by C.S. Lewis
Note: Lewis received complaints for his use of the word “damned.” He understood the criticism as he was opposed to swear words in principle, but he responded to the effect that he did not use frivolous swearing; he rather used the word as it was intended: if something was truly of the damned, then it was not swearing to call it what it was.
When the Straight meets the Crooked
Meanwhile, in the Objective Room, something like a crisis had developed between Mark and Professor Frost. As soon as they arrived there Mark saw that the table had been drawn back. On the floor lay a large crucifix, almost life size, a work of art in the Spanish tradition, ghastly and realistic. “We have half an hour to pursue our exercises,” said Frost looking his watch. Then he instructed Mark to trample on it and insult it in other ways.
Now whereas Jane had abandoned Christianity in early childhood, along with her belief in fairies and Santa Claus, Mark had never believed in it at all. At this moment, therefore, it crossed his mind for the very first time that there might conceivably be something in it…
“But, look here,” said Mark.
“What is it?” said Frost. “Pray be quick. We have only a limited time at our disposal.”
“This,” said Mark, pointing with an undefined reluctance at the horrible white figure on the cross. “This is all surely pure superstition.”
“Well, if so, what is there objective about stamping on the face? Isn’t it just as subjective to spit on a thing like this as to worship it? I mean – damn it all – if it’s only a bit of wood, why do anything about it?”
“That is superficial. If you had been brought up in a non-Christian society, you would not be asked to do this. Of course it is a superstition; but it is that particular superstition which has pressed upon our society for a great many centuries. It can be experimentally shown that it still forms a dominant stem in the subconscious of many individuals whose conscious thought appears to be wholly liberated. An explicit action in the reverse direction is therefore a necessary step towards complete objectivity. It is not a question for a priori discussion. We find it in practice that it cannot be dispensed with.”
Mark himself was surprised at the emotions he was undergoing. He did not regard the image with anything at all like religious feeling. Most emphatically it did not belong to that Idea of the Straight or Normal or Wholesome which had, for the last few days, been his support against what he now knew of the innermost circle at Belbury. The horrible vigor of its realism was, indeed, in its own way as remote from that Idea as anything else in the room. That was one source of his reluctance. To insult even a carved image of such agony seemed an abominable act. But it was not the only source. With the introduction of this Christian symbol the whole situation had somehow altered. The thing was becoming unbearable. His simple antithesis of the Normal and the Diseased had obviously failed to take something into account. Why was the crucifix there? Why were more than half the poison-pictures religious? He had the sense of new parties to the conflict – potential allies and enemies which he had not suspected before. “If I take a step in any direction,” he thought, “I may step over a precipice.” A donkey-like determination to plant hoofs and stay still at all costs arose in his mind.
“Pray make haste,” said Frost.
The quiet urgency of the voice, and the fact that he had so often obeyed it before, almost conquered him. He was on the verge of obeying, and getting the whole silly business over, when the defenselessness of the figure deterred him. The feeling was a very illogical one. Not because its hands were nailed and helpless, but because they were only made of wood and therefore even more helpless, because the thing, for all its realism, was inanimate and could not in any way hit back, he paused. The unretaliating face of a doll – one of Myrtle’s dolls – which he had pulled to pieces in boyhood, had affected him in the same way and the memory, even now, was tender to the touch.
“What are you waiting for, Mr. Studdock?” said Frost.
Mark was well aware of the rising danger. Obviously, if he disobeyed, his last chance of getting out of Belbury alive might be gone. Even of getting out of this room. The smothering sensation once again attacked him. He was himself, he felt, as helpless as the wooden Christ. As he thought, he found himself looking at the crucifix in a new way – neither as a piece of wood nor as a monument of superstition but as a bit of history. Christianity was nonsense, but one did not doubt that the man had lived and had been executed thus by the Belbury of those days. And that, as he suddenly saw, explained why this image, though not itself an image of Straight or Normal, was yet in opposition to crooked Belbury. It was a picture of what happened when the Straight met the Crooked, a picture of what the Crooked did to the Straight – what it would do to him if he remained straight. It was, in a more emphatic sense than he had yet understood, a cross.
“Do you intend to go on with the training or not?” said Frost. His eye was on the time…
“Do you not hear what I am saying?” he asked Mark again.
Mark made no reply. He was thinking, and thinking hard because he knew, that if he stopped even for a moment, mere terror of death would take the decision out of his hands. Christianity was a fable. It would be ridiculous to die for a religion one did not believe. This Man himself, on that very cross, had discovered it to be a fable. And had died complaining that the God in whom he trusted had forsaken him, in fact, found the universe a cheat. But this raised a question that Mark had never thought of before. Was that the moment at which to turn against the Man? If the universe was a cheat, was that a good reason for joining its side? Supposing the Straight was utterly powerless, always and everywhere certain to be mocked, tortured, and finally killed by the Crooked, what then? Why not go down with the ship? Here Mark began to be frightened by the very fact that his fears seemed have momentarily vanished. They had been a safeguard…they had prevented him, all his life, from making mad decisions like that which he was now making as he turned to Frost and said,
“It’s all bloody nonsense, and I’m damned if I do any such thing.”
C. S. Lewis, The Descent of the Gods, That Hideous Strength (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1976), 334ff.
The world’s Objectivity Room
We live in a world which, in its own powerful and seductive way, requires *objectivity training* for those who would be feted and successful. Look at the manicured and gelded news anchors – look at their “objective” references to religion and Christ, which gradually trample His person with subtle mockery and suspended disdain.
Listen to the NPR-like sotto voce when referencing Christ; look at the chosen caricatures of media and Christ; look at the breathless embracement of Jesus Seminar pseudo-scholarship, or the revisionist DaVinci Code: raw Gnostic fiction embraced as new truth.
It’s what happens when the Straight meets the Crooked.
Or, look at how the “objective” media flee the storyline of 2,500 orphans threatened for their faith, because their caregivers stand against a racist caste system – now victims of its unjust court system.
Look at how this militant Indian state can pass an anti-conversion law which specifically makes it a crime for Christians to care for orphans – humanitarian goodness hanged on a cross –, yet ignored with a yawn by those with media power!
Look at how sacrificial caregivers can be imprisoned without investigation or formal charges in court, without due process or bail, held and tortured until their assets are gone and bodies broken…all because they gave care to orphans in an old-caste culture which feeds on those orphans’ de facto slavery, and not a word said!
This is where the Straight meets the Crooked.
The world has its Objectivity Room, and one either accepts its training or Christ: Good Friday shows us the results of choosing Christ. Kota, Rajasthan is no accident.
But we still must stand with Christ, and with those who embrace the Straight. The Crooked may always and everywhere marginalize or torture the Straight, but something tells me the Straight will have the last word…
For the Straight is the Word and is of the Word: the Beginning will have the End.