Instructions for Avoiding God

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?

Old-Pepsi-Cola-Ad-6As anyone who has spent some time thinking about it knows, the answer is more helpful for those trying to flee than for those trying to find God. C.S. Lewis puts it in historical perspective:

“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
    own grievances.
  • 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.

diet-gain-weight-swscan06686How would we update this list for the 21st century, for this age of plastic connectivity?

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.

old record sexy adSo 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.

Advertisements

About Brenton Dickieson

“A Pilgrim in Narnia” is a blog project in reading and talking about the work of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and the worlds they touched. As a "Faith, Fantasy, and Fiction" blog, we cover topics like children’s literature, apologetics and philosophy, myths and mythology, fantasy, theology, cultural critique, art and writing. This blog includes my thoughts as I read through Lewis and Tolkien and reflect on my own life and culture. In this sense, I am a Pilgrim in Narnia--or Middle Earth, or Fairyland. I am often peeking inside of wardrobes, looking for magic bricks in urban alleys, or rooting through yard sale boxes for old rings. If something here captures your imagination, leave a comment, “like” a post, share with your friends, or sign up to receive Narnian Pilgrim posts in your email box. Brenton Dickieson is a father, husband, friend, university lecturer, and freelance writer from Prince Edward Island, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter, @BrentonDana.
This entry was posted in Thoughtful Essays and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Instructions for Avoiding God

  1. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    I have long been ‘taken in’ by the apparent Soviet propaganda myth that the otherwise admirable Yuri Gagarin said, ‘Bog nyet!’, or whatever exactly – ‘Scientific Materialism’ at its (ahem) finest! – but his Wikipedia article has some interesting matter to the contrary: “no such words appear in the verbatim record of his conversations with Earth-based stations during the spaceflight. In a 2006 interview, Gagarin’s friend Colonel Valentin Petrov stated that the cosmonaut never said such words, and that the quote originated from Nikita Khrushchev’s speech at the plenum of the Central Committee of the CPSU about the state’s anti-religion campaign, saying ‘Gagarin flew into space, but didn’t see any god there.’ Petrov also said that Gagarin had been baptised into the Orthodox Church as a child, and a 2011 Foma magazine article quoted the rector of the Orthodox church in Star City saying, ‘Gagarin baptized his elder daughter Yelena shortly before his space flight; and his family used to celebrate Christmas and Easter and keep icons in the house.’ ”

    “Is our culture trying to avoid God?” I think some (even, often in various ways brilliant) people have been (often with various elaborately defensive convolutions) over the past several centuries, and some have been and are trying to make the avoidance culturally effective – as far as possible building up an environment where it doesn’t even occur to people to consider such things. Eric Voegelin has interesting things to say about what he characterizes as ‘egophantic revolt’. And George Grant has all sorts of interesting things to say about developments in western thought, especially over the last couple centuries. (Neither of them seem very sanguine, but both resist despair.)

    Like

    • I did a little bit of digging (enough to find it was a kind of cultural legend more than anything), but you went future. That’s kind of cool.
      I like Grant’s sanquinity (word?), but I still haven’t found Voegelin, beyond the cherrypick of readings I have done. The social theory I am slowly cooking in my brain is that of “credibility structures.” I can see in a decade me working on something that has to do with either a tipping point or mimetic/viral theory of religion. We’ll see.

      Like

  2. Pingback: 20 Easy Ways To Avoid God | The Hardin Crowder Blog

  3. L.A. Smith says:

    Wonderful post, thank you! This is SO true: “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.”

    Oh, how easy it is to be distracted now! And we seem to have a pathological aversion to silence. I am constantly amazed how people don’t go anywhere without earphones in their ears. I fear our kids are losing the ability to be alone with their own thoughts, and that is tragic. Really good food for thought, here, Brenton, thanks!

    Like

    • Thanks! “a pathological aversion to silence” nails it. I am an “ear bud” guy, filling my time with lectures and books. I have music on when I am working at my desk. I am that “fill the spaces” fellow, so when I write this post, it is self-revelatory.

      Like

  4. Alex Aili says:

    Reblogged this on Covert God and commented:
    “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.”

    Like

  5. Alex Aili says:

    Excellent post.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s