A Solution for Our Secular Age

In another world, some very naughty dwarves tumbled through a stable door. But the inside of this cowshed was anything but ordinary. Within was a lush and open land canopied by a deep blue sky. Breezes fresh enough to make an old man young blew where they wished, making the thick leaves of the countless shiny fruit trees dance. The dwarves, however—though in this garden world—could not see, smell, or taste it. A girl named Lucy, a boy named Eustace, and a king named Tirian approached them—

“Look out!” said one of [the Dwarfs] in a surly voice. “Mind where you’re going. Don’t walk into our faces!”

“All right!” said Eustace indignantly. “We’re not blind. We’ve got eyes in our heads.”

“They must be darn good ones if you can see in here,”” said the same Dwarf whose name was Diggle.

“In where?” asked Edmund.

“Why you bone-head, in here of course,” said Diggle. “In this pitch-black, poky, smelly little hole of a stable.”

“Are you blind?” said Tirian.

“Ain’t we all blind in the dark!” said Diggle.

“But it isn’t dark, you poor stupid Dwarfs,” said Lucy. “Can’t you see? Look up! Look round! Can’t you see the sky and the trees and the flowers? Can’t you see me?”

“How in the name of all Humbug can I see what ain’t there? And how can I see you any more than you can see me in this pitch darkness?” (C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle).

We are all dwarves now. We have lost our ability to see what is there.

Many years ago now, there was a very popular song by the very popular evangelical artist Michael W. Smith. Mr. Smith was looking for a reason, roaming through the night to find his place in this world. It was a real struggle. But hindsight clarifies that Mr. Smith did not have it so bad after all. He at least had a world in which to be lost. He had a night in which to roam. The youth of the 90s may have felt a little out of place. But the generation growing up today does not have a place in which they can get out of sorts. You could still get turned around in Mr. Smith’s day because there was an ordered cosmos in which to do so. Modern man, on the other hand, does not know what it means to be lost. He has not only become disenchanted with the world. But he has come to believe the world itself is disenchanted, and a disenchanted world is no world at all.

Many Christians have resolved themselves to this disenchanted world, this voided cosmos. They have grown accustomed to living in the dark. They have read C. S. Lewis. They are ready to go to Narnia when the good Lord calls them home. But they have forgotten that Narnia is here. We live in a land of wizards and flaming heavenly horses:

“And when they shall say unto you, ‘Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter’ . . . To the law and to the testimony” (Isaiah 8:19).

“And Elisha prayed, and said, ‘LORD, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see.’ And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha” (2 Kings 17).

But these are not our instincts. Americans went through COVID hanging on every word from the CDC. But, it is fair to say, that angels killing people by means of a virus was not at the forefront of their minds. The notion that the celestials have anything to do with a virus seems absurd to modern man. But, you don’t have to go to Greek Mythology to hear about angelic destruction by means of sickness—

So the Lord sent pestilence upon Israel: and there fell of Israel seventy thousand men. And God sent an angel unto Jerusalem to destroy it: and as he was destroying, the Lord beheld, and he repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed, It is enough, stay now thine hand. And the angel of the Lord stood by the threshingfloor of Ornan the Jebusite” (1 Chronicles 21:14-15).

Someone is going to call foul right about now—”This guy recommends praying instead of taking your vitamin C.” That sort of knee-jerk reaction is a common instinct in our disenchanted world. We have forgotten that one can believe in cherubim and molecules. Things used to be different.

In his tome, A Secular Age, Charles Taylor wrote of the enchanted world, “the world of spirits, demons, oral forces which our predecessors acknowledged” (Secular Age, 29). We used to live in a world of solids and gods. And, of course, we still do. But, like the dwarves, we are oblivious. Taylor reminisced of this enchanted world, “in which spiritual forces impinged on porous agents, in which the social was grounded in the sacred and secular time in higher times, a society moreover in which the play of structure and anti-structure was held in equilibrium; and this human drama unfolded within a cosmos” (Secular Age, 61) But, “all this has been dismantled and replaced by something quite different in the transformation we after roughly call disenchantment” (Secular Age, 61)

Put simply, the Christian faith is supernatural. To be a Christian is to believe in angels and demons, heaven and hell, the spirit and the body, the underworld and resurrection, the Godman. If the supernatural fabric is incinerated, then there will be no Christianity left.

You don’t have to be the keenest cultural analyst to see that we are on the verge of an old-school holy war. From one vantage point, it is fair to say our disenchantment is wobbling. We contract women’s wombs and leave the leftover embryos in the freezer. In our times, a man given to homosexual acts can ponder extracting his sister’s eggs in an attempt to fertilize them through artificial reproductive technology. He can do this, mind you, to the ever-so-gentle golf applause of mainstream thought and culture. The people who remember what life was like say, three weeks ago, are rightly getting suspicious that something more than science is going on here.

We are at that point in Lewis’ That Hiddeous Strength when Frost breaks it to Mark Studdock that something otherworldly is communicating through Alcasan’s disembodied head. As Christiana Hale put it, “The materialistic and reductionistic philosophy that began by exalting reason and objective science as the only path to ultimate answers has degenerated into necromancy and dark magic. The philosophy that led Weston to reject the claims of human feeling and emotion in favor of unmoving, objective science and hard facts is now driving men to reanimate decapitated heads, level small villages, and take orders from dark spirits whose natures are far beyond what their hard ‘science’ can explain” (Deeper Heaven).

So I say that we are just on the cusp of such a revelation. There are many Mark’s in our world today who are starting to grasp that there is a relationship between all of those LGBTQ signs and the underworld and all of those steeples around town and the third heaven. That development means that the time is ripe for a solution to our secular age. And this solution, on the one hand, is nothing other than the faith once for all delivered to the saints. But there is a certain dimension of that faith that needs to be emphasized in our times. It comes out in Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

When Christians live by faith they evidence unseen things. They make secular man terribly uncomfortable, or they make him the happiest of men. When Christians live by faith, it is not only that the show unrighteous men how to live uprightly. That is a very good thing, of course. But more is going on. By faith, Christians manifest the unseen kingdom on earth. And that kind of enchantment is just what secular man with his “immanent frame,” as Charles Taylor would put it, so desperately needs.

It is a potent thing when the unseen things are evidenced by faith. Some occurs when the saints live by faith that is not altogether different than what happened to the downstairs residents at St. Anne’s when Jove descended to visit Ransom and Merlin upstairs: “In the kitchen his coming was felt. No one afterwards knew how it happened but somehow the kettle was put on, the hot toddy was brewed. Arthur—the only musician among them—was bidden to get out his fiddle. The chairs were pushed back, the floor cleared. They danced. What they danced no once could remember. It was some round dance, no modern shuffling: it involved beating the floor, clapping of hands, leaping high. And no one while it lasted thought himself or his fellows ridiculous” (C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength).