Archive for the ‘ Christians & Culture ’ Category

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.

Lighting the Way

The good news continues. The Democrat Senatorial Campaign Committee has pulled back from many of the ads they were going to run on behalf of Mary Landrieu in Louisiana for the runoff election. Apparently, they think it’s not worth the cost. She will undoubtedly be leaving her Senate seat and returning to the private sector.

Also, an update on what I reported yesterday. I had written that the GOP now controls 2/3 of the state legislative bodies. That number is now 70%. So, if you stop and think about the political trend of the country, it is encouraging. Republicans now have the majority in Congress, 2/3 of governors, and 70% of state legislative chambers. If that’s not a wave, what is it?

There’s only one roadblock for a complete turnaround, and it resides in the White House, where the president has infamously said he has a phone and a pen, and he will act unilaterally—something he pretty much repeated in his press conference on Wednesday. Yet most of the voters on Tuesday repudiated that message:

Pen & Ballot

This penchant for acting like he is the government must end. The government established by the Constitution did not authorize the president to be a king, let alone behave as if he has some kind of divine right to do as he wishes, regardless of the other branches of the government and the desires of those for whom the government operates—the people. The message should be clear to him:

New Paperweight

The issue is whether he is listening or even cares to listen. One commentator opined last night that it might be that Obama doesn’t truly grasp what took place on Tuesday, and may not get the full message until he is forced to deal with a Republican Congress beginning in January. I’m not sure that’s the case; I’m more inclined to think he knows what has happened, but just stubbornly refuses to submit to it.

Word is out that he resents having been put on the back burner by his party during the campaign. Little good it did them; the voters still knew who is responsible for our current mess:

Thank You Cards

But one election is not our salvation politically. The nation remains in critical condition spiritually. Government isn’t, and never will be, our savior. Unless we turn things around spiritually, we’re still going the wrong direction:

Handbasket

I pray Republicans will accomplish what they can within the limits of what government is ordained by God to do, and within the constraints of constitutional authority. That by itself, though, will not be enough. The root of our problems has never changed: the sinfulness of man. We must address that with the Gospel if we ever hope to move the nation in a new direction.

Ultimately, it won’t be government that turns things around; it will be the Christians in society. We need to remember that Jesus called us the salt and the light. We need to be vigilant to preserve the good in our society and to provide light on the path toward righteousness and true Biblical justice.

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.

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.

Houston, You Have a Problem

We’re about to turn a corner on religious liberty in America, and it’s a chill wind that greets us.

Quoting from the story:

Annise ParkerThe city of Houston has issued subpoenas demanding a group of pastors turn over any sermons dealing with homosexuality, gender identity or Annise Parker, the city’s first openly lesbian mayor. And those ministers who fail to comply could be held in contempt of court.

Wait a minute. Houston? Texas? One of the most conservative states in the nation? Well, statewide, yes, but, as usual, the cities lead the way toward the new progressivism. Funny how those policies called progressive always seek to overturn religious liberty.

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), a law firm that specializes in protecting religious liberty, has filed a motion to stop the subpoenas, but why are we even at this place?

The controversy began when the city council, back in June, passed what it calls a “non-discrimination” ordinance that allows, among other things, men to use women’s restrooms and vice versa. It is “equality” run amuck. And any Christian pastors who speak out against it or the homosexual agenda that drives it are now in the legal crosshairs.

First AmendmentAs a spokesman for the ADF notes, “Political and social commentary is not a crime. It is protected by the First Amendment.”

That’s why this is such a chill wind; it seeks to stifle all political disagreement and the religious beliefs that are the basis of that disagreement. If ever anything were a clear violation of not only the original intent of the Constitution, but the specific wording therein, this is it.

Why subpoena sermons? To shame pastors publicly who speak out against homosexuality. To try to marginalize them and the Biblical message that homosexuality is a sin—a view, of course, that is quickly becoming forbidden in America. They want to “out” these pastors as so-called “anti-gay bigots.”

Many of us warned this day was coming. This ordinance is only the first shot in this particular battle of the culture war. There are those who say there is no culture war, that those of us who speak of it are blowing things out of proportion. Look around you. The forces against the Biblical worldview are building up their arsenals. It’s only going to get worse.

Yet we cannot allow these attacks to put us on the defensive. We have the message of life, and it’s never been more needed than now. As opponents of Christian faith become emboldened, we must not cower in fear. God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love, and a sound mind. We need to work with Him, guided by His Spirit, to meet this challenge.

Lewis: The Unique Blend

One of the more interesting things to me about C. S. Lewis was his unique blend of the scholarly, academic side of life with what might be called the common touch. His scholarly publications were superb, and acknowledged as such by nearly everyone; yet his reach with his Christian message has gained a wide following in the general population.

Perhaps I’m drawn to this aspect of him because I find myself in the same situation. Not that I’ve written a scholarly study as in depth as Lewis, but that I am on the academic side of things in my career/ministry. Yet I never want to write anything that cannot be understood by a general audience. Communication of God’s truth is paramount. If most people can’t understand what you are saying, why say it?

I tend to avoid evangelical clichés as much as possible and try to think of different ways of explaining the truth. That puts me outside the traditional evangelical approach that relies on tried and true phrases and methods. I think that’s why I can empathize with a comment Lewis made in his essay “God in the Dock”:

C. S. Lewis with BookMy own work has suffered very much from the incurable intellectualism of my approach. The simple, emotional appeal (“Come to Jesus”) is still often successful. But those who, like myself, lack the gift for making it, had better not attempt it.

It’s not that I can’t tell people they need to come to Jesus; I’ve done it often. However, I can’t perceive of myself giving the classic “invitation” at the end of a worship service. I want people instead to listen to the truth, ponder it, and have the power of it dawn on them deep within their souls.

I want them to spend enough time probing the evilness of sin and the absolute need for repentance that when they make their decision it isn’t just an emotional, fly-by-night response. Those who see clearly their lost state and make a mature decision to abandon sin and embrace the love and forgiveness of God will stay the course and not be tossed here and there by every wind of doctrine or every bad circumstance that crops up in their lives.

I’m not sure Lewis grasped completely just how effectively he communicated with that general audience, but there are untold thousands who can testify that he succeeded. If I can emulate him in even the slightest degree, I will be satisfied.

The Supreme Non-Decision

Supreme Court 2Yesterday, the Supreme Court refused to review appeals from states with respect to the constitutionality of same-sex marriage. On the surface, this is an awful decision, yet is this possibly our best chance to reverse the tide?

The immediate, and dismal, result is that this non-decision clears the way for up to 30 states recognizing same-sex marriage as legitimate. Where can one find that elusive silver lining in the midst of such a departure from Biblical morality?

Let me offer what is probably a minority viewpoint from the conservative Christian community.

While I am unalterably opposed to homosexuality and am grieved by its increasing acceptance by our society, we may have, as one commentator noted, just dodged a bullet. Based on previous Supreme Court decisions, the odds were not in our favor if the Court had indeed ruled on these appeals. In all likelihood, it would have come down on the side of same-sex marriage as a constitutional right, thereby mandating that all states accept it as legitimate.

What this non-decision does is allow some states to continue to stand against the tide that seeks to sweep over us. It should provide the impetus for states to set their own standard for marriage. In fact, I was concerned that so many states were placing all their bets on a Supreme Court decision. It was an all-or-nothing proposition, and I fear we would have come away with nothing.

Yes, there should be a national definition of marriage, but given the status of our morality, I would prefer it not be imposed at this time. Same-sex marriage is an oxymoron, and a Court decision in its favor would have forced it upon all the states.

Keep in mind it has been federal courts that have led the way in overturning states’ traditional view of marriage. Did we really want the Supreme Court, with four extreme liberals and a so-called conservative who has already made it clear he would vote with those liberals, to enshrine this sin as sacred?

As I’ve said many times, government is not our savior, and if the government is trampling on Biblical morality, it’s because the people have allowed it to happen. We are the ones who have elected those who have pushed for this. We are the ones who put a man in the White House who is radically pro-abortion, pro-same-sex marriage, and who seeks to undermine religious liberty.

We let it happen. Now it’s up to use to reverse the direction we are headed as a country. It begins with a strong message of sin, repentance, and the new life offered through the Cross. It begins with individuals getting their lives straightened out as they get right with God.

Then those redeemed individuals need to inject that same message into all areas of society: education and government must be the focus if we are to change for the better.

Will this work? Theoretically, yes. With God all things are possible. But even though we have no guarantee, we must be faithful to the task. We’ll only know if it works if we remain faithful. Now is not the time to resign our role as salt and light.