Lewis: Do We Want Vision or Virtue?

C.S. Lewis 9Is there a moral law to which all men are subjected, or do men create whatever morality exists, according to their own lights? C. S. Lewis says that the second proposition is a disaster. Unfortunately, it’s where we are, to a great extent. In his essay “The Poison of Subjectivism,” Lewis states,

Many a popular “planner” on a democratic platform, many a mild-eyed scientist in a democratic laboratory means, in the last resort, just what the Fascist means. He believes that “good” means whatever men are conditioned to approve. He believes that it is the function of him and his kind to condition men; to create consciences by . . . state education and mass propaganda.

When we do that, here is what happens:

But if there is no Law of Nature, the ethos of any society is the creation of its rulers, educators and conditioners; and every creator stands above and outside his own creation.

In other words, the politicians and educators (may we add the news and entertainment media here?) determine right and wrong for the whole society, apart from God’s right and wrong. They, in essence, set themselves up as gods who are not subject to the laws they impose on others.

Lewis then brings this down to earth and thinks about what this means when we vote in our elections. What do we look for in our candidates?

Unless we return to the crude and nursery-like belief in objective values, we perish. If we do, we may live, and such a return might have one minor advantage. If we believed in the absolute reality of elementary moral platitudes, we should value those who solicit our votes by other standards than have recently been in fashion. While we believe that good is something to be invented, we demand of our rulers such qualities as “vision,” “dynamism,” “creativity,” and the like. If we returned to the objective view we should demand qualities much rarer, and much more beneficial—virtue, knowledge, diligence and skill. “Vision” is for sale, or claims to be for sale, everywhere. But give me a man who will do a day’s work for a day’s pay, who will refuse bribes, who will not make up his facts, and who has learned his job.

Think about it. Aren’t we much more attuned to those who promise “vision” and who come across as “dynamic” than those who simply exhibit personal virtue and have the skills necessary to the task? When we focus on the former, we get the ideologues who lead us astray. When we focus on the latter, we get the kind of people of whom God approves.

A College Education

In honor of all the college graduates who have walked across that stage in the past few weeks, I present a Mallard Fillmore running commentary on the state of higher education in America.

Special College Memories

College Loan Debt

Career in Congress

Lest you get the wrong idea, I’m hardly opposed to a college education. After all, I’ve been teaching at that level for the past 26 years. I am opposed, though, to any college education that is not college level, thereby offering no real education at all. Sadly, that is the status of so much of what passes for higher education today.

Think carefully before you spend all that money you will have to pay back for many years. Be sure you are receiving what you are paying for.

Lewis on Progressive Education: God Help Us All

C. S. Lewis 2C. S. Lewis developed friendships with a number of American college and university professors. One of them, Nathan Comfort Starr, visited Lewis three times over a period of fifteen years, and kept up a steady correspondence with him. Like Lewis, he was a Christian traditionalist when it came to education: learn the classics, hold students to a standard of intellectual rigor.

Starr was teaching at Rollins College in Florida in the early 1950s when a “progressive” president at the college decided to purge the traditionalists from the faculty. Because Lewis was such a revered figure, both in the scholarly and Christian worlds, he pleaded with him to write something that could be put in the newspapers or some such public organ, defending the professors.

Lewis certainly had great sympathy for them. In his response to Starr, he emphatically stated, “This is the sort of thing that makes my blood boil. The events at Rollins College seem to me to concentrate into one filthy amalgam every tendency in the modern world which I most hate and despise. And, as you say, this kind of thing will put an end to American scholarship if it goes on.”

Yet he declined to write something publicly, feeling that it would not be helpful. Here’s his rationale:

Why then did I not cable to an American paper as you suggested? My dear fellow, consider. What could unsolicited advice from a foreigner do except to stiffen the Wagnerian party by enlisting on its side every anti-British and every anti-God element in the state? You are asking me to damage a good cause by what would, from an unauthorized outsider like me, be simply impertinence. In a cooler moment (I don’t expect you to be cool at present) you will be thankful I didn’t. God help us all. It is terrible to live in a post-civilized age.

I have to agree with Lewis’s reasoning here. His intervention probably wouldn’t have helped. His response, though, does point to the fact that the current problems we face in education—at all levels—are not new. They have been brewing for a long time. Only now are they threatening to overwhelm us. The “progressive” element has had traditional education as a target for a long time.

We have dumbed down our expectations of students to the point of absurdity in many cases. Lewis referenced the “anti-God element in the state”; that element has only grown since he wrote that. We are, as he said, living “in a post-civilized age.” The reason we are rapidly descending into that age is that we are also an increasingly post-Christian age.

Lewis was correct in his plea: “God help us all.”

Is Education Firing Blanks?

Have you ever watched any of these “man on the street” interviews where the interviewer asks people basic knowledge questions? One of the best at this is Jesse Watters, who shows up regularly on The O’Reilly Factor. Last night, he was asking people some really hard questions, like “Who was the first president of the United States?” Blank faces. “Who bombed Pearl Harbor”? More blanks. “Who was president during WWII”? Guesses included Abraham Lincoln and George Bush.

I trust none of those questions stumped you.

I was reminded of a Mallard Fillmore cartoon I saw recently:

Good Presentation

A little far-fetched? Perhaps. But if you’ve seen and heard the things I’ve seen and heard as a university professor, you wouldn’t put it beyond the realm of possibility in some cases.

We have a generation that generally doesn’t like to read—sometimes that’s because they’ve never been taught how to read, apparently. And I’m talking about those who are in college. Having to read a history book and be quizzed over what you have read is becoming “unfair.” A professor who requires that has “unrealistic expectations.” That professor “enjoys” failing students.

Yes, I’ve heard all of those.

Of course, this starts earlier in life:

Preachy

Just try to straighten someone out with facts and see what can happen.

I only raise this issue today because I’m concerned with the state of education. When we have a society that says feelings trump logical thinking, we are in danger. When we push “inventive spelling” or move students along to the next level when they’re not ready—because we don’t wish to damage their self-esteem—we are creating a self-absorbed citizenry.

When we then tell all of these poorly educated students that they should go to college, we’re dumbing down what college is supposed to be.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m fully dedicated to teaching anyone who is in any class I teach. My goal is to help them be what God has called them to be. But we also need to recognize the problem and do what we can to change course.

By the way, Mr. President, two years of community college provided “free”—i.e., at taxpayer expense—is no solution. That only contributes to the problem.

“Free” College?

Do we really need President Obama to tell us what the state of the Union is? Well, he’s going to give us his views tonight in this annual ritual of meaninglessness. We already know what he’s going to say because the administration has leaked all pertinent information.

In no way is Obama going to be conciliatory or striving to work with Republicans. This is going to be an in-your-face declaration of progressive warfare. Top of his list will be the goal of collecting more taxes; in fact, he’s going to propose more than $320 billion extra over the next decade. Now who is that going to come from?

Why, the rich will pay it all, of course. He will position himself as the champion of the middle class, and if Republicans object, they will be targeted as the evil supporters of the privileged. Never mind that “rich” will be loosely defined and will include most of the unsuspecting middle class.

One of his top priorities for those new taxes is to fund his “free” community college proposal, supposedly providing everyone who wants it, two free years of community college. Buried in the details is the manner of funding: people who have been setting aside college funds in a tax-free account will, if his plan goes into effect, now have to pay taxes on the money they’ve been saving.

In other words, those who are paying for college themselves now have to fund those who are getting it “free.”

There’s something about that word “free” that people don’t really grasp:

Should Be Free

Keep in mind also the person who is making this promise:

Free College Caution

Some of the cartoonists have picked up on the smoke and mirrors of this promise:

Free College

See How It Works

The bottom line here is that President Obama is focused entirely on what the government can do for you. He’s far less interested in promoting policies that actually energize the economy and create jobs. But shouldn’t that be his priority?

Forgot Something

His ideology, which is anti-free enterprise, has worked against us for six years. None of his empty promises tonight will help one bit. The only solace is that his proposals are dead on arrival in the Congress. He knows that, so the entire purpose of this evening’s diatribe will be for political gain; he hopes this will paint the Republicans as the enemy of the middle class and that their refusal to do his bidding will hurt them in 2016.

It’s despicable politics at its worst. Yet it will fool some of the people all of the time.

Happy New Year? The Moral/Cultural Divide

In yesterday’s post I focused on the role of the real church—those truly committed to being disciples of Jesus Christ—as the key to a happier 2015. If genuine Christians become the salt and light that Christ said they should be, they can diffuse His truth throughout our society more effectively.

Today, I want to concentrate on what is actually happening in our society. Where are we morally and culturally? The two are connected, of course, and they both are the result of the status of our spiritual well-being.

I want to be balanced. I want to be able to point to improvements in the moral and cultural trends. Unfortunately, they are few.

Unborn ChildAbortion may be trending our way, but the battle is a long way from over. We have made progress in educating the general public about the horror of taking the lives of innocent babies, helped along by the excesses of some abortionists like Kermit Gosnell.

Public opinion polls—for whatever they’re worth—now show a higher percentage of Americans opposed to abortion on demand, and the late-term abortions such as were done by Gosnell have sickened most people.

So let’s rejoice at least a little bit over this trend, but not get carried away. The human death toll of more than 56 million since Roe v. Wade is a blight on our culture and our concept of morality.

France Gay Marriage FairThe year 2014 was the year of “coming out” for the homosexual revolution. For the first time in our history, a sitting president declared homosexual marriage to be good and wholesome.

Christians who don’t acknowledge the lifestyle as an acceptable alternative, because they hold to the Biblical teaching that homosexuality is sinful, are facing increasing pressure to conform. That pressure could soon turn to outright prosecution and/or persecution.

Race divides us more now than anytime since the 1960s, despite [or should I say with the encouragement of] a black president and attorney general. The furor in Ferguson, Missouri, led to an outburst of pure emotion, setting aside the facts of the Michael Brown shooting. Charges of racism have become so pervasive that anyone simply stating the facts of what occurred there will be accused of being a racist.

Ferguson RiotsPointing out that Brown robbed a store before the incident does not make one a racist. Stating the overwhelming forensic evidence and preponderance of eyewitness testimony that showed Brown attacked the police officer and tried to take his gun does not make one a racist. However, seeing everything through a prism of racism might make one at least “racialist.”

Demagoguery by accomplished demagogues like Al Sharpton, leading chants of “What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want them? Now!” only leads to more violence. Two New York City officers just sitting in their car are executed by a man hyped up with this view.

We’re in trouble.

At the root of it all, culturally, is our education system. Ruled by a liberal, progressive, anti-Christian elite, it seeks to undermine all traditional views of morality and culture, along with the faith that undergirds them. American history is ignored or reinterpreted according to the progressive vision, while every modern trend—be it radical feminism, environmentalism, wealth inequality, or whatever—becomes the centerpiece of what we now call “education.”

Stop Fed EdIn fact, it’s nothing more than indoctrination in the guise of teaching children “how” to think, not “what” to think. Regardless of the rhetoric, they are being taught what to think, and it’s destroying us.

Whenever we try to reform education, we instead set up a nationwide system like Common Core that, while sounding good, only hastens our downfall.

Real education reform would expand the opportunities for private educational choices and, step by step, reduce the near-monopoly of the government’s control over what we ought to learn and who is allowed to teach.

Clearly, we are a nation adrift from our spiritual base, and it is reflected in what we deem to be moral nowadays. Our culture retains only a thin veneer of Biblical memories. We are poised to become more divided than ever.

I wish I could offer a more positive perspective today, but I have to be honest. This is what I see.

Our federal government is not the source of all our woes; they come from our abandonment of Christian truth. The government, though, does play an essential role in promoting that abandonment. That will be my subject tomorrow.

Lewis: Replacing Natural Law

Abolition of ManFor the third Saturday in a row, I want to share some poignant excerpts from C. S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man, a small book with rather large insights. Taken from lectures he gave, and published in 1943, it remains astoundingly relevant today as we watch our civilization teeter on the edge of utter rebellion against God-given natural law.

Lewis takes aim at the change in education during his time, and its attempt to replace undeniable truths with man-made ones. As he comes to the end of his argument, he points specifically to those who believe they can control nature and mold and shape mankind into whatever they choose:

Man’s conquest of Nature, if the dreams of some scientific planners are realized, means the rule of a few hundreds of men over billions upon billions of men. There neither is nor can be any simple increase of power on Man’s side. Each new power won by man is a power over man as well.

The belief that men can cast aside God’s natural moral order and create one of their own is not new, but we can see it even more clearly in our day. Lewis says this is attempted via our education system, yet he also points to why the “planners” have trouble achieving their goals:

For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means . . . the power of some men to make other men what they please. In all ages, no doubt, nurture and instruction have, in some sense, attempted to exercise this power. But the situation to which we must look forward will be novel in two respects.

In the first place, the power will be enormously increased. Hitherto the plans of educationalists have achieved very little of what they attempted and indeed . . . we may well thank the beneficent obstinacy of real mothers, real nurses, and (above all) real children for preserving the human race in such sanity as it still possesses.

But the man-moulders of the new age will be armed with the powers of an omnicompetent state and an irresistible scientific technique: we shall get at last a race of conditioners who really can cut out all posterity in what shape they please.

Even though Lewis usually avoided direct political commentary, he was well aware of the detrimental effects of what he termed the “omnicompetent state.” Once the dreams of the “planners” become the dreams of the politicians, only evil can follow.

C. S. Lewis 5The problem is then compounded by what Lewis sees as the second difference from the past: no longer do these planners feel bound to natural law and the traditional ways of thinking that accompany it. Previous ages always handed on to the next generation what they had received, in the same manner as birds teach their young ones how to fly. No more, says Lewis:

This will be changed. Values are now mere natural phenomena. Judgements of value are to be produced in the pupil as part of the conditioning. Whatever Tao [natural law] there is will be the product, not the motive, of education.

The conditioners have been emancipated from all that. It is one more part of Nature which they have conquered. The ultimate springs of human actions are no longer, for them, something given. . . . It is the function of the Conditioners to control, not to obey them. They know how to produce conscience and decide what kind of conscience they will produce. They themselves are outside, above.

These “conditioners” are the new masters of humanity. They will decide what is right and what is wrong based on their own views, not God’s. Lewis concludes,

The Conditioners, then, are to choose what kind of artificial Tao they will, for their own good reasons, produce in the Human race.

If that sounds scary to you, you have the right reaction. I won’t take time to try to point out the myriad ways this has occurred in our society at present. You can, I’m sure, come up with examples yourself.

Next Saturday, I’ll complete these thoughts from The Abolition of Man.