If Only Unborn Human Babies Had Feathers
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Time has also allowed the seeds the Prince of Wales planted long ago to bear fruit. For about 40 years, his search for that path through the thicket has taken him into countless areas; youth opportunities, business in the community, the environment, inter-faith relations, food and farming, literature, liturgy, architecture, the armed services, crafts, enterprise, education and medicine. Often, his outspokenness has caused alarm, and sometimes he has seemed to lack judgment.
But two things have emerged. The first is that these causes are not, in fact, a ragbag. They represent a consistent approach to life in which the material and the spiritual are linked. He believes that what people eat, how they grow it or rear it, what they live in, the language they use, the art they produce, how they pray, how they look after one another and care for their health, all relate.
For much longer than anyone else in public life, he has done a huge amount to establish these connections. The Prince has got there first, and got others to follow after. There was a tremendous stink in Buckingham Palace when, in 1985, he planned to attend Mass in Pope John Paul II’s private chapel when visiting him in Rome. In the end, he was told he could not do so. There was also scoffing when he spoke of wanting to be “Defender of Faith” rather than the Faith. But it turns out that the Prince saw more clearly than most the importance, in religion, of maximising what people can share. The man who sneaks off to Mount Athos, dabbles in Eastern mysticism and searches for what is best in Islam is the same man who stands up for the King James Bible. It works. He has become the main unofficial leader of interfaith trust.
Touchstone: One of the things C. S. Lewis is now notable for is his intellectual dissent from, in a way his assault on, feminism. I mean not the ordination of women as in his essay “Priestesses in the Church?” but the feminist ideology in general.
Thomas Howard: That’s one of those questions that has to be chased all the way through the corpus of Lewis’s works, because, obviously, feminism as such was not then a major or articulate force. He wrote the essay “Priestesses in the Church?” because the question had surfaced in a mild Anglican sort of way, but there was nothing very imminent about it.
Lewis presents a view of reality at a polar extreme from the frame of mind that ends up demanding ordination of women as presbyters. Obviously, he believes in hierarchy, but it’s not a hierarchy of power, which seems to be the feminist understanding. The whole discussion of priestesses in the last thirty years has run along sociological and political lines, with theology dragged in, when necessary, from the sidelines and various attempts made to rewrite the Bible to show that St. Paul said you should ordain women as presbyters.
In Lewis, you get a vision of things—of everything—in which the whole question of masculine and feminine is a subdivision of tremendous, prior considerations that he understands to characterize the universe. Lewis felt that those categories are of the very stuff of the universe, prior to male and female. Male is the way masculinity exhibits itself under biological species or terms, and female is the way femininity manifests itself under biological species.
For him, hierarchy is obviously the way the dance is choreographed, or the way the map of the universe is drawn. He points out in one place that in a hierarchy one has the duty of obedience to those above one in the hierarchy and the duty of magnanimity and stewardship and noblesse oblige to those below one. I seriously doubt that Lewis would use the words “above” and “below” with respect to masculine and feminine, because they don’t apply. They’re the terms of people who can only think of a dance in terms of power—which makes for a pretty poor dance.
The locus classicus for his view of gender is, I think, the scene toward the end of Perelandra when Ransom sees the two eldila: Perelandra, who is feminine, and Malacandra, who is masculine. The feminine eldil, Perelandra, participates in equal majesty, dignity, authority, and so on, with the masculine figure, Malacandra, but she has a receptiveness, a nurturing side. All these words have become buzzwords now, but they weren’t when Lewis wrote them in the 1940s.
I think he would feel that it’s turning things upside down to try to come at the mystery of femininity and masculinity with a power glint in one’s eye, or with an egalitarian, calculating set of categories to try to even up the slices of the pie.