Waiting for Messiah: C. S. Lewis’s “That Hideous Strength”

When I was a Fundamentalist Christian, thirty years ago, one of my favorite Christian authors was C. S. Lewis. Lewis was an Oxford theologian best known nowadays for his children’s books set in the magical land of Narnia. But he wrote an adult science fiction trilogy, too, centering around a spacefaring Messianic figure named Ransom.

Ransom’s name suggests the character of Jesus Christ, who in Christian theology, through His sufferings on the cross, ‘ransomed’ believers condemned to eternal torment in Hell for their sins.
Scientifically speaking, Lewis’s trilogy — Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength — makes for somewhat dated reading today for its view of Venus and Mars as nakedly habitable. But as vivid depictions, in a fantasy setting, of the Christian doctrines of spiritual evil and redemption, and how spiritual evil at the corporate level results in the destruction of both the environment and individual resistance to dehumanization and violence — these books show more than a few moments of genius.

The last book in the trilogy, That Hideous Strength, is for me the most powerful. It follows the struggles of a young British married couple — he an atheist and she a feminist intellectual — as they are torn by conflicting loyalties: he to the hellish corporation for which he works, a demonically led and energized group that is attempting to defile and vampirize for itself the last sacred place in England; she to Ransom and his followers, who are leading the fight against her husband’s employers and the hideous strength of the Enemy of humanity that uses, abuses, and works through them.

There are things I dislike heartily about this book: that the only gay character is a demonic, sadistic Lesbian who enjoys torturing and sexually abusing the persons she is told to interrogate; and that the wife’s feminism is portrayed as spiritual short-sightedness masking rejection of her true God-given destiny as womb for the next Messiah. But nobody, except perhaps George Orwell in 1984, does a better job than Lewis of portraying the spiritual sickness at the heart of Fascist corporations and government.

I bring all this up because I have felt for some time that there is a spiritual sickness at the heart of the Washington, D.C. power culture that the last several Republican regimes have epitomized. I feel very strongly that the mass consciousness, out of fear, called into being an oligarchy of sociopaths whose only idea of right and wrong has been what feels right or wrong for them personally, no matter the consequences to the rest of us.

And just as, in That Hideous Strength, the evil corporation’s veneer of civilization drops away when confronted to reveal the hideous visage of pure unrestrained appetite lurking beneath, so did Republican pretense of reasonableness and candor fall away during these last weeks before the election, showing a glimpse of the hideous amorality and desperate, irrational vindictiveness that had come to control and work through them.

I am not the only person to make the connection between That Hideous Strength and the last two Republican administrations. When I googled That Hideous Strength I found a Fundamentalist “End Times” website that equates Bush with the Beast of Revelations. When I was a Christian I, too, longed for the Beast to show up so that history could end, and Christ return to usher in an age of peace. But I no longer believe that there is a Beast, any more than I believe that there is a Messiah. In fact, I feel that yearning for a Messiah to rescue us could be the worst thing humanity can do given the problems facing us.

I am no longer a Christian. And I do not believe that Barack Obama, for whom I voted twice, is the Messiah. He is just a man, and even if he means half of what he has promised he will possess no magic wand to wave over the mess this country is in. It took years and several administrations for us to get sucked into the mire, and it will take years and several administrations at least to get us out.

But the mass consciousness is not rational. It operates on the most primitive level of Thought Reality, a child’s level. And just as it called into being a Father and a Son — Bush Senior and Junior — so it is capable of calling into being a third member of its Trinity. I hope not. For if Obama was called to power by a mass consciousness yearning for salvation from the masters it called into being previously, then there can only be one ultimate fate for him. And I am tired of good people dying for what is right.

What this world needs more than a sacrificial lamb is women and men committed to living in a balanced, compassionate manner — living for what is right rather than dying for it. So let’s not give the mass consciousness a reason to kill another Messiah for our inspiration. Let’s just roll up our sleeves and do what we can, where we are, with all our limitations, to make our tiny corner of the world a more compassionate place. Angels and demons and UFO aliens aside, that’s what the New Age is really all about, and I think that Ransom would agree.

2 thoughts on “Waiting for Messiah: C. S. Lewis’s “That Hideous Strength”

  1. Very nice summary of Lewis’ science-fiction trilogy. I would also recommend L.P. Hartley’s “Facial Justice” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Facial_Justice).

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  2. Kari Andrikopoulos says:

    Well put. I never read the trilogy, but read the Chronicles to both my sons, several times. I agree with what you wrote. I’m on the same team.
    Looking forward to your return to NM.
    Kari

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