Here Mark meets and talks with “the Mad Parson,” the Reverend Straik. He’s not orthodox but he views himself as the ultimate example of orthodoxy. The church has gotten it wrong all these years and Straik is finally getting back to the real religion of Jesus. Mark somewhat admirably begins to disagree with Straik, seeing Straik’s view as having goals in the after-life. (Finally an inner-circle Mark isn’t trying to break into.) But Straik replies “with every thought and vibration of my heart, with every drop of my blood… I repudiate that damnable doctrine” (76). The kingdom of God, per Straik, is a fully earthly kingdom wrought without the kind of judgement or righteousness that Christianity would consider judgement or righteousness.
We see Mark completely embarrassed and disarmed at Straik’s mention of Jesus (77). Straik goes on to describe science as an irresistible instrument because science, as wielded by the NICE is an instrument in God’s hand. The NICE is God’s instrument to perfect his kingdom on earth and to prophesy (forebodingly to the reader), “The real resurrection is even now taking place. The real everlasting. Here in this world. You will see it” (78). This further unsettles Mark who tries to change the subject by mentioning that his wallet has gone missing.
Straik’s zeal for the NICE seems almost cartoonish to me today. The description of him as the Mad Parson is apt. But considering the liberal progressive Christian agenda of the past, he’s really not that extraordinary. The eugenics movement has generally fallen out of favor. There are still vestiges in our society and laws – abortion on demand, population control among others – but as a whole there aren’t a great deal of people promoting progress through science as a form of Christianity any longer.
Liberal theologian John Gillin published Social Problems in 1928 and therein he strongly advocated using science as a means of driving society forward. This was coupled to his Christian beliefs on some level, though for a conservative Christian today it is hard to see these connections. Lewis, at the time of writing, was closer to that than we are today.
I would say that although the overt tie-in to religion has fallen away, many of the underlying beliefs have grown stronger. Medical problems are suggested for a great number of societal ills today and that is taken for granted by the general population. There may well be some genetic predisposition to certain things like “alcoholism,” but moving it from being a moral problem to a medical problem is not the appropriate treatment of the issue. Further, anger, depression, anxiety and a host of less common problems are oft considered medical today and medical treatment is sought to “treat” them.
Straik’s mention of resurrection is especially foreshadowing. The “dark arts” that are being dabbled with at the NICE will come to fruition in a type of counterfeit resurrection. There will be more on that as it unfolds in the book. But mark Straik’s words: “You will see it.” Yes, we will.
Mark’s repulsion and embarrassment at the mention of Jesus’s name needs little comment. I suppose his desire to change the topic of conversation at the end of the section probably reflects on Straik’s mention of the resurrection reminding Mark of Jesus, and yet that’s not the resurrection he has in mind at all. I doubt Mark is ready for either resurrection just yet.
The blending of science fiction with religious fiction really comes into play here. The NICE is using science to do what was previously thought to be a religious endeavor: bringing about the kingdom of God, resurrections, the saints inheriting the earth.
As far as this chapter being on the liquidation of anachronisms, we first have the Dimbles’ home, a quaint little Christian home where a married couple seek to help those they know and mourn the children that haven’t been blessed with; Bill the Blizzard and his repulsion to this new type of science which, he says, hasn’t got much to do with science at all, and now we see Straik’s desire to be rid of the church as we know it, of orthodoxy and that old religious understanding in favor of the NICE and science as an instrument in God’s hand.