We have just finished rereading C. S. Lewis’s The Last Battle, in which Narnia comes to an end. It is a tale of invasion, sabotage, and combat; but it is also a tale of political intrigue, deception, and treachery. The two go hand in hand, but the latter is the more catastrophic, for it corrupts the heart of Narnia.
At the end of last month, a Christian friend who lives in France was visiting. It was just after the murder of Father Jacques Hamel in Rouen. ‘It’s as if we are living through a war,’ we said to each other. ‘In fact, that’s what it is. There’s a war on.’
This is not just about IS versus the West. If only it were that simple. We now see military conflicts with three (or more) sides. We now see violence that can be directed against anyone, anywhere, without warning. We now see combatants with no interest in avoiding death, so that they are impossible to deter. It is no longer nation against nation, but few against many.
But I’m not concerned only about military activities. Those traditional strongholds of solid, thoughtful statesmanship, Britain and the United States, have been descending over the past few years, at first gradually, and now rapidly, into political pandemonium. (Please note: this isn’t a politically motivated blog!) Whatever our political allegiance, we must surely all have been alarmed at the way public discourse has moved away from the reasoned, respectful discourse we grew up with, into the realm of deceit, insult, and aggression. Truthfulness, fidelity, courtesy, neighbourliness, take flight. Something very peculiar is going on in the world of 2016. It is a moral crisis like that which our parents or grandparents endured in the 1930s and 1940s.
Christian saints in 1939 discerned that the military conflict then engulfing the world was the manifestation of something deeper—a spiritual conflict. The lines were easier to draw then, as Germany and Russia had been captured by atheistic powers with no respect for traditional laws of conduct, while Britain and the USA could still claim to be nominally Christian nations. The collapse in public standards of honesty, generosity, and restraint that we are witnessing now, alongside the worldwide cruelty and callousness with which it is intertwined, looks to me like the breaking out of a more complex spiritual struggle.
This is no time for Christians to be merely partisan. It is all too easy to see the hostility of IS towards Christianity—or the recklessness of a politician—and stop there. After all, we have never encountered anything like it before. But we should discern that this abominable behaviour is a symptom of a deeper nexus of evil, which, I fear, we are all caught up in. It’s important to remember that, if only in small ways, our lives have contributed to the global mess.
Other people can only take sides or despair. Christians are called to something more powerful, which only we can do. If we go back to basics, we know perfectly well that the spiritual battle is no new situation at all. It goes on all the time. It’s just that the long peace in the West has lulled us into unawareness, indifference, and conformity.
What can we do? We can be repentant, rather than judgemental. We can pray with love—for everyone involved, including ‘enemies’. We can recalibrate our lives daily so that we do not think and behave as if we were citizens of this world only. We can take mental hold of eternity: we have a much better hope than the dreadful death cult of IS. And we can encourage one another in these things. Christian writers, especially those with a Christian audience, are very well placed to do so, following C. S. Lewis’s example.
All worlds draw to an end, except Aslan’s own country.