What can C.S. Lewis’s Perelandra teach us about our cultural moment?
What I am digging at was revealed to me with a re-reading of Perelandra — the second book in C.S.Lewis’ space trilogy. Readers may remember that Professor Ransom has been transported to the planet Venus, which is still reveling in Edenic innocence. Ransom not only encounters the Eve of Venus, but Venus’ serpent in the form of the scientist Weston.
In their first conversation, Weston spouts a progressive Tielhard de Chardin-type, secular-spiritual mumbo-jumbo. It all sounds lofty and plausible and highly intellectual. When Ransom punctures Weston’s pomposity with the pin of common sense and the razor of philosophical steel, the scientist responds with condescending arrogance before changing the subject … He never rests until he gets her to give in. He bats away Ransom’s objections with non sequiturs, mockery, ad hominem attacks and outright lies.
I have found the same to be increasingly true in any discussion not only with progressives, but with an increasing number of ordinary folks. The discussion may concern politics, religion, sexuality, economics, or cultural matters. If there is a disagreement, there is very little logical thought or rational debate. The two weapons of emotivism and utilitarianism usually rule the day. No true debate takes place. Instead, arguments are dismissed by changing the subject, launching a personal attack or playing the victim.
A position is advocated according to sentimental feelings or practical considerations. The more intellectual, like Lewis’ demon- possessed Weston, use intellectual arguments not as a process to discover the truth, but as a weapon—and a weapon that is more like a bludgeon than a rapier. If their intellectual argument falls flat, they simply deny, lie, and shout more loudly.
In other words, the Benedict option may be the only option because debate has ended. Our society is so worm-eaten with relativism the any idea that one might use reason, research and debate to discover truth is defunct …
Thus the silence of the monks. They are silent not only in order to listen to God more acutely, but also because all the words are falling on deaf ears. If humanity is deaf there is no need for words.
The Benedict Option is therefore more about a change of heart and mind than growing a beard, getting some chickens, and building a utopian religious community in the woods. The Benedict Option means coming to the realization that the time for dialogue and debate is over and the time for quiet action has begun.
But I’m incorrigibly optimistic about reason, it appears. I scarfed up Rhetoric & the Art of Persuasion: Lessons from the Masters as if it actually might matter instead of rhetorical skill just being the tiresome conceit of a bunch of dead white males who hadn’t learned the power of grievance-mongering and taking personal offense.
Social cons said that no-fault divorce would read to vastly higher divorce rates, and it did. Social cons said that ending the norm of the two-parent family would lead to more single-parent households, and they were correct. Social cons said that widespread access to birth control would lead to sexual licentiousness, and they were right. Social cons said that legalized abortion would decouple sex from procreation, and that happened. Social cons said that decriminalization of gay sex would lead to social acceptance of gay people, and so it was. Social cons said that social acceptance of gay people would lead to gay marriage, and that was true. Social cons said that efforts to end stigma against trans people would lead to a general rejection of the gender binary, and so it has.
Again, these are mostly all good consequences, which is the difference between me and them. I mean divorce isn’t good, obviously, but a higher divorce rate isn’t something that we should be working to prevent with public policy. Decline of the two parent household isn’t good, but it also isn’t something we should fight by keeping people in bad marriages. The rest of the stuff? Good. …
(Some of this is generational. Young progressives have no idea how common it was for liberals, up until the late 1990s, to say shit like “I am as pro-gay as anyone, but of course we’re not asking for gay marriage.” Demanding gay marriage was seen as the kind of thing that would result in a backlash and was thus strategically impermissible. It was the era of High Clintonism. Now all those people pretend they were always on board.)
For years and years I have denied the idea that campus is a space that’s antagonistic to conservative students … But as a member of the higher education community I just have to be real with you: the vibe on campus really has changed … I encounter professors all the time who think that it’s fine for a student to say “I’m With Her” in class but not for a student to say “Make America Great Again” — that’s hate speech, see — despite the fact that both are simply the recent campaign slogans of the two major political parties. Yet those profs recoil at the idea that they’re not accepting of conservative students.
I hear people say that they won’t permit arguments against affirmative action in their classes — hate speech, again — despite the fact that depending on how the question is asked, a majority of Americans oppose race-based affirmative action in polling, including in some polls a majority of Hispanic Americans. The number of boilerplate conservative opinions that are taken to be too offensive to be voiced in the campus space just grows and grows, and yet progressive profs I know are so offended by the idea that they could be creating a hostile atmosphere, they won’t even discuss the subject in good faith.
And while I think conservative students can mostly get by fine on the average campus, I really can’t imagine going through life as a conservative professor, particularly in the humanities and social sciences. Is that a problem? That depends on your point of view. But if it’s happening, shouldn’t we talk about the fact that it’s happening?
Conservatives have been arguing for years that liberals essentially want to write them out of shared cultural and intellectual spaces altogether. I’ve always said that’s horseshit. But I’m trying to be real with you and take an honest look at what’s happening in the few spaces that progressive people control. In the halls of actual power, meanwhile, conservatives have achieved incredible electoral victories, running up the score against the progressives who in turn take out their frustrations in cultural and intellectual spaces. This is not a dynamic that will end well for us.
Of course, built into my lead is a rough equivalence of Christian and conservative, which is a pretty strong correlation for orthodox white Christians. I’m not keen to argue that, but merely to acknowledge that I’m aware of my premise.
Fr. Jonathan Tobias observes “an effort to import the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Theotokos in the Orthodox community” and responds in part:
I do not question the reason why this doctrine persists in the Roman community. It seems to me that it is necessary if you accept a essential division of nature and grace.
But I thought that this division is out of place in Orthodox theology. And thus, Mary — in the humanity that has always been essentially graceful, despite the Fall — needed nothing extra to be the Theotokos, or even to be sinless and ever-pure. I do not question her exceptionality: she was exceptional precisely in that she was the most successful at being human (excepting, of course, her Son, the Godman).
Ask most Americans to name the most important day on the Christian calendar and I’m afraid (as a guy who took a bunch of church history classes) that the answer you will hear the most is “Christmas.”
That is a very, very American answer. As the old saying goes, the two most powerful influences on the U.S. economy are the Pentagon and Christmas. There’s no question which holiday puts the most shoppers in malls and ads in newspapers (grabbing the attention of editors).
But, as a matter of liturgical reality, there is no question that the most important holy day for Christians is Easter, called “Pascha” in the churches of the East. I realize that St. Paul is not an authoritative voice, in terms of Associated Press style, but this is how he put it:
… If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
(Terry Mattingly) I hope that this observation will come as no surprise — or scandal — to any of my readers. It’s one of the reasons I won’t agree that American was ever a “Christian nation” in any meaningful sense.
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Men are men before they are lawyers or physicians or manufacturers; and if you make them capable and sensible men they will make themselves capable and sensible lawyers and physicians. (John Stuart Mill, Inaugural Address at St. Andrew’s, 1867)
“Liberal education is concerned with the souls of men, and therefore has little or no use for machines … [it] consists in learning to listen to still and small voices and therefore in becoming deaf to loudspeakers.” (Leo Strauss)