‘I don’t need God in order to be good’

This common contemporary statement, so beloved of atheists, is a fascinating statement of personal belief. It seems so simple, plain and all but unanswerable, but in fact the statement is LOADED with multiple unstated assumptions, each of which raises multiple questions. If I was a teacher of philosophy, religion or English language at a school, college or university, this is the kind of thing I would set as a subject for an essay or project.

‘Dear Student

Please study the following statement

‘I don’t need God in order to be a good person’

and write an essay of around 2,000 words. In your essay, consider for example (without prejudice to other considerations)

-What does the speaker mean by ‘good’?

-How do they evaluate their own ‘goodness’?

-how would they know if they had failed to be ‘good’?

-what do they mean by not needing God? Do they mean the idea of God as a giver of moral law, or do they mean to say that they know that there is no God? How do they know? What about confirmation bias?

-consider the role of the concept of ‘the immaculate inner self’ (as considered in the writing of Theodore Dalrymple, the prison psychiatrist who reported that the murderers, robbers and rapists he saw in gaol all thought of themselves as good persons.)

-Are ethical values subjective or objective? Is there a non-negotiable universal moral law or can we pick and choose our ethics, even from day to day as our feelings or the findings of science change?

-If there is a universal ethical standard, are there rewards or penalties for keeping or breaking it?

DISCUSS!

In ‘That Hideous Strength’, (THS) the final book of C S Lewis’s Ransom trilogy, there is a particularly obnoxious character to whom we are introduced as Lord Feverstone. It becomes apparent that this cruel, powerful, greedy and selfish man is the Dick Devine whom we first met in ‘Out of The Silent Planet‘ the first novel of the trilogy. To describe Devine/Feverstone’s misdeeds in the two novels would require a longish essay and make many plot spoilers, but he is an archetype of the bad guy who gets everything he wants at whatever cost to others, and is never troubled by his conscience. Towards the end of THS, as the conspiratorial headquarters at Belbury (and the conspirators themselves) are being destroyed, Lewis describes Feverstone in these terms.

No one at Belbury that night had been cooler than Feverstone. He was neither an initiate like Wither nor a dupe like Filostrato. He knew about the Macrobes, but it wasn’t the sort of thing he was interested in. He knew that the Belbury scheme might not work, but he knew that if it didn’t he would get out in time. He had a dozen lines of retreat kept open. He had a perfectly clear conscience and had played no tricks with his mind. He had never slandered another man except to get his job, never cheated except because he wanted money, never really disliked people unless they bored him.

As the whole conspiracy with which he had been involved (purely for his own gain) falls apart, Feverstone’s only concern is to save himself and use the situation for his own advantage. His nerves were excellent.’

Feverstone’s character, as created by Lewis to illustrate some points which he set out in more detail in essays elsewhere, believes himself to be a decent person. Like the convicted rapists about whom Theodore Dalrymple wrote who made excuses like ‘She looked well over 16…she was dressed like a tart…she led me on…she was asking for it…etc’. he will destroy anyone who stands in his way, but in his mind, it will be their fault, not his. He has what Dalrymple describes as a sense of ‘the immaculate inner self’.

In ‘Mere Christianity’, before he even gets to the subject of God, Lewis reasons that there is a moral law, it is universal, we did not make it and we cannot change it, we have all broken the moral law, and we are all accountable. As Lewis puts it, ‘We have cause to be uneasy’.

As the Apostle John wrote in his first letter ‘If we say we are without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.’ Rescue for us sinners is thankfully available through Jesus of Nazareth, who died on the cross to reconcile us to God,. However, the information that Christ died for our sins so that through repentance and faith we can be reconciled to God and receive the dual benefits of a free pardon for our sins and adoption into God’s family is no use to us until we recognise our fallen condition.

The person who, like Dick Devine/Lord Feverstone, insists (quite incorrectly) that they are a good person who has no need of God, will one day, like Feverstone in the novel, find out suddenly and irrevocably that they were deceiving themselves the whole time. We are not as good as we think we are, and we are accountable to our Maker. This is perhaps C S Lewis’s main point in most of his apologetic and imaginative writing.

Which dystopian novel best predicts life in 2021?

I am a big fan of C S Lewis’ ‘That Hideous Strength’ and have seen more and more of it come true since I first read it.

Just read this article via a link on Facebook. It may be of interest to some.

Do we need the fear of Hell to make us behave?

An atheist I know posted a meme (a photo with a caption) on Facebook with a statement along the lines of

If you need the threat of divine punishment to make you moral, then you’re basically a psychopath on a leash.’

I have come across this one before, and many others like it. Like many such ‘memes’ it’s essentially a slogan that takes a few seconds to memorise and quote, but carries a payload of assumptions, premises, criticisms and truth claims that take maybe an hour to unpack. By then the person who threw the insult, and those who heard it, have moved on. I prefer to argue in a more thoughtful and detailed manner, hence the essays I post here from time to time.

I am never sure what is the best way to answer these punchy advertising slogans for atheism. Part of me wants to hurl back a similarly short quip (in fact I did, asking ‘How do you like your psychopaths? Restrained or unrestrained?’ )This led to a rapid assertion by the original poster boasting that she was a good person and didn’t need any threats from a so called ‘god’ to make her good. Yeah, right. I am familiar with the view of the ‘immaculate inner self’ held by some atheists (read Theodore Dalrymple on the modern tendency to supremely high self esteem) and have heard so many of them say the exact same thing. Most atheists I have argued with have a very high view of their own moral worth. Me, I’m a sinner who regrets his failings every day, and I dread to think where I would be without Christ.

I answered that response with a photo of Stalin, hinting that here was an atheist mass- murderer whose victims might have been glad if he had believed that God had a Hell for mass murderers to go to. ‘Beria, we should stop murdering all these people, we might go to Hell!’ And there I left it. Matthew 10:14.

Anyway, later on, I settled down to see what was on the TV, and, lo and behold, the rather nasty 2017 Armando Iannucci black comedy The Death of Stalin‘ was on the BBC Iplayer. I had thought about seeing it, and so settled in. My dear wife went upstairs to read as the bad language upset her so much (I don’t like it either, but there is so much cussing in most films these days that you have to just put up with it if you want to watch anything edgier than The Muppets.)

Anyway, for an ugly film about an ugly subject, it was done pretty well, with a brilliant (and BAFTA award winning) performance by Simon Russel Beale of Stalin’s head of secret police Lavrentiy Beria. Among Beria’s other life achievements, he was responsible for the Katyn Forest Massacre where 22,000 Polish army officers were slaughtered like sheep, in cold blood. When the German Army found the mass graves, they called in the Red Cross to witness the crime scene so they wouldn’t be blamed for it.

Beria, a bloodstained atheist rapist who did not believe there was a God who punished finally impenitent sinners

The film made me think about the earlier Facebook exchanges, and the industrial-scale murders carried out by the monstrous Stalin. Who was of course, like all his Communist Party associates, a committed atheist. Who believed (past tense) that there is no God, no afterlife, no accountability, no Hell.

Beria was really chilling. Crafty, cruel, loving power over others, backstabbing, deceitful, frightening, a torturer with a penchant for kidnapping and raping pretty young girls and women. He would have them picked up off the street by his uniformed government thugs, brought to his torture chambers, raped and then dumped. Hundreds of them. Beria too was an atheist. He believed that he wouldn’t be accountable to a just God.

Returning to our slogan, I’d like to do a brief analysis of it

  1. what does it actually say?
  2. what does it seem to imply?
  3. what assumptions lie behind it?
  4. how valid are it’s messages?
  5. and so what?
  1. It states that if you behave differently because you believe there is future accountability to a just Deity who rewards good behaviour and punished evil behaviour, there is something wrong with you. Well, that’s not so hard for a penitent sinner like me to deal with. The Christian knows themself to be a sinner. Lewis made this point in all of his writings. But if evil (being a ‘psychopath’ for example) exists, and evil does exist, then what’s wrong with restraining it? We have laws with real penalties to restrain us from speeding and driving drunk. Do they work? Not perfectly, no, but imagine if drunk driving and speeding were decriminalised next week. If psychopathic individuals with violent tendencies, knowing themselves to be evil, are drawn towards Christianity-as penitents-and the fear of God restrains them from wicked actions, then why is that a bad thing?
  2. The slogan seems to imply that atheists are good people because they are not encumbered by superstitions ideas about a Deity who will punish your wicked deeds in a life after this one is over. The atheist is morally upright because they just are. Certainly the one I was arguing with today boldly asserted that (A) they were a good person, and (B) they didn’t need God to make them good. Well, self-reporting isn’t necessarily the best measure of ‘goodness’ (once we have even decided what good and evil actually are.) Fred West, Harold Shipman, Dennis Nilson and other serial murderers thought they were good people. Stalin, Beria and the rest of the communistic atheists who oversaw the bloodbaths in Russia, China, Cambodia and a few other places in the 20th century all seemed to think that ‘good’ = ‘The Party’ and evil = disagreeing with The Party. And, conveniently, The Party = them. When men discard God and become gods, on their own terms, they get to determine what is right and wrong. 20th century history teaches us that, while not all atheists were mass murderers, most of the really big scale mass murderers were atheists. Why is it still necessary to keep pointing this out?
  3. The big assumption behind the slogan is that there is no God, no afterlife, no Heaven, no Hell, and therefore ultimately no accountability. Lewis wrote somewhere, in response to people who objected to the Christian doctrine of Hell, that we are offended by the idea of a rich, fortunate, healthy man who robbed, cheated, betrayed and ruined other people for his own delight, all his life, never feeling any remorse, then at the end of a long happy life (during which he had done immense harm to hundreds of innocent people) passing away peacefully with a smile on his face, avoiding any accountability. Do we not all of us yearn and call for justice, for accountability? If we could be certain there is no accountability to a Higher Power for the evil we do, then why restrain ourselves from evil? If our conscience bothers us as we do evil, we can just redefine evil as good. Why not? People do it all the time. I am well aware that atheists get offended by this point, but isn’t it true? And, up to a point, don’t we all want it to be true? Don’t we want Hitler, Stalin, Beria, Mao, Pol Pot and the rest of them to be held to account for their hateful crimes? Well, up to a point, because if they are in danger of God’s wrath, then so are we. C S Lewis develops this point in the first third of ‘Mere Christianity‘ especially in the chapter ‘We Have Cause to be Uneasy.‘ He argued that all intuitively know that there is a moral law, we know we did not make it and can’t change it, that we are subject to it, and have all broken it. Even the monstrous unleashed psychopaths in Stalin’s inner circle knew this, but did their best to avoid facing up to it.
  4. Is it valid to say there is no afterlife and no final accountability to a just God? The slogan certainly presents no evidence to this effect. Nor does it explain why a restrained psychopath is worse than an unrestrained psychopath.
  5. And so what? If a man believes in eternal accountability for the wrong reasons (if they are wrong reasons), then that does not dispose of the possibility of eternal accountability. One of Lewis’s ideas was ‘Bulverism’ set out in an essay of that name This commonly used logical error and debating cheat is defined in the linked Wiki article as ‘assuming your opponent is wrong, and then explaining their error’. Lewis gave example such as

A) 2 plus 2 equals four

B) ‘you’re just saying that because you’re a mathematician’

A) the Battle of Hasting was fought in 1066

b) You would say that, you’re a historian.

Before determining that the person, psychopath or not, is right or wrong to allow fear of future judgment or hope of future reward to alter his behaviour, it is necessary to determine whether there is, or is not, future judgment. Lewis wrote that even if Christianity (when it becomes the dominant cultural and moral narrative) leads to better schools, less crime, less poverty, more charity etc, that alone would not be sufficient reason to believe. We should believe Christianity only if it can be reasonably demonstrated that it is true. I assert that there is a solid compendium of reasons from nature, philosophy and revelation for believing that Jesus of Nazareth is God’s Holy One, the Crucified and Risen Saviour and the coming King. I’m not going off on that tangent tonight, it’s my bedtime. But before mocking an invented straw man who is so pathetic (*) that he needs faith to stop him being a murderer (**) the mocker needs to have proved, are at least reasonably argued, that believing in future accountability is unreasonable.

Another thing that is sad, even cruel, about this slogan is the way it dehumanises ‘psychopaths’ (people who amongst their other faults have a greater than usual tendency towards violence against others, possibly for genetic or brain damage reasons they can’t even control). Let us suppose that they come to Christ in the first instance because they feel themselves to be wretches and are afraid that they deserve future punishment, just and proportionate punishment for their culpable misdeeds. The slogan seems to assume that the psychopath is ONLY interested in avoiding getting their just punishment, not remorseful because they feel for the ones they have harmed. But what if the psychopath, their face now turned towards Christ (however imperfectly) begins their new direction mostly motivated by fear of just retribution, but as they make progress and are transformed by the renewal of their minds and habits, get more into doing right for right’s sake? Lewis wrote in That Hideous Strength that in the kindness of God, when we mean well (however imperfectly) He graciously treats us as if we meant better than we did. Jesus had compassion for sinners who repented, but reserved judgment for the ‘righteous man’ who thinks the world of himself on every level and sneers at the ‘psychopath’. See the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican.

Perhaps the most poignant and pathetic thing about the slogan is not that it insults Christians (although, stripped down, that’s about all it does or aims to do), but that it makes atheists who post such stuff look vindictive, petty, ignorant and utterly lacking in the ability to examine their own faith (because atheism IS a faith position however much they try to deny it) and the assumptions that support it. Or fail to support it, as the case may be.

Pascal’s Wager is still on. If you bet against Jesus having told the truth about future retribution for the finally impenitent sinner, and lose your bet, you’ll be sorry for ever. If atheism is true and I bet against it (as I have done), I’ll never know anything about it after I die. And like the idea in the slogan that some people’s evil deeds may be restrained by fear of future consequences, Pascal’s Wager isn’t the whole truth, but it makes a good point that ought to be taken into account.

(*) Again, if that were true, why would it be a bad thing?

(**) Once, when C S Lewis was accused by a woman critic of ‘relying on Christianity as a crutch’, replied ‘Madam, I don’t need a crutch, I need an ambulance!’ Christians ARE broken and flawed people. It’s because we know this and are able to admit it that we cling to Christ.

Brian Cox, physicist or metaphysicist?

The famous TV physicist Brian Cox has made a statement that science has disproved any possible existence of the human ‘soul’ (*). Click on the link below to see his reasoning behind this statement.

I have no reason to doubt Professor Cox’s expertise in his field of particle physics and astrophysics. I did physics A level a long time ago and have a nodding acquaintance with quantum mechanics, protons, Planck’s Constant, issues like ‘Is an electron a particle or a wave? answer: yes.’ and all that. Very clever stuff.

But does Cox really believe that questions of a spiritual nature can be answered by calculations in quantum physics? Even in principle?

C S Lewis earned three firsts at Oxford, in Philosophy, Classical Studies and English Literature, as well as a strict grounding in skeptical logic. He was also familiar with the sciences. Probably Brian Cox would say ‘philosophy is bunk’ but he is in fact making a philosophical statement when he boldly asserts that scientific investigations, even in principle, (never mind the details-see link for those) can answer questions as to whether men and women have a non-material component of our natures, a soul which has an existence independent of these bodies we currently inhabit, a never-dying spiritual nature which comes from our creator God and will return to Him.

C S Lewis understood this and addressed the issue in several of his essays, including ‘Religion and Science’ to which I have previously referred. His message was basically ‘You cannot use the methods of nature to investigate the question as to whether there is anything beyond or above nature.’ This seems obvious enough to anyone who thinks about it.

Cox’s ‘logic’ is on a similar level to that of the smug atheist who says that they should carry out tests on the wafers that Roman Catholics say are transformed into the body of Christ in the Mass, or that a controlled trial of prayer versus non prayer for sick people should be conducted. Or, like Eugenie Scott, demanding that Christians develop a ‘Theometer’ to detect God, or find His dwelling in space through a telescope. This is childish stuff, more fit for the playground than a debating chamber.

Essentially, Cox has simply recycled an old slogan. He wants us to believe that nothing exists unless it can be demonstrated by the methods of scientific investigation. However, he is inconsistent in this. He and his fellow Dawkinists believe in something from nothing, in the multiverse (as a get-out clause to avoid the powerful weight of evidence for design in cosmic fine tuning) He believes in the accidental origin of life despite the hard evidence from biochemistry that this is absolutely impossible. He believes that bacteria, having self-assembled from ‘primal soup’ (contrary to all observations) then eventually turned into humans through natural selection acting on random mutations, despite the very strong observation that mutations destroy and degrade life forms rather than build up. And he believes in all these unseen entities, not because of scientific evidence (there is none, quite the reverse) but because they support his philosophical convictions. As C S Lewis wrote in his essay about evolution ‘Funeral of a Great Myth’, each age gets, to some extent, the science that it wants, thus the myth of evolution was invented to get rid of God.

For Cox to boldly assert that particle physics disproves the possibility of spiritual existence demonstrates that he is either very narrow minded, or that he is so in love with what he knows of science (or perhaps so in love with his view of himself as a great spokesman for science) that he cannot even imagine that there is any part of ‘big picture’ truth that his materialistic world view does not fully and satisfactorily cover, or that he is a propagandist for atheism. Possibly all three.

What he is emphatically not is original. The arguments he is making are very old , and C S Lewis effectively debunked them a couple of decades before Brian Cox was born.

The belief (and it is a belief, not a finding of scientific investigation) that our consciousness and personalities absolutely and irrevocably cease when our bodies die is very comforting to the atheist. It means that there is no possibility of being held accountable for our evil and selfish actions. The person who is convinced of absolute materialism need never experience self-doubt, shame, regret or remorse-because they are convinced that there is no future accountability. Like Brian Cox, Richard Dawkins, Alice Roberts and the rest of the atheist mutual appreciation society-they can allow their high self esteem to soar beautifully upward to the skies as they cheer each other on, congratulating themselves for being so clever.

Lewis reflected on the comfort of believing he had no immortal soul in ‘Surprised by Joy’ where he wrote that during his atheist period he was very glad to think that if his life turned sour he could always end it by suicide. If man has no immortal soul, then the logic of this view is impeccable. But what if, as most men have always believed, this view is wrong? Life is short, eternity is long.

Anyway, as I often say, Pascal’s Wager is still on. We must all wager. We all do wager. As the song by classic Prog Metal band RushFree Will‘ states, ‘If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.’ You can trust a particle physicist (who happens to be a committed atheist) on the matter of eternal existence and whether there could be anything beyond nature if you like. Alternatively, you can ask whether or not particle physics has anything valid or useful to say about matters of eternal significance and the nature of man, and maybe enquire elsewhere.

(*) I put the word ‘soul’ in inverted commas as there is some considerable debate, even among convinced Bible Christians, as to exactly what we mean by men and women having, or being, a living soul. A full discussion about the question ‘What is the soul of a man?‘ is beyond the scope of this post. What I take the term to mean, for the sake of this discussion, is that we humans have a God-given and indestructible non-material nature which will survive our death. Most humans (pagans, animists, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims and Hindus as well as Christians-and a surprising number (32% in this survey) of ‘no religious faith’ people have always intuitively believed in some kind of life after death-as is implied every time someone uses a phrase like ‘rest in peace’ of someone who has died, implying a shared understanding that they-and we- have some kind of conscious future existence.

The Church and the ‘Climate Crisis’

Most of my essays here are set off when I encounter something spiky, irritating, incongruous or otherwise provocative on the media, often BBC radio. I think to myself, ‘They’ve got a point there, but C S Lewis had some insights touching on this area that are worth mentioning.‘ Today’s blog post is no exception.

I have just been listening to the Sunday Service on BBC radio 4 this morning while preparing Sunday lunch (a roast leg of locally produced Hampshire lamb since you ask, with plenty of home-grown garlic and rosemary.) 2 widows (one with dementia) and our handicapped daughter are coming and it will be the best meal they get this week, so not feeling at all guilty for consuming meat and gas. It’s vegetable and leftovers soup again tomorrow, and I grew half of the vegetables. But what about the ‘climate emergency’ and indeed the global pandemic?

The Sunday Service today came from a church in Bristol. A 10 year old boy read out some words which I assume he had written himself, although perhaps he was coached. He said he was living in fear. He feared that the Avon would flood and ‘Take half of Bristol, including us, with it.’

Who filled this boy’s mind with such terrors? Did they assume that the end would justify the means? And what end did they have in mind? A new golden age? Or perhaps back to pre-industrial times? Christians get a lot of stick for scaring children with threats of future judgment, but the secular prophets of doom are pumping out a great deal of fear. And somewhat selectively, you might think.

Prayers were said and sermons preached by a man and a woman (I didn’t get their names or titles-you could find them on the BBC Sounds app later today and indeed listen to the whole thing. I may do that in which case I may come back and edit this). The emphasis of their concerns (and I confess I may have missed some of it) was that we are destroying the world, it is very naughty of us to do so, and we had better live in fear, humble ourselves before the mighty Climate Emergency, and do what the government tells us-and much more besides. Oh, and it was God’s world.

What would C S Lewis have said? It’s wrong to try to shoe-horn him into areas he never touched and claim to be speaking n his behalf, but we can make educated guesses based on what he said. Because in his prolific and diverse writings he touched on issues around fear of the future, fear of dying, death in war, death by germs, and the temporariness of this life and the hope of glory that is to be found in Christ.

Not much in the sermons today about Christ, I fear. Certainly nothing about the many warnings about the coming wrath of God which we find in the New Testament, particularly in the Gospels and Revelation. Its almost as if the mainstream Church, having mostly given up on preaching about the Resurrection (see last post on Bishop John Shelby Spong) and the coming Judgment when the great and small will all give account before a just (and angry) God, has now found something apocalyptic and judgmental to preach about again, without offending the secular world. However, I very much fear that if mainstream Christian churches imagine that by wrapping themselves in the green flag they will somehow become ‘relevant’ to the masses who never attend church and attract them in, they will be sorely disappointed.

Climate awareness and climate activism, and the anxiety, depression and self-loathing towards which they contribute, are in plentiful supply. This material can readily be found on the BBC and elsewhere every day, so there is no need-and no point-going to church to hear it. The only unique selling point of the church of Jesus Christ is, well, Jesus Christ. If we want to attract people to come to church, we have to offer them something important, something worth having that they can’t get anywhere else. How about forgiveness of sins, everlasting glorious, pain-free, joy-filled life, and adoption into God’s family? At least (misquoting Garrison Keillor’s brilliant ’95 theses 95′ the Church should give non-Christians the right things to rebel against (that’s from thesis number 74 by the way if you want to look it up. It’s making fun of a particular brand of Lutheranism). The people who aren’t interested in carbon emissions and climate change, hearing an Anglican vicar preaching rather predictably about it, will just turn off the radio, and those who are already engaged on the issues will merely note that the church is jumping on the bandwagon, rather late in the day and somewhat half-heartedly.

I reflected to my wife Julia that if I had been preaching the sermon I’d have wanted to emphasise the following things

  1. There certainly appears to be something going wrong with the world’s climate, and regardless of varying degrees of uncertainty about its magnitude, trajectory, causes, effects and remedies (if any), Christians of all people ought to love their neighbours and take a lead in taking proportionate, safe and reasonable measures to address the issue of carbon emissions. Such measures could include insulating our homes, flying less often, using smaller more economical cars and using them less, thinking carefully about what we eat drink and otherwise consume, planting and preserving more trees, making our clothes last longer, and supporting environmental charities like Tree Aid. Julia and I have done all these things and will do more, as part of our Christian obligation to be good citizens and act lovingly. So, yes, this is a reasonable subject for a sermon-up to a point.
  2. At the same time, we should acknowledge the concerns of those people who are afraid that the ‘Climate Emergency’ may be being exaggerated, and in any event weaponised, by those who desire bigger and bigger government, culminating in a one world government. This is a terrifying prospect for many, and I don’t think we can honestly dismiss such concerns as tinfoil hat conspiracy nonsense. History shows far too many examples of what can happen when zealots use various pretexts and manipulation of pubic opinion in order to seize power, and the government gets bigger and demands total allegiance. This is not to say that there are no conspiracy nutcases and just plain selfish persons out there (some of them, alas, professing Christians) who are denying any climate change and refusing change out of selfishness and culpable ignorance. These people exist, and they are in the wrong (as are Covid/vaccine deniers), but we should try to understand their concerns and not demonise them. There is a lot of ‘demonising of the other’, by both sides, going in at present over climate change, Brexit/EU and Covid-19/vaccination amongst other things. Christians should be giving a lead on the issue of trying to see the other person’s side. Why do they hold their contrarian views? Might there be some truth in them? It is too easy to just say they are evil and stupid, and it will have very nasty results if persisted in.
  3. We are all certainly going to die anyway, and if Jesus was speaking the truth (which you might think an ordained minister of religion in any professing Christian church might take as their first and most basic guiding assumption) then the world is at some stage going to go through a time of suffering worse than any which have occurred before, culminating in total destruction and the Last Judgment. That means, worse than the Nazi Holocaust, worse than Stalin’s Holodomor, worse than Mao’s Great Leap Forward, worse than the Black Death, all the tribal and civil wars of the last 100 years, AIDS, TB and Spanish Flu rolled up together. Then you have to add the earthquakes and people hating and betraying each other. All this is written down in Matthew’s Gospel chapter 24, and a few other places.
  4. Therefore ‘People get ready!’ And get right with Jesus, because sooner or later you’re going to meet Him. And as Aslan said to Lucy, ‘I call all times soon.’ Blessed is that servant who, when his Master returns, is found doing his duty. That is a point which Lewis made.

Towards the end of their epic struggle in ‘Perelandra: Voyage to Venus’, Elwin Ransom says to his opponent Professor Weston (who is whimpering because he is terrified of probable impending death… ‘It’s only death, all said and done…we should have to die some day, you know…..…pull yourself together… Say a child’s prayer if you can’t say a man’s. Repent your sins…there are hundreds of mere boys facing death on the Earth at this moment (*)…

OK, I’m using an edited passage out of context, but the point is that those words faithfully reflect C S Lewis’s views on death, and he expressed them elsewhere, notably in his essay ‘Living in an Atomic Age’. Lewis wrote in that essay…

“How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”

If Lewis was writing that today, his list would be different (syphilis is now easily cured by penicillin and is relatively rare today, deaths from transport accidents are fewer due to various safety interventions, and Britons seldom die in air raids-but he would have added dementia to that list, and probably Covid 19. But the principle is the same-we are all of us most certainly going to die. The question is then, how should we live, and what happens when we die? Because, in the words of a song, we got a short time to live, and a long time to stay dead. (line at 1.53 into the song-Ry Cooder and the Moula Banda Rhythm Aces, great concert!)

In another song from the same concert, it is remarked that people seem to be more worried about the atomic bomb that the return of Jesus in wrath and judgment.

‘Everybody’s worried, about that atom bomb

No-one seems to worry about the day my Lord shall come

You’d better set your house in order, ‘cause He might be coming soon

And He’ll hit like an atom bomb, when He comes.’

Yes, Christians who wish to honour Christ should all speak and live so as to be be fine examples of responsible citizens. We should be concerned about climate change, Covid, poverty, injustice, food security and much else, and be prepared to accept some limitations on our liberty and be happy with less stuff and less foreign travel for the good of others. And each of us must support overseas development and relief charities by regular giving according to our means-that is a New Testament imperative. Our plain duties are more important than our supposed rights. If we have Christ, plus food and shelter, then we have a feast!  But if the words of Jesus are to be taken in the least bit seriously, then we humans have a much bigger and deeper problem, and it is an eternal problem. As some have said (I don’t like this slogan much but it carries some truth) ‘The world is going to burn. What about you?’ The fact that some rather disagreeable people use such slogans in part as an excuse for failing to do anything to support their global neighbour does not mean it is entirely false. The convinced atheist believes that this temporary, dying, imperfect world is all we will ever have, the authentic Christian has a radically different prospect.

The various environmental and other pressure groups and protagonists in the world can lead on  carbon dioxide, food miles, pandemics, vaccinations and much else. Let’s pray for them, examine their claims with due diligence and proper scepticism, and do our bit as good citizens as appropriate. Sometimes, worldly/secular activists may be dangerously wrong on particular issues and it will be our duty to oppose them, even if that makes us unpopular. But the unique job of the Church is to preach Christ, not to fall in behind David Attenborough, Greta Thunberg and Alice Roberts. God did not arrange the whole of history to prepare the Jews for the Messiah, become a man, and die on a Roman cross in order for us to enjoy social democracy, universal health care, ‘inclusion’ or green energy, but to save us from our sins (including but not limited to our sins of greed and sloth which have arguably contributed to climate change). That was a message that C S Lewis communicated in pretty much all that he wrote.

(*) The novel was set on the planet Venus during the 2nd World War.

John Shelby Spong, Rest in Peace?

This is not exactly an obituary, but it needs to be said.

The death on 12th September 2021 aged 90 has been announced of controversial Episcopalian bishop John Shelby Spong. Many have been praising him, his works and his memory on Twitter and I expect elsewhere, with many wishing him ‘RIP’ (requiescat in pace, or rest in peace). That seems a bit incongruous, given that Spong pretty much denied any sort of conscious afterlife, along with most of the historical doctrines of Christianity , so therefore if the Bible is true he has passed into judgment and earned the eternal reward  of a heretic and an anti-Christ (see Paul’s letter to the Galatians, also the Epistle of Jude and various other OT and NT writings on this solemn matter. Most of the books and letters of the New Testament warned believers to beware of false prophets and false teachers. This is a very serious matter. God hates false prophets. One of Spong’s Twitter well-wishers wrote ‘May he and God wrestle for eternity.’ Nah.

C S Lewis died in 1963 when Spong was 32 and hadn’t made the name for himself that he would later, so it’s unlikely that Lewis would have heard of him. But you might guess he had, from the word picture of an apostate bishop character he imagined in his ‘after life’ theological reflection ‘The Great Divorce.’(TGD), which was written in 1945 when Spong was only 13. The portrait is of an English bishop, but the caricature fits Spong (and his English counterpart David Jenkins, late bishop of Durham) very accurately. I wonder if he ever read it?

Having just refreshed my memory of Spong’s 12 proposals to ‘reform’ Christianity (see Wikipedia link above) I don’t think Spong can have read Lewis, or at least not understood him, as Lewis had soundly refuted most of his big ideas. I was tempted to say that Lewis had anticipated or foreseen Spong, whose 12 ‘reforms’ include schoolboy atheist slogans like ‘we cannot accept miracles in the age of Newtonian physics’ and ‘we cannot accept the Ascension to Heaven in a Copernican space age’. Lewis exposed the simplistic puerility of these ‘arguments’ decades earlier, in essays such as ‘Religion and Science’ decades before Spong spouted them.

As Alister McGrath, a sort of modern-day Lewis, wrote in his book ‘Heresy: A History of Defending the Truth’, there is a popular vision (much promoted by Hollywood I might add) of the ‘heretic’ as a freethinking, original, refreshing, ray of light/puff of fresh air maverick who corrects the boring, outdated orthodoxies of the fuddy-duddy, hide-bound, stick-in-the-mud old school. But the reality of it, as far as classical Christian heresies go, is that most heretics are far from being original thinkers, let alone liberators. They have just rediscovered bad old ideas that have been carefully considered and found wanting, and thus quite properly rejected, in former times. There aren’t really any new heresies, just old ones recycled. In fact, most heresies go back to the very first one, which we find in Satan’s mouth in Genesis chapter 3, where he asks Eve ‘Did God really say?’. Spong’s denial of the Resurrection, his rejection of Biblical sexual ethics, and other liberal ideas go back to New Testament times, if not further back in history. Whatever else he was, he certainly wasn’t original.

Anyway, back to Lewis’s The Great Divorce. The title, and main idea, of TGD was a response to the central idea in William Blake’s work ‘The Marriage of Heaven and Hell’ (I confess I have not studied this, but saw much of it, written and illustrated, when visiting an exhibition of Blake at Petworth House in Sussex a year or two before Lockdown). Lewis was provoked by this idea that everything would come together in perfect union in the end. No. That is not what the Bible says, not at any point, and neither is it something we find in ordinary human experience. It’s a pagan or else a humanist fantasy, as in U2’s alleged ‘Gospel’ song I still haven’t found what I’m looking for’ (*) which includes lines about walking equally with devils and angels, and the couplet ‘I believe in the Kingdom Come, where all the colours bleed into one.’ Excuse me, my wife is an artist, I fiddle with watercolours and Inktense pencils myself at times, and I can assure you that when the colours all ‘bleed into one’ you get a dirty muddy browny-grey.

As Lewis observes elsewhere, the more nearly God brings His diverse creations (in particular we variously damaged and disfigured humans) towards perfection, the more distinct they become from one another. But let’s avoid too many distractions (although everything is connected). Lewis knew that conflict is real, and inevitable because of the existence or error. Truth and error, orthodoxy and heresy, can’t happily co-exist.

Blake, like Spong, was what is called a ‘visionary’, that is to say someone who despises orthodoxy and thinks themselves brighter and better and more original than the usual dull lumpen proletariat who accept it. Blake, like Spong, did not like the idea that God would divide people into 2 classes based on their faith and conduct, approving and rewarding one group and rejecting and punishing the other group. Never mind that this is PRECISELY what Jesus actually said he would do in one of his best-known parables (the sheep and the goats). The characteristic thing about ‘visionaries’ like Blake and Spong is that they think they know better than God, or at least they insist that everyone else has misinterpreted God. They of course have the correct interpretation, because of their moral and intellectual superiority. They believe that due to their virtues, courage, wisdom etc, they have gained an insight which makes them better than others. Spong talked a lot about love, but he evidently despised the views of orthodox Bible Christians.

Lewis stood for orthodox, or ‘Mere’ Christianity, and he brought his brilliant mind and great learning to bear as he criticised ideas that were clearly opposed to it. Bad ideas like Blake’s idea of the marriage of Heaven and Hell, hence the title of ‘The Great Divorce.’ There will be a marriage between Christ and His Church, but those who refused to join Christ’s church on Christ’s terms will not be invited. This matters, a lot.

(PS I can hear Screwtape saying with joy ‘Oh that blessed word ‘interpretation!’ Is there a single doctrine of the Bible, however plain and however often it might be writ, that we can’t dissolve away or twist it’s meaning or impact by just introducing the word ‘interpretation’ into the conversation! How many souls have we brought down by pretending that the plain words of Christ and the Apostles can be ‘interpreted’!!!)

Anyway, back to C S Lewis’s apostate bishop in TGD. Caution, plot spoilers.

The novel begins at a bus stop in a dull, twilight city. The narrator seems a bit vague as to how he found himself there, and after several incidents finds himself on the bus. The bus takes off into the air, and in conversation with another passenger the narrator realises that they are all dead and on some kind of after-life journey, a sort of day trip from Hell (or maybe Purgatory) to the foothills of Heaven. Presently, the narrator meets the shade of George MacDonald who explains things as well as he can. It is made clear that Lewis was not trying to imagine the details of an afterlife, or imply that we still had choices to make after we leave this life, but (as with The Screwtape Letters) was using a vehicle to look at particular issues of morality and faith. Anyway, the narrator eventually stumbles upon a conversation between 2 clerical figures. One is a blessed spirit, the other (a bishop) is from the dull, grey town below and came on the bus to have a look around. In the story, there is a possibility of the grey spirits staying, but most go home on the bus-preferring misery on their own terms to joy, at the cost of obedience to God and a heartfelt change of mind.

The two figures converse, but there is no change of mind. The blessed spirit begs the bishop to admit that he had been wrong, that he had been an apostate, a heretic, and specifically, that he had denied the Resurrection. What’s more, he had written a book about it and enjoyed fame and favour on the back of it! Just like Spong. Spong’s book denying the Resurrection came out in 1994, so either Lewis was a prophet, foreseeing a popular book by a ‘courageous, visionary…’ Anglican bishop denying the Resurrection or actually Spong wasn’t being very original. Probably both.

The bishop accused the blessed spirit of narrow mindedness, and said he wanted to go on searching and enquiring. He was somewhat offended by the other’s suggestion that having found the Truth, there was no search to be continued (someone tell Bono!). The heretic bishop then said that it was surely more blessed to travel hopefully than to arrive? In one of my favourite C S Lewis lines, the blessed spirit (who had also been a heretic clergyman but had repented and turned to Christ) ripostes ‘If that were true, and known to be true, how could anyone ever travel hopefully? ‘Brilliant. A sane person seeks water because he is thirsty, and when he finds some, he drinks and is thankful. The search is over. But that’s too mundane, too dull, to satisfy our ‘visionaries’ who search for ‘the higher life’ and ‘fresh insights’ to tickle their proud intellects and itching ears.

Eventually, the bishop wanders back to the bus, turning down his chance of eternal joy because, as another pop song says ‘…I’m too full to swallow my pride. (***)’ As Lewis remarks elsewhere, there are some journeys where you cannot take any luggage, even your right hand and your right eye might be too much.

Somewhere else, Lewis remarked that he had no objection to a clergyman abandoning his faith, but that he did object if he then carried on as a clergyman. I think he would have vigorously, although very politely, objected to Spong, and to his English counterpart Bishop David Jenkins, who also denied the Resurrection although he was rather more mealy-mouthed about it in his 1991 book ‘Free to Believe’ than was Spong. I have those two heretic bishops’ books side by side with other unsavoury books I use for research, in my downstairs toilet. The most chilling thing in Jenkins’ book was that he said in his book that when he made his controversial comment about the Resurrection of Our Lord being ‘a conjuring trick with bones’ he was only echoing what many senior Anglican clergy secretly believed (or rather did not believe) but lacked the courage and integrity to say so out loud. The fact that many prominent Anglicans have Tweeted in praise of Spong since his death tends to confirm this. Some of these people I am sure are sadly deceived, or else hypocrites, but I wonder how many are knowing atheists who have deliberately joined the clergy as part of the ’Long March Through the Institutions’ that is bringing Western Civilisation to its knees.

As it happens, Spong and Jenkins both presided over significant declines of their respective churches. I personally was a member of an Anglican church in our village from when we moved here in 1998, fairly happy to accept some compromises until things in the C of E went a bit too far from biblical orthodoxy for me to stomach and I quit for a Bible believing church. So did many others I remember. Spong said that the church had to change or die, I think he may have been right, but not in the way he thought. Certainly, ultra-liberal churches like the sort he evidently favoured and worked to establish are dying from the inside. The old’ uns are dying off, many Evangelicals are leaving in sadness and disgust, as are some of the high church folks- who are going to Rome. Those who leave, who are often the more active members, are not generally being replaced. After all, what’s the point of going to church if there is no majestic creator God who demands your obedience, no rules but what commend themselves to your modernist, ‘enlightened’ conscience, no doctrines but what satisfy your intellectual desires, and no Hell to avoid? Might as well stay at home or go to the pub or the football. And that’s exactly what many former Anglican worshippers have been doing. Meanwhile Islam, which permits no doubts and denies the possibility of reform, grows exponentially and presses on further into the West. Islam sees a season of opportunity in the ancient struggle to replace Christianity, spiritually and territorially, and will, as ever, exploit weakness ruthlessly. People crave moral certainty, and if the Church denies it them, they will find it somewhere else, wither in Islam or Marxism.

 A final reflection, although Lewis’s views might have been different to mine on this matter (he believed in Purgatory and prayers for the dead, up to a point) I never use the term ‘RIP’. I might say, hearing of someone’s death, ‘God have mercy’, but then God HAS revealed his mercy. In another encounter in ‘The Great Divorce’, two men (one blessed, one facing damnation but still having a chance to escape), the damned spirit says ‘I don’t want any bleeding charity!’ (i.e. he only wants what he thinks he deserves, he might accept heaven, but only in his terms, and by rights-not as a gift). His redeemed friend (who was a murderer but who repented and found Christ while he still had time) says ‘You should take the Bleeding Charity’ (i.e. Christ, who of his charity bled and died to save us from our sins). God has had mercy, it is for us to take hold of the Mercy, whose name is Jesus, while we can. Nobody else can do it for us. Today is good.

Heresies come and go, but the Truth remains constant. That was C S Lewis’ message.

(*) It’s a well-crafted bit of pop music, but the lyrics are preposterous. The final verse appears to suggest that what Christ accomplished for redeemed sinners wasn’t good enough, at least not good enough for Bono.

(**) ‘Resurrection: Myth or Reality?’Harper Collins 1994. I have read it, I keep it in my downstairs toilet library next to books by Dawkins, C Hitchens, Teilhard de Chardin, Marx, Engels, Hitler, Muhammed and other opponents of the Gospel. Research.

(***) ‘Can’t Stand Losing You’-The Police.

Jack and the Devil

Jack and the Devil (*)

3 or 4 years ago I attended a meeting put on by a local group of ‘Skeptics’ with a guest speaker who had been on an Alpha course, in order to find fault with it. (NB some atheists have re-branded themselves as ‘sceptics’, it sounds much cooler and projects them as ‘the open-minded guys who go wherever the evidence leads’.

I don’t know how many of the non-atheists present (if any) took his claim to be an unbiased truth seeker very seriously. There was merit in some of what he had to say, I won’t write about that as it’s peripheral to the concern of this essay. He kept up a cheerful, if somewhat smug and aloof, attitude throughout, but at one point, at the end of his presentation and Q&A session, he became very animated after an audience member raised the subject of Satan, also known as the Devil, Lucifer, the Evil One, the Prince of Darkness, Old Nick et cetera. This sceptic was not merely dismissive of the idea of a real devil, but positively outraged that the idea could even be entertained ‘in this day and age.’

Anyhow, I have just re-read ‘The Screwtape Letters’, a 1942 collection of essays originally published in the Guardian (not the UK left wing newspaper of that name, but a Christian weekly periodical which no longer exists).

A well worn old edition of The Screwtape Letters, first published 1942.

The Screwtape Letters has a special place in my heart as it had a role in my conversion. For those who haven’t read it, it’s a fictitious collection of letters as imagined being written by a senior devil to a junior devil whom he is mentoring, giving his advice on how to lead this man away from Christ and into sin. The main point of the book is to warn everyday Christians about the sneaky temptations to sin that beset us, Lewis uses the artifice of a series of letters from one devil to another as a vehicle for some practical theology and devotional material to help the struggling Christian to examine themselves. But did C S Lewis believe in real devils, let alone particular named individual demons who concerned themselves with the damnation of men and women like you and I? The simple answer is, yes.

Lewis made his belief in a literal Satan clear in Mere Christianity, a book which like Screwtape was put together from a collection of shorter pieces (radio broadcasts in this case). As the name suggests, it is an introduction to the essentials of the Christian faith for unchurched people who would like to know what it’s about. Lewis asked Catholic, Anglican and Methodist ministers to critique the book in order to make sure it was mainstream and non-sectarian. This book helped me enormously when I was a young convert in 1974 and (guess what) found myself assailed on every side by people trying to dissuade me from my new found faith. It was reassuring to note in Screwtape (also John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress which I read about the same time) that this was exactly what I should have expected. Forewarned is forearmed.

In the 2nd chapter of book 2 ‘The Invasion’, Lewis writes about Earth as being ‘enemy occupied territory’ and as Christians being engaged in warfare against the occupier on the side of the rightful King. Lewis writes ‘I know someone will ask me “Do you really mean, at this time of day, to re-introduce our old friend the devil-hoofs and horns and all?”. Well, what the time of day has to do with it I don’t know. But in other respects, my answer is “Yes I do.”’

He added that he wasn’t particular about Satan’s personal appearance, but that those curious enough would eventually find out, but they might not like it. And he continues in the next chapter by saying  ‘Christians, then, believe that an evil power has made himself for the present time the Prince of this World.’ He then goes on, following the systematic line of reasoning that runs thought the whole book, to try to unpack the theological significance of this. I’m not going to try to summarise any more of the book, just using it as a base line to establish that Lewis was quite convinced that there is a literal, real devil, who hates you and has a miserable plan for your life-now and in eternity.

There is plenty more evidence throughout his writings that this was Lewis’ position. In his 1950 book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, possibly his best loved book, we find the fairy tale land of Narnia is under an evil spell causing a permanent winter, and that this is due to a powerful witch who has entered Narnia from another place and wrongfully taken the place over. There is a rumour that the rightful king is returning to put things to rights. This is a theme taken right from Mere Christianity (I have mentioned before that Lewis had a habit of writing theological and philosophical ideas up in serious essays, and then giving life and breath to them in fantasy fiction).

Following on from my last sentence, in the Ransom trilogy (my own favourites) Lewis writes in the introduction to the final novel ‘That Hideous Strength’ (THS), that the book sets out to explore the ideas he put forward in his important but difficult essay ‘The Abolition of Man’, and that THS is ‘a tall story about devilry.’ In the book, we find (and this ties in with ideas put forward in Screwtape) that literal devils have made contact with certain wicked men and through them are taking over the culture and government. Lewis made it clear here, and in various other places, that he was an ‘unashamed supernaturalist‘ and would stand his ground whoever sneered at him for it. The Christian message is not about social justice, or democracy, or doing our best-it’s about Salvation. As he wrote in Mere Christianity, ‘We have cause to be uneasy.’

If the atheist/skeptic from my first paragraph or any of his fellow unbelievers are reading this, this may be the point at which they either sneer and snigger at the easily fooled conspiracy theorist or take a sharp intake of breath, and curse and shout at the delusional ‘White Christian Supremacist’ would-be mediaeval theocrat, superstitious fantasist or whatever. I can’t take that away from them, although I might hope to awaken true skepticism in them in directions which are more dangerous and less comforting than those orthodox ‘scepticisms’ (really dogmas in my view, beginning with the dogma of naturalistic materialism) that their peer group celebrates.

But I say to any real skeptics who might be reading, ask yourself-dare you ask yourself how much explanatory power does the traditional Christian idea of devils and devilry have? If there was a being like the devil of the Bible, what evidence would you expect to see of his existence and activity, given that his whole strategy (at least during this present phase of western civilisation) depends on remaining undetected? And have you ever been taken in by a skilful, experienced and highly motivated liar, one who studied to deceive and was well aware of your weaknesses? And who or what do you think controls the climate of public opinion? If we humans are so rational, why do we keep screwing up so badly? To take a verse from an old song ‘Point me at the sky’ by Pink Floyd,

“Isn’t it strange
How little we change
Isn’t it sad we’re insane
Playing the games that we know end in tears
The games we’ve been playing for thousands and thousands and ….”

Remember Kevin Spacey’s role in that great mystery thriller ‘The Usual Suspects’ where, speaking of the shadowy and terrifying master villain Keyzer Soze, says ‘The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he did not exist.’

To professing Christians who doubt or dismiss the existence of real devils, I ask just this. Have you ever sat down and read the New Testament all the way through, beginning with the four Gospels? Nobody in the Bible mentions Satan more often or in more detail than Jesus. If you want to say that when Jesus spoke of Satan, Lucifer, demons and ‘The Prince of this World’, it was a figure of speech or a metaphor, then what is the metaphor supposed to represent? And if Jesus didn’t mean what he said, why then didn’t he say what he meant?

I’ll return to this fascinating but disturbing subject later. Meanwhile, as I never tire of saying, Pascal’s Wager is still on.

NB Lewis wrote that the devils didn’t mind whether we humans were obsessed with them, or denied their existence and activities absolutely. Either extreme position would suit their purposes, which is to blind us to the terrible reality of our spiritual and eternal situation and thus prevent us from turning to God and His Christ so that we can be forgiven and reconciled.

(*) For those who don’t know, Clive Staples Lewis hated his given names and called himself Jack from the age of 3.

“They have an engine called the Press whereby the people are deceived.”

This post was intended to go up a few weeks ago, but I was busy, however the issues are unchanged and still relevant. In fact, as I began to write this at 08.50 on Sunday 25th July, I Iistened to a podcast on Radio 4 illustrating the very set of issues which I am writing about. The speaker Bernadine Evaristo, who described herself as an anti-racist activist, quoted a genuinely vile racist on line comment which included an incitement to randomly spit at, rape and murder black people (n******s). She mentioned that the author was anonymous, a point to which we will return later. Her last sentence was, and I checked her exact words, ‘Many people will argue for freedom of speech as an ideal, but I don’t think we’re ready for it.’ Hold that thought.

As people will know, the England football team (or, as we are now supposed to call it, the England men’s football team) were beaten 3:2 on penalties by Italy in the final of the European cup. I was watching on TV, like most of my countrymen and women. I saw Marcus Rashford try an elaborate ploy to deceive the Italian goalkeeper, he succeeded in sending him the wrong way, but hit the post. He tried his best (who wouldn’t have?) but failed-it happens. The next 2 England penalty takers also failed to score. This was surprising, since penalties usually go through. Having said that, the Italian goalkeeper was a giant of a man, and very efficient-he was awarded the medal for ‘player of the tournament.’

C S Lewis and deception by the Press
The Italian goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma was outstanding.

The other unusual thing about the three failed penalties is that they were all taken by black players. Was there a reason why England manager Gareth Southgate chose three black players (two of whom had only been on the pitch as substitutes for a few minutes, and one was only 19) for these critical penalty kicks? Certainly, even as the players lined up to take the kicks, television sports commentators (including former players) were questioning the wisdom of the decision, and certainly not on grounds of skin colour. Did Southgate hope that they would score, win the day, and thus stimulate a great outflowing of warmth towards black footballers, creating a bold and enduring parable against racism? Maybe, we don’t know. A European friend in an unrelated email exchange mentioned to me without prompting that he thought it unwise to have put inexperienced players into that position. Southgate in any event comforted his distressed men and took full responsibility for a questionable decision (nothing to do with race.) Thus far, a football match mostly like many others at this high level, but with a twist.

What happened next was interesting. Yes, a few people posted Tweets and stuff which were racist. The only one I saw was on the level of ‘Just saying-the white guys scored their penalties, the black guys didn’t’. Rather silly, and although I am no football fan, I could see that black players like Rashford and particularly Saka played extremely well, and have been accepted. There has always been racism including antisemitism in football, a concerted attempt by the Football Association ‘Kick it out‘ has been made to shame and exclude racists over years, and as my wife said, seeing black players play well as equal members of the England team would shame racists into silence maybe even get them to think differently.

One person (one) defaced a mural of Marcus Rashford with obscene graffiti. I have seen an image of the graffiti before it was covered over. At once, the whole of the UK media erupted with a ‘vile racist insults’ story line.

Even the Manchester police put out a statement to say the graffiti was not necessarily racist. I can’t find an image of the original graffiti to post a link to, perhaps it has been censored, but it contained a few usual swear words and a drawing of a penis, but nothing specifically racist, certainly not the ‘n word’, drawings of bananas or anything like that. Based on the actual evidence, the graffiti was the work of one man (I assume a man) who might have been a disgruntled England supporter, or a supporter of Manchester City (for non-British readers, Manchester is home to 2 Premier League soccer teams, City and United. Rashford plays for United, there is intense rivalry between the two sides). Or it might have been done by an anti-racism activist as a false flag operation. And so might the vile post mentioned by Bernadine Evaristo above). We don’t know.

One thing we do know is that within hours of the offensive graffiti appearing, it was first blocked off by local citizens who posted black polythene over it, and then put up hundreds of messages of support and bunches of flowers.

Rashford is loved in his home town of Manchester.

Hundreds of people turned up to show their support, and to oppose racial prejudice.

Rashford is seen as a role model, not least because of his personal and public philanthropy (he has lobbied for free school meals and personally donated £millions to charity).

Also, tens of thousands of people went on line to protest against the ‘mountains of vile racist abuse’ and a spectacle of hand wringing and finger pointing went on for a whole week. The growing chaos in South Africa, assassination of Haitian President and various goings-on in the British Parliament were hardly mentioned in the news headlines, the ‘vile racist abuse‘ of black England footballers was almost the only big story for a week.

The Marxist revolutionary Socialist Workers Party were as quick as ever to exploit the situation.

How many were from Manchester?

Please study the slogans. ‘Black Lives Matter’ is of course a brilliant slogan, but the organisation of that name is a revolutionary Marxist outfit who wants to overthrow the present order of things and establish a dictatorship. Take a look at the George Floyd riots, arson, theft and murder that BLM and Antifa led in America. If you oppose BLM on the grounds of their far-left politics, they call you a racist bigot. Obvious nonsense if you think about it, but people have voluntarily accepted a dumbed-down version of current affairs reportage for so long now that fooling them is easy enough if you can design the right slogan and repeat it often enough. Note the ‘no justice, no peace’ slogan. This was used by the murderous, sectarian IRA, and it basically means, ‘Until we get our own way, we reserve the right to kill you.’

‘Vile racist abuse.’ Really? One unknown graffitist, no evidence the graffiti was racist (unless we define all wrongdoing to a person of colour as racist) hundreds of members of the public turning up to express love and support, hundreds of of thousands of on line messages of love and support, and (this morning) a successful writer, broadcaster and influencer on breakfast time Sunday Morning BBC radio says that because of the ‘vile racist abuse’ SHE DOESN’T THINK WE DESERVE FREE SPEECH. Well, the BBC and the Socialist Workers Party seem to be in agreement on that one. Incidentally, Bernadine Evaristo seems to have done very well for herself out of free speech, and I have no doubt that she believes that people like her deserve free speech. I wish her well, although not necessarily all of her ideas. It’s great that we can have different ideas and co-exist peacefully while protesting against injustice and misinformation.

Do the math.

By the way, anti-racist organisation Hope Not hate admitted that a high proportion of the 2,000 or so abusive tweets directed at England footballers was aimed at white players like Harry Kane, and white manager Gareth Southgate. A lot of these people are thugs, thickheads whose support for the English team is an extension of their form of nationalism, which is most likely an extension of their egoism, limited intelligence and lack of a sound moral compass. (you can call them morons if you prefer-it’s fewer syllables). Most of the racist tweets (containing emojis of monkeys of bunches of bananas for example) came from overseas especially Italy! Against this were over 500,000 Tweets supportive of England players and manager, black or white. It does seem that a narrative has been imposed on the data rather than drawn from it and that’s even if we assume that the racist messages were all genuine and not false flag or bots.

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So, where is today’s C S Lewis connection? This post’s title is a quote from chapter 13 of That Hideous Strength, which incidentally includes some serious rioting, which was organised by the secretive ruling elite (utilising amongst other things different racial groups set up so they would start fighting each other) in order to enable them to be granted emergency powers, including paramilitary police and shutting down all free speech.

I’ll just let that sink in for a moment. Lewis was writing in the early 1940s, but despite everything else that was going on, he was passionately concerned about the possibility of free speech being shut down by a wicked ruling elite and it’s agents and associates.

One of the characters, Mark Studdock (a sociology graduate who has no morals or ideas of his own, but has a flair with words) is tasked by powerful members of the ruling elite to write two editorials on the riots, one for the then equivalent of The Sun (a lowbrow British daily paper) and another for a highbrow daily (e.g. The Times or Guardian). Both articles are seen in full in the novel and are brilliant examples of the sort of committed rhetoric we see today, aimed at slyly forming the opinions of different social classes. And, as the novel depicts, well written and well deployed propaganda has its effect. I saw this at my place of work, many people shaking their heads about ‘the vile racist abuse’ the MSM had assured them was being poured out by masses of evil racist bigots all over the country. Most people only notice the headlines they are fed.

Later in the novel (I’ll try to avoid plot spoilers) Elwin Ransom, the leader of the few who are fighting back against The Hideous Strength is answering questions about strategy from a potential powerful ally who is new to this struggle. The potential ally asks why not just tell the people about the monstrous lies, cruelties, dispossessions and injustices that are being perpetrated upon them from above. Ransom replies, ‘…They have an engine called the Press whereby the people are deceived.’ They do indeed.

Anyway, that’s enough for now. I suppose I had better add the usual disclaimer that racial prejudice and injustice is real (albeit much declining in Britain these last few decades), that it is indecent, unfair, unchristian and should be opposed, etc., and that actual racist abuse on line should be taken down (it generally is), although maybe Big Tech could do better. But that doesn’t mean that there are no conspiracies by vested interests to exaggerate and weaponise such things. Observe the BLM/Antifa/George Floyd riots in America, which caused billions of dollars of damage, many deaths, and disproportionately made black folks, whose neighbourhoods and businesses were destroyed, poorer and less safe.

Free speech is under attack. If our legal system believes that it is better for 100 guilty people to go free than for one innocent person to be convicted, then it is certainly better to tolerate (and criticise) one racist tweet than to censor the honest opinions of 100 decent people. Some of whom may have good arguments to put as to why they believe that the Establishment (of which the BBC and Bernadine Evaristo are certainly part) does not necessarily always have their best interests at heart.

C S Lewis died in 1963, but his writing is still super relevant as he saw so much, and so clearly, and because (as he wrote in the introduction to a later edition of ‘The Pilgrim’s Regress‘) he wrote about various philosophical and political ‘cheats’ that he had been taken in by, but though which he eventually saw. Do not be deceived. Do the math, think for yourself, don’t trust the Authority or their agents.

Whoosh!!! Off up to Space!!!!

I’m glad that Mr Bezos’ ‘space craft’ didn’t explode today, although I have a sneaking feeling that a few people were half hoping it might, as a number of these vehicles have recently. Some might call the new generation of private rockets rich boy’s toys. There have been fatalities and several spectacular explosions.

C S Lewis devoted a good deal of thought, speech and ink to the ethical and spiritual possibilities raised by space travel. He admits to being influenced by ‘A Voyage to Arcturus’ by David Lindsay, which he described as ‘an unhallowed book’ (I agree-it’s a bit like the artistic creations of H P Lovecraft, Harrison Birtwhistle or Captain Beefheart-you can be impressed by it’s weirdness and relentless flight of invention, but it’s hard to really like it. (Actually, I do like some of Captain Beefheart’s more accessible material, but I can only play it when my wife’s out, she hates it).

Lewis’s best known literary adventures in space would of course be his beloved (but not as much as they should be) Ransom trilogy, also known as the ‘cosmic’ trilogy. He acknowledged his debt to Lindsay, also H G Wells and Olaf Stapleton, saying of the latter that he ‘admired his invention but not his philosophy.’ but he also wrote a few essays about space, and the poem ‘A Prelude to Space’ which I think is from the late 1940s. I have it in an out of print collection of his shorter poems but it’s easily Googled.

As so often in Lewis, you find that he expresses his thoughts in an essay, and then puts them into fiction or poetic form to bring them alive. Most famously this happens with the essay ‘The Abolition of Man’ some of whose ideas and arguments were given breath in That Hideous Strength the last book of the Ransom Trilogy. In a couple of his essays, including ‘Religion and Rocketry’ Lewis expressed doubt as to whether there were any intelligent beings out there in Space, perhaps beings who had never fallen into sin as we humans had so miserably done. He reflected that, if there were such intelligent and innocent beings, it was a great mercy that they were safely quarantined from us by the vast distances of space. The following poem expresses this thought.

An Epithaliamium


So Man, grown vigorous now,
Holds himself ripe to breed,
Daily devises how
To ejaculate his seed
And boldly fertilize
The black womb of the unconsenting skies.


Some now alive expect
(I am told) to see the large,
Steel member grow erect,
Turgid with the fierce charge
Of our whole planet’s skill,
Courage, wealth, knowledge, concentrated will,


Straining with lust to stamp
Our likeness on the abyss-
Bombs, gallows, Belsen camp,
Pox, polio, Thais’ kiss
Or Judas, Moloch’s fires
And Torquemada’s (sons resemble sires).


Shall we, when the grim shape
Roars upward, dance and sing?
Yes: if we honour rape,
If we take pride to Ring
So bountifully on space
The sperm of our long woes, our large disgrace
.

The poem speaks for itself, comparing rockets to erect penises menacing unconsenting wombs (space ‘conquest’ as rape), and Man’s hopes of ‘conquering’ space to various notorious acts of evil that humans had perpetrated upon one another in history and the modern day.

Come to think of it, Jeff Bezos’ rocket does look rather like a giant knob. And if I may continue in this vulgar vein, the phrase ‘willy measuring‘ is sometimes used as a taunt against men who boast of their superior prowess in various areas. ‘Mine is larger than yours.‘ If the helmet fits, wear it.

Me, I’m all for a degree of unmanned space exploration and am as big a fan of the glorious images of deep space from the Hubble Space Telescope as the next stargazing daydreamer, yes indeed ‘The heavens are telling the glory of God.'(Psalm 19). But in the unlikely event that anyone cares about my opinion, short pleasure trips for mega-rich thrill seekers to the edge of space at gigantic expense and significant risk are a vanity too far.

I prefer to keep my dreams of space in the realm of the imagination where (for now) they belong, whether it’s films like Guardians of the Galaxy or the brilliant space-rock of Joe Satriani, or just looking up at the night sky and dreaming. We can’t possibly travel to the stars in any event, unless there is a vast sphere of physics yet to be discovered (faster than light travel (e.g. hyperspace drive, warp engines etc), inertial dampers to stop our bodies being squashed at warp speed, artificial gravity, limitless sources of energy-it’s all there in Star Trek!).

But if we happily get to Aslan’s country…well, perhaps that will be another matter!

‘I just believe in one god less than you.’

Mrs Hayes and I were looking for some junk TV to watch on Netflix the other night and came across a drama set in present day Norway called ‘Ragnarok.’

We watched 3 episodes so far and are hooked. Without wishing to spoil the plot (and you can look it up here if you like) it’s set in a small but heavily industrialised town on a Fiord, and there seem to be some strange things going on, which (as you might guess from the title) may link with the Norse mythologies. The town is called Edda (the Norse myths are called the Eddas).

Like Tolkien and Lewis, I like the Norse myths (not like I’m a scholar, just a bit of a fan) and I fished out this old and well thumbed 1980 book by Kevin Crossley-Holland from my poetry, history and philosophy section of my personal library to re-read.

Flicking thought the chapters, I found the following opening paragraphs from ‘The Lay of Hymir’ . I paraphrase for brevity.

‘The gods had plenty of food, but they had run out of beer. They sacrificed an animal and used it’s blood with the runes to find out what they should do to get some beer. The divination showed them that Aegir, god of the sea, could help them. Straight away, Thor went to visit Aegir in his underwater golden cave and ordered him to brew beer for the gods ‘Right now, and plenty of it!’

Aegir was annoyed to have his leisure disturbed in this way and so, in order to piss them off, demanded they get him a cauldron 5 miles in depth so he could brew beer. So then Thor and another god Tyr went off to giantland on their flying goats so as to see if they could pinch a big cauldron off a giant.
…’ et cetera. See link below for the full story.

(‘I’m just hopping on the goat to nip down to Hlesey island to get Aegir to brew us a few million gallons of booze, honey.’) All sorts of high jinks follow until finally, after much kerfuffle and trickery, the gods get their booze.

Just compare and contrast to what Jesus does when some wine is required for a wedding feast. See John chapter 2. He just issues a simple command and water, without fuss, becomes wine. He is the Lord of heaven and earth and doesn’t need to ride off on a flying goat, negotiate with other gods, trick a giant, go hunting or stuff like that. Regardless of whether anyone takes the John 2 account as history (obviously nobody COULD take the Lay of Hymir as history) the way it is written is absolutely different in so many ways.

One of the more common atheist jibes one hears is the ‘Christians are atheist about gods like Zeus, Krishna, Apollo, Ra, Thor, Demeter etc, we just believe in one god fewer than you do.’ They think this is terribly clever and funny. Another saying is ‘God created man in his image: man returned the compliment by creating gods in man’s image.’ Now there is something in that. men certainly do invent gods. The Bible calls this idolatry, there is a great, even amusing, account of this in Isaiah, where a man cuts down a tree, makes a fire from half of it to cook his food and warm himself, and makes an idol out of the other half and falls down and worships it, not having the wit to see how daft this is.

C S Lewis became one of the greatest story tellers ever because he loved to enjoy reading stories. Writing about faith and mythology, said that he enjoyed the Greek myths, and even more the Norse myths as storytelling much more than the Christian narrative-as storytelling. He knew what he was talking about-the love of northern myth and of ‘longing’ first came to him after reading about Balder, a tragic beautiful character in the Norse myths. The phrase ‘Balder the beautiful is dead.’ stuck in his imagination and later he was propelled by longings for this kind of imaginative storytelling to become a scholar of Old Icelandic legends, such as those that the Ragnarok series explores. He wrote about this particularly in his spiritual autobiography ‘Surprised by Joy.’

The point being, yes indeed-it is perfectly obvious that gods like Thor, Odin, Mercury, Poseidon and the rest are made up stories. These ‘gods that are no gods’ have all the lusts, pride, capriciousness, petty rivalries, selfish ambitions and disappointments that we humans have, plus a few superpowers. Just like the comic book superheroes of the Marvel and DC universes (which include a few Norse gods). The Norse gods were a highly fallible, boozy, brawling, lustful, deceitful, scheming lot, and sometimes downright thick. Just like us.

If you delve deeper, it gets even worse for the idea that Jesus is just another made-up wish fulfilment fantasy fairytale god like all the rest. The God of the Bible just ‘was, and is, and is to come’ and accomplishes all things by the word of his power. The storytelling gods as I call them have origins themselves, are born and can die, have sex and beget offspring. They get drunk and start fights. They have to use trickery to get stuff they want, need to do a deal with the giants to build a wall around Asgard. They not omniscient or omnipotentOdin ‘Allfather’ the greatest god was blind on one eye, (as you’ll know if you watched the Thor films in the Marvel series) because in order to gain knowledge, he had to surrender one eye to the keeper of the well of knowledge. What? The chief of the gods ignorant of many important things, having to go begging to other entities and trade his body parts to find out stuff he doesn’t know? This is great storytelling for sitting round the fire on long, dark Nordic nights, but it hardly inspires a reverent desire to worship or obey.

Lewis’ view of myth (much of which he owed to Tolkien) is nuanced and he believed that pagan myths, while not a guide to faith and morals, could carry some truth. This may not entirely please a staunch Calvinist, but Lewis knew his myths. Nobody can deny that he studied, and loved, mythologies from many cultures-including Old English, and he said that he loved the Norse myths the best. But he knew very well that these were stories made up by men-partly for entertainment, but also to carry meaning. Lewis believed that God had caused some true meaning to be expressed in pagan myths, just as the writer to the Hebrews said that God had spoken to our ancestors in many and various ways. He called this ‘good dreams’. But, after he came to Christianity, he wrote that the Judaeo-Christian narrative absolutely did not read like mythology. The literary style is completely different. The idea that Christianity was just one more of the 57,000 different man-made god stories does not stack up, even on a literary level. And that’s before we explore other levels, not least the historical. The dates of Jesus’ birth, life and death and the origin and spread of Christianity are pretty accurately dated-how about Thor, Apollo, Zeus, The Green Man and Balder? Not so much.

You don’t need to be a scholar on Lewis’ level to recognise that there is a vast gulf between the ‘storytelling gods’ and the Christian narrative. A possible appropriate Christian response to anyone who uses the ‘You are atheist about Thor and Odin etc, I am just atheist about one more god that you’ slogan might be

‘Oh, really? I assume your views are based on an open examination of the evidence? Then can we have a conversation about different levels of historical data, meaningful philosophies of life and literary structure of stories (for example about what to do when you’ve run out of drink) starting with the genealogy of Odin and the ethical teaching and example of Thor?’