False sophistication and obedience to God

In thinking about some of the current astonishing happenings in the Church, I’ve found a couple of C.S. Lewis’ books to be very useful. Obviously he is not a Catholic saint, much less a doctor, and we can find a great deal of helpful teaching in the fathers and doctors of the Church as well.

However there are two points that Lewis discusses as well as anyone, and both have excellent fictional treatments in his space trilogy, written for adults at the time of World War II.

In the third book of the trilogy, That Hideous Strength, Lewis writes about a battle between angelic and demonic powers, in which human beings have meaningful parts to play. One of the ways in which the human characters help the evil powers, somewhat unwittingly, is by being too concerned with human acceptance, a phenomenon also explored by Lewis in his essay The Inner Ring. What happens in the book is a prioritization of politics over truth, of acceptance and careerism over professional and personal ethics, that open individuals to compromise and collusion with evil almost before they know that the collusion is happening.

In the second book, Perelandra, which Lewis said was “worth twenty Screwtapes,” we listen in on the temptation of another planet’s Eve. Will she be tempted to disobey God’s command, or won’t she? The tempter, who is a human being fully and voluntarily given over to evil, patiently tries to convince the beautiful woman with all the gifts of unfallen humanity that she will be much more noble and heroic, if only she disobeys God’s command. He says, “Your deepest will, at present, is to obey Him–to be always as you are now, only His beast or His very young child. The way out of that is hard. It was made hard that only the very great, the very wise, the very courageous should dare to walk in it, to go on–on out of this smallness in which you now live–through the dark wave of His forbidding, into the real life, Deep Life, with all its joy and splendour and hardness.”

That is a temptation indeed. Go out of God’s will, it seems to say, and you will find yourself. Discard the simplicity of trust in the God Who makes known His will, grant it no continuity with your life from now on, and you will be noble and adventurous. It’s a siren call that seems–only seems–to be calling to what is best in humanity. It often promises to make humanity better. But it is deadly poison, if swallowed.

Moreover, one can imagine a world where these two impulses are combined. Dissent from revealed truth, one might imagine, could be the way into an exclusive club.

I suppose it starts with little things: little lies, little improprieties, little sophistries in research, little slanders. Perhaps excellent meals and delicious drinks are involved. Perhaps too many drinks, and too much wasted time, and quite a lot of gossip.

Fortunately for us as Catholics, there is always a way back. Lewis’ tempter is unrealistic: although he is not yet dead, he already has the final judgment upon him. It is not that way with us. In fact giving up on the falsely glittering brass ring of rebellion is easy–as easy as a child running home to his father. “Unless you become like a little child, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”