Tag Archives: British empire

Science Fiction and Racial Justice: C.S. Lewis as Anticolonial Subversive

C.S. Lewis

 

Examining the Particularity of World World II Whiteness

““But the fellah, the unemployed and the starving do not lay claim to truth.  They do not say they represent the truth because they are the truth in their very being.”-Frantz Fanon, Wretched of the Earth, page 13

For many, the mention of Clive Staples Lewis and racial justice may be an odd pairing, especially given Lewis’ place among white conservative evangelicals who cling to his every word on mostly every issue, I mean, except inerrancy and evolution, no doubt.  However, I like to think outside the box, and outside the norm when it comes to resources for the cause of racial justice, and it is in my limited interpretation of Lewis’ Space Trilogy that I now turn, in particular, the second of the series, Perelandra.

Our story begins in Lewis’s Out of the Silent Planet, where our hero Ransom (uh oh, spaghetti theology-O’s!) is kidnapped by Devine and Weston. Devine and Weston (our unassuming antagonists) just so happen to be racist bigots against colonized subjects in Great Britain’s territories. Devine has a paternalistic attitude for an Indian colleague of his, and even though a relative of his may have married one of them, their culture, their existence is inferior in comparison to W’s and D’s progressive society. As Devine tries to seduce Ransom into his and W’s greedy ambition, D names everything from “Dear Old Place and to Playing the Game, to the White Man’s Burden and a Straight Bat.” Of course, Lewis is mimicking the logic of liberal imperialism, empire in the name of scientific and technological progress.

Ransom lands on a mysterious planet, Malacandra, and it is there that he meets some strange black beasts with amber-tinged eyes (the colored-Other we shall say). “Unconsciously he raised himself on his elbow and stared at the black beast.” It is in this encounter that Ransom feels the urge to fellowship in communion with this strange sentient being. “It was like a courtship – like the meeting of the first man and the first woman in the world; it was like something beyond that; so natural is the contact of sexes, so limited. the strangeness, so shallow the reticence, so mild the repugnance to be overcome, compared with the first tingling intercourse of two different, but rational, species.” Going back to my posts on Willie Jennings book on theology and race , The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race, the idea that we are created in the imago Trinitas, image of the Trinity, made for a God who lives in community and for other planetary creatures to love and live in fellowship with as well, goes hand and hand with anti-racist theologies. Unlike the movie Avatar (2009) where the monstrous animalist culture Other remains a colonized subject to remain on the margins, the hrossa and the other sorn (sentient beings) that Ransom encounters are persons with a subjectivity of their own making and have no need of being liberated by the colonial whites.

Ransom informs the sorn of humanity’s colonial failures:

They were astonished at what he had to tell them of human history – of war, slavery and prostitution. “It is because they have no Oyarsa,” said one of the pupils. “It is because every one of them wants to be a little Oyarsa himself,” said Augray. “They cannot help it,” said the old sorn. “There must be rule, yet how can creatures rule themselves? Beasts must be ruled by hnau and hnau by eldila and eldila by Maleldil. These creatures have no eldila. They are like one trying to lift himself by his own hair – or one trying to see over a whole country when he is on a level with it – like a female trying to beget young on herself.”

In Lewis’ hierarchy, God rules over humanity, and then governments rule as a mediator. Democrats (the small d for democratic philosophy) is not looked upon as something worth promoting, but as a form of anarchy itself. In the text Perelandra, Lewis shows the most of what Brian McLaren called in his Generous Orthodoxy, a postcolonial embarassment, in the description of Ransom’s encounter with the Green Lady:

Embarrassment and desire were both a thousand miles away from his experience: and if he was a little ashamed of his own body, that was a shame which had nothing to do with difference of sex and turned only on the fact that he knew his body to be a little ugly and a little ridiculous. Still less was her colour a source of horror to him. In her own world that green was beautiful and fitting; it was his pasty white and angry sunburn which were the monstrosity

She is dark and beautiful, he is ugly, “a little ridiculous,” and pasty at that! Melatonin as a signifier of beauty in this instance remains a reminder for Ransom (and for Lewis) the sins of European empire. Ransom’s struggle is with Weston who becomes the Un-Man whose goal it is to “To spread spirituality, not to spread the human race.” From a historical context, Lewis is criticizing one of his contemporaries, Olaf Stapledon, who I shall feature in this series. Lewis even rejects this theory, is this spirituality is not grounded in a Christian spirituality like that of the Middle Ages. His suspicion recognizes that the thrones of empires change seats, like in one instance, the throne may be religion, and in another science, and today, for example, the CEO’s chair. Humanity’s thrones are fluid and elusive, and it is up to the Christian to discern where injustice lies. Ransom argues (for Lewis) that the evidence of the Un-Man’s inhumanity is found in the lives of the oppressed.

“Well, the blacks know more about the universe than the white people. Dirty priests in back streets in Dublin frightening half-witted children to death with stories about it. You’d say they are unenlightened. They’re not: except that they think there is a way of escape. There isn’t. That is the real universe, always has been, always will be. That’s what it all means”

Lewis makes plain the imperial struggle in which he is waging with his pen by taking this interplanetary war and making it a very terrestrial one here on earth, on a college campus no less in the third piece of the Ransom Trilogy, That Hideous Strength. Ransom calls upon Merlin to help him in his struggle against the National Institute of Coordinate Experiments (NICE), who recognizes the Nimrodian nature of these science-worshipping beasts:

For the Hideous Strength confronts us, and it is as in the days when Nimrod built a tower to reach heaven.”      “Hidden it may be,” said Merlinus, “ but not changed. Leave me to work, Lord. I will wake it

The question for Lewis is not whether or not Christians should work for a better world, that’s obviously a yes. God has given the faithful that responsibility. The question is “What do we want that better world to look like?”

And I would say, it should look a little bit like racial reconciliation and justice.

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Good News For Wealthy Alone: Mosala's Postcolonial Reading of Luke 1 & 2

South Africa (orthographic projection)

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In Itumeleng Mosala’s Biblical Hermeneutics and Black Theology in South Africa, the author challenge the Christian  appropriation of the Lukan narrative as being for the oppressed and outsiders.  His critique is geared toward liberation theologians such as James Cone and Allan Boesak, but many others understand, particularly a few womanists and feminists, the Lukan birth narratives as emancipatory. First, in Luke 1:1-4, Mosala suggests that the intended audience is a dead giveaway at the outset. “Theophilus, his excellency” as the person whom the letter is intended means that Luke’s Gospel is for the elite, ruling class (174). Mosala also suggests that it is no coincidence that in Luke’s narrative, Roman and Gentile rulers are lifted up because, if historians are correct, and Luke was written between 80-85 Common Era, during a time of immense conflict between Christianity and the Roman empire, Luke’s gospel can be seen as an ideological tool to reach out, and make peace with the Romans (176).

Mosala’s second point is quite provocative as well. The Infancy Narratives at first glance seem to be liberating, with Mary’s nationalistic song praising God for putting to shame the oppressors in the tradition of Samuel’s mother Hannah. Luke was written in the context, like Genesis 4, of a tributary colonial system (Rome over Judah at that time) in the 1st century. Included in the ruling classes, according to Mosala, are “colonial royalty and nobility,” Judean royalty such as the Herodians, the Sadduccees, along with the scribes and priests. Within this context, one must understand Mary’s visit to Elizabeth (the wife of a priest), as an affirmation of social status. In other words, Luke is using this story to legitimate the life of an illegetimate Child/Messiah for the ruling classes, i.e., making Jesus more palatable to them (166). Mary has become a little more than the “priestly first lady of revolutions” in modern thought, but Mosala points to the brief mentioning of Joseph, who is key to affirm Jesus’ Davidic roots. Yeshua the Messiah is one of the rich, and so therefore, the Church is okay with Roman Empire as well. If biblical scholars would begin to uncover this truth, Mosala suggests that black people in the midst of struggle will liberate the gospel so it can liberate others.

I can see where Mosala is going here, but I do not quite buy it. First of all, he fails to make a distinction between the variety of classes of priests that there were in Israel and Judah, for example, the Zadokites were the royal priests for the Davidic monarchy while the Levites were the outsiders. Whose side will we choose, or maybe we should join the party of Melchizedek? I must apply my hermeneutic of suspicion in this case. What is Mosala’s beef with priests? Is it a Protestant bias? An anti-organized religion streak? I hope he knows that the prophetic tradition is not pure as well; there are such things as false prophets who work for the monarchs, telling them what they want. However, I do embrace Mosala, via Walter Brueggeman‘s distinction between the two covenants, the Mosaic (which is providential and liberating and prophetic and about ‘the struggle’) and the Davidic (which is accidental, universal, and elitist). As Mosala puts it, “The central themes of this monarchical ideology are stability, grace, restoration, creation, universal peace, compassion and salvation; they contrast radically with the ideology of pre-monarchical Israel, which would have themes such as justice, solidarity, struggle, and vigilance” (120).

Oh, Mosala forgot to add one thing to pre-monarchical Israel, it also had anarchy and idolatry as well which led to the temptation of the Israelites and Judeans in their desire for a tyrant king.

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Down Is Up: John Milbank's Radical Orthodoxy Project

OR TO QUOTE ONE OF MY FRIENDS, ISN’T THE TITLE “RADICAL ORTHODOXY” AN UTTER CONTRADICTION?

Recently, theologian John Milbank of Radical Orthodoxy (don’t bother to ask, just read the title as a contradiction in terms) wrote an article on the relationship between Christianity with the Enlightenment and Islam.  Apparently, it is with great regret that the Christian European empires fell and “allowed” nations such as India, Pakistan, and Algeria to overthrow the colonizers: “This surely has to do with the lamentably premature collapse of the Western colonial empires (as a consequence of the European wars) and the subsequent failure of Third World national development projects, with the connivance of neo-colonial, purely economic exploitation of poorer countries.”  I am sure of course, that Christian orthodoxy has always been for some time now affiliated with an apology for the existence human oppression.  Milbank’s Radical Orthodoxy project is radical in the sense that it is a radical RE-interpretation of Christian history, especially the past two hundred years. He claims in the article that Roman Catholicism found itself allied with the ideals of the Enlightenment, the 17th/18th century philosophies of the John Lockes, the Edmund Burkes, and Benjamin Franklins of those days. However, he is forgetting one crucial element: the evidence, especially the Roman Catholic theological texts contradicts his arguments. In fact, even an amatuer reader of history would know that even as late as the late 19th century, with Vatican I, Catholicism rejected modernity.  I do not see how it is feasibly possible to defend Milbank’s position, but I digress.

It seems as if Milbank desires to see the Muslim world in the image of European-style high-church Christianity of a generic stereotype, mystical and sacramental.  The article definitely reeks of Orientalism and racial hegemony, regardless of one’s theological disagreements with Islam.   I can only hope, with the likes of Adam Kotsko and Halden Doerge that future theorists within the Radical Orthodoxy movement challenge cultural assumptions such as these.

But what’s the point of agreeing with this post? I am coming from a radically subjective angle……..

Halden wrote some excellent pieces on Radical Orthodoxy here and here.

For my critique of the Radical Orthodoxy movement, see the first chapter of my thesis, Beyond Liberated.