Meditations with C. S. Lewis: Men without Chests and How to Prevent Them
C. S. Lewis, best known as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, was also one of the most profound thinkers of twentieth century Christianity. Along with J. R. R. Tolkien, he has inspired millions of people, include all of the authors at Lantern Hollow Press. On Sundays we would like to take a moment to offer up a little Lewis for your consideration.
We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor, and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.
—The Abolition of Man
It is hard to believe how prophetic Lewis could be at times. In his little book, The Abolition of Man, he looked down the stream of logical conclusions that started with the educational trends he saw around him in his own time and, with his usual incisive clarity, he made comments that apply directly to the broken system we see in contemporary society.
The essential question for Lewis on this point was this: Can we really divorce truth and values from education? Many of the “experts” of Lewis’s own day thought so. Since that time, the idea of “values neutral” education has been all the rage. It began with a simple relativistic assumption that there is really no such thing as transcendent “right” and “wrong.” This is, of course, the ultimate conclusion we are forced to draw when we adopt some form of naturalism and place humanity the ultimate arbiter of reality. As we proceeded into the Post Modern era, that assumption spread like a cancer through academia. From there, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, “the philosophy of the school room in one generation [became] the philosophy of government in the next.” Today, there is hardly a part of western culture–including the church–that isn’t infected with the idea.
At the time, it did seem ideal: If there were no absolute values to impart, then teachers need not waste their efforts on them. Let the students’ families take care of that! If they did, that would leave more time for schools to focus on the sciences that “really mattered.”
This has become an unmitigated disaster. First, when the schools stopped teaching moral truth, the family did not pick up that burden. How could it? That same period of time saw the beginning of the almost complete dissolution of the family as an institution. The schools assumed that the teaching of morals would be handled by the parents and the parents delegated that responsibility to the schools. Several generations of students have thus far fallen in the massive crevice between the two sides.
As time passed, the educational theorists realized that they must teach some form of truth and morality, if for no reason than crowd control.* In keeping with their attempt to be value-neutral, they settled on a hollow secular-humanism that simply compounds the problem by demanding that children act morally while giving them no compelling reason to do so.** With the advent of power-theory and Post Modernism (where students are taught that right and wrong are determined by who happens to hold power), students were essentially led to believe that it only pays to be moral when you think that someone will catch you.
This was, of course, precisely what Lewis predicted. As a culture, we produce men and women “without chests [hearts]” and we expect them to do the right thing anyway. Hollywood, famous authors, political pundits, teachers, and Ivy-League professors mock and demean ideas like honesty, honor, and faith, and we are “shocked to find traitors [or even murderers] in our midst.”
There are no easy, quick fixes. A full repair might take generations to effect, if it happens at all. It begins when we, as parents, as students, and as a society decide to dethrone the departments of “education” and take responsibility for our own learning and that of our children. Here are a couple of places to start. They are especially good if you have children, but also have links for adults too:
*In the end, the effort was and is self-defeating. Many public school teachers spend more time teaching students to act responsibly than they do on actual content. That fact is evident in most schools of “education,” where most emphasis is placed on “education” classes and relatively little on the subjects teachers are supposed to pass along. You often end up with graduates who are well trained in group counseling and don’t even have a bachelor’s level knowledge of the content they are supposed to teach.
**Secular humanism is, after all, is assumed to be neutral when it comes to religious truth. In reality, secular humanism is itself a religion that worships humanity as a form of practical deity. It is “fair” to other competing religions only in the sense that it maintains that they are all equally worthless. As a result, the schools simply teach a collection of alternative values in an attempt to be “value neutral.”
Click here for the entire run of “Meditations with C. S. Lewis” so far. Interested in more about C. S. Lewis? Check out Passing Through the Shadowlands–an extended project where I am blogging through his life in letters, essays, and books.
Posted on July 8, 2012, in Brian Melton, C. S. Lewis, Christianity, Meditations, Philosophy and tagged Abolition of Man, Christianity, Classical Conversations, Classical Education, CS Lewis, Education, Honor. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.