“The poison was brewed in these West lands but it has spat itself everywhere by now. However far you went you would find the machines, the crowded cities, the empty thrones, the false writings, the barren beds: men maddened with false promises and soured with true miseries, worshipping the iron works of their own hands, cut off from Earth their mother and from the Father in Heaven. You might go East so far that East became West and you returned to Britain across the great Ocean, but even so you would not have come out anywhere into the light. The shadow of one dark wing is over all Tellus.”
C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, “They Have Pulled Down Deep Heaven on Their Heads”
Beheading Hydra by Fr. Dwight Longenecker (Sophia Institute Press, August 2021) can be considered a companion volume to his Immortal Combat (Sophia Institute Press, May 2020), and I recommend they be read together to fully appreciate Fr. Dwight’s timely message. Honestly, the content of Hydra was more what I’d expected when I first read Combat, but the sequence of the two works is appropriate and complementary. A point I made in my review of Combat is even more applicable with Hydra: these are pastoral works, not primarily apologetic or catechetical. Fr. Dwight has the heart of a pastor. His concern is for human souls, he wants to see everyone safely home, and these books are an expression of his concern. Fr. Dwight does engage in some apologetics and catechesis, but as pastoral tools.To read Hydra by itself (or, for that matter, any of the array of socio-political commentary available from numerous sources,) would make it easier to think our problems were rooted in “Them Out There”, while Combat helps us to grasp that it’s primarily “Us In Here.”
That said, Beheading Hydra is a succinct and accessible survey of how human sin manifests itself in a society, especially when those constructing that society have cut themselves off from even the awareness God and divine revelation (as we see in post-modern Western culture.) He details how modern errors such as Materialism, Utilitarianism, Utopianism, and the like can be seen in the world around us, and what their dangers are. But rather than using theoretical abstractions, he uses examples such as popular music and toys to make his points. He discusses the characters who popularized these notions, such as Jeremy Bentham or Jean-Jacques Rousseau, but doesn’t leave the reader feeling like he needs a Masters in History or Philosophy. Fr. Dwight diligently connects the dots so the reader can see the foundational unity of the deception.
Having detailed the breadth of the problem, Fr. Dwight doesn’t leave us to despair in the face of this challenge, or merely strapping on our armor and weapons for a brave but ultimately futile battle against this foe. He lays out a plan for exterminating the rot and bringing renewal in the midst of this overwhelming decay. This plan turns out to be…the Gospel, as understood and lived by Christians since apostolic times, but expressed in a manner that makes it applicable to the problems detailed in the first half of the book. Taking the errors point-by-point, he explains how God’s people living in radical faith and obedience to the Gospel can undo the damage caused by these false teachings.
Here lies part of the vital tie-back to Immortal Combat: because the problem is rooted within each person, the solution must begin there. Only a disciplined, obedient army can triumph over such a dangerous foe, but obedient, disciplined armies are made up of obedient, disciplined soldiers. We cannot fight the hydra-headed errors of our times until we’ve engaged in our own immortal combat. It’s true that neither the internal battle nor the external one will be finished until the White Rider appears (see Revelation 19), but every generation must engage the foe of its time. Fr. Dwight’s pair of books offers keen insight and clear direction on how to execute that engagement in the circumstances we find ourselves in.