On a global superpower scale, the 1960s were partially defined by the Space Race. In a strange twist on propaganda–or a poor twist in the tale–Lewis had heard that the Russians had announced that they had been to outer space and God was not up there. While it sucks to be a Sky God in the nuclear age, most of us can think of a few reasons that the Russians never found what they were looking for.
One of them, of course, is the question of whether they were really, truly looking for God. On a technical level, there are some questions we might ask of Khrushchev’s cosmonauts: What tools did you use to detect God? What metrics for success and failure did you establish for the experiment? Can we reproduce the experiment?
They are rhetorical questions because we know that the original claim was merely rhetoric. And the truth is that most people aren’t really trying to find God, Lewis reminds us. Yet God is trying to find us, searching us out through lane and limb until we are found. God is unscrupulous, the indefatigable Hound of Heaven. Space and time are no real places to hide if God is hunting us.
Though the Russian scientists didn’t know this, any curious kid with a National Geographic subscription will remind you that the Earth is “in space.” There is no “up there” when it comes to the definition of the universe. There is only relative direction. If you want to find–or avoid–God you’ll have to do a lot better than escape from Earth’s gravitational pull. So, Lewis asks:
How can we either reach or avoid God?
“The avoiding, in many times and places, has proved so difficult that a very large part of the human race failed to achieve it. But in our own time and place it is extremely easy.”
Extremely easy indeed! Despite the fact that Lewis was part of a generation where the recovery of faith was possible in the intellectual contexts of England, Europe’s post-Enlightenment flight from faith was well in hand by this time. For those who want to flee with their culture, Lewis gives a kind of checklist for avoiding God when it is really necessary:
- Avoid silence,
- Avoid solitude,
- Avoid any train of thought that leads off the beaten track.
- Concentrate on money, sex, status, health and (above all) on your
- Keep the radio on.
- Live in a crowd.
- Use plenty of sedation.
- If you must read books, select them very carefully. But you’d be safer to stick to the papers. You’ll find the advertisements helpful; especially those with a sexy or a snobbish appeal.
It is hardly necessary, is it? If there is a culture that has ever filled all the spaces in between more than ours, I do not know of it. Our interest in busyness, sex, safety, health, connectivity, and status (updates) is a cultural pathology. It isn’t that we have no opportunity for silence, stillness, solitude, great ideas, and great books. We can unplug, I think, if we really want to. Truthfully, we have no interest in these things. Though I think in our hearts we feel an unnamed hunger for soul health, the extreme path of balance, centredness, quietude, and curiosity is hardly even a temptation to most of us.
Is our culture trying to avoid God? Hardly. Most don’t have the sneaking suspicion that God is meant to be hid from. I certainly didn’t. And the rest of us would be unlikely to have any framework for knowing where to even begin.
Still, even I was found–despite the fact I didn’t know enough yet to run from God. It is no surprise that I found God–or was found by God–far away from TV sets and gaming systems and computers and schedules and advertising. It was around a campfire, with a few friends, and a dim sense of how the time should be spent for the next few hours. I found God in a space where song and laughter was allowed, where childlike fun and curiosity and great ideas could be discussed. I found God in a space where someone invited me to look at my own heart, and there was nothing around to keep me from doing it.
So if you want to avoid God, I would encourage you to stay clear these sorts of spaces: quiet library chairs, park benches, gardens that need care, woods without paths, and kitchen tables where long talk after dinner continues with people who see the world just a little bit differently than you. And, of course, avoid campfires, where a round of “Kumbaya” can break out at any moment, where secrets are told and the heart inches away from the real world.
If those spaces threaten to come near, just pull out your phone and swipe the screen. Something is bound to come up.