Saturday, January 26, 2008

Will the Republic of Heaven be Better?

In the Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Prince Caspian tells the Governor of the Lone Islands that the slave trade must stop. Governor Gumpas is flabbergasted. Price Caspian just doesn't understand the economics involved, he says.

"But that would be putting the clock back," gasped the governor. "Have you no idea of progress, of development?"

I have seen them both in an egg, said Caspian. "We call it 'Going Bad' in Narnia. This trade must stop."

A couple weeks ago I wrote a bit about what C. S. Lewis thought of Developmentalism--the idea that mankind is getting better and better all the time. Many think that if we were just not tied down with so many "unnecessary" restrictions, our Development would be faster. Philip Pullman seems to be calling for such a lifting of restrictions in his Dark Materials trilogy. Rather than being dominated by "The Kingdom of Heaven," Pullman calls for the creation of "The Republic of Heaven."

We in the United States know what it is to live in a Republic. The idea is to put power into the hands of the people rather than into a monarch or small group. The framers of the Constitution wanted the government to have as little power as possible--just enough to protect the People from invasion and from themselves. For this concept to work, for the People to rule themselves, the People must be "under God."

To grant that there is a supreme intelligence who rules the world and has established laws to regulate the actions of his creatures; and still to assert that man, in a state of nature, may be considered as perfectly free from all restraints of law and government, appears to a common understanding altogether irreconcilable. Good and wise men, in all ages, have embraced a very dissimilar theory. They have supposed that the deity, from the relations we stand in to himself and to each other, has constituted an eternal and immutable law, which is indispensably obligatory upon all mankind, prior to any human institution whatever. This is what is called the law of nature....Upon this law depend the natural rights of mankind. --Alexander Hamilton in The Farmer Refuted, 1775, quoted in the Founders Quote Database

The Founding Fathers talked about the truths which are "self-evident." They were speaking about the law of nature when they declared that "All men are created equal." (Unfortunately, not all the Founding Fathers were uninfluenced by the supposed dictates of "progress" and economic "necessity," and it took nearly 100 more years for our practice to catch up with our rhetoric.) Freedom was an inherent right given by God, not granted by governments.

In The Amber Spyglass, the final book of the His Dark Materials trilogy, after the Regent has died, someone says that it will only be a matter of time before someone takes his place. A power vacuum always seeks to be filled. People naturally desire someone or something to follow. We see this in history with "Republics" that have denied God. Communist Russia practically deified Lenin and Stalin. China did the same with Mao. Countries that do not believe that there is a God who has given us rights usually end up with governments that grant very few.

C. S. Lewis wrote about the Law of Nature in such works as Mere Christianity and The Abolition of Man. He points out that societies that never had contact with each other have similar moral codes and ethical structures. As Alex McFarland points out in the book Unshakable Faith, "That’s not to say that humans always do what is morally right; Lewis and others assert that all cultures, intuitively know what is right." There are self-evident truths that have, to one degree or another, affected cultures around the world. Murder, theft and adultery are taboo, while heroism, self-denial and honesty are applauded.

The same is true even in the cultures in His Dark Materials that have rejected the Magisterium. Pullman emphasizes over and over that although Will and Mr. Scoresby will kill to defend themselves or others, they abhor it. Will insists on leaving a gold coin whenever they have to take anything they need. The Witches seduce men, and one witch even kills a man who rejected her. But the point is made that at least his wife can be comforted knowing he was faithful. Many characters are praised for their heroism and self-denial, and even Lyra comes to realize that her lying ("the only thing I'm good at") will not avail in the end.

The Amber Spyglass, the last book in the series, ends with Lyra telling Pan that they were to build The Republic of Heaven now that The Kingdom of Heaven was over. The rule of the Magisterium certainly was oppressive. But will the Republic be any better? I have my doubts.

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