Olympic gods and C. S. Lewis
by Berit Kjos - February 2006
"During the ancient Olympic Games in Greece, a sacred flame burned at the altar of Zeus, in whose honor the Games were held. Its lighting signaled the opening of the Games, and its extinguishing signaled their end.... The flame itself is lit during a ceremony at the site of the ancient Olympic stadium in Olympia.... Women dressed in robes similar to those worn by the ancient Greeks use a curved mirror to light the torch naturally with rays of the sun. The high priestess then presents the torch to the first relay runner."
C. S. Lewis would have loved the Olympics. Its roots sank deep into the ancient mythology that had captivated his heart. Long after he chose to believe the Bible was true (1931), he continued to justify pagan myths as precursor to the Gospel. In his imagination-rich mind, he believed that "Christianity fulfilled paganism," for the two were simply a continuous thread of the same evolving story. Lewis' description of his visit to Greece in 1960 fits that persuasion:
"I had some ado to prevent Joy and myself from relapsing into Paganism in Attica! At Daphni it was hard not to pray to Apollo the Healer. But somehow one didn’t feel it would have been very wrong — would have only been addressing Christ sub specie Apollonius. We witnessed a beautiful Christian village ceremony in Rhodes and hardly felt a discrepancy."
The countless similarities between Olympic themes and the books by C. S. Lewis remind us that human nature doesn't change with time. In spite of cultural shifts through the ages, humanity faces the same timeless temptation to trade Biblical absolutes for the allure of man-made myths. The lures of the Olympics -- titillating tales, spiritual ideals, triumphant power, fleshly sensuality, and the vision of peace and unity -- match Lewis' enticing stories. Take a look at some of them:
1. WORSHIPPING ZEUS
Ancient myths tell us that the ancient Olympic Games were founded by the mighty Heracles (Hercules to the Romans), son of Zeus, the reigning god on Olympus. This ancient theme continues to drive the opening ceremony of modern Olympics. One revealing part is the Olympic hymn, a prayer to Zeus, the ruling Greek deity at Olympus:
Immortal spirit of antiquity / Father of the true, beautiful and good ...
Shine in a roseate hue and for a vast temple / To which all nations throng to adore thee
Oh immortal spirit of antiquity!
Many would justify this pagan ritual as little more than an affirmation of a benevolent spirit that fits global demands for a universal spirituality. But C. S. Lewis carried this pagan theme further. For example, he presents the Roman gods Mars and Venus as visible angelic deities on planet Venus in his book "Perelandra," the second book in his Space Trilogy. Ransom, the main hero, was transported to that planet by some friendly elvila, angelic messengers visible only by the light they emanate. On Venus, the nude Ransom befriends an innocent Eve and protects her from an earthly, demon-possessed tempter. The ensuing battle kills the villain but bruises Ransom's heel, which continues to bleed until the end of the story -- as if a fulfillment of Genesis 3:15.
The third book in the series, "That Hideous Strength," is set in England. Ransom must now stop a team of evil, totalitarian conspirators determined to rule the world through modern behavior strategies and ancient magical powers. But stronger forces stand by Ransom. Having traveled to both Mars and Venus, he has continuing contact with the friendly elvila. Working with Ransom and Merlin (the Druid magician featured in ancient Arthurian tales has been awakened from his 1500 year sleep), they summon the mighty powers of the planetary pantheon. The first god to arrive is Mercury (called Hermes by the Greeks), the "messenger" god of dark Hermetic magic. Lewis described his mind-altering power:
"All fact was broken.... turned inside out, kneaded, slain, and reborn as meaning. For the Lord of Meaning himself... was with them... whom men call Mercury [or Hermes]."[4 - page 322]
Moments later, Venus, the goddess of love, arrives. Mars follows close behind. As you read the next excerpt, remember that in the ancient Greek games, the athletes -- all male -- competed in the nude. Homosexuality was considered normal. The fact that Lewis' lifelong friend, Arthur Greeves, was a homosexual, may help explain why Lewis added these details before introducing Zeus.
"The three gods who had already met... represented those two of the Seven Genders, which bear a certain analogy to the biological sexes.... It would not be so with those who were now preparing to descend. These also doubtless had their genders, but we have no clue to them...."[4 - page 325]
"Suddenly a greater spirit came.... Upstairs his mighty beam turned the Blue Room into a blaze of lights.... Kingship and power and festal pomp and courtesy shot from him.... For this was great Glund-Oyarsa, King of Kings... known to men in old times as Jove [ Jupiter to Romans, Zeus to the Greeks].... Then... Merlin received the power into him."[4 - pages 326-267]
2. A GLOBAL ETHIC FOR MAN AND NATURE
Working hand-in-hand with the United Nations, The Olympic Committee established a set of goals and "universal rules" for human development. These include:
• "the promotion and safeguard of human rights, as historically achieved through the [United Nations'] Universal Declaration of Human Rights....
• "the recognition – in addition to economic and social rights – of the principles of sustainable development."
• "educate people to the values of peace, tolerance, justice, freedom, solidarity and equality...."
Like the UN and Olympic leaders, C. S. Lewis saw a need for a global ethic. Thirteen years after he called himself a Christian, he wrote "The Abolition of Man," which presents the Chinese Tao, not the Bible, as a moral and ethical standard for all mankind. Symbolized by the Yin Yang, this Tao would be the supreme guide to values and action -- including man's attitude toward the environment. It would replace the Bible as the ultimate authority and guide for our lives -- and for the common good.
Ponder these statements from "The Abolition of Man," which Lewis -- a fan of Darwin and evolution -- refers to in Mere Christianity. Notice that, in Lewis' message, this Tao precedes even the Creator:
"The Chinese also speak of a great thing (the greatest thing) called the Tao. It is the reality behind all predicates, the abyss that was before the Creator Himself.... It is the Way the universe goes on.... the Way which every man should tread in imitation of that cosmic and supercosmic progression, conforming all activities to that great exemplar.... This conception in all its forms, Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic, Christian, and Oriental alike, I shall henceforth refer to for brevity simply as 'the Tao.'"[7 - pages 30, 32]
"We do not look at trees either as Dryads or as beautiful objects while we cut them into beams: the first man who did so may have felt the price keenly.... The stars lost their divinity as astronomy developed, and the Dying God has no place in chemical agriculture."[6 - page 78] [referring to ancient myths in which the sun god died during the winter solstice]."[7 - page 79]
"Only the Tao proves a common human law of action which can overarch rulers and ruled alike.... In the Tao itself, as long as we remain within it, we find the concrete reality in which to participate is to be truly human: the real common will and common reason for humanity."[7 - pages 81, 82]
3. ART AND ENTERTAINMENT
The opening ceremony of the 2006 Olympics in Turino featured a dramatized rendition of Botticelli's famous painting, "The birth of Venus." In the actual painting, Venus was nude. On the Olympic stage, the model was modestly draped in white cloth.
Botticelli actually painted this portrait for the powerful Medici family. "Like them, the artist subscribed to Neoplatonism: an esoteric philosophical and literary theory blending paganism into Christianity and professing a spiritual union with God."
C. S. Lewis, who was no fan of art galleries, loved Botticelli. "I took the desperate resolve," he wrote, "of entering the National Gallery.... The only thing (besides portraits) that I cared for much were Botticelli's Mars and Venus with satyrs...."
If you watched the opening ceremony, you would have seen a crowd of performers on stage move in the shape of a beating, throbbing heart. They were illustrating passion -- the passion of the Olympic torch runners, of training, of competition, of the pursuit of global oneness....
The most passionate performance that night might have been Luciano Pavarotti's climactic aria from Puccini’s opera "Turandot.” Yet Puccini's magnificent music might not have stirred C. S. Lewis' heart as dramatically as did Richard Wagner's operas. He was ecstatic about his mythical themes and music. In his book, Surprised by Joy, he described his passion:
"I first heard a record of the Ride of the Valkyries.... To a boy already crazed with 'the Northernness' [the Norse and Germanic myths behind Wagner's work], the Ride came like a thunderbolt.... [I]t was... a new kind of pleasure, if indeed 'pleasure' is the right word, rather than trouble, ecstasy, astonishment...." [page 75]
"We are taught in the Prayer Book to 'give thanks to God for His great glory.'... I came far nearer to feeling this about the Norse gods whom I disbelieved in than I had ever done about the true God while I believed." [page 77]
Applause broke out in the Olympic Stadium when Yoko Ono stepped to the podium to introduce "Imagine" -- John Lennon's popular song about an idealized new world order. Loved by New Agers, it mocks God's promise of heaven and denies the reality of hell. Then it continues with these suggestions:
Imagine there's no countries, it isn't hard to do,
Nothing to kill or die for, no religion too...
No need for greed or hunger, a brotherhood of man,
Imagine all the people sharing all the world...
The song ends with the hope that all will embrace this vision, so "the world will live as one."
These dreams may sound noble to those who are blinded to reality. But they bring darkness, not light. Man's myths, visions and dreams lead to deception and control, not truth and freedom. Lennon's global oneness can only be established through totalitarian measures that include universal behavioral modification, lifelong learning in new global values, continual assessments of compliance, and total loss of individual freedom.
Actually, C. S. Lewis could anticipate this horrendous shift. He was close enough to the Oxford establishment to hear the futuristic plans. He was familiar with the brainwashing strategies being developed at "scientific" behavioral laboratories such as the Tavistock Institute in London. As an idealist, he believed that a universal pursuit of the Tao would prevent such tyranny. But his Taoist dream is as misleading as John Lennon's "Imagine."
Both C. S. Lewis and John Lennon have fueled the shift away from a firm foundation of fact and truth. Both have undermined resistance to the Olympic committee's aim for a global ethic and an evolving spirituality. But it's easy for Christians to recognize the false visions in Lennon's song. It's harder to discern the deceptions in Lewis' popular books -- partly because we have learned not to expect anything but truth from this revered author.
God's Word warns us, "“You shall have no other gods before Me" (Exodus 20:3). "Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ." Colossians 2:6-9
2. Roger Lancelyn Green, C.S. Lewis: A Biography, Revised Edition (Orlando, FL: Harcourt Inc., 1974), page 30, 274. See also "Lewis' view of Truth" at www.crossroad.to/Excerpts/books/lewis/scriptures.htm
3. More about Hermetic magic at www.crossroad.to/articles2/2003/occult-rpg.htm and www.crossroad.to/Excerpts/books/lewis/inklings-williams.htm
4. C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength (MacMillan Publishing Company, 1946).
5. Alan Jacobs, The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C. S. Lewis (
HarperCollins, 2005), page 52."
C. S. Lewis,The Abolition of Man (Rockefeller Center, NY: Touchstone, 1996 (First published in 1944).
11. C. S. Lewis warns against this totalitarian process frequently in The Abolition of Man.