I've been reading a lot lately (I actually always read a lot, so this statement is actually true more often than it is not.) Particularly, I have been reading C.S Lewis. While I'm sure that most people are aware of him, if you're not, he is the author of the Narnia saga, as well as a number of deep Christian philosophical musings. He would not consider himself a theologian, however his thoughts on spirituality are often used today with reverence across many denominations. He was a great thinker, friend of J.R.R Tolkien and he died the day that JFK was assassinated.
One of his less known stories is his Space Trilogy. This trilogy was written much in the tune of an H.G Wells fantasy, and as such it isn't so much science fiction as it is fantasy. It has deep Christian undertones and really is a platform for Lewis to explore his philosophy in a way that makes the reader think about it from a different perspective (much how Narnia does, only the Space Trilogy nearly requires a college degree to understand it is so complex.) The first book deals with the problem of, well, in simple terms, human progress. How the pull of manifest destiny leads man to commit the most heinous crimes under the guise of humanistic exceptionalism.
"To you I may seem a vulgar robber, but I bear on my shoulders the destiny of the human race. Your tribal life with its stone-age weaponry and beehive huts, its primitive coracles and elementary social structure, has nothing to compare with our civilization- with our science, medicine and law, our armies, our architecture, our commerce, and our transport system which is rapidly annihilating space and time. Our right to supersede you is the right of the higher over the lower. Life...is greater than any system of morality; her claims are absolute. It is not by tribal taboos and copy-book maxims that she has perused her relentless march from the amoeba to man and from man to civilization"
In the book, this speech is translated into "Old Solar" which provides an interesting nuance. This is the translation:
"Among us, Oyarsa, there is a kind of hnau who take other hnaus' food and- and things, when they are not looking. Hey says he is not an ordinary one of that kind. He says what he does now will make very different things happen to those of our people who are not yet born. He says that, among you, hnau of one kindred all live together and the brossa have spears like those we used a very long time ago and your huts are small and round and your boats are small and light and like our old ones, and you have one ruler. He says it is different with us. He says we know much. There is a thing happens in our world, when the body of a living creature feels pains and becomes weak, and he says we sometimes know how to stop it. He says we have many bent people and we kill them or shut them in huts and that we have people for settling quarrels between the bent hnau about their huts and mates and things. He says we have many ways for the hnau of one land to kill those of another and some are trained to do it. He says we build very big and strong huts of stones and other things- like the pfifltriggi. And he says we exchange many things among ourselves and can carry heavy weights very quickly a long way. Because of all this, he says it would not be the act of a bent hnau if our people killed all your people.
He says that living creatures are stronger than the question whether an act is bent or good. The only good thing is that there should be very many creatures alive. He says there were many other animals before the first men and the later ones were better than the earlier ones; but he says the animals were not born because of what is said to the young about bent and good action by their elders. And he says these animals did not feel any pity."
It goes on and on, Weston's speech and Ransom translating it. The interesting thing is how packed this chapter is with critique. First, it is a critique against the idea that the better good, pursuing longer, healthier, stronger human existence at the expense of the individual, or the minority is folly. Could we, with our technology, descend to the plains of South America and civilize the aboriginal people there? Yes. Could it allow their future generations prosperity? Yes. But at what cost? What right do we have? Second, it is a very critique of the concepts. As Weston is speaking, he assumes that his audience has the same frames of reference he does...but Ransom struggles to translate because the concepts are lost on the people. If you have never seen an army...how do you explain it? Weston was all ready to rape and pillage the world of Mars because he had a right to, as he was stronger and more advanced than the aboriginal people of Mars.
In the second book, Ransom goes to Venus, which is an oceanic garden world covered by a dome like expanse. He meets the queen of the world, and we are slowly exposed to the fact that this world is what the Earth would have been had sin not entered into existence. It is paradise for all intents and purposes, and completely innocent. Weston shows up again, but this time, his purpose is different.
"During my [recovery from the events of the previous book] I had the leisure for reflection which I had denied myself for many years. In particular I reflected on the objections you had felt to that liquidation of the non-human inhabitants of Malacandra [Mars] which was, of course, the necessary preliminary to its occupation by our own species. The traditional and, if I may say so, the humanitarian form in which you advanced those objections had till then concealed from me their true strength. That strength I now began to perceive. I began to see that my own exclusive devotion to human utility was really based on an unconscious dualism.
...All my life I had been making a wholly unscientific dichotomy or antithesis between Man and Nature- had conceived myself fighting FOR Man against his non-human environment. During my illness I plunged into Biology, and particularly into what may be called biological philosophy. Hitherto, as a physicist, I had been content to regard Life as a subject outside my scope. The conflicting views of those who drew a sharp line between the organic and the inorganic and those who held that what we call Life was inherent in matter from the very beginning had not interested me. Now it did. I saw almost at once that I could admit no break, no discontinuity, in the unfolding of the cosmic process. I became a convinced believer in emergent evolution. All is one. The stuff of mind, the unconsciously purposive dynamism, is present from the very beginning.
The majestic spectacle of this blind, inarticulate purposeveness thrusting its way upward and ever upward in an endless unity of differentiated achievements towards an ever-increasing complexity of organisation, towards spontaneity and spirituality, swept away all my old conception of a duty to Man as such. Man in himself is nothing. The forward movements of Life- the growing spirituality is everything. I say to you quite freely, Ransom, that I should have been wrong in liquidating the Malacandrians. It was a mere prejudice that made me prefer our own race to theirs. To spread spirituality, not to spread the human race, is henceforth my mission. This sets the coping-stone of my career. I worked for the first for myself, then for science; then for humanity; but now at last for Spirit itself- I might say borrowing language which may be more familiar to you, the Holy Spirit.
He goes on, and I have to paraphrase because it is pages long: Weston believes that the end goal of spirituality is to achieve a plane of existence where self-thinking, self-organizing activity are attained, and guided by a Force of will pushing the individual to an inscrutable destiny. He doesn't question this 'Force...' he simply submits to it because it is a 'spirit.' He rejects the idea of a God or a Devil, stating that they are simply pictures of the same Force, Heaven is the picture of the ascended spirituality and Hell is the urge driving us away from the ascension. Here's where it gets interesting. God is the 'next stage' beckoning us from ahead, the Devil is behind, pushing us forward. Weston reasons that, based on this, nothing exists that supersedes this life-force, including morality. That the ends justify the means, whether that means selling out England to Germany, lie in a scientific paper, or outright kill Ransom. Full, unquestioning adherence to the spiritual force is what will ultimately lead to ascension. He then positions himself as an agent of the Force pushing (see, the Devil) and Weston evokes the spirit who then indwells him and things go to hell (literally for him.) While there is so much more to unpack in the book, like how sweet original sin looks, or how petty the devil can be, or how our conversations can get twisted to mean things they're not, I want to pull at another string.
In the first book, the philosophical error is the belief in superiority of man. In the second book the philosophical error is the belief in the insignificance of man. I posit that many of the philosophical clashes that we currently are seeing today are based in ethics that have a kernel of either of these thoughts at the center of them. It is the juxtaposition of Man...is man a god, or is Man a beast?
Are we a god who makes the rules, judging all things and having no authority other than himself? Is the only reality the reality we create with our own will and control? We either view anyone who isn't like us as inferior (whether that be a cultural, intellectual, theological, political, ideological perspective) and as they are inferior we believe we have the mandate to mold society to what we think is the better. The main problem with this is that we never stop to question what 'better' is. Better always comes at a cost.
Are we a beast on which no rules truly exist other than how we feel? Are we completely subject to our biology or a 'force' which is master over us, and the end result of our evolution is to 'not be' what we are today? Are we without any sort of rudder simply living based on how we feel, or how we are pushed by that 'force,' hoping someday to reach that Elysium plane of enlightenment?
The paradox of either of these beliefs is that they ultimately lead to destruction. Civilization is created by the destruction of all that is not civilized...that's just the way it works. Also, when there is no value on human life, then anything goes at all and the only thing that matters is the pursuit of happiness and the hope that we will evolve; but that evolution requires all that is now to pass away to all that is future. It also runs the risk of justifying any action that helps prod humanity in that direction. That's why ISIS wins if we engage in all out conflict with them: they look forward to the endgame of fighting in Mecca for the end of the world. That's why so many fundamentalist Christian sects get their eschatology wrong- they look forward to the end of the world to justify them and they look forward to the judgement of the wicked. That Force, or biology, or faith by itself is folly.
So, if you've stuck with me this far, answer me this: Are we god, or are we beast?