Institutions for the Treatment of the Ideologically Unsound

C. S. Lewis 10C. S. Lewis, in his essay “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment,” takes aim at the idea that evil behavior is only a disease that needs to be treated. No, he says, evil actions come from evil hearts and deserve punishment, not “treatment.” But that won’t stop the “conditioners” who want to rule society by somehow using therapy to make people better. As he puts it,

To be “cured” against one’s will and cured of states which we may not regard as disease is to be put on a level with those who have not yet reached the age of reason or those who never will; to be classed with infants, imbeciles, and domestic animals. But to be punished, however severely, because we have deserved it, because we “ought to have known better,” is to be treated as a human person made in God’s image.

Yet, some may protest, isn’t is more humane to “treat” people who are diseased than to tell them they are evil creatures who deserve punishment? Lewis will have none of that:

For if crime and disease are to be regarded as the same thing, it follows that any state of mind which our masters choose to call “disease” can be treated as crime; and compulsorily cured. It will be vain to plead that states of mind which displease government need not always involve moral turpitude and do not therefore always deserve forfeiture of liberty. For our masters will not be using the concepts of Desert and Punishment but those of disease and cure.

How might this play out in practice? Well, he postulates, suppose that being a Christian should someday be considered a “disease” that needs to be cured. How will that work?

No one will blame us for being Christians, no one will hate us, no one will revile us. The new Nero will approach us with the silky manners of a doctor, and though all will be in fact . . . compulsory . . . all will go on within the unemotional therapeutic sphere where words like “right” and “wrong” or “freedom” and “slavery” are never heard. And thus when the command is given, every prominent Christian in the land may vanish overnight into Institutions for the Treatment of the Ideologically Unsound, and it will rest with the expert gaolers to say when (if ever) they are to re-emerge. But it will not be persecution. Even if the treatment is painful, even if it is life-long, even if it is fatal, that will be only a regrettable accident; the intention was purely therapeutic.

I hope you caught the wry humor within the wording. What’s scary about this scenario is that we are far closer to its reality today than when he wrote this. Christians, you see, are not playing along with the new morality. They must be diseased in mind; they need treatment. Let’s “help” them by forcing them to accept the new age of enlightenment, whether it be by law or by enrolling them in our Institution for the Treatment of the Ideologically Unsound.

C. S. Lewis was prescient. We need to understand where our society is headed, and it isn’t pretty.