One of the great novels of the twentieth century was That Hideous Strength. It is a fantastic read as a straightforward story, but that is not where the greatness lies. I would be hard pressed to come up with a more prophetic book than this one. The way things have unfolded in the six decades since he wrote has been nothing short of astonishing.
He wrote Abolition of Man at the same time, and in the preface to That Hideous Strength, Lewis wrote, “This is a ‘tall story’ about devilry, though it has behind it a serious ‘point’ which I have tried to make in my Abolition of Man.” In these two books, Lewis does not just write from “within the Tao,” but rather from within the depths of the Tao. This is why he sees things in 1943 concerning our time that we have trouble seeing now. He saw the storm when it was the size of a man’s fist, and we are in the midst of the storm, and we want to call it sunbathing weather.
There are numerous things for us to take away from these books taken together, but I want to highlight just three of them.
Submission & Rebellion
That Hideous Strength begins with the word matrimony, and the whole thing is as robust a defense of that holy estate as you will find anywhere. But we begin with Jane’s disillusionment with marriage, after only six months of it.
The contrast between Mark and Jane Studdock is stark. His life is consumed with a lust to be part of the “inner ring,” a temptation that Lewis dissects elsewhere in an essay of that title, pinning all the pieces of this particular lust to a card, with each part cunningly labeled. Mark’s whole life is a yearning, a striving, to be included in the group that really matters. And each time he makes it into the object of his ache, he discovers yet another circle keeping him out. Further down, and further in.
Jane’s particular form of selfishness is the opposite kind. She does not want to be included, or as she might call it, absorbed. She wants to be sure to maintain her own identity, her own autonomy. She is arch and prim in her feminism, and by that means has guaranteed her own unhappiness.
He wants into the set at Belbury, and she wants to stay out of the Company at St. Anne’s. She wants their protection, but wants to make sure she doesn’t surrender too much in order to get it. He wants to keep from being absolutely devoured, but figure out a way to navigate a way into the inner circle anyway.
And so it is that both of them come to the point of conversion. He is the end product of what Lewis identifies in Abolition as a truly destructive form of education. And as that end product, he is one more unit in a vast regiment of “men without chests.” And so when he comes to the point of repentance, it takes the form of rebellion. “It’s all bloody nonsense, and I’m damned if I do any such thing.” And the angels burst into song.
She is the end product of her form of education. In the name of advancing the position of women, she discovers that what this approach to education does is degrade women into something else. A first-rate woman is transformed into a third-rate man. She is hard, brittle, touchy, and most miserable. And so when she comes to the point of repentance, it is a glorious submission. “In this height and depth and breadth the little idea of herself which she had hitherto called me dropped down and vanished unfluttering, into bottomless distance, like a bird in a space without air.” And the angels burst into song.
And so what we need today in our homes and in our churches, and as a consequence in our towns and nations, are men who recover the ability to rebel against those who are busy bulldozing nature, and women who graciously submit themselves to God and to their own husbands. If they do this they can stand behind their husbands, who will fight to prevent them from being bulldozed.
The West in the Objective Room
The world has gone crazy, but there is a method in the madness. We in the West—and if you think a phrase like the West is a racist dog whistle, then you are the problem—find ourselves, as a result of our own follies and stupid choices, locked up in the Objective Room. You will recall that this is the room where Mark was being trained to suppress the normal, and embrace the ultimate Dadaism of all things. He was being catechized in ultimate relativism. He was made to do things that made no sense because they made no sense.
Hard line conservatives see the problem more clearly than most evangelicals do, and this is even the case with members of the alt-right. But they have no plan—unless you want to call it a plan if people run around in Belbury punching people randomly. Seeing the problem is not the same thing as having a cure. At the same time, the Christian church, which has the cure, cannot be prevailed upon to see the problem.
When we look at the contradictory things that are thrown at our heads every day, we think that they are the silly ones. Why would they say that? That’s a contradiction. They demand that women be given safe spaces, and they also demand that transitioning men, pre-surgery, have full access to the women’s showers. They demand that we agree that homosexuals are “born this way,” and they also demand that we acknowledge that “gender is ultimately fluid.” They insist on women’s rights, while also insisting that there is no such thing as a woman.
But they are not the ones being tested. When Frost is having Mark do all kinds of absurd things in the Objective Room, we are not being given to understand that Frost is being tested, or that Frost is being evaluated. No, he is already among the damned. Mark is the one being tested, and he does not pass the test until he repents and says, “It’s all bloody nonsense, and I’m damned if I do any such thing.”
And we will not be saved unless and until we come to the same point, and say the same thing. The evangelical church is crammed with men without chests, who must absolutely learn that they must come to the point of rebellion. And the evangelical church is also crammed with unsubmissive women, who must repent of that, seeking to learn what it is to glory in womanhood. Men can’t make women submissive, and shouldn’t try. But this reality doesn’t make submission somehow optional. There is nothing optional about it—and it is no trifle.
Every Christian couple should resolve to follow the pattern that the Bible calls normal. Husbands should imitate Christ, in seeking to live as a sacrificial head. And women should imitate the Christ, seeking to obey their husbands in everything. What are we seeking to accomplish by this? We are trying to head off the banquet scene at Belbury.
The Centrality of Christ
The point of Mark’s rebellion came with the demand that he trample on a crucifix. What are you going to do with Jesus? When Mark rebels, he does it by identifying with Jesus as representing the side of normal. At this point, he had no confidence that Jesus was God—but he knew the world around him was bent, twisted, and demented, and that Jesus was a straight line in a crooked world.
Normal. What a revolutionary word. That is an incendiary word to set the world on fire. Given the state of the world today, it is going to be a pretty big grease fire, but here we are. This is what God has given us, so grease fire it is.
But you can’t have normal without Jesus. And furthermore, if you have Jesus, that will bring you straight back to normal. Jesus and metrosexual do not go together. Jesus and artificial wombs do not go together. Jesus and VR sex do not go together. Jesus and prancing men in the offertory do not go together. Jesus and 57 genders do not go together. Virtually every outrageous thing we read about today is being served up to us from the macrobes. But we are Christians. We are to follow Jesus. We are to line up behind the Lord Jesus Christ.
If you read Abolition of Man, you will see the Lewis’s culminating point is that man’s supposed “conquest” of nature is actually a radical expansion of what parts of nature are appropriate to tinker with, and when we have made mankind itself the passive subject of these perverse ministrations, we will then find out two things. The first is that man’s conquest of nature actually means some men’s conquest of other men, with nature as the instrument, and secondly, it means nature’s conquest of that handful of men who thought they were now running the show. The abolition of man refers to a commitment to the ultimate plasticity of all things, such that anything can be shaped and molded according to our whims. And then it turns out that our whims are being molded and shaped from elsewhere.
This abolition of man comes through the abolition of woman, which Lewis also foretold. And he saw it all. The progressive agenda is nothing but a wrecking crew of gracious femininity—bloody wombs, barrenness as glory, perverse arts, grotesque lesbianism, and all the rest of it. Nothing that is tumbling down around our heads right now would be a surprise to Lewis.
And incidentally, speaking of ultimate plasticity, we can’t make this point without mentioning the plasticity of contemporary evangelicalism. This morning word comes in that Eugene Peterson has come out in favor of same sex mirage. But watch. The reveal will not come in that simple fact. The reveal will come in what happens next—what will everybody else in the evangelical world say and do about it?
We are all in this Objective Room, and some well-respected among us have decided to trample on the crucifix. Others haven’t done it yet, but they are still friends with the cool kids who have “evolved” in their thinking.
But we proclaim Jesus. Not the Jesus who plays in ten thousand places, but the Jesus being preached by a hard fundamentalist prophet in a Flannery story. We preach the Jesus who turned Mark Studdock around. And we must preach Him because He is the only one who can give a man his chest back—and we have hundreds of thousands of men in dire need of one.
So believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and your household.