That Hideous Strength, Chs. 10-13

“I mean this,” said Dimble in answer to the question she had not asked. “If you dip ainto any college, or schoool, or parish, or family–anything you like–at a given point in its history, you always find that there was a time before that point when there was more elbow room and contrasts weren’t quite so sharp; and that there’s going to be a time after that point when there is even less room for indecision and choices are even more momentous. Good is always getting better and bad is always getting worse: the possibilities of even apparent neutrality are always diminishing. The whole thing is sorting itself out all the time, coming to a point, getting sharper and harder. . . .” (p. 283)

One might well argue with Lewis whether Dark Age Britain was a place where one could be both Christian and develop knowledge about the elemental powers of the world. Lewis, is, after all, writing a fairy tale, and borrowing from Tolkien. But what is most certainly true, since the coming of Christ and the bringing forth by the Spirit of the Church, the Truth of the narrowing of choices, the Truth of the two paths and the two masters, has been becoming ever more real. If there is a narrow and squeezing path, the one of life, there is only one other path, the broad and level one leading to death. This is no melodrama. It is the stark reality of the Gospel. It is why we must repent. Which does not mean adding a bit here, a bit there, some of this, some of that, and icing it over with some “Christian” words. Christ is the stone on which we are broken, or underneath which we will be crushed. We either know his love as mercy or as judgment. We cannot know it as indifference.

While some Christian teachers would focus on various world events to foretell the scheduled events of the Apocaplyse, it seems to me that a look at the Christian world of thousands of denominations is perhaps a better barometer.

Take for example, the Great Schism. In the sixth century, when the council of Toledo introduced the filioque, one could perhaps afford to be somewhat tolerant of the innovation. But when combined with the Roman bishops’ quest for political supremacy, with the ever-growing distance in language and culture, by Christmas Day 1054, such neutral choices were no longer available.

Or the Protestant Reformation. At the time, it was intended as, indeed, a reform. But with social and political retrenchments growing on both sides, excommunication surely came. By the time of Trent, it was no longer possible to be neutral.

One could bring up lesser, if not the less important, matters of our own recent days. In the Episcopal Church, one might have found it possible to be neutral on the sexuality issue. But this is no longer a possibility. For good or for ill, one must now choose one’s allegiance across the divide of a non-celibate gay bishop.

In the evangelical world, the choices are more numerous because the divisions are so rife, and the consistencies of constituencies so inconsistent. But with the proliferation of choice, one’s actual choices narrow. Simply because one can choose from dozens of Bible translations, worship styles, ecclesial polities, and ministries, one is finally faced with only one choice: the serving of self or God. In the evangelical world, the gospel of consumerism is laid over the true Gospel, and the clarion call of comfort drowns out the harsh trumpet of repentance.

This, I think, is what C. S. Lewis means through his Dr. Dimble. And I agree with the thought: we live in an age where neutrality is not only impossible, it’s damning. If we cannot answer “Yes” that some decision will more clearly reveal the Lordship of Christ in our lives, then to make that decision will be to unmake ourselves. For the reality is that we are servants. It is given to us, in the multiple thousands of choices each day, to decide whom we will serve.

This, of course, is the recasting of the words of our Lord regarding the eschaton. And this is why he also asked, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”