I recently finished re-reading C.S. Lewis' first book in his Space Trilogy: Out of the Silent Planet.
It's one of those books that even most people who love and have read Lewis before are utterly unfamiliar with. But it's good. REAL good. Like, "get home to find someone has made you freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies" good.
You can read about the plot and overview here, so I won't waste time with too many details about the story. There are big themes in this book. It's a short, easy read, so don't fret my fellow short attention-spanned Millennials!
But, on the other had, don't be fooled: there are some serious, heady, fascinating topics and existential questions broached in this tale.
The main character is Dr. Ransom who specializes in languages and dialects. Through a series of events, he ends up on the planet Mars - called Malachandria by the natives. Again, don't worry if you aren't a science fiction fan: this book remains palatable for men and women of all ages above about 13 years old. The protagonist (Ransom) is pitted against two different types of antagonists who are working together.
The first, Mr. Devine, is a morally-depraved, money-grubbing, soul-less, seemingly irredeemable hedonist. He is driven by prestige and riches and whatever might benefit him and raise his stature in society.
The second, Professor Weston, is for all intents and purposes Ransom's doppelganger. Both have the common thread of being educators and intellectuals, but they part ways on nearly every other core value/idea/ideal. Even in a physical sense they part company: Ransom is tall and slender, Weston shorter and chubby.
One specific encounter in the book was, in my mind, important enough to briefly share with you in order to make a bigger point that applies directly to our lives today.
Eventually the three humans who have traveled to Mars/Malachandria end up in the presence of the "king" of the planet. He is something akin to an angel and the creatures on the planet refer to him as Oyarsa. For the Christian reader - and you by no means must be one to enjoy this compelling narrative - you will quickly pick up on the deeper, spiritual elements of this book!
So the three humans have an audience with the Oyarsa and while Ransom has become "friends" the local population, Devine and Weston - driven by nefarious motivations that are contrary and foreign to the sinless world of Malachandria - aren't the most popular blokes on the block. Using a strategy often employed by agents of the Creator (as well as the members of the Trinity themselves) in the Bible, Oyarsa asks Weston a series of questions regarding his intentions in coming to Mars. It's sort of one of those, "I want you to say out-loud the insanity that is in your heart in hopes that you might be convicted by your own words" strategies.
To the point here: Weston claims that he has mastered space travel and come to Malachandria because of his noble passion for the advancement and progress of mankind. He is a "man of science" who is filled with plenty of confidence regarding his abilities and capacity to learn and advance his species. He is defiant, even in the face of overwhelming and, quite candidly, terrifying spiritual forces that clearly disprove much of his materialistic, naturalistic worldview.
Oyarsa can already see that Devine is a morally-decadent and spiritually-decayed, and even says that if Devine was under his authority he would simply "un-make" him because of what little service he provides to the universe. But with Weston, and sensing the genuineness to his misguided aims, Oyarsa has more compassion. You can tell that this angelic creature would do what he could to aid in any potential internal rehabilitation that may be possible for Weston. Oyarsa tries to get Weston to see how shallow and empty his worldview truly is. (What follows is a rough paraphrasing of a much longer, much more interesting conversation that you'll really enjoy when you read, or re-read, this book):
Oyarsa: "Why do you want to bring the human race to Malachandria? What is your motivation? Is it the bodies of the people of earth that you love?"
Weston: "No, I feel a duty to mankind though"
Oyarsa: "Is it the mind, the heart and soul, of mankind that you love?"
Weston: "Not so much."
Oyarsa: "It seems odd that someone who cares not for the body of humans, nor for their internal make-up, would be so passionate and persistent regarding the advancement of that species..."
What Oyarsa is getting at is this: how can those who espouse secular materialism and the "religion of science" claim to be acting nobly or for the altruistic good of mankind? They have no right to such language. Their worldview is empty and has no culmination other than decomposition in the grave. You couldn't call someone "brave" who was willing to die for other already-dead and accidental cells.
Weston constantly betrays his true callousness throughout the story: for example, before kidnapping Ransom for the journey to Mars, he is ready to kidnap a mentally-handicapped boy as a "sacrifice" to the creatures of Malachandria. (Note: having a scientist be so reckless with the life of a handicapped/disabled child character in this instance was very intentional...)
Even during this scene in front of Oyarsa's royal court, Weston - who is under the impression that the natives mean them harm - is trying to give away his two human companions as bartering chips. He says on more than one occasion that anyone who thinks that human "progress" is not worth the lives of hundreds, if not thousands, of individuals - well, then such a person is an idiot and contemptible.
Why do I bring any of this up? The worship of science, and the acceptance of the secular academic world's insistence that faith/religion have no legs to stand on in their arena of expertise, is dangerous and devoid of any true meaning.
It offers no morality or comfort or explanation of the "why?" question that matters more than any other.
C.S. Lewis wasn't anti-science. In fact, his views on various things like evolution would more than likely be in conflict with many of my fellow Evangelicals. There's a time and place for that debate, but the point here is simply that the modern world is full of people who want to reject God and because of the advancements in science and technology those people feel like they have the intellectual/rhetorical cover to remove the undeniable accountability even a vague understanding of "Creator" saddles mankind with.
Abortion. Euthanasia. Genetic engineering. Cloning. We know what is already here, and we can reasonably guess what the very near future holds. If your understanding of life does not begin with "In the beginning, God created..." everything is up for grabs. And, if we're being intellectually honest, requires an admission on the part of anyone holding such a view that life has no real meaning other than hedonism (to one degree or another).
How can you look someone in the eye and say both "You're a randomly gathered collection of protoplasm, there's nothing special/unique about your existence and nothing happens when you die" and at the same time "I am fueled to do research because I believe in the advancement of the meaningless progeny of strangers I'll never meet, nor care about"?
Loving your neighbor only matters if you know, acknowledge and love Him. Weston's desire to help the human race "progress" was genuine - as Oyarsa concluded - but it was genuinely wrong.
Please get yourself a copy of this book, or if you've already read it and have any other thoughts leave us a Comment below!
(Note: Me and my friend Whitney just started reading the second book in the Space Trilogy: Perelandra. We'll be sporadically Tweeting and posting things on Facebook about the story and its themes as we go through it. If, like me, you've already read it...grab your copy and go through it again. It's always more fun with others who you can bounce ideas off of!)