Sunday 3 July 2016

The difficulty of attaining damnation; the necessity for purposive evil to be strategic, elaborate, incremental...

From That Hideous Strength by CS Lewis*:

Wither knew that everything was lost. It is incredible how little this knowledge moved him. It could not, because he had long ceased to believe in knowledge itself. What had been in his far-off youth a merely aesthetic repugnance to realities that were crude or vulgar, had deepened and darkened, year after year, into a fixed refusal of everything that was in any degree other than himself. He had passed from Hegel into Hume, thence through Pragmatism, and thence through Logical Positivism, and out at last into the complete void. The indicative mood now corresponded to no thought that his mind could entertain. He had willed with his whole heart that there should be no reality and no truth, and now even the imminence of his own ruin could not wake him. The last scene of Dr. Faustus where the man raves and implores on the edge of Hell is, perhaps, stage fire. The last moments before damnation are not often so dramatic. Often the man knows with perfect clarity that some still possible action of his own will could yet save him. But he cannot make this knowledge real to himself. Some tiny habitual sensuality, some resentment too trivial to waste on a blue-bottle, the indulgence of some fatal lethargy, seems to him at that moment more important than the choice between total joy and total destruction. With eyes wide open, seeing that the endless terror is just about to begin and yet (for the moment) unable to feel terrified, he watches passively, not moving a finger for his own rescue, while the last links with joy and reason are severed, and drowsily sees the trap close upon his soul...

…Frost went to the garage. The whole place was silent and empty; the snow was thick on the ground by this. He came up with as many petrol tins as he could carry. He piled all the inflammables he could think of together in the Objective Room. Then he locked himself in by locking the outer door of the ante-room. Whatever it was that dictated his actions then compelled him to push the key into the speaking tube which communicated with the passage. When he had pushed it as far in as his fingers could reach, he took a pencil from his pocket and pushed with that. Presently he heard the clink of the key falling on the passage floor outside. That tiresome illusion, his consciousness, was screaming to protest; his body, even had he wished, had no power to attend to those screams. Like the clockwork figure he had chosen to be, his stiff body, now terribly cold, walked back into the Objective Room, poured out the petrol and threw a lighted match into the pile. Not till then did his controllers allow him to suspect that death itself might not after all cure the illusion of being a soul -- nay, might prove the entry into a world where that illusion raged infinite and unchecked. Escape for the soul, if not for the body, was offered him. He became able to know (and simultaneously refused the knowledge) that he had been wrong from the beginning, that souls and personal responsibility existed. He half saw: he wholly hated. The physical torture of the burning was not fiercer than his hatred of that. With one supreme effort he flung himself back into his illusion. In that attitude eternity overtook him as sunrise in old tales overtakes and turns them into unchangeable stone.


It is important to understand that it is difficult for demonic powers to achieve the damnation of a soul.

CS Lewis saw clearly that Men cannot be sleepwalked into damnation, unknowing - God has made sure of that.

We are always given clear sight (strive as we may to avoid it) and a chance to repent.

Every damned Man has been brought to the point of choosing damnation - to the point of believing evil to be Good; and therefore choosing evil. Brought to the point of knowing, for sure, that salvation is ours for the asking, merely for the price of 'repentance' (repentance simply being acknowledgment of the reality of the natural order of creation). And at that point refusing salvation on the grounds that salvation is understood as evil.

Every Man will come to this point always and inevitably with death - but also perhaps before death; and the purpose of evil entities is to make him then choose evil - but this is no easy matter (such are the 'easy terms' which Christ won for us by his life, death and resurrection).

Hence the necessity for the elaborate, strategic, incremental seductions of evil - the necessity for evil to be patient and indirect.

The need for evil to take Good and selectively distort it in a covert and deniable fashion - rather than  openly advocating evil for its own sake.

*Note: That Hideous Strength is CS Lewis's most directly-inspired book - In it he was shooting-from-the hip, aiming to kill all the most dangerous enemies in a single story.

Consequenctly, it is artistically a rag-bag - spiritually it is raw; visceral in its impact; intensely memorable in its analysis and teachings.

Its relevance to here and now in The West is almost painful in intensity.

In particular - the spirit, nature and role of the 'resistance' group is en-couraging in just the necessary way! 

(BTW: If you do wish to read THS - you should know that there are two versions: a condensed version, abbreviated for the mass market by Lewis himself, and running at about 250 pages - and the full version at about 350 pages (or indeed 544p in one most modern and expensive incarnation). The condensed version misses-out a lot of good stuff!)


Bruce Charlton said...

@KN - Thanks, typo corrected.

Wurmbrand said...

This, Lewis's kitchen sink book, is an always refreshing favorite. Let me recommend Lars Walker's Wolf Time, which is in the THS tradition and is by a great admirer of Lewis.

John Fitzgerald said...

Terrific analysis. THS is a novel of Dostoyevskyan intensity and insight - explosive, wild and fierce - packed full of prophecy and eschatology and a cracking story to boot. It bursts off the page and bristles with life. If CS Lewis was best known in the twentieth century for the Narnia stories, my sense is that he'll be best remembered for That Hideous Strength in the twenty-first.

AureliusMoner said...

Damnation is the "default" factory setting since the Fall; it is not hard to be damned, but rather, Salvation was bought at a great price and "the Kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent seize it by force." Our Lord Himself said "broad is the way" which "many walk," to Hell, and "narrow the gate" to Heaven, and "few there are, that find it." The passage you give from Lewis' work is making the same point.

You seem to think that it is hard to be damned, as if man had to be brought to some sort of choice in favor of evil. But, as St. Thomas, reason and Holy Tradition all teach us, man never chooses evil per se, but all of man's evil acts are but a failed aim at the good. And that is the point Lewis is making, too: that man falls into hell because he has fixed himself upon some trivial and warped good and makes it the enemy of the perfection that, by its emotional remoteness, is less compelling to him than the paltry fancies in hand. Read "Screwtape Proposes a Toast." Contrary to your assertion that Lewis "saw clearly that Men cannot be sleepwalked into damnation," that whole work is about how this is precisely the way most modern men are damned. The Screwtape Letters speak often of how the demons' chief tactic is to distract men and minimize their attentiveness to important spiritual questions - i.e., to sleepwalk them into Hell. This is quite consonant with the Scriptural and Traditional warning that man goes to Hell easily and by default. Only a positive, deliberate, attentive resistance, empowered by grace in the man united to Christ, can possibly counteract the gravitational ease of damnation.

I only say this, because I think one is duty-bound to warn his fellow men that, contrary to your optimism, nothing in Christian Scripture or Tradition encourages us to be optimistic or satisfied on this point; indeed, the thrust is exactly contrary: damnation will easily seize us, almost without our noticing it, if we are not vigilant and energetic in our pursuit of holiness. I see more clearly each day, how the errors in Mormon theology - "we're all an happy heavenly family" - constrain Mormons to reject the hard truths of the Gospel, or at least to minimize and explain them away until they may as well be rejected. All are God's creatures. Only the regenerate are God's family. God, like all sane fathers, is not a saccharine push-over who values emotional intimacy more than principle; fathers of yore used to disown their own flesh and blood when they embraced horrific evils such as sodomy, rebellion, profligacy, etc., and that is how the Celestial Paterfamilias forever treats those who persevere in impenitence for their rejection of the ineffable patrimony lavished upon them.

The New Testament stands in sharp distinction from the Old, chiefly on these two points: 1) the preaching of a supernatural charity and sanctity through grace, which surpasses the Old Law's power; 2) the clear and distinct preaching of eternal damnation and hellfire, something hardly present in Old Testament preaching. Those who only want to see the "happy" side of the New Testament, need to sober up. As St. Paul mentions in his letter to the Hebrews - as the New Testament is infinitely greater than the Old, even so is its damnation more frightful.

360 Decrees said...

Looking at this 1945 review of THS by George Orwell--

--I'd venture to guess that THS was a pivotal inspiration for Nineteen Eighty-four. But Orwell was an atheist; he imagined the hideousness raging unchecked.

Bruce Charlton said...

@AM - I am talking about the demonic perspective. Lewis's most famous theological work - and perhaps his best - is The Screwtape Letters, which is all about the *difficulties* that devils have of getting humans damned - because there are so many 'fail safe' mechanisms. Now, of course, if the human *wants* to be damned, then it is easy for the devils - but that is seldom the case.

The sleepwalking to self-chosen damnation can go a very long way - but my point is that it does not go *all* the way. And that is a major difficulty for the powers of evil.

I suspect we disagree about how to interpret the work of Christ. The thrust of the gospels, taken as a whole - and especially the premier gospel of John written by an eyewitness disciple who knew and was loved-by Christ - is that Christ *has* saved us from damnation: this has already happened.

Therefore salvation IS the default - it is the gift givn us by Christ and we only have to accept it; but we must *accept* it (it is not forced upon us). The demons difficult job is to make us refuse this gift, which requires the inversion of Good.

In the modern world, the demons have gone further than ever before in achieving this - because there are numerous inversions which are supported by Church and State (and most importantly mass media - the main agent of evil) and which young people apparently regard as 'common sense'.

But this is a house of cards, and if people again start experiencing and thinking and acting for themselves the vast edifice will swiftly collapse. This will not make people Christians but it will put them into a position where they can make that choice, whereas at present they are living in a state of permanent moral insanity.

Bruce Charlton said...

@360 - Thanks for that - I had read it a while ago, but the review is more positive than I remembered.

People usually give Zamyatin's dystopia 'We' as the direct inspiration of 1984 *which I have not read), and I don't see THS as a likely one, since (as Owell complained) the supernatural element is so strong - and indeed THS is primarily about the fact that Good is unconquerable so long as people continue to fight for it; the opposite of Orwell's despairing pessimism in 1984.

Indeed I would regard 1984 as a different sub-genre from THS - 1984 is usally seen as a 'mainstream' novel (and taught in schools and colleges), while THS has usually been regarded as SciFi.

AnteB said...

The views that AureliusMoner expresses, and which I assume are the classic Catholic teachings, have very bizzare implications. They mean that Creation is a massive failure and that God´s victory over evil will be a victory in a very narrow sense, if it could be called a victory at all, since most of humanity will be lost forever.

They mean that the Gospels are not Good News at all in relation to almost any religion that have come before or since. The news that most of humanity, even innocent babies, will be punished forever only on account of their being is hardly good news. Old Testament Judaism is better news, the Pagan religions are better news, Buddhism is much better news.

If the views of the Catholic Church would be the definitive teachings of all of Christianity then I don´t think I could be a believer.

Bruce Charlton said...

@AnteB - I don't think this understanding is restricted to Roman Catholicism - Eastern Orthodox and certainly Calvanistic-type Protestants share essential similarities.

Indeed, if the mainstream Classical metaphysics is accepted and/or the Bible is read one verse at a time and with equal emphasis on all parts, and all of these are rationally-combined - then it is quite difficult to avoid these conclusions.

Nonetheless, I regard them as profoundly and lethally mistaken; and Mormon metaphysics is the best alternative explanation of which I am aware that rigorously avoids them.

Nathaniel said...

@AnteB - I find a lot of Catholics-on-the-internet often seem much harsher than my local conservative parish Priests. I think, for whatever reason, the internet seems to produce more "ultra-correct" expositions than in real life. Bonald's blog commenters, for example, seem to fall into a circle of accusing each other of heresies (and I assume) spend more time sniffing out other Catholic-heretics than they do real evangelizing (probably because no one else would take them seriously, I suppose). As an active Catholic, I've found this very difficult and disappointing.

I know the crisis in the Church has created a lot of confusion, as the leadership does not teach these strict/hard viewpoints and actually tends towards secular liberalism, and so in response many traditionalists have felt the need to harden themselves into very strict "legalistic-accurate" interpretations, and so a lot of time is spent among the Catholic right debating who is most-accurate and who is in error, how to actually reinterpret the apparently secular liberal teachings as being consistent with traditional teachings, etc.

For good or ill, the actual active and current Church does not teach what AureliusMoner is teaching, and my personal experience suggests most active (actual attending church every Sunday, confession, etc.) Catholics don't believe it.


AureliusMoner makes a valid point in trying to figure out why exactly we must strive-so-hard, endure sufferings, do good works, etc. if the default state is salvation and not damnation. I think an alternative answer is simply that it-is-worth-it to fight for good, even if we can't fully fathom it in our current state (and that is why Saints and true Heroes are so rare). As you know, Dr. Charlton and the Mormons teach that it is because life is primarily about theosis and progress towards Godhood, and a truly close relationship and friendship with God, which is the ultimate purpose of creation and reality.