Lewis: Redefining Good & Bad

Abolition of ManMy fourth and final commentary on C. S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man concentrates on the “conditioners” in our society who seek to remake man and society in their own image. Lewis saw this happening back in the 1940s. What would he say today about this? He saw the beginnings; we are seeing the fruit of that evil.

Who are these conditioners? Lewis says they are the scientists, philosophers, and educators who have rejected what he calls the Tao, and what has always been called “natural law.” When one rejects natural law, one rejects all objective standards of right and wrong, good and bad.

They are, if you like, men who have sacrificed their own share in traditional humanity in order to devote themselves to the task of deciding what “Humanity” shall henceforth mean. “Good” and “bad,” applied to them, are words without content: for it is from them that the content of these words is henceforth to be derived.

This is man becoming his own god, determining his own ideas of good and bad, and then forcing them on everyone else. Ultimately, where does this lead?

When all that says “it is good” has been debunked, what says “I want” remains.

Our own “natural desires” will then rule. What’s wrong with that? Lewis explains further:

Either we are rational spirit obliged for ever to obey the absolute values of the Tao, or else we are mere nature to be kneaded and cut into new shapes for the pleasures of masters who must, by hypothesis, have no motive but their own “natural” impulses.

Only the Tao provides a common human law of action which can over-arch rulers and ruled alike. A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.

In other words, throwing out the natural law, which is implanted into every human being by God (see Romans 1-2), leads to tryanny and slavery, even when it claims to be setting us free from the eternal law that God has established.

The sad results of this disavowal of God’s created order is what we have seen throughout the 20th century, and now into the 21st, where men try to rule without any standard apart from their own whims:

C. S. Lewis with BookThe process which, if not checked, will abolish Man goes on apace among Communists and Democrats no less than among Fascists. The methods may (at first) differ in brutality. But many a mild-eyed scientist in pince-nez, many a popular dramatist, many an amateur philosopher in our midst, means in the long run just the same as the Nazi rulers of Germany.

Traditional values are to be “debunked” and mankind to be cut out into some fresh shape at the will (which must, by hypothesis, be an arbitrary will) of some few lucky people in one lucky generation which has learned how to do it.

Tyranny, then, comes in many forms. We don’t see it only in a Hitler, Stalin, or Mao. We see it also in any ruler who sets himself up as the sole arbiter of what is right and wrong, good and bad. It can happen in a country where elections take place regularly. It happens whenever a ruler places himself above the law and says he will go it alone.

If that reminds you of anyone on our current political scene, you have understood the warning C. S. Lewis has given us.

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.

Santorum: Natural Law & Marriage

Let’s continue the analysis of Rick Santorum’s book It Takes a Family. One of the key points he emphasizes is the concept of natural law, which he calls “the operating instructions for human beings.” We will only be happy, he says, when we fall in line with the way things are supposed to be, as established by God. Liberals, though, think of “nature” as too confining. They don’t like to be bound by anything that they believe inhibits their freedom. Santorum notes, “At first, the liberal vision may sound attractive—because freedom is attractive. The only problem is that it is a false vision, because nature is nature, and the freedom to choose against the natural law is not really freedom at all.”

While this may sound like a high-end philosophical debate, it actually has specific cultural and policy ramifications. He looks first at cohabitation before marriage, which promises freedom, but instead leads to greater anguish via higher divorce rates and more emotional problems for the children. He then gets very politically incorrect:

Despite all the evidence, as a society today we will go to almost any length to avoid telling ourselves, and others, the truth: marriage is better than living together. Too few of us dare say living together without the benefit of marriage is wrong. We are afraid to make any such “value judgment.” But that is exactly what we need to do. We parents owe it to our children to be honest, to give them a vision of the highest good. Failure to affirm a moral vision to our children is a form of abandonment by parents and by society.

He then shifts to the related topic of same-sex marriage, which he terms “radical social engineering.” When same-sex marriage is permitted, it means the government no longer cares about the family structure. Everything devolves into “caregivers” for children rather than a mom and dad, as the natural law would have it. And the consequences will be dire:

Moreover, once the government commits to same-sex marriage as a civil right, it will use the power of the state to enforce this new vision of marriage. Public schools will teach it, of course. But the logic of same-sex marriage will lead inevitably to even more government intrusion on the freedom of people and faith communities who continue to define marriage as the union of husbands and wives. …

If we apply the logic of a civil right to same-sex marriage, people who believe children need mothers and fathers will be treated in the public square like racists, and churches that persist in teaching the traditional norm will risk the loss of their tax-exempt status. In other words, such churches will be treated as outlaws.

Once this wall has been breached, and the law declares same-sex marriage to be a right, future generations will see it as the new moral standard. Institutions like the university where I teach will be under pressure to change or be denied the same status as other universities. Student loans will be withheld to anyone wanting to attend. Enrollment will fall; its degree programs will be considered invalid; it will probably close its doors. This is, in truth, a war against Christianity.

I want someone in the Oval Office who grasps the enormity of this potential danger. Rick Santorum is someone who sees the problem clearly.