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Moloch will eat his children.....

March 29th, 2005 | 4 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

Check out this provocative piece from Meghan Cox Gurdon in NRO, in which she draws a parallel between cannabilism and stem cell research. It's written in the style of Lewis' Screwtape Letters, though it lacks the wit.

A snippet:

"I have heard," Mildew begins, and blushes. "The fact is, Uncle, I have heard things that seem impossible. Is it really true that you have found a way to get them to eat — "

" — their young?" Screwtape interrupts with a hungry smile."Yes. Yes! I have found the key, the key, my boy, to unlocking the worst in the human heart. Oh, massacres are entertaining enough, and reasonably productive. Rapine and thieving and savagery and the usual nonsense go a good distance to wrecking men's souls, but not in sufficient numbers. Not for us to win for good — that is, ha-ha, for ill. We must forever be stoking grievances, feeding pride, and constantly thrusting and parrying with the Enemy and his agents. No, the beautifully corrupting key that I have found is vanity."

"I've read about that," Mildew says, remembering. "In first year college, Know Thine Enemy 101, I think it was. All is vanity, saith the preacher," the nephew quotes, his mouth twisting as if he has bitten a bad snail.

Screwtape grimaces companionably. "Indeed. Fortunately most of them don't bother with that any more."

"But how do — "

Screwtape presses on. "What does Man want? He wants sex, he wants comfort, he wants to be young. He does not want to be told he can't have what he wants, or to be inconvenienced, or, worse, to be told his desires are wrong. This is where the Enemy's agents end up doing our work for us, Mildew, countless times!" Screwtape chortles. "Man is a creature of appetites, Mildew. Remember that."

"Appetites, yes, but eating their young, Uncle? I feel sure that I read somewhere that humans are naturally revolted by cannibalism. The Enemy's doing, no doubt, but still, there it is."

Screwtape fixes his nephew with a shriveling glare. "We are not inducing them to broil the little tykes, dear boy, this is no fricassee of first-graders." He sighs heavily, a sufferer of fools, but then brightens, clearly distracted by a pleasing thought. "That's an idea, though. Must get Singer to write something up for me on that...excellent. Now, where — "

"Not broiling them."

"Yes. My achievement, the reason for this — " Screwtape gestures largely about the handsome apartment — "is that I have managed, by appealing to man's love of self, his vanity, to convince millions that it is not cannibalism, but progress, to turn tiny human infants into medicine. The strong picking the weak apart, cell by cell, to be consumed by the strong? Brilliant!"

It reminded me of The Everlasting Man, by G.K. Chesterton. In the chapter "The War of Gods and Demons," Chesterton writes:

In the New Town, which the Romans called Carthage, as in the parent cities of Phoenicia, the god who got things done bore the name of Moloch, who was perhaps identical with the other deity whom we know as Baal, the Lord. The Romans did not at first quite know what to call him or what to make of him; they had to go back to the grossest myth of Greek or Roman origins and compare him to Saturn devouring his children. But the worshippers of Moloch were not gross or primitive. They were members of a mature and polished civilisation, abounding in refinements and luxuries; they were probably far more civilised than the Romans. And Moloch was not a myth; or at any rate his meal was not a myth. These highly civilised people really met together to invoke the blessing of heaven on their empire by throwing hundreds of their infants into a large furnace. We can only realise the combination by imagining a number of Manchester merchants with chimney-pot hats and mutton-chop whiskers, going to church every Sunday at eleven o'clock to see a baby roasted alive.

In my favorite Chesterton passage ever, he writes:

It may sound fanciful to say that men we meet at tea-tables or talk to at garden-parties are secretly worshippers of Baal or Moloch. But this sort of commercial mind has its own cosmic vision and it is the vision of Carthage. It has in it the brutal blunder that was the ruin of Carthage. The Punic power fell because there is in this materialism a mad indifference to real thought. By disbelieving in the soul, it comes to disbelieving in the mind. Being too practical to be moral, it denies what every practical soldier calls the moral of an army. It fancies that money will fight when men will no longer fight. So it was with the Punic merchant princes. Their religion was a religion of despair, even when their practical fortunes were hopeful. How could they understand that the Romans could hope even when their fortunes were hopeless? Their religion was a religion of force and fear; how could they understand that men can still despise fear even when they submit to force? Their philosophy of the world had weariness in its very heart; above all they were weary of warfare; how should they understand those who still wage war even when they are weary of it? In a word, how should they understand the mind of Man, who had so long bowed down before mindless things, money and brute force and gods who had the hearts of beasts? They awoke suddenly to the news that the embers they had disdained too much even to tread out were again breaking everywhere into flames; that Hasdrubal was defeated, that Hannibal was outnumbered, that Scipio had carried the war into Spain; that he had carried it into Africa. Before the very gates of the golden city Hannibal fought his last fight for it and lost; and Carthage fell as nothing has fallen since Satan. The name of the New City remains only as a name. There is no stone of it left upon the sand. Another war was indeed waged before the final destruction: but the destruction was final. Only men digging in its deep foundation centuries after found a heap of hundreds of little skeletons, the holy relics of that religion. For Carthage fell because she was faithful to her own philosophy and had followed out to its logical conclusion her own vision of the universe. Moloch had eaten his children.

The hopeful note that the forces of Moloch will destroy themselves is repeated by Lewis in both Screwtape Letters and That Hideous Strength. Chesterton clearly sees the ideology of Carthage (materialism, to pick one) in his own society, yet doesn't seem to reduce it to simply a war of ideas--rather, it's a war of gods and demons. This is a theme that I have heard several prominent Christian thinkers repeat recently and it heralds back to Augustine's City of God. When thinking about our culture, the hope we have is that the forces that are against life will ultimately result in the destruction of their own civilization.

Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.