Everythings’s Bent (part II)

NormalWhat is normal? Continuing the discussion of our last article, let me borrow from the layered words of C. S. Lewis.

In the first book of his futuristic Space Trilogy, Out of the Silent Planet, we read of philologist Dr. Ransom and interplanetary scientific entrepreneur Professor Weston on a journey to Mars—or Malacandra, as the inhabitants call it. Each planet is under the rulership of a mighty Oyarsa, or Spirit being. Earth (Thulcandra, the Silent Planet) is under the sway of a rebellious overlord, who has turned everything inward upon itself. Humans are known by the many and varied Malacandrians as Hnau. This label has a ring of grandeur as the literary expert first understands: a rational creature. On further investigation, however, Ransom discovers the etymological truth: Hnau means ‘bent ones’.

Precisely how bent we are comes out as Professor Weston defends his plans for Mars, translated by Ransom into Old Solar language for the enlightenment of all Malacandrians:[1]

Weston: “(1) To you I may seem a vulgar robber, (2) but I bear on my shoulders the destiny of the human race. (3) Your tribal life (4) has nothing to compare with our civilization—(5) with our science, (6) law, (7) armies, and (8) transport system which is rapidly annihilating space and time. (9) Our right to supersede you is the right of the higher over the lower.”

Ransom’s translation: “(1) Among us, Oyarsa, there is a kind of hnau who will take other hnau’s food—and things, when they are not looking. Weston says he is not an ordinary one of that kind. (2) What he does now will make very different things happen to those of our people who are not yet born. (3) Among you, hnau of one kindred all live together (4) It is different with us. (5) We know much. (6) We have many bent people and we kill them or shut them in huts and that we have people for settling quarrels between the bent hnau about their huts and mates and things. (7) We have many ways for the hnau of one land to kill those of another and some are trained to do it. (8) We can carry heavy weights very quickly a long way. (9) Because of all this, Weston says it would not be the act of a bent hnau if our people killed all your people.”

Lest I be misunderstood, I am not polarising gay and straight, as though “marriage equality” is equivalent to Weston’s rhetoric. No, my point is deeper. It relates to all aspects of life: science, law, armies, transport, and most definitely our sexuality. And it sitshttp://www.jhbooks.com/pictures/111907.jpg in the cosmic Biblical drama of creation, fall, and redemption.

There was a time—let’s call it straight—when all of humanity lived happily and flourished within the form given it by God. Sexuality was to image the committed complementarity of the Triune God: a loving unity forged out of diversity. Like Lewis depicts in his second novel, Perelandra, we were truly “naked and unashamed”, defined by the Creator and content in trust.

But we shut God out and spurned His love. With no definitions from outside, we turned inward and became the silent planet. Now we live in a time—let’s call it bent—when everything has missed its created purpose. It’s not that we’re as bad as we could be; rather, nothing is as good as it should be. Nothing is straight. We all follow our broken desires to fashion a form that fits, even if it leads to death. The choice of chastity or committed heterosexual monogamy sounds like a curse. Yet it is our sexual instinct that is out of whack.[2] It’s now normal for most marriages to end in divorce. It’s normal for teens to sexually experiment à la Katie Perry: “it felt so wrong, it felt so right, don’t mean I’m in love tonight.” It’s normal for spouses to have affairs and singles to have one-night-stands. It’s painstakingly normal for loving couples to go childless, and childish adults to beget then abuse and neglect a couple. We still see the original forms colouring our grey world—like fidelity and commitment in both homo- and heterosexual unions, which we should champion. Still, this side of the fall, what’s natural is not the way it’s supposed to be; what’s normal means everything is bent. Hnau: we can rationalise our rebellion, but that doesn’t make it right.

straight_nail_and_a_bent_nail_fan2013062.jpg StraightBent. But the story isn’t over. God has broken the sound barrier and stepped in to make things Better. There is hope of redemption. Whatever your bent, a progressive re-orienting of desire can begin now, re-forming so our instincts align with what actually brings life. I’m not naïvely or dangerously suggesting that all gays should marry their opposite and live happily ever after. But I am suggesting that we each, in our particular form of ‘bentness’, can be reconnected with our Creator, and reshaped into something better.

No judgment. No name calling. No twisting of words nor explosive rhetoric. I’m not sure precisely what this means for the current debate. But just perhaps by acknowledging our true equality as bent sinners before the cross—Hnau, ten in ten—we may begin our journey towards a new normal.

Dave Benson


[1] C. S. Lewis, Out of the Silent Planet (HarperCollinsPublishers: London, 1938), 170-81 (Chapter 20).

[2] Lewis comically explores our disproportionate desire for sex in Mere Christianity, Book III, Chapter 5. See here.

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