd dashes, earned a spot on the 1924 British Olympic team, and was favored to win Gold in his events. But his hard work and effort were temporarily crushed, not by injury, nor by unruly competition or foul play, but by his own conviction and loyalty to God.
In his day, Eric was one of the fastest men in the world. But when he found out that he would be required to compete in the qualifying heats on Sunday, he dropped out of the events. Why? Eric was a Presbyterian Sabbatarian. In other words, the Sabbath, Sunday was a central piece of his religious expression. It was so central that when he discovered that his qualifying heats for his events would be on Sunday, his holy day, he immediately told his coaches and the Olympic committee that he had to respectfully forfeit for religious reasons.
For Eric, competing on Sunday would be a violation of the Sabbath. Ironically, his rival, Harold Abrahams, a religious Jew, was permitted to compete on Sunday by his religion. Liddell’s sacrifice gave one of God’s chosen persons a gold medal, but Eric was left to sit out the event and watch his friend and rival snatch a victory from Eric’s forfeit.
Eric was ridiculed, shamed, called a traitor to his country, mocked by newspapers, and yet he stood firm. In a world that demanded his submission, Eric resolved to say “No”. In a world that had lost its mind, Eric preserved his. The parallel of our time’s weak consciences to that of Eric’s iron will and faithfulness to God should be obvious.
What would Christians today say about Eric’s conviction? “You’re so legalistic!”, “How pharisaical of you!”, “Don’t you know we are under the New Covenant; that means we don’t have to be religious anymore.”
But what would Eric say to Christians today with our Sunday youth sports leagues, our online services, and rating churches based on their entertainment value, rather than their doctrine? What would he say of the Christian conscience today, the conscience that is so seared that even blatant violations of human rights silence the heart, and extinguish flames of courage? What would he say of Christians who put their pronouns in their bios to keep their job, while atheists refuse and lose theirs? What would he say of Christians justifying surrogacy or In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) instead of adoption, ironically claiming to be pro-life? What would he say of Christians who pour thousands of dollars into Disney products and theme parks, despite the company conspiring openly to promote LGBT+ propaganda to kids at every moment a parent is too tired to pay attention (see Chris Rufo’s leaked Executive meetings about a “not so secret gay agenda”)? Or the Christian leaders who preach a false Gospel that makes repentance optional? Finally, what would he say of those who violated their conscience and got the vaccine, not because they believed it would help them, but because they didn’t want to lose their job or be outcast by their families?
One can only speculate. He may or may not even see some of these as conversations worth having, but his example vs our example of rolling over at every possible opportunity is a stark. However, being the meek man the biographer paints him to be, Eric would probably smile at you and say “God still loves you. Did you know that?”
That said, Eric Liddell is remembered because of his devotion to God, not his fire and brimstone messages, nor his exceptional Olympic accomplishment in the 440-yrd dash; athletes win Gold every four years in the Olympics, but only a handful have reached the notoriety that Liddell did. Regardless, what can we learn from Eric’s example? Are there any lessons to take from his life that apply outside the Olympic stage?
Eric clearly saw that serving God required man to render to God his soul and body. In other words, a man in relationship with God had moral obligations to God: obligations that the world thought absurd and many Christians today would scoff at and mock. But the world and fellow Christians mocking those more faithful than them is nothing new. The world has always been maddened by men of godly conscience, and these men have always been necessary to constrain the insanity. In the madness we find ourselves in, we need a little more Liddell.
For the sake of time, I won’t delve into Eric’s theology or philosophy of missions and evangelism. Eric’s approach to evangelism may appear weak to some, but he was no coward or moral relativist like the Christians today who constantly rationalize whatever they prefer solely for their own selfish desires or to avoid suffering for the moral law. Today, Christians have been retreating from their convictions because they have adopted the lie that there is nothing sacred on earth; there is nothing worth the blood of martyrs except the claim that Jesus Christ is Lord.
Too many Christians today believe the only thing they should bleed for is whether Christ is the Son of God. Of course, they should suffer for this truth, but this is not the only truth worthy of persecution, as demonstrated by the martyrdom of John the Baptist. All truth is God’s truth. Christ is the King and is the rightful ruler of Heaven and Earth. Regardless of which “territory” (i.e., denomination) you find yourself in, God’s laws make suffering obligatory.
Are you a protestant that holds devoutly to the solas, but are ridiculed for your devotion by Catholics? Stand firm, walk humbly, and accept the cross God has asked you to bear. Are you a Catholic mocked by protestants and atheists for your devotion to sacred tradition and holy ritual? Stand firm, carry your cross, and be received at the end of your race. Are brothers and sisters being challenged by our worldly enemies, seeking to change God’s natural laws? Then we must be Simon, and carry each other’s crosses and enable our brothers and sisters to suffer well.
Liddell showed us what it looks like for a Christian to “acknowledge [Christ] publicly here on Earth…” (Mt. 10:32). Christ and his followers show us that to follow Christ is to also follow his moral laws, to give him our conscience and permit him to intensify it via the marriage of love and law. In doing so, we come to recognize that we must suffer not only for the central truth of Christianity, but all the truths that follow from the Truth. Our conscience is the rope that binds our souls to God’s law, but when we sear it, the ropes become frayed and ungodly exceptions are made. Should we sever these cords entirely, then the madness of the world will be unleashed until we bind our consciences to God’s law again.
As a former runner myself, I knew of Eric Liddell’s career and testimony and participated in the tradition of watching the cult classic Chariots of Fire. The movie had such a profound impact on me, that my wife and I on our wedding day entered our reception to the iconic soundtrack, running in slow motion into the reception where we were greeted by laughter from our guests. Any stands I took for my faith during my athletics often reminded me of the stand that Eric Liddell took in his. I never forfeited a race, but I was mocked and ridiculed regularly for the “secondary” moral convictions that stemmed from my loyalty to Christ.
Liddell made a mark on me; he left a mark on a lot of people. But have those marks begun to fade?
*Disclaimer: The review may be vague because the book is not out yet, and I want the reader to feel the same shock I did when I read the book. You’re welcome.
On October 25, Andrew Klavan’s latest Cameron Winter novel, A Strange Habit of Mind, will be unleashed on households around the world. If you haven’t pre-ordered your copy yet, you should.
For those who subscribe to our newsletter, we have 10 copies of AStrange Habit of Mind that we will be giving away once it is released! So, make sure to subscribe. By doing so, you support us, which enables us to support more authors like Andrew Klavan.
The Ideas Matter
Andrew Klavan needs no introduction. His accomplishments alone speak for him. As I mentioned in my review of the prequel, When Christmas Comes, I desire a story that is more than just plot-driven. I want a story that keeps me interested, but I also want characters that are more than an inch deep.
I’m a student of philosophy, and I enjoy novels that develop characters with beliefs about the present world and what it should become. This raises a novel from “just a good story” to something that causes you to reflect. In causing the reflection, the book actually changes something about how you think. For example, When Christmas Comes reminds the reader that man is flawed and history has its evil, but it also has its good. The takeaway for me was: the evil of the past does not negate the good of tradition in the present. AStrange Habit of Mind has several lessons woven throughout, but there are two lessons that really stick out: our ideas have consequences, and “sometimes you have to play through the pain.”
Corruption and Integrity
In Andrew Klavan’s testimony on oneforisrael.org, he says, “In order to live, sometimes you gotta play in pain.” It’s the tough guy who plays in pain. For Klavan, a tough guy is a man who walks with integrity in a world that is corrupt.
Cameron Winter is a tough guy, but he is a broken tough guy. His past haunts him. Throughout the novel, Cameron is bombarded with the ideas that you and I are hit with every day, yet he stands his ground. He does his job in spite of the consequences. Why? Because reality is corrupt. It hurts us, even the best of us, and “sometimes you have to play in pain.”
Our Ideas Have Consequences
“Ideas have consequences” is a truism that we experience through the eyes of Cameron Winter, an English professor with a past. From the very first page, we are thrust into Winter’s past. When Klavan said the ideas in the book were ideas no one would want to touch, he wasn’t lying. If Cameron Winter were to post a Twitter thread of his sessions with his therapist, Margret Whitaker, he would be cancelled!
Winter’s past made him into the man, English professor, and detective we came to enjoy in the first book. Where did Winter learn to fight, use guns, get inside people’s heads, and have credibility with people in the FBI, like “Stan Stan”? This book answers these questions. His past is not a corny development either. You mustn’t fear an origin story like: “I was recruited by Dr. Xavier to join the school for gifted students because I’m strong and shoot lasers out of my face.”
Winter’s past is realistic, moving, and crushing all at the same time. Klavan pulls us into Winter’s beliefs, ethics, and inconsistencies, not just with a good plot, but with ideas that you and I face every day. You know these ideas because they are the ones that can get you cancelled at your job, or rejected by those closest to you. I know many of you who listen to our podcast and read our articles have endured these rejections.
For those who have paid for their ideas or are frustrated with the constant Marxist garbage in the news, you will find Klavan’s book therapeutic. You will be shocked from the very first page to the end.
We all know that ideas have consequences, but we are typically referring to the big and impersonal ideas: Communism, Fascism, Materialism, Capitalism, etc. But what about your ideas? What about what you think about the world? What about the ideas you have about yourself? About justice? About God? Can the ways you think about yourself, your neighbors, your co-workers, your education, really have a big impact on your life and the lives of others, even more so, than the ideas of Communism or Capitalism? You’ll have to read the book to find out.
This swirl of ideas and character development is wrapped up in a mystery surrounding the death of a young college student and the corruption within Big Tech and its billionaire, Gerald Byrne. Somehow, Klavan was able to work into Byrne all of the Big Tech personas. Byrne is a philanthropist and a playboy with a unique philosophy of the world.
Gerald Byrne’s ideas about the world and people are more rigid and engineered, and Winter’s uncertainty of his own beliefs make for some very interesting dynamics between the two characters.
Winter and Byrne’s encounters are filled with tension and uncertainty. Their interactions from beginning to end keep the reader interested and provide an ending that is satisfying, leaving the reader ready for the next installment.
In the end we learn that the impersonal big ideas have consequences. But we also learn that the ideas we allow to govern our personal lives can destroy us and others. If we pursue the truth, despite the corruption of the world, it will take us to a place where we are ready to be changed. This is important in times like these, because it’s only a passion for the truth that can save us. There is a question before Cameron Winter at the end of the novel: “How far is he willing to pursue the truth?”
If you’re looking for a great mystery and a character who takes on the ideas of our day in exciting and realistic ways, then pre-order your copy of A Strange Habit of Mindby Andrew Klavan today!
Thank you to Andrew Klavan for writing this excellent novel and making it relevant to our time. Thank you to MysteriousPress.com for the advanced copy. We are a small outfit, and the opportunity to be part of the excitement of this release was a lot of fun. God bless.
*Solomon’s Corner is an Amazon Associate. By purchasing from these links, you pay the same great Amazon price while helping authors you love and your favorite thinkers at Solomon’s Corner!
TLDR: Good mystery book. You should buy it. Has lessons about the importance of Christmas, but if you’re not paying attention, you’ll miss it!
How I Approach Fiction
If I read a fiction book, I need to believe there is a lesson the author wants to teach me with his story. A story for story’s sake, in my opinion, is a comic book without pictures. There is no short supply of fictional stories like this. When I pick one up, I often find their character development forced and difficult to track. I always feel like I’m in an argument with the author for the first 100 pages of the book:
I say, “Why did this person kill that person?” to which the Author responds, “because it moves the plot forward!”
“But what’s the point of the plot?”
“To create a murder mystery!”
“Why should I care about solving the murder mystery?”
“Because that’s the fun of it!”
At this point, I usually put the book back on the shelf. I admit, I have probably missed out on my fair share of exceptional literary adventures because of this approach, but at the same time, I have a wife and kids. I consider myself a philosopher in training so when I read a fictional work, I want to make sure it’s teaching me something that I can use to teach others the treasures of human thought; for me, it can’t just be a good time. It has to have purpose; it has to have a lesson; it has to be a parable.
A Yuletide Parable
The actual title of Andrew Klavan’s novel is When Christmas Comes (A Yuletide Mystery). It’s the story of two murders; one a mystery, the other a parable. The first murder is about Jennifer Dean and her murderer Travis Blake. The second murder is more abstract. It’s the murder of the Christmas Spirit. Both murders are investigated through the skills, associates, and memories of our protagonist, Cameron Winter. For Cameron Winter, the murder of Jennifer Dean is one that’s expected by the reader to be solved. But the murder of Christmas is a tragedy that has already happened. The murder of Jennifer Dean in a Christmas-card town is forcing Cameron to relive his past and explore its parallels with a murder in the present. The inside dust jacket flap on my copy confirms this interpretation: “Enter Cameron Winter, a lonely English professor haunted by the ghosts of his own Christmases past…Winter finds that the Sweet Haven murder echoes a horrific yuletide memory from his youth, and he knows that something darker than a simple domestic dispute is at its root.”
The death of Christmas, I consider the “second murder” of the book, as well as the more compelling of the two plots. In it the reader is exposed to, in no certain terms, the spiritual war for Christmas and one of the casualties of this war is Cameron Winter. There are others mentioned in the book who suffer from this battle for Christmas, but to avoid spoilers we will stay focused on Cameron.
The Sins of the Past and the Value of Tradition
As Cameron solves the murder of Jennifer Dean, which has a very satisfying conclusion, we learn more of his past. This occurs through therapy sessions that Klavan navigates brilliantly. Anyone who has been in a therapy session with a skilled counselor will recognize the authenticity and humanity in the counselor and the patient; therapy is a dance not a science, and it’s clear that Klavan has been a patient in this dance. I presume that there is a bit of his own experience in the counseling chamber coming through in Winter’s sessions with counselor Margret Whitaker – something Klavan has been open about on his podcast. This makes these sessions believable and authentic; it also demonstrates there are rational therapists out there in the world of quacks, and reading a healthy dialog between a healthy therapist and an admirable hero was therapeutic in and of itself.
During these sessions we see tragedy used as a tool. We discover the importance of family through the loss of family, family traditions through their ephemeral nature, innocence through its corruption, and Christmas through its death. This is the lesson I think that Klavan aims to teach the reader in this book: The sins of the past are real, but they should not destroy or devalue the traditions we practice in the present.
Klavan presents the reader, not with a MAGA country or a Marxist Utopia, but with the country in which we were raised; a country where our memories are still trying to hold on. A country where Christmas was on every boy’s and girl’s face when the season came through. A country where we prayed and hoped for a “white Christmas” so we could all experience the glow of the lights and the smells of moms’ and grandmas’ cooking in the kitchen in contrast to the bitter cold and warm rosy cheeks. Cameron Winter lost these. The reader is left with a question at the end of the book: are we going to lose them too, or are we going to resurrect them for ourselves, our community, and our children? I for one, plan to have some pretty kick-ass Christmas celebrations this year, and hope you will too!
The nice Christian is an odd creature. They are not the final aim of the Christian life; they are squishy and unreliable for starters, and care more about cultural sensitivity than they do about the truth. First, the adjective ‘nice’ is not a flattering term. “He’s a nice boy” or “she’s a nice girl” has a childish aspect to it. Second, in my 25+ years of being a Christian, I don’t recall a pastor ever referring to Saint Paul as “a nice guy.” In fact, most of the time it was quite the opposite. I also don’t remember anyone referring to Jesus as “nice” — “Jesus is a nice man” is another odd descriptor, especially for a man who flipped tables in the synagogue, conquered death, and whose return will be with a tattoo on his thigh and eyes of fire. It’s not that one ought not call a Christian “nice”, it just seems a bit childish for our religious adherents to be characterized by a such a weak term when our Savior and saints before us don’t fit the description. Maybe this is why C. S. Lewis’ evil corporation in That Hideous Strength donned the acronym N.I.C.E.–because of its allure to squishy Christians who find their faith affirmed by the affirmation of the world, rather than their exile from it.
There is a passage I read some time ago in the Psalms. It struck me the moment I read it: “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints.” (Ps. 116:15). This does not mean that God is excited about the death of his saints, but that their death and suffering are not meaningless to him; there is value in suffering as one of his own.
But are these saints “nice”? I’m not sure, but certainly we can ascribe “kindness” to a Christian. Kindness is one of the fruits of the Spirit, and it is not a word that conveys weakness or childishness. It is an intentional act of love, not romantic, that wills itself to care for a person, whether they are in need or not. Where there is strength of character in a person we use the term “kind.” When there is an innocence coupled with weakness, we have a child. The child has yet to become a man or woman whose commanding presence is marked by strength or beauty respectively – e.g., we call soldiers and leaders kind, but children we call nice.
I have not heard many pastors preach on Ps. 116:15. Growing up in mostly topical or exegetical sermon culture caused the Psalms to take a back seat to the 5-year sermon series in the book of Jude. But this Psalm found its way back into to my devotions right before our first Solomon’s Corner Seminar: Ye Shall Be as Gods. I contemplated this verse for several days as I prepared to speak on the bleak transhumanist future predicted by Harari that has been affirmed by my own experience as a software developer. How do we “nice” Christians prepare for the coming anti-Christian storm? As the horizon darkens, the cultural pressure will increase on Christian organizations and institutions. Will the “nice” Christian be able to survive this pressure? No. He will have to become something different. He will have to become a light in his community, someone unmovable, willing to offend and even be wounded for the Christ he follows and the moral values he promotes. In doing so, his “nice” will die. The pressure will forge a Christian, not loved, but respected; A Christian not “nice”, but kind.
Russians are notorious for being anything but nice. When you read Dostoyevsky or Solzhenitsyn, you don’t get a lot of “nice” from their pages. Yet, moments of kindness shine through, and this kindness contrasted between the dark souls in their country is potent. In The First Circle, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, contains such an encounter. It is chapter 25 “The Church of Nikita the Martyr”. A beautiful Christian girl named Agnia is mourning the coming destruction of her churches by the Soviets, while her lover, a communist aiming for a military career, downplays her fears and foreshadowing. She continues to spend the afternoon with this man. They talk and discuss their love, but she keeps bringing it back to the churches. This provokes an argument. She endures his criticisms and gaslighting with a somber and kind grace. She is not nice, and he is definitely not kind. In this instance, beauty trumps strength. She was a woman, and he was man acting like a boy. Her beauty, which he rejects as the debate prolongs, is intensified, not because she was nice, but because she was kind; she was out of his league, but she entertained his debate anyway; in the end, her death sealed her predictions and he became the monster he denied he would become.
How do we become kind? We must meditate on the simple truth that “Christ’s burden is light.” It is light, but a burden nonetheless. Jordan Peterson characterizes the human experience as mostly suffering; I’m beginning to see his point. He seems to be echoing a theme found throughout the Bible. Israel is a constant pendulum swinging between blessings and curses. Often, the curses affect the children who will never taste the national blessings of their parents. But Peterson is only half right. Yes, suffering is part of the human experience, and it is necessary to the Christian life (Phil. 3:10; Jm. 1:12; 2 Tim. 3:12; Jn. 16:33; Rm. 5:3), but it is in suffering that kindness can blossom:
Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. (1 Pet. 4:8-10)
Life is suffering, but suffering also produces life. Have you ever had a “light burden”? What is it anyway? Burdens are inherently heavy; whoever stops to take a “free burden”, let alone offer them to people like kids at a lemonade stand? What is a “light burden”?
It’s a burden that is worth carrying. It’s a burden that makes your footing sure because the weight gives you more traction with which to reach your destination. It is here that Peterson gives us the first part of the paradox; life is suffering, but suffering gives life. This is true because Suffering has a different name, Jesus Christ. At the center of this paradox, we find the life of a Christian completed; we find ourselves in the heart of Christ. But we can’t get there without a little suffering and a little kindness. Viktor Frankl said that suffering is a gift; not something to be pursued, but something to be received; not something you do to yourself, but something you’re ordained to endure. It is in this light we are talking of suffering, not in the soteriological or salvific sense. Suffering does not produce salvation, but it certainly seems to confirm your adoption.
In the coming days we may find ourselves, in the words of Saint Paul, “…perplexed, but not driven to despair…” (2 Cor. 4:8). Yet, this suffering will give us the life God intended, and in that suffering, should the certainty of death manifest itself, we must remember that our lives and our death, are precious to Him.
Note: This is a reflection from Rod Dreher’s book, Live Not by Lies — specifically chapters 1 and 2. For those participating in our book club in person or online, fee free to post your reflection in the comments section below. #KeepThinking
We must remain vigilant. The culture is worse now than when Dreher wrote the book. Just today, a military general was suspended from his contracting job and put under investigation for mocking the First Lady with a “what is a woman” joke. We may not have to endure as much suffering as others, but we must consider how our example of worship, commitment to Christ, and our compromises will inform our children of how to live.
If we are older and concerned about the next generation, we must open our homes for fellowship with those who indicate they are concerned about the times. An elder’s word of encouragement brings substantial amounts of peace when coming from one faithfully paternal rather than biologically paternal.
We must remember that the promise of heaven should not drive us to apathy, but to courage. This life is not all there is. There are habits we must form, and rewards wait in heaven for those that live exceptionally well in difficult days. Habits are formed by lifting little truths-and eventually heavy truths that may break us, but in the end set us free.
Finally, while the parallels between our current day and the accounts from communism survivors are frightening, we should remind ourselves and our children of the kingdom they are a part of: the Kingdom of God. They may suffer or die under totalitarianism, in the same way the Israelites did in the book of Jeremiah, but the promise we must give them is the promise God has given us, that we will be with Him in heaven. We must not fall for the lie that there is an easy road. There is no road without suffering, so you might as well suffer for the truth. The sooner we and our children take this to heart, the better.
Note: Below is the show notes/transcript of the podcast, A New Religion: Divine Atheism. Daniel does ad-lib some of the show so it is not a 1-1 transcript. Additionally, the formatting may be inconsistent due to time constraints surrounding the post.
We find ourselves in an odd age. All around us, the technological advances are occurring rapidly. In every sphere it seems there is a new plant of human innovation breaking ground in an arena that was previously believed impossible. Yet, many of us are unaware of these breakthroughs. We carry on in our daily lives, as if the world is changing and we are staying the same. When in actuality, technology is retaining its natural progression, while our human progression is being detoured by it. Technology is supposed to innovate and develop in new and exciting ways that humans cannot, but were humans supposed to become symbiotic with technology? Are there boundaries that technology should not cross?
Today we will discuss two great minds, one who is alive and active in the global discussion of technology and politics, and another who has left us breadcrumbs of a world he foresaw in his fictional works, titled the Space Trilogy. I’m speaking of Yuval Noah Harari, a historian and transhumanist, and beloved Christian philosopher, C.S. Lewis. Both men have a trilogy of books dedicated to the subject of spiritual-scientism. One author exposes its dangers, the other embraces these ideas as the next step in evolution. Today we focus primarily on Lewis’ books in the Space Trilogy, Perelandra and That Hideous Strength. After discussing Lewis’ prescient themes and parallels to today, we will do a small introduction to Yuval’s Homo Deus. In light of these conflicting visions of the world, we will give an application for the Christian Intellectual life.
The Three Prophets
There are three books from the past that prophetically predicted our present conflicts: 1984 by George Orwell, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, and That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis. If you’re familiar with these titles, there is an even greater chance you have read 1984 or Brave New World. But in my experience, few have read That Hideous Strength. I myself have read 1984 and That Hideous Strength, but not Brave New World.
All three of these books depict a dystopian world in which man’s freedoms are trampled and control of the masses is achieved. In 1984 it’s the iron rod of the government through dystopian surveillance techniques and psychological warfare. In Brave New World, it’s the appeal to our “pleasure” through a drug called “Soma”. In C. S. Lewis’ third installment of his Space Trilogy, That Hideous Strength, we find something unique to the other two: the spiritual and rational progression into a spiritual scientism, which highlights the spiritual motivation of our present day. The motivation C.S Lewis reveals, and Yuval explicitly argues for, is this: man, whether fallen or redeemed, has a deep desire for the divine, an eternal and blissful life. Not only does Lewis accurately describe the spiritual motivations of man, but he also describes a world not far from our own. What follows are several quotes from the book that highlight similarities to our own time.
In Lewis’ world, control of man is not done through technology or fancy drugs. It’s done through sociological propaganda, or what we would call today, “social engineering”. In Lewis’ fictitious world, man is controlled by “fake news” propagated in partnership with a large global company known as “N.I.C.E.” using academics, specifically sociologists, to manipulate language via media. Here is a quote discussing the importance of language and its ability to manipulate our perceptions:
You are what we need: a trained sociologist with a radically realistic outlook, not afraid of responsibility. Also, a sociologist who can write…[we don’t want you write this ‘up’] We want you to write it down—to camouflage it. Only for the present, of course. Once the thing gets going we shan’t have to bother about the great heart of the British public. We’ll make the great heart what we want it to be. But in the meantime, it does make a difference how things are put. For instance, if it were even whispered that the N.I.C.E. wanted powers to experiment on criminals, you’d have all the old women of both sexes up in arms and yapping about humanity. Call it re–education of the mal-adjusted, and you have them all slobbering with delight that the brutal era of retributive punishment has at last come to an end. Odd thing it is — the word ‘experiment’ is unpopular, but not the word ‘experimental.’ You musn’t experiment on children; but offer the dear little kiddies free education in an experimental school attached to the N.I.C.E. and it’s all correct. – Lewis, That Hideous Strength, 41.
An example from our own time came during COVID and the terms “Emergency Authorization” and “Vaccine”. I bring this up, not for political reasons, but Yuval is on the record stating the COVID will usher in an era of more government control, Klaus Schwab, leader of the World Economic Forum, echoes this in his work The Great Reset. Don’t call the Pfizer drugs, ‘experimental’ vaccines; this indicates that it’s untested. Instead call it “Emergency Authorized”. In substance, the drug is still experimental given that no long-term studies could have been done. Additionally, it was called a “vaccine” implying that because it conferred immunity, it was doing so via traditional virology. However, this also was a play on words. The vaccine was a gene therapy, and this was acknowledged later on in the pandemic by the CEO of Bayer. Cut #1 – Bayer CEO:
The Bayer CEO admits that the pandemic opened up perceptions, but prior to the pandemic they could not call it an MRNA gene therapy, instead they called it an MRNA vaccine. It’s clear from our current events and the fictional events in Lewis’ book, that we are living in a very odd time. Brace yourself, it will only get weirder from here. Additionally, Lewis describes the Christians who are “against organized religion” but hold to a “Jesus is Lord” theology. Mr. Straik is a priest in the book, and while he has a minor role in the story, his discussion with the main character, Mark, parallels the theology of many Christians today.
It’s not theology I’m talking about but the Lord Jesus. Theology is talk — eyewash— a smoke screen – a game for rich men. It wasn’t in lecture rooms I found the Lord Jesus…The powers of science are an instrument. An irresistible instrument, as all of us in the N.I.C.E. know. And why are they an irresistible instrument?…They are an irresistible instrument, because they are an instrument in His hand. An instrument of judgment as well as of healing. That is what I couldn’t get any of the Churches to see. They are blinded. Blinded by their filthy rags of humanism…I knew that He was coming in power. And that is why I find myself joining with communists and materialists and anyone else who is really ready to expedite the coming. The feeblest of these people here has the tragic sense of life, the ruthlessness, the total commitment, the readiness to sacrifice all merely human values, which I could not find amid all the nauseating cant of the organised religions [sic] – Ibid. 77.
There are many other parallels in the book that as a whole make the book feel very prophetic. Lewis, like other thinkers, has an uncanny ability of forecasting the future effects from immediate concepts and ideas. But a few more quick parallels: NICE goes through and purchases homes and villas on the campus grounds – this parallels Black Rock, a major investment company, who is doing similar things. Additionally Mark the protagonist, and his wife Jane are in a modern marriage where children are an afterthought to their careers. Jane is a modern feminist and portrays many of the attitudes of feminism that women today would admire. Protests and riots are used for political gain of trust in the N.I.C.E., rather than the government. This parallels our “woke” companies, like Big Tech, that regularly excite protesters through their political messaging and products. Finally, although there are more parallels in the book than I have listed here, the idea that our emotions and spiritual perceptions are all hormones, i.e., nothing more than something to manipulate and control is a major theme in Lewis’ work. This idea is all throughout both Lewis’ Hideous Strength, and is a major theme underlying Yuval’s philosophy of pleasure in Homo Deus. For a person following our current events, the books Perelandra and That Hideous Strength, highlight not only the transhumanist philosophy as the demonic combination of theism, atheism and technology (e.g. Atheism as the materialist foundation, theism in as much as man aims to become divine, and technology as the means to transcend materialism and to become gods), but they also get at the spiritual apathy of Christians, who believe that God has placed them in the time they are in solely to wait for his second coming, not to engage in the spiritual battle of ideas which wage daily in our politics and our communities: communism, Marxism, materialism, nominalism, and rigid biblical fundamentalism, meaning that if its not mentioned in the Bible explicitly, then the means we use for our happiness are permitted. But one last, and important prescient quote from C.S. Lewis, before introducing you Yuval Noah Harari, a contemporary thinker who emulates and embodies the ideas of Lewis’ characters. The primary villain is not a particular individual or demon in That Hideous Strength, but rather the N.I.C.E. N.I.C.E. stands for, “National Institute of Co-Ordinated Experiments”, and is an international organization similar to Google, Facebook, or Microsoft of our own day. These companies have a reach that is international and our dependence on them is even greater than the dependence of the citizens on N.I.C.E. in the book. In this particular quote, Mark recognizes that the company he has decided to work for is involved in some dark stuff, and he doesn’t want any part in it. They have blackmailed him by framing him for a murder their own organization committed. Once you arrive at “Hotel NICE, you can stay, but you can never leave”.
Even the vague idea of escaping to America which, in a simpler age, comforted so many a fugitive, was denied him. He had already read in the papers the warm approval of the N.I.C.E. and all its works which came from the United States and from Russia. . .Its claws were embedded in every country… – Ibid. 210.
When you hear this, you should think of the humanitarian efforts that many tech companies invest in. Well, it’s debatable how much abortion is considered a “humanitarian effort”, but none the less, it’s safe to say that many global citizens look favorably on the Big-Tech companies and the ease they give their lives. But the most concerning quote from C.S. Lewis that parallels, not the mainstream thought of the culture, but the thought of the elite leaders of our day, is the goal of immortality. To become gods.
It means that if this technique is really successful…people have for all practical purposes discovered a way of making themselves immortal…It is the beginning of what is really a new species [(e.g. a new nature replacing the old nature)] who never die. They will call it the next step in evolution. And hence forward, all the creatures that you and I call human are mere candidates for admission to the new species or else its slaves — perhaps its food. – Ibid. 194.
Today we would call this transhumanism, which is at its core a spiritualist-atheism. An atheism in that it denies the existence of God or any divine being, but spiritualist in that it still believes that man’s aim is to approximate divine power, knowledge, and omnipresence, and they mean this in its most literal sense. Now, this sounds weird, spiritualist-atheism, and maybe it’s because I made up the word or because we traditionally think of atheists as hyper rationalistic with no appetite for the mysterious. I would call this atheism the “classical atheism”. Then we had the neo-atheists, that were the likes of Richard Dawkins who held to a similar metaphysical atheism in that no god existed, but they did everything in their atheistic means to prevent there being a hint of the supernatural. The final iteration of atheism appears to be this: a naïve belief that science and technology lack any spiritual motives or effects. This atheism seeks to merge theistic aims with an atheistic metaphysic that sees the immaterial as having the same cause and effect relationship as the material world. We see this depicted in the Lewis’ character “Weston” whose aim was originally space exploration, but then after getting a some “Guidance” from the demonic, his aim shifts to an atheistic spirituality that believes that man can obtain divinity through technology. Weston, the fictional character, is a depiction of Yuval Noah Harari, and I believe Lewis had he not converted to Christianity. The following quote is from the second book in the trilogy, Perelandra:
“Your Devil and your God,” said Weston, “are both pictures of the same Force. Your heaven is a picture of the perfect spirituality ahead; your hell a picture of the urge or nisus which is driving us on to it from behind. Hence the static peace of the one and the fire and darkness of the other. The next stage of emergent evolution, beckoning us forward, is God; the transcended stage behind, ejecting us, is the Devil. Your own religion, after all, says that the devils are fallen angels.” “And you are saying precisely the opposite, as far as I can make out – that angels are devils who’ve risen in the world.” [Said Ransom] “It comes to the same thing…The thing we are reaching forward to is what you would call God.” said Weston. – (Lewis, C.S., Perelandra. 80-81).
After reading Lewis’ Space Trilogy, I was amazed at the cultural predictions he was able to make. He published the book in the late 1940s, and the accuracy with which he depicts the ideology of contemporary thinkers in our time some 80 years later, is both shocking and terrifying. This is most clearly seen in the ideas and writings of Yuval Noah Harari, an influential thinker, whose website at the time of this recording says:
History began when humans invented gods, and will end when humans become gods. – Yuval Noah Harari
WHO IS YUVAL NOAH HARARI and WHY SHOULD YOU CARE?
Who is Yuval Noah Harari? Well, in short he believes that the next logical step in human evolution is to become immortal gods:
Having secured unprecedented levels of prosperity, health and harmony, and given our past record and our current values, humanity’s next targets are likely to be immortality, happiness, and divinity. — (Harari, Yuval Noah. Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, 24).
Now, I know what your thinking: “Daniel this guy is a quack, a real lunatic. I mean where did you dig this guy up, the dark web?” I understand the denial. After denial, we turn to apathy, after apathy, we find resolve. Resolve to join God and his truth, or resolve to accept the Devil’s bargain of worshiping him and in exchange receiving the comfort this world has to offer. This may sound a bit dramatic, but what was the point of learning about the politics and sociology of evil regimes if we believed we would never have to face our own demonic manifestation of these ideas in our own time? In the words of one of Lewis’s fictitious devils:
Like all you religious people. You talk and talk about these things all your life, and the moment you meet the reality you get frightened… – Perelandra, 81.
Needless to say, Dr. Harari is not some rando on the internet pumping blog articles. He is one of the most influential thinkers in the world. Here is a short excerpt from Yuval’s bio on his website:
Born in Israel in 1976, Harari received his Ph.D. from the University of Oxford in 2002 and is currently a lecturer at the Department of History in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 2019, following the international success of his books, Yuval Noah Harari co-founded Sapienship with his husband and original agent, Itzik Yahav. Sapienship is a social impact company with projects in the fields of entertainment and education, whose main goal is to focus the public conversation on the most important global challenges facing the world today.Yuval Noah Harari gave keynote speeches on the future of humanity in Davos 2020 and 2018, on the World Economic Forum’s main Congress Hall stage. He regularly discusses global issues with heads of state and has had public conversations with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis. Harari has also met with French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Argentine President Mauricio Macri, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and Shanghai’s Mayor Ying Yong. In 2019, Harari sat down for a filmed discussion on technology and the future of society with Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and in 2018 he presented the first ever TED talk delivered by a digital avatar.Prof. Yuval Noah Harari is a historian, philosopher, and the bestselling author of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century, and Sapiens: A Graphic History. His books have sold over 40 million copies in 65 languages, and he is considered one of the world’s most influential public intellectuals today.
Needless to say, the guy has some pull with some pretty powerful people and some very big reach with his ideas. But at this point I need to say something around conspiracy theories. There are many who believe that Yuval Harari is part of a global cabal to destroy half the world, and that his speeches and his writings are demonstrations of this claim. However, this misunderstands his position. While Yuval rolls in what I would say are questionable circles, it’s important to know that his argument is based on history and man’s habits of seeking the least amount of pain and the longest life he can. Man will continue to pursue pleasure and longevity, historically speaking is Dr. Harari’s argument. In short, when you read Yuval, think of the quote from Jeff Goldblum’s character about the Jurassic Park: You were so concerned with whether you could do it, you never stopped to ask if you should. Yuval is merely making the same observation: that man tends to seek progress at any cost and there is no exception to this habit today. That said, reading Dr. Harari thus far, he does seem to see himself as someone who has observed a train with limited space available, and he certainly seems to be aligning himself with persons that will increase his chances that he is not left behind on the train ride to transhumanist divinity. Before we go further, just a recap: Homo Deus, translated Man-God, is the title of a Dr. Yuval Harari’s book. Harari holds a doctorate from Oxford University, and lectures at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and is an advisor to the World Economic Forum (WEF). C.S. Lewis, was also Oxford educated, and a Lecturer at Cambridge. Here are two great men who appear to have walked the same road. Both walked the road of a prestigious Oxford education, both dabbled in spiritualist and meditative techniques, but here they diverge. Lewis embraced theism; Harari has rejected it. Lewis saw the dangers of materialism and recognized that the concrete philosophical walls it had built for itself would not satisfy the soul; man needs joy, and if God will not give it to him, then man must transcend his materialist cage by any means necessary. The organic becomes a cage inhibiting man’s potential to become a god himself. That said, let’s proceed to analyze Harari’s text.
HOMO DEUS: Mt. 10:28 “fear the one who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
At the opening page of Homo Deus, is a picture labeled “In vitro fertilization: mastering creation”. It is interesting that this, for Yuval, is the image he decides to lead his book with; the implication is obviously that of playing God. What is amazing in reading Yuval, is that many mainstream Christian denominations and pastors, lack the training in essentialist philosophy to make the arguments that Yuval is not only in error, but that his position is morally wrong. Certainly, anything that sets itself up as an idol against God, is immoral. Mainstream fundamentalist Christianity (I’m not talking Joel Olesteen types), will have no problem arguing against this point of claiming divine status through technology. However, many of these “orthodox” denominations lack the philosophical convictions necessary to combat transhumanist practices. As a result, they will most likely see the controversial technologies that Yuval describes as a “meat sacrificed” to idols discussion where the morality of the decision is ambiguous. Regardless, the transhumanist train has momentum which always begins with a shared Christian command to heal, and this inevitably becomes “upgrade”. Yuval accurately points out this is the way that we move from healing to enhancement. His example is Viagra.
Viagra began as a treatment for blood pressure problems. To the surprise and delight of Pfizer, it transpired that Viagra can also overcome impotence. It enabled millions of men to regain normal sexual abilities. But soon enough men who had no impotence problems in the first begin using the same pill to surpass the norm, and acquire sexual powers they never had before. . . Healing is the initial justification for every upgrade. Find some professors experimenting in genetic engineering or brain-computer interfaces, and ask them why they are engaged in such research. In all likely hood they would reply that they are doing it to cure disease…Maybe, but it will surely not end there. When we successfully connect brains to computers, will we use this technology only to cure schizophrenia? If anybody really believes this, then they may know a great deal about brains and computers, but far less about the human psyche and human society. Once you achieve a momentous breakthrough, you cannot restrict its use to healing and completely forbid using it for upgrading. – Homo Deus, 60; 63.
What Yuval demonstrates in these early pages, is that man is at an apex in his development. He desires pleasure and to cure death. The most frightening aspect is that much of these projects are not conjecture. They are already happening. You might be saying, the “Viagra argument” makes sense, but there isn’t anything else going on out there in the world. Well buckle up butter cup. It’s about to get wild. In 2013, Time magazine ran an article headlined: “Can Google Solve Death?”. That same year, another article went out from CNN. Its headline read: “How Google’s Calico aims to fight aging and ‘solve death’”. Yuval writes and provides in depth citations on this subject:
In 2012 [Ray Kurzweil (winner of the 1999 US National Medal of Technology and Innovation], was appointed a director of engineering at Google, and a year later Google launched a sub-company called Calico whose stated mission is ‘to solve death’. In 2009 Google appointed another immortality true-believer, Bill Maris, to preside over the Google Ventures investment fund. In a January 2015 interview, Maris said, ‘If you ask me today, is it possible to live to be 500, the answer is yes.’ Maris backs up his brave words with a lot of hard cash. Google Ventures is investing 36 per cent of its $2 billion portfolio in life sciences start-ups, including several ambitious life-extending projects. – Homo Deus, 28.
But what would the world be like for religious persons if death were actually solved? Yuval has an answer for that too:
Just try to imagine Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism in a world without death – which is a also a world without heaven, hell, or reincarnation…We don’t need to wait for the Second Coming in order to overcome death. A couple of geeks in a lab can do it. If traditionally death was the specialty of priests and theologians, now the engineers are taking over. – Homo Deus, 25-26.
The vision of the future that Yuval presents does not have room for old theistic religions. In one video, Yuval states that the new religions are in Silicon Valley; this appears to mimic the spiritualism found in That Hideous Strength, Harari dedicates his book to a Hindu spiritualist who has also spoken on the stage at the World Economic Forum. These similarities are not meant to convey conspiracy, but rather to validate that Lewis’ books in the Space Trilogy, have a relevance to our discussion today. The materialist-spirituality that permeates his books, is currently permeating our world today, and at speeds that no one can really comprehend, including Yuval:
Even if gods don’t walk our streets by 2100, the attempt to upgrade Homo sapiens is likely to change the world beyond recognition in this century. Scientific research and technological developments are moving at a far faster rate than most of us can grasp…Nobody can absorb all the latest discoveries, nobody can predict how the global economy will look in ten years, and nobody has a clue where we are heading in such a rush. Since no one understands the system any more, no one can stop it. – Homo Deus, 57; 59.
So why does all this matter, especially for the Christian intellectual life. It is because the culture we create, whether for good or for ill, has a philosophical and theological foundation; many Christians and religious thinkers have forgotten this. They have, in ejecting philosophy as a discipline or tool to study God’s natural order as it exists, created a vacuum. Vacuums, by nature, desire to be filled. The rejection of essentialist philosophy in the Christian faith, has rendered them vulnerable to the predations of transhumanist philosophy. The underlying philosophy they have replaced it with is very similar to Yuval’s underlying philosophy, mainly that while a human nature may exist, its barriers are meant to be broken, not adhere to. In some cases, Christians may implicitly reject the idea of a human nature all together. Here are a few examples that Yuval uses to depict transhumanist progress. These examples/practices have been unreflectively adopted by Christians without consideration of the spiritual-physical implications:
In vitro fertilization. Despite it taking lives of unborn children (i.e. zygotes are created in the process and the parents have to decide what they will do with them). I have met many orthodox and fundamentalist Christians who believe that this is permissible in the Christian faith. It is not. This does not mean that the children produced from this practice are not human. What it means is that in the same way knowledge was not something God wanted to withhold from Adam and Eve, they nevertheless chose to obtain it by their own means rather than the means ordained by God.
Birth control. This one is another example that Yuval gives as the natural progress towards one of man’s natural desires, pleasure: “The newly invented contraceptive pill made sex freer than ever.” I am not saying that all forms of birth control are off limits. But most Christians, including the most fundamentalist among us have adopted methods unreflectively and only in pursuit of preventing birth, and with no regard for the spiritual implications of their birth control choice.
Biological and Psychic enhancement. Given Christianity’s complacent attitude towards developments in these previous 2 areas, as well as others, the next logical progress will be in the areas of biological and psychological enhancement. Indeed, these examples are not fictitious, they are actively being developed and in some cases are already in the market:
The upgrading of humans into gods may follow any of three paths: biological engineering, cyborg engineering and the engineering of non-organic beings…Cyborg engineering will go a step further, merging the organic body with non-organic devices such as bionic hands, artificial eyes, or millions of nano-robots that will navigate our blood stream, diagnose problems and repair damage…A cyborg…could exist in numerous places at the same time…If you want to turn on the light in the kitchen, you just wear the helmet, imagine some preprogrammed mental sign (e.g. imagine your right hand moving), and the switch turns on. You can buy such helmets online for a mere $400…However, once technology enables us to re-engineer human minds, Homo sapiens will disappear, human history will come to an end and a completely new kind of process will begin, which people like you and me cannot comprehend.” – Homo Deus, 50-51; 53.
Christianity and Nominalism
You will not find a verse in the Bible that defines man, not in any biological or materialist terms. He is created in God’s image, but theologians and philosophers debate this idea as to what it is. Further, the soul, is not clearly defined. For a book on the complexity of such things, check out Body, Soul, and Life Everlasting by John W. Cooper to get a taste of how opaque the scriptures are to the lay reader looking for a definitive and encyclopedic definition of man. The truth is there, but its’ not self-evident or defined explicitly; nor does it need to be because God is the author of both the Bible and Natures. Our experience with reality is intelligible and thus the Scripture is intelligible; it describes that which is seen and that which is unseen. But for many Christians this is not the case, because they have inherently adopted an anti-realist perspective, one that says “I can’t trust my senses.” For a crude but simplistic definition of a realist view, look no further than Matt Walsh’s documentary What Is a Woman? In this documentary he visits a man and says “How do you know you’re a man.” To which the crotchety old man responds, “I guess cause I have a d***”. Although crude, this is a demonstration that man can know some aspects of reality without a bible verse to affirm it. The scripture obviously reveals that man is more than his genitalia, but having experiences with human beings is required to interpret the Bible correctly. Having a view of reality that God reveals his truth through both nature and revelation is a formidable opponent against the transhumanist philosophy that says man can abolish is nature, and exchange it for different one. There are those who may be discouraged hearing the way that things are going, or that books and ideas like Yuval’s are gaining so much traction among the most powerful and elite among us; he also is planning a pre-teens series. But do not fret. We have the true God on our side. He has placed us here for this time. It is our job to decide who’s side we are on. In the Lewis’ second book, Perelandra, main character, Ransom is complaining to God about why God won’t stop the demon possessed villain. How could God allow such an evil to move about freely? Suddenly, Ransom recognizes that God has sent him, weak though he may be, to fight this demonic force, and though doing it may kill him, it is his divine duty to stand between the evil and the good. Similarly, in That Hideous Strength, a new main character, Mark Studdock, emerges and is torn between joining the rebels and joining the N.I.C.E. He is confronted a Christian character, Dr. Dimble who offers Studdock an opportunity to leave N.I.C.E. :
“There is no time,” said Dimble. “And there is really nothing to think about. I am offering you a way back into the human family. But you must come at once.” “It’s a question affecting my whole future career.” “Your career!” said Dimble. “It’s a question of damnation or – a last chance. But you must come at once…I can offer you no security. Don’t you understand? There is no security for anyone now. The battle has started. I’m offering you a place on the right side. I don’t which will win.” — That Hideous Strength, 220.
We of course know who will win the war. But what will the fallout will be between those striving for divinity and those seeking to submit to it? This is unclear. So, what is one to do? Firstly, you must pick a side. Who or what, are you going to work for? When it comes to the conclusion of that Hideous Strength, the idol the protagonist has is not some desire for divinity, nor a desire for some hideous sin. Instead, it is the desire to be “liked”. The desire to talk big at parties about the company he works for. In the end, we must understand that where we decide to grow our careers may say more about who we are has Christians, than where we go to church. Finally, and most importantly What is clear from the scripture is that we are to “seek God while he can be found”. What kind of fallout will this attempt at becoming “god” by the most powerful and elite techno-crats be? We live in a time of unprecedented knowledge and we should utilize this time to seek God while he can be found. What that means for those gifted in the intellectual spiritual gifts: administration, teaching, writing, art, reflection, is to continue growing your mind and your craft to the glory of God. Lewis could not have known that his books would be guideposts for generation after generation, but thank God he wrote his books. We too should write books and sculpt our minds. Doing so with the goal, not of obtaining divinity, but of pleasing our Divine Father in heaven. We then take this knowledge and teach it to our children and those we are privileged to minister to, knowing that even in darkness and shackles there is freedom in truth. I talk a big game, I know. Whether I or you are able to live up to the demands is not the purpose of this episode. Rather, it is to inspire us to continue to discern our times and minister accordingly, in the wisdom of serpents and in the gentleness of doves. Seek God while he can be found, practice virtue, and develop a habit of prayer in your pursuits of goodness, beauty, and truth. In doing this, I believe that God will honor our attempts and that should we fail, we will be reminded of his redemptive power to restore us, despite our weakness. And one thing is definitely clear from reading Yuval and Lewis, apathy is not an option. Thanks for listening, I’m Daniel Roberts, keep thinking.
When you see the knowledge and power a theologian has, it is easy to be attracted to the discipline. But this road leads only to destruction; indeed, it may be a destruction that is irredeemable. It seems that this desire for influence and thus power is at the root of many suits, collars, and blue-jean pastors.
Another reason a man may study Theology is for his thirst for knowledge. But this misses the mark. For how can one have his curiosity satisfied by the subject matter, whose object is infinite and above all reason? One drop of heaven’s dew can fill our oceans. Theology is an ocean of Heaven that does not fill the mind; it drowns it and resurrects it. The mind then asks for more, for Theology is the discipline that satisfies and increases our appetite for the next meal.
Intellectual curiosity may initiate one into God’s study, but it won’t keep you there. Like a boy curious about a museum exhibit, he will be giddy at first and even ask some thoughtful questions, and once his curiosity has peaked, he will lose interest until the next riddle tickles his ears.
For the Lost?
Ah, to save the lost from the flames of Hell. This, too, is a false motive. But what of giving a reason for our hope? This is part of the fruit of Theology, but we cannot make it the aim for our study. This, the saving of souls, will leave the theologian starved. The theologian will quickly find himself like the host of a party smelling all the delightful dinners and desserts, but being last in line to the feast, or worse, he may be exhausted and miss the meal altogether (this is doubly worse for those with children and a wife). No, our study of Theology cannot be for the sake of others. This can lead to a savior complex where the Christian believes that unlocking the right “way to say” something will lead to conversion. Instead, all that occurs is the assent to a proposition, not the faith to save.
Obsessing over the lost leads to a warped interpretation of scripture and Theology where the subject is no longer God, but evangelism. This creates anxiety that surpasses all understanding. Maybe if I had studied a little more, that person who died last week would have prayed a prayer. Maybe if I had read one more commentary, I would have known how to “reach them where they were at”. Maybe I am reading it wrong; maybe it’s not what I said, but how I said it. No, maybe I need to change my approach. Maybe we need to make this “narrow way” a little wider.
When we make Theology about the lost, we inevitably end up being panicked and anxious spiritual paramedics, or we become DIY spiritual pop-stars who are terrified of condemning any sin, even if it would save the lost. In this desire, the Devil pulls a bait-and-switch and exchanges the subject of Theology, which is God, for an anxious heart, a starved soul, a weary body, and an empty mind. Theology is not about others.
One may study Theology for the approval of others. In this scenario, one sees the great minds of the past, Augustine, Aquinas, Anselm, Athanasius, etc. or the reformers, Luther and Calvin et al., or more modern figures like C.S. Lewis, Chesterton, or Spurgeon, etc. and believes that through sheer will and determination, he too can adorn seminary walls.
Seeking approval rather than Theology’s subject, God, the theologian is not a theologian at all. He is a magician doing cheap tricks for the crowd, and believes he can pay a small fee for some seminary classes, a laying on of hands, and a following waiting to hang on his every word. This is not a desire that exchanges one’s object of study for the Tree of Life or the Tree of Knowledge. This desire exchanges the object of study, God, for social seduction rather than spiritual edification. These theologians often imitate the Devil when they ask, “Did God really mean…or maybe it’s something else.” They instill doubt in their students so that they can feed their unquenchable thirst for attention. Eventually, this man, when the storm comes and waters rise will either abandon the students or pull them into the depths of doubt with him.
To Know God
So, why study Theology, especially as a layman who may never obtain that privilege of Seminary? It is because it will transform you. When our study has the proper aim of God, our pride is shattered, our thirst for knowledge is satisfied and strengthened, and our hearts for the lost can overflow with the love of God. Instead of pulling others into the abyss, we can lift them up to Heaven’s Ocean where all being finds its end, and sinners are washed and made clean.
In essence, we study Theology, not due to some personal flaw or selfish desire, but because its object, God, will transform you as you explore its depths and climb its peaks in search of those heavenly streams whose waters sustained great men and women of the faith — those known and those known only by Heaven. A single drop of Heaven’s dew is worth every hour of study, because a single drop of heaven can quench the driest desert, the soul of man.
To use power for good is virtuous, to desire to save the lost is virtuous, to encourage people is virtuous, but perverting the ends of Theology leads to perversion of virtue. Thus, in our darkening days, we ought to seek God while he can be found. We must remember to “Seek first the Kingdom of God.” and all these things will be added. Then, when the famines come, our souls will flourish, though our bodies wither.
What of the crumbs under his table? I am worse than a dog. I am the dust under his feet, and the substance on which his holy fingers wrote.
I am beneath the dung heap, for on me all animals desecrate. This is the state of man. But then how can dust be called “good” by He who is Good?
This same dust that is trampled under men’s feet and disgraced by the instinct of creatures was the material that the breath of life entered.
How though, is the creative process completed? It was stated in the garden that it was “good”, not “it is finished”. It is that this dust must become a diamond. Through His guiding hand and the pressure of evil, God omnisciently and sovereignly makes more than we can ever be on our own. He finishes his work. He takes dust, makes man, feeds him the crumbs of life, and resurrects him. Maybe on that day the words “well done” will be followed by “You are finished”.
Allow me to start by saying, that this post is not intended to demonize Rod Dreher nor draw unnecessary attention to him. For those that don’t know, Rod Dreher is going through a difficult time in his life. Having grown up in the church, I know how the Christian wolf pack can devour its own. Not because I have experienced this myself in any meaningful way, but I have had nearly 20 years to watch Christian influencer after Christian influencer succumb to sin and be cast out. I’ve seen well intentioned Christians brought before congregations and told to confess atrocities that the church should have handled privately. In the case of celebrities, there is a different kind of groupthink; it’s like a modern form of leprosy. The moment sin is discovered in a man’s life, Christians abandon him. Typically, Christians do this to prove to the world and themselves that they do not tolerate sin within their own ranks; after all, “we must not give the appearance evil”. I hope that this doesn’t happen to Rod Dreher. It’s my desire that this little post will get a few readers thinking differently about how we treat our Christian brothers and sisters when we find them crushed beneath the mercy of God, the judgment of Christians, and the weight of their own sin.
During my seminary days, I had a conversation with a friend some of my readers know very well; For anonymity purposes, we will call him Guy. I traveled with Guy to several churches, retreat centers, and ministries around the country. We would eventually travel to the Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) to discuss potential ministry opportunities. While on the road, we stopped for lunch. Somehow, we had gotten on the topic of hypocrisy in the church – I was doing my normal complaining about hypocrisy, in my own hypocritical way. Guy let me finish my rant, and then in a firm, somber, and authoritative voice told me story after story of infidelity among ministry leaders, some of them he knew personally. After he had finished, his hulking 6ft+ frame tensed up and he looked me directly in the eye and said, “I’m gonna tell you what a wise man told me once; no one is immune, Dan. No one. Understand?”
Now, consider the way the Christian world treats their favorite secular celebrities. For our purposes, there is one that seems suited for the comparison: Elon Musk. Now, I have no ill intent passing judgment on Elon’s marriage history. Both Elon and Rod are in need of the same thing: grace and mercy. They are both sinners, but unlike you or me, they are public figures and they are cursed with their personal lives being on display. Onward, towards the incredibly difficult line to walk of comparing two men’s sins, who are objectively more accomplished than yourself.
If you could make billions of dollars making S.3.X.Y. cars, building rockets, and have any woman you desire, it would be difficult to turn down. Men, don’t lie to yourselves and say “well it’s my Christian life that has called me in a different direction. God didn’t give me Musk’s abilities because he knew a life of fame and money would cause me to stumble.” I’m gonna call BS on that and say that 99% of us would aspire to Elon Musk’s success if we thought we could. Secondly, this touches on the idea that many Christians are trained to say, “I actually don’t want cars, rockets, money, and women because that’s not what Christians are supposed to want.” This is false as well. Part of the Christian life is resisting the world, the flesh, and the devil’s temptations; it doesn’t follow that you don’t want these things or that they are not appealing to the Christian’s fleshly eye. Yet, Christians continue to retweet Elon Musk (something I do as well) and cheer him on as he uses his money for the good of all people everywhere! Oh yeah, by the way, Elon wants to hook human brains up to Artificial Intelligence and has some pretty radical ideas about transhumanism. But that Rod Dreher…did you hear? He’s getting a divorce…
You can hear the Christian dogs salivating as the devil rings the bell informing the Christian world that he has successfully crippled another one of our Christian brothers. Slowly, Christians will have conversations where they could reference Rod Dreher’s work and his writings, but instead try and think of another book. They will, almost overnight, consciously stop recommending his books and writings to friends who would benefit in order to avoid the absurd implication of endorsing a man’s divorce by buying his book after the fact. As the world, the flesh, and the devil distract them with more “middle-class” sins — gossip, disowning, and judgment, of a Christian public figure, they will continue their Disney+ and Netflix subscriptions while simultaneously complaining about the “anti-traditional-family” content on these platforms: “I just can’t get enough of Marvel.”
The next morning, they will hear about how Elon Musk, who is also divorced (more than once), will be taking over Twitter, and they will shout for joy and retweet his name around the world, “Maybe the tide is finally turning! Well, you know, don’t send a Christian to do a sinner’s job. That’s why we need the Trump’s and Elon’s of the world.” But let’s hope those guys don’t get saved or come to a true knowledge of Christ, otherwise Christians will no longer be able to support them and their products or politics. After all, we wouldn’t want to give the appearance of evil.
So, rather than go any further, whether it’s Rod Dreher, Elon Musk, or a friend in your personal life, pray for those navigating the tumultuous waters of divorce. Regarding Dreher specifically, why don’t you go buy some of his books, or subscribe to his Substack? If possible, drop him a message telling him you’re praying for him, his wife, and kids. Then ask God to give you strength to stand firm, and remember that if it can happen to men like Rod Dreher or Elon Musk, it could happen to you. Let us remember the wise words of Guy, “No one is immune.” May God have mercy on us all, but especially the families of those who have been scarred by the sin of divorce.
As I write this, Solomon’s Corner has launched its podcast! Our first series will discuss famed Christian philosopher, Jacques Maritain, and his writings, Christianity & Democracy and The Rights of Man and The Natural Law. This post aims to provide the spiritual background for Maritain’s political philosophy. For the encyclopedic version of Maritain’s life, there is a link at the bottom of the post.
“Even showers of blood would not raise a crop of noteworthy individuals from such a soil.” – (Bloy, 3)
These are the words of Jacques Maritain’s godfather, Léon Bloy. Interestingly, Bloy was not a fan of philosophy; he detested it. Despite this disdain for the philosophy, Bloy was a faithful Christian who would lead one of the greatest Catholic philosophers out of nihilism and into the Christian faith.
But before Maritain met Bloy, Maritain and his wife, Raïssa, were committed nihilists; they believed that life was absurd. Raïssa described it this way: “I would have accepted a sad life, but not one that was absurd.” (McInerny, 14). This nihilism and its cause parallel our present culture’s nihilism and cause.
Jacques and Raïssa were products of the philosophy that had festered in the corners of academia for years. A wicked cocktail of modern philosophy and materialism had taken the French professors and by extension their students. At bottom, you were nothing more than a bag of spontaneous material processes, purposeless and absurd. If you were more than this, how could you be sure? Jacques and Raïssa set out to discover life’s meaning, but they set the stakes high. If they were unsuccessful, they committed themselves to suicide. Where did they seek life’s meaning? The Bible, the Church, the Christian community? No, at least not at first.
Consider the formula for nihilism in late 1800s France. It is a rise of Cartesian methods combined with a corresponding disdain for the supernatural, and all truth claims being deflected with the Pontius-like question, “What is truth?”. What if the same formula had been taking place in America? What if modernistic philosophies, specifically Cartesian thought, were the foundation of many American Christians’ theology and practice? What would the impact be?
Cartesian thought was observed by Alexis De Tocqueville, “America’s Philosopher”, in the mid1800s, “America is thus one of the countries in the world where the precepts of Descartes are least studied and most widely applied” (Tocqueville, 494).
In the forward to Christianity and Democracy, Dr. Dennehy writes, “Réne Descartes inadvertently bequeathed to modern culture the philosophical rationale for discarding faith as a valid source of knowledge.” (Dennehy, Forward to Christianity in Democracy, viii)
Finally, we see Ralph McInerny describe the unintended destructive power of this philosophy:
“Descartes had concluded that what was needed was a method that would turn opinion and falsehood into certainty and truth. But the intellectual morass in which Raïssa and Jacques found themselves was, in many ways, a logical development from what Descartes had set in train.” — (McInerny, 16)
Is there a difference between spiritual and philosophical darkness? The Maritains found themselves in a philosophical depression. They agreed that if meaning could not be found then,
“…The solution would be suicide; suicide before the years had accumulated their dust, before our youthful strength was spent. We wanted to die by a free act if it were impossible to live according to the truth.” – (Raïssa, quoted by McInerny, Ibid.).
Reading this quote, you can almost hear the Devil licking his lips in the metaphysical shadows and whispering “but what is truth?” to his victims.
The initial antidote to their metaphysical plight would not be more Bible, at least not initially. The first light would not be shined by a priest or a small group leader, but by professor Henri Bergson:
“Bergson proceeded on the assumption that the truth could be known, that the human mind was capable of knowing reality…Reading Plotinus with Bergson had played a role in opening up the minds of Raïssa and Jacques to the Christian mystics.” — (McInerny, 17).
Much like our own time, young people and adults alike do not believe that truth can be known. They believe that ignorance parading as skepticism is a virtue, or as Orwell put it, “ignorance is strength”. After all, if you don’t know the truth, how could you be culpable for it? Is it any wonder, with the foundation of modern philosophy being doubt, that one of the major questions people ask in the church is “How can I know that I’m saved?” For these Christians, it’s a 50/50 chance that God has elected them, or that God is actually the Devil tricking them in a divine comedy that will end with an extinguished conscience (for more on this, check out Hannah Arendt’s chapter “The Rise of Cartesian Doubt” in The Human Condition).
This is not to say that Descartes is an evil philosopher who set his eyes on corrupting the world. Far from it. It is merely to point out that many atrocities occur not because someone rejected all truth, but that they willingly emphasized one truth at the expense of all others. Descartes developed a method that was logically powerful, but taken to its extreme would have unintended consequences on human progress. When the church decides they will only specialize in the study of God’s special revelation at the exclusion of God’s natural revelation, they remove their philosophical foundation that makes scripture and its universal truths intelligible.
Man’s Word or God’s Word?
“’There is only one misery,’ she said, the last time she saw him, ‘and that is — NOT TO BE SAINTS’” — (Bloy, 356).
With this line, Bergson contributed to the spiritual awakening that would ultimately lead to Maritain giving his life over to Christ and the Catholic church. It is the final statement in Bloy’s The Woman Who was Poor. Philosophy tilled the soil of Jacques’s mind, but it still needed the mystery of salvation to be redeemed; a mind solely bent on philosophy is nothing more than dirt.
It is not philosophy, or as you will see in Christianity and Democracy, “unaided reason”, that leads to salvation. It is the mystery of Christ and the life of discipleship to which he calls us that complete our philosophy; it does not expel it.
Maritain’s salvation story is one in which the spiritual and the natural come together to produce a man who kneels before the God of both. McInerny tells us that Jacques was ready to give up his philosophical career if it meant that he could have a meaningful life. Given his prestige at the time, this was no small sacrifice; God does not desire sacrifice, but obedience; those who will lose their life will find it.
Will to Hope
Maritain’s conversion was not founded on a naive view that the Catholic church was perfect. Jacques discovered a prophecy about the Catholic church known as the Apparition of LaSalette. In short, the apparition was validated by the Catholic church and prophesied that “The priests have become cesspools of impurity…Rome will lose the faith and become the seat of the Antichrist.” (McInerny, 37. cites www.lasalettemissionaries.org but the site no longer contains the quotes).
Jacque’s grandfather was intimately connected with a court case surrounding the event. Jacques, being the truth seeker that he was, began an investigation. But after two years of writing and research, the Vatican issued a halt on all writings on LaSalette. This led Maritain to arrange a meeting with the pope:
“The Pope was quick to reveal his sentiments toward LaSalette. ‘The apparition [appearance of Mary] itself is beyond doubt, but the words of the Blessed Virgin to Melanie, especially the severe judgment of the clergy, can they be certain?’” — (McInerny, 41).
The church agreed with the “substance” but not with the “particular words” of the prophecy. According to McInerny, the Holy Office was attempting to avoid a “scandal”. McInerny provides a quote Maritain recorded in his journal about the encounter:
“What to do? Contradict the pope? All I could see is that in any case I was going to displease someone, either the pope or the Blessed Virgin. So, without hesitation, it would be better to displease the pope. So I answered like a great nincompoop—but it is one of the rare moments in my life that I had the impression of performing an act with which I could be truly satisfied.” — (Jacques as quoted by McInerny, 41).
Now, who says Catholics can’t protest the pope? On a serious note, regardless of whether one believes the claims of LaSalette, Christians of all denominations can learn something from Maritain in his devotion to the Catholic church.
Modern Christians have a bad habit of jumping from church to church. When the pastor says something they don’t like, they will get up and walk out of the church. Find another one that suits them; just need a better “environment”. What if your denomination received a prophecy — that you believed was true — that declared that it would become the seat for the Antichrist? Would you still go? Why would you, when you could go somewhere that didn’t have such a depressing future? The only reason to commit to that church is if you believed that they had the truth and that the truth received would overwhelm the darkness to come – regardless of who operated it. How different would we be, not our denominations, but you and me, if we decided to invest in the denomination that impacted our discipleship the most?
Maritain’s life does not demonstrate that philosophy is better than the Bible, or that the Bible is better than philosophy. They come from the same God and their purposes have been ordained by Him. Maritain’s story, regardless of your denomination, demonstrates the intersection between philosophy and theology, as well as the importance of being committed to a church even when it wavers. As we will see in the coming days, the philosophy he espoused was a philosophy that required the light of the Gospel. Maritain is a prime example of how God’s law and His word come together to redeem man from his nihilism and expel theological apathy in politics. Whether you’re Protestant or Catholic, I hope you will find Maritain a worthy stepping stone in your spiritual growth.