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.

Lewis: How to Destroy a Society

Abolition of ManLast Saturday, I gave an overview of the first chapter of C. S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man. Today, I would like to offer some of his clearheaded thinking in chapter two.

In it, he delves more deeply into the idea of natural law—that there are some things that are built into the universe, and into our very being, that can never be erased, no matter how hard some people try to do so. That natural law he calls the Tao, and it comes directly from the hand of God.

Lewis describes a book in his own time that exemplifies the desire to replace natural law with something new. He says the impulse behind this is to scrap traditional views of morality and insert “new” ones into society. A certain “set” of people are actively attempting to undermine all that we naturally know to be true, but he calls them out for their hypocrisy:

Their scepticism about values is on the surface: it is for use on other people’s values; about the values current in their own set they are not nearly sceptical enough. And this phenomenon is very usual. A great many of those who “debunk” traditional or (as they would say) “sentimental” values have in the background values of their own which they believe to be immune from the debunking process.

In other words, they have a predetermined idea that their values are better, they need to be the new values of society, and they have no desire to really examine them—to expose them to the same debunking they have applied to traditional values.

They think they are being original and that they are establishing a whole new order of things. Lewis says they are grossly mistaken:

C. S. Lewis 4The rebellion of new ideologies against the Tao is a rebellion of the branches against the tree: if the rebels could succeed they would find that they had destroyed themselves. The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of imagining a new primary colour, or, indeed, of creating a new sun and a new sky for it to move in.

Ouch. They aren’t as original as they claim to be. In fact, they are setting the stage for their own destruction by throwing out natural law.

I love Lewis’s direct response to those who proclaim they are the ones with “open” minds, and everyone else devoted to “old” ideas of morality are backward:

An open mind, in questions that are not ultimate, is useful. But an open mind about the ultimate foundations either of Theoretical or of Practical Reason is idiocy. If a man’s mind is open on these things, let his mouth at least be shut. He can say nothing to the purpose.

If you persist in that kind of trial you will destroy all values, and so destroy the bases of your own criticism as well as the thing criticized. You must not hold a pistol to the head of the Tao.

Any attempt to throw out the natural law God has instituted will result in the destruction of all things. That’s the bottom line. In our society today, the trend is toward tossing out all traditional morality; we are seeing the effects—the beginnings of total destruction of the society.

Lewis may have written this in the 1940s, but his comments couldn’t be more relevant today.

The Lewis Project Update

My last two posts provided an update on my sabbatical with respect to research into spiritual advisers to presidents. Another project I’ve been working on is my desire to write a book on the influence of C. S. Lewis on Americans.

I’ve posted before about my attempt to collect testimonies from Americans on how reading Lewis has impacted their thinking and their relationship with the Lord. The Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College has been the conduit for receiving those testimonies for me.

I want to thank those who have responded. I am pleased with the quantity and quality of those testimonies. It’s fascinating to me to gather information about which books by Lewis have made the greatest impression.

While I have about fifty testimonies thus far, I’m still seeking more. If you would like to contribute to this project, please go to this link at the Wade:


Scroll down to the title “C. S. Lewis’s American Influence Survey” and click on the link there.

A further blessing on my Lewis research has been the communication I’ve established with Rev. Walter Hooper, who served as Lewis’s secretary in the last months of his life, and has ever since been the primary promoter of Lewis’s works to the public. Rev. Hooper is the man mostly responsible for keeping Lewis’s name and writings in the forefront of Christian publishing. He has provided some excellent insights for me as I proceed with the project.

So, I have hope this book may become reality. You are invited to take part by offering your own personal testimony.

A parting thought today from Lewis, whose ability to communicate truth in memorable words is unequaled:

Problem of Pain Quote #3

Lewis: The Education of Man

Abolition of ManThis past week, I reread C. S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man. Although I have been reminded of quotes from it throughout my life, probably the last time I had read it all the way through was forty years ago. So, I decided, it was time again.

It’s a small book, but packed to the brim with insights on education and worldview. It didn’t start out in book form, but as special talks he gave at a university during WWII; later, it was turned into a book, and we all should be grateful it was.

The first chapter is a witty critique of modern education. What struck me was how the critique continues to hit home after sixty years. One of the most poignant quotes is this:

For every one pupil who needs to be guarded from a weak excess of sensibility there are three who need to be awakened from the slumber of cold vulgarity. The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts. The right defence against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments. By starving the sensibility of our pupils we only make them easier prey to the propagandist when he comes. For famished nature will be avenged and a hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head.

I admit I wasn’t sure at first if I agreed with the jungle-desert analogy. Don’t our students have a lot of false ideas that need to be hacked away? Yet those false ideas truly are a desert of the mind and soul. Our students know so little, and what they think they do know is often just propaganda masquerading as education. I think he’s right.

Lewis then aims at the removal of “just sentiments,” or what he would call the things that are really true, pointing out that they are being replaced. We must reject the desert of total subjectivism and come to grips with reality:

It is the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of things the universe is and the kind of things we are.

In other words, we don’t make this up as we go; there are some bedrock concepts that are demonstrably true, and that have been taught through the ages. Modern education fails when it throws out objective reality. There is truth and there is falsehood, and the distinction between the two should be the basis of education.

I love his summary of what the new educational model is attempting to create:

The difference between the old and the new education will be an important one. Where the old initiated, the new merely “conditions.” The old dealt with its pupils as grown birds deal with young birds when they teach them to fly; the new deals with them more as the poultry-keeper deals with young birds—making them thus or thus for purposes of which the birds know nothing. In a word, the old was a kind of propagation—men transmitting manhood to men; the new is merely propaganda.

Think of all the trendy things in modern education. Our students come to college well versed in environmentalism, radical feminism, and income inequality. They know little or nothing about real history or the proper functioning of government. I know this from experience.

We train students in this way and then wonder why our society is what it is. Lewis sums it up this way:

And all the time—such is the tragi-comedy of our situation—we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more “drive,” or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or “creativity.”

In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the gelding be fruitful.

And that’s only chapter 1. More next Saturday. But for now, this reminder:

Abolition of Man Quote #3


C. S. Lewis Survey Update & Reminder

C. S. Lewis 3A few days ago, I posted about a survey I’m conducting on the influence of C. S. Lewis on Americans. I invited readers to complete that survey if indeed Lewis has made an impact on your thinking and how you live your life as a Christian.

Already I’ve received thirty responses. That’s very good for just a couple of days. I would like more, though, since I want my pool of information to be as large as possible. These testimonies will aid in my goal of writing a book on Lewis’s influence on Americans over the decades.

So, here’s my appeal again today. If you have something to share along this line, please go to the survey, which can be found at http://www.wheaton.edu/wadecenter/News-and-Events

Scroll down just a bit, read the explanation for what I’m seeking to accomplish, and click on the survey. Many thanks to all who choose to participate.

C. S. Lewis: Pictures in His Head

Collected Letter of LewisOne of the principal joys of my academic sabbatical is the opportunity to examine the letters C. S. Lewis wrote. They are now available in three massive volumes. He took special care in each letter, even to those who probably didn’t deserve such special care.

He wrote to all ages, even small children. Many wrote to him after reading his Chronicles of Narnia series. A most interesting letter of that type, written in 1960, provides some wonderful insight into his thinking about writing itself, as well as how he gets ideas for books. Here’s an excerpt:

  1. Why did I become a writer? Chiefly, I think, because my clumsiness or fingers prevented me from making things in any other way.

  2. What “inspires” my books? Really I don’t know. Does anyone know where exactly and idea comes from? With me all fiction begins with pictures in my head. But where the pictures come from I couldn’t say.

  3. Which of my books do I think most “representational”? Do you mean (a.) Most representative, most typical, most characteristic? or (b.) Most full of “representations” i.e. images? But whichever you mean, surely this is a question not for me but for my readers to decide. Or do you mean simply which do I like best? Now, the answer wd. be Till We Have Faces and Perelandra.

  4. I have, as usual, dozens of “plans” for books, but I don’t know which, if any, of these will come off. Very often a book of mine gets written when I’m tidying a drawer and come across notes for a plan rejected by me years ago and now suddenly realize I can do it after all. This, you see, makes predictions rather difficult!

  5. I enjoy writing fiction more than writing anything else. Wouldn’t anyone?

Come to think of it, I would love to write fiction sometime. Who knows? Predictions can be rather difficult.

C. S. Lewis Survey

C. S. Lewis 7Today’s post is going to be a little different. It’s not an analysis of politics or history or my own spiritual musings. But it is an invitation for you to be part of a research project I’m working on.

As regular readers of this blog know, I’m in a sabbatical year, doing research on a number of projects, one of which is a proposed book on C. S. Lewis. The goal of this book is to document, as much as possible, the influence, or impact, of Lewis on Americans. His books were well received in this country, even more so than in his native Britain.

20140804_184024The Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College is helping me collect testimonies from Americans on the influence Lewis has had on their thinking and their lives overall. Their help comes in the form of a survey posted on the Wade website and on its Facebook page.

The survey simply asks when and how you were introduced to Lewis’s works, which ones are your favorites and why, and any other details you would like to share about your experience reading and meditating on what Lewis has written.

So, if you are an American citizen and you have been impacted by Lewis, I invite you to go to the following link and post your comments. It would be an immeasurable aid to me as I amass my research and develop the book.

Here is the link: http://www.wheaton.edu/wadecenter/News-and-Events

When you go there, just scroll down a bit and you’ll see the announcement about the survey and where you can click to take it.

Walter HooperOne other bit of exciting news for me about this: Walter Hooper, who served as Lewis’s secretary for the last few months of Lewis’s life, and who has been the primary source for publishing most of Lewis’s works since his death in 1963, has just written to me to let me know he is very interested in this project and will be only too happy to answer questions I have for him as I go forward.

I am feeling blessed this day.

So, if you would like to add your thoughts, and possibly have them included in the finished book, please go to that link and help me out. Thanks.