Meditations with C. S. Lewis: A More Clever Devil….

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.

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“Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil.”

The Abolition of Man (Allegedly*)

To follow up on last week’s meditation on the more famous passage from The Abolition ofMan, this week we have a point of explanation–and while it is doubtful that Lewis actually said these words, they do sum up much of his thinking on the issue.   As a result of the world’s “values-free” philosophy, “education” can more harm than it does good.**  It makes us more intelligent sinners, and while it might delay the price for our sins, it virtually insures that we will one day pay dearly for them.

 As I have mentioned before, anyone with an ounce of real historical knowledge should have no illusions about humanity’s ultimate tendencies.  History is littered with the bodies of millions–perhaps billions–of victims who fell prey to our bent towards evil and selfishness.  Millions more have suffered to the point that one of the most common charges against God’s existence*** is the reality of evil, much of which has it’s origins in the human mind.

Even if you haven’t given the grand sweep of history much thought, you can probably just think back across your own life to points where you have felt the temptation to do something you know was wrong.  While I certainly doubt/hope you weren’t thinking about mass murder, the fact is that lying, cheating, stealing, adultery, and other “common” sins are still evil and they do harm others, though on a lesser scale.  Most of us give in to temptation often enough to have some real sense of our own natures.  It gives the wiser of us the perspective to look at someone farther down the path of evil than we are and say, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

Hence, the education has always needed to be two pronged:  internal and external.  In the former, the student is taught how to defend against his or her own nature.  They develop the ability to resist the temptation to selfishness, laziness, and downright evil.  In the latter they are given the skills they need to interact with the outside world–with colleagues, employers, and jobs.

When you teach only the latter–as we tend to do today–you often by default simply teach a person how to justify and gratify their selfishness and hypocrisy as long as possible.  They are given no defenses against themselves.  Human nature then runs amok.  It is in fact able to hurt more people and, ultimately, do more damage to the sinner him/herself.

Let me offer a quick example:  Student cheating.  As a college professor, I have seen the numbers of students cheating rise dramatically in the past ten years.  Of course, there has always been cheating in school, but (at least when I was coming through high school and college in the 1990s) almost everyone admitted that it was wrong.  Not so today.  With the increase of “values-free” education, we have seen a corresponding rise in the number of proud cheaters who believe in a “might makes right” (It’s not wrong if I’m “smart” enough not to get caught), “end justifies the means” (I have to cheat to get into a good college) philosophy.  In one CNN article, 75% of students in a survey admitted to “serious cheating” and 50% said there was nothing wrong with it.  I catch them on a regular basis–stealing or even buying work from the internet–even at Christian institutions.  I’m sure I would be frightened to know how many slip through.   In the words of Rutgers Professor Donald McCabe in the article above, “Students today find it so much easier to rationalize their cheating.”

Of course they do, when our “values-free” educational system has taught them the very justifications they are using!  We are getting what we paid for:  “more clever devils.”

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*Or not.  Alright, so the above is actually one of the false Lewis quotes that is circulating the internet.  Yes, I got caught by it in the original version of this post.  I pulled it from a list of Lewis quotes when I was trying to get ahead of the curve on these posts.  I do think it more or less sums up Lewis’s sentiments, though, so please take the below for what its worth.  If the quote is false, perhaps there is some truth in what I have to say about it….

**This observation is neither an argument for avoid school nor a justification for anti-intellectualism.  It is an imperative to do education right.

***I do find it ironic how many atheists will toss this argument up against a good God’s existence with complete abandon, and then immediately offer up humanity–the most observable of the sources of evil–for worship in His place.

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.

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About Brian

I am a history professor and author living with my family in the Virginia Mountains. It's hard to improve on a life like this!

Posted on July 15, 2012, in Brian Melton, C. S. Lewis, Christianity, Meditations, Philosophy and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Excellent post with one unfortunate flaw. The quote “Education without values, as useful as it is, seems rather to make man a more clever devil,” is not to be found in Lewis’ Abolition of Man — though it correctly summarizes one the work’s major points.

  2. Jack is correct. Does anyone know where (or perhaps who) this quote does come from?!

  3. I haven’t read The Abolition of Man, so I can’t give an answer for Dr. Melton, yet in my cursory google search I’m seeing it attributed constantly to Lewis, but with no citation. Also, I’ve seen it a few times in reference to Abolition, but again, without citation. To make another partially attributed quote: “Mysteriouser and mysteriouser.” -Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll

  4. See the first asterisk above in answer to the mystery of the quote. 🙂

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