The Last Battle: CS Lewis and Why the Corruption of Language Can Destroy the World
Thanks to a brilliant college professor and to author C.S. Lewis, I’ve finally figured out something that has always confused me.
Namely, why the transgender madness that is corrupting the West angers me so much. Why does Dylan Mulvaney celebrating the government’s identifying him as a female, or Lia Thomas — a man — destroying females he’s racing against in a pool, make my blood boil? Why does it outrage me more than certain sinful acts themselves? Both my liberal and conservative friends were surprised in 2002 when I just kinda shrugged when the Supreme Court, in Lawrence vs. Texas, overruled the state laws against sodomy. I’m a Christian and sodomy is a sin. Why didn’t it rankle me as much as some guy twenty years later claiming to be a girl?
An Answer Found in Narnia
Anthony Pagliarini has provided an answer. Pagliarini, a professor of literature at Notre Dame, is one of the contributors to the recently published book The Chronicles of Transformation: A Spiritual Journey with C.S. Lewis. The book collects essays about Lewis and his great work The Chronicles of Narnia.
Pagliarini addresses The Last Battle, the final book in the Narnia series. The story centers around the destruction of Narnia. The corruption begins not with a battle but with the twisting of language. An Ape (capitalized by Lewis) named Shift has brought evil into Narnia. This takes the form of corrupting language and using it to confuse rather than reveal the truth.
As Pagliarini notes, Lewis’ account of creation in previous Narnia books anticipates this end. Aslan, the lion who represents Christ, says this to the higher creatures of Narnia when it is created: “Narnia. Narnia. Narnia, awake. Love. Think. Speak.” It is to the Talking Beasts that Aslan entrusts the world. “Creatures,” says Aslan, “I give you yourselves … . I give you the woods, the fruits, the rivers. I give you the stars and I give you myself.”
Lastly, Aslan gives them the care of the “Dumb Beasts.” “Treat them gently,” he warns, “and cherish them but do not go back to their ways lest you cease to be Talking Beasts. For out of them you were taken and into them you can return. Do not do so.”
Corrupt Language and You Degrade All Creation
This is a serious warning. To degrade language is to set in motion events that can destroy the world — and does. Why? Pagliarini explores it brilliantly:
Speech is the mark of exalted status, and it is the right use of speech in the work of tending and keeping the others that promises to preserve all that Aslan has given. The abuse of language, on the other hand, promises its undoing. Why? For Saint Thomas Aquinas, judgment about reality —itself a kind of interior ‘word’ — gives rise to an outer, spoken word which expresses that judgment.
This externalization is more than just a by-product of thought, more than just a rippling out of something more essential already complete in the mind. Rather, language is the means by which we bring our freedom to bear on the world. When I say “I love you’ to my wife or children, I do more than communicate a judgment of mine in an information-giving sort of way. (If it were just that, there would be no need to say it each day.) In speaking these words to them, I bring that judgment to bear in such a way that we are changed. Seen in this way, speech is the quintessential act of a free creature.
Using Speech Truthfully
Using speech truthfully is abiding by the truth of God. It can also change us. We all recall moments in our lives when someone was truthful with us and we felt frozen and exhilarated at the same time. Maybe we were confronted about an addiction problem after we’d treated someone poorly.
We feel profound joy when someone, through language, affirms us: “You did a good thing. You were kind to that person. You acted like a good Christian.” Pagliarini notes that “love is a kind of knowledge” and that even sinners in Narnia who love Aslan and see him as the truth are welcomed by him. The two men in Texas arrested for having sex who wound up before the Supreme Court and Lawrence vs. Texas never lied about what they were doing. One of them did not claim to be a woman. They were sinners, not liars.
Those who abuse and degrade language create lies that can ultimately bring down a world. When enough people believe that men can be women, or that abortion is health care, or that pornography is not just harmless but liberating, the destruction that results can topple cities. Witness liberal places like Portland and San Francisco. Their leaders, like Shift the Ape in Narnia, corrupt language, sometimes even keeping a little truth in there to fool the people. Sure, shoplifting isn’t the worst crime in the world. Decriminalize it then, why not? The next thing you know, the downtown is deserted. Next stop, total collapse.
Pagliarini sums it up beautifully:
Speech is also, fittingly, mankind’s first act in the pages of Scripture. We are the image of a God who speaks a world into being and who asks us to speak so that we might draw that world into right relation and into rest. No matter that Adam, in that first moment of speaking, doesn’t find a helpmate among all the livestock, the birds in the sky, and all the wild animals (Gen 2:20). By naming them, he sets all things in right relation; he ‘orders all things well’ (Wis 8:1) and so exercises that dominion which is nothing other than an extension of the divine work of naming things into existence.
We are talking beasts, and our speech is not just a making audible of our intellect, not just a transmission in some medium or other. Speech is what renders truth in the service of love, is what allows us to exercise our unique role of tending and keeping (cf. Gen 1:26, 28; 2:8). The communion of this world, like the Trinitarian communion it images, is begotten and pre-served in speech, in the Word. And the failure of speech is the paradigmatic failure of humanity, and, for that matter, of all Talking Beasts.
Mark Judge is a writer and filmmaker in Washington, D.C. His new book is The Devil’s Triangle: Mark Judge vs the New American Stasi.