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Of Frogs and Flies: Or is it the Beast Within?

By Richard Allen – October 18, 2021

Liking “pithy” titles, this week’s blog is a play on John Steinbeck’s dark tale set during the Depression, “Of Mice and Men.” My only rationale being that we’re going to briefly talk “Of Frogs and Flies.” We’ve heard many use “The Frog being slowly heated to a boil in a Kettle” as a metaphor for the relentless “cultural rot” in Western societies, and the clueless lack of alarm by those who rule over us in all facets of American life.

As the metaphor goes, being a cold-blooded reptile, frogs apparently would only sense danger from a drastic change to their outward temperature, and could therefore be slowly heated in a pan of water, turning the heat up slowly until they are actually boiled to death. This metaphor, in some ways describes the cultural, moral, and spiritual rot that we are witnessing in every segment of Western cultures. And just like the proverbial Frog, no one is shocked any more by the vulgarity and evil that is happening all around us. Things at which our parents and grandparents would have been appalled, are now common place and even accepted as the norm.

But I also want to talk about Flies, using the 1953 novel by William Golding, “Lord of the Flies.” Golding’s novel, set after WWII ended with atomic bombs being dropped on Hiroshima & Nagasaki – also has a very powerful message, one that should drive us to look to God for more permanent answers to our social ills and cultural rot. After being shipwrecked to a remote tropical island, a group of pre-teen and teenage boys try to survive without adults until they’re rescued. Struggling with the lack of adult supervision, the natural pecking order and vying for control pits the strong against the weak. Eventually, one boy (Jack) bullies and uses fear of an unseen beast to control the others. As he impales the decomposing skull of a sow swarming with flies, he declares it to be an offering to an invisible boogey man lurking in the shadows, the “Lord of the Flies.”

Golding’s novel is a modern re-telling Jean Jacques Rousseau’s philosophy of the noble savage, and R.M. Ballantine’s famous adventure novel, “The Coral Island.” Ballantine took Rousseau’s noble savage concept, and using English school boys shipwrecked on a tropical island absent all adult control, asserted that they would still display that civil society conquers nature. With “a stiff upper lip” the boys showed the rest of the world how to deal with hardship – “The English Way!” In the end, they save a tribal princess from savage cannibals, and show the world the triumph of Western Societies, Learning and Christian faith! Instead of division and rivalry, they join together in a common cause to triumph over ignorance and primitive religion!

Golding starts at the same place with pre-teens and teens being shipwrecked on a beautiful but remote tropical island, needing to survive in the absence of adults and the normal structures of society. But here his story turns a different direction than the theories of Rousseau or the proud ideas of Ballantine. In both stories, the young men have all the food and clean water they need, but still face external threats. But as the story unfolds, Golding destroys the hopeful theories and confidence of Rousseau and Ballantine and writes a more realistic version of what might happen if mankind was back in the state of a primitive, yet Noble Savage.

All three stories start with the same premise with which Rousseau started: “If man has all his material needs met, he’ll live in peace and harmony with others. It’s Religion, Class, Money and Society that teaches him to hate and strive with others.” While Rousseau’s ideas sounded good on paper, in the real world there’s something else wrong with mankind, and just meeting our basic needs won’t fix it. Golding does a masterful job of revealing what’s really wrong with mankind: “The Beast Within!” to paraphrase American Naval Officer, Oliver Perry in 1813: “We have met the enemy, and the enemy was us!”

Just like the disillusionment of the Lost Generation of Ernest Hemmingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald after WWI, William Golding had seen the world at war a second time, only to see it end by unleashing weapons so fearful that our future was clearly in doubt. In Goldings world, the Learning & Science hadn’t decreased violence or displayed the triumph of Western Societies over ignorance & primitive religion, it just created better weapons.

Lord of the Flies is complete with symbolism on so many levels, that it’s still used by many schools to teach Literature. Many years ago I did a paper on it using the “casebook edition” that had more pages on what the book might mean (from various authors) than the actual story. As a Christian, I immediately recognized Golding’s dilemma: WWII was fought in large part by Western Christian Civil Societies, that one would have thought, had overcome the baser tendencies to be violent and warlike. Education in the 1900’s had made great strides in learning, science and technology. In fact it made greater advances in one century than all prior centuries in recorded history. How could the world be at war? How could we use mustard gas on each other? How could the gas chambers ever happen in a country that birthed Luther and Melanchthon? Why had no one spoken up during the mass starvation by the Soviet Union, or the Armenian Genocide? What’s wrong with us?

Like the pre-teen and teenage boys on Golding’s Island, Western cultures didn’t lack in food or water. They had mostly made famine and disease a thing of the past. The hope of Western Societies going into the 1900’s was that since we were making great strides in farming, medicine, learning, and advanced technologies, “world-wide hunger, disease, ignorance and warfare” would be a thing of the past. But like Hemingway and Fitzgerald before him, Golding saw that all these advances, while doing some good, were also being used to build bigger and better weapons with which to torture, maim and kill each other. Two world wars had proven that the cultural advances that Western Societies had made, weren’t enough to really solve our problems.

As many scholars describe the symbolism of the main characters in Lord of the Flies, a few stand out: Ralph, the protagonist is a typical young man, full of ideals and wanting to build a civilized society. Even on the island, he represents civilized society, well-meaning, but mostly ineffectual. Jack, the leader of the Hunter tribe, a break-away group who just wanted to hunt, kill, eat, bully others, and have unbridled fun is the antagonist, who eventually gains control of the whole tribe. Like Hitler and Stalin, he’s the war-like aggressor who wants to dominate his neighbor. Simon was the sensitive Christlike conscience of the group, he represents Religion. Note: Simon ends up being killed by the hunter tribe. Piggy, a whiny, smart, glasses-wearing heavyset boy (who’s ridiculed because of his weight), is always talking about science & knowledge. He represents just that, Science. Eventually they break his glasses before hunting him down. As many scholars have noted: Civil Society, Religion and Science couldn’t curb the violence, or tame the beast-nature of the warlike hunters.

This was the post WWII world that Golding was now lamenting. The Civil Pseudo-Christian, Scientific, Modernized Society had twice failed to control the bloodlust of the primitive warlike beast. Sadly, we should all still be lamenting the current failures of Civilized Society. Nothing has changed in the almost 70 years since Lord of the Flies was published. Only the character of Simon recognized that the real reason why the boys were so afraid of the unseen beast (i.e. “Lord of the Flies”) was because of the “beast within each of them.”

I do agree that the slow culture rot of Western Society is much like a “Frog in the Kettle.” Truth be told – mankind’s real problem, in any age, is “the beast within.” Most of our Church Fathers understood this, Calvin, Luther & the Reformers understood this, that’s why they preached “the only way to conquer the beast within is to ask God to change our natures through the New Birth.” If the Lord delays His coming to make all things right, our culture may improve, or it may get worse. History shows that we’ve gone through times of great evil and debauchery before. I’m not minimizing the seriousness of the current threat that a Global-Marxist takeover is presenting. But I am convinced that our own fallen nature, “the beast within” – IS THE REAL THREAT, and no amount of culture, learning or tech will tame it! The only remedy that we offer to this lost world is Faith in Christ. I’m confident that by faith God can renew us to be men and women ruled by the Spirit, not the Flesh!

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