Sunday, November 24, 2013

Ain't That N.I.C.E.?

I wrote this more than four years ago … and things have only gotten worse. It's interesting to see how some bad ideas (and names) have changed -- for the worse.

In the third installment of his space trilogy,Space Trilogy That Hideous StrengthC. S. Lewis' main character (Mark Studdock) was seduced with the promise of joining the inner ring of a powerful English society that used questionable tactics to establish an "efficient" state bureaucracy run by controllers who saw themselves as being a cut above the rest of the world. The name of the society Mark yearned to join was the National Institute of Co-ordinated Experiments -- N.I.C.E.

Lewis described N.I.C.E. as:
"the first fruits of that constructive fusion between state and laboratory on which so many thoughtful people base their hopes for a better world. It was to be free from almost all the tiresome restraints ... which have hitherto hampered research in this country. It was also largely free from the restraints of economy ..."
This, in fictional form, was the epitome of what Lewis feared would become a socio-political reality. Some of his reviewers begged to differ. The New York Times described That Hideous Strength as "superlatively nonsensical excitement, challenging implications," while Time magazine called it a "well-written, fast-paced satirical fantasy." That was in 1946.

Fast forward to 2009.

John C. Goodman, writing in National Review (September 21, 2009), reports on the contemporary British health commission:
"which currently recommends against any treatment that costs more than $45,000 to save a year of life. Because of [the commission], British cancer patients are denied access to drugs that are routinely available in the U.S. and on the European continent, and thousands die prematurely."
The name of the commission is the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, but the Brits refer to it by the more commonly recognized acronym: N.I.C.E.

I wish I could make this stuff up. In fact, when I read it I assumed that Mr. Goodman had made it up. He didn't. But the creepy stuff doesn't stop there.

The reason Mr. Goodman cited this fact was because N.I.C.E., according to former Senator Tom Daschleis the model for American health care reform. He said so in his book, Critical: What We Can Do About The Health-Care Crisis. Barring the inconvenience of paying those pesky income taxes that only those of us who are not driven to work in a limousine should have to bear, the good Senator would have been the one overseeing our American N.I.C.E. guys.

Today, we see hypocritical politicians passing laws they've never read. We see the unilateral decisions of Barack Obama changing the duly passed, "settled law" of the Affordable Care Act to favor his cronies and union bosses. We see Congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle touting the fact that they will also be covered by ObamaCare while conveniently avoiding the subject of their under-the-table subsidies. We see this is "necessary" to preserve the crop of geniuses in Washington D.C. from experiencing a "brain drain" if forced to live under the law like the rest of us chumps. We see HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius who, as we have seen, will not only fill that role but also be the one to decide which pool of federal funding will be used to fund abortion.

We see, in other words, that all the N.I.C.E. guys are really just lying through their shiny white teeth.

Remember all the talk about "death panels" in ObamaCare? Well, given the ideology and bureaucratic impulses of our current cast of political characters, does anyone truly doubt that there will be rationing. When resources are limited and controlling costs is the reason the reform was pushed in the first place, this will be the inevitable result. Someone will be charged with responsibility of deciding who gets what. Someone like Mark Studdock.

And that is a hideous strength to wield.

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Friday, November 22, 2013

Remembering Jack

Everyone who was alive 50 years ago probably remembers where they were and what they were doing on this date in 1963. It's a day that is emblazoned in our minds because it was the day that one of the greatest and most influential men in modern history died. Sadly, I didn't learn the significance of that day until nearly 30 years later. I'm still learning how much that man influenced my life and how indebted I, and many others, are to his life's work.

His friends called him Jack, but the man I'm talking about is not the man that you are probably hearing about in the news today.

His name was Clive Staples Lewis.

On the first day of classes in my Master's Degree program at Biola University, Craig Hazen welcomed us to the campus and asked us to go around the room for an introduction that included a short explanation for how and why we became interested enough in Christian Apologetics to enroll in the program we were just beginning. As I recall, there were about 28 of us in the room. Twenty five of us (me included) invoked the name of C. S. Lewis.

This was not, and is not, idolatry. Jack Lewis would reject and admonish the very thought of such a thing. It is simple respect and gratitude for the memory of the death of a great man and the enormous impact he had, and is still having, on this world.

His books are still being published. His allegorical stories and novels are still being made into films. Max Mclean has made himself deservedly famous for his one-man-show theatrical presentations in which he does nothing but give a dramatic recital of Lewis's books (so far including The Screwtape Letters and The Great Divorce). Think about that. We live in the age of instant news, YouTube videos and Snapchat. Max Mclean is reciting 70 year-old C. S. Lewis books ... and his audiences are mesmerized by them.

It is hard for me to imagine that any one person outside the biblical authors could ever again have as much influence on the thinking of so many people in ways that defend and promote the truth and reality of Christianity as C. S. Lewis. His way with words, the depth of his thoughts, and the prescience with which he anticipated the world we now inhabit is breathtaking to comprehend. He was a master of language and a brilliant observer of culture.

He was not a philosopher. He was something better. He was someone who could make philosophy real. He could see where philosophy was heading. His predictions and philosophical forecasts from the 1940s and 50s have become today's headlines. If you're skeptical of that claim, don't take my word for it, just sit down for a couple of hours, read The Abolition of Man, and try to fathom the fact that it was first published in 1947.

Beyond that, C. S. Lewis was a model for both Christian believers and rationalistic skeptics who have both stopped thinking about life's most important questions because they've already found their answers. He grew up an atheist but later admitted that his atheism was motivated by the emotional consequences of the pain he experienced in his youth that he could not reconcile with a good and loving God. That is a difficult thing to overcome. It is the most common reason for rejecting belief in God's existence. It is the enemy of reason. Yet, Jack Lewis vanquished each of these because he was more committed to the rational pursuit of truth than a victim of the tendency to let emotion succeed in locking the door behind a closed mind.

Lewis' mother died when he was 8 years-old. His father shipped him and his brother off to boarding schools where he gained not only a superior education but a love for books and inner reflection that was born of loneliness. Many of Lewis' childhood memories shaped the characters he would later create. His vivid pictures of those times became the settings for his stories. He relished the influences of George McDonald and G. K. Chesterton, who made him a lover of story and challenged him to think for himself. He fought in World War I, was wounded, and had one of his dearest friends (Paddy Moore) die in that war. Then, because he honored a pact he made with Paddy, on his return to England, Lewis spent the next 32 years caring for Paddy's mother -- an enterprise that was both strenuous and stressful but that Lewis rarely mentioned.

This was a man who had every excuse to be bitter and angry but everyone who knew him thought him to be the most cheerful and joy-filled person they had ever met. Lewis rejected bitterness and emptiness because he turned toward the Truth and power of Christ.

In his autobiographical and ironically titled, Surprised By Joy, Lewis describes his arrival at Oxford and the idyllic picture he had in his mind of the place that would become his academic home and anchor. He got off the train and wandered through town looking for a place to stay. As he wandered, the town "became more and more shabby, with one dingy shop after another, [but he continued] 'always expecting the next turn to reveal [its] beauties.' Only when it became obvious that he was coming to open country and there was no town left did Jack stop and turn around. Then he saw [Oxford] in all its glory, with its grand collection of towers an spires reaching toward the sky, a picture of academic splendor unsurpassed anywhere in the world* ...

"I did not see to what extent this little adventure was an allegory of my whole life."

With Douglas Gresham
Recently, I got as close as I could ever get to meeting Jack Lewis when his stepson, Douglas Gresham,  along with Dr. Devin Brown of Asbury University and author of, A Life Observed: A Spiritual Biography of C. S. Lewis, visited a nearby church to spend a couple of hours telling stories about him. It's a book that any skeptic or any fan of Christianity should read and consider because C. S. Lewis was both. I wish we would all be so dedicated and insistent on pursuing the Truth.

In an age where sound bites and celebrity count for more than substance, Jack Lewis -- a man of whom there only exist 38 photographs in the world** -- still resonates with and touches those who are privileged enough to take in his work. Over the years I have found that there are some of his ideas that I may take exception with but there is no Mere Christian who has made me think more about our shared convictions than Jack Lewis. I look forward to the day when I get off the bus at heaven's gates. I don't think I'll have to look far to see a barely recognized figure who seems somehow more imposing than all the familiar faces whose own earthly notoriety was their goal. When I do, I'll remember the words from The Great Divorce when the traveler's guide/teacher assured his student that: "[He] is one of the great ones. Ye have heard that fame in this country and fame on Earth are two quite different things ... Redeemed humanity is still young, it has hardly come to its full strength. But already there is joy enough in the little finger of a great saint such as yonder [gentleman] to waken all the dead things of the universe into life."


* Devin Brown, A Life Observed, p. 97.
** According to The Magic Never Ends documentarian Chip Duncan as cited in: Devin Brown, A Life Observed, p. 18.