Our Own Version of Newspeak

I read George Orwell’s classic novel 1984 way back sometime in my youth. Orwell, a socialist who saw the potential tyranny of socialism (read his Animal Farm for a withering treatment of Soviet-style communism under Stalin), displayed in 1984 just how bad it could get.

One of the words he introduced in the novel was Newspeak. It has now become part of our vocabulary. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the term this way:

Propagandistic language marked by euphemism, circumlocution, and the inversion of customary meaning.

Vagueness and reversal of established terminology, giving new and often perverted meanings to words, has now become an art in our society. Here’s one cartoonist who has noticed how this has come into play lately:

We used to think that global warming meant the temperature is getting warmer. Silly us. Now we know that global warming creates record cold waves.

Tax cuts used to mean that people paid fewer taxes. Wrong again. Somehow, those evil tax cuts are going to make us pay more. Oh, and everyone is going to die very soon because of them.

On university campuses across the nation, free speech is under attack because it’s not really free speech anymore, but speech that oppresses certain classes of people. That cannot be allowed. The First Amendment must be abolished so we can be free indeed.

See how it works? No? Well, join the club.

Pernicious as these developments are in overturning basic logic and even threatening our right to speak our minds in public, there is a moral inversion that is not new. It goes way back, even to the beginning of the human race—and we see it rising in our day as well.

The prophet Isaiah, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, explained it this way:

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness;
Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!

Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes
And clever in their own sight

Woe to those who are heroes in drinking wine
And valiant men in mixing strong drink,

Who justify the wicked for a bribe,
And take away the rights of the ones who are in the right!

Abortion is the fulfillment of reproductive rights, not the murder of an innocent child.

Homosexuality/same-sex marriage is love in action, not a perversion of God’s gift of sex.

The end justifies the means: as long as you come out on top in the end, you are to be praised regardless of how you got there. Righteousness in the means one uses is outmoded and unrealistic. All that matters is winning.

Those are the examples that immediately come to mind, but there are more.

Have we reached our own version of 1984, albeit a few decades later? Are we allowing Newspeak to guide our thinking and short-circuit genuine logic?

Don’t follow the herd. Think as God intended you to think. Take a stand for truth even when that stand is a lonely one. God sees. He honors those who stand.

A Baptized Imagination

Chad WalshThe first book to analyze C. S. Lewis and his popularity was written by an American, Chad Walsh, an English professor at Beloit College in Wisconsin. It came out in 1949 with the title C. S. Lewis: Apostle to the Skeptics.

Walsh had Lewis to thank for his own conversion. “In my case there was no childhood faith,” Walsh wrote in an account of how he eventually found the Christian path. “If I ever believed in God as a small child, no memory of the time remains with me. I regarded myself as an atheist from the moment I learned to read—and, indeed, pamphlet editions of Ingersoll, et cetera, were part of my earliest reading.”

At the University of Virginia, Walsh, as a student, found himself free of the dominant Christianity of his small hometown of Marion, Virginia, and flourished as a convinced atheist—at least until world circumstances forced him to think more seriously.

The rise of Hitler in Germany, and the growing awareness of the actions of that regime, forced him to confront the problem of evil in the world. Walsh’s companions in atheism and/or agnosticism, when challenged by Walsh to come up with a response to what Hitler was doing, would provide excuses, albeit excuses that were actually consistent with their worldview.

Walsh recounts, “They agreed with me that the world was a senseless jungle. Very well, they reasoned, if the world is a jungle, it’s absurd to speak of right and wrong. Everything is relative. Hitler thinks he’s doing right to invade Poland and murder the Jews. Very well, it is right for him. It’s all in the way you look at it.” That response shook him. He knew he had to come to grips with the reality of evil.

Coming to grips with evil also meant coming to grips with the whole idea of right and wrong and where the concepts originated. That led him to finally consider not only the existence of God but what his response to this God might entail. In this transition period of his life, Walsh came across some of Lewis’s writings. One, in particular, changed his life forever.

PerelandraIt was in either 1944 or 1945, he recalls, on a short vacation to Vermont, that a friend enthusiastically lent him a book she had just finished reading; she just knew he would love it. That book was Perelandra, the second in Lewis’s Space Trilogy in which the protagonist, Elwin Ransom, is transported to Venus to save an innocent world from falling into sin.

Walsh was transported as well: “I quickly consumed it from cover to cover. I was struck first of all by the sheer beauty of the book. It transported me into a kind of Elysian Fields—or better yet, an unspoiled Eden, inhabited by the innocent and unfallen.”

A second revelation was that, even though he had always been a science fiction fan, he had never read any science fiction like this, where it could be used as a “vehicle of great philosophic and psychological myth.” The third revelation, though, was the greatest of all:

Finally, and most importantly, in Perelandra I found my imagination being baptized. At the time I was slowly thinking, feeling, and fumbling my way towards the Christian faith and had reached the point where I was more than half convinced that it was true. This conviction, however, was a thing more of the mind than of the imagination and heart.

In Perelandra I got the taste and smell of Christian truth. My senses as well as my soul were baptized. It was as though an intellectual abstraction or speculation had become flesh and dwelt in its solid bodily glory among us.

As Walsh looked back on this event years later, he came to the realization that the way he found Lewis was quite typical. A person reads something by Lewis, becomes so enthused that he/she lends the book to a friend, who in turn catches that enthusiasm and passes it on to others.

For Walsh, “The result was that I began buying everything else by him that was available in America and also passed along word of the discovery to other friends. It was as though I had discovered a new ingredient in my intellectual, emotional, and spiritual diet that I had unconsciously desired but had not previously found. I think many others, coming on Lewis for the first time, felt the same way.”

As you might guess, the above is excerpted from my new book, America Discovers C. S. Lewis, which will be available in a few short weeks.

Lewis & Righteous Indignation

C. S. Lewis 4C. S. Lewis, writing in Reflections on the Psalms, contrasts the anger displayed toward evil men in some of the psalms with the apparent lack of vindictiveness found in some pagan writings. Does this reveal a better spirit among the pagans? Not so, he says.

He gives a personal example to illustrate how lack of anger can often be the worst response. During WWII, he was taking the train one night (as he often did, traveling to speak and then returning home late) and found himself in a compartment with a number of young soldiers. He was more than a little dismayed by the comments he heard:

Their conversation made it perfectly clear that they totally disbelieved all that they had read in the papers about the wholesale cruelties of the Nazi régime. They took it for granted, without argument, that this was all lies, all propaganda put out by our own government to “pep up” our troops. And the shattering thing was, that, believing this, they expressed not the slightest anger.

It’s worth noting that Lewis himself rarely read the newspapers because he considered most of what was contained therein to be lies, yet he certainly had no reason to doubt what the papers were saying about Hitler and his horde. The attitude of the soldiers stunned him:

That our rulers should falsely attribute the worst of crimes to some of their fellow-men in order to induce others of the fellow-men to shed their blood seemed to them a matter of course. They weren’t even particularly interested. They saw nothing wrong in it.

If you were being asked to go to war and possibly lose your life, and you were convinced that the rationale for doing so was based on a fabric of lies told by your government, wouldn’t that bother you more than a little? Apparently not in this case. Lewis then compares these apathetic soldiers to psalmists who didn’t hide their anger:

Now it seemed to me that the most violent of the Psalmists—or, for that matter any child wailing out “But it’s not fair”—was in a more hopeful condition than these young men. If they had perceived, and felt as a man should feel, the diabolical wickedness which they believed our rulers to be committing, and then forgiven them, they would have been saints.

But not to perceive it at all—not even to be tempted to resentment—to accept it as the most ordinary thing in the world—argues a terrifying insensibility. Clearly these young men had (on that subject anyway) no conception of good and evil whatsoever.

Good & EvilLoss of the entire concept of good and evil betrays a society wandering in a fog of moral apathy. “Thus the absence of anger, especially that sort of anger which we call indignation,” Lewis concludes, “can, in my opinion, be a most alarming symptom. And the presence of indignation may be a good one.”

It’s perfectly fine to feel righteous indignation toward evil. In fact, if we feel nothing at all when confronted with the evils of our day, there is something terribly wrong with us.

Reagan: The Principled & the History Makers

Yesterday, I wrote about my new book on Ronald Reagan and Whittaker Chambers. Both men are as relevant to our day as they were to theirs.

As we near the end of another year, and as we consider the challenges that loom, some select quotes from Reagan may help us focus on our responsibilities. There are some quotes from Reagan with which many people are familiar, but I’ve chosen to pull out some that are less well known, yet just as insightful.

Just two months into his presidency, right before the assassination attempt, he spoke at the Conservative Political Action Conference dinner:

We’ve heard in our century far too much of the sounds of anguish from those who live under totalitarian rule. We’ve seen too many monuments made not out of marble or stone but out of barbed wire and terror.

But from these terrible places have come survivors, witnesses to the triumph of the human spirit over the mystique of state power, prisoners whose spiritual values made them the rulers of their guards. With their survival, they brought us “the secret of the camps,” a lesson for our time and for any age: Evil is powerless if the good are unafraid.

That last line is the key. As we think of the battles ahead, we need to believe that. At a commemoration of the tenth anniversary of the Heritage Foundation, he exhorted his audience that they had to face the reality of the world situation:

We must never be inhibited by those who say telling the truth about the Soviet empire is an act of belligerence on our part. To the contrary, we must continue to remind the world that self-delusion in the face of unpleasant facts is folly, that whatever the imperfections of the democratic nations, the struggle now going on in the world is essentially the struggle between freedom and totalitarianism, between what is right and what is wrong.

This is not a simplistic or unsophisticated observation. Rather, it’s the beginning of wisdom about the world we live in, the perils we face, and the great opportunity we have in the years ahead to broaden the frontiers of freedom and to build a durable, meaningful peace.

When laying a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery, Reagan spoke of principles and common sense:

Peace fails when we forget what we stand for. It fails when we forget that our Republic is based on firm principles, principles that have real meaning, that with them, we are the last, best hope of man on Earth; without them, we’re little more than the crust of a continent. Peace also fails when we forget to bring to the bargaining table God’s first intellectual gift to man: common sense.

Common sense gives us a realistic knowledge of human beings and how they think, how they live in the world, what motivates them. Common sense tells us that man has magic in him, but also clay. Common sense can tell the difference between right and wrong. Common sense forgives error, but it always recognizes it to be error first.

I added the emphasis at the end.

I’ll conclude today with a pithy, yet valuable, Reagan perspective—one we would do well to remember:

History is no captive of some inevitable force. History is made by men and women of vision and courage.

Let’s go out and make some history.

Lewis: The Inconsistency of Naturalism

MiraclesIn his book Miracles, C. S. Lewis takes aim at “naturalists” who say that there is no “outside” reference [i.e., God] for calling anything good or evil.

When men use the words, “I ought,” Lewis notes, they are saying something about the essence of right and wrong that is built into the universe. In fact, naturalists should never use such terminology: “But if Naturalism is true,” he writes, “‘I ought’ is the same sort of statement as ‘I itch’ or ‘I’m going to be sick.'”

In effect, if you are going to be consistent as a naturalist, you would not acknowledge any kind of “I ought”; it doesn’t exist. Yet, Lewis explains,

The Naturalist can, if he chooses, brazen it out. He can say . . . “all ideas of good and evil are hallucinations—shadows cast on the outer world by the impulses which we have been conditioned to feel.” Indeed many Naturalists are delighted to say this.

There’s a slight problem, though, for those who attempt to explain good and evil in this way:

But then they must stick to it; and fortunately (though inconsistently) most real Naturalists do not. A moment after they have admitted that good and evil are illusions, you will find them exhorting us to work for posterity, to educate, revolutionise, liquidate, live and die for the good of the human race. . . . They write with indignation like men proclaiming what is good in itself and denouncing what is evil in itself, and not at all like men recording that they personally like mild beer but some people prefer bitter.

C. S. Lewis 9Those of us who have a better grasp of eternal right and wrong—good and evil—have an obligation to communicate the inconsistency of the naturalist position. Lewis certainly fulfills this obligation when he continues,

Do they remember while they are writing thus that when they tell us we “ought to make a better world” the words “ought” and “better” must, on their own showing, refer to an irrationally conditioned impulse which cannot be true or false any more than a vomit or a yawn?

The saving grace is that they cannot be consistent with their own professed ideology:

My idea is that sometimes they do forget. That is their glory. Holding a philosophy which excludes humanity, they yet remain human. At the sight of injustice they throw all their Naturalism to the winds and speak like men.

Lewis’s call to consistency is one Christians need to heed as well. Do we say one thing theoretically and act as if it is not true? Do we have a theology, for instance, that tells us that we are not really accountable for our actions, yet then act as if we are? Something to think about—all the time.

Lewis: Discerning Good & Evil

The apostle Paul notes that “the god of this world [i.e., Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel.” Scripture also talks often about how those without the truth are walking in darkness. C. S. Lewis picks up on this theme in Mere Christianity when he explains how sin warps our understanding of our very sinfulness:

Good & EvilThe right direction leads not only to peace but to knowledge. When a man is getting better, he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse, he understands his own badness less and less. A moderately bad man knows he is not very good; a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right.

This is common sense, really. You understand sleep when you are awake, not while you are sleeping. . . . You can understand the nature of drunkenness when you are sober, not when you are drunk. Good people know about both good and evil; bad people do not know about either.

I think our goal is spelled out in the book of Hebrews:

For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.

We need discernment. Only by growing in righteousness will we ever see clearly the distinction between good and evil.

Lewis on the Nature of Good & Evil

Writing to his friend Arthur Greeves in 1933, C. S. Lewis offered these thoughts on the nature of good and evil:

C. S. Lewis 1I think one may be quite rid of the old haunting suspicion—which raises its head in every temptation—that there is something else than God—some other country . . . into which He forbids us to trespass—some kind of delight wh. He “doesn’t appreciate” or just chooses to forbid, but which wd. be real delight if only we were allowed to get it.

The thing just isn’t there.

Whatever we desire is either what God is trying to give us as quickly as He can, or else a false picture of what He is trying to give us . . . wh. would not attract us for a moment if we saw the real thing. . . .

Only because He has laid up real goods for us to desire are we able to go wrong by snatching at them in greedy, misdirected ways. The truth is that evil is not a real thing at all, like God. It is simply good spoiled. That is why I say there can be good without evil, but no evil without good.

You know what the biologists mean by a parasite—an animal that lives on another animal. Evil is a parasite. It is there only because good is there for it to spoil and confuse.

I believe Lewis is accurate in what he says here. Sin is always the selfish ruination of something good God offers. Food, used in the way God intended, is great. Food abused is gluttony. Sex as a means of love, commitment, and the creation of a family is a blessing; sex abused is a lustful trap that ruins lives. There is a proper kind of pride—satisfaction for a job well done—that is twisted into arrogance when selfishness takes over. There is nothing good that can’t be perverted into evil. That’s what sin is all about.

What God is all about is delivering us from that sinfulness, thereby putting every good thing back in its proper place where it can be enjoyed in the way He intended.